A good recce

(reki )
If you recce an area, you visit that place in order to become familiar with it. People usually recce an area when they are going to return at a later time to do something there.
[British, old-fashioned]

Collins Dictionary

Sun 21 October

I’m at Langsett Barn, a few miles north of Sheffield, on the edge of the Peak District. I’m here to recce the route of next Sunday’s Grin n Bear It fell race, a 15 miler across the moors of the Dark Peak.

Although I’ve been in this area once or twice before, it’s not been for several years. The weather is warmish for the time of year; clear at lower level but misty on the tops. I’ve got the trusty 1:25000 OS map and a 2-sided description of the route. Also carrying waterproofs, hat, gloves, compass, whistle + a bit of food and water.

I note a few things before setting off. It’s taken just under an hour to drive here. It’s a busy Sunday and the car park is full, but there’s space on the road nearby. There are toilets.

15 miles is a fair way and I set off at a gentle jog. There’s a plethora of paths through the woods before you get to the moors, but the route will be marked through here on race day, so I just choose one at random. They all converge on Brookhouse Bridge, a mile further on, where the crossing of the moor starts in earnest.

The initial climb is long and gentle on a clear trail. Coming down the other side it’s a bit steeper, including a long hairpin bend with an obvious short cut. The trail continues up the narrowing valley of the River Derwent. I note the exact locations of the race checkpoints. It’s all been pretty straightforward up to now – half the route done, in a little under 2 hours, and I have a stop for a bite to eat and a drink.

At this point, things become more tricky. The mist descends and the rain sweeps in. I have a final look at the map – follow the stream to its head and you should pop out at Checkpoint 3 (Swains Head) – and tuck it into my pocket. Then it’s head down and onwards, as the track thins to a path, then to a trod, and finally to nothing at all, as visibility reduces to a few yards.

Approaching where I guess Swains Head should be, I come across a fence in an otherwise featureless landscape. The fence looks new and isn’t marked on my map. Compass out. The fence is heading vaguely northwards. If the worst comes to the worst, if I keep heading north I will hit the Woodhead Pass road in a mile or so. I follow the fence to a stile, where it turns a corner more directly northwards. This must be Swains Head itself, and I am back on the race route.

A couple of minutes further on, there is another stile. The route description suggests that you cross it. I do so, and end up straightaway in a deep boggy grough. Turn round, back over the stile, try the other side. Even worse, and I have a near miss when my left leg disappears down an invisible hole and I escape with a minor graze. So back to the stile again, through the grough and onto easier ground.

Further on, there is a second navigational section over open ground. Following a bearing, I successfully locate a line of grouse butts. The map tells me that the final checkpoint (a barn) is down the slope to the right. I drop down a little, out of the mist, and there is the barn, tucked mischievously into the side of the hill.

The remainder of the route is a simple 3-mile jog along clear tracks. I get back to Langsett a little under 4 hours after I set out. Given that this will be my first “Long” race for some time, I’d be happy with that next week.

Sun 28 October

The race. It’s clear and cold, visibility is perfect. I arrive an hour early, which helps as there’s a full kit check before you get your race number. We set off and again I do the first climb at a steady jog. Over the top though the descent is such fun I start stretching out. I shortcut the hairpin. And I chat to a few other runners. Have you done the race before? No. Have you been round the route? No, I’m just following everyone else. Do you know there are some pathless bits? I thought it was mainly trails…

This time there is an obvious short-cut towards Swains Head, which today is clearly visible, being marshalled by 4 red-jacketed members of Woodhead Mountain Rescue Team. I cross the stile 2 minutes further on. A group 100 yards ahead of me have run past it. At the bottom of the hill, I’m 100 yards ahead of them.

Further on, I pass the grouse butts and head down the slope towards the invisible barn. Again, a group in front of me just follow the lie of the land and miss it. Some are making a dog leg to visit the checkpoint they only belatedly spotted. Later on, photos show runners coming the wrong way down the track as they have completely overshot.

I’ve still got plenty in the tank on the run in. When I cross the finish line, it’s in 2 hours 35 minutes, 1 and a quarter hours quicker than last week. I feel a bit smug about my recce. But that’s fellrunning.

grin n bear it 18

Running diary – Oct 18

…following on fromĀ Running diary – Sept 18

Wed 3 October

A slight shift in focus. Perhaps it’s the changing season, but after a summer of short races I have an itch to give something a bit longer a go. Hence I find myself at the Nick of Pendle, to have a look at the Tour of Pendle route – a 16 mile race, with 5000ft of climbing, 6 weeks away. I haven’t done anything like this since Holme Moss in 2006. A bit different to all those 2 mile dashes….

I manage around 10 miles, including the climbs of Mearley Moor and the very-well-named Big Dipper, in around 3 hours. A promising first impression. Back home I order one of these:

DSC04510Sun 7 Oct

First visit of the “winter” to Penistone Hill on the edge of Haworth, for the Withins Skyline race. Conditions pretty benign – not too cold, relatively dry underfoot. Feel strong on the first half, but pushing things a bit too hard I have a couple of tumbles, which disrupt the rhythm more than anything else. The stretch from Bronte Bridge to the end a bit of struggle, but I still get round in 21st (out of 248) in 47.36 – my best for the course.

Wed 10 Oct

To pub with fellow Valley Striders to earwig on their plans for an overseas trip next year. Probably a bit far, and expensive, for me right now, but great to know this option is theoretically available.

Thurs 11 Oct

To put the Tour of Pendle idea to bed once and for all I decide on a full recce. Leave Barley at 9.30am. Take things steady and get to the crucial Checkpoint 4 at 11.10am, ie 20 minutes within the cut-off. The climbs get progressively tougher as you go along, and the final one, up the Big End, almost a heartbreaker. But by 1.20pm it’s job done, in under 4 hours, and entry form + cheque are in the post.

Sat 13 October

Read “The Living Mountain” by Nan Shepherd – a most remarkable book. Enriching, for anyone who loves the mountains.

Mon 15 October

Splashed out on a new lightweight running jacket. The previous one finally gave up the ghost on Pendle, after a decade or more of service. We are allowed to treat ourselves, every now and then. Seemed to work OK on a 6-mile jog up the Meanwood Valley later on.

Tues 16 October

Steady run through the woods on the far side of the lake in Roundhay Park, up to Shadwell and back down “The Gorge”. About 8 miles or so.

Thurs 18 October

A few things have come together and I’m set to join 5 other Valley Striders at the FRA Relays in Grasmere on Saturday. So I was grateful to have the opportunity to head up there and recce Leg 4 – a round taking in Alcock Tarn, Heron Pike and Stone Arthur. Perfect autumnal weather displaying the Lakes at their best. I wonder if it will be like this on Saturday?

I also took a short detour to have a better look at the Grasmere Guides route, largely obscured by mist when I ran it back in August. Still just as steep, and all in full view of the Showground (on a clear day), so no doubt quite the spectacle it’s renowned to be. Note the flagstick holder at the start of the descent:

DSC04518Sat 20 Oct

A long and memorable day, for lots of reasons. A 6.30am pick-up, and squeezed into the car are Simon, Mick, Jon, Ross and me, five-sixths of Valley Striders’ team for today’s British Fell Relay Championships in Grasmere. Our sixth member, soon-to-be-Dad Daz, will join us (all being well!) at the start. We soon transfer to a coach, along with various North Leeds Fellrunners and Pudsey Pacers, and are parked on the Grasmere Showground at 9.30am. A short walk to the event field, where we are greeted by the unusual sight of 1500 fellrunners all in one place. Didn’t know there were so many! Add the marquees, stalls, wristbands and rapidly-developing mud, it feels like a Glastonbury of Fellrunning.

10.30am, half an hour before the start, and still no sign of Daz. And he’s down to run Leg 1. Fortunately, Steve has also joined us, and is ready to step in if needed. Members of the team already blessed by fatherhood start swapping anecdotes about their “big days”. But, perfectly relaxed, Daz appears, proceeds to run a blinding first leg, and we are on our way. The second leg is paired, and Ross and Jon take the metaphorical baton over the rough ground of Fairfield and Cofa Pike. But the misty conditions mean that the crux will be Leg 3, the paired navigation leg. It’s Simon and Mick who, half a mile into their run, get handed a map marked with 5 checkpoints, and head off into the gloaming…

Meanwhile, I’ve been off recce-ing the final descent, which I didn’t get the chance to do on Thursday. Steep, grassy and slippery. Then, into the pen, waiting for Simon and Mick to appear, which they could do at any time within a likely half-hour window. Finally, a pair of white vests dash into the far field (coincidentally, just behind the final leg runner of Pudsey & Bramley, the first team back, so I get to photobomb their moment of glory on the finish line). A smooth handover and finally I’m off.

It’s soon into the long and steep climb to the top of Heron Pike, then the runnable stretch along the ridge and finally the fast descent. The route is flagged every 20 yards or so, but the mist is so thick it’s still difficult to follow the markers (thank goodness for the recce). As usual, I’m passed by a few runners on the climb, then haul the same number back in on the descent, so it feels like I’ve held our position. As expected, bum-sliding comes into play on a number of occasions!

We have all “dibbed” at the checkpoints on the way round, so the final results are straight up on the screens. We’ve come 40th, out of 245 teams, a brilliant result. It seems that consistency has been our strength – we ran the 51st, 56th, 43rd and 61st fastest legs respectively – whereas other teams’ performances fluctuated more noticeably. The fact that we have “no stars” helps the team dynamic I think. A well-earned post-race drink or two in Grasmere. But then, the return coach journey provides perhaps the toughest test of the day of all. A road accident at Settle sends our driver on a mad diversion, via Hawes, Leyburn, Harrogate and Blubberhouses. So it’s a 5 hour drive back from Grasmere. Miraculously, at 11pm, we are still all talking to each other and on good terms!

Many thanks in particular to Ambleside AC for hosting the event and to Ross for pulling the team together, but really thanks to everyone involved for making this such a terrific day.

Sun 21 Oct

Bouyed up by all things fellrunning, I decided on a full recce of next week’s Grin n Bear It race, a 15 mile round in the Dark Peak from Langsett. The first half was pretty steady over clear trails, which meant the second half came as a bit of a shock. With the clag down and a disappearing trod, it was full map and compass stuff over Swains Head and Cabin Hill, with testing underfoot conditions – tussocks, heather and peat. At one point my leg disappeared down an invisible hole and I was grateful to escape with a minor graze. In other words, nice to be back in the Dark Peak! Just under 4 hours for the full round.

Wed 24 Oct

Visiting family in Norfolk, I did a 5-mile loop along a disused railway line. Unseasonably warm.

Fri 26 Oct

Back home, found a few variations in Gledhow Valley, following unvisited paths just to see where they went (nowhere, usually). Good job I’m not on Strava – they’d think I was mad.

Sun 28 Oct

The value of a good recce! Blessed with fine, clear weather, I got round Grin n Bear It in about 2.35 – an hour and a quarter quicker than last week! – coming 30th out of 130ish. Took the first bit very steady, which allowed me to do the overtaking from then on. Didn’t need to use the map once, but still saved time by knowing a couple of lines from last week (which others didn’t spot). Overall, very pleased with my first “Long” race for 12 years. And excellent support (and post-race soup) from the race organisers – Woodhead Mountain Rescue Team.

Tues 30 Oct

Back in Norfolk for half-term. Went the other way along the railway, ending up in Aylsham, so a 12 mile there and back. Long, flat straights not really my thing, but all enlivened by heavy rain.


Running diary – Sept 18

Just picking up the diary format where my previous blog on fellrunning over the August Bank Holiday weekend left off.

Wed 5 Sept

A drive over the tops to Muker in Swaledale. A very well attended and diverse Show. A walk round the course, exchanging notes with Pete and Ian from Keighley. Race at 4pm. A mad dash across the fields, straight through the river, steeply up the fell, a bit along the top and diagonally down. No tiptoeing on the return through the river – ploughed straight across. And back through the cheering crowds. Brilliant. Pleased to come 11th out of 68 in 14.11.

A slightly mad compulsion had me racing back across Buttertubs and down Wharfedale to get to the Ilkley Incline for 7pm. Don’t think I’ve ever done 2 races in the same day before, let alone within 3 hours! But Muker + Incline had a combined distance of 2.5 miles, so thought I could manage it. All about knowing the course this one and pacing things right (which I slightly failed to do). 27th out of 77 in 9.42 – hope to do a bit better in future. A nice meet-up and warm-down jog with fellow Valley Striders Amanda, Graham and Rachel.

Sun 9 Sept

A drizzly Bradley Show, a race I’ve enjoyed the last 2 years. More a gradual up and down than a short/sharp fell race but fun nonetheless, and a nice Show. Weather a bit grotty on top but you’re not up there for long. 11th (again!) out of 70 in 28.35, so the quickest I’ve done it. And a complete rarity – a photo of me smiling at the finish!

Mon 10 Sept

Final day in the job.

Thurs 13 Sept

First day of long-weekend trip to Scotland. Drove from Leeds to Inverness. Stopped off en route at Alva, to recce the route of July’s famous race up and down Wee Torry. Fantastically steep. But mainly grassy, so no doubt quite a spectacle watching the descent-kings come down. In two minds whether it’s for me though!

Amused that in the distance you can just see the Wallace Monument, which commemorates one of the most devastating examples of downhill running in history – the Scots’ charge from Abbey Craig to annihilate the English at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297.

Fri 14 Sept

First visit to Torridon. Parked near to Torridon House and jogged up the glen in front of Beinn Alligin, behind Liathach and up to Coire Mhic Fhearchair behind Beinn Eighe. As all the guidebooks say, impressive stuff, and clearly none of the peaks are to be trifled with. So I was glad to be where I was, but it felt like a useful introduction to the area. Returned the same way. About 10 miles, 3 hours or so.

Sat 15 Sept

Stac Pollaidh. Bloody hell. See previous blog. Note – not really a “run”, but when it came to the scrambling it was useful to be in fell shoes with just a light pack.

Sun 16 Sept

On the return home, detoured to Rosthwaite in Borrowdale to run the Dale Head race. Had a bit of “history” to address here, as when I did it last year my shoe collapsed coming off the top and I had to come down basically on one leg. This year a bit different anyway as we started by the Shepherd’s Meet field and the river was too swollen for a “herd of wildebeest” crossing. So, overall about half a km longer. Pleased then to run it in 65.24 – quicker than last year – and come 12th out of 35. Thorough course knowledge brings its rewards here, and unfortunately I picked a rather rocky line off the top. All good for the memory bank though.

Tues 18 Sept

After the adventures of the previous week, a return to the humbler surroundings of Eccup Reservoir. But these quarterly Valley Striders “round the res” handicaps are good fun social events, particularly in tonight’s fading light. 33.32 for the 5 miles.

Thurs 20 Sept

In a similar vein, joined the Striders’ Thursday night group from Scotthall. This time it was the heavy rain that enlivened 7 miles on the road.

Sat 22 Sept

Up to Kettlewell for the Great Whernside race. A steady climb and a fast descent, the second half of which (from Hag Dike to the finish) is about as much fun as you’re likely to have fellrunning, being steep (but not too steep) and grassy – you can really let go. Also very nice to bump into fellow Striders Steve and Sara, who I’d not seen for ages. 26th out of 126 in 38.24.

Sun 23 Sept

Blogged about fellrunning records and Steve Chilton’s “Running Hard” book.

Tues 25 Sept

Joined the Striders’ hill session up and down Carr Manor Road several times. Surprisingly testing.

Wed 26 Sept

Drove out to Holme Chapel between Todmorden and Burnley to recce the Thieveley Pike route – a new race to me. Felt good to get my bearings, see where the ups and downs are and check a few minor details. Hope this will help on Saturday’s race. 4 miles.

Thurs 27 Sept

Ran up Meanwood Valley to Emmerdale and back – 10 miles or so. The ground still frustratingly hard – had me pining for the bogs on Haworth Moor etc. Interesting to note that the Emmerdale set now finally appears on OS maps, after years of “cartographic license”.

Sat 29 Sept

Thieveley Pike race. The recce proved its worth as climb paced sensibly, leaving plenty in reserve for a fast descent – picked up 8 places. Also had to chuckle to see many struggle over a gate when there is a far simpler – but difficult to spot – stile to the left. If only we had time to recce every race! 21st out of 165 in 38.13.