Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Lakeland 100 - A race of two halves

The finish! :)

38 hours and 8 minutes! At the third time of asking I've managed to get round the 105 miles of the Lakeland 100. It wasn't pretty and very slow but it was all about finishing. Very hot and humid conditions gave way to torrential rain and thunderstorms on Saturday evening neither of which were condusive to moving fast in the hills so I'm very happy to have made the finish with a couple of hours to spare. The stats tell a tell with 124 finishers from 274 starters. The full results can be found here.

I started slowly in the heat anticipating I could pick up some time in the cool of the nightime. The usual stomach problems slowed my pace from Black Sail onwards but I was picking up places on the climbs and descents and holding my own on the flat. I arrived at Dockwray, my 2011 end point, feeling stronger than I'd ever felt at this stage of the race but the wheels did  come off slightly on the long leg to Dalemain after i miscalculated on the water and ran out. My aim had always been to arrive at Dalemain before the Lakeland 50 race started which I managed with a couple of minutes to spare arriving at 59 miles in 17:28. It also meant the magical experience of being clapped into the checkpoint by 750 runners!

The lowest point of my race came around the 65 mile mark. Despite stuffing my face at Dalemain I hit the wall again and ran out of water dropping into Howtown. I took 20 minutes to sort myself out but was still moving slowly on the leg over to Mardale losing 50 minutes on my 35 hour schedule. Apologies to the Howtown check point volunteer who walked in as I was fixing some chafeage issues!

Crouched in a clump of bracken off the trail for a quick break I heard a 50 mile competitor quip "Look - he's evaporated" on spying my bag dumped by the side of the path. I wasn't far off in the heat of the day and was looking forward to the rain promised by the black clouds which were ominously building. The first crash of thunder and driving rain came 30 seconds before the Mardale checkpoint at just over 24 hours gone. From here it was head down in full waterproofs and keep moving. the checkpoint was incredibly busy with everyone trying to get under cover so I grabbed a couple of sandwiches and set off quickly feeling strong in the cooler condition.

My stomach problems had now resolved themselves and I set a comfortable pace through the darkness. The rain was bouncing knee high and there was a river coming down Garburn Pass. Ambleside was a welcome sight although the crowds from earlier in the day had headed home. Accepting that my target of 35 hours had slipped away in the conditions I opted to spend a bit longer in the checkpoint to ensure I was in good shape to get to the end. However on the climb out of Ambleside the sleepmonsters arrived for the first time. There had been plnety of frogs and toads on the path enjoying the rain but now they were everywhere and all different sizes!

The Langdale checkpoint loomed out of the rain like a mirage. Sofas, open fires and a pounding soundtrack.
The marshalls were all only wearing shorts and t-shirts so it must still have been pretty warm but there were a lot of cold competitors huddled under space blankets. I started to get cold quickly so opted to head back out in to the weather wearing everything I had. A calculated risk as I didn't think I had much in reserve to deal with any problems but the fear of an embarrisng rescue by my old Mountain rescue team should push me that little bit further or at least out of the valley!

Dawn arrived suddenly at Blea Tarn but the rain didn't let up and many of the trails were still ankle deep in flowing water. Foolishly I'd never recceed the final leg from Tilberthwaite to Coniston despite hearing plenty of horror stories about the nav and the stone staircase. I drank my thirteenth and final cup of coffee and quickly set off. My constant companians from Ambleside were a team of young ladies running the fifty as a team of three. I'm afraid I wasn't very sociable by this stage but I'm sure I gave them something to laugh about as I fell asleep on my feet with my head resting on my cheat sticks. Helena had stopped to deal with an unconcious competitor with a head injury just before Mardale but had caught up with her team mates Ann and Judith and was marshalling them (and me) towards the finish.

The final descent was long and painful as my body suddenly tightend up and seemed very fragile. I lost one place just before the end, beaten in a 'sprint' finish after 104 miles! Good effort Gary.

I managed a trot to the line where a few brave souls waited in the rain. However the reception on entering the John Ruskin School was pretty amazing with a couple of hundred folk cheering people home. I was cut free from my shackle (Sportident band) and received my medal and t-shirt. I lasted about 40 minutes before I fell asleep in my chair but enough time for a very welcome bacon sarnie! A couple of hours sleep in the van and back up for the final presentation and story telling which marked the culmination of a great event.

Monday, 29 July 2013

RIP Marty Schmidt

I had the pleasure of sharing two mountains with Marty, Cho Oyu and Ama Dablam. In 2009 as a first time guide on an 8000m peak he was incredibly generous with his advice and support. He summited just a couple of hours after our successful ascent.
In 2010 we shared our base camp with him on Ama Dablam and I spent many hours listening to his stories and thoughts on life. A truly unique individual who lived his life to the max.

Dallam Outdoors Lecture Series

Monday, 15 July 2013

Perfect conditions on Dow Crag

 Enjoying warm dry rock!

Today I was out on a sunny Dow Crag helping Stuart prepare for a forthcoming trip to Ama Dablam with Adventure Peaks. The brief for today was a bit of everything - scrambling, hard climbing, exposure, abseiling & fixed line practice. We began with a quick ascent of C Ordinary Route (D) looking at efficient movement skills and trust in the climbing system. A comfortable solo down Easy Terrace and we geared up at the foot of the classic Eliminate A (VS 4c). This was two grades harder than Stuart had ever attempted before but similar in standard to the crux Yellow Tower on Ama although you do get the assistance of a well anchored fixed line to haul on as well!. I strung the first two pitches together to give a sustained 35m pitch of 4b climbing which provided a good challenge for Stuart. From the belay we then escaped back to our bags with a multi pitch abseil. The final hour of the day was spent looking at fixed line systems in the broken ground at the base of the crag before a pleasant walk out in the evening sunshine. Next stop Nepal!

An exposed stance on C Ordinary Route

Monday, 8 July 2013

Carstensz Pyramid Expedition

I'm away leading an expedition to Carstensz Pyramid in August. This, the most mysterious of the 7 Summits, lies nestled deep in the Indonasian jungle and offers a significant logistical challenge just to reach its base. Summit day gives plenty of easy climbing on sharp limestone and the infamous Tyrolean traverse before the usual afternoon torrential downpour!


A windy Celtman Extreme Triathlon

Beinn Eighe - the day before the Celtman!

Celtman 2013 was all about the wind. You know you're in for a tough day when you're reduced to using the granny ring on your bike to keep moving forward on the flat! On the plus side the Torrdion midges were kept at bay!

The alarm went off at 2am and in the half light we made our way down to the village of Sheildaig nestled on the shores of Loch Torridon. Bikes racked and final preparations made we boarded the coaches to take us the short distance around the bay to Inverbain. Water temperatures were reportedly a chilly 11oC and a gusting wind was driving down from Glen Shieldaig. We were led to the waters edge by the traditional piper and in front of the flaming Celtman logo the race got underway. The swim route rounded Eilean an Inbhire Bhain before a long and exposed stretch to Shieldaig Island and the final few hundred meters to the village.

I struggled to adapt my stroke and breathing to the choppy conditions swallowing a lot of salt water in the process with  predictable results. Luckily there were very few folk behind me by this stage! The wind increased in ferocity during the second hour and many of the slower swimmers were pushed a long way east struggling to make ground back towards the old slipway at Sheildiag. As the sea floor came into view in the last 100m it was dishearteningly obvious I was only inching forward as squalls ripped water off the surface peppering my back with spray. I'd estimated the 3000m swim would take me around 1:25 but eventually exited in 2:06. A number of competitors did have to retire from the swim, mainly due to the cold, so I was very pleased to have got my kit right and was comfortable throughout. It was the usual fun trying to stand up in the shallows but once my cold fingers had managed to pull my ear plugs out my balance quickly came back as I clambered across the rocks to my bike. 

A quick transition and I was away for the 202km cycle. There was a surprising amount of sunshine around in the morning and there's a few competitors sporting a Scottish glow today! However the gusting wind always seemed to be working against me. After a couple of close calls with ditches I came off the tri bars and resigned myself to a long battle.  My pace was still pretty good and I managed to overtake my support without them noticing. Que some frantic driving and searching until they got back to me.

Annoyingly I'd failed to get my nutrition right for this race but my support driver / runner Carrie worked her magic and managed to source a bacon sarnie and a milkshake in the wilds of Scotland just when I was at my lowest ebb! Replenished I got my head down and started to pick off a few riders ahead of me.The rain arrived with an hour to go and just as we turned westward to face the full brunt of the weather.It was at this point I was reduced to grinding along in my lowest gears to try and keep any forward momentum. 

I eventually arrived at a very soggy and bedraggled marshal manning T2. I was outside the 11 hour cut off time by 36 minutes so had to retire. The body and mind were still fine and I felt like I had plenty of running in my legs but I just hadn't dealt with the conditions well enough. In reflection it's my usual problem of bucket loads of endurance but not nearly enough base line speed over the ground.

There were some incredible world class performances at the head of the field especially the 11 competitors who headed up over the mountains of Beinn Eighe before the route was modified due to dangerous conditions. As a general rule I usually race at around 150% of the winners time but the lead swimmers were out of the water in under 50 minutes, more than twice as fast as me (251%). My bike leg was more normal posting 9:21 as opposed to the quickest time of 6:07 (153%). All in all a stunning event and I'll be back in the future to try and get that blue t-shirt!

Climbing into my wetsuit in the half light 

 Fires burning on the Celtman swim exit

Exiting the water after a very slow swim

 A brilliant bike course with only a few long hills

Fighting the strong headwinds 

 Head down in the granny ring on the flat!

Monday, 1 July 2013

Himlung Himal Expedition (7126m)

I'm leading an expedition to the rarely climbed Himlung Himal in Nepal in the autumn. A quick trawl through Youtube unearthed this short video of an unsuccessful attempt but with some great images of a stunning objective.