Sunday, 25 September 2011

High Peak 40 - Saturday 17th September

Looking fresher than I felt with just 4 miles left!
With the Bob Graham on hiatus for a while (probably looking like it'll have to be postponed until 2012 now) I turned my attention back to the runfurther series.  I'd completed Calderdale (39miles - medium), Highland Fling (53miles - long) and Osmotherley Phoneix (33miles - short) so far and needed one more race of any length for the required 4 for the series.  I wasn't going  to run the Round Rotherham - great organisation and always a friendly event but I'm not into long runs in industrial South Yorkshire - so I sent off my £20 for the High Peak 40.

I ran the HP40 a couple of years ago and (like everyone seems to be) was put off by a fair bit of road.  The route is generally really scenic though and I hear that the dreaded road section was necessary to make up the 40 miles when the route was originally conceived as a 40th celebration of Otter Controls Ltd's.  I'll let them off in that case...  Anyway, the usual crowd of runners had gathered at Buxton Community School early on a Saturday morning as the rain bucketed down.  I deliberated with Tim Whittaker for a while about what to wear - long sleeve or short, windproof or waterproof?  I opted for a long sleeve not knowing that bar the odd downpour the day would be generally pretty hot!  The 'smelly Helly' would be made even smellier.  I couldn't hear the pre-race instructions and before I knew it we were off towards the reservoirs of the Goyt Valley.  I jogged along initially with the ever-present Nick Ham before settling in alongside Charlie Johnson, Ed Melbourne and Tim.  The first few miles are flat and fast but the White Peak scenery is decent and I was enjoying the opportunity to be out.  Some people ask why we do these long races - for me, today was perfect example.  It had been a long week at work with late nights, an overnight and all the usual stresses so the chance to spend the day focused on something so simple as putting one foot in front of the other with like-minded lunatics is pretty appealing.  By the time I had returned to the school with 40 miles under my belt I was physically knackered but mentally refreshed.

Back to the run and we were moving at a fair clip as we approached Rushop Edge just after CP5.  I was running with the machine-like Karen Nash as I let Charlie, Ed and Tim go (I've learnt my lesson following that lot for too long) and we were on the High Peak Marathon route, one of my favourite places in the Peak District to run.  Over Mam Tor and then gingerly down the steed path from Hollins Cross before the road section into the centre of Castleton.  I was feeling reasonable and was looking forward to the climb up through Cave Dale and a chance to power hike!  I spotted Tim up ahead (he'd been stung by Charlie and Ed's pace) and we made our way up to the Limestone Way together.  He was struggling a bit so I motored on ahead only to take a wrong turn on the way down towards Tideswell and had to re-trace my steps.  I didn't let it get to me and focused on maintaining a good pace on the road section down in to the village.  There were lots of day-trippers out, probably wondering what the smell was as I sweated past looking a little overdressed for what was now a lovely day.  I necked a few biscuits at the Tideswell Dale CP and was relieved to be offered some Vaseline by Jonathan Seaton (photographer of the pic above) having started to suffer with some serious chaffing!  The flat Monsall Trail was a low point and I wasn't moving particularly quickly, knowing that my target of 7hrs was probably ambitious given my conservative approach so far.  I ran for a while with Stephen Dunbar and his friend who was struggling a bit with dehydration.  I offered an endurolyte tablet which he necked and promptly seemed to perk up.  He did drop back a bit later though and I settled into the last few miles with Karen who had come through a bad patch and was back up with the pace and Stephen.  Karen was having a nightmare with the route and made numerous false turns only for me to whistle/shout her back - she must have run about 45miles in the end!  Her tribulations kept me on my toes and I was pleasantly surprised when I arrived at the funny 'canyon' (is this Deep Dale No.2?) before the final CP.  I enjoyed an opportunity not to be running on the flat but was soon back at it as I grabbed a final cup of juice from the ever-friendly CP staff and got my head down for the final few miles.

I had forgotten the route at the end and promptly made a hash as I approached Buxton adding a few more minutes on but eventually arrived back at the school in 7hrs 25mins (although the HP40 website has changed my name to Simon Webb!)  An enjoyable day out and fitting conclusion to another enjoyable runfurther year.  Well done to my Saddleworth sidekick Chris Davies who seems to get better with age, finishing 2nd in 6hrs flat!  Thanks to the HP40 organisers for a really well organised event and my free mug - Mrs Webb has been enjoying her morning tea in it...

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Bob Graham - this Saturday

Start of the 1st attempt - the calm before the storm...
At midnight this Friday I'm planning my second attempt at completing The Bob Graham Round.  I tried back in May but was thwarted by some ropey weather conditions.  My love for running in rain and wind usually sees my placing at races improved over sunny days when faster runners can stretch their legs.  I enjoy 'gritting it out' but it seems there's a big difference between a sub-12hr effort in those conditions and a challenge like the Bob Graham where you're out on particularly exposed terrain for nearly 24hrs.  It will only have made me tougher though and hopefully will help when I set off again this weekend.

The route (taken from

The forecast is set fair bar some potential rain during the first few hours and I'm running on a 22hr schedule.  The stats say the 42 peak circular route is 72miles with 27,000ft of climbing (in practice it's probably slightly shorter - my GPS says about 68miles) but the difficulty lies in the technical underfoot conditions and the constant ascent/descent with few opportunities to get any real rhythm going.  I've run the route numerous times in bits...never in one.  This time Ronnie Turner (fresh from his surprise Paddy Buckley Round success a few weeks ago) will be running round with me which should make the whole day feel pretty sociable.

The plan is to thoroughly enjoy running a circuit of the most beautiful area in the country.  I'll be posting a full report of how it goes next week.  In the meantime, there'll be updates from my road support team via my Twitter feed @teamwebb which should be on the right hand side of this page.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Osmotherley Phoneix – 2nd July 2011

As expected we arrived in Osmotherley on Saturday morning under clear skies and even at 8:15am it was already getting a tad warm.  Pretty much all of the races I’ve run this year have been in good conditions with one notable exception – the Bob Graham.  I haven’t posted a blog entry about it in an effort to maintain a positive mindset, but in a nutshell I was thwarted by the weather on the 28th/29th May.  After over 10 hours of rain and high winds I decided that it was time to call it a day at High Raise.  I was about 45mins down on my 22hr schedule and feeling okay, but the weather was awful and the prospect of another 12 hours of it was enough for me to think that bagging the attempt and rescheduling for later in the summer (now confirmed as midnight on 12th August) was the sensible and safe option.  Other BGs that weekend had suffered a similar fate - in fact one supporter on another attempt ended up fracturing his skull descending Blencathra, maybe I should feel fortunate to be in one piece.  I usually like the weather rough but the BG route is particularly exposed and 22-24hrs is a long time!  Anyway, after a few weeks of feeling sorry for myself and suffering with colds and hayfever I was glad when, last Wednesday, my legs started to feel less heavy and I was able to breathe and see all at the same time!

Before the start with Rich (left) and Dad (middle)
So, preparation wasn’t the best for this fast 33mile trail route around the North York Moors but I was interested to see whether my BG training was still in my legs - I hoped it would be as mid-August isn’t too far away!  The event was a sell-out in advance (I think for the first time?) and there were hundreds of people milling about at the start struggling to hear a word of the pre-race briefing.  Based on my slack form/health since the BG, my plan was simply to run a steady race and finish around the same time as last year.  We set off up the road before following the rolling Cleveland Way.  I was nearly trodden into the ground by a herd of cows but otherwise the first few miles were pretty uneventful as I tried not to run too quickly.  There are 17 and 27mile runners all in the mix at this point and it’s tempting to chase them down only to find that they’re running half the distance!  I observed a few interesting kit choices considering the high temperature – long sleeved tops and tights on a hot day seemed a poor choice and sure enough I soon saw a few of the tops ditched in favour of a bare chest! I’d settled into a nice rhythm and felt I was running a sustainable pace – I gained on the climbs, sometimes passing runners with my ‘power hiking’ and kept up with everyone else on the flat.  There’s not much running on a BG so I needed to show this flat-ish course a bit of respect given my lack of pace.  From CP2 below Carlton Bank to CP3 after Cringle Moor I ran pretty much alone and was grateful for the climb up to the Trig point at CP4 where I was able to neck some flapjack and a salt tablet.  I was grateful for some cloud cover as I made the fast descent and then short road section to the Chop Gate car park (CP5).  No kit check here as there was last year and after a quick topping-off of my 2 water bottles I made my way up the climb back on to the moor.  At this point I was running alongside Jonathan Steele (organiser of the Hardmoors races) whom I would stay with until the finish.  

Chatting about races, training, kit and other geeky running-related stuff, plenty of miles passed without us really noticing.  I passed my sisters,  brother-in-law and Dad who were on the 17mile route as I approached the Wheat Beck CP just before I made the only navigational error of the day.  More concerned with avoiding the aggressive dogs in the farm yard I took us up the wrong path before realising my mistake and retracing my steps – 5mins lost but more importantly we had to run the gauntlet of the barking dogs again!  The next 6-10 miles seemed to breeze by (why was I feeling so good – surely a ‘bonk’ was on the cards?!) and the marshal at the Hawnby CP said we were in about 15th/16th spot.  The climb up to Black Hambleton was great and we ran a fair bit  before joining the Hardmoors 55 route back into Osmotherley.  At this point it was good running alongside Jonathan who would clearly know the route well!  I had a bit of stomach cramp descending off Black Hambleton after drinking too much but it soon cleared up as I made good progress back into the village.  It had taken 5hrs 38mins (a PB by 8mins) and I felt like my plan of a steady pace had been spot on.  It has given me a bit of confidence that I’ve still got it in my legs and the prospect of training over the next few weeks seems significantly more attractive knowing there is a solid base there.

Finishing alongside Jonathan Steele
Thanks as ever to Gerry, Julie and the Osmotherley marshalls for organising a cracking event.  I will be back in 2011...     

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Highland Fling - 30th April

 This was my first time at the Highland Fling (or ‘The Fling’ as it seems to be more commonly known) and I was looking forward to spending some time running on the West Highland Way – something I’d not really done before.  The route takes in the southern 53 miles of the WHW from Milngavie to Tyndrum - the top section is another race, the ‘Devil of the Highlands’ which I might try in the future - and is regarded as being the easier ‘half’ (also on the list is the full WHW race in June).  There is a staggered start and by the time I arrived at 8am for the Senior Male/Elite start, some had been going for a full 2hours already.  We arrived far too early and with no queues, I was registered (i.e I had picked up my timing chip from a particularly chipper lady on the desk!) and had deposited my three drop bags in under 2 minutes.  After 45mins of small talk/keeping warm and the race briefing (“let someone know if you drop out – have a good day!” – brilliant!) we were gathered in an underpass awaiting the start.  The plan was to see if I could run 50+ miles comfortably.  It sounds ridiculous but I felt that given my BG training and level of fitness it should be possible, so I set off at a steady pace.  The terrain for the first 15miles of so was more rolling than highlands and it was tricky not to go too fast.  I settled into a reasonable pace and met some really nice blokes (the women all left at 6am), none of whom I met before – this was a really different crowd to the usual Runfurther races.  I passed through Drymen without making any errors in navigation (the only slight deviation from the main WHW) and was eating as much as I could before the heat burnt up my appetite.  The only significant climb of the race is over the side of Conic Hill, approaching the Balmaha CP and my legs didn’t appreciate the steep descent into the car park – I was worried I might pay for that later.  A sandwich and half a can of coke later and I was off to Rowardwenna.  I found I lost a bit of focus on this section, neglected to drink and eat as much as I should (especially as the sun was now beating down on us) and I suffered a bit with the monotony of the path.  In retrospect I should have maintained a quicker pace here as this was my worst split (compared to the rest of the field) of the whole race and I arrived at the CP in need of some reviving.  Some food and another coke did the trick and I was back on the trail towards Inversnaid.  Everyone I had met on the race so far had warned me about this section – “take it easy up to Inversnaid, there are boulders and roots, some folk find it really tough” – but it was this section that I really started to feel good.  I was passing people regularly (apart from the relay runners, although I kept pace with a few) and I felt much more at home on the technical trail.  For the first time ever during a trail/fell race I had my ipod plugged in and I was flying along!  The scenery from Inversnaid to Benin Glas was some of the best I’ve ever seen on a race in the UK, the weather was glorious (although not great from a running perspective!)  and it was difficult not to be distracted by the views across the northern tip of Loch Lomond and beyond into the Highlands.
The view over Loch Lomond from Conic Hill
 I did run out of water on this section and I was looking forward to my drop bag at Benin Glas where I had stashed another can of coke.  The only problem was, when I arrived, the can had burst and not only had the coke seeped away but my food was rendered inedible – disaster!  Fortunately, I scrounged some drinks from the ‘spares’ box and I munched on a Peperami from my rucksack.  The final 12 and a bit miles were allegedly straightforward and I cracked on hopeful of a finish as close to 10hrs as possible.  I was still passing people regularly and as far I am aware I wasn’t passed by a single runner on the full route from Inversnaid until the end.  There were some sorry sights as runners were succumbing to the heat and several looked like they were in survival mode until the finish.  I was feeling reasonably good and a mix of salt tabs, Hammer Endurolyte Fizz and Cliff Shot Bloks kept me well hydrated and I felt in surprisingly good shape.  The section did go on for an age though and after crossing the road 3 times we were eventually in sight of the end.  As I approached the finish I was greeted by a pair of pipers who got me pretty excited and sure enough, there was a crowd just around the corner and my journey on the WHW was over.  10’32” was my time in the end, pretty respectable I think given the conditions and that it was my first attempt.  I’ll be back to improve on it in the future no doubt.

Approaching the finish in Tyndrum
Thanks to all the organisers and volunteers who made the day possible. 

Recovering with some technical sports recovery drink

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Calderdale - 9th April 2011

For the third successive year we arrived at Sowerby Cricket Club in glorious sunshine to run 37(ish)miles through Calderdale.  The organisers had kept the route the same for the 3rd successive year (although I was under the impression it was changed every 2 years?) and I was looking forward to seeing if I could better my previous efforts.

After the usual socialising and eyeing up of each other's kit - "how much water are you carrying?", "is a mug really necessary?" - the long runners (there is an earlier start for walkers of both the long and shorter routes) departed at 9am.  I'd learnt my lesson this year and ignored the crowd who charged off down the drive, choosing instead to go in the opposite direction behind the pavilion to emerge a minute or so ahead - pretty insignificant when you're planning to be out for over 6 hours! - on the steep descent to the canal.  The initial 2/3miles to CP1 is like a warm up before the race begins 'proper' as you start the initial climb of the day up towards Crow Hill.  Everyone was feeling pretty fresh at this point and there was a fair bit of chat as we made our way over the moor towards Keighley Road.  Some runners had taken the straight line option from CP2 (more climbing but shorter, which would have suited me had I thought of it) and I was frustrated to see them appear just ahead as I contoured round on my way to the CP.  Having grabbed a few Jelly Babies and refilled my water bottle I set off down the path on the opposite side of the road, passing walkers and Rick Ansell who was having real difficulty staying on his feet on the slippery stones (sorry Rick!)  I was feeling pretty good at this point and breezed through the Walshaw CP grabbing only a couple of biscuits before settling into a reasonable pace on the track/path/road towards Widdop.  I was trying not to push the pace too much as I knew it was going to be a long, hot day and I'd only pay for it later.  As we approached the reservoir there was a group of about 6 of us, all running reasonably conservatively but starting to feel the heat having already run 11 miles or so.

Descending towards Foulclough Road - looking okay, feeling rough!
After climbing away from the water we joined the Pennine Bridleway before breaking off onto a path that skirts the south edge of Cant Clough Reservoir.  This is supposedly straightforward navigation but Ozzy Kershaw who was running with us at the time suddenly bounded off into the undergrowth on a 'secret line'!  I tracked him in the distance and sure enough he appeared ahead of us as we approached the reser'.  It seems his recces paid off...  It was really hot now and a couple of runners had submerged themselves totally in one of the streams, I made do with dunking my hat and buff.  Up to Long Causeway and then a short road section before heading down to the church hall at Holme Chapel where some friendly volunteers presented me with a couple of Viscount biscuits!  Refueled, I headed up Thievely Pike with plenty of pep in the legs.  It didn't last however as I hit a bit of a slump as I passed through Slatepit Hill and onto the seemilgly endless section on the Rossendale Way.  Some runners overtook me as I tried to revive myself with a couple of energy gels and a bottle full of Hammer Endurolyte Fizz.  I usually hate electrolyte drinks and I tend to stick to the Elete drops as you can't taste them, but these tablets kept me feeling reasonable all day as everyone else seemed to be suffering!  Anyway, I was feeling better and despite a navigational gaff on the way down to Walsden (is the route supposed to go through a housing estate?!) my pace had picked up.  I tried to take advantage on the way to Lumbutts (complete with Bride and Groom appearing from the church as I passed!) and up to Stoodley Pike, slowly picking up places as my BG training seemed to be paying off. 

From Stoodley to Withins Clough with Richard - looking rough, feeling okay!
For the last few miles I ran alongside Richard, chatting about the Grand Union Canal Race that I completed last year and he's having a go at next month (best of luck to him, it's pretty tough!)  We were joined by Karen Nash and without noticing we were on the road beyond Shaw's Lane CP and it was downhill(ish) all the way to the finish!  I came in in 6'39", 14 mins quicker than 2010 and feeling okay.  As I recovered on the cricket pitch applauding people as they ran in I heard of how Martin Beale won the race after a tussle with Simon Bourne and how Nicky Spinks had continued her good form with an excellent win for the ladies.  As usual, the race was a superbly organised and friendly affair on an excellent route that I'll miss when it's changed next year.  37 miles, dozens of cheery volunteers, gallons of water/juice, biscuits, butties and hot food at the end for a tenner - there's no better way to spend a sunny Saturday in April!  Thanks to the organisers for another cracking event.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

High Peak Marathon - 4/5th March 2011

This is the 5th time I've run this race which, despite being overnight across some fairly grim moorland, is one of my favourites!  Colin Bishop and Chris Maylor who ran as part of my team last year were unavailable as they were organising the New Chew race the following day (lame excuse!) and so Ronnie Turner and Dave Swift (both Tod' Harriers) joined Craig Stansfield and I - we were the Peperami Pacers.  We'd been out to recce the Swains Head to Bleaklow Head section at night and we'd had one previous run out as a team over the Derwent Edge section so we were reasonably prepared.  I was confident we were all strong runners of a similar ability but I had concerns over the navigation.  Basically, Ronnie and Craig's skills lie elsewhere (they would agree!) and although Dave is pretty decent, this sort of terrain at night is fairly testing.  So, for the first time on this race, I assumed the main responsibility for the navigation - and it turned out my skills were going to be tested!

The weather looked promising with no rain forecast and temperatures around freezing.  We hoped for it to get colder as the bogs might freeze and provide easier running conditions.  We arrived early at Edale Village Hall and were kit checked and tucking into some pre-race jam sandwiches with over an hour to spare.
We set off at 11:22pm under clear skies and within minutes were stripping off layers as we made our way up to the first checkpoint at Hollins Cross (I can't remember a year when I have run this race in so little kit - I wore just a base layer and windproof for all but 20mins of the race, one guy ran in shorts!)  Craig upped the ace on the descents from Lose Hill and then Win Hill and we were all in good shape approaching Stanage Edge and the first feed station at Moscar.  Just before Moscar we were passed by eventual winners, Flipper's Gang, who sailed past sounding ominously fresh!  Last year I had stupidly breezed through Moscar without eating much so I was determined to down as much as I could in the 2mins we were stopped.  Unfortunately, this backfired as I had my one bad patch of the race for the following hour.  The half-mile on the road down to Cutthroat Bridge seemed to shake everything up and then the modest climb up to Derwent Moor seemed to be more effort than it should be.  The next couple of checkpoints I was trying to ignore to urge to vomit and maintain a decent pace but I felt pretty awful.  Fortunately, Craig suggested a switch to some savoury food and pulled a Peperami from my rucksack.  For the second year on the trot (I nicked a couple from Chris last year mid-race) the 'offal stick' did the trick!  Within 10mins I was feeling much better and we cracked on to Cut Gate, just short of half-way.

The race only really begins here though and the trod from Outer Edge trig point to Swains Head was as wet as ever.  Far more of a concern was the fact that the stars had disappeared and I was struggling to see more than 10 metres in front of me as the clag had descended!  This was the worst possible time for bad visibility as we left Swains Head CP on the hunt for Bleaklow Stones.  Locating a collection of a dozen innocuous stones in miles of featureless, boggy wilderness is tricky in good conditions but in thick fog in the middle of the night it's ridiculously tricky.  There is a staked route to follow but that means spotting the stakes which are often snapped/uprooted/missing/invisible behind the 8ft high peat hag!  We were doing well until we approached what I thought was the plateau on which the stones sat.  From here I took a new bearing but the ground seemed to fall away.  Were we on the plateau or had we missed it?  Or had we gone over it?  To make things worse another team was in a similar position (the only reason we could see them was because they passed within 10 feet) and it was difficult not to be swayed by their, extremely confident sounding, navigator.  Together we messed about for over half-an-hour before eventually I had had enough (team morale hit a low point!) and set the bearing I should have trusted earlier and set off.  2 minutes later I spotted a stake and within 5 minutes we were at the Bleaklow Stones CP.  Lesson learnt: ignore others, trust the compass and trust your own instincts.  To be fair, I felt I learnt my lesson pretty quickly as just 5 minutes later on our way to the next CP I met our friends Team Krypton who insisted that we were heading in the wrong direction, they were having their own navigation troubles it seemed.  This time I stood my ground and within 15 minutes we arrived at Bleaklow Head.

The most difficult section of the race was over and after focusing on the navigation I was feeling great.  We stormed off down the PennineRushup Edge as we passed Lord's Seat and within minutes we were back at Hollins Cross before the final decent back into Edale.  We arrived back in 10hours 41minutes.  A personal best for me, tinged with the disappointment that we could have been so much quicker if we'd nailed the navigation.  Sub 10-hours is certainly on the cards but that will have to wait until 2012.  Thanks to all the organiser and marshalls who sat out in some dreadful conditions all night dressed up as bears/santas etc!  It's a unique event that makes no sense whatsoever which is probably why I love it...

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

The Hebden - 22nd January 2011

I have had some solid winter training over the past couple of months but there's no substitute for a race to test how fit you are and The Hebden was the perfect start to 2011.  At 22 miles and 4000ish feet of vertical it's not too strenuous but is pretty much the distance I needed as a build up to imminent longer events.  Word has spread about the race and there were over 400 packed into the church hall before 8am on a frosty Saturday morning raring to go for a yomp around Calderdale.  After throwing some tea and toast down my neck we were off, out of Mytholmroyd and onto the first of many of the local trails and tracks.

I had no plan for the race other than to run a steady pace and hope that I found someone who knew the route for the last 2 checkpoints as I'd only recced up to CP4!  It was pretty social for the first 3/4 miles but there soon developed a pack of about 8 runners with a few familiar faces.  A couple, including fellow Saddleworth runner Chris Davies, disappeared into the distance after CP1 but I suspected we might catch them later. Over the next 6 miles or so there were a few different route choices but the remainder of the group all stayed within eyeshot.  I was trying out my old Platypus rather than my usual bottles and this helped me speed through checkpoints just grabbing food and gaining maybe a minute on the others.  Eventually, I found myself running with Ozzy Kershaw and Tim Whittaker from CP3 and we made good progress up towards Stoodley Pike before dropping down to CP4.  Ozzy had dropped off the pace and I was left with Tim who, like me, didn't know the route from here to the finish!  Our disorganisation was punished as we were caught by a couple of others including David Ralphs who I knew I knew from somewhere (Tim eventually worked out he had been on the UTMB with us last August).  From here on in it was one of those 'I feel good but can't up the pace too much as I'm not sure where I'm going' situations which was probably a good thing as it stopped me really pushing myself on what was supposed to be a 'warm-up' event.

We coasted into the finish together (see the picture of Tim, myself and David above) in a pretty decent 3hrs 31mins (contrary to the official timing which was a bit off) - a time which would have won last year but this year was nowhere near!  The winning time of 3'04" is spectacular, I've no idea how he managed that!  Chris Davies ran an excellent 3'19" and was down in 6th!  Anyway, my legs were feeling good the next day and I feel like there's plenty of race pace left for a good showing, hopefully at one of the next few races.  It's the High Peak Marathon and Hardmoors 55 next and with only 4 months until the BG but so far things feel like they are going quite well...