Posted by: helenbeetham | August 12, 2009

Ash Hash and more

As Tuesday was the last day I could train hard and be rested for the Sticklepath, I planned a good 12 miles at a reasonable pace as well as a hash in the evening. Not knowing Ash Hash at all, I thought at least I’d get in a couple of fast chasing miles, which would be good practice on tired legs, and the start at Cold East Cross promised a hilly route. In fact the hash turned out to be long, fast, hard and bloody, but more of that later.

The 12 miler was a route I’ve done twice before, from Holne down to the river, along to the steep Two Moors Way ascent of Newbridge Hill/Aish Tor, then Dr Blackall’s drive up to Sharp Tor, Yartor Down, Yar Tor, and over Corndon down, coming back via Sherwell. I did a couple of detours on the way back, through gorse which was burned flat a few weeks ago but has grown back strongly. Sprung thorns and bright gold flowers with heather among them. On the descent I was running briefly with ponies, and a buzzard levelled with me as it rode the updraft from the valley.

Because I set off later than planned, I only really had time after this run to cook tea for Millie and hand her over to her dad before starting out for the hash.

Hash route - or something like

Hash route - or something like

At the off I introduced myself as ‘Dartmouse’ from Plympton. Anyone who runs with Plympton H3 knows that isn’t my real hash name, which is rude, certain to be misinterpreted, and in any case derived from my ex’s hash name, which are three good reasons for dropping it.

The map gives a rough outline of where we went, but doesn’t inlegsbothclude all the detours and retours, thanks to the strange heiroglyphs that seem to pass as hash marks around Ashburton way. There was evening sun on granite, runic symbols in the flour, bellowing bulls, stile-climbing dogs, cakes and ale, and at least a couple of runners in full flight, doing the back-to-front-of-the-pack thing through the rough, and getting well bloodied in the process.

My never-pretty legs looked pretty raw by the end of it. And one of the many lovely things about the evening was seeing that the fastest legs were often the youngest, which is hopeful for the future of hashing, and running in general, and the beautiful-crazy game of dartmoor running in particular.

Posted by: helenbeetham | August 8, 2009

A week of ups and downs

Two ponies above Avon Rsvr

Looking back towards Avon rsvr


Looking down towards Venford

Not a very special week for training, but topped and tailed with two lovely runs around Holne. Today’s started at Cross Furzes (biked there = 40mins), followed the Abbot’s Way over to the Avon Reservoir and upstream to where the Two Moor’s Way takes off to Avon Head, then a steady climb through lumpy grass onto the tops. The run over Puper’s Hill, Snowdon and Ryder’s Hill -highest point on S Dartmoor – is neither steep nor particularly dramatic, but the terrain is challenging, as the boggy ditches which pass as paths up there are only slightly more runnable than the deep tussocks and unseen marshy holes on either side. The views down to Torbay in the East, and up towards Bellever and the heart of the moor in the West, are a lovely but sometimes hazardous distraction from the difficulties underfoot. Once Venford Reservoir was in view I rejoined the route from last Sunday, down to Combestone Tor, the stepping stones at Huccaby and Dartmeet, and back along the Dart valley.

On Sunday the run ended very pleasantly with omelette and chips at Holne Tea Rooms, but today there was the drop down from Holne to Michelcombe (by grassy path) and on to Scoriton (by an unavoidable section of road) and an extra 400ft of climb back up to Cross Furzes, not to mention the bike ride home. Once there, after 3 hrs 40 and no refuelling except electrolyte, I managed to down a glass of the spirulina-based recovery mix I bought in Greenlife (hub of Totnes living), on the basis that if it looked and tasted that foul it must be helping… but next time I will definitely go straight for the omelette.

Posted by: helenbeetham | August 1, 2009

Great West Fell Race

This was meant to be a training run, with a slightly deranged plan to cycle to the start (40 good Dartmoor miles), but a poorly Millie at home forced me to take the car and arrive instead in reasonable shape, apart from a disturbed night’s sleep.GWFR_routemap

The photos on the GWFR site manage to make the course look mysteriously flat, but the route map tells the true story. Up from Meldon Reservoir over Yes Tor, High Willhays and Black Tor, much of it over very lumpy ground (‘just follow any sheeptracks you can find’ suggested the helpful man from Ironbridge Runner), 1360 feet of climbing and almost all in the first mile-and-a-bit.

This time I managed to take 1min20 off the previous women’s course record, which made me very happy, even if some people were being smug after doing their bike miles as well. And it was to lovely meet up again with Sharon Daw, who I used to run with at East Cornwall Harriers, an awesome distance athlete and tri-athlete. She hardly gets properly warmed up on a 5 mile race. That’s her in the pink t-shirt and black socks, and the skinny one in a turquoise vest and what looks like a headscarf (my lucky, all-weather-repellent cap) is me.As well as a £75 token to spend at IBR I won a very nice bottle of wine. And actually I’ve done about 75 bike miles this week so if I get in a good long recovery run tomorrow I’m still on schedule with the training plan 🙂

Posted by: helenbeetham | July 28, 2009

Sitting down cycling part2

The Bike at 2Bridges

The Bike at 2Bridges

Reckon I managed about 45 hilly miles on the bike this morning. Here is the trusty beast – a 12-yr old hybrid with straight bars and a nice chunky attachment for a child seat on the upright. Neither seat nor child will be coming with me on the C2C.

It was hellishly windy on the way up to Two Bridges, then thrillingly windy across towards Moretonhampstead. I was riding steadily, taking time to keep refuelled, and really felt like I could go all day. Now that I’m a bit more used to sitting down in the saddle I actually find it easier, and it certainly uses different muscles. It was only when I tried standing up to get some attack on the hills that I felt Sunday’s miles in my legs – and Friday’s miles in my arms.

Dartmoor foal with mother

Dartmoor foal with mother

Posted by: helenbeetham | July 26, 2009

more mud, fog and stolen checkpoint

Scarcely recovered from Friday – chopping onions still makes my fore-arms wince – I ran my first Dartmoor Runners race today and only added to the week’s tally of bad calls and hissy fits.

First, navigation is not a strong point. I’ve spent too much of my life in the company of men who would not let map and compass out of their grip, so have been lulled into the illusion that I know what’s going on when actually all I know is the sweet feeling of being-lost-never-being-my-fault.

Second, there was fog down to our feet. So, what, I’m meant to use a map and compass without then looking up at the landscape to see what’s REALLY over there in that direction? And second point continued, do you know how ANNOYING it is to have to keep getting a wet, tatty map out of your bumbag when you’re supposed to be RUNNING??

Third, someone had stolen the second checkpoint. This is quite an important point so I’ll say it again: someone had stolen the second checkpoint. So I’m alone on top of a rocky tor, in poor vis, rummaging around in the granite, not finding a checkpoint – OF COURSE I’m going to lose all confidence in the few navigational skills I do possess.

So I cling stubbornly to my one conviction, that there is a checkpoint on top of a rocky tor on this compass bearing, and on I go. Down thru rocky and bracken, river crossing, uphill thru acres of shiggy (technical term), a second rocky tor, more rummaging, more granite, down again, a third rocky tor – getting slipperier and more precipitous with each climb, and still no CP. By now it’s obvious I have gone wrong and a slip on the third top brings me to my senses, so I climb down for a proper map session and work out I’m about 2 miles too far SE, having crossed Little and Great Trowelsworthy Tors and being well on my way across Lee Moor. Across which great billowing clouds of even denser fog are, well, billowing.

At this point I have a complete hissy fit – fortunately witnessed only by some phlegmatic sheep – about the whole navigating, map-reading aspect of things, and resolve that at least I’m going to get in a decent run. So I take a due north compass bearing and doggedly follow it, up hill and downdale, thru acres of bracken and the same river I crossed an hour earlier in the wrong direction, until I hit the main bridlepath just east of the tin mine at Eylsebarrow. I run on to nun’s cross – a path that at least shows up in the fog – and towards Princetown, picking up the Devonport leat which bears up and over Raddick Hill and should lead me to the fourth CP (at this point b***er CP3, in the middle of a stone enclosure).

At last, after more than two hours on the moor, I glimpse a couple of other runners dimly through the mist and head towards them, assuming they will lead me to the CP and not, as actually happened, into a waist-high sinking bog. By the time I’ve crawled onto firm land I’ve lost them again, and go on to lose 10 more minutes looking for an aquaduct which I become convinced has also been spirited away by vandals.

Down the Meavy to Norsworthy Bridge, up again to CP5 – and my map is so soggy by this point that the clips just look like more rain-damage – and finally back to Meavy for a not-too-convincing ‘good effort’ when I claim my 2 checkpoints in nearly three hours. Still, I have to say, it was a good run. Even when things go this badly wrong, and it’s blowing a gale, and I’m not just wet but deeply marinated in marsh and sheepshit, there is very little I’d rather be doing on a sunday morning than this.

+++Very important point: Dartmoor Runners require you to be an ‘excellent’ navigator to take part in one of their events. It is entirely my responsibility that I set off on a run without being as good in that department as I should have been. The run lived up to its reputation for being well-organised and friendly, and I will definitely be back for more, after a winter of map practice naturally. And it should also be said, I know dartmoor well, I knew where I was (if not where I should be) at all times, and I was running well within my capabilities, so I wasn’t at any risk. Except embarrassment of course.+++

Posted by: helenbeetham | July 24, 2009

Mud mud mud

First canoe session, with friend Tom for company and moral support (and as it turned out essential canoe-retrieval). And Millie came along for the ride. Thundery showers were forecast. I chose not to research whether many people are struck by lightening on the river Dart.

At Totnes Kayaks the manager (another Tom) had a strange smile when I said we were planning to paddle to Greenway and back – being slightly further in total than the paddle to Dartmouth on the C2C. Kayaks were not allowed that far downstream, he said, ‘because in our experience people can’t get them back before dark’. That’s normal people, we thought, not highly tuned adventure athletes.

The paddle downstream – with wind, tide and river all running with us – was tranquil. We saw cormorants, egrets, and a few other canoeists, and I started to get properly into the rhythm with the double paddle. Where the river widens at Bow Creek we were hit by a downpour, and there was quite a bit of chop from the wind that blew it in, so we decided Stoke Gabriel was far enough to count as half-way. It had taken only an hour and a half, and we were brimming with confidence over a hot pub lunch. Although the tide would not be turning until 3, we decided to head back at 2, assuming there would be slack water around that time, and get ahead of our 4.30 deadline.

Stoke Gabriel from the river

Stoke Gabriel from the river

Back at the creek, in watery sunshine, our first mistake was obvious. The river had gone, leaving acres of sulphurous mud with a slim dribble of black water down the middle. Getting across to the channel, and navigating it (paddles touching the mud on either side) was messy. Worse was to come. Where the creek rejoined the main river, instead of slack water we paddled out into a headlong torrent. A stormfront wind from the west, the last of the tide, and the river current itself (which I’d somehow failed to take into the equation) invigorated by running in a much narrower channel, all careering downstream towards Dartmouth. I lost about 100m just getting the bow to point upstream.

The next two hours were not pretty. Seeing which way the wind was blowing (and other meteorological and psychological forces) M fell asleep and was spared the cursing and the thrashing about. At one point it took about half an hour to overhaul a group of seagulls, who were falling-over laughing. Finally, with burning shoulders and mud up to the eyebrows, I insisted on beaching in more stinking gloop to eat flapjack and do a bit of quiet sobbing. We hauled the boats up and waded to firm ground for ten minutes while the rain eased and the sun even looked a bit like shining. Suddenly Tom gave a shout – my canoe was half-way across the channel. Once he had retrieved it we realised that at least the tide must have turned and the wind dropped – otherwise the canoe would have been in Dartmouth.

The rest of the trip was once again lovely and calm. Back at Totnes Kayaks – only 15 mins outside our deadline – we admitted going beyond the black X on the map they had given us, but drew a veil over how close we had come to not making it back. The mud has washed off, though a faint stink of rotten eggs still remains: my shoulders will be screaming at me tomorrow.

Posted by: helenbeetham | July 24, 2009

Unintentional bike-run-bike

Many lessons were learned on Thursday:

Always take the right spare inner tube on a long ride. In this case NOT the mtb tubes.

Running home in bike shoes will hurt your toenails (but would have hurt them more if the inner tube had bust at Princetown instead of Holne)

During a roadside inner-tube change, discarded bic cases make useful extra tyre levers

That ring on the inside has a purpose in life just like the other two. In fact there is a whole world of gears down there once you accept that engaging them is not an admission of failure but actually…

… the route to happy going-up-hills-sitting-down, which saves the running muscles for the running bits – and is not noticeably less efficient.

On a road bike, there is no need to keep the thighs rigid and bottom hovering over the seat on downhill sections. Relaxing on the bike actually improves your speed.

In all a disastrous session turned out OK: 2 hr bike, 1 hr run, which if I hadn’t been intending a long bike ride I could have called a ‘brick’ session instead 🙂

Posted by: helenbeetham | July 21, 2009

On the bike

Yesterday was my first serious bike session, 30 Dartmoor miles in just under 2 hrs. I felt strong on the hills but realised this is because I spend most of my time out of the saddle, i.e. using my running muscles! This isn’t going to work in a three-discipline race where I’m suppose to be saving my running muscles for running. Tomorrow I’m planning another 40m, which meets my cycling target for the week and allows me to focus on running for the rest of it 🙂 I’ll concentrate on staying in the saddle as much as possible and trying to take the downhills a bit faster. After my biking accident 5 yrs ago I’m a slightly nervous descender. And all my hill strength won’t help if I keep getting passed on the way down.

Posted by: helenbeetham | July 19, 2009

Race reflections

The more thoughtful parts of friends’ running blogs (see blogroll) have inspired me to think more deeply about the experience of running, or more specifically racing, which I do very rarely. The Burrator Horseshoe was my first race in 5 years at least, and I’ve only been running again since feb09, so I should have been surprised to equal the women’s course record. But I wasn’t. I have a feeling about certain races, and I thought this one would go well for me.

The experience of running the race, like the Tough Guy I won in 2002, was that *I had already won it* from the start. Although the race was tough, at the toughest moments I could see the race as a whole, already run and won, the route completed, and the moments I was passing through as tiny beads on that finished chain. I don’t think I have ever willed this state of mind, it has just come to me in certain situations – being lost in the mountains once another example. I imagine buddhists would have something to say about it, the capacity to be completely peaceful in body and mind, and certain of the outcome, in situations of pain and stress.

Whether it will come to my help in the Sticklepath next month is another question!

Posted by: helenbeetham | July 18, 2009


Heard this week I have a solo entry to the EnduranceLife Devon Coast2Coast at the end of September. It’s only ten weeks to up my training miles considerably and add in lots of bike work. And this will be my first ever adventure race so I don’t know how I’ll cope with things like nutrition over the 2 days. I’m excited and daunted, and already hoping I can do better than just finishing.

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