Tuesday, 7 July 2015

The Crosses 53 - 4th July 2015 ............ and it all started so well.

After what has proved to be an extremely busy year on business, and hence far away from these Northern trails, it was with extreme hope, probably above expectation, coupled with a certain amount of trepidation that I arrived at the start line of the running of The Crosses 53.

As the title suggests, the Crosses is a 53 mile challenge event comprising a circular moorland trot passing by the ancient stone crosses strung around the high tops and low villages of the North Yorkshire Moors. Starting away westwards, the route skirts around the heads of Glaisdale and Great Fryup before heading down Blakey Ridge, through Lastingham to Appleton-Le-Moors and then climbs back north east through the forests of Cropton and Wardle Rigg, passing Fylingdales and the last loop towards Robin Hoods Bay before a retrace back through Newton House Plantation to the finish. 

Directly quoting from the Scarborough and Ryedale Mountain Rescue Teams own site the Crosses was ..

First run in the early 1970's to raise valuable funds for the the Scarborough and District Search and Rescue Team, the event starts and finishes in Goathland and traditionally has to be completed within 24 hours. 

The event was held through the 70's and 80's but, unfortunately the team had to call a halt when entries had fallen to such an extent that it was uneconomical to hold the event. The team are resurrecting the event as a one-off just for our fiftieth anniversary over the weekend 4th - 5th July 2015.

After the misty start of the first section, following the steady climb through a steamy Comb Wood , around Murk Mire Moor, onto Egton High Moor and through Wintergill, the air cleared revealing fabulous views over the head of Glaisdale.

And it just got better and better, and greener, and clearer and hotter ...

And then a sudden mad descent through bracken and hidden scree tumbled us down towards Mountain Ash Farm; down along and around the winding lane, passing Yew Grange to the first self clip ... followed by a proper stiff climb up Caper Hill; breathtaking to breathless within 5 minutes but with stunning views opening over our shoulders.

This next section skirting Glaisdale Moor, around Great Fryup Head to Trough House was magical ... sparkling skies with green and purple moorland in every direction. 

The wind full in the face, running into the teeth of the prevailing breeze was a joy; I never felt better than on this section ... but I was soon to feel a lot worse.

Leaving Botton Cross, retracing steps back to the Danby Road, passing Fat Betty on the right, with Ralph Cross nicking the horizon in front and with the left swing towards the Lion, the wind was brought across my beam ends; like a hair drier pointing into my right ear. And, ...was that a stone in my shoe?

... and to catch the runners in front I tried the old "walk strongly" for 50 paces and then "run" 300 paces which worked perfectly for a good hour or so ...

Now, beyond the Lion and down onto the old railway track, Rosedale and the old minings stood as a terrific left hand backdrop all the way down Blakey Ridge ...

That stone in my right boot did bother me all the way along the old railway cutting, It appeared that I kicked it badly, and accurately, with every stride and it did come keen. I had taken gels every 6 miles and with plenty of water on board ( even the luke warm plastic water we all carry ) I felt that all was going well, however, the inevitable happened .. nausea always seems to haunt me after a few hours on these mid summer outings and I did feel quite sick above Rosedale Chimney.

The views all down the ridge were stunning ...

Even managed a glimpse of RAF Fylingdales in the far eastern distance ...

and it was only 3.55pm ...

But, I was baked and as has happened before on more than one occasion on the heights and under the gaze of the full sun, I was sick and shot ... and my number was nearly up.

Finally away from the ridge and down into the shady village of Lastingham. 

Was it only me who enviously regarded the two blokes under the awnings in the Blacksmiths Arms taking a cool lager or two? ... was it only me that felt this bad?

For the few hardy souls that have managed to read this far, you'll be relieved not to have to stand me banging on from here about the history of the Crosses: About how that good servant Lilla flung hisself in front of the Kings would be assassin and paid with his life, or about Peter de Mauley obtaining the Mulgrave Estate by marrying into the de Turnham family and moving "his" cross to gain more land!. No,  that may come later but this is a challenge event first and foremost and that challenge proved insurmountable following what was, for me, a strong first half of the race.

Running 27th into Appleton-Le-Moors, I was sick again on the lane and that stone in the shoe felt like a house brick. The big toe on the other foot was also showing signs of stress: I knew I'd lose the nail on that one too ......... what was happening?

My theory, well supported by amongst others Jay Hodde, Rod Dalitz and Karl King is the acknowledgement of the difference between proper hydration and well hydration. Being well hydrated says nothing about the sodium content of fluids and this combination of good hydration yet low sodium causes extra fluid accumulation in the tissues and hence the increase likelihood of blister formation: With too little salt, the layer under the skin swells which makes it easier to disconnect from the underlying tissue. 

Karl King says "Black toenails are often a result of insufficient electrolyte management. Too little sodium makes hands and feet swell. You can see your hands, but you can`t see your feet because they are in your shoes. When the tissues swell because they have excess water, the mechanical strength of the nail footing goes down. Then any movement will do tissue damage. Most of the damage is done in the second half of an ultra when electrolyte status is often thrown off if you don`t take care of it. Not many people get black toenails from a 15-mile run....." that could be me then? Couple this with a pair of old but well worn shoes and a reluctance to throw away that lucky pair of gnarled old Thorlos then this combination proved a toxic combination too far.

Perhaps the general sickness was just the effects of pushing on within the intense heat of a hot July day? I sweat like a cheese at any event but I have noticed salt rings accumulating over the day on my running gear which does add weight to the argument that I lose salts and just dont get enough back in? .... any recommendations anyone? anyone tried E-caps Endurolytes?

Stumbling into Appleton-Le-Moors, a couple of other crosses - High and Low - came and went and i enjoyed a fabulously welcome hot cup of tea!

The first opportunity to head back north east, through Cropton Forest, was the final straw. Not being able to keep anything down at all and walking with what felt like a bag of marbles in each shoe became a real trial and with the relentless trekking up the long drawn out gun barrel straight avenues I felt like Dante's pilgrim descending into the heat ... this section seemed to go on forever.

From here, I was overtaken by legions of fellow competitors and without exception all enquired after me ... thank you all, it was very much appreciated and typical of the friendship I have always enjoyed. However, all things must end and finally at Mauley Cross checkpoint the feet had given up and I presented an opportunity for the medics to get to work ... that never was a stone in my shoe ... "I have a canula?"

Patched up and hobbling along the track up towards Newton Dale and Saltergate I reflected upon my failure and have concluded that the fault lies with me entirely and I'll try and address these issues over the coming weeks and months. Well beaten on the day, but not cowed, I awaited transport back to Goathland from Saltergate as the sun set on a glorious day.

Savaged by the late cloud of midges was the final ignominy but I was privileged to see the first two runners back to the hall in 9.57 ... plenty to think about after today.

Huge thanks to all the SRMR Team for a super day out and a very personal thanks for the team members at checkpoints 7 and 8 for your help, assistance and support ... couldn't have gone a step further ...... but I'll see you all at Saltergate when the temperature is down. Give me a snow flurry anyday.  

Friday, 13 March 2015

Falcon Flyer - 7th March 2015

"Submarine warfare seen in World War One was responsible for one of the most important developments in British forestry!"

Caught your attention?

The first of the 2015 quartet of Challenge Events organised by SRMRT remains the Falcon Flyer:  A 20 mile circular fag around this scenic corner of plantation wooded valleys and quiet dales; bare, early spring nut brown moorland trails and the dramatic sweeping field-side pathways near the coastline of Robin Hoods Bay. And, a mild day was forecast to accompany us around. Notwithstanding the hurricane that tried its best to prevent us heading westwards up and away from the start line of Ravenscar Village Hall at 8.00am, it ultimately turned out to be T-shirt weather for the runners within the hour and remained so for the duration of this fine and worthy event.

With my woolly hat and wind cheater soon discarded, opening the lid to let off steam, we were away. Not, however, before the chilly first bit through the fir and spruce plantations around Lords Stones, across the A171 Scarborough - Whitby road and down, down into Harwood Dale.

It is impossible to understand British forestry - especially these manufactured woodlands - without looking at its history, and the history of the Forestry Commission. Britain’s first national forestry management institution, The Forestry Commission, was formed in 1919 and born out of events within the first World War with Germany. Timber being an essential material for the prosecution of war, its shortage was caused principally by the U-Boat blockading of the Merchant Fleets of the Allies. In the past, ship and bridge building all demanded huge forest resources but by World War I, iron had replaced wood for warships, yet nevertheless 14% of cargo carried by British shipping through the blockade of Britain by German submarines was timber, mostly pit props. Coal mining was the strategic industry fuelling the Royal Navy and British industry however without ‘mining timber’, coal could not be extracted. Without coal, British ships would stay tied up and industry would have closed down. By the end of WWI, German submarines had taught the British a hard lesson; they could not rely on a forest then covering only 4% of Britain. It simply could not provide enough timber to survive a war. Consequently the Forestry Commission was formed and given the task of creating a strategic industrial forest capable of providing timber for the next war.

95 years later, improbable bi-products of the industry are the pathways and tracks made between the lines of the conifers, providing miles of the route of more than one of these SRMRT Challenge Events. Winding along through these commercial plantations, the track-ways are shared with all manner of off road vehicles - both two and four wheeled - and make for an interesting and challenging passage through the riggs and slacks of this part of the 1436 sq Km National Park.

Heading north west, away and upwards, from Lownorth Bridge, the landscape became transformed. The trees were left behind and, once past the last of the isolated farms and scrubby fields, we turned a nab of grassy heath, lifted the latch on the final gate and headed out onto the open, exposed moors. Our path being indicated by the cream and gamboge knife cut of a clay bottomed stream-bed through the ling. Splashing through the swangs and dry petrified twigs of the "whams and Hags" of the still lifeless scratchy tops, we aimed for the checkpoint tent - a blip on the horizon - and the welcome turn point back eastwards and civilisation.

Later in Spring we would hear the Click Click Wrrrrrr of grouse exploding from underfoot and away they would arc into the near distance but today all was quiet. Perhaps it was the wind buffeting, perhaps it was too early in the year but I never saw, or heard, a single bird.

A first respite from the, now welcomed, tailwind arrived as we dropped thankfully into Jugger Ravine and then the not so welcomed stairs up t'other side before arriving at the car park and the chance for refreshments.

2 Hours 15 mins gone for me and I tried to sneak down the A171 to the right turn off towards Cook House but was wisely directed immediately left down the old disused road for safety reasons: Thanks for the extra climb fellas! I really appreciated that at the time.

From here to the finish, I saw no one further. The smiling faces at the checkpoints excepted, this was my sort of outing: A perfect misanthropists trek. Once the brown exposed wind blown moorland was left behind, the Falcon became a tour of dipping field paths and trods, leaf litter filled field borders, steep grass-bank climbs, surprising views and dry stone walls to shelter behind before the dip to the Bay and the shingle beach.

I felt this section keenly. The wind had blown the fields and paths both bone dry and extremely hard and it took it out of my legs; I don't generally mind being fetlock deep in the mire, it goes with the territory, however I would certainly have welcomed a softer trail today. and I'm sure we could have completed the task in road running shoes: Pass the Ibuprofen for the "owd knees" please.

These swoops and dives; up, over and down the hills, forests, dales and moors represent the best of natures adventure playground. They exist. They remain long after we've toddled off home and we make the best of them whilst we're out here. We can run them hard - if possible - we can walk them or we can stand and stare just taking it all in - this playground is perfectly indifferent to our plight so we take from it what we want while we're here, that's all we can hope for: There is no interaction: we give, it takes it from us.

However, A challenge event this is, and today's raison d'etre, so we must test ourselves further as we head up the final climb back home.

With the sea behind, and Stoupe Brow ahead, I did try to run as much of what remained but the light was shining on my fuel tank and a familiar shuffle dragged me to the old train line track and the final section. 3 hours 28 gone - 3 minutes down on last year and I'm sure I felt worse this time around?

Run 50 steps - walk 10 steps, run 50 - walk 10. then became run 10 - walk 10, then, run 10 and walk for 30 seconds; it must have looked shabby but all things must end and so did I. 3 hours 48 minutes after we kicked off this morning,  I jogged stiffly back into the village hall and a welcome steaming mug of tea. 13th overall (again); at least I'm consistent.

With a day like this, with views like these, being in the company of such peers, how else should I have spent the day? We all raised a few quid for this essential service and had a great jaunt to boot .... look forward to doing it all again in April. Thanks Guys for another great morning out. (I did forget my camera and so thanks to Chris at reaction photography for his diligence in catching me and for the team for the use of theirs).

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Golden Jubilee Lyke Wake Race - 12th July 2014

“When you go in with a silent swish, you know it’s going to be deep …”

This quote could only relate to the Lyke Wake Walk – the 42 mile trek along the North Yorkshire Moorland paths and trails between Osmotherley, on the western edge of the moors, and Ravenscar away on the coast - and it has to be my favourite of all relating to this event. It’s found in the Lyke Wake Walk booklet* and is contained within an eventful crossing description of many years ago. Another favourite, courtesy of an East West traverse, and relating to the wildlife of the Moors came from a lady who, upon being asked what the going was like, replied “Fine, never been better, but watch out for bears! “**

No chance of those bears being Polar on race Day. With the annual Race Day always landing on the nearest Saturday to July the 10th, and, for what seems like forever now, the race day has appeared to have landed again on the hottest day of the year. This heat is starting to finish me off! … Is it just me? 

My fifth, and final, Lyke Wake Race happened to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Race and with me now reaching 50 years of age; well it seemed logical and contained a certain symmetry for me to bow out of a fantastic event and head out onto newly discovered alternative long distance trails.

I’ll never be a stranger to running out on these Moors; there remains so many new trails, paths and trods to be explored upon the tabular tops that it could take a lifetime to get to know them all as intimately as I’ve come to know the LWR over the last few years, and I’m only a novice scratching at the surface, but I’m not sure that the relentless heat of those heady mid-summer July race crossings can be sustained. Give me a good thunderstorm and a heady tumult any day of the week.I fancy a first dip at both the Hambleton Hobble and the Shepherd`s Round, possibly later on this year, when hopefully it’ll be cooler in these parts; watch this space for a moorland crosses round.

The Lyke Wake Race: What to say of an event I’ve enthused about quite a few times before? … For example, another couple of crossings here in 2012 and 2013 even back in 2010.

The Golden Jubilee race was a hot affair, but the help and support provided by the teams all the way from Sheepwash to the penultimate check at Jugger Howe was never anything less than perfect; only bettered by the cheering of our patient families as we broke into the finishing dash, through the trees and out onto the short sloping field towards the tent at Raven Hall in the late afternoon.

The scenery to my mind is the best of any long distance trail race:
From the start overlooking the miles of northern patchwork flats away to Teesdale and Roseberry Topping, it is breathtaking looking both westwards towards the Dales and then back South from where we’ve come up from. These views are stunning.

I did manage a continued run this time along the disused train track via Bloworth to the Lion where our “fab four” of Dave Burke, Joe Williams, Kevin Hughes and I climbed up the hill to get to the Lion in what was a good time for me: 3.26 for these first 18 miles.

It was already packed under the awning of the checkpoint in the Car Park as the sun beat down upon us.

We then hit the moors and the lonely boundary markers to guide us eastwards.

Bogs, flowers, dry tracks, wet tracks … and the looked for, and eagerly anticipated, isolation of wild moorland:

Blow winds! blow fiercely: it is good to feel
Thy bite again! The long, long torpid days
Of pent-up agony and pain: the ways –
of Helplessness are dead! I feel my heel
Plunge deep into the bracken and the turf,
The moorish wine intoxicates my head:
And I do feel with happiness full-fed,
Like one who deeply breathes the breath o` the surf!

The Sky`s the bluest ever I did see:
The grass the greenest ever kist the dew:
My heart is melting in an ecstasy

I will go far over the waste-lands,
                To the lonely moorland tarn,
With only the sky for company
                And the wind-swept mountain cairn

(Moors Again and The Waste-Lands … from Alfred Brown (Poems & Songs 1949))

Then, in the middle of this expanse of nothingness, seemingly from nowhere, a clutch of motor vehicles; the chatter of supporters, the laughter of children, the blue tent of the marshals and the hubbub of the checkpoint is upon us: Fresh water, juice, jelly babies, jaffa cakes, “Hows it going?”

Couldn’t even get a seat at Hamer Road what with Dave Burke taking a leisurely break in the sun then with Kevin Hughes next in the queue, well I just had to press on – away east towards the Blue man i` the Moss.
Then, just after taking a picture at 26.2 miles, and my pack making steady progress, I kicked a rock that never moved and went head over ears, luckily landing in the bracken at the path side, narrowly avoiding the hard dry sandstone rock strewn track.

The leg stiffened and I couldn’t bend my knees to dip the kerchief into the beck at Wheeldale Stones ...

and at Simon Howe I tripped again – losing a contact lens in the process. Things had been blurred before but this was a whole new view. Just as well that the camera was self focusing as it really was point and shoot from now on.

Black Houe and Blakey Houe
Two Houes and Three Houes
Widow Houe and Foster Houes
Silhoue and Shunner Houe
Pen Houe and Trattle Houe
Robbed Houe and Wheeldale Houe
Louven Houe and Lilla Houe.

And the ghostly shades foregather now
On Simon Houe

(On Simon Houe … Alfred Brown (Poems & Songs 1949)

Couldn’t believe how hot the day had become at Ellerbeck and the heat slowed us dreadfully but, with the penultimate stage upon us, the normal spent grind resumed and we sighted, for the second successive year, fog at Robin Hoods Bay! Then, passing the ever impassive Lilla Cross at the top of the rise we had a slight breeze for the next half hour downhill.

The chalky dry track on the way down towards Jugger Howe almost gave me snow blindness and with nearly one eye working I took the inevitable fall going down into the ravine at Jugger – three falls but no submission and we were nearly home.

Joe Williams snatched a place from me by snaffling a can of coke from somewhere at the Car Park and therefore suitably refreshed strode on ahead – I saw no sign of those legal highs and rightly berated him for keeping that a secret. Dave Burke caught Kevin  Hughes and I back up at the hill atop Ravenscar and our shambling pack tumbled back down the back field, along the lane then turning left and down, down to the finish – joined in the end by an impressive and fit looking mob from Chapel Allerton Runners.

9 hours 34 by my watch, as I was a bit late setting out from Sheepwash that morning; a time I was more than happy with. I have done two quicker crossings and two slower ones in the past and so today's’ will do just fine.

How good to see the finishing field full of supporters mingling with marshals and runners and to meet friends old and new who finished in various states from seemingly fresh top notch runners to somewhat ordinary looking mid-pack shufflers like me. Grimy, tired, slightly nauseous or downright sick with the heat and humidity and effort or just simply peat stained, we all shared a common smugness of having completed the challenge.

Always a big thank you to Paul Sherwood who has been organising this for so long with his team of fine helpers that he clearly is nearly as old as Lilla Cross! Only joking Paul. Fifty years service to the race along with the cantakerous and autocratic ways eh? The event would never have been the same - sir, take a bow. Personally, a huge thank you from me for giving me the chance to pootle along and write these notes over the years. To all competitors both old and new – good to see you and good luck next year for a great crossing – the new organisers must be quaking in their shoes!

* Lyke Wake Walk and the Lyke Wake Way - Bill Cowley Dalesman Books 1983
** Lyke Wake Report by J.M.  Robertson from Lyke Wake Lamentations - The Bog-side Book - Bill Cowley & Phil Morgan Dalesman Books 1979