Backyard Ultra Wales – Part 2

A few days a go I blogged about the Backyard Ultra that I had taken part in (read about it here). I’ve now had time to mull over the race as well as going for a couple of short slow runs. The upshot is that I am very keen to do another one, although not in the same place. I have only good things to say about Trail Events Co who organised the race, but with so many Backyard Ultras all of the world it would be a shame not to experience it somewhere new. Trail Events have also published all of the photos that were taken by a professional onto their website, which can be downloaded for free. This is a very nice touch, similar to Epic Events in the North West. The ones with me can be seen below.

What have I learned? On the whole I think my pacing was just about right, as I finished most laps in about 50 minutes. I should have changed my t-shirt a couple of laps earlier and I need to buy myself a cheap mp3 player so that I can listen to music or podcasts. As I said in the earlier report, lap 6 with Matt Pritchard blasting away top tunes was my best lap.

I’ve also read a few other race reports and most people look at cutting out caffeine for a few weeks before the race so that it has more effect when they really need it. No coffee for three weeks might be a struggle for me. Apart from music, laying down with your feet elevated was done by a few people, as well as using rollers to ease their tired muscles.

My long tern goal is definitely to complete 12 laps, or 50 miles, but it does appear that once I hit 50km the wheels come off very quickly. I probably need to run longer more often, instead of my longest runs being half marathon or slightly longer.

Finally, with everything gradually getting back to normal, I want to enter more races, hopefully at least one a month. I have entered the Wilmslow sprint triathlon in a couple of weeks and I’m keeping my eyes out for something interesting to enter in October.

Backyard Ultra Wales

The first time I heard about the Backyard ultra race format I knew that I would love to have a go. It would appear that I’m not the only person as they have proliferated across the world. For those of you who don’t know what a Backyard Ultra is, it is a 4.167 mile loop that has to be completed in under an hour, and then you do it again, and again, until there is only one person left standing. There are hundreds of these races around the world with some of them taking days before there is only one winner, everyone else is a DNF (Did Not Finish).

Last October I took part in a similar event which was partly endurance and partly elimination (read about it here). However I was worried about being eliminated so ran quicker than I needed to, which ended up with too much rest and my legs seizing up. From what I read for the Backyard races, most people aim to complete each lap in 50 mins which leaves enough time to fuel and hydrate before starting the next lap.

Anyway, Backyard Ultra Wales was a couple of days ago, very well organised by Trail Events Co. The race was set in the grounds of the incredible Y Faenol Estate, which included camping with views across the mountains. The race started at 11am on the Friday, so me, my amazing wife Helen and our silly pointer headed off on the Thursday. We set up camp, chatted to a few other competitors, had sausage and beans followed by a beer and then an early night.

At 9am on the morning of the race I registered, picking up my race number and then placed a camping chair and my provisions near to the start/finish line under one of the provided gazeebos. Most people were using their own tents or camper vans, but we had pitched our tent at the other end of the field where it would be a bit more peaceful, especially as I doubted that I would run through the night.

After the race briefing we lined up for the first lap. I don’t know how many entered but it looked like there were at least 50 of us. The race ‘gong’ was banged and we set off, and what was weird was how slow we all went.

The first part of the lap was either flat or downhill, but at the first sign of uphill everyone started to walk, which did feel strange after less than 2 miles of running. It was also very friendly with people chatting and laughing. I caught up with an old friend from a Triple Ironman as we reminisced about how crazy that weekend had been (read about it here).

Part of the lap was along the Welsh Coast Path before heading up through a field, over a ladder stile and through some more woods, around a duck pond, past the estate mansion before finishing the loop. First lap completed in about 48 minutes, giving me time for a drink, some food and to fill up my small handheld 250ml water bottle. It was hot and the first lap was the only lap I ran without carrying (and finishing) the water in this bottle.

Three minutes to go and race director blows a whistle three times. Two minutes to go and it is twice, and the one minute with just the one blow. If you’re not in the starting pen on the hour you are DQ’d, no exceptions.

Lap 2 and we’re already into the routine. What was also pleasant was that unlike most races where the field completely spreads out, here we would all start at the same time again, so there was always someone different to chat to. With different sections of the route and 100m of climbing the laps weren’t boring. The route can be seen below.

Once I was off running my lovely wife and our pooch went for a long walk along the coastal path and across the Menai Straight Suspension Bridge before returning. They managed to miss the turning back to the start area and ended up walking along some of the race route, cleverly timing it so as to miss all of the runners. It gave me a much needed boost as I rounded the lake and could see Helen standing outside our tent.

Generally I would walk the last 100-200m of the loop, resting the legs and giving me chance to chat with Helen. Nelly wasn’t impressed that I was off running without her.

At the start of lap 5 there had only been one person to stop, and that was because of an old injury. To complete the marathon distance you had to do 7 laps, as 6 laps was just over a mile short. Lap 6 and Matt Pritchard, my old friend from the triple brought out a speaker to run with, blasting out Fatboy Slim at the start of the lap and Queen classics at the end of the lap. Best lap all day.

As expected there were a number of DNF’s after lap 7, although I tried to convince a couple of guys who had been sitting next to me in the gazeebo to start the next lap. Another five or six people dropped out at the end of lap 8. By this point I was feeling tired and set off lap 9 very slowly and soon found myself a long way adrift of the main pack. I chatted to one guy who wasn’t happy with himself as he had hoped to complete 24 hours and he knew he wasn’t going to finish this lap within the hour. Towards the end of the lap I pushed on and managed to finish with four minutes to spare. I was done. That was it for me. I watched as the remaining athletes lined up and witnessed the agony as one runner was less than 50m from the finish line when they set off.

I chatted with some amazing athletes during the race, often about how far they wanted to run. For many people it was just to run further than they had run before, while others had set more ambitious targets. My targets were a little more modest. Firstly I didn’t want to be the first person out, and then I wanted to log my longest run on Garmin Connect (before the race at 36km), then my longest run on Strava (before the race at 52km), then go further than my longest run only run (currently 62km) and then ultimately try to complete 12 hours or 50 miles. In the end my 9 laps came to 61.6km (Strava activity can be found here), not quite my run only longest run, but I was happy. Nice piece of bling and my race number almost survived being washed.

The start of lap 10 was the first where head torches were required and back at our tent, sipping a beer, we watched most of them return, before we headed for an early night. During the night we would sometimes hear the runners, but as we were making an early morning coffee I chatted to one of the organisers would told me that the winner was just about to complete her solo lap. That’s right, to be declared the winner, you have to do a full lap on your own. Sarah from York completed 20 laps, but had been expecting to go much longer. We all applauded her as she finished, and I marveled at how she had completed her 20th lap in 48 minutes, managing over 80 miles in total.

A couple of days later and as my legs begin to return to normal my thoughts on the race are how well organised it was and how spectacular the venue was. I also liked the camaraderie involved. It is also a great type of race for someone’s first ultra. Would I do it again? I probably will, but not in Wales. Not because there was anything wrong with the race, but because I like to race different places, and with races all over the world Helen has already mentioned that she likes the look of us going to Frankfurt.

The Bay Limestone Round – Leg 2

Last summer my lovely wife, Helen, and four of her friends completed the BLR as a relay team. This year they’re doing it again, but with each of them taking a different leg. Last year Helen did the last leg, which is technically the hardest leg. This year she is doing leg 2, which is the longest leg at almost 14 miles.

Yesterday one of Helen’s oldest friends very kindly drove to the finish of leg 2 so that we could leave our car, and then drove us to the start of leg 2, and on top of that didn’t complain about all the hair that Nelly left in her new car.

The start of leg 2 is near the village of High Newton, alongside the High Newton Lower Reservoir, which is an incredibly tough climb for the end of leg 1.

Anyway, we waved to Lisa as she started her drive back to Lancaster and we started our run back to the car. The first bit of leg 2 was along a road and mainly downhill, which was nice, especially as we knew there would be plenty of climbing later. Off the road and we wound our way through some woods and fields and past Witherslack Hall. After almost 4 miles of very easy running we came to the side of a cliff, which marked the first of the two summits on leg 2, Lord’s Seat at 215m high. As expected the views were amazing, and you can easily see how strong the wind sometimes blows.

Off the top of Lord’s Seat was once again very pleasant running with easy to follow paths, the complete opposite of leg 5. We dropped down to cross the main Lythe Valley road at the very posh looking Lythe Valley Country House Hotel.

Over half way and we were both still feeling good, although the hills started to get a little more frequent and the terrain more uneven. With the sun out we weren’t in any hurry and we more than happy to walk when we felt like it. However, at Middle Blakebank we had our first navigation problem. The route appeared to go straight through someone’s front garden. We backtracked and found the footpath arrow was correct so we looked left and right before deciding just to go for it. Half way through the immaculate garden we spotted another yellow footpath sign, so it was the correct route. A bit later we came to another house where the footpath also went through the garden, but this time the owners had put up signs and arrows so that people knew exactly where the path went. I’m sure the owners of the first house don’t like having a footpath going through their garden, but if you make it obvious where the path goes, people won’t be standing outside your front door for five minutes looking at maps and scratching their heads.

The next few fields were full of sheep and lambs, some very young with concerned Ewes. Across another small road and we were onto Gamblesmire Lane, which was easy running again as we neared our second summit, Cunswick Scar. We followed the official route through Scar Wood, although we think it might be quicker to continue along Gamblesmire Lane rather than the rough field. Anyway, once through Scar Wood there was only a short out and back to the summit before the last mile to the finish.

I hadn’t thought to bring a hat so Helen had lent me her buff to protect my shiny bald head. This was the only time of the day where we had seen more than two people, with families and dogs galore.

The last mile would have been great for running, but my legs were completely broken by this point. In hindsight a hilly 60+ mile bike ride the day before probably wasn’t such a good idea. However, with the wide open spaces it was great to let Nelly off her lead.

A few minutes later and we were back at the car. Full distance was a little over 14 miles with over 2000 feet of climbing. A tough leg which took us just over four hours, but as I said, we weren’t in any hurry. Helen will be much quicker on the day. It was also far easier navigation wise than leg 5. We might head back for another quick recce but I doubt if we’ll do the full leg again.

Strava details can be found here,

and my other BLR blogs can be found here.

Saucony Peregrine

My go to trail running shoes for the last few years has been the Saucony Peregrine. They fit my feet well, have good tread in the wet and mud, and they aren’t too bad on harder trails or small sections of road. Unfortunately the uppers don’t last very well. My last pair managed 410km, but my current pair have fallen apart at only 350km. I do only use them when I know my route will be tough. If I’m going to be running on a good trail I often just use road shoes, so any trail shoe that I use will take a hammering.

I know that the trails around Lancashire are tough going and therefore will be very hard on any trail or fell shoe. However, at £100+ a pair I think I’m going to have a look at something else.

I read some very good reviews about North Face Vectiv Trail shoes, although I’m not keen on white. I also heard some very good things from Inov-8, possibly the Terraultra G 270. We’ll see what my local running shop can manage, and maybe 350-400km for a trail shoe in Lancashire is about right.

Ward’s Stone

Keeping with my plan that every other Friday should be a long run I decided to give Ward’s Stone another go. Ward’s Stone is the highest peak in the Forest of Bowland and one of the highest peaks in Lancashire, topping out at 561m. I’ve run up there before almost 18 months ago, when I started from Tarnbrook (read about it here). This time the plan was to start and finish at the small car park at the top of Littledale. This wasn’t the first time that I had attempted this route, as just over a year ago I started out but turned back due to snow (read about it here).

Anyway, the weather was much warmer and there was even a bit of sun as I set out. I was running in trail shoes as over half of the route was off-road and then only a couple of miles on-road. The first mile was all downhill and then the next four all uphill. I’ve been up the shooter’s track many times but I’m always surprised by how steep and long the climb is. It was also quite windy so I pulled on my gloves. There is also a magnificent Andy Goldsworthy land art sculpture just off the path which is well worth a look.

Soon I was at the Clougha Pike footpath crossing and unlike the previous times I could see the top of Ward’s Stone and the footpath to get there. I tried to dodge most of the standing water, but fell running in Lancashire is always wet. At the top I took a photo from the trig point and then headed along the plateau to the next trig point.

Once the path started to drop I was on the look out for a long fence. Follow the fence to the right and you end up in Tarnbrook, to the left takes you back to Littledale. This short section was the only part of the route which I’d never done before, and it was classic fell trods, or tussocks. Very difficult to run on as well as being very wet. I also had the wind in the face at this point and when the hail arrived I quickly pulled on my hat.

I tried to hurry down the fell to escape the worst of the wind and hail, only tumbling over the once. The footpath here doesn’t really exist so I just followed the breadcrumb trail on my watch. Soon the hail stopped and I was down in the Roeburndale Valley. After a short climb the muddy track soon joined the road and one last climb and I was back at the car.

Almost 19km with 667m of climbing is what I call a good run, and as an added bonus my legs didn’t feel too tired the following morning.

Strava activity can be found here.

Next time that I run in the area I might start from Tarnbrook again and head up to Wolfhole Crag, which is almost as high as Ward’s Stone. It is fantastic to have these amazing fells within a couple of miles of where we live.

Belmont to Rivington Pike

Yesterday I blogged about the Howler Virtual Challenge (read about it here). Today I can confirm that our little family (seen below) ticked off the nearest of the ten routes, named Dakota, which is an out and back route from just north of Belmont to Rivington Pike.

I wasn’t too sure about the small lay-by for parking at the start/finish point, but it was almost full of cars when we arrived as there is a good hill for sledging nearby. I also knew that there was a good sized car park up Sheephouse Lane, about half way through the route, where we could potentially park if we needed to. As it turned out, Sheephouse Lane was definitely not a road I would have wanted to drive on without 4WD and winter tyres.

Anyway, we set off and I was in charge of navigation and Helen was on photo duty. The first mile was slow going as we tried not to get our feet too wet in the typical fell terrain. Fortunately at the top of the first hill the path became very easy going as heavy flags had been laid down many years earlier. We almost danced the next mile in the snow. The views were amazing with the masts on Winter Hill visible in the distance. Helen was incredibly pleased with how this photo came out.

First navigation error came up soon after we had passed a group of runners from Chorley. I had assumed that our route would go up and over Winter Hill, which it didn’t so we had to back track a hundred metres to find the appropriate footpath turn. Helen informed me that she had enough photos of me and that she wanted one of Nelly. Fair enough really as she is the best dog in the world.

From here we reached Sheephouse Lane, which was covered in hard packed snow and was incredibly slippery. We skittered along the road until we found the correct footpath. However we also found a family who had only moments earlier rolled their car. Their 4WD car had lost traction around a tight bend and slowly slipped off the road. Fortunately everyone was OK with multiple air bags deployed. The woman asked if we had one of those foil blankets to help keep their very young child warm. We unwrapped one and once we knew that they were all OK and that help was on the way we set off again.

The next section was typical Howler territory with a very steep slippery slope down across a small footbridge and then steeply back up the other side. We let Nelly off her lead to make her own way. She stayed off the lead as we wound our way through a magical snow filled wood and then down to the overflowing Pigeon Tower carpark. We couldn’t believe how many people there were.

Second navigation error as we picked the wrong track, but we managed to find a cut through, as we joined the correct path up to Pigeon Tower.

Lord Leverhulme (William Hesketh Lever), the soap magnate and founder of Lever Brothers (now Unilever) conceived and built Rivington Terraced Gardens with the help of Thomas Mawson between 1905 and 1925, with the Pigeon Tower being a present to his wife Elizabeth Lever.

As we reached Pigeon Tower there were hundreds of people. We had to walk as the track was covered in packed down snow and was again incredibly slippery. We gingerly made our way up to Rivington Pike, the turn around point on our run. There were hundreds of others enjoying the fine views or attempting to sledge down the steep hill. We didn’t hang around long.

All that was left was for use to retrace our footsteps and head back to the car. It had taken us far longer than expected, mostly due to having to walk most of the Rivington section. We let Nelly off her lead for most of the route back, right up until less than a mile to go where upon she headed off in the wrong direction. A couple of frantic minutes later and she reappeared looking very pleased to see us.

Overall an amazing run, mostly because of the stunning conditions. This is the only out and back route of the ten Howler Virtual Events, and I think the route might have been improved with a little loop from Rivington Pike to Winter Hill before joining the route back to the start/finish, but that is just my opinion.

We are definitely looking forward to completing the other nine routes and had thought about doing the other Lancashire one on New Year’s Day, but with so much snow and ice about we opted to stay local. Hopefully we’ll soon be in Tier 2 when we’ll be able to travel out of the county.

If you fancy a challenge I would heartily recommend this Howler Virtual Challenge.

Howler Virtual Challenges

Howler Events are fast becoming a Lancashire institution with their legendary tough events, or they were before the lockdown curtailed all but a few races. Me and my amazingly fit wife have done three Howler events in the past, all of which have been challenging for various reasons; extra ‘free’ miles, extreme rain or ice and snow (read about them here). To try and keep people interested, Stu, the Head Howler, set up a series of ten virtual routes that could be done whenever. The first iteration involved ten 10km loops all in and around the West Pennines of Lancashire. The second iteration, or the 2nd Coming Virtual Challenge, to its full title, involves ten 10 mile routes. These loops have US States for names and many of them are further afield, so we’ll have to wait until the lockdown eases to travel out of Lancashire which is currently in Tier 3. The good news is that we have a full year to complete all ten. Two of the routes, Dakota and Iowa, are within our county, so we will have a go at these first. Below illustrates the rough area where the routes are located.

Most of the routes will be completely new to us, so we are very excited. If you would like to join the fun, then the signing up information can be found on the Howler Events Facebook group or here.

The Wyre Way

At the weekend me and my lovely wife wanted to go out for a little run/walk. However, with Lockdown 2.0 we didn’t want to drive too far. Helen had a look on Wikiloc and found what looked like a great little 8 mile loop starting and finishing in Abbeystead; all of it on the Wyre Way.

The Wyre Way follows the River Wyre from it’s source near Abbeystead all the way to Fleetwood where it flows into the sea. The route also has a circular loop at each end, and it was the circular loop at the source that we did.

Abbeystead is a popular spot for walkers, but as we were there nice and early the car park only had a couple of other cars. Setting off and once again I hadn’t checked to see which way the route went, so after a couple of minutes we backtracked and headed off anti-clockwise. Almost immediately we ran past Abbeystead House, built in 1886 for the 4th Earl of Sefton.

The picture doesn’t show just how big the house is, and this was as close as the footpath went. Over a little bridge and through a couple of fields on an amazingly sunny November morning. With no sheep we could even let Nelly off her lead for a scamper.

Sometimes it wasn’t obvious where the path headed but Helen’s Garmin was keen to ‘beep’ if we went too far off course. We then had a short section on the Trough Road, before heading back into the Forest of Bowland. Whoever lives in the shooter’s lodge was getting ready for Christmas, with a few very large turkeys.

As with all of the footpaths in the area there are very big ‘No Dogs’ signs, but when you read the small print on the Open Access Land information, it states that dogs are allowed as long as you keep to designated Public Rights of Way, which footpaths are.

We walked up the steep shooters track until a footpath sign took us to the left, where a couple of minutes later we were once again back-tracking to find where exactly the footpath went. This was the only time that we lost the path as the Wyre Way was on the whole very well marked.

There were a couple of very high ladder styles, which Nelly struggled with, although she hates to be carried even less. I have to say that the views were stunning.

We then dropped down to a farm in the tiny hamlet of Tarnbrook. A farmer shouted at us. We weren’t sure why as we were definitely on the footpath. It turned out that he was shouting about having a kennel full of Pointers. His wife rushed out of the farm to chat with us. She is the President of the UK Pointer Club and knew all about Hurstead Pointers, where Helen had picked little Nelly. As expected, having half a dozen pointers she was a fan of the breed. We laughed at the pointer foibles; poor recall and a love of chasing birds is very common, as is wanting to sleep on a human bed. I wouldn’t have any other dog. Later that day we looked at the Pointer Club website and it appears that pointers are often very good at agility or canicross. Even though Nelly is an old girl I would love to have a go at canicross, if she didn’t get too distracted.

From the farm we walked through a couple of muddy fields before returning back to the car. But, we hadn’t finished our run as there was a small one and a bit mile loop around the Abbeystead Reservoir. The path was slow going and muddy, but after passing a sad looking pond we came upon the impressive looking, although small, reservoir.

The reservoir forms an important part of the Lune/Wyre transfer scheme, where water is pumped from the Lune into the Wyre to supply the needs of the growing town of Garstang and the other towns downstream. In 1984 a group of 44 people were visiting the site, and unbeknown to anyone there had been a methane leek from a coal seem a mile underground, and when the pumps were turned on a subsequent explosion killed 8 people, while another 8 died of their injuries later in hospital.

I didn’t know any of this, but Helen remembered about it and had a look on Wikipedia. You really don’t expect a tragedy of that magnitude in a small Lancashire village.

Back at the car and there was a small queue of vehicles waiting for spaces, so we headed off as quick as possible. Another brilliant little run, just over 8 miles, and another thank you to Wikiloc.

Stunning Silverdale

This morning we went for a gentle little run around Silverdale. ‘We’ being me, the bearded one, Helen, the beautiful one, and Nelly, the unruly one. When Helen was training for leg 5 of the Bay Limestone Round she downloaded the app Wikiloc to her phone. One of the best features of this particular app is the volume of routes that have been uploaded to it. Helen searched for something around Silverdale as we had to drop off a wallpaper steamer back to a friend. The first good route Helen found was mostly leg 5, which neither of us fancied. The next route looked perfect; 7 and a bit miles, not too hilly and by the look of it footpaths we hadn’t been down before.

We parked up at the very popular Eaves Wood National Trust car park and headed off down Moss Lane towards the Gait Barrows National Nature Reserve and the slightly misleadingly named Hawes Water. Perfect trail running as we rounded the lake, coming across the newly refurbished Gait Barrows Summerhouse.

Due to Covid it wasn’t open, but the idea is that it would give respite to wet and tired walkers, as well as allowing visitors a good view of the wildlife. It has also been designed to allow bats somewhere to live.

After a short section on the road we ran back into Eaves Wood, letting Nelly off the lead for a good scamper. We passed a woman walking her dogs who asked if Nelly was an English Pointer (she is). We then noticed that one of the woman’s dogs was a beautiful young German Pointer, with a gorgeous white tipped tail. She was only 18 months old and was having a great time playing with Nelly.

The route took us along more brilliant footpaths until we reached the coast, stopping for more photos, although they never look as good as they should. We were tempted to let Nelly off the lead again but the ‘beach’ was mainly mud.

We continued on through a couple of fields and then headed towards Jenny Brown’s point, passing a couple of disused lime kilns.

It was a bit of a slippery mud fest as we struggled across some exposed limestone, or slimestone, as it is often called. The route followed a very gently inclined bridleway up to Hollins Lane. We followed the road for another short section before the route took us down Bottoms Lane, along another great little footpath and back to Eaves Wood carpark.

This was one of the best little runs that we had ever done, full of great views and lovely trails. A big thank you to the anonymous Wikiloc user who uploaded this brilliant little trail route.

Bay Limestone Round – Leg 4

Back in the summer I wrote about a new ’round’, the Bay Limestone Round (read about it here). My amazing wife was part of a relay where she completed the final leg, but we both wanted to have a look at the other ‘legs’. Helen would like to do another relay, but doing a different leg, and she also thinks that I could manage doing the whole thing, all 55 miles of it. I’m not sure about that, but over the winter we’re going to have a look at all of the legs.

Today though, Helen wanted to go for a walk/run, and I suggested Leg 4, although we would have to add on a few miles to get back to the car. Leg 4 goes over Farleton Fell and Hutton Roof, and at 7.8 miles long it is the shortest leg in the round.

We parked up at the ‘official’ start of leg 4 and headed off towards Farleton Fell, which I’ve never been up before. The route skirted round the back taking an easier path to the top. The views were amazing, as we could see across the Bay and the Lake District, with the Howgills behind us. Unfortunately the photos didn’t do it justice, so here’s a selfie with the three of us.

There were great slabs of limestone as we dropped down a bit before heading up to the top of Hutton Roof. The top is fairly flat, but a handy trig point indicates the top. Once again we were foiled in the photography department as there were too many other people there, so we found the correct path and headed onwards. We almost missed the turn taking us towards Burton-In-Kendal, but fortunately Helen is a whizz with navigation.

Dropping down there was a lovely footpath with bushes both sides, making it safe for Nelly to run an ahead. Through Burton, across the M6 and another sheep free field for Nelly, and before we knew it we were at the end of leg 4. Not the end for us though, as we still had close to 4 miles to run to get back to the car, but at least it was flat and safe for Nelly.

Back home and Nelly is asleep in her bed, and me and Helen are planning on doing ‘not a lot’.

Overall impression of leg 4 was that it was much more pleasant than leg 5, and we are all looking forward to having a ‘recce’ on the other 3 legs.