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MONDAY, OCTOBER 20, 2014

Red Bull Steeplechase 2014

‘a high quality field in one of the toughest and most demanding cross country races of the year’…..why was I stood at the starting line then?

I was suffering from mixed emotions that morning, I had turned out in my techiest running apparel, for a race that was probably not going to last longer than 8 miles. This thought was echoed by my running partner who queried my choice to bring a race vest. We had done a few reccy runs for the first of the four stages of the steeple chase and I’d never needed the vest in the past, now surrounded by a field of very athletic looking competitors why had I decided I would be going further today?

I left the vest.

The route of the 2014 Red Bull Steeplechase

I felt very out of place surrounded by people who once again looked as though they run at least a couple of times a week, certainly enough to earn themselves team colours. I thought we had found ourselves a good starting position relatively close to the front. However as the starting pistol went I realised I had underestimated how many thin fell runners you can fit into a small space. I was in fact closer to the back than the front.

2014 Red Bull Steeplechase - the first steep trudge up Mam Tor

The first few hundred yards are some of the hardest running I’ve ever done even though there is little running actually being achieved. The course takes you from the road below Mam Tor straight up the steep side to the top of the ridge. This was hard when I was doing the practice runs it became even harder with that extra surge of adrenaline and racing 400 other people.

2014 Red Bull Steeplechase - across the ridge

2014 Red BUll Steeplechase - Paul Firth making steady progress 2014 Red Bull Steeplechase - John Bradley holding his own on the first leg

The ladies set off five minute after the gents, this didn’t stop the first lady overtaking me before the gate between Mam Tor and Hollins cross, that stung the pride which I now had to nurse all the way to Bamford. The route follows the ridge past Back Tor to Lose Hill from here there is a steep descent before climbing up to the plantation below Win Hill. I saw one take a tumble down Lose Hill but in the process gain about four places, luckily for me my Inov8 Trailrocs provided a decent amount of grip, enough to keep me upright.

We passed a checkpoint that showed your race position, but I didn’t understand it so carried on at the same slow pace, I was going to get evicted at the first knockout anyway, wasn’t I?

2014 Red Bull Steeplechase

The path that skirts round the plantation is awful - barbed wire on one side and broken ground underfoot. I heard that one bloke had come a cropper into the fence but carried on, fair play to him! We then drop down to the reservoir and straight down the Thornhill trail, the home straight. I overtook someone, I felt like a champion, only for him and his mate to come past me about three minutes later. We turned left over the fields towards Bamford Mill, up to the Anglers Rest then, all the way back down the road to the playing field. 

There it was, the first knockout, the end, I pulled up by the drinks table absolutely spent…..only to be told I’d made the cut and now had to head back up over Win hill….I can’t repeat what I said when I got this news but it was along the lines of ‘bugger’

The next stage was a lot slower, in fact I should really apologise to the guy who asked me to pace with him. He got about twenty yards before his new pacer had to start walking.

2014 Red Bull Steeplechase

Luckily the second stage was only four miles, it was tough going on the way up but even harder on the way down. There was more staggering than running, I was doing well, and I only had to overtake 104 people to make it through to the next check point. 

I was finally cut off at Hope feeling totally broken, but looking forward to the free food and drink at Castleton. It was a great event, very well organised and with a fantastic atmosphere.

2014 Red Bull Steeplechase - some well deserved post-race scran 2014 Red Bull Steeplechase - exhausted but still smiling

 

 

MONDAY, OCTOBER 20, 2014
By John Bradley
Shop Manager

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John Bradley
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MONDAY, OCTOBER 20, 2014

3 Peaks Cyclo Cross 2014

I’m pretty sure that there isn’t a race manual or coach in the world that would advocate going deep into the red in the first 5 minutes of an endurance race, yet less than 5km into my first 3 Peaks Cyclo-Cross race I was at 189bpm trying to maintain a half decent position in the morass of 650 riders surging towards the first off road section. My Garmin also reckons that my speed didn’t drop much below 40kph in that ‘neutralised’ road section, yet I still found myself much further back than I had anticipated by the time we neared Gill Garth. I had never really been sure whether the 3 Peaks was a running race that involved bikes, or a cycling race that needed a bit of footwork, but as a fully paid up cyclist I was pretty perturbed to be struggling so early, and we hadn’t even gone up any of the peaks yet!

The 3 Peaks is an annual event, starting and finishing in Helwith Bridge after a tour round and over the 3 Peaks of Ingleborough, Whernside and Pen Y Ghent, with 1600m of ascent in its short sounding 61km. Its been running for 52 years and is unique in that it requires contenders  to be able to run, walk, ride, climb, carry and descend, sometimes on the bike and sometimes off it. I’m not quite sure why I thought entering it would be a good idea, except perhaps that it was the perfect excuse to buy a new bike as only drop handlebar, knobbly tyred cyclocross bikes are allowed. 

I could already see a string of people heading up towards the notorious Simon Fell ahead of me by the time I turned offroad, and I got my first proper look at the slope. Simon Fell is on private land, so no recce had been possible, but I had seen enough photographs to know it wasn’t going to be easy.  More than a kilometre of extremely steep, grassy hillside followed, and I soon joined the grim procession upwards, bike slung over one shoulder, the other hand being used to haul up on the convenient fence or pull on nearby clumps of grass. A brief, rideable respite followed by a rockier carry finally deposited me on top of Ingleborough , only the first of the day’s 3 peaks. Thankfully the boggy descent to Cold Cotes went without incident, and I settled into the road section, overtaking a few people as the bulk of Whernside loomed oppressively ahead. I couldn’t help but keep looking up at the summit, thinking how far away it looked, and how entirely unsuitable a place for a glorified road bike.

Pained expression near the top of Whernside - Photo ©John McCann

I had the first tickles of cramp in my calves as I repeated lifted one leg higher than the other up the Whernside staircase, I felt like Sisyphus as the never ending path teased us onwards in single, suffering, file, heartrate soaring and speed plummeting.  However, 500 vertical metres and god knows how many rocky steps later me and the bike made it to the summit checkpoint. I knew from a running recce that the descent to the north was totally rideable, albeit quite rocky, technical and highly puncture prone. I hadn’t made a conscious decision as to whether to run or ride the tricky bits, but 65psi gave me some confidence in my tyres and soon enough I found myself at Ribblehead feeling battered but without any dismounts, planned or otherwise. This allowed me to overtake a few less confident riders who had to carry their bikes down some sections. Trail turned to tarmac, with Horton in Ribblesdale the next target, and few moments for gels and water .

Pen y Ghent lane sounds like quite a pretty, almost whimsical place; Heartbreak Hill would be a better description on the 3 Peaks I reckon, by the time it is reached at 45km body and sometimes spirit is broken – its lower slopes are much quicker ridden than walked, but riding is a tough, painful grind, with virtually no respite even with my gearing of 34-32. Concentration is needed too, despite being in short supply, as the skinny, rock hard tyres ping mercilessly off every stone and root. Eventually the path kicked up even more and everybody was off and walking, but the change in effort caused cramp to shoot up both my quads, alternating left and right as I hobbled upwards. Thankfully a friend had come to watch here and encouraged me on, and so despite my deepest desire just to lie down on the grass, I eventually crested the summit and pushed my bike up the last few hundred metres to the final checkpoint. 

Of course at this point, as gravity turns from foe to friend, the race is back on and the responsibility shifts to the fingers on the brakes and to the mind, calculating constantly the fine line between speed and puncture, between success and failure.

Tim Russon on a bone shaking descent on the Yorkshire 3 Peaks Cyclocross 2014

I reached the road safely, uncurled my fingers from the brakes, and settled into the last few km on the road to the finish, still dicing with painful, but thankfully not terminal, cramp. I latched onto another rider and worked with him to the line, ensuring that we both scraped in under the 4 hour mark.

I never did really work out whether it was a fell race or a bike ride, but I’ll be back next year to try and find out again.

 

MONDAY, OCTOBER 20, 2014
By Tim Russon
Climbing & Clothing Buyer

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Tim Russon
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WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 15, 2014

Rainbows and avalanches in Chamonix

The launch of the latest Salomon S-Lab X Alp mountaineering range was held in Chamonix in October and Jez and I were invited along to check out the results of their “fast and light” design philosophy.  Although I don’t tend to think of myself as either fast or light, the opportunity to expand my own playground to the Alps was way too good to let slip. With the reassurance that a three hour trek on the flat was all I needed to be ready for, I bought a pair of baselayer pants and packed for my first gear test.

Following an unexpectedly stress-free flight, (take note orange and blue/yellow airlines – you can buy loyalty with free ice-cream) we arrived in Chamonix in plenty of time for a pizza and a chat with Salomon’s UK representatives and new friends from various other UK outdoor stores.

Salomon XAlp gear test-Chamonix in the sunshine Salomon XAlp launch Chamonix 2

Chamonix looking sparkly and beautiful

The next morning, following a short walk around chocolate-box alpine streets in glorious October sunshine, Salomon kitted us out for the next couple of days. It was a new experience to be dressed head to toe in one brand; fortunately the X Alp gear looks pretty good and the group was enormous. Supplied with everything including boots, socks, trousers, mid-layer and shell, plus the slightly alien looking backpack and a harness and helmet, we were good to go.

Salomon XAlp launch group  

Group gets Salomoned up | Carrie test her GTX boots | Jez takes the shoes bouldering

Day one involved a short walk down to the local roadside crag, where a simple top rope climb and a via ferrata had been set up to test the boots’ scrambling capabilities. While it felt a little strange to be searching for toeholds in boots (all my climbing, from easy to marginally less easy, is done in climbing shoes) they felt more than sticky enough to smear where necessary and the edges performed well.

Salomon X Alp 20 Pack seminar Salomon x Alp Anorak salomon x alp launch anorak

S-Lab X Alp 20 pack | S-Lab X Alp Anorak | S-Lab X Alp Carbon GTX Shoe

The remainder of the day was spent in seminars with infectiously enthusiastic Salomon people displaying the ins and outs of the gear and explaining in more detail the reasoning behind their designs.  The longer I listened, the more of a convert I became.  For more details check out the gear reviews but most impressive for me was the X Alp 20 rucksack, which is not only made with bombproof dyneema and packed with well thought out features but also flips round on your waist to open up or double as a handy picnic table.

After a negotiating a bewilderingly large buffet at the hotel that evening we hit the sack early, as the more experienced people, including Jez, were up early to test the equipment from the summit. 

 

Salomon expeditions starting out | Spot the tiny people!

As a beginner, I joined a group aiming for the Plan du Midi at around 9.30. Cloud was lowering and the views were obscured but it’s impossible to be up there and not feel awestruck by the sheer scale and beauty of the place. As our destination vanished and reappeared in the mist, lines of yellow clad climbers began to snake upwards across the Plan.

There followed a long moraine scramble to reach some ice. Here, being neither fast nor light, there was little to do but huff and puff till I got there. By the time we arrived, I was cursing my own lack of fitness, the altitude, the “flat” three hour trek and finally, the retreating ice caused by exactly the kind of short haul flight which brought me. 

However one thing I wasn’t muttering about was the gear. Once I really began to trust them, the boots were astoundingly reliable on gravel, ice and even stuck to soaking wet granite. The Gore-Tex clothing and the rucksack also did their job, in that I forgot I was wearing them in continuous cold drizzle.

As we finally reached a patch of ice and I brought my heartbeat under control, the weather began to clear, and I was happy to get my crampons on for the first time. This proved about as tricky as it looks – which is to say not at all. After a bit of practise and a short roped up excursion with our guide, I headed back down towards our gear, just as a couple of thunderous cracks reverberated around the hills – clearly somewhere, someone was blowing stuff up.

Aside from an involuntary jump the incident was not really worth mentioning, except for the ensuing avalanche which we saw hissing down the slope on the opposite side of the Plan. It didn't seem at all far from where some of our group had started out; a gentle reminder to take the location seriously.

All morning the cloud had been slowly clearing and by the time we were ready to leave we were looking down on a rainbow filled valley. After another substantial meal at the Refuge (are there three courses at every meal in France?) some of our party took the opportunity to head downhill on foot and give the shoes a proper test on a 4000ft descent.

Aware that there were at least three fairly serious runners in the group whom I had no wish to hold up, I took myself off via the telepherique to the hotel and a shower. The others joined us shortly afterwards arriving happy and still with comfy feet to finish a cracking couple of days moving freely in the Alps.

For further details on the products we tried out check out Jez's reviews:

Salomon S-Lab X Alp Carbon GTX Shoes

Salomon S-Lab X Alp 20 Pack

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 15, 2014
By Carrie Tomlinson
Web Marketing

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Carrie Tomlinson
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