Friday, 22 May 2020

Trigs | Snowdon, Snowdonia

It is less than a week before Christmas and the guy at the Youth Hostel reception desk is looking at me like I'm nuts. "You want to go over Crib Goch?" he repeats, "At this time of year we'd only recommend that for people who really know what they're doing, you know, people who've spent a lot of time in the hills." This should annoy me but actually it makes me laugh, what does a person who spends a lot of time in the hills look like? I'm evidently giving off the wrong vibe as I hold my beer and quiz him in the bar the night before my planned ascent.

I love the idea that people think hill baggers are still 'anoraks'. Obvious in the daylight. I continue to shock new friends that I can bore them for hours with my supposedly needless trivia about trig points. I confirm to the guy on the front desk that I definitely fall in to the camp of "know what I'm doing", hence the quizzing. "I'm just trying to ascertain how much ice is up there: is it crampons and ice axe kind of weather or not? Happy to carry stuff I don't need just in case just thought I'd ask your opinion." I then find out the route of the problem: he's not actually been over Crib Goch himself. Ever.



There are many routes up Wales' highest summit, Snowdon, and many are wonderfully friendly to beginners. Personally my love of the hills doesn't involve snaking up behind hundreds of other hill walkers so for me the natural route of choice is Crib Goch, in deepest winter. On the 20th December I make my bid for Wales' summit. Heading out of the YHA which is happily perched at one of the highest starting points for Snowdon, Pen-y-Pass, this crisp morning leads the valleys around me to be lit with the most phenomenal ethereal light while clouds trap the sunlight above me. I follow the easily marked Pyg Track until it splinters off to it's much unfriendlier elder brother of a route, the Crib Goch climb.

Crib Goch is a knife-edged arête which translates as 'red ridge' in Welsh. As I slowly pull myself along the ridge I'm delighted that while there is fresh snow, there is no ice making for really enjoyable climbing. On the day I'm there the ridgeline opposite, along with the famous Miners Track and the lake, Llyn Llydaw, keep swelling in and out of the mist and I feel like I have been lost to a dream world. It is believed that much of J R R Tolkein's vision for The Lord of the Rings came from the time he spent in North Wales and you can see why. For hours I see no one, which surely is not a statement many can say on their ascent of Snowdon.

Once over the knife blade of Crib Goch's summit, the kind-of-path threads it's way onwards before curving over Garnedd Ugain's trig point and continuing round to the left and the giant of Snowdon makes itself known with the surprising path convergence of my route and the railway line. There are no trains at this time of year and a smattering of other walkers pass cheerily but with hurried pace as the chill has started picking up and it has begun to snow. The mountain is reminding me that winter is here.



At the summit itself I gaze longingly at the cafe and dream of hot chocolate I could buy on days other than a wintery December before climbing the final twisting stairs that lead to the trig point itself. This trig is of special significance, as the highest point in Wales it was crucial in the triangulation of 1802 that led to the first accurate map of Wales by the Ordnance Survey. The Surveyor's work on top of the mountain, using a 200-pound theodolite they had had to carry up the mountain, was hard going due to the tapered nature of the summit but the discomfort they faced in triangulating from such a point was offset by the view, described by a witness at the time; 'Snowdon lies right in the centre of the British world, and commands from it's summit, views at once of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, and of the intermediate islands of Anglesey and Man.' (This quote is taken from Rachel Hewitt's wonderful Map of a Nation: A biography of the Ordnance Survey).


The view from Snowdon (1085m) has the potential to be as astounding today but on the day I reach the summit I'm nearly blown off sideways by the snow that is now attempting to lodge itself in any crevice I have failed to cover with waterproofing material and the sky is a thick white of snow drift which doesn't lend itself to great views. I quickly skim off the summit and head South down the Watkins path to cross the summit of Y Lliwedd. This amazing ridge line gives views back of Snowdon and Crib Goch that make this longer route down worth the effort and I eventually drop back down on to the Miner's Track which feels like a motorway compared to some of the paths I've ventured on today.

The Miner's Path drops me back off at the Youth Hostel and inside I order a whisky from the same guy at the reception desk. He's slightly impressed and slightly surprised by my order but as I settle down in front of the roaring fire of the hostel bar and pour over The Mountains of England and Wales (Volume 1: Wales) by John and Anne Nuttall I think he starts to realise that underneath my rather sheep-like appearance, an anorak of a wolf lies.



___

"A week ago, when I left home,
I little thought that I should come
To Snowdon's châlet - thence to see
The sun in heavenliest majesty.
Moonlight and mist at night-fall threw
A veil o'er all; - one argent hue
Enclos'd the earth, while far above
Gleams of a brighter world of Love
Wafter the soul beyond the sky,
Far, far, into Eternity!
But when the morning broke, and day
Once more resum'd his brilliant sway,
I saw - but words can never tell
That fire-line on the horizon creeping! -
At once upon my knees I fell,
And, for my very joy, much weeping!"
Written on the Summit of Snowdon, September 11th, 1845, Rev Henry Wellington Starr, 1845
Tragically, on the Rev Starr's second ascent of Snowdon in 1846, he had an accident on the descent. The weather had been poor and he'd chosen to climb alone something rarely done at the time. His body was discovered by a huntsman in 1847.

Thursday, 21 May 2020

Trigs | Pitch Hill, Surrey Hills

It's a beautiful 25 degrees in May in the UK today which is obviously an absolute rarity. I've spent the morning at the more famous 'true summit' of Pitch Hill's parent, Leith Hill, the second highest point in the South East of England having great fun attempting to run up and down the steps that lead from the Windy Gap car park to the tower that sits proudly at the summit.



While Leith Hill is an amazing viewpoint, it holds nothing to it's much less well known child of a hill, Pitch Hill. Just further up the road, I have parked in 'Hurtwood Car Park 3' and while the name is less than inspiring this area is far from. The Hurtwood is an area of 2000 acres of privately owned Common land in the Surrey Hills that feels like it has been pulled straight out of a Lewis Carroll novel.

Rather than following the most direct line up to Pitch Hill, I head out West along a narrow footpath and past The Warren, a small summit with a privately owned windmill sitting proudly on top before turning left to lose some height as I descend South down Horseblock Hollow, picking up an access only road and footpath that cuts back across the Warren lower down with beautiful views all the way across to eventually the South Downs.



At the end of The Warren a network of tiny incredibly steep paths lead me up towards Pitch Hill. These routes up crisscross and snake up the hill in such a steep manner I feel like a naughty schoolgirl creeping in to the woodlands along long forgotten paths. At times I am almost crawling, dragging myself up the path through the dense woodland until I suddenly hit a clearing that opens out to my right and the summit of Pitch Hill. After tapping the trig point at the top I continue to the far corner and the main Viewpoint where a small information board has been built in memory of the founders of the Long Distance Walkers Association, Alan Blatchford and Chris Steer. You can see why they would have chosen to put a memorial here of all places. I catch my breath and take in the 270 degree vista that enables me to see all the way out to the Shoreham gap and the channel beyond.

South East England opens up before me and in the beautifully quiet woods, I feel like I am a million miles away from London - just 30 miles away as the crow flies to the buzz and hum of Canary Wharf and the centre of town. Here I find myself in a moment of true serenity, caught between the rays of the sun, the dense wood and the eye wateringly beautiful views.


_____

"The heathland earth enmeshes secret glass, come see through this
cyclists flicker and echo down braided greensand paths,
their hunt in the forest ripping new wounds
in land enriched by scars. Lightening, flash-bulb blue,
ghosts the moment, lost voices alive in birch and oak,
at hide-and-seek inside the fort's enclosure.
A grasshopper's shed skin clings to a stalk - what's flown,
flies here still, its breath a maze of insect shadows."
Greensand Way, John Wedgewood Clarke, 2016




Tuesday, 19 May 2020

Trigs | Arthur's Seat, Edinburgh

I'm standing on top of an ancient volcano in the middle of the second largest city in Scotland. Arthur's Seat is a glorious central hill summit with fantastic views over the city and out to the sea.

At 251m this sleeping giant is a must do while visiting Edinburgh. I find myself in Edinburgh every August for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the largest arts festival in the world and I will at least once every summer therefore make the ascent to the top of this sleeping giant.

Arthur's Seat sits within Holyrood Park and my favourite ascent involves tacking on a climb of Salisbury Crags as well.

Starting at my favourite arts venue (which also has a fantastic cafe) Summerhall on the edge of the Meadows, I make my way down the majestic former fronts of Edinburgh's beautiful old houses on East Preston Street passing the old Commonwealth pool as I continue down Holyrood Park Road. I've snuck out at lunchtime in the middle of a busy festival day packed with seeing shows and the festival atmosphere spills on to the sunny streets with music and laughter filling the buzzy atmosphere. While there are many things to adore about the fringe festival, the overwhelming volume of people is not one of them and I start to break in to a jog as I hit Queen's Drive, the circular road and footpath that runs around the edge of Holyrood Park. I head away from Arthur's Seat itself, skirting the park to the left first and watch the looming Salisbury Crags rise to my right as I leave behind the crowds and the noise. As I pass the Scottish Parliament on my left I start to hug Salisbury Crags following Volunteer's Walk before turning almost a complete U-turn to start to follow the line that takes you directly over this summit.

As I start to hit the expanse of cliff that forms the Crags I am hit with my first really proper view of Arthur's Seat rising up to my left. I follow the Crags all the way over to rejoin one of the main ascents to Arthur's Seat itself, Pipers Walk. In 1778 soldiers from the Seaforth highlanders mutinied in this very spot and the regiment's piper paced the path playing hence the name. Today I can make out some of the pipers playing for tourists back in the centre as I follow the curling path up towards the summit, my run now reduced to a walk due to the gradient. As you hit the summit itself there is a final scramble to get to the top and my quiet escape suddenly finds me once again surrounded by tourists, selfie sticks in their hands throwing quizzical looks at my heavy breathing and even heavier running style.



I climb the final few steps to the trig itself from where you get the most amazing 360 degree view all the way over to the sea and beyond. I quickly touch the trig and I'm gone, flying down the most direct route, heading East towards Dunsapie Crags down the grassy slope that eventually leads me back on to Queen's Drive. Heart pounding I slow down from a wild fall to a gentle jog, as I skirt Holyrood Park once again on Queen's Drive before exiting the park the way I'd come. Back at Summerhall I'm salty and sweaty and shot with even more quizzical looks as I queue with my running rucksack for the tiny bathrooms. I'll change from my secret hill bagging ways back in to an arts professional just in time for the next show to start: heart full once again of the joy of the hills.



___

"I visited Edinburgh with languid eyes and mind; and yet that city might have interested the most unfortunate being. Clerval did not like it so well as Oxford; for the antiquity of the latter city was more pleasing to him. But the beauty and regularity of the new town of Edinburgh, its romantic castle and its environs, the most delightful in the world, Arthur's Seat, St Bernard's Well, and the Pentland Hills, compensated him for the change, and filled him with cheerfulness and admiration."
Frankenstein, Mary Shelley, 1818


Monday, 18 May 2020

Trigs | Stiperstones, Shropshire Hills

The light has just started slipping down the sky and the sunset over Wales is opening out in to the most beautiful array of colours.

I've parked at The Bog visitor's centre, a lovely little former mining village that now is a tiny hamlet on the edge of the Shropshire Hills. The Shropshire Hills are wonderful because while they have some of the wilderness and feel of other national parks in the UK, by being slightly lower they are far less visited and the evening I've come to Stiperstones there is a beautiful stillness over the village of The Bog.

Stiperstones is part of the group of hills in Britain known as Marilyns, hills with a 150m drop on all sides. Amusingly they were named Marilyns by Alan Dawson in his 1992 book The Relative Hills of Britain as a counterpoint to their Scottish mountain cousins, Munroes. Marilyn. Munro. Get it? 

From the main car park, you cut across a field slowly climbing until you hit The Shropshire Way, a bridleway that climbs through punchy pockets of heather before opening out on to a glorious long ridgeline with multiple forked up quartzite stones. These jagged outcrops in total run for an incredible 5 miles causing a dramatic summit for its modest 536m. One of these outcrops is even poetically named Devil's Chair. 

As you open out on to the summit ridge you see in the distance one of the most remarkable placings of a trig point ever: on the highest jagged quartzite, known as Manstone Rock, amazingly a trig has been cast at the very top. A scramble to the top later and you can cling on to the narrow depression in the centre and lean back in to nothingness.


The night in question I scrambled up bravely, thinking myself somewhat impressive in the half light of the evening. After I'd summited and gingerly made my way back down, through the twilight a fell runner came peeling out of the skyline and after a swift acknowledge of "Evening" threw himself up and back down in less than 10 steps. It rather put my cautious clamber to shame. But locals loving their hills has always been one of the joys of a truly great summit: loved by many, in many different ways. Loved through seasons, times of day, stages of life. The mountain is always there for you when you need it and no matter how you arrive or depart.


___

"They came at last, trotting in file along a narrow track between heather, along the saddle of the hill, to where the knot of pale granite suddenly cropped out. It was one of those places where the spirit of aboriginal England still lingers, the old savage England, whose last blood flows in a few Englishmen, Welshmen, Cornishmen. The rocks, whitish with weather of all ages, jutted against the blue August sky, heavy with age-moulded roundness. 
[...] At length they stood in the place called the Chair, looking west, west towards Wales, that rolled in golden folds upwards. It was neither impressive nor a very picturesque landscape: the hollow valley with farms, and the rather bare upheaval of hills, slopes with corn and moor and pasture, rising like a barricade, seemingly high, slantingly. Yet it had a strange effect on the imagination."
St Mawr, D H Lawrence, 1925





Tuesday, 24 March 2020

Finding motivation when the going gets tough


Motivation is a funny thing. It seems to come and go like the wind and I tend to find I'm motivated at really useless times (think 11pm at night I'm dreaming of that long run or stuck at my desk I'm fantasising about a core workout I want to nail).

Home working can be tough and being constricted by external limitations can really cause motivation to run away scared. Here are some tips of how to stay motivated when times get tough:

1 Plan
Sit down at the start of week and make a plan of when you're going to workout and what you are hoping to do. Planning in advance helps you prioritise the time and forces you to think through when things won't work (planning a 3 hour long run the same day as you're due to be working a long day - probably unrealistic).
As well as simply planning I really recommend you write it down - this makes it more likely to happen. Personally I use a journal and go old-school but you could do this online or on a calendar app if that works better for you.

2 Be Accountable
Community is so useful in helping us get through the hard sessions. I also have found my running transformed since being coached by someone as this has enabled me be accountable for the sessions I'm going to attempt and how they did or didn't go.
Text a friend and ask if they fancy doing a session with you remotely this week - you could both commit to doing an interval session on Tuesday say or to doing the Tempo Thursday set. Check in with that person afterwards, share what you found hard and what you're proud of for yourself for.
Accountability is such a powerful tool in helping get a session in when motivation is waning.

3 Find Positive Inspiration
Inspiration is everywhere around us from those we find positive influences on social media (note positive influences: if they're not uplifting - unfollow!) to stories you can read from heroes of the running community (now is a great time to read that book you've always wanted to) through to documentaries and short films and of course from those around us. I particularly find the people in my everyday life really inspire me: the colleague who did her first 5km run in the park yesterday, my parents getting out for a daily walk, my We Are Daybreak friends committing to their workouts and finding strength and resilience.
Channel that positivity and let it fuel your workout.

4 If you're struggling
Sometimes life can be quite overwhelming. At times when I've been really struggling I've committed to the simple tool of completing three things a day. Just three things. When I've been in a really tough place that might be as simple as shower, eat one proper meal and get outside once today. When I'm doing well it might be bigger things: laundry, a running session, pay that nagging bill. Write it down. Celebrate each thing you complete but remember if things are tough that you can do small things. Sticking to just three helps keep it manageable and gives you create a positive outlook to approaching tasks throughout the rest of the week.

5 Set goals
My recent coaching qualifications focused on the importance of goal setting but not perhaps in the way that social media has led us to believe. Firstly don't worry about medals or even times. And while it's great to have something big to aim for (I've been working towards a race in August for over a year now), it is also really important that we set bitesized smaller goals and review our progress. So try setting a fitness based goal of where you would like to be in 8 weeks time and then benchmark your current ability. That could be improving your balance by 20% (try standing on one leg with your eyes shut and time yourself). Or how about improving your core strength through completing regular strength training (try holding a plank for as long as you can).
Goals don't need to be about races or medals and smaller fitness goals will have long term impacts on your running that you will reap for years to come.

6 The 'zero to hero' fallacy
With so many opportunities to take part in exercise at the minute don't overcommit and try and do everything. What does your current average of exercising look like? We would always encourage that you don't step up by more than 20% in a week so that might mean if you regularly take part in 5 running sessions a week adding in an additional yoga class. Start slowly and remember that the phrase 'zero to hero' is a lie. Zero to "Ouch what is that sharp pain?!" more like. There is power in rest days. Since I've introduced two rest days a week, I've got 20 minutes faster at the marathon. Get stronger, stay fit and sane yet move mindfully and allow your body time to recover.


Finally: remember the power of the simple things. Eat mindfully, get some time outdoors, reduce your screen time, exercise, call your friends and family, don't overdo the caffeine.

We're online and connected if you need us. 

Wednesday, 26 February 2020

Race | Seville Marathon

11 marathons in. 4th attempt at achieving a 'Good For Age' time - the time needed to run the London marathon. On paper that means sub-3:45 but in reality this year 3:40:45.

First two times they were more fleeting thoughts rather than hard work plans (Copenhagen 2018 - destroyed in the heat and Chicago 2018 - PB of 3:52:58). The last time in Stockholm I'd worked super hard and it didn't come to plan but thanks to the amazing Speedster pacing me round the hilly course I lowered my PB to 3:45:39.

In the last 10 weeks I've worked harder than I've ever worked in a marathon training cycle. I've achieved a new 10km PB, run virtually my half marathon PB after a 10km warm up and clocked paces I've never seen before.

I was ready.



But this was not the blog I was hoping to write.

Seville was the most wonderful course. Beautiful, flat and early on in the year - perfect for the ultramarathon lover in me to race then get back to the trails.

I've also been struggling with lots of other stuff recently including high levels of stress and little sleep and going in to marathon week I wasn't my usual self but by recognising it properly early on in the week by the weekend I was feeling ready to attack the marathon. I clocked a little shake out on the Saturday and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little shocked at quite how warm I found it. After training in long, cold, wet English winters, and being known for my love of shorts and t-shirts regardless of the weather, I was shocked at quite how warm it felt in Seville.



I made a panic trip to Decathlon and bought a great emergency vest for just €15 to wear on race day. Nothing new before race day slightly out the window but it was definitely the right decision.

On the day itself I felt great. The Speedster had wonderfully offered to pace me and as we set off I felt amazing. I was so ready. Congestion at the start made the first km slow but that felt useful to get us in a groove. We went through 10km in 51:15, on track for 3:35. The next 5km flew past but 17-19km were a bit tough but I still went through the half marathon in 1:48:55, on track for a 3:37 finish. 20km-24km I was back on it but as I got to 25km my chin started repeatedly popping up and I realised I was started to get really uncomfortably warm.


Between 25km-30km I managed to hold my pace for some kms and others started to slip but I was still well on track for a GFA time. But then around 31km something just snapped in a way I've never experienced before. My heart rate soared over 190bpm and I was convinced I was going to pass out/throw up. The heat got to me. And then my calves started cramping horribly (again something I've never had before). I desperately poured cup after cup of water over my head desperately trying to cool myself down but the damage was done.



My brain was screaming to stop. I'd lost all my goals. I felt so unwell. I just desperately wanted to stop.

But somehow I kept moving forward. I walked through the water stations for 10-20 seconds every time to try and give myself the chance to get in fluids. It was agony to keep moving especially as around 35km my by now wet and salty feet were causing me agony (3 blood blisters under toenails and a massive blister on my arch would explain that later) and I felt like I was barely moving.



When the 3:45 pacers passed about 39km it really hurt me mentally. I desperately tried to go with them but my legs were screaming with cramp.

Looking at my splits now for the last 12km I actually see I was still holding a decent pace. But it's hard to come to terms with goals versus paces you formally ran.

I convinced myself for the final 3km I wouldn't walk a single step. Finish well. Flipping heck it hurt. The Speedster was amazing and stuck with me through all of my meltdown. As we approached the finish line it was so overwhelming to not be running towards at least a PB.

Crossing the line I cried. And cried. And cried.

I don't think I've 'deserved' a PB more. But it was not to be.

I'm taking some time this week to regroup and come to terms with how I'm feeling. Next up I've got a trail ultramarathon so I'm excited to next week head off to the trails for mentally a bit of a break from the roads.

Onwards.



Total time: 3:48:19
Average pace: 5:25/km

Finishing position: 5454 (out of 10,299)
Finishing position (gender): 404 (out of 1488)
Percentage of finishers: 88%

https://www.strava.com/activities/3126235643



Saturday, 4 January 2020

Race | Endurance Life Dorset Ultra+

We're driving down to Dorset on the Friday evening after work before racing on the Saturday and I can think of no good reason as to why I've entered the Ultra+ over a shorter distance.

I'm fortunate enough to be an Ambassador for the brilliant Runderwear and when they suggested over the summer a team outing to their neck of the woods and a chance to explore the Jurassic Coast I thought: Brilliant! Endurancelife is a race series that aims to cater for all abilities and as such their events start at 10km and go up to UTMB qualifying races. I've got, as I keep joking, too many UTMB points so that was no factor in my decision making process. The race is also a series of laps for anything beyond the marathon so by going longer I wasn't getting a better view or route.

Simply: I was pretty stubborn about a woman needing to sign up for the hardest event. I waited for one of the other girls to sign up. I thought at one point I might have persuaded Jordan AKA Project Marathon Girl before she instead took on Ultra X's Jordan race.

So it was left down to me, in my head, to represent the girls.

The Ultra+ is run along the beautiful Jurassic coast which, while not particularly high, is continually undulating along the cliffs. This means the 73km race manages to sneak in an impressive 3,250m elevation gain.



The race day itself was utterly beautiful: clear blue skies and incredible views. I spent most the day in just a t-shirt which given it is run on 30 November was remarkable. The course is pretty technical in places and it's definitely one to take poles on. It was brilliantly marked and bar one HORRENDOUS churned mud-bath of a farmers field where I saw someone loose both his shoes to the mud, it felt so well chosen as a route. We even passed a trig point on route!

It's slightly demoralising to be on a route that picks up and drops off those running shorter distances but it was actually really nice to be, for the first 50km or so, with the shorter 'Ultra' runners as I got chatting to some great girls on course.

The highlight of the day was my amazing friends being there to cheer me on: my friends Claudi and Matt drove all the way from London and back on the day to cheer and the legendary Speedster clocked up 30km through running around cheering and taking pictures.


Personally, I really enjoyed the loops. I didn't expect to say that but I've not run with a headtorch for longer than about an hour so the three hours I ended up in the dark was made much better by the fact I'd essentially recced the race route during the race.

As far as ultras go, it was a great day out. I personally think the aid stations could do with some proper nutrition and it seems a little unfair if you are UTMB points hunting that the race is worth the same points as Country to Capital after the Ultra+ was downgraded this year from 4 points to 3 but in terms of fantastic season closers I'd really recommend it.

Thanks to Runderwear for the place and kit.


Total time: 11:14:30
Strava link: https://www.strava.com/activities/2902590137

Finishing position: 48 (out of 73)
Finishing position (gender): 6 (out of 24 starters, 10 finishers)
Percentage of finishers: 70%*
*Plus high numbers dropped down to shorter distances on the day

To find out more about how to enter the 2020 race go to: