I have just come back from four months in Japan and one of the things I did whilst I was there was a couple of nice hikes near Mt Takao. This reminded me that a) I really like hiking and b) I have not done much hiking for years, especially point-to-point hiking with my kit on my back.
So, this weekend I have set out to rediscover hiking and to revisit the area where my love of hiking was honed as a teenager, in the Derbyshire Peak District.
After work today I packed 2 days of clothes, maps, wet weather gear and some essentials such as a computer in my rucksack and set off, helped by a lift from my brother Ian to Nottingham station. In just under an hour the train deposited me at Cromford, on the edge of the Peak District National Park.
Cromford has many links to the early days of the industrial revolution. For example, Richard Arkwright built his water-powered mill here in 1771, followed by many others, which led to rail and canal links.
On the walk from the station I was treated to wonderful views of the River Derwent and the terminus of the Cromford Canal.
A short walk, between 1 and 2 kilometres, took me to my stay for the night, the Greyhound Hotel in Cromford. I might also get back to camping, but I decided to break myself back in gently. The Greyhound Hotel was built in 1778 by Richard Arkwright for visitors to his mills.
The road sign in the picture was taken on my walk to Cromford and is in feet and inches and warns of the height of a low bridge. However, this sign is not only confusing because it uses feet and inches, but it also uses an old notation for them. The ‘ symbol means feet, and the “ symbol means inches.
At the Greyhound hotel I treated myself to a proper Northern dinner of meat and potato pie, followed by apple crumble.
The walk proper starts tomorrow morning. However, since this is not a business hotel, breakfast is served (on Saturdays) from 9 till 10, so it won’t be an early start.
I am on my way to Tokyo to spend a month studying Japanese. I have an apartment booked for one month and I meet my tutor on Thursday. How will it go? Well, my optimism is high, but over the last 57 years I have not shown any aptitude for languages, so my optimism has to be tempered with some realism/concern.
Tonight I am stopping at the Yotel at Heathrow, as I am flying Sunday morning, and getting from Nottingham to Heathrow on a Sunday morning is quite a problem. The Yotel is probably quite a nice foretaste of Japan as it is a capsule hotel, something we often associate with Japan. My room is about 2 metres by three metres and has a bed, a desk, an area to get changed, a toilet, shower, and sink. The internet is free as are coffee and tea. The bed is interesting, the good news is that it is comfortable, but the interesting thing is that my bed is over the bed in next cabin (in the picture you can see I step up to my bed, so the bed in the next Cabin will effectively be underneath me. As well as meeting my needs really well, the Yotel is great value (by UK standards), tonight is costing me £71.
Tomorrow I am flying Singapore Airlines to Singapore, where I change planes and fly on another Singapore Airlines to Tokyo. The slightly off route is because I am spending a week in Singapore on my way back to the UK, for the Singapore MRS Conference, and this route is bar far the cheapest, and anyway I really enjoy Singapore Airlines.
Last Saturday (May 25, 2013) I took part in my first 100KM race (the London to Brighton Challenge), raising money for the breast awareness charity CoppaFeel! (more on the charity later, but you can donate via my JustGiving page). Last summer I walked 100KM in the Oxfam Trailwalk and I ran in an 80KM race along the North Downs, so this was bringing the best elements of both together.
For me the event started on the Friday, driving to London with my son Will, who provided first class support throughout the event. A few meetings in town were followed by registering for the event and checking into the hotel.
Saturday started very early, Will and I left the hotel soon after 5, arriving at the start of the run, in Richmond’s Old Deer Park at about 5:30am, ready for a 6:00am start. The good news was the rain that had been with us till Friday had cleared up and we had a fine day for running (albeit with some muddy stretches, here and there).
The London to Brighton Challenge had about 320 runners and about 1000 walkers. The competitors were due to start at various times, with me in the first group at 6:00am. A few stretches, some music, motivational words from the organisers, and we were off, about five minutes late, but no harm in that.
The route ran across the park and then down along the river bank until Kingston – ensuring a really flat start to the run. I started the run with my waterproof top on, and wearing my small running rucksack (which houses a two-litre water bladder). However, as the day, and me, warmed up I soon took off my top and at one of the support stops, switched to my running bum-bag (which holds two water bottles) – I often find a rucksack causes me to overheat.
Running an ultra, even at my slow speeds, is quite different from something like a half-marathon. You have to run well inside your abilities for hours. At, say, 40KM (25 miles), you need to ensure that you are not tired, not aching, not sore, not exerting yourself – because you have many, many hours to go. In my case I reached 40 KM in about 5 hours, feeling fine. The next 40KM would take me 7 hours, and the 20 KM after that 3.5 hours. This was a bit slower than I had hoped, but 5 hours is what I ran a marathon in 5 weeks ago, and 12 hours is what I ran 80KM in last year, so I probably got the finishing time I deserved.
The run had eight support spots, at roughly 12.5 KM intervals At some of these points the support teams (for me, my son Will) could meet us – at other times I met Will a little before or after the support stops. At the race stops there was food, medical support, toilets, drinks, and loads of smiles and support.
One of the noticeable features of the stops was how relaxed the runners were. Anybody who has run a marathon or half-marathon will be familiar with the way that water stops tend to be a mad dash to collect as much water as possible in as short a time as possible. On the 100KM run, as people entered the station they slowed to a very casual walk. They looked at the drinks and food on offer, made their selections, spoke to the people providing the support, spoke to each other, savoured their food and drink, replenished their bags and set out again. Most runners spent up to 5 mins at each of the stations (barring the very fastest), which equates to at least 40 minutes at stations – because of the extra time I spent at the 56KM station, I would estimate I spent about one hour at the stations, out of my 15.5 hours.
The 56KM stop was the biggest of the stops and it was billed as the half-way point (although the more mathematical of you will have noticed that in pure distance it was just over half way). Here the 13 hour plus runners tended to have a longer stop, eating sandwiches or even a hot meal. I went for sandwiches, but I also spent fifteen minutes getting a blister on my toe popped and dressed. One of my more recent personal rules is that on long distance events (running or walking) deal with problems as soon as you are aware of them – if you have a blister, running another 12.5KM on it does not improve things. Interestingly, the medic was not allowed to suggest popping the blister, but was happy to do it when I requested. Many of us find that popping is much, much, better than just dressing.
Other than the best runners, most ultra runners walk up the big hills. We run on the flat, the downhills, and the small hills, but we walk on the big hills. However, as the hours go by, the slower folk (including me) have a changing definition of what constitutes a big hill. At 60KM a hill that I would have run up at 20KM suddenly becomes one I am happy to walk up.
Other interruptions to running are caused by very steep descents (there were very few of these on this run), very muddy stretches (I think I spent about30 minutes, in total, waddling across mud), and stiles (there were masses of stiles, perhaps 60 stiles, so I might have spent 45 minutes climbing (ever more stiffly) over stiles. One special hazard on this route was a fallen tree. This was over 60KM into the run and I was already very stiff and I think it took 2 or 3 minutes to find a way of getting over it (rolling my body onto it, across it, and off again).
The route from London to Brighton is very flat initially, until it climbs over the North Downs. From the North the North Downs are a set of not too steep hills, until the top of the Downs are reached and the North Downs Way crossed, which is the highest point of the run. The descent down the escarpment was the only, long, very steep section. After the North Downs the route goes South across the Weald, going up and down small hills, and through lots of high quality farming land (which is where most of the stiles were). At 88KM the route reaches the last checkpoint, at Plumpton. This checkpoint looks up at the intimidating face of the South Downs. At this point I switched back to my rucksack and Will pushed my walking sticks into my bag. A short jog brought me to the bottom of the first of three hill climbs and out came the sticks. Up to the South Downs Way, then, with my sticks in one hand, a jog along the top and a long descent, this was followed by a medium hill, and then another downhill jog with the sticks being carried. At Falmer the sticks got their last outing, helping me climb a long but steady hill up to the 97KM marker. At 97KM Will met me, took the sticks and carried them as we jogged and chatted together for the last 3KM.
I had started at 6am in London. I had run all day, except for walking up the hills, climbing the stiles, waddling in the mud, and the checkpoints. It was now just past 9pm and getting dark. The last 3KM were completed in a breeze, chatting to Will and running on the flat and perhaps slightly downhill route that leads to Brighton Racecourse. The final run up to the finish is spectacular, and the crowd shout like you are the first runner they have seen (about 170 have actually already finished). I finish at about 9:30, 15hour and 32 minutes after I had started – having enjoyed almost all of it.
So, how did I do? Well, 15.5 hours was slower than I had hoped for, but respectable (for me). Of the runners I finished 178th out of about 320, which is good for me. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I raised over £1000 for charity – more on that in a moment. Of the 15.5 hours I think I spent 45 minutes on stiles and obstacles, about 30 minutes waddling on mud, about 1 hour at the stops and checkpoints, about 90 minutes walking up hills, so about 12 hours running. If I run that sort of distance again, I will be looking for a route with fewer stiles, I will perhaps stop less at the checkpoints and meetings, I would love to avoid mud altogether, and perhaps run up slightly more of the hills.
In terms of the event, the people were brilliant, the fellow competitors were great, the route signage was the best I have ever seen. I was not a fan of some of the small paths, nor of the stiles (by comparison the North Downs run is on much wider tracks, with very few obstacles). I would certainly recommend the London2Brighton Challenge to any runner or walker who was looking to take part in a well organised 100KM event, on an iconic route.
If you have read this far, please consider making a donation to CoppaFeel! It is a great little charity doing great work. You can make a contribution via my JustGiving page.
At the end of May I am running a 100KM race, the London to Brighton Challenge (to raise money for the CoppaFeel breast cancer awareness charity), if you’d like to sponsor me, please visit my JustGiving page. Although I have run an 80KM race before, this will be my first 100KM, and it requires a fair bit of training and ideally mini-goals along the way. One of my challenges, in terms of my training schedule, was that April was a heavy travel month for me, with conferences and meetings in Vietnam, Japan, and Australia – so I was on the lookout for a goal in Australia to add focus to my training.
Whilst searching the internet for a marathon (or similar) in the Brisbane area on the weekend of 30/31 April, I found the Mount Mee Classic, to be run on 31 April. This marathon is billed by its organisers (The Run Inn) as possibly the toughest in Australia. What makes it tough is the fact it is an off-road race, with about 1400 metres of climb (which is about the same as running to the top of Ben Nevis in Scotland). The 2013 route has more downhill than uphill, but downhills don’t actually compensate for uphills, and several of the downhill sections are too steep to run down comfortably.
So, the Mount Mee Classic it was!
The first challenge was getting to the start. The race started at 6:00am, inside the D’Aguilar Range, about 24KM miles from the finish in Dayboro. The race starts so early to avoid the worst of the heat of the day (even so, we were running in 27°C by the time we finished, despite starting at 6:00am and even though Australia is moving towards its winter).
At 4:30am, I got a lift to the bus pick-up spot in Dayboro, where it was still very dark – the sun not being due to appear until just before 6:00am. At 5:00am a bus ferried us to the start, at a place called The Gantry. We arrive at The Gantry at about 5:40am and it is still dark, with runners being registered by the light of lamps. At about 5:50am it suddenly becomes light. The Gantry, just North of Brisbane and is at 27° South, which means the switch from night to day happens very fast, especially for somebody from Nottingham (53° North), where, because we are so much further from the equator, the switch from night to day is much slower.
Just after 6:00am we are off, with me near the back of the pack of just over 100 runners. In theory the first 10KM (six miles) are downhill, but we quickly discover that the descent to Rocky Hollow is broken up with numerous uphills and some of the downhills being so steep and slippy that non-elite runners need to check their speed. At this stage we are all fresh, the sun is not too hot, so progress is good. For me, the first 10KM is completed in about 1 hour (but the next 32KM took about 4 hours).
From Rocky Hollow the run climbs back up to the Gantry, regaining all the height lost in the first 10KM, but with plenty of downhill sections to make the climb longer, and with two rivers to be crossed, ensuring we run the rest of the race with wet feet. (I also discover that Australians do not call a section of road crossed by a river a ford.) At this stage, the slower runners (including me) adopt the traditional recourse of the non-elite ultra-runner – we walk up the steepest of the uphill sections.
At about 17KM we have finished the loop to Rocky Hollow and have returned to The Gantry. We run along the ridge and start to descend into Pleasant Valley – which in about 25 KM will bring us to the finish in Dayboro.
By now it is past 8.00am and the sun is very strong and temperatures are climbing up to the 27C they will remain at for the rest of the run. Since the race is off road, through the Australian bush, the race rules include carrying water – even though we are supplied drinks and sweets about every 7KM. I was carrying two bottles, each with about 0.6 litres. Initially I was happy with just drinking the water, isotonics, and cola at the drink stations, but as the run progressed I found I was using my own bottles more and more, and indeed I had to refill both bottles during the race (drinking about 80% of the water and tipping perhaps 20% over my head and neck to help keep cool).
At about 27K we emerged from the bush and the dirt tracks turned into the tarmac, the road that would take us to the finish. At this stage the uphills and downhills were less pronounced than in the bush, but hills (both up and down) were still much more common than flat sections. At about 32 KM there was a short loop to ensure the race would be the regulation distance, so we ran 2KM up a side road towards Mount Pleasant Hall, and back, up two hills and down three hills on the way out, and up three hills and down two hills on the way back. The final 6KM was described as undulating by the team at the last drink station, but they were also the least scenic as we were now on a busier stretch of road and closer to the town of Dayboro.
As we reached to the outskirts of Dayboro, with about 2KM to go, I switched back to my regular running style, i.e. of running up hills, as well as running on the flat and downhills – confident that the end was near and that I had reserved sufficient energy.
As with any marathon, the end is always glorious, the organisers are clapping, the people who have finished recently are clapping, and as I cross the line my hand dashes to my GPS watch to ensure I record my time correctly, followed by a greeting and a photo.
The time is slow, very slow, 5 hours 7 minutes. My slowest ever marathon, and the first time it has taken me over five hours. However, it was definitely the hardest course I have ever run. It may or may not be Australia’s toughest race, but it was my toughest!
After numerous cups of water, and after clapping home some people who finished after me, it was back to the Queenslander, a shower, and out for lunch and a spot of Dayboro shopping and sightseeing, followed by dinner, and an early night and a long sleep.
Monday was a leisurely start, a visit to the art gallery in Dayboro (the commercial sort where they sell the paintings), and back to Brisbane and ‘real life’.
The race and its organisers
The race is organised in a fairly low key simple way, but very effectively. The marking of the route was excellent, nobody seemed to get lost, the drink stations were at the right place, well stocked, and manned by really supportive people.
The race has a long history, having been a 50KM ultra until a few years ago. The Run Inn (a Brisbane-based running equipment shop) organise the race and do a great job.
My one recommendation to the organisers would be to integrate the race more into the community of Dayboro. Most of the shops and people we spoke to in Dayboro did not know about the race, and a great event could be even better if it were more integrated into the Dayboro community.
The Dayboro, Samford, D’Aguilar National Park Area
I have visited Brisbane many, many times, and I am familiar with the Sunshine Coast, the Gold Coast, and Mount Cootha within the city. However, Samford, Dayboro, and the whole D’Aguilar National Park area were completely new to me, and they came as a massively beautiful surprise. The D’Aguilar National Park is perhaps the most beautiful area I have visited in Australia (for me ahead of the Blue Mountains). Samford is just 45 minutes outside of Brisbane’s CBD (central business district), and it is a wonderful collection of eating places, kitch, crafts and is a very pleasant relaxing place (although with a tendency to close about 3pm).
Dayboro claims it is the place where the East ends, and certainly beyond Dayboro the scenery gets a lot wilder, hillier, and more beautiful. Dayboro is not as pretty as Samford, but it has a nice feeling to it and I’d recommend the information centre, the art gallery, and the deli.
Beyond Dayboro is the D’Aguilar National Park, with walks, cycle routes, and routes for four-wheel vehicles. High on the Mount Mee road is the Pitt Stop, a café popular with motor bike riders, and with a view that is stupendous. The views include: the hills, the forests, the valley back to Dayboro, and on the horizon, the high rise buildings of Brisbane’s CDD – a graphic reminder that this paradise is a just a short drive from the heart of Brisbane.
On May 25th I am aiming to raise money for a great breast cancer awareness charity called CoppaFeel by running 100KM (about 62.5 miles) from London to Brighton, in under 15 hours, as part of the London to Brighton Challenge.
I’d really appreciate it if you consider sponsoring me via my just giving page.
Each year I do one sponsored challenge and I try to reach out to everybody only once per channel – however, that does mean if you are a Facebook friend, a contact of mine on LinkedIn, work in the same office etc, you still may get several requests – sorry about that 🙂
CoppaFeel is run by a couple of amazing twins, one of whom, Kris developed breast cancer at 23 and had to battle to be tested as younger people do not often get breast cancer. You can read about Kris’s story on the website – my daughter met Kris and her twin Maren a couple of years ago and my family have been supporters of CoppaFeel ever since.