Wednesday, 17 November 2010

A Walk In The Park - Part 2

Mid Camp
Mid-camp included the lodge (with log fire), portaloos, a cooking tent and the marquee which was heated by a gas burner which apparently had two settings, blast furnace and off, which led to an afternoon of jackets, hats and gloves being repeatedly put on and taken off. As more people arrived, there was much talk and eating of snack food going on and quite a few folk went off to nap until the food was served. I got chatting to a few different people, including Gary who seems to be doing a few of the same races as me next year. The supplied food was plentiful and tasted great, washed down with a cup of wine (great thinking from Bruce), and then it was time for some music and a couple of beers before heading back to Big Agnes and sleep. I managed not to die of hypothermia overnight but woke up early, went to the loo, then headed to the marquee for bacon rolls. Probably not ideal food to get ready for a day of fast-moving in the hills, but great-tasting all the same. Then it was time to strike the tent, pack up and get ready to go.

Day 2, Part 1 - 1:40000
Some fresh snow overnight and low cloud made for a tricky start to day 2 but we managed to pick up the first two controls without too much drama - we missed the next one by a good margin and lost some time having to double back to find it :( the next two were easy enough to find but involved a very steep descent and ascent (we could and possibly should have used less direct routes but where's the fun in that?) and then a nice wee run/walk back to the transition point to pick up the final map.

Day 2, Part 2 - 1:10000
Another short orienteering course which I think we handled reasonably well - the last control point was a little elusive at first, but we found it without losing too much time and set off for the finish. It was great to see the finish barrier, even better to hear a big shout from Polly who claims we looked like we'd just finished a "walk in the park" (which was sort of accurate since Bruce and I hadn't done a lot of actual running), and better yet to find out there was hot soup, rowies, and hot dogs available. Finding that I still had some dry clothes in my kit bag was another great bonus.

What a fun event. Well organised, fantastic location, friendly people, overall a great adventure. I really liked the feeling of choosing your own route, and loved the way that the different courses and start times meant that one minute you could feel completely alone, the next there could be any number of other competitors in sight heading in the same or completely different directions. From a personal performance point of view, I felt I was struggling for fitness which surprised me a bit. Navigation and route choices were OK but, with hindsight, could have been better so there's room for improvement.

If anyone's interested in kit, Big Agnes did a fine job but might be just too heavy if she had had to be carried. The Thermarest mat did its job and I slept comfortably enough - my old sleeping bag did OK but would be far too bulky and heavy to carry in a pack; possible replacements are being looked at - birthday present, anyone?. I spent the whole weekend (yes, the whole weekend) in tracksters (with shorts underneath in case the temperature improved - ever hopeful), a HH base layer top and my new favourite thing: a Rab Shadow Hoodie which I can see getting a lot of use until the sun returns in spring! Extra layers were piled on top for warmth or better waterproofing and it all worked pretty well at keeping me warm.

A huge thanks to Sean, Ali, and everybody else involved in organising the event - you all did a great job. Thanks also to Ian for the loan of his stuff - it was greatly appreciated. And thanks to Bruce for teaming up with this rookie, for his encouragement, his advice and help, for the lift to the event, and most of all for his company over the weekend.

What's next?
Well, a MM type event next year is still on the cards - favourite at the moment is the LAMM but that would be after a series of 3 ultras in 3 months! Ulp! I think I need to stop blogging and get back to training!

Please check the event web site for results, times, a link to some photos (much better than the ones I took), and the routegadget thing that I will update with our route as soon as I can!

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

A Walk In The Park - Part 1

My plan had been to take part in a Mountain Marathon next year, but then I found out about the Grampian Mountain Challenge and wondered if it might be fun. And then I saw these photos and had a good look at the map and decided it could be a lot of fun - it would mean chickening out from the "battles of the shanksis" at the Aberdeen Fetch Mile, but that was OK. So all I had to do was find a partner (or at least someone I knew to chat to at the camp), a tent that would withstand some dodgy weather and a sleeping system that would stop me freezing to death overnight. Unfortunately, the likely candidates were all busy that weekend (or so they tell me!) so it wasn't looking good, then with a couple of days to spare, Bruce mentioned that he'd been talking with the organiser about it, and he agreed to team up with me. Suddenly, it was all back on, and instead of looking at a bumbling jog across the hills, I was teamed up
with a speedy hill runner and experienced Mountain Marathoner. Gulp! On the plus side, Ian the pimp agreed to let Big Agnes come with me, and Thelma help to keep me warm. Those girls plus my old sleeping bag, liner, and extra clothes would hopefully be enough to prevent hypothermia despite Ian's grave predictions!

After a week of constantly changing weather forecasts (snow, rain, sun and high wind with 90mph gusts had all been predicted for the area), it turned out to be relatively benign on the day which was good. Bruce had a dodgy calf and I had a sore toe which was not so good but we registered and headed for the start in good spirits, looking forward to whatever the day would bring.

Day One, Part One - 1:10000

At the start we were given an orienteering map, and a sheet of paper to explain what the heck all the colours on the map meant, and so we set off into the forest with the simple task of trying to follow a path to near the first control - within five minutes we were on the wrong path (the right path took a left without letting us know) but a quick adjustment took us back in the right direction and the orange and white flag was soon spotted. Checkpoint 1 successfully dibbed (is that the correct word?), a look at the map says we need to go thattaway! Up that ludicrously steep looking hill? Errr, yes. Eeek. Not for the last time, we set off up a steep slope with Bruce easily pushing ahead and me scrambling to catch up - I'm really not sure how this partnership would have worked if he'd been fully fit. Anyway, we found the next couple of controls easily enough and were soon down at the transition point without much further incident.

Day One, Part Two - 1:40000

New map, different scale, different symbols and longer distances between control points. I had to laugh as I marked up the map - we'd given Ali (GMC planner) a lift to the event, and I'd asked him about how high the course would take us. "Fairly high up" he'd said, not giving away that we'd have to get to the top of Culardoch at 900m, the highest point in the whole area. But that was three control points away so off we went into the mountains. Along the tar road! Which may sound a bit like cheating, but one thing I learned over the weekend is that roads and tracks are quicker to move along than knee-deep, snow-covered heather (who'd have thought it?). So, we made our way up to the control which turned out to be in the middle of a muddy bog which I managed to step into, up to my knee. Bugger! This let water get inside my SealSkinz socks which was a bad thing and contributed to me feeling like I was going to get frostbitten toes. I hit a real low on the way up Culardoch - the cloud had come down a bit, my feet were cold, and energy levels were low. Bruce made sure I was still eating and drinking and helped by rubbing some warmth into my foot which helped a lot, but not as much as finally getting to the trig point, dibbing the control, and seeing the visibility improve. Then it was a fun but tiring charge down the hill through knee deep snow to the gate in the fence and on to find the last control point of the day - I think we missed it by a small margin but didn't lose too much time curving back round for it before heading for the path down to the camp. It was great to see the marquee and a few wee tents springing up as we jogged down towards the wee rickety bridge and across to the finish. It was even better when we were told to go and upload the times in the lodge where they had a log fire going.

To be continued....