The Wall – Who thought an Ultra Run would be fun?!

Tim Arnold – take a bow!

Tim had this great idea. Tim thought I’d be up for his great idea. “Hadrian’s Wall mate, only 69 miles, fancy it?” That’s how I remember the phone call. “Only”.

So I headed to the Rat Race website for ‘The Wall’ and pondered on what for me should have been an absolute no no. Just six months before and after a third operation on my right knee, I’d been shown pics of the inside of my knee and even to a numpty like me – the arthritis was all too obvious. My doc was sent a letter saying no impact sports, from skydiving to running and a big black cloud called knee replacement hangs ever over me. So here I was, considering a 69 mile running race and knowing it might just be a bit much for me ol’ body. Tim had pressed the right buttons, I hate being told I can’t do something. It’s a bad trait but one that’s led to all sorts of random missions and adventures, even some of the best times of my life. Pah.

Back on the phone to Tim – ‘I reckon the Expert Class will be easier. My legs won’t take kindly to doing 35 miles one day, sleeping and another 34 miles the next day. I’m sure I’ll cope better with doing all 69 in one hit’.

All adventures start somewhere and on boxing day, I left Mile End and headed to Worthing for a session in the gym with Tim. ‘The Wall’ has been a dark, brooding, malevolent presence ever since – every time I’ve bummed about, it’s been there, laughing at my ignorance of what an ultra run is. When I’ve been for a 6 mile run – it’s been there, reminding me I should have run 10. When the body has been burning with training pain – it’s been there, I can almost hear it telling me I have no realisation of what agony is yet. It’s been like a bullying, older sibling to be honest.

Why? Lot’s of reasons but mostly because if I don’t do an Ultra now, then I may never do one. I guess that qualifies it for the bucket list and to be honest, it’s felt a bit like that but it’s also been strangely liberating, like sticking two fingers up at the consultant who told me not to run again. When the whistle or horn or whatever they have to start the race sounds – it’ll feel like I’m punching the dumb driver who ran me over 5 years, straight on his hooter, full cock. Somehow, somewhere in the last 6 months, it’s started to feel like I’ve got myself back and I’m finally pulling the strings again.

Dad’s gonna come and be support, hotels are booked and 800 people have entered the two classes. Mr Blue Sky will hopefully stay away. Please.

Roll on Saturday.

So many new shinys…

This ultra race I’ve entered has caused a fair bit of kit purchasing, new sport means new gear and I’m still having to purchase the odd bit of climbing gear. So what’s come through the front door?

Firstly – the OMM i-drate, a 12ltr backpack that’s just about the right size for the run. It’ll make a perfect daysack for summer, the colour is garish and will go with my yellow Berghaus perfectly. The 80s fashion for colour is back in yeh? They won’t miss me on the hill. It’s not ideal, I’d have liked two bigger zipped pockets on the hip belt but it will serve my needs. I’ve had to buy a Source Wide bladder thingy to go in it… this is great for a bladder but I really do prefer bottles, the OMM sack is designed for both and the race will necessitate both too. I’ve ran 17 miles with it on (in one go!) and not a bit of rubbing from the harness. Yep, OMM harnesses fit me like my skin.  Compressport Calf Guards in the Ultra Silicone variety, oh er mrs, have been used a couple of times now in training and I think without them I’d be looking at a far more torturous trip to Gateshead. I’m happy with them so far but I do think they have something of the school kid about them – I bought white, in the hope they will reflect all the glorious sunshine we’re going to enjoy this summer. There’s Ron Hill shorts, Nike short (very!) shorts, Hilly socks that are twin skin and amazing, plus a host of products that will hopefully stop my arse crack from chaffing if it’s a hot and sweaty race. I really, really, really hope they work.

On the climbing front, there came to be in my possession a fine pair of Edelrid Merlin Half ropes. Dry treated and 8mm in size, they’re light, well made and go well with my living room. I’ve had to pay for mine, unlike my mate Joe from South Africa who’s sponsored by them but it was having a good look at his gear that made me purchase these, rather than going for Beal or one of the other more common names in the UK. Now at 8mm, there may be an issue of compatibility with some belay plates and having just lobbed my Buggette of Main Wall on Cyrn Glas, I’ve purchased a Reverso 4, the latest incarnation no less. It’s a joy to behold, it really is. Why is my van not that colour eh? I’ve bought another Buggettte too, they’re so light at 26g, there’s no excuse for not carrying one as a spare and if I’m climbing on my ropes, who’s to say my partner will have a small enough belay plate? See, thinking ahead. Another DMM Dragon cam brings the collection up to four and just for completeness, I purchased a set of matching DMM Phantom krabs – climbing gear can make me a little OCD.

All that’s left is to use and abuse, then report back but so far, so good.

Canon S95 – A fresh start.

Point and shoot baby. 110 cassette films made me happier than faffing with a 35mm film and auto everything made me a lazy lad when it come to taking a picture. Times change and the ability to take a million shots with digital means most will shoot a ‘wooow’ frame or two at some point in their lifetime. It’s those photos, the ones that are framed well and the light’s just so, that make photography a frustrating challenge for me personally. I’d like them all to have the ‘wooow’ factor, however, I know that’s never going to happen without a decent camera and an altered attitude from the person pressing the buttons – me.

There were certain needs – small, sturdy, simple. It’ll be stuffed in a pocket when I’m climbing, hence the need for the three S words. I like a bargain too, so I sought some advice from mates who knew about these things and followed that up with a few cramming sessions on the interweb. Ideally, I wanted a camera I could grow into, yet wasn’t the size of a DSLR. The Panasonic LX5 was almost there but in the end, the Canon won due to its size. Jeans pocket size as opposed to jacket pocket. Purchased a month ago with two spare batteries and a decent memory card for the grand sum of £253 from DigitalRev. Today was the first chance I’ve had to have a play with it, work and training has been my whole life lately and it’s sat on the shelf staring sullenly at me for four weeks now.

I’ll admit I know nothing about photography. Exposure and shutter speed both let in more or less light but what the difference is… well, I’m at a loss. Already the camera is taking pictures that are white or black due to my adjusting the settings, not that I’m too worried about that, as that was the whole point of buying it. Why purchase a camera that shoots in RAW and allows all manner of manual fiddling if you’re just going to leave it on auto? Seriously tho, I need to acquire knowledge and turn it into decent pictures. So these are some of what I took today, some on auto and others with the fancy settings. Eek!

After I get the Alps out of the way, I’ll purchase Lightroom 4 but that will have to wait as I’m sure a couple of weeks in Switzerland will leave me bankrupt. That will be a whole new world of wonder and hopefully the new horizon will be crisp and sharp, a focused frame of wonder. We’ll see.

Crazy Dayz and Nightz

It’s been a bit mental this last few weeks, I’ve been away in Snowdonia for the last six weekends and away working in London during the week. Not having a wee wifey who’s chained to the proverbial sink to take care of me, I’ve been lucky if I’ve had ten minutes to myself during the week – the washing, cleaning and cooking doesn’t sort itself and the house looks like a car boot set of pasteboards. Indi, the daughter, was collected from Uni in Liverpool yesterday and just added to the carnage called my life. This weekend has seen training for the Ultra go out of the window, replaced by pillows and sleep. After twenty five hours of kip in six days and nights, the body needed to heal and my alarm didn’t wake me this morning at 5am despite being set. Enough was enough I guess. Tiredness won.

I managed to finally nail down the Welsh 300os a couple of weeks ago with George, who’s since headed off to attempt a summit of Denali. Being the only person who’s pushed me on the hills this last four weeks, I’d say he’s fit and ready for what should be a fantastic trip. He’s been seen lately in Greenwich, dragging a tyre behind him as he walks his local park. I have to admire focus like that.

We decided to go from North to South for the W3s, rain was forecast till 9am and cloud all day and night, and we didn’t fancy starting on a wet Crib Goch. It would be easy to say now that it was an uneventful and successful trip but at the time, it was draining mentally. We had no views all day, we got lost once or twice, we added a fair bit of mileage out of choice and we also decided to do a greasy and damp Bristly Ridge. Crib Goch when dark, in cloud and using no headtorch as it was reflecting so badly, was certainly interesting but as soon as the trig point on Crib Y Ddysgl was located, we knew we were home and dry. With the walk in and out, it was 17 summits in total and over 21 hours – perfect training for the Ultra, as it’s time on feet that’s going to matter the most. Cheers George.

The weekend after, conditions couldn’t have been any different. Sunshine and high winds for Davy, Del and Phil’s attempt. A couple of hours sleep for all and it was time for the off but there was to be no joy in a full finish this time. Del called it quits at the Devil’s Kitchen, Davy was persuaded to finish after Tryfan and Phil had to be told I wasn’t taking him any further than there, as he was wobbling all over the place and safety would have been an issue later that evening. Dehydration played a big part and perhaps an underestimation of just how great a challenge the Welsh 3000s can be. I was happy however, the legs felt strong and I’d have felt fine running huge chunks of what we did. The pub was calling by now and re-hydration was garnered from lager, followed by champagne. Sweet! Plans were made for a Sunday climb of Main Wall on Cyrn Las in the Pass.

So the story of this year’s Welsh 3000s ends and in truth… I’m happy to see the back of it. Snow, hail, sunshine, winds – I’ve had it all. It’s been extreme in more senses than one. If anything has stood out to me, it’s been the way that the hills and the weather care not a whit if we are there or not. I like that, it’s rather humbling.