Saturday 4 May 2013

The Fellsman - an alpinist dabbling with ultra running

The start of the Fellsman in Ingleton, Yorkshire Dales
So the Fellsmam - a 61 ish mile run/walk/hobble round the Yorkshire Dales with endless bogs and 3000m of ascent throw in. 

Before I begin to describe my Fellsman story/thoughts I’d just like to say thank you to all the organisers and volunteers who make this such a well run event. It really was so well organised and run, with loads of great food stops, pasta, hot dogs, sausage rolls and bean casserole amongst other things and on top of all the food a smiley face and loads of encouragement from the cheery volunteers at each checkpoint. Thank you.

So why did I enter the Fellsman? At just before 4am last Sunday morning as I hobbled rather than walked (running was distant memory at that point) into Threshfield 18hr 52min after starting and in a fair amount of pain I was certainly asking myself that question! I think I've always had a bit of a hankering to have a go at an ultra marathon and after spending so much time in Chamonix the UTMB in particular so the Fellsman seemed as good a place as any to start. By 4.30am on Sunday all aspirations of the UTMB were definitely gone, for a day or so at least ;-)

Unfortunately the ‘off the couch’ attitude did not pay off, as was to be expected. I’d signed up with all the good intentions of putting a lot of time and training into it and trying to get a good (for me) time – the training never happened... It also wasn't a particularly good idea to run it on a recently sprained ankle, 61 miles over rough moorland and bogs didn't aid the recovery process and in the last ten miles my ankle had definitely had enough and told me so. Excuses over, lessons thoroughly received.

Anyway excuses aside I found it a really good experience, it was something completely new to me that I knew absolutely nothing about it. I had no idea how to train for it, no idea how to approach it on the day, no idea how to pace myself and inevitably set off way too fast and no idea how much to eat – a lot. But what surprised me the most was I had to dig far deeper than I ever thought, mentally, to finish it. I kind of went into it a bit over confident maybe… thinking along the lines of I've had some pretty hard, long both mentally and physically tiring days in the mountains so how hard can 61 miles round the Yorkshire Dales be?

Humble pie eaten with a massive helping of seconds, need I say more…

I think my problem was it would have been so easy to quit - you had to really want it. At any road side check point you could quite easily jump on a mini bus to the finish where as on a big mountain face in the middle of the Himalayas this just isn't really an option, (there also isn't anyone handing you a cup of warm tea and hot dog after every pitch, bit of a shame really I got quite used to that!). At the end of the day I approached it thinking there would have been a lot of similarities to big alpine days, which there are, but they are also two completely different ball games, which now my eyes have been opened is pretty obvious! And I have a new massive respect for ultra runners.

It probably sounds like I didn't actually enjoy the Fellsman which is completely untrue, how can a sunny day in the Yorkshire Dales be unenjoyable? Yes the endless bogs wore me down but the views were just stunning and I got to parts of the Dales I’d never visited before and certainly ticked a lot of the peaks.  It really reminded me what a beautiful part of the world is on my doorstep.  The company was great, I bumped into Ant, Sally and Ant at the start and let them drag me round for the day.   And you got to meet loads like minded folk from all walks of life throughout the day including the rest of our night group Mick, Paul, Nick and Geoff that we joined up with who all helped the night time rush by.  OK the last couple of hours were pretty miserable but there had to be some proper suffer time in there somewhere.  And then of course the achievement of just completing it, and trust me it felt like a big achievement, congratulations to everybody who finished.

Will I be back? maybe... probably!

For anyone interested in the kit I used here's the list with a few notes:

Ultra Guide running shoes 

Winter Warm Tights 
AK Stormy Trail Jacket 
AK Stormy Trail Pants 
Hydrogen Jacket - couldn't decide whether to take a light windproof as well as a waterproof but glad I did, much more comfy to run in all day and kept the initial hail showers out 
GTD Long Sleeve Shirt 
Better Than Naked Short Sleeve Shirt 
Base Layer light long sleeve 
Anamagi Jacket – nearly took a lighter top instead but so glad I took this for the cold night section 
Apex Gloves – only took these initially to cover the waterproof glove rule but was glad of the warmer gloves at night 
Runners Gloves 
Dipsea Cover-It

I borrowed a OMM pack which was the perfect size, the only problem was I couldn't reach my water bottle without taking the pack off or someone else grabbing it for me, I'd definitely make sure I had a pack which I could reach the side bottle holder on next time.  I had a water bladder too but used the bottle more as it was easier to refill at the checkpoints.  I also took my super light Black Diamond Ultra Distance poles but hardly used them so wouldn't both next time unless there was a lot more ascent.

Food wise I found the feed stations provided enough for me with a constant flow of High 5 energy drink and a few caffeinated gels for an extra boost every now and again - but food is such a personal choice.

Before the start, definitely a smile....

....during (00.30), not quite a smile

and finally after, definitely a smile again
(well for 5 minutes whilst I forgot about the throbbing ankle!)

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