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The ROC Mountain Marathon 23rd&24th September 2017

Confidence was high approaching this Mountain Marathon. Following the (still) amazing result at the OMM Lite a few weeks ago, described here, I was well up for the ROC, formerly the RAB. This event has changed quite a bit over recent years as the new owners (Ourea Events) seek to leave their mark.  What attracts me to this event is that you can compete as a solo. Most MM’s are aimed at teams of two, so this one is a real novelty.  This would be my 6th RAB/ROC.

Since the OMM Lite, I had kept  my running to a minimum, wanting to be rested for the ROC and had decided that my regular Tuesday CleM runs (about 10-13km per evening) and one other 10km run the weekend between would be enough to ‘turn my legs over’. the Tuesday before the weekend I went off for the usual session BUT with new Mudclaws on.  Fresh out of the box, I wanted to bring these in to circulation as the RAB previously has finished shoes off – and I mean absolutely trashed them, so I thought I would be ahead of the curve and get some km’s on some new shoes, leaving my regular pair ready for the weekend.  That was mistake number one!  I have worn classic Innov-8 Mudclaw 300’s for the past x many years, I have had well over ten pairs, same brand, model and for the last three pairs same colour and probably even the same batch, as I bought a job lot from Pete Bland Sports in a sale.  This was the last pair from that batch – why would they be any different?  Clearly they were and for whatever reason, this pair gave me a hot spot on my left heel two km’s in to the run and by km three I knew I had a blister…  I stopped, had a look and thought with a bit of re lacing I could get back to the van/pub at a slow trot.  Wrong. Within 500m I had bent the back of the heel down and was running gingerly as I was now wearing the equivalent of fell running Crocs…. (a gap in the market may be?)  I left the group and made my way back to the pub.

The blister,from the Tuesday evening run. Picture taken on the Thursday evening before the ROC weekend.

I am pretty good at managing and treating blisters, learnt over many years walking, running, first aiding on running events and reading many articles/books etc, particularly  “Fixing Your Feet” by Jon Vonhof (well worth purchasing – here) so I was confident I could get to a point where I could trot round the ROC, I may not get the result I was hoping for, but still, I would be there… with expectations suitably lowered.

The ROC arrived, or rather I arrived in South West Cumbria, in the shadow of Black Combe, near Millom and I was ready to start and collect my map and control sheet.  The premise behind a “score” event is you have a time (6 hours day one, 5 hours day two for the ROC) to find as many controls as you can over a given area. You get the details at the start line and it is part of the challenge to formulate a plan/route that allows you to collect as many controls on your electronic dibber as you can and get back to where you need to be  – in this event an overnight camp- before the time runs out and you start to lose points by way of penalties.  I have lost all my day one points before on these events… gutting to say the least!

Mistake number 2 then was a real school boy error. somehow in my haste I marked up the map incorrectly and gave a control a points value when it wasn’t in fact live that day – or indeed in use at any point over the weekend!  This tipped my route choice into a direction I otherwise wouldn’t have taken.  I realised my error as I was charging along to what I thought was the first control. I reached for the control description, expecting to see something like “stream source” or “spring” looking at how the map was marked but what I found was nothing. Control 210 wasn’t even on the live list, so why and how I had given it a value of 10 points was beyond me.  I quickly checked the others I had marked…. all fine. Phew!  Not for the mad house yet then… but that took up more precious time. Oh well, I will carry on, I will lose more time if I head back and take an alternative route from the start, the next control about a km away, was in my plan anyway, I’m just down a few points than I had expected.

It was at this point that the cloud came in.

The weather forecast for Saturday was clear, overcast, but not raining and clear visibility on the tops.  By 10.30 am the cloud base was down to about 400 m, it was very damp in the air and any chance at a view was lost.

Famous Lakeland scenic vista.

Now I am a good navigator and back myself in poor conditions like this, but with a scrambled brain from trying to understand why I had made a control up, sore heel and still cursing myself for starting so poorly my relocation took longer than it should have, with the added pressure being against the clock brings I was getting decidedly cranky! Several expletives may well have passed my lips, much to the amusement of the ever present Herdwick Sheep on Black Combe. Rumours I asked ‘lost’ fell runners still on the hill from the 2016 championships held here are unfounded.

I got there in the end- the next control a 20 point one loomed out of the mist.  The game was on!  I tore off north east following a trod heading gently down I was certain about my location and where to head next and the terrain was very runnable.  This would still rank as my worst start ever – 2 hours in and only 20 points!  I then came across three other competitors, a solo male and a male pair, all studying their maps and with compass in hand. They didn’t know where they were with any great conviction, so I advised them accordingly. “We’re here mate”, much gratitude was expressed and the pair carried on their way, the solo – a chap named Dan on his first MM asked to team up for a while.  Sure, with no view, conversation would be good for the next few km’s!

“OS Trig Pillar” control description

Dan was clearly a better runner than I and as we got lower down and the visibility improved he sped off to follow his own plan.

From here on in I was navigating to my usual standard and hitting controls exactly where I expected them to be.  I still get a massive buzz from that, but essentially the damage was done.  The poor tactics, dodgy heel and slower going in the clagg meant I was in damage limitation mode and the main objective was to get back to camp without incurring penalties, which I was able to do and got back in with a meagre 200 points and four minutes to spare.  My plan had seen me get somewhere between 270 and 300 which would have left me comfortably mid table at half way, instead I was languishing in the bottom 20 or so 90 something out of 113.

But tomorrow was another day!

Overnight camp. Mine is the green tent to the left
Overnight camp. Mine is the green tent on the left…

Day two and the weather was much improved.

Sunrise, early in the morning, making all the runners look around…

Feeling good and less achy than I usually feel on day two of these things and with a heel blister that hadn’t got any worse I was raring to go and at 8.13 am I dibbed out of camp to head back via as many controls as I could in a bid to make amends for the previous days woes.

And oh what a day.  Stunning conditions, runnable, although wet ground and with clear visibility.  It was like running a different event, my route choice saw me tackle some controls I had visited the previous day (all correctly marked up this time!) but the views were stunning, with Eskdale and the Scafell Massif to the north and the Irish Sea and coast to the south and west it was a view to inspire.

The going was good and I was pleased with my lines and nav to the controls.  We were all wearing GPS trackers supplied by Open Tracking (part of the Open Adventure team) and being able to review the routes you took is an excellent feature of the ROC -one I hope they continue to maintain.  You can see my day one and two routes with each click search for my name or “303”.

By two hours in from the five I had about 120 points… a much better haul!  My day two total was 300, which placed me 53rd on the day from the 113 that started – which is where I usually am, mid pack, but because of day one’s error and conditions I finished overall in a disappointing 75th.  The heel is now healing nicely and although somewhere between uncomfortable and painful did not get any worse which was pleasing.  Just as well as I am DofEing this weekend for Sam Sykes Ltd down south so will be on my feet all weekend.

I almost wish I was competing at this year’s OMM… I’m gonna have to wait till 2018 for my next Mountain Marathon fix… Still, the adventure racing season is almost upon us!

This short video captures the 2017 ROC nicely I think.


For those interested Kit wise I used:

OMM 3/4 length leggings, TNF boxers, Injinji socks ( a pair for each day), and a Berghaus LS tech tee. I wore a Haglofs windproof gillet also as main kit with an Innov 8 cap on top.

I had a Montane Minimus smock and over trousers, both worn at camp. Also a Montane fleece jacket thing – very light and a Rab micro down jacket and New Balance full length running tights and a Montane beanie hat all worn at the over night camp and meeting mandatory kit requirements. Gloves (Aldi Merino ones) and a buff (race swag) were carried but not worn.  I ran in Mudclaws – the classic 300s with the proper 10mm lugs – a well worn in pair!

I slept in a PHD bespoke down sleeping bag, with a silk liner on a 3/4 Thermarest Neo Air mattress which has a slow puncture despite multiple repairs, it takes all night to go down, so it kinda works. Tent wise it is a TerraNova Laser Photon 1, with a foil blanket as a foot print to protect the floor.  I use Alpkit titanium pegs rather than the tooth picks the tent comes with.  I cooked on an Optimus Crux Lite stove and used a 650ml Evernew pan and 300ml cup (titanium)- it all sits together with an aluminium wind shield (home made). I used a 3 litre Nalgene ‘canteen’ for water capture at the camp and on the hill i used a 750ml SIS bottle – filled as a I passed suitable water sources. Food wise I used two small zip lock bags of trail mix, one for each day (Peanut M&M’s jelly babies, cereal bars cut into thirds and malt loaf) plus a couple of gels (SIS) and a Peperami and a Babybel cheese or two. Over night I used a mug shot and some Extreme Adventure Food (dehydrated beef stogganof – disapointing it was..), with a few handfuls of salted peanuts to finish the job of refueling off. (oh and maybe a small whisky to go with them nuts…) two tea bags, two lemon and ginger tea bags and a small serving of coffee for the morning and a porridge pot for breakfast.

My first aid kit got boosted and I deliberately took a 50g tube of Sudacream and some dressings, relifix tape and moleskin to dress and protect the blister. This worked really well. The other stuff that’s in there didn’t get used.

All this was carried in 2 dry bags and an OMM Jirishanca rucsack (35l I think – but it never seems big enough for that number, this is an old one – 7-8 years maybe, not sure they make them anymore.). A few extra bits like contact lenses, specs, a small MUVI Camera (poor mans GoPro!), Smidge and a small ‘swiss army card’, lighter, gas cannister partially used one weighted in at 200g and titanium long handled spork thing (Alpkit again). Despite carrying a tent and sleeping bag you are supposed to carry an emergency bivi as well. I took a SOL Emergency Bivi cause its tiny and light. I took an Alpkit headtorch, whistle, red and black sharpies for map marking on each day, my phone (off) in a sealed bag as it is GPS enabled. I have a small PAYG hill phone, but discovered it wasn’t working to late to do anything about it which is a shame as its very light an weighs next to nothing where as my Phone is a Samsung Edge brick type thing….   All of this kit is well tried and tested – no issues with any of it! I think that’s all the stuff I hauled about, oh two Warburtons bread bags for my feet at camp.

It weighed about 9kg at the start before water and was 7.5kg on the Sunday before water but including all my rubbish, which we quite rightly have to carry out.

midway camp, waiting for the kettle to boil, detritus all around!

Heavy for this sort of event – the elites would be running with between 4 and 6 kg’s.  Personally I prefer a bit of comfort these days so as long as its around 9kg starting weight its good enough for me. I camped next to a competitor who finished in the top ten – she was a tougher nut than I! With a real lightweight purist approach to her kit… may be one day eh?

The OMM Lite, September 9-10 2017

The OMM (Original Mountain Marathon) is just that, a marathon in the mountains originally launched as test of team work, mountain skill and running ability. The OMM has long been the bench mark of multi day navigation based events in the fell running/orienteering community.  The OMM Lite is a more recent idea, developed as an entry point to multi day running events, or as a training vehicle, it is on trails and rights of way rather than open fell/mountain with the navigation being less daunting. The checkpoints are at path junctions or significant features rather than on some tiny contour feature in the middle of nowhere!
The Day One map – with weather enforced edits
The other key difference is that the the competitors in teams of two, don’t need to carry their overnight kit like on the full OMM, you return to a central point to refuel, recover and sleep.  The OMM also want to encourage families to attend so family tents, partners and children  are welcome to make use of the event cafe and bar!  This would be my second OMM Lite (and 10th Mountain Marathon) and the plan was that  last years team mate (and previous OMM partner and general running pal) – Graeme from Scotland would run with me whilst our wives and children would amuse themselves around the Yorkshire Dales for the 7 hours on the Saturday and the 5 hours on the Sunday of the “Long Score” format.  We would be charging around the Hawes area finding red and white flags with Sport Ident dibbers and collecting points.
What we were seeking
Well, that was the plan….
On Wednesday before the Friday night drive to Hawes, Graeme rang to say his wife had been quite poorly and that the weekend was in doubt… They would know more after a Thursday morning doctors visit.  By 10.00 am Thursday morning, the weekend was off!
With Jenny ordered to bed rest, Graeme clearly wasn’t going to abandon her with their 6 year old to come and charge around boggy bits of Yorkshire with me.  Gutted!  A quick scan of the website and OMM rules and a brief exchange of emails and text messages with the organisers and it became clear I could turn up and run solo, but be ‘non competitive’ for the weekend having been judged to have had enough experience to do so -or find a partner and transfer the entry, which we could do right up till the start on Saturday morning.
I was working for Outdoor Elements that day on a ‘big group’ day, so it was much later that afternoon before I could start reaching out to people I thought might be up for it.  But… No joy with the ‘usual suspects’ from the BG Whats App group so I thought it was time for drastic measures and potentially to find someone I perhaps didnt know. After all, worse case scenario I would treat it as work!  A quick post on the Team Clayton Facebook page, after all its a big enough club- someone must be up for it and available!  But no… desperation kicked in… the idea of being non competitive just did not appeal – those that know me, know I am never going to win these things – but I am damn well going to put a shift in and the idea of getting a “good score” but it meaning nothing was too frustrating to consider.  Time for a post on the Fell Runners Association Facebook page.  BINGO!  Within thirty minutes I had some potential partners, with one looking promising, he (Paul) had done the OMM before, completed the Spine Challenger race (110 miles up the Pennine Way) and could get a pass for the weekend which by 9 pm on a Thursday evening was no mean feat!
We arranged to speak Friday lunch time and by then,  the show was back on the road. so Paul, and I met at registration on Saturday morning in Hawes at 8.30 am and by 9.45 were running the OMM Long Score together.
a muddy field with some stuff in it
And what a weekend it was! The weather was wet to say the least, torrential rain had caused many of the rivers to be in spate so several fords were now marked as out of bounds and a few checkpoints were dropped for competitor safety, but the two of us seemed to find an even stride. When you have 7 hours to fill on the hill with a complete stranger, you talk about a lot of stuff! With weirdly loads of that stuff in common, we discussed the possibility that either of us could be some kind of axe murderer, but ultimately agreed the fact we were there meant we were the right kind of crazy!
Day one team selfie
It turned out we were both generally “mid table” in our results. I’ve always said top 50% is a good result for me, top 75% is more common!  SO what happened that Saturday was just bizarre…and amazing.  We came in after 6 hours 45 minutes, 41 km and a score of 500 points to find ourselves in 9th!!!  9th!!! I’ve never been that high up a leader board in my life!  A celebratory beer was in order!
Athlete! We are actually sat with the team in 12th place overnight swapping stories from the days doings.
We were both gob smacked, but very thankful that we clicked the way we did.  Our strategy and tactics seemed in tune.  We were keen to put in a good performance to see what we could achieve on the Sunday…could we improve our lot? Would we slip down the field? Was this as good as it was going to get? We had met the teams in 7th and 12th and seen several of the other teams around us earlier on the hill – competition was going to be strong.  For me, sleep that night was good and deep, tired and satisfied at a good days trot.
A little too good in fact – My alarm went off at 6.55… I shut it off and promptly went back to sleep!  Waking again at 7.25, I was decidedly on the back foot – we had arranged to meet at 8.30 am to set off soon after!
The forecast was shocking – heavy rain due in from mid morning and a stronger wind for the rest of the day. We were going to have to dig deep to battle the elements and see if we would hold on. Neither Paul or I had ever finished in the top ten before… but we were kinda liking the view!
We eventually set off at 8.40.  At a gentle pace initially to allow ourselves a gradual warm up and legs creaking back to life. It was a tough day over much more traditional OMM terrain, with greater distance between the check points to boot.  The high ground was particularly tough in the wind, but we both felt we had enough in the tank to push for the higher value checkpoints – the risk with these events is always that you can push too far and end up burnt out and miles away from the finish line which leads to penalty deductions if you are late back. I have on several occasions early on in my mountain marathon/adventure racing career made this mistake and lost most of my points by being 30 minutes and later back to base! We were both keen to avoid such a mistake today.
Day two. Tired, wet – but determined.
We nailed it. 4 hours 56 minutes and 30km on our feet we came back knowing we couldn’t have done any better or given anymore.  Cold, wet and keen to get the results we sat down to eat the finishers meal and waited for the course to close and results to come in….7th!!!  7th!!!  We’d made up places!  My highest finish ever in a race, never mind a mountain marathon – with a complete stranger by my side!  Astonished didn’t begin to describe the expression on our faces. We knew we had run well, but 7th!
Paul was every bit as amazed as I was, 7th was his best ever result also. To top it all we were 3rd in age category.  3rd!!!
All in all we had plucked triumph from the jaws of my despair – on Thursday evening I wasn’t sure if I was even going to be there at all. To then place in the top ten is still, a few days later, quite astonishing.  I am sure there is a message in there somewhere…..  I am still to chuffed to work out what it is though.
Roll on the ROC Mountain Marathon in two weeks time!
For those interested, I ran in Injinji toe socks, Innov-8 Roclite 280’s (old model) New Balance shorts, and Berghaus zip l/s tech tee with a Haglofs wind proof gillet on top. An 18 litre Mountain Hardwear bag with bladder carried the kit, Montane Minimus waterproofs, first aid kit, survival bag, snacks, SIS gels and electrolyte tabs, 2x buffs (not used), gloves (not used), cap and whistle. My extra ‘warm’ layer (not used) was a Marmot Dri-clime gillet.  Food wise I was a bag a day trail mix man – jelly babies, wine gums, cereal bars cut in to chunks and malt loaf in chunks with peanut M&M’s. Saturday I ate two sausage rolls as snacks, Sunday a small pork pie.

Early Years Outdoors Pt.3 – Risk (Or, how many accident books do you get through in a term)

The third part here of three pieces hopefully articulating why I do a lot of work in early years, why I believe that is important, how it works in practice and in this part, what are the risks and how are they managed. I of course am happy to discuss any or all of the issues raised here and can be reached by email here, Twitter & Facebook.

Lets answer that question in the head line – None!  The starting point here is the acceptance that being a child outside is going to result in the occasional bump, scrape, bruise or cut.  It just is.  Children everywhere will fall over and graze a knee on a busy high street, get a carpet burn at home, or stub a toe on the door frame.  And as for standing barefoot on a  piece of lego… say no more.  More often than not society subjects the children in our care to what WE are afraid of in terms of risk perception which in turn has led to children becoming more and more solitary and sedentary as mentioned in Part 1.

To be clear we do not want to see our own children or the children in our care get hurt at all, but it is going to happen to them at some time, in varying degrees of severity some how, so its vital we help to equip them to manage those situations when they happen, regardless of if that event is on our watch or not as professionals.  Part of that equipping is to instill the skill at spotting and then managing a risk.  Those of us of a certain age will remember videos like this (and far worse… Google ‘Apache Safety Film’ then sit behind sofa at your leisure peeking occasionally at the screen).

I come back to this quote every time I visit a new setting to risk assess the proposed or planned activity in that venue :

“we must provide a risk-assessed environment that allows children to be safe to do, rather than safe from doing.”

Future Olympic contender. Yes, Climbing is in the 2020 Tokyo games

Where I got that line from I am afraid is lost in the mists of time, but there are endless good sources of information and justification from academics, advisory bodies,government around the world and other teachers/early years professionals all extolling the virtue of risky play.  Perhaps the phrasing is part of the problem? Use of the word risk is inherently loaded with negativity I think.  I prefer the term “adventurous play”, it certainly sounds exciting!

A little context here may be helpful.  In my other world, the British Mountaineering Council (The BMC) offer a ‘Participation Statement’ which goes like this:

“The BMC recognises that climbing, hill walking and mountaineering are activities with a danger of personal injury or death. Participants in these activities should be aware of and accept these risks and be responsible for their own actions and involvement.”

Woah. Heavy stuff.  Now clearly my planned 2019 “EYFS Everest Expedition” may now have to wait indefinitely, but we must recognise our children from a very young age climb several ‘Everest’s’ worth of risk as they grow older, from leaving the hospital in the arms of new parents who could well be terrified of their new status, to learning to walk or using cutlery and simple tools like scissors, through to riding a bike and learning to drive. Taking risks is a natural process and wrapping up our charges in cotton wool does not help them learn how to manage those risks at all.  That risk management may be as simple as holding their hand out so you might take it to assist their balance. It could be more sophisticated, such as a four year old asking why they have to wear a helmet before climbing or riding that bike.  This is all helping our youngsters learn about risk.  The outdoors is a great environment to facilitate that learning journey and have an adventure.

So what are the risks and most importantly are they worth it? This ultimately is the question we must pose to determine if the play is to go ahead. If the risk is a splinter or a small scrape, but the outcome is hours of imaginatively driven physical play such as with pallets, then to my mind it is worth taking.  We can remove or bang in protruding nails, sand down excessively rough edges, use only soft wood pallets etc to help reduce the chance of that scrape further. But if they did then get a scrape – is it really that bad?  Show me the four year old that doesn’t respond to some TLC and if you are desperate a smiley face/superhero placebo plaster. More often than not I believe it is our fear of their reaction, or indeed our reaction to that event that causes more stress and upset in the child than the event itself.

Best nursery play things ever. Fact.

It is essential that children learn that their actions have real results and consequences.  I am sure most of us can think of an adult or two who could benefit from some revision in that area!

In the real world, young children are capable of assessing many of their own day-to-day risks, for instance if you asked a three year old to drop a hammer on their toe – they would likely give you a funny look and flatly refuse.  However they must have the chance to learn and practice that type of risk management.  Only if they’re well versed in critical thinking and not the habits that blind obedience creates can they achieve what to us is logical thought – which it isn’t! It is our experience at risk management that tells us not to drop heavy tools on our feet.  Children need to learn that too.   The parent who shouts, “Don’t slide down the stairs!” might well be keeping a child safe in that split second, but is also, at the same time, robbing them of a chance to think for themselves, which makes that child that much less safe in the future when no one is there to tell him or her what to do. How about we offer the facts (“If you slide down those stairs you might get hurt.”) and let them practice thinking things through, to consider the possible consequences of their actions, to assess his own risks, to ask herself, “Is this a risk worth taking?” or “Could I do this differently” (For the record, if it is my son you are asking this of, he will just smile at you and slide down the stairs having decided the risk is worth taking – he just might not do it head first!).

What about the zip lines, the climbing, etcetera? Well again in the climbing world the cliche line is usually ‘you are more likely to get hurt in the car on the way to or from the crag than at the crag itself’.  This really is that simple, all the equipment used is fit for purpose, used in the appropriate context by someone (me!) with the National Governing Body recognised skills to be able to use that equipment appropriately.  For those that don’t know, climbing ropes are strong enough to lift a car/small van.  They simply do not break in normal context of use.  Where there has been recorded incident is usually down to either a knot being incorrectly tied or the rope was cut over a sharp rock edge or a damaged karabiner or was exposed to corrosive chemicals and subsequently failed.  Three instances that as a climber I check for each time I use that equipment in line with my training, my own due diligence, insurance requirements, common sense and desire to keep doing a job I love.  Five pretty powerful motivators!  Using this equipment in a Nursery’s garden, where I have yet to come across acid bathed sharp rocks is out of the equipment’s usual context for sure, but one could very easily argue it is a safer one!  That said please be assured if ever I do spot acid covered sharp rocks in your setting whilst I do a site visit and risk assessment I will be sure to avoid them and let you know….  As for the knots, I keep it simple and recognisable – Figures 8’s, Bowlines, Hitches and double check each one before using the set up as planned or as if I were climbing myself.

All of these activities whilst certainly containing a ‘risk’ (which is managed) do I believe present the perception that the risk is at a higher likelihood than it actually is,  or at a comparably higher chance than an actual risk in ‘everyday normal life’ so to speak.  This makes those activities great tools for helping to teach children about risk management, help them learn to manage those emotions such as anxiety or fear and most importantly overcome them. Something I say quite often to older children – 8-9 upwards on residential courses or adventure days at various centres, when they are all to conscious of a perceived risk and the fear sets in before a leap of faith, or climbing activity is that their staff haven’t brought them here to hurt them. That’s far more easily done with less paperwork in school! That all the equipment is safe, tested, countless children before them have done this, I’ve done this and many more children will do it after them.  I offer this to help them begin to rationalise that perception of risk which has caused fear and anxiety. After all, it is natural to be fearful of some instances and certain situations but I believe strongly it is our job to help those children learn to overcome those fears for themselves, manage those risks for themselves, pick themselves up and try again having learnt from the experience so their comfort zone, or sphere of experience grows bigger and faces outward rather than shrinks and cowers inward.

Another line borrowed from a lost source is this:

Our role is simply to eliminate hazards which they may not see and then to let them take us on their own learning adventure.

Which I think concludes things nicely.

Drop me a note on social media to let me know your thoughts on this and some of the other matters I have raised in these three commentaries.





Early Years Outdoors Pt. 2 The EYFS Outdoors (Or, what that looks like in educational jargon type words)

This follows on from Early Years Outdoors Pt.1 where I consider why I do this type of work and what I think some of the benefits are.  In this piece my intention is to begin to explain how these sessions can be a part of a broader early years provision.  It also offers insight into how the Early Years Curriculum works for those that perhaps don’t know. If you do know how that hangs together, I welcome the chance to discuss it all with you. You can reach me on email here on Twitter & Facebook

So, what about the EYFS

The Early Years Foundation Stage has four guiding principals. They are:

1.Every child is a unique child, constantly learning and can be RESILIENT, CAPABLE, CONFIDENT and SELF ASSURED.

2.Children learn to be STRONG and INDEPENDENT through POSITIVE relationships

3.Children learn and develop well in ENABLING ENVIRONMENTS, in which their EXPERIENCES respond to their individual needs and there is a strong partnership between all the adults involved

4.Children develop and learn in different ways and at different rates.

I have highlighted in capitals the bits I believe the outdoors, in whatever form, can really bring something different to the party, beyond what a classroom can deliver.  As four lines, even out of context, they make a lot of sense. Who wouldn’t want their daughter or son to fit into or at least identify with those statements?

Those guiding principals sit across seven areas of learning  usually split as Prime and Specific.  The Prime: Personal, Social & Emotional Development, Communication & Language and Physical Development. The Specific areas being – Literacy, Mathematics, Understanding the World and Expressive Arts & Design.  Now it doesn’t take much creativity to make all of those fit into or apply to an outdoor setting! Each of these areas contains a number of statements that early years professionals use to monitor a childs progress against the expectation of their age, for example in Communication and language  somewhere between the age of 30 and 50 months, a child will begin to:

-Listens to others one to one or in small groups, when
conversation interests them.
-Listens to stories with increasing attention and recall.
-Joins in with repeated refrains and anticipates key events and
phrases in rhymes and stories.
-Focusing attention – still listen or do, but can shift own
-Is able to follow directions (if not intently focused on own
choice of activity).

The Early Years Practitioner will, through casual and planned observations note down when a child consistently carries out these characteristics or behaviours.  This takes planning of course to create situations and mechanisms to initially provide the opportunity to first learn then develop and ultimately see that behavior consistently – “listens to stories…” is the obvious example. Some of that happens more naturally such as with toileting/personal care skills or the way a child eats.

This format is repeated over each specific area and age range from birth to 60 months.  It is a massive task each practitioner has with each child in their charge typically up to 10 children in a key group- theirs is not an easy job!

Here are a few more, with extracts highlighted that I believe the outdoors lends itself to. This list is not even close to being definitive.

1.Communication and language. “rich language environment” “speak and listen in a variety of situations”

2.Physical development. “develop co-ordination, control and movement” “importance of physical activity”

3.PSE. “Positive sense of self” “confidence in own abilities”

4.Literacy. Physical development – writing. “wide range of reading materials”

5.Maths. Counting, shapes, spaces and measures

6.Understanding the world. “opportunity to explore, observe and find out about people, places technology and the environment

7.Expressive arts and design. “explore and play with a wide range of materials” “variety of activities in art, music, movement, dance, roleplay and DT”

Building a Zip line. Team work! making predictions, coordination, effort, following instructions, handling tools, why & how questions, turn taking, being brave, patience, maths (lengths of equipment, weight, faster or slower) and many more.

Where the outdoors and the odd adventurous activity fits in and my take on it particularly is it offers most children something new, different and outside their usual sphere of nursery and bright coloured plastic experience.  This also provides the Early Years Professional the opportunity to focus on observing entirely natural behavior as the child reacts to me and the activity, it frees up the professional to make the observation, when usually they are delivering the activity and trying to observe at the same time, which is a tall order to do both to the high standard they would wish to.  The children are involved in how that session pans out: the timing, the structure, the activity or task itself. Every session has a plan agreed in advance, but believe me every session is very different, as every child is unique and so each responds differently to the same stimulus, which then creates different reactions from me and the practitioners and teaching staff involved. It is astonishing how with one plan for each of the ten key worker groups in a nursery, all ten are unique. Even the simple act of reading a story outside in the sun or under canvass, or in a willow tunnel, perhaps having just experienced something the characters in the story have, takes on a different and deeper meaning to each child if we have just been balancing like Jess in “The Wild Woods” or helping Owl Mummy find her babies and build a nest (Owl Babies) or pitching a tent like Maisie in “Maisie Goes Camping”.  Balancing different fruits on our heads like Handa in “Handa’s Surprise”.   The list goes on.

Making bread to cook on a fire, to then eat together.

I am told after sessions that what we have achieved or created impacts on the children’s play back in nursery, there is frequently imaginative play reflecting what we have done or directly recreating it for several days and weeks afterward. Coupled with art work and drawings helping recall and further self expression (‘how did that make you feel?’) the opportunities for following up those outdoor sessions are full of potential themselves in meeting EYFS statements.

A ‘Floor book’ used to give space for children to draw what they did, or their favourite thing they saw that session along with the chance for the practitioner to write quotes down. Photos are added to begin discussion on ‘what we did last time’, the weather and so on.

What I want to achieve with every early years session is to offer a range of activity which supports the child in their development through opportunity they may otherwise not get and offers the childcare professional the chance to view their charges in a different light and perhaps gives both some different experiences to broaden horizons.

A note on being a bloke.  It helps!  In the Early Years world us chaps are thin on the ground. There is no getting away from the fact that being male in this environment is a little quirky and offers the children a very different approach and delivery to just about everything I ask of them. if nothing else it comes in a different tone!  There is no conclusion there, it just is.

some positive adult relationships, balance, managing risk, experiencing the environment, problem solving, developing agility and physicality, developing language including prepositions, verbs and adjectives and many many more…

A common question in these activities and one that every Head Teacher/Nursery Manager is keen to ask is one of risk.  I will look at risk and most importantly managing risk in a further piece to follow. Part three shall be its name….



Early Years Outdoors Pt. 1 or (Why kids should play out more…).

As previously mentioned here, I do a lot of work with younger children, ‘the littleies’ who are at varying stages on the Early Years Foundation Stage (EFYS) curriculum. I wanted to explain why I do this and what I believe the benefits are to the children involved.  It begins….

This came about quite by accident.  Whilst working for Lancashire Outdoors Education at Whitehough ( a much missed OEC)  in 2012, I got the chance to shadow the then teacher on site run a “nursery session”. In short, it was painfully obvious she didn’t really enjoy that element of her work, where as for me with a back ground in early years (in the late 90’s I worked in a school then Day Nursery) I found it fascinating and hugely enjoyable.  The reaction of the children to the space to move around in, the way they discovered things, both contrived and naturally occurring was amazing and huge amounts of fun! The giggling and laughter is definitely infectious.  So I offered to take the early years work over – and she jumped at the chance to offload it to me.

Since then I estimate having worked with several hundred three and four years old’s from,a variety of maintained, private and voluntary sector nurseries across East Lancashire, at various outdoor centres, open spaces and on their own sites (gardens!) from one off type “experiential learning” sessions to regular, progressive sessions, structured as part of that providers broader EYFS curriculum provision.

Why?  Its about as far removed from climbing or walking up a mountain but it is still huge amounts of FUN.  Secondly because I believe it is important.

We are repeatedly told by Government and the Media that children and young people are leading more and more sedentary lives and this is contributing directly to the obesity crisis we face.  As we can appreciate and some of us will now know, through our own experience or that of family members this obesity thing leads to serious health issues further along in life.  What all that means to me is that if I can help foster an enjoyment of the outdoors in children at an early age and expose those children to outside experiences, which many of them simply would not/might not get, than that can only be a good thing.  Simple.

the simple act of enjoying what stream water feels like on your skin.

Why don’t children play out more?  This I believe is largely due to the experiences and subsequent fears and prejudices of their parents. It’s difficult to not sound overly judgmental reading that! I am trying to not be judgmental- those people had their outside experiences constrained when they were children and that has gone on to shape their beliefs and values as adults. Some cultures place little value on seemingly “non-academic” activities, despite the well documented value of ‘play’.

Parents around the age of 20 to 35 right now are the children whose playing fields were sold off by successive governments in the eighties and nineties for housing (a trend which continues to this day sadly), whose sports days were “non competitive” who were penalised for playing conkers, who became adults at the birth of 24 hour media coverage and are perhaps overly fearful  or cautious of the “stranger danger” that is often put out there, despite the fact that it is reckoned that 90% of children who are abused suffer at the hands of someone they know. (NSPCC information). So if children can go home talking positively about their time outside with me and the adventures they have had, perhaps they can open their parents eyes to the possibility of what they as parents could do with their own children in the great outdoors be it garden, yard, park, woods or fell, wherever!  If those children begin to see the outdoors as a fun place to be, perhaps they will find the fresh air first before the sofa and tablet/TV or ask to go the park at the weekend.  Who knows, maybe even the parents may benefit too!

“Lets go this way” child led exploration (off the path, up the hill!)

From a health perspective, at the age of three and four children are putting the ground work in and developing their agility, balance and co-ordination – all vital in staying fit and being able to work and play throughout life.  The gross motor movements of children at this age directly contribute to developing the strength and control needed for those fine motor movements we still value in society – like writing or using cutlery.  We have barely scratched the surface on physical health but mental health also benefits from time outdoors. With studies reporting improved mood, memory, mental energy after time outside to people being prescribed “walks in the country” to help combat depression and stress, anything we as adults can do to instill a love of being outdoors in our children can only be a positive thing and be a beginning of equipping them with the tools to manage what life is going to put in front of them.

With me so far?

In the next part I will tie the “outdoors” into the EYFS and how this contributes to each child making steps of progress inline with the development outcomes for their age.



Taywood Nursery School

So, if you have seen any of my social media feeds (Twitter & Facebook), then you cant fail to have noticed the amount of work I do with pre-school children.  Ages three and four specifically. These children typically attend Nursery settings, usually Maintained Nursery Schools; what we used to call ‘State Nurseries’.

I plan to tackle why I do a lot of work in this sector in another post….one day…  But here, as the Taywood journey finished its first part for me a few weeks ago, after two years, I thought it would be good to review what happened, how and what was achieved alongside considering some outcomes.

In April 2015, I received this email:

I am in a nursery school in Burnley and we are looking to develop our outdoor area into an outdoor learning / forest school type provision. I have been lucky enough to secure some funding to develop an area in the grounds but we would also like a practitioner to work throughout the year with the children.

First of all, would you be able to provide us with advice for how to go about developing the area?

And secondly, would you be able to provide regular forest school work with our children in the area? We are also hoping to be able to have a dedicated staff member who would work alongside you, with a view to them training at Forest School Level 1 in the the first instance.

And obviously, if it's yes to either or both, what costs are involved??

Now, lets be clear – I am not Forest Schools!  Although I certainly borrow from that ideology, my ethos is more bushcraft and adventurous activities… much more me!  So following a brief email exchange we arranged to meet on a morning in May.

I found a space with huge potential. (And a nice gateway and willow feature installed) These are just a pair of pics – I took about 30 from all sorts of angles of an approximately 150 square metre space shaped like an ‘L’ around the building.

Some pictures from the initial visit

Further discussion (and Governor Approval) later we agreed a potential year from September 2015 subject to a mutually successful Autumn Term.


All that remained was to design and agree the program!




In broad terms, working for Lancs Outdoors Education at their sites my early years work has largely been built around a story, which we then recreate elements of that journey or experience to bring it to life for the children over typically 90 to 120 minutes.  With a space to convert and multiple weeks to work it and no travel to factor in – the shackles of time came off!  We hatched plans to use a specified story to deliver a themed game or activity alongside the remainder of the sessions (one key workers morning and afternoon group) to build/dig/create long term features for the Secret Garden with some ‘free play’ thrown in.

initial session plans

Taywoods budget allowed them to invest in all  in one waterproof suits, child sized tools and various materials as required to create a mud kitchen, dig a pond, insect hotel, a fire area.  Various other fixed installations such as paths and some ‘temporary’ ones such as a shelter to go over the fire area, to still allow for a fire, but provide some weather protection.



Keeping the sessions semi structured but ultimately child led, so we could engage the children on each task to enable that experiential learning but also keep interest and let the children dictate the direction and tone of the session was without doubt the best way forward. We had a blast! some children were happy digging for 30 minutes, others were reluctant after only 5 minutes, some allowed us to discover the magical properties of pallets and really push boundaries as well as the joy of just sitting together, eating and talking around a fire.  It was without doubt a journey for us all.

So what about the Nursery staff then?  Each key worker came out with their am and pm groups with me part of the ratio.  Different staff had different views, but all led to some very interesting conversations!  Some were pro outdoors learning from the get go, others were a little more reluctant…(One in particular still is!), but all the Taywood staff team were supremely professional and welcomed me with support, an open mind and kindness.  I shall miss working with them regularly a great deal.

That first term flew by and very quickly it became clear that this was great project in the making and one that would take time, so committing to the full academic year was a no brainer.  This in turn led to an extension for another year, but with the focus being on knowledge transfer – get staff skilled up in fire lighting, erecting the shelter etc.

The sessions also progressed from less about a story/journey recreation to more about a specific activity and experience. Cue zip lines, climbing trees, pallet play etc etc.

building a zip line

This is really where it all took off in my mind, the staff relished the opportunity to see their charges in situations very few could have ever imagined and the children, well they just loved it.

As a regular (male) face in the nursery, I began to recognise and have regular interactions with parents, so although I was getting positive feedback from parents via staff, when the parents themselves approached to say ‘thank you’ or to meet the person their child “goes on about” was very special indeed.

We began to document the experiences of the children, by the children using large floor books – we would gather round the book with pens and pencils and the children would be asked to draw something from the garden they did or enjoyed to day, we added quotes from the child and photographs to create a tool for monitoring and recalling each session.  The subsequent session would start with a review of the book “who can remember what we did last time” and “what was the weather like”. They proved a great aide to supporting the children recognise and appreciate change as the seasons passed.

Floor books


Outcomes.  Now, I am not in the job of having to measure these as such – but anecdotally the outcomes were significant, children, gained confidence, developed language, memory & imaginative play (reflected in subsequent play) I am told by the Head Teacher that the garden and its sessions has been a huge contributor to children making progress in a variety of areas across the EYFS and created opportunities for learning well beyond expectation.  Taywood was inspected in May 2017 by Ofsted, who found the Nursery again to be “Outstanding”.  Personally I was pleased to see this line in the report:

“Outdoor learning is exceptionally well promoted and contributes significantly to the excellent progress that children make, particularly boys. The outside area is a labyrinth of exciting places for children to learn and play, whatever the weather”

Full report can be found here.

I am booked to go back for a series of “Adventure Weeks” next academic year (2017-2018), one week per term to join the two Staff who have taken on the role of “outdoors practitioner” to further develop the Secret Garden.  I can’t wait.

Some more pictures….



Open 5 – Yorkshire Dales, Reeth February 5th 2017

The second event in the series and a new part of the Dales for me.  I double checked my bike after last events mishaps before loading it up the night before to travel through the dales to get there for Sundays race.

I don’t know this part of the Dales very well, having raced out of Muker a year or so ago with another Open 5 event and been impressed with the terrain for Adventure Racing I was looking forward to visiting Reeth very much.  Its mountain biking is legendary, and what little I saw of it, its a place to go back to for sure.

My journey up through the Dales, essentially Skipton, turn left and keep going north till you reach Reeth was long in the dark, on line I had clocked a youth hostel on the outskirts of Reeth – Grinton YHA and thought I might see if I can park up there and use their ‘facilities’, otherwise I would just park as close to the village green as I could, from where the start/finish area was to be.  I got to the youth hostel – a lone, old building in the middle of the moors, I pulled in… doors were open, lights were on, but no sign of life. No one, anywhere.  I started knocking on doors, nothing.  Very weird!

I carried on to Reeth itself and spotted several cars and vans that looked like they too may be competitors on a cobbled area next to the green.  It looked ideal for the night, apart from the three or four pubs around the edge of the village green/cobbled market area, hmm, I’ll just sit tight and give it a few minutes to see how many people are  about at 9.30 pm on a Saturday night that might want to cause me a rude awakening…. no one! not a soul could be heard or seen. Does anyone live here at all?  And the public loos stayed unlocked overnight – what kind of place is this!

After a peaceful night (Shame really as some of those pubs looked well worth checking out) I awoke to a cold damp morning, alongside the usual hubbub of an Open 5; cars arriving, competitors milling about and greeting one another.  The sky was a little overcast, but otherwise clear – it was going to be a good day as per the forecast.

a packed village green, opposite transition

So, confident in my bike this time round having had a recent repair and service of sorts (thank you Stevie G) all I had to manage was my cold.  Another one!  I’m beginning to think all the early years work I do may be detrimental to my racing… So, with Day Nurse consumed, coffee levels topped up and extra snacks to ‘feed the cold’ I registered and made my way to the start area – wonderfully close to the van for a change!

map marked and ready to go: up, then down mostly.

The map itself gave the following options: either up then down, or, up then down or if I was feeling really enthusiastic: up/down then up/down! I decided a clockwise loop out would work well, subject to where the scoring controls were.  Run wise I wasn’t sure as it all involved some sort of climb, given Reeth’s position at the head of two valleys.  I had decided to carry on my experiment of biking first, three hours then running for two ish, (usually just less, post transition).

just a great picture. the control was in some old mining equipment in the buildings shell.

Some of the controls on the bike were a little cheeky I thought, in that you needed to be off the bike to get them, but that added to the fun! I cycled well, really well to be fair and was in the process of thinking about extending my loop to collect another control as I headed from 7 up the bloody big hill to 9 when I came across a Female Pairs Team with a clear mechanical issue, in that the rear derailleur was on top of the rear cassette and at quite an odd angle!  Having had my own mechanical issues last time, I stopped and offered to help. With a bit of brute force and ignorance we got the rear derailleur back to roughly where it should be, but it was clear it was knackered.  I suggested knocking some links out and setting the bike up as a single speed to skip the broken mech, but with no chain tool to hand and looking for a quicker fix the girls decided a cable tie to try and hold it in place would be better.  I assume they made it back in one piece!  I carried on and was really able to get some speed built up as I hammered back to the transition.  Although certainly snotty, the cold wasn’t causing me the issues the last one had and I was pleased with my bike performance. I got back just a few minutes off my plan and quickly ate and drank,  bum bag on and back out to run.

The cave control, knackering climb just out of shot

As before my legs were not ready to turn over straight off the bike – How do triathletes do it!!!!    I gently trotted north up the hill electing to get he higher value controls all around Fremington Edge, an obvious loop, clockwise again to get the climb in early seemed to be the way forward.  It took a good 25 minutes to get my legs running again, by which time I was struggling to breathe due to my cold as I tramped up to the cave and control 31.   That being my high point I was then in a good place for ‘proper’ running and pretty much down hill all the way back in, so I finally felt I was running at a suitable pace and making up ground.  I ended up heading into town way faster than I anticipated, but I recognised this a little too late to add a few more points on to my total.  Although pleased with my tally and performance, I do think I could have got another 15 points, I got back in with 7 minutes to spare, which is a lot given the nature of this course.  Not quite top 50% – which for me is my bench mark of a good race, but given the cold I had I was pleased with my performance. Strategy wise I may return to run first/bike second next time out… I need to mull that one over some more.

me doing some gratuitous navigating and picking a line to head down hill.

The next outing in March is from Church Stretton and the Long Mynd – which I last raced over in 2011.  I recall it being a great day out as well, in a stunning part of the world. It will be interesting as that is going to be the day after the race that I organise – the Stan Bradshaw Pendle Round, which I am normally on my feet for 8 hours plus and generally pretty drained after!

Thanks as ever go to Open Adventure for putting these events on and James Kirby for the great pictures.


A day of family fun for WAVE

WAVE is a charity run by volunteers who are passionate about the outdoors and introducing people to healthy new outdoors pursuits. WAVE organises events for individuals or groups of all ages and abilities. WAVE will take you kayaking across Lancashire’s dramatic landscape, or up it through climbing challenges, where you can enjoy the stunning views the North West has to offer. They do lots of other stuff too, my involvement has largely been taking groups climbing and walking over the years.

I first came in to contact with WAVE several years ago as I was pursuing my climbing qualifications. Graham, the founder, had posted on the UK Climbing Forums  he was seeking experienced climbers to help run climbing sessions for his groups and would welcome voluntary assistance with this in return for that time being able to go in a log book – the essential tool for proving experience and competence prior to any assessment being undertaken as part of a Mountain Training Qualification.  Rather than a “chat” and a coffee, we decided the best way to get the measure of each other was to go climbing. So one spring morning we met in Tesco’s at Glossop before embarking on a great days climbing at Stanage Edge.  Skip forward to a few weeks ago and Graham asked if I would be available to supervise the mobile climbing wall they were borrowing from Bolton Council as part of a family fun day they were putting on as a result of some funding they had won.  It being a January weekend, I was only too happy to get involved.

So I pitched up ready to get stuck in to find just about all the graft had been done!  So with brew in hand and a catch up with some of the regular WAVE volunteers we awaited the arrival of the Climbing Wall.

Arrival of the Climbing Tower.







So with Tower erected, we had four routes, two on auto belays, two on human belay.  the wall came with a willing helper – Geoff and with the WAVE belay team – Helen and Aidy we braved the sub zero temperatures (yes that is ice on the picture) to give about 40 people, mostly children a bash at climbing.  On the whole they all loved it!

in between the two ropes….

The day was considered a success by Graham and team at WAVE, who were delighted with the turn out on what was a bitterly cold day.

All ages – this little lad had a go, followed by his Mum!






WAVE’s founder Graham and I working with a group of lads all recovering from various substance misuse challenges in 2013, when it was definitely warmer!


A link to a write up in the Bolton News – with more pictures.



Open 5 Series – North Lakes

The Open 5 Series is a series of Adventure Races held over the winter each year.  The objective is to visit (navigate/find) as many checkpoints as you can in five hours.  Some checkpoints can only be visited on foot (using a 1:25000 map), some on mountain bike (using a 1:50000).  I have been doing these events since 2011 and absolutely love them.  These take top priority race wise in my diary each winter and I have traveled the length and breadth of the country to take part (Somerset to Scotland anyway).  One thing these events do well is take you ‘just’ off the beaten track: places you wouldn’t necessarily visit and after a five hour foray you  get a good sense of the place you are racing in.  I enjoy the personal challenge of keeping moving at pace for 5 hours (if you are late back, you incur penalty point deductions) and the fun in navigating over two different map scales.

This event, the first of the 2016/2017 season containing 4 events was bound for a place I know well.  The North Lakes area around Threlkeld promised great mountain biking and some challenging navigation depending on which side of the road (A66) the organisers took us.  In the end it was north – around the foot of Skiddaw and the Skiddaw Forest for the biking and south, essentially an exploration of St. John’s in the Vale, for the run stage.

I headed up the night before, to sleep in the van as I anticipated parking in Threlkeld to be a challenge for a hundred or so teams!  Now at this point its worth noting that  all the gear I use is well tested and trusted, including the bike, having been out on it locally the week before, I knew all I needed to do was lube the chain from when I cleaned it after that trip out.  The morning of the race arrived and I got registered and organised and ready for the ride to the Start/Transition/Finish line, which on this occasion was a 20 minute/4km ride away (by Keswick climbing Wall).

Ready to go, 9.05 am

I set off and as usual I began to shift up and down the gears on my bike to get it all sorted and make any last minute adjustments to…. hmmm, no gears.  I shifted the lever a few more times (on the rear mech)- nothing, then a sudden jump to the next cog.  I tried the front derailleur – yes!  All three.  So that gives me 6 gears… ish.  I kept shifting… nothing.  This could be a long day!  Feeling utterly deflated, I tried to tighten the cable using the adjustment wheel by the gear trigger lever, this seemed to make no difference.  Now, up till this point I had never had a mechanical issue on these events, not even a puncture, so I began to hatch a b-plan of a shortened bike section and longer time on the run.  I usually split the five hours as two hours run followed by three on the bike (there are more points available on the bike). This time I had already planned to try biking first, and I decided I would stick with that and see how I got on.  I set off at 9.30 and as luck would have it bumped in to a fellow competitor I knew at the first CP on what I planned to be a clockwise tackling of the course, he – Steve and other competitor Andy, having asked if they had any suggestions relating to knackered gearing helped me do as much adjusting as possible whilst I was the bike rack.  Having tightened up everything we could, with still no joy, Steve suggested I head in to Keswick and see if there was a bike shop open (9.50 on a Sunday morning!) that could help.  They wished me luck and I thanked them for stopping to help and I set off into Keswick to start finding a mechanic!  This was going to be a frustrating race!  Steve had suggested Whinlatter bikes, I was thinking Keswick Mountain Bikes, both are a minute apart so off I sped as best I could.  KMB had signs of life (Whinlatter was all dark) and as I peered through the door a chap appeared to sweep the entrance area, I put on my best Bambi eyes and asked “could you help me, I am supposed to be racing now, but my bike has failed”  and the chap – Adam – very kindly said yes, bring it round the side.  So having started racing at 9.30, by 9.58 I was in KMB, with my bike in a stand and receiving some attention from the very helpful staff of KMB.  The verdict was the cable was past its best and needed replacing, that not being an option now (time and money both short!) Adam offered to pull the cable as taut as he could to give me a limited range for the day.

It worked!  I set off throwing thank you’s behind me (card and tenner in the post) and started clicking to see what I had… about 10-12 gears (from 30!)  All in the mid range, so “I can’t go super fast and I’m going to struggle up hills, but I think I can make this work” was the mantra.  Right on with the plan and off to the next CP!

what we were looking for
what we were looking for

It was hard work with the limited gearing and I did cut my plan short – essentially no outlying CPs from the main track and I made it round the course in a full three hours – I definitely could have got more CP’s in less time, but I wanted to have a good run and needed as close to two hours as I could get.  Its about here that I should tell the group about my cold. I have a cold.  Its on the slide, but its still there.  It made it presence felt on the bike, with a seemingly non stop flow of snot which I attributed to the cold air (the whole day was sub zero conditions, largely frozen ground with ice patches), but the minute I set off on the run, I coughed… and coughed and my nose was streaming.

I started walking after the Castlerigg Circle, CP 21… and thought this event keeps getting worse!  My head cold which I thought was on the wane, clearly was not waning enough, as I walked I studied the map and reigned my plan in, this was going to be a conservative day and despite almost perfect conditions (it was a bit slippy in places) I was going to have to be cautious not to push to hard and over extend myself, to then be late back and lose points from the meager total I had.

stunning conditions
stunning conditions

I got back in the end utterly deflated despite the glorious day, I knew I had not done as well as I might.  With 20 minutes left on my clock, I sat and considered what I may have done differently… On the positive side – at least I discovered the mechanical issue at the start and not half way through – when I was in the middle of nowhere and not near a shop!  Also, although a head cold I have, as I write this it certainly seems to be better, barely 24 hours later.  I think I dropped about 50-70 points with changed plans etc and definitely rode less – only 35km’s its usually over 50km for me and I ran only 8 km, I typically run 12-16km’s on these events. I scored 380 points, disappointing, but better than it could have been!  Bring on the next one  in February in the Yorkshire Dales!  (Gutted there isn’t one in January this year).

I was awarded my 10,000 points picture here.  Open Adventure keep a tally of your Open 5 career points and commemorate them at 5,000 with a named number card and wee bottle of bubbly and at 10,000 points a framed picture of you on an event taken by James Kirby, (these are made available to all through Facebook after the race).

Photo by James Kirby



The Tour of Pendle 2016

The 33rd running of the Tour of Pendle.

Pendle Hill on the drive over, about 8.30 am race day

It’s a classic fell running race up my local hill – Pendle Hill (557m).  I say ‘up’ it.  Its basically up and down it five times from various sides.  Its held in mid November and is the last AL race of the FRA (Fell Runners Association) calendar for the year.  ‘AL’ is the grading of race – ‘A’ being steepest, ‘L’ being longest.  It works out at 27km (16.8miles) and getting on for 1400m of climb.  Part of its attraction is the fact that its a long race at a time of year where the weather can play a big part on the outcome.  None more than in 2015, where the course was shortened (to a BL) due to the threat of a horrendous storm, low temps, driving torrential rain and strong winds.  So with bated breath the 447 entrants on the start list I suspect were watching the forecast with a great deal of anticipation… I know I was!

The forecast was for intermediate snow/sleet/rain lower down throughout the day, and although with windchill the temperature was going to be well below zero, the winds were not strong and from the one direction, meaning part of the course would be ‘chill free’.  Part of me expected a shortened course… but YAY not this time!  I have been ready for this race and looking forward to running it for a while now, several recent long training runs, the BG recce, three mountain marathons this year – I felt the best prepared for this race since about 2012.  Bring.It.On.

I had set myself the goal of sub 4 hours in the previous weeks,  (my PB being 3.45), conscious the snow would have an impact, I still felt that was attainable, even if a PB was not.

With multiple club mates and clubs from all over the country in attendance, the Tour is something of a marquee race in fell terms – everyone wants a good run.  Most first timers just want to “finish it” (there is a cut off two hours in at Checkpoint 4). Fell runners can be judged on their “Tour time” in the same way their  performance is gauged in the ‘Lakes Classics’.  The route is enshrined in Pendle Fell running lore; club runs on the hill are described by Tour route ‘reference’ points. That route being: “From the Village (Barley) Hall, up the reservoir road to Buttock, then to the Trig (top), but don’t stop, across to the gate/ladder stile, then to the gap in the wall – Checkpoint 1, before cutting across the moor (boggy!) to pick up the Ogden/main track heading for Apronfull Hill and the Quarry – CP2, before an about turn down to Churn Clough Res(ervoir) and CP3, then climb up on to Spence Moor before charging down ‘Geronimo’ and on to CP4, also known as “Bill’s Stone” after the memorial there to Bill Smith. (I recommend you Google “Bill Smith Fell Runner“).

Geronimo – a notoriously fast descent to a valley floor

This is about half way in distance terms… however the Tour’s sting is all the big climbs are on the back half of the race!  From CP4, its along Ogden Valley, climb out of this and up to the main track, down Ashendean Clough to CP5, before heading up again to the Memorial Cairn (two CleM runners, who sadly died in the nineties in separate incidents, but both pursuing what they loved to do).  CP6 is beyond here, cross the wall and aim for the ‘Big Dipper’ (Mearley Clough), an insanely steep descent to CP7 at a stream/wall crossing, before crossing the stream then immediately climbing straight back out an equally steep hill to ‘Scout Cairn’-CP8, (Pile of stones on the OS map). Connoisseurs of contours will enjoy looking at Mearley Clough!  From  CP8 its along the top ridge line, past shelter cairn, over the ladder stile and then DOWN to CP9.  This is the killer blow. Its a long way down on ‘Downham side’ (a small village to the north west of Pendle HIll) and an even longer way back up  – ‘the Big End’ again, to the trig, and CP10. Then its time to summon whatever you have left and charge down a long gentle hill from CP10, across Barley Moor to CP11 (same as CP4) to then join the main reservoir track back to the Village Hall.  Sounds simple right?

To be fair it is – even in poor visibility, there is no real navigation required, a well worn trod has been created and even in the snow – well, it was a foot deep rut in places more or less all the way round. So provided you are not in the top ten or so and leading, you just need follow that.  The snow negated any local knowledge I could bring (frustrating – I have plenty) as the moment you were out of the trod, you were in enough snow to impede progress, (unless descending, in which case snow is the best thing ever!) so all the little runners trods and snickets on to runnable/less technical terrain were all the same – snowbound and therefore out of bounds.

the ‘Trod’

As the pictures and video clip suggest, the snow was on the ground and falling intermittently, making a really challenging race.  Runners wiser and more experienced than I, all remarked “that was the toughest Tour” they could remember – after 18,20,25 odd goes at it, they should know.  It was the combination of fallen snow, but unfrozen and therefore muddy tracks, with the wind, precipitation and poor visibility in places that seemed to add 20-30 minutes on to peoples expected times, the record for the Tour is 2 hours, 11 minutes.  The winning time today was two hours and nearly forty minutes, so there is something in that ‘plus 20 minutes’ for the conditions.

From my perspective this was my best Tour, and up there with some of my best races/runs.  I felt strong, was pleased with my performance and even though the Garmin says 4.09 (results not up as write this – so no official time yet) if you take 20 minutes off, that puts me where I wanted to be before I set off.  I felt as though I was passing more people than were passing me from CP1 onward and I got my food and drink right today, no flagging or bonking on the route at all.  A couple of negative things stood out, concerning other competitors poor decision making, mostly kit related but here and now is not the place for that.  I’ll save that rant for another day!  All in all an amazing days running and one for the memory bank.

I raced in 3/4 length leggings (OMM brand), Injini socks with Seal Skinz over the top, Innov-8 Mudclaw 300’s (classics – green and black), top half I started in a skinny fit long sleeve Helly Hansen base layer with CleM vest on top, but on the first climb from Buttock to the Trig when the frozen rain and wind blew in I put on my Montane Minimus smock and it stayed there for the duration. I also wore an Innov-8 peaked cap – great for protecting eyes in inclement weather. I also wore gloves -ODLO ones with a great pull over mitten feature – used plenty on this run, great for warming fingers/protecting from the wind.  In my OMM bum bag was the usual FRA kit – Waterproof pants (Montane Minimus again), a compass (-Silva type 3), route map, a trail mix bag of malt loaf, jelly babies and jelly beans, two SIS Gels and about 800mls of water with ~High5 electrolyte tabs in.  I can say that all the kit is well tested and trusted, but in particular today, the nutrition bit was spot on.

first climb, up to Buttock
tough conditions near the summit Trig
looking back down the final climb from CP9
reward. (log fire just out of shot)