Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Family affairs

Running for me is not all about the ‘big occasions’, be they champs races or record rounds, but rather more about the day-to-day joy it brings. So after the challenge of a fast Bob Graham Round and the attention it generated, I was looking forward to some low-key weekends of running purely for fun, doing the Old County Tops race with my brother, our yearly pilgrimage to the Isle of Jura Fell Race - and finally, running the Highlander Mountain Marathon with my mum.
(Photo John Hewitt)

Old County Tops

First up was the Old County Tops with my oldest - but younger brother - Vaclav. Vaclav lives in New York, but over the past years he has managed to run at least one fell race per year. As the poor fellow doesn’t get much hill training in Central Park, I have tended to select easy races for him… the LAMM, Jura, Duddon, Slioch… you get the picture. This year the plan was to do the Scottish Islands Peak race, but logistical complications meant that Old County Tops was chosen as a somewhat gentler yearly reminder to Vaclav of the rightful sibling hierarchy. Joking aside, Vaclav is one of those annoying people who can turn up on Jura without any training, start the race with a litre of orange juice, a pack of sandwiches and the firm intention to enjoy the views, and still finish in 4h20, so I was confident that despite his pleading lack of fitness we would get around the 37 mile route over Helvellyn, Scafell Pike and Coniston Old Man... provided of course that I didn’t get us lost. The weather didn’t look too promising in the morning but at least the rain held off until the race was underway - and long enough for Vaclav to have already made his argument, ‘running slowly is an advantage Jaz, you’ll be out for longer’. He was right though, it was pretty good, even after the deluge had commenced, to be running with so much company, and with no pressure to compete. In spite of the mist I navigated us safely over Helvellyn to the first food station, where we celebrated with several sandwiches, cakes and cups of tea, before starting the long and rather boggy run up Wythburn. At this stage Vaclav said to me ‘Jaz, we need to slow down, I am not going to be able to keep this up’, to which I replied ‘No problem’, dropping my pace accordingly. Almost immediately however, Vaclav’s tall, blue-waterproofed figure came flying past me on the left, raising the pace. Surprised and somewhat annoyed, I shouted to him (as siblings can) ‘I thought you wanted to slow down? Make your mind up will you!’. Imagine my embarrassment then, when the runner turned and I was greeted with the startled face of a complete stranger... To my relief everyone saw the funny side!

At Angle Tarn we refueled with tea (our friends John Hewitt and Carl Bedson tell us they brewed 12 litres of the stuff - heroes no less), ready to take on the climb to Scafell. We managed the climb without incident, but negotiated the descent rather less successfully (I opted for the direct line) – some scree traversing, and down climbing was required to bring us to the bottom. Luckily Vaclav and I have experienced far more precarious situations whilst hiking in the past – and the lack of a 15+kg rucksack on this occasion was a definite advantage!

The last third of the race was a delight (at least for me, I’d like to think Vaclav was also enjoying himself). The sun came out to burn off the mist, and we ran along the ridge homewards from Coniston Old Man with views opening up on all sides. Dropping down into Langdale, we discussed a sprint finish, but thought better of it and ran in together instead, big smiles on our faces, to finish 3rd mixed team, in 23rd place overall.
'Sprint Finish' (Photo John Hewitt)


I wont say much about Jura, except that it lived up to its status as one of my two all-time favourite fell races (Wasdale being the other) – sunshine, sea, mountains, scree, a weekend of friends and socializing – what more could one want?

(Photo John Hewitt)

Highlander Mountain Marathon

For my mum’s 60th birthday last year I presented her with a voucher. Not (as one might have assumed) a voucher for M&S or a Spa Day, but a ‘Once in a lifetime opportunity’ – to ‘Run a Mountain Marathon with the current British and Scottish Ladies Fell-Running Champion’. According to the terms listed on this voucher, the package included the following: Entry to the event of your choice.

· Transport to and from the event.

· Navigational services.

· Sherpa services.

· Three course evening meal during the event.

And so, 9 months later, we found ourselves preparing to embark upon the Score Class in the Highlander Mountain Marathon. To put this into context – my mum has previously taken part in several mini mountain marathons lasting 3-4 hours, and generally spends the dawn hours of most weekends wandering around on Bleaklow (Peak District) – she is at home on the hills. That said, she has also had a hip replacement, and has dodgy knees, which hamper rapid progress downhill. Considering this, our main concern when we received the maps on Day 1 was how far away the midway camp was situated, and whether we could feasibly make it there in the time allowed! We shouldn’t have worried – it was a perfect day. The early morning mist acted in our favour, given that I had plenty of time to dedicate to navigation. Later on the sun broke through the fog, and we were rewarded with beautiful views. We arrived at the midway camp with 2 minutes 9 seconds to spare, finishing in a very reasonable 46/85 place, despite having run not a single step. The evening passed with ceilidh dancing, beers, and no midges – I think my mum got a rather unrealistic image of what mountain marathons are really like! We started the next day in thick fog, but emerged into the sunshine above a sea of clouds, at the summit of Sgorr na Diollaid. From there we made our way on a fairly direct line to the finish, but collecting points all the way, passing people on the ups and losing places on the downs. I enjoyed the unheard-of joy (pack weight usually being so crucial) of eating an apple, bread (yes, I carried a whole loaf) and cheese as we walked along. At the penultimate control we debated an excursion for an extra 20 points, and decided against it – a decision we later cursed ourselves for – we finished a whole 15 minutes ahead of time, 3 places lower than we could have been (it turns out that it is just as frustrating finishing 47th rather than 44th as it is losing 3 places at the sharp end!). A swim in the river and an ice cream stop on the way home rounded off a very special weekend together. 
(Photo Antony Clark)