17 September 2014

Fell running; quite something!

I spent half my youth with bandaged ankles. I spent half my adult life in knee braces. I rely heavily on orthopedic insoles. I'm not worth much from the knees down! And it runs in the family; both my sisters have, or have had, issues with at least one of the mentioned body parts. I remember once going to a physiotherapist for my knees. I figured she'd want to prod my knees a bit, and thought I'd prepare, so I'd taken my tights off, which only works if you remove shoes as well. She walked in and said "ah, I see, you come for your ankles, yes they do look rather bad". A later physiotherapist I saw about my knees said I only have propulsion muscles, and no balance muscles, so as long as I'm on a bicycle and only perform motions prescribed by the paddles I'm alright, but woe be me if I try to actually walk. Especially on rough terrain. Especially fast! You can tell, the last sport I should take up is fell running. If I do a trail run I already end up walking all the bits that are too steep or too muddy or too uneven. One wrong step and I'm back to my crutches! My knees just flop inside out a bit too easily. And even though I've become an expert at taking my weight off my ankle as soon as I feel I'm about to roll them, I still am aware they're not robustly built. So hence all the races I blogged about being either road or trail runs. But you don't really know what you're talking about until you've properly tried something. So there was a fell run coming up; the Half Peris from Llanberis to Pen-y-Pass, and after some hesitation I registered.

It was only 8.5 miles. It's not that much! But during these mere 8.5 miles, one had to ascend 1.3 km and descend just over a km. That's quite a lot! And fell races come with compulsory kit: as they are well aware people can get lost as the race is only patchily indicated, or get injured in an inaccessible place, they make you bring full waterproofs, gloves and a hat, a map, a compass, a whistle, and food. Strangely enough, water isn't compulsory, but I never run without it, and didn't intend to start now. So you run with a bag. Very wise, but it only makes it harder! This would be interesting.

I thought I knew where the start was, but I was wrong, With some other runners I tracked it down anyway. Runners tend to be very chatty! So soon some woman asked me and the chap I was talking to whether we would run together. She clearly thought we knew each other... but I denied it; the chap looked fast. And I would be proven right!

 At the start. The lady on the right who isn't wearing running kit will count down to the start.

A chap talked us a bit through the route, as it had been changed from the previous year. And then a lady who had been involved in the organisation just yelled "one, two, three!" and off we were. This was a low-tech race.

We would run to the path I had taken two years ago to get from town back to the mountaineering hut we were staying in, during a PCG weekend. At some point we would turn into Dinorwic Quarry, and climb all the way to the top.  800 metres of ascent in one go! From there it was easier for a while; from there we ran along the ridge for some 4 km (the same route we'd taken on that PCG trip). Then it'd go up to the next top; another 200m. Then down 250m and up 300m. And then 650 m down. Oh dear.

From the very start I felt slow. I don't know why! Even slower than I'd expected. So by the time the ascent started I was already somewhere in the back. And I fell behind more and more. Before I reached the first top I was the last Half Peris racer. But 30 minutes after our start, the full Peris Horseshoe started; that's, as the name implies, a race that's twice as long. And these runners were by now whizzing past! And when I reached the few kms of horizontal I ran a bit, but not much; quite often, the ground was way too uneven.
Walking up an incline of the slate quarry

Running up a quarry track - the runners are starting to disappear!

 The other runners (colourful dots)vanishing up the slope of the first peak

I knew I was slow, but what a landscape! What weather! I was having a great time. I struggled up the second peak, and was already almost the last of all the runners - including the full Peris ones. And in the pass below I brought the map out - some runners had headed off to the right of a lake ahead, but as far as I recalled, we had to go around the left. I was right!

 If the terrain is like this I'm not running!

 The last peak seen from the slope of the middle one. You can see the path running to the left of the little lake, and then curving to the top.

At the top of this last peak I realised how tired I was. And I was developing a headache. I carried some 2 litres of water, but I drank that much during the recent cricket match, and now I was doing much more demanding things! At the top I opened my bag of jelly babies. My blood sugar was running low! And I chatted a bit with the second last runner. He wasn't in a hurry either, and was willing to take a picture of me. But then we set off, to the finish we could see in the distance. It was way, way too steep for me to run. I pretty much walked all the way down. There was noone in sight. There was no sound. It was very peaceful!

The last peak!

Me still smiling, but not moving very fast. Behind my shoulder you can just see the cluster of buildings where the finish is

 You're in Wales or you're not; the course was festooned with a dead sheep

When I got close to the finish I heard calling. It was the race organisation; they had spotted me, and saw I was [proceeding too low on the hill. That way I would hit too steep terrain. So a chap guided me in; very nice! I felt a bit guilty, as I figured they probably had to keep the finish open extra long only for me. The second last chap must have come through ages ago! But they didn't complain. They wrote my time on a piece of paper (as I said, this was a low-tech race) and that was it. They pointed me to the bus. And in it were several more runners! I wasn't as much slower as the rest as I had thought.

The bus took us back to Llanberis. I walked back to the hotel where registration had been, and where my car was parked. There would be soup for all the runners! I could do with some. I got me a cup and went to the terrace. Where I was spotted by the chap with whom I'd chatted at the start! And his friend. I joined them, and we had a good time. And when there was rumour of a prize ceremony the fast runner, by the name of Jacob, wanted to go and see; he figured he's been the youngest runner and therefore also the fastest in his one-man age category. Unfortunately, they only give prizes to the fastest all-round, and the fastest in the 40+, 50+, and 60+ categories (there had been no 70+ runners).

When that was done I wanted to jump into Llyn Padarn. I was sticky and salty and a bit battered! And cold water helps against that. And cold it was! And it did help. After that bath I was ready to drive home. But there I was still zonked. I went as far as taking an actual hot bath! That's rare. But it felt good.

So what's the verdict? It was great, but I think I only ran some 10% of the race. The rest I had to walk! Too steep up, too steep down, or too rocky. I slightly shocked the guy who guided me in; I said I'm rubbish on rough terrain. He didn't know what to say. Why enter one of the most mountainous races in the entire country if you are rubbish on rough terrain? But I explained I wanted to be sure.
 And I think I am now. It took me some 3:45h, which boils down to a pace of ~3.5 km/h. I think I should give up on this, and next time just walk, alone (or with other hikers) and with mountain boots rather than running shoes. I won't go any slower, I get the same views, but I keep nobody waiting, and I can bring more coffee. And for running, I think I'll stick to road and trail races!

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