Friday, 27 November 2009

Viknee Vidi Vici: Tour of Pendle 2009


So, the plan was to get around uninjured? Mission accomplished. Target time of 3h30? Not quite. Here's the full story...

The night-time race the Wednesday before the Tour, you know, the one I said I was only going to sweep for, to save my niggly knee? Yup, that one. Well, rocked up and as soon as my feet were in my (still wet) shoes, I was overcome by the urge. Went at it at a decent pace. Not quite full tilt, but probably 80-85%. Still didn't stop me being beaten back by a pair of nippers (12 & 13 I think). The fact that they were brothers from a good fell-running bloodline - I forget who, but a previous Tour winner - and that one was the current BOFRA champion did little to salve my injured pride.

Anyway, I woke up the next morning facing a long drive and a very tender knee. On the Thursday I was in Birmingham entertaining clients with work and was in a hotel overnight. Got some funny looks checking in with my scaffolding pole and foam roller for some hardcore ITB stretching that evening. At this point I was in two minds about starting the race given last year's fun and games. I started 2008's Tour with a similar niggle and ended up out of action for 9 months. I did resolve though, that if my knee did start playing up, I would sensibly drop out and save my knee.

Overslept on the day, so my slow, easy preparation that I'd planned, as well as tracking down some forumites, went out the window. Did get to the start though, drew my number (250) and found that there'd been a couple of diversions to the usual route due to soil erosion. Post race estimates reckon this added 0.3-0.5mi to the route. Kind of anticipated this from my numerous recces of the route: it was getting very bad underfoot. Diversions were to a new CP1, and from CP3-CP4.

From the start it was the usual melee along the track past the village hall and the lower Ogden Clough reservoir. As the climb started up towards the trig the field started thinning out so we were only 3-4 abreast! (see left). There wasn't any rain at this stage, but there was a mist which reduced visibility and slowly seeped into my clothes. I was soon past the trig and on to where CP1 is usually located to pick up the first diversion. Instead of hitting the wall and turning left,  it was over the wall, and follow a path W to a gate where the new CP1 was. Through the gate it was turn S along the wall until hitting the fence at Ogden Clough and picking up the usual route to CP2. The ground after CP1 was very boggy (if you stuck to the path) or very tussocky (if you didn't want to get dirty).

My plan was to hold back some pace during this first half of the race to keep strong for the more demanding second half. The Tour is a route which is very easy to go at too fast, too soon. It almost invites you to. Despite this, I was able to pick up a few places along this stretch before making a conscious effort to reel it in again after CP2.

A gentler run down to CP3 then. At this point I picked up the second diversion. After the checkpoint where the route would normally climb NW to the path to Geronimo we had to take a less-direct N route to hit the path further down. This was a back-breaker of a climb now. Not because of the difficulty, but because it ran right under the overhanging branches of the edge of the woods. According to plan I took on my first bit of food on this climb and had my water bottle out. Took this climb at a modest pace and kept this up until crossing the ladder stile after which I picked the pace up again for the short dash to the joy that is Geronimo.

Geronimo seems to have acquired a bit of legend in fell-running circles. Personally I love it, but as a descent I'm sure there are longer/steeper/faster... Who knows why? All I know is I found myself at the top in good form, having taken the locals' line far to the right (as you approach) to avoid the muddy diagonal path that most others use. Go far enough right and there's a lovely steep bank of grass and bracken back down into Ogden Clough. My technique was perfected during my recces and having hit the top exactly where I needed to be, I went for it. After cutting in front of another runner, I jumped into the air, landed on my upper thigh...and just slid. In that one slide (about 15m) I took about 4 places. As I neared the bracken - now virtually all dead - I got my studs up ready. I planted them firmly into the mud and it took very little leverage to get upright: a combination of momentum and the steepness of the hill. In this stuff, with the bracken roots holding the mud together you can take sure, steady strides without fear of your feet disappearing out from under you. I then came across the next strip of grass and jumped into the air again, this time landing on my other leg to spread the grass burns. I repeated this all the way down, and by the bottom of the hill I'd taken about a dozen places and had some nicely bloodied knees and thighs to show for it. Great fun!! Despite all the spectators at the bottom of the hill, no-one's caught me in full flight. But it did happen.

I got a drink from the stream, rolled down my under shorts which had ridden up (a must on anything 5mi+ to prevent chafage) and followed the Clough up the hill towards CP5 (see right - climbing out the Clough). The first half out the way I was beginning to feel the benefits of pacing the first half, as I was feeling really good. As we descended down into CP5 I noticed the line of runners in front curving to the left as they followed the trod, only to end up directly in front of me. I just decided to go for it and took the brakes off to fly over the tussocks. This was the best I felt in this race: I was running fast, feeling strong, overtaking runners, a wind in the face...brilliant. Should have known it couldn't last long.

After chucking my tag in at CP5 I carried on down to the stream, got another drink, and a bit more food. Started the first of the 3 really big climbs up Pendle which make up the back half of the course, at this point still feeling really good, sharing a joke or two with a couple of runners on the way up (as I passed them!). Then, about halfway up, I felt a twinge in my knee. Bugger. I eased off a bit and at the top I had a bit of a poke about and decided to continue, but to reign it in on the climbs. I trotted off slowly towards CP6. Took on a bit more food before descending down to CP7. Did this sat down to rest my knee, which drew a few enquiries from a couple of runners. I assured them I was okay, just nibbling and moments later I was passing them on the way down.

The second climb was okay. Could feel the knee making noises each time I pushed off on my right leg, but it was manageable. It was only really on the third climb that I struggled, but this is a much steeper scramble. I was beginning to tire at this point too so I did pause a couple of times. At the top a Clayton supporter told me I was on for a 3h30 - my target, but I knew my knee would hinder this. I got it to CP10 and got some flapjack from the 'Trig Hotel'. Bloody impossible to eat running, so lost a couple of places as I struggled to get this down my neck. Once gone though, yet again I was able to pass them over the rough stuff. The recces paid off here as at this height the mist was still down which meant visibility was very poor. After flying down the descent - it still felt quick despite holding back - I got to CP11 and bumped into another runner and forumite who I'd recced the route with beforehand. We'd started together until he took off up the first climb on his own. I'd caught him again and in my mind I was going to beat him back to the finish. Whilst offering every encouragement, of course!

For the last run in I'd decided to deviate onto the reservoir path round the lower reservoir. The balls of my feet were hurting, and this was softer ground. It was also flatter so I was gambling on it being faster. I'm not too sure how this worked out as there were a couple of heads bobbing up and down on the other side of the wall and they seemed to be moving ahead of me, albeit slowly. When I rejoined the track I was able to take them again on the final 200m or so dash to the line. And as it turned out I'd beaten my mate by a minute or two!

A wash in the stream, quick dry and change in the boot of the car, and it was into the cabin for a soup, bread roll, bacon butty, and a sweet tea. I milled around for a while to see the presentation. Swapped a few stories with the my clubmates and a couple of other forumites and walked off with my t-shirt; a couple of bottles of rescue ale; 9mins off last year's time - despite deviations; head held high; and a sore knee.

This last souvenier would have to wait for the next day or so for a full assessment, but that evening I was still moving it, and it was still flexible the next day. After last year's race it wouldn't bend, so this was great news.

So I missed out on my secondary target of a sub 3h30 time, but I'm still running which was always the priority.

Next year? Sub 3h15!

Postscript: Someone did capture all the action from the bottom of Geronimo. You can see the results here. I'm on it at 6:04 (orange cag). Unfortunately, this isn't my genius descent, just the gate at the checkpoint.

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