Sunday, 9 July 2017

#032 Spine Flare - A Different Perspective

In the six years I have worked on the Spine Race, there has been a generous helping of inspirational stories and racers going one step beyond on their personal trail of adventure.

There was a certain inevitability that I would one day line up on the other side of the start line in Edale. The announcement of the summer Flare seemed like the ideal opportunity. My friend, Don Tennant (who, with Sarah, runs the Peak Centre where I work as a freelance instructor) was persuasive "Why not do the summer race, you get to see where you're going, enjoy the scenery and if you do the Flare you'll not be wrecked for work the week after".

In essence he was right, the vagaries of the Great British weather regularly give outdoor leaders a beasting. We don't always have to seek out the most extreme option to find worthwhile adventure and personal achievement. The weather would ultimately play a few wild cards, to spice things up.

Picture credit (purchased) www.racingsnakes.com

PROVENANCE

Most folks on the Spine know me in my role as the Safety Team Coordinator, Official Spine Training provider and expedition leader. But, I'm no stranger to wearing a number. Back in the day I was a regular cycling time trial racer. I never set the world on fire but did achieve none-too-shabby results (10 miles - 22m30sec / 25 miles - 59min 01sec / 50 miles - 2h10min / 100miles 4h58min).

I also ran several marathons. The one I'm most proud of is the Safaricom, held on red dust trails inside Lewa Downs wildlife conservancy in Kenya, to raise money for the Tusk Trust African wildlife charity. At the time it was the only marathon inside a big game reserve. In my year, 2008, the start was delayed while the safety helicopter and rangers ushered away a pride of lions from the course. Running with the Kenyans, in the shadow of Mt.Kenya was magical, I was the 7th non-African finisher.

Safaricom, in the shadow of Mt.Kenya

STRATEGY


If there was one word which describes the key to finishing the Spine it is conditioning. Whether you're in the summer or winter race the ability to cover distance and spend time on feet is essential. Toughening is something I've experienced in long winter training miles on the bike as well as guiding trekking groups. Professions which do these things as part of a active daily work routine, such as builders, farmers, doctors, veterinarians, outdoor leaders would seem to do well compared to more sedentary jobs for Spine Race conditioning.

One way and another, during the build up to the Flare, dedicated training time was at a premium for both Don and myself. We would be reliant upon the hill fitness which we had plenty from our work. This itself helped us formulate our strategy. More than being fixated by finishing position, we were more interested in finishing in as good condition as possible, having executed a plan to the best of our ability.

We worked on a sustainable and consistent pace of 5km/h with a +/- 1km/h. This delivered reasonable rest times (important for brain rest as well as physical) as well as a healthy contingency in case things went wrong. We certainly did not want to be surfing cut-offs which adds an additional dimension of mental energy wastage. Although we did calculate location vs time targets, we rarely referred to these. Instead, regular checks of average pace was practically more useful. This also gave a 'heads up' focus keeping track of terrain and route finding. Our forecast finishing time was between 50 and 55 hours, against a 60 hour race time limit.

The result was that Don and I finished together at Hardraw, a couple of miles north of Hawes in 52 hours 22 minutes. Certainly we were tired and in places sore. There was immense satisfaction that we had 'left it all out there on the trail', non the less enjoying the moment of completion.

Stu & Don at the finish

THE RACE

Compared to the winter Spine, there was a reduced list of compulsory kit for racers on the Fusion and Flare, with other items at the discretion of the racer. This made it important for an individual racer to take ownership of their strategy, make themselves aware of weather changes and adjust what they wore / carried accordingly.

For me and Don, the coldest extreme of weather occurred in the early hours of Sunday. The moors were clad in a thick wind driven mist, which penetrated layers. We sought refuge in Top Withens Bothy, where Don admitted to being very cold. We took time to get out of the elements, change our base layers, have a hot brew and warm up a ration pack meal.

The other extreme was on the Cam Road. The heat on Monday morning was relentless and intense. I was frequently taking sips of water and soaking my cap in the thin streams of run off crossing the trail. At its worst my eyes seemed to shimmer, giving me concern about heat illness, although this could also have been due to tiredness and lack of sleep. We found a slither of shade beside a stone wall which offered some relief where we rested for 10 minutes but moved onward as we were worried about falling asleep for several hours.

I had some romantic Victorian images of Roman legions marching along the Cam road and treading in their footsteps. By the time I had descended, I realised the reason why the Romans built a road along such an exposed godforsaken set of hills was because if the Briton tribes could be bothered to attack them, they'd be bloody knackered before they could fight.

By far the best weather related quote of the Spine Fusion must go to racer Nick Reed:

"Because this is in the 'summer' it didn't make it easy. I went for Wainwright's Country Walks and got The Revenant"


THE KIT & THE CONTINUING QUEST FOR SPINE SHOE

The only kit items I bought for the Flare was a new pair of shorts and and Hoka Tor Speed 2 trail shoes. I also invested in several RTE and dry ration packs which I had previously tested and enjoyed the taste (ref  blog  #018 Hill Food On Test ). Racing on a budget, I used existing hill kit for everything else.

The shorts I didn't get to use. The weather forecast was not good enough for me to wear or carry them for the majority of the race. The only time I wish I had them was in the rising heat on the Cam Road, along with my thin Egyptian cotton scarf for a neck covering against the beating sun. On leaving Horton-in-Ribblesdale, there were thick clouds of midges, bursting like chaff from each hummock of grass as we walked by. They seemed worse where the sheep were grazing, which was most fields. Don was very glad he had brought a face net.

The choice of Hoka Tor Speed 2 was based on several factors. I wanted a trainer-boot hybrid with ankle cuff which would help keep the grit and wet out. Although I was initially sceptical about Hokas, the trail versions have been used successfully by several Spiners with reports that the supportive design and cushioning helped fend off impact soreness. The Speed 2 also has a Vibram Mega Grip tread which had good reviews. I ordered a full size bigger than normal to account for that they tend to come in a bit narrow.



Pre-race testing on routes up to 30 miles over similar terrain to the Pennine Way revealed I was right to go a size larger. The Speed 2 felt comfortable out of the box. Arguably the cushioning is at the expense of responsiveness, however this seemed like a reasonable trade off for the mostly non-technical grit, peat trails and pace we were intending for the Flare.



For most of Day 1, I moved well in the Hokas. But, during the last few hours my small toes felt increasingly sore. At a road head checkpoint I applied Kinesio tape and changed my socks. At CP1, I cleaned, dried and aired my feet. After a couple of hours sleep, I spoke with one of the Exile Medics. She suggested different taping ideas and did a great job in preparing my feet for the next long stage. I learnt a lot about taping technique from watching her work as well as appreciating that good taping cannot be hurried. I used the time to neck several cups of tea and some food.

Stu with feet expertly taped by Exile Medics

For Day 2, I ditched the Hokas in favour of the wider toe box of my Salomon Wings, especially as I now had a extra layer of tape on some toes. I have used these for a couple of seasons (ref blog  #017 Spine Race Footwear On Test Part 2 ). Initially I was impressed with these hybrids, but the grip lugs deteriorated too quickly and I was disappointed with the grip in wet conditions).

I took advantage of the opportunity to retape (again done expertly by Exile Medics) at Malham Tarn CP1.5 as well as a change of socks. In retrospect, I wish I had carried more changes of socks...for every 4 hours instead of just half day changes. I was travelling well and smoothly on the second stage until the clinker and boulder strewn descent from Pen-Y-Ghent down to Horton-in-Ribblesdale. That section alone left me very footsore, craving for the cushioning of the Hokas Speed 2 but with the toe box width of the Salomon Wings.

And so there lies the conundrum. Why would Hoka manufacture shoes with such a narrow width? They must have been made on a last to suit an Asian demographic. Also if no allowance is made for a Gore Tex liner to the shoe width, then this will make the fit even tighter for a given size. I have encountered similar issues with clothing in the past, where an Asian size large will be the equivalent of a European medium. If the brand quality assurance does not specify or perform first article inspection then Continental size discrepancies will be more likely, such are the problems of globalised manufacturing.

NUTRITION & FLUIDS

Overall, I was pleased with my choices of RTE meals for real food eating on the move. I did have chemical heater pouches but was disappointed when all bar one failed to generate any heat. Cold savoury RTE meals were still preferable to sweet or insubstantial snacks. The occasions when Don and I paused for a proper brew up and re-hydrated high calorie meal were well worth the time not moving as we both felt much more energised and satisfied afterwards.

The only time we stopped at anywhere commercial on the course was at The Dalesman, Gargrave for several mugs of much appreciated of Earl Grey tea. We just made it in time before closing, the owners were very happy to serve us and chat late in the working day.

Old cycle racing habits resurfaced during the traverse of the Cam Road. I craved a slug of flat coke. I wish I had carried some for such an eventuality. This was duly sorted on the way through Hawes. The sugar and caffeine felt like an injection of nitrous oxide into my engine. A welcome sharpener for the finishing 'run' into Hardraw.

NAVIGATION

Doing the Flare as a racer and an outdoor leader there is a certain amount of 'cocks on blocks' regarding professional reputation. Over 110 miles we only made one navigation error, for which I take responsibility. Unfortunately the error occurred at the point where racers deviate away from the Pennine Way on the approach to Checkpoint 1, Hebden Bridge. I cover this area in my Spine training courses and briefing as a navigation black spot for where racers traditionally going wrong. I have even reccied the route with a client.

However, with a tired mind focused on food and sleep, I forgot about crossing the first B-Road (to turn right at the second B-Road, the Slack road). Instead, I turned right at the first B-Road. I realised my mistake when the road started down some zig-zags. At that point I thought, oh bugger there's a whole bunch of folks laughing at this on the tracker!

We corrected our mistake, cutting across some minor paths, up an additional incline to bring us out at the point on the Slack Road near where we turn for the checkpoint. The error had cost us about 30 minutes and we had gained no advantage over our fellow competitors.

There was quite a bit of mostly good humoured banter about our off-piste excursion. The best of which was a hand written sign for CP1, outside CP2, specially put up for us by safety team friends Pete Gabriel and Al Pepper.

It was very special that both Al and Pete were there to present our finishers medals and t-shirts, as I had the pleasure of giving Al his finishers medal in the Winter Challenger just 6 months previously and Pete has been a stalwart of the Spine Team for many years.

Al presenting Flare medal

THE SAFETY TEAM

After finishing the Flare, Sarah drove us back south to Edale. Tom Jones, looking lean and fit from his recent adventures in Corsica, was there to greet us. It was a hot, sunny day, although sitting on the sofa Don and I both kept our jackets on, perhaps we were a little more depleted than we cared to admit.

I returned to safety team duties the following day. Then mid-week another blast of rough weather hit the race. During the night we were notified by HQ of a racer at Windy Gyle up on the Cheviots who had changed direction, as if returning to the Lamb Hill hut. Shortly afterwards, he triggered the SOS button on his tracker. Race Director, Phil drove us (Pat and myself from safety, Rhiannon from Exiles) to a road head access point and we made for a direct line up to Mozie Law where we anticipated meeting the racer.

The weather offered up heavy rain, gusting wind and low visibility fog. Indeed one racer reported the conditions as being among the worst he had experienced on The Cheviots. It was mid-summer, yet I too thought it more like winter, just without the snow. In the meantime, the racer had reversed direction  again, now heading away from us and pressed the SOS again. HQ kept us updated with location information as well at Mountain Rescue had been called for assistance. The racer made the sound decision to descend Cock Law Foot where MR met him and brought him to a place of warmth and safety where Exile Medics could continue to monitor him. There being no need to follow, we retraced and returned to the 4x4. The racer was an experienced alpinist who felt he had set out prepared yet, having experienced it, readily recognised the drenching and chilling potential of weather in the UK hills compared to the higher and drier Alps.

A quieter moment on the Spine Safety Team

It was a great pleasure to see the Spine from a racer's perspective. At every road head checkpoint we were greeted by encouragement and enthusiasm from the on-course safety teams. There was a warm welcome from the volunteers at each main checkpoint, with sweet tea, hot food and the superb Exile Medics. What most racers see is just a part of the energy, dedication and commitment from the whole Spine team and Race Directors during the race and in the months building up to it. Lets not forget the drop-bag transport team, ensuring that racers' bags (some of which are well in excess of 20kg) are carried to the correct location and unloaded in time for their arrival. Off-site is the HQ team, looking after coordination and communications. Then, at as many places as they can be, the video and photography folks capture many fine images to cherish once the racing is done.

Al doing the presenting honours.

Stu Westfield

Spine Safety Team
(web link to...)
Official Spine Training Provider

Ranger Expeditions & Ultras
(web link to...)
Build up ultra races to the Spine Race


Thursday, 15 June 2017

#031 Kinder Surprises - The Shooters Refectory

There have been many times on Kinder Scout when I have experienced a wonderful sense of walking in the footsteps of our ancestors and all the history that has come to pass in the Peak District hills.

I had found the remnants of a bothy like structure on the slopes of Kinder a while ago. One of my neighbours, Dave, who's family has lived in Hayfield for many years, recalled the story of The Shooters Refrectory over a cup of tea. Indeed we spend quite a lot of time chatting about Hayfield history over a cuppa or tinny of cider.

THE
SHOOTERS REFECTORY
ERECTED AD 1841
BY
JOHN SIDEBOTHAM ESQ
HYDE.


Photo dated, 1977
Left to right: 
   Alan Sherwood, Evan Ambrey, Robin Capstick, Matthew J Capsick
   All from Hayfield and New Mills

The Shooters Refectory (also known as Sidebothams Cabin) was demolished in 1938 as it had fallen out of use by the estate. This was a time when public access was far more restricted than it is today and so its destruction deterred folks from using it as a impromptu bothy. The cabin was built so strongly it had to be blown up with dynamite.

Before the explosives were placed, the carved stone was slid down from its place in the gable end on the roof beams. It was supposed to go to Abney Hall in Cheadle, but it never did and remains where it lies to this day.

Abney Hall, the Agatha Christie connection

The last private owner of Abney Hall was Sir James Watts. The Watts family were major landowners in the High Peak. He held property in the village of Hayfield as well as large areas of moorland around Kinder Scout for the purposes of hunting, shooting and fishing.

Sir James' grandson (also called James Watts) was Agatha Christie's brother in law; James having married Agatha's sister Margaret in 1902. Agatha spent time at Abney Hall as well as the original 18th Century gamekeepers cottage - Farlands House and Upper House Farm in Hayfield. She is known to have written several of her books in these places and used the locations as inspiration for her writing.

The future of the Shooters Refectory Stone

The stone was placed face down a few metres away from the demolished cabin, the inscriptions protected from the elements. It's a extremely heavy slab of sandstone, its weight has kept it undisturbed for decades.Sometime in the past couple of months the stone has been broken into two pieces. This could possibly have been due to frost cracking, but more likely as a result of some rough handling by person(s) attempting to see the inscriptions.


So what for the future of this significant item of historic importance to Hayfield and The Peak District. The priority must now be for the stone to be stabilised and preserved without further deterioration. This is a job for a conservation work party under the supervision of the National Trust landowner.

However, the plan of works need not cost significant sums. The stone could be relocated to a position leaning against the partially remaining section of wall. A qualified and experienced stone mason might be able to brace and repair the stone. Scattered in the rubble of the cabin are stone door jambs. These could be re-purposed, without destroying them, to improvise a lintel over the stone this protecting the inscriptions from the elements. Allowing them to be seen and appreciated by generations to come.

16/06/2017 Update from Kinder Scout & Dark Peak National Trust

Thanks for sharing this (on Facebook). The National Trust are aware of this unfortunate news that the stone is now split. we are intending to recover the stone. We've read your link, of you have any concerns please do get in touch. Thank you for sharing the impressive photograph of the complete stone.


Stu Westfield
Ranger Expeditions Ltd
Hayfield

www.rangerexped.co.uk









Thursday, 18 May 2017

#030 The Stuff They Don't Tell You About Cancer

OFF TOPIC

This blog marks a temporary, but significant departure from our usual topics. It regards a subject which I have become unhappily familiar. Cancer. The carer's perspectives I share are mine and while I fully appreciate that other peoples experience of this disease are varied, I also believe there is a truth in what I write which will be recognised by many.

This is not a self-indulgent 'woe is me' cry for sympathy. I want none of that. For me, writing is cathartic but I've put off writing this because I don't feel that the current vogue for endless introspection and public baring of emotion is either healthy or useful.  Nor is it a critique of the NHS, who's doctors and nurses do their very best in less than ideal circumstances, so ambulance chasing lawyers can bugger off now. Shit happens to good people all the time, that's life.

The point of this blog is to share some of the things I wish I had known at the beginning of the story. In short, its the stuff they don't tell you about cancer.


WHERE IT ALL BEGAN

Twelve years ago my wife, Dolores, was diagnosed with bowel cancer. For anyone to hear the words "you have a tumour" is a shock, but by all reasoning she was a low risk category for the disease; non smoker, vegetarian, active and healthy lifestyle. We had recently been mountain trekking.

When I told a mate the news, he said "This will be the worst thing you will ever experience". No surprises there, cancer is hardly a bunch of laughs. But from a level headed, steady guy, his uncharacteristic anger, even resentment, was resounding. A close friend of his was killed by leukemia a couple of years previously. To say I can now understand his emotions, would be inadequate. It's not that detached, I now feel them.

The tumour proved to be particularly resistant to treatment. Daily doses of nauseating oral chemotherapy and a full course of radiotherapy only retarded its growth. Once the maximum doses had been reached, the cancer continued to invade and destroy tissue. It was only radical life changing surgery, as a last resort, which saved her life. At this point, you could jump straight to 'great', 'job done'. Which in many ways it was, but this is really only the start of the struggle. However, before we get ahead of facts, lets pause to look at pre-operative treatment.

CHEMOTHERAPY & RADIOTHERAPY

The rigours of chemotherapy are well documented in film and documentary, albeit in a fairly one dimensional, 'its crap', 'it makes you sick' and 'your hair falls out' kind of way. Not all chemo is the same. Some forms are injected, other forms are taken as a tablet. Not all chemo results in complete hair loss. Injected chemo is often administered in cycles with a rest period in between, giving brief relief from symptoms.

However, oral chemotherapy is taken daily, every eight 8 hours, with no break from the nausea and debilitating weakness. During the 3 month treatment, Dolores' weight plummeted by a third, setting her up with contributory factors leading towards long term health degeneration. During rapid wasting, the body burns muscle in preference to fats. Combined with long term chronic fatigue causing inability to exercise, her heart muscle would have lost condition too.

Simultaneously, she also received the maximum permitted does of radiotherapy treatment. The thing about radiation is that it burns. And although the gamma source has a short half-life, it continues to burn. Her skin in the target area literally fell off, painfully oozing exudate for weeks afterwards. The skin did re-form but has never fully healed. Radiation dermatitis is a side effect of ionising radiation. Twelve years on it is thinned, reddened, constantly inflamed and irritated, resulting in terrible soreness.

The focus of treatment is understandably on cure and immediate survival. But it appears to me there is very little public awareness of the long term affects of radiotherapy. Knowledge and informed consent, will help patients prepare for the consequences of it.

PAIN MANAGEMENT

Not all tumours exhibit symptoms. However, despite the best efforts of pain management nurses Dolores' tumour caused excruciating pain as it got larger eating into tissue. She was on high doses of liquid paracetamol and morphine. Drugs like these will have an effect upon the patient's perceptions and behaviour which they may well not be aware of. Cancer is far reaching, it eats away at person physically, stealing who they are.  And then, it continues to take from everyone who cares, indiscriminately consuming happiness and all that is good, ripples of misery radiating outwards.

A CARERS PERSPECTIVE

YOUR JOB: Caring for someone with cancer takes a lot of time and patience. If you're lucky you will have a sympathetic employer who will allow you time off work. I was fortunate that the company I was contracting for at the time allowed me to come and go at irregular times without question or continually asking permission to do so. Even so, I occasionally heard ignorant co-workers make comments such as 'part timer'.

Needless to say, it's unlikely your partner will be able to work during treatment. It takes all their energy to fight the disease. Forget all these celebrities 'bravely continuing their busy schedule' all through chemo. Bullshit! Firstly, these celebs are likely to have and afford a comprehensive support structure. Secondly, a few media engagements is hardly working down the pit or coping with the demands of a proper job. Thirdly, such pseudo self sacrifice and the paparazzi attention it attracts, does nothing to help an ordinary person struggling with an employer who does not understand what cancer treatment truly entails.

YOUR INCOME: I have been self-employed for the past 17 years. I enjoy the independence, personal accountability and responsibility it brings. Cancer effectively halved my income, very quickly going from doing OK to completely struggling, with no financial help. It ultimately resulted in a decision to move house rather than be financially ruined by mortgage and health care costs.

It's a issue that hasn't completely gone away. Imagine how humiliating it is not to be able to join in a team celebration after a successful event, or having to turn down an invite to the party of a good friend because you cannot afford the diesel. Cancer keeps you poor and isolated.


YOUR WELL BEING: Being a carer is a utterly exhausting combination of mental and physical stress.
  • During Dolores' daily radiotherapy sessions my typical day went: Wake up, make breakfasts, try to get her to eat. Help her dress and walk downstairs. Walk the dogs. Drive 1 hour to hospital. Wait 2 hours (sometimes longer) for treatment. Drive back home, drop Dolores off. Drive 45 mins to work. Do 4 hours. Drive back. Sort dinner, encourage Dolores to eat something. Tidy the house. Walk the dogs. Bed.
  • During the 5 weeks she was in hospital the daily routine was: Wake up, no time for breakfast, walk dogs. Drive to work, do 6 hours, drive back home. Feed the dogs and let them for a pee. Drive to hospital, 2 hours visiting, drive home. Buy fish and chips if they were still open. Try to eat while answering a stream of telephone calls from Dolores friends. All of whom were naturally concerned, some of whom were angry at me for not promptly replying their answer phone message. Collapse into bed. Sleep for two hours. Spend the rest of the night at the wide-awake-club staring at the ceiling.
Some advice, if you're calling or visiting someone with cancer or their carer: Don't expect them to want to be constantly talking about the state of their health or treatment. Quite simply, constantly relaying updates every evening does not allow that person a mental break from the cancer. Re-living the emotion time and time again is very destructive to that person's well being.

REST BITE CARE: Good luck with accessing professional help on this one, unless you're wealthy and can afford it. On the few occasions I have managed to organise a care package while I have worked away from home it has cost me more than what I earned.

There's advice for carers on the internet for how to manage this unfamiliar and often sudden change in circumstances, for which you will probably have had no formal training. Stuff like, 'If you're feeling stressed visit a friend', or 'organise some rest bite care'. All well intended but, in practice, useless, effectively just reinforcing how shit things have become and alone you really are. If you had that much time on your hands you wouldn't need the help and you'd be able to go to work.

Also considering the patient, who may feel emotionally dependent upon the carer,  rest bite needs to be handled compassionately so that it is not stressful or disruptive for them.

ISOLATION

Fighting cancer is a lonely place for both sufferers and carers, even with the support of friends and family. I was wholly unprepared for the sense of isolation I experienced  during the period of Dolores treatment and the months after her surgery.

Not knowing what help was out there, I called Macmillan cancer support charity for advice and someone to talk with. "We don't deal with that sort of cancer" was the curt response from an irritated voice on the other end of the line. Not the response I had anticipated, nor the message that they put out on the television asking for public donations.

Take a look at charity websites and you'll see it's all about what you can do for them and their CEO's six figure salary. Now try to find the bit where they actually help you. If you're lucky you'll find it buried deep in the menu structure or accompanied by some off-putting statement such as 'applications may take some considerable time to be processed and assessed'. They're quick enough to take your money, just not so quick to do what they're supposed to with it.

The council in Hampshire, where we used to live, was equally inept. Following discharge, Dolores was left with permanent open surgical wounds. Their response to an enquiry regarding bathing aids was that if she can stand up in front of a sink and wash then she would not be eligible for help. Thank goodness Derbyshire had a more caring approach to disability.

People live busy lives. In the days and weeks following diagnosis, the patient and their carer may receive more offers of help from friends than they know what to do with. It goes something like "Just let me know if there's anything I can do". But, the cancer regime isolates its participants from their normal social activities and so those offers of help get fewer as time moves on.

I am lucky to have a couple of people who have stuck the course and are always there. I'm certain there are many, many folks out there, silently struggling, who's isolation is total.  So, if you know someone in that situation who you haven't heard from in a while, you might just be in a position to make a difference at a time when the most need it. It may only take a few hours out of your busy life.



THE PARACHUTIST

Cancer, or indeed any serious illness, is challenging for everyone.  I know several friends who were the primary carer for a loved one. They did their very best for that person, neglecting their own needs at a cost to their physical and emotional health. For full time carers it can be difficult to separate the caring regime from their relationship with the person who was once so full of energy and vitality. So imagine what it feels like to have someone turn up once every few weeks, or months, picking holes and criticising. Ask yourself, are you being a parachutist, arriving with the big gesture while others are left dealing with the routine and difficult stuff?

THE CRANKS

You're half way through treatment, feeling sick, exhausted and you're skin if falling off. Then a well-meaning friend says, "they've found this miracle that shrinks tumours. It's Apricots!" Humans are a resourceful species and have been around for quite a while. If curing cancer really was as simple as scoffing a few apricots, or any other crack pot potion, we'd all be doing it by now. Don't be a crank, it makes you sound like a loon.

AFTERMATH

After shock, came anger. Anger at the random destructiveness of cancer, at what it had taken away on so many levels. The months blurred together and became a year. More than a year, nearly two. By the time Dolores was finally discharged from medical care, I felt nothing other than a pervading numb exhaustion. In fact the most entertaining counterpoint to this were frequent head splitting migraines. "You should be happy" I was told by one person who had made occasional appearances,

Things hardy improved for Dolores either. She had a surgery and radiation wounds which would never fully heal and half her insides cut out. She managed this with inspiring fortitude. Slowly she regained some strength but it was obvious from the beginning that life would be very different.

SECOND CANCER

In the UK, the remission period for cancer is 5 years. After which cancer is considered to be cured. Just as Dolores crossed this landmark of time, a different type of tumour struck, this time on the side of her face, at the temple. Following the initial consultation, the doctors gave what seemed to be a ridiculously long waiting time. Neither of us wanted to go through that protracted process again, so I took out a loan and borrowed £1000 I could ill afford, to start the process off with immediate tests and biopsy at The Spire BUPA in Havant, Hampshire.

The results were sent back to Dolores' GP, which confirmed the tumour was cancerous and required surgery. The same consultant was then supposed to continue the process under the NHS. However time went by and we hadn't heard anything, neither had the GP. He measured the tumour, it had doubled in size, now getting worryingly close to Dolores' left eye.

We wrote to the head of local hospital trust, explaining the situation and how we had paid our own money for initial investigation. They responded very quickly, well I suppose they would do if it got into the papers that ordinary folk are taking out loans to get urgently needed treatment. It turned out the consultant had broken his arm whilst skiing and that Dolores' case had been forgotten about. Fucking great, they had effectively taken our £1000 and wasted it. The cancer was eventually operated on and cut out. The delay in treatment meant a much larger skin graft was needed to replace the tissue.

TELEVISION

A few years ago I participated in a TV advertisement for Cancer Research. At the time I thought it would be a good opportunity to help raise funds towards the wider battle against cancer. This particular advert, one of a series, featured people who had cared for relatives with cancer. I decided to play it straight, to be real and true to myself and my own experience. Not to indulge the popularly held, myopic belief that once the cancer is beat everything is fine and dandy.

Afterwards, some of the production crew approached me and thanked me for my honesty. One of them was going through a similar process and they realised they were not alone. However, the interview stirred up a lot of feelings which I thought I had put to bed. More than anything, it stirred up the anger I felt towards the disease and all it had inflicted upon us.

NEW LIFE

I returned to full time engineering work, surrounded by bullshit bingo, a significant few conflict driven egotistical managers, turning every meeting into a cock fight  (is amazing how one or two of these drag down the morale of a company) and employees who's enthusiasm and creativity had long since been snuffed out. Many were counting the days, weeks, months and years to retirement. The frequency and severity of my migraines intensified, I was burnt out and popping sumatriptan medicine like smarties.

Before Dolores became ill, I had been questioning the sanity of a life on the conventional treadmill of work, taxes, mortgage, pensions, ending with a few years of freedom, if you're lucky, then die. My grandfather's generation had subscribed to this model. He was dead within 24 months of retiring, most of which was spent in agony, enduring treatment for prostate cancer.

I met one expedition leader who clarified my thoughts. He said "Stu, you can work like a dog all year in order to enjoy a couple of weeks of adventure as a client. Or, you can get qualified and be paid to lead in the outdoors. You'll never get rich, but you'll have a fulfilling life".

He was right. I focused on achieving the Mountain Leader award, gaining experience, volunteering and supervising youth groups. It was a gradual process, I couldn't afford just to give up the day job. The day I passed my ML assessment, I was more chuffed than when I had got my degree.


TWELVE YEARS ON

Having large sections of your digestive tract removed has a number of serious implications in the long term. Firstly, uptake of essential nutrients and re-absorption of fluid is compromised. Meaning that types, frequency and quantity of food have to be carefully considered, as is the case for liquids. Over the years, chronic dehydration damages kidney function.

While digesting food, Dolores has pain on a daily basis, probably due to scar tissue sticking together. Last year this resulted in a blockage for which she required emergency surgery to prevent death by peritonitis. It's empirical evidence, but three out of the four people we know who have had similar surgeries to Dolores have also suffered from intussusception or other obstructions. It's not something that was discussed as a risk, either at the time or during recovery from the original surgery.

Then came the heart attack. Wasting during chemo and then inability to exercise, weakened the muscle resulting in a silent heart attack and progressive heart failure. Also, research is highlighting a correlation between the chemotherapy drugs and heart muscle damage.

Dolores now suffers from chronic fatigue and struggles with routine tasks inside the house. It is enormously frustrating and upsetting for her not to be able to cook a meal or enjoy a little gardening.

Needing a wheelchair to go out was a further blow to her independent spirit. Being in a wheelchair or pushing one around town is a real eye opener regarding attitudes to disability and accessibility, everyone should be made to try it! Like many people, beforehand I hadn't given much specific thought to wheelchair users. Its a awful, dis-empowering and frightening experience, several times folks reading their smart phones rather than looking where they're going have almost fell onto Dolores. I've lost count of the shops we cannot access. Then there are the people who look at you then deliberately stand in the way!

Of course, the recovery prospects for different cancers differ enormously. Anyone who has lived through this horrific ordeal deserves all the love and support of friends and relatives. But, for some, survival comes with a heavy cost. Their story does not end with remission. Cancer continues to take, and take, and take. It is a thief.

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE

Moving house helped give me the time needed to provide nearly full-time care, whereas remaining in Hampshire, trying to pay a mortgage, work full time, be a carer and paying for extra care would have exacted a ever increasing heavy toll.

However, if I were to think of one thing that would be of the most help in the future, as well as in the past, it would be rest bite care. In 2017 I was unable to renew my Mountain Leader work with two great companies because help is both difficult and costly to organise.

When the phrase 'rest bite care' is mentioned, I imagine many people think of it as a holiday for the carer. I don't event want that. For me, time off is time wasted. I'd just like to be able to do the job that gives me fulfilment for a few days each month, in order earn a modest amount of the stuff that puts food on the table and pays the bills...with the peace of mind that Dolores is safe and being looked after.

So that's it. No final upbeat message. No prospect of significant recovery. And I'll not insult you with glimmers of false hope.

Instead, I'll leave you with the following. It's good advice....

Value your health, cherish and nurture it.
Buy memories, not things.
Use your time wisely.
Look after each other.
Do stuff that makes you happy.

Because one day you may not be able to.


Tuesday, 21 March 2017

#029 Kinder Surprises - In search of Kinder Cavern

HAYFIELD, PEAK DISTRICT, SPRING

Some days all you need is a nice day on the hill. I looked out of the window this morning and saw fresh spring colours under a rich blue sky. Decision made, I threw a few items into my rucksack, fed Rafa, put on his overcoat and set off.

The Kinder Round, from Hayfield, offered a straightforward route to blow away some cobwebs. A pause for coffee at the William's Clough footbridge. I poured an Africafe from my flask, strong, dark, no sugar. Offered a silent thank you to my pal Darren for re-supplying, having brought a big tin back from leading ion Kilimanjaro a few weeks ago.

I paused, savouring the aroma. It kindled happy memories of my previous expedition for World Challenge to South Tanzania. Circumstances meant I wouldn't be returning to the Old Country this summer. Enough introspection, saddle up and I pushed on at a brisk pace up Sandy Heys.


A strong southwesterly gusted across the trail when we crested the gritstone edge of the Kinder plateau. Rafa and I jogged onwards. As we approached the downfall, there was the iconic plume of water being blown back upwards. The Dark Peak's very own Mosi-oa-tunya!


Closer to the waterfall, the canyon created a funneling effect so that the spray became super cooled, sticking to grass and moss, creating vertical icicles.


Above, dark clouds had built up and the odd hailstone pinged off surrounding boulders. Rafa and I retreated to the leeward side of a small bluff and pulled the emergency bothy over us just as the hail intensified. Underneath we were warm and comfortable. I sipped another coffee, Rafa crunched some biscuits and layed down for a rest.

Shower gone, blue skies returned, we jogged southwards, past Red Brook re-entrant, the trig point and towards the bronze age tumulus. Here we deviated off the slabs, descended a few metres and contoured around Kinderlow End. Our Kinder Surprise for the day was to find the elusive and somewhat fabled Kinder Cavern, or as it's more properly known in the caving community as The Belfry.


In the Geological Survey 1887, there is the following description...
"Kinderlow Cavern is not easily accessible. The entrance is through a fissure nearly vertical, and it is likely that the cavern itself is a large rent caused by the rock having parted along a joint end slipped slightly forwards. Appalling legends prevail in the neighbourhood of rash explorers who have lost their way and been imprisoned for a whole night in the cave."

The 'rash explorers' are likely to have been two local men, whose escapades were published in the Manchester Evening News in 1843...
A search party soon set off headed by the anxious uncle, the party armed with ropes lights and all that was necessary to unearth the wanderers if they were found at the place mentioned. To return to the cavemen they awoke at last from their long sleep and the first sound they heard, possibly, it was that which awakened them, was the halloo of the rescuers. 

It sounded to faint for the two men to be sure of this, but they both shouted out together with all their strength and were rejoiced to hear a reply, louder this time for they were wide awake now. It did not take long to get them out to the light of day.

Billy said he felt very foolish and he would never forget how ‘th’ ester’ first looking at them ‘dreeply’ tapped his snuff box twice, then taking a long pinch said “Well have you had enough.” They had been in the cave 21 hours.

There are also stories of the the cave entrance being blocked up with timber by game keepers. And of there originally being two separate entrances.


I located the vertical fissure. Rafa settled down on a patch of grass outside while I shone a torch into the first vesibule of the cavern. The structure did indeed appear to have been formed by an ancient slip. At the rear of the first vesibule a shaft of natural light shone through a gap in the ceiling. Looking to the right there was a shaft leading down into darkness. This is cavers' territory and certainly not for the unaccompanied hill walker. So I left, content with a couple of photographs and having found what could be the infamous Kinder Cavern of local legends.


If you would like to experience Kinder Surprises and guided adventures, get in touch with
local Mountain Leader, Stu Westfield from Hayfield.  Email: rangerexped@hotmail.com
Ranger Expeditions

Our upcoming 'open group' adventures includes
The Peak District 3 Peaks Challenge

A fully supported and guided big day out on the hill, including transport to the start point and low cost accommodation options. We are offering our 6th May 2017 Peak District 3 Peaks Challenge at superb value prices: £60 walk including 2 nights Bunkhouse accommodation. £30 walk only.








Tuesday, 7 March 2017

#028 Legends Trails 2017 - Ardennes Magic

BRUSSELS AIRPORT 19:30

Waiting for the late flight back to Manchester, after Joop De Wel had kindly given me a lift back from the Ardennes.

I strolled up and down Terminal B. Coughed at the ridiculous price of Talisker. 60 Euros a bottle! It's supposed to be duty free! So I bought some Belgian chocolate champagne truffles and a bottle of Amarula cream instead.

I had plenty of time to reflect upon the weekend's action on The Legends Trails race. There was never any doubt that this year's second edition would not live up to the racing adventures set by the 2016 event. Race Directors Tim De Vriendt and Stef Schuermans had invested significant efforts into The Legends. Several racers had returned, either to wipe clean the record of previous DNF, or with their sights on being the first legend of 2017.

Tim, Stef and racers gathering at the start.
In the HQ too, there was a great mix of experienced volunteers and new faces. The traditional spirit of camaraderie was felt by all as the race machine started up, first with registration, kit check and then medical check by Dr Geert Meese and his superb team. Wim Bastiaens and Patrick De Kunst, both safe hands from previous Legends events, joined me as Safety Team coordinators. Sadly no Deiter Van Holder this year, he is working in Iceland as a mountain guide and having good adventures there too.

Wim in Race HQ
A new feature for the logistics team this year were team managers, Joop Werson and Kurt Demets. The logistics and safety teams did a superb job. Often to holes crossed over, both teams helping each other where possible with the common goal of another successful race.

Joop De Wel and Mich Van Deun looked after the Legends racer tracking system, providing quality data and visual displays for the race organisation and spectators in the common room.

Joop, Mich and Patrick taking care of business.
This year, both in the weeks prior and during the race, the weather was much milder. The trails had not suffered from several weeks of rain and then days of snow melt. That said, the conditions were far from easy, with several squalls of gusting wind and freezing rain blowing through. In 1944 the Ardennes winter caused the 101st Airborne considerable problems. Today, the terrain remains largely unchanged. 2017 finisher, Allan Rumbles, said for the Legends course if a racer could change shoes to suit the ground underfoot, he would need a dozen types of trail shoe, further emphasising that attrition on the feet is a significant factor.

Safety Team Coordinators occasionally sleep too!
Forests cover the region. Mature densely planted pine forests effectively obscure sight lines and disguise contour features. Deep riverine valleys cut through undulating terrain and are overlaid by a cryptic matrix pathways, firebreaks and sketchy trails. Some of the Legends course follows way marked GR (Grande Randonnee) routes, some other sections follow Promenade Routes. However, these fall in and out of popularity and so may be overgrown. The frequent changes of direction and complex environment places a premium on navigation and route finding skills.

Navigation challenges.
This years winner, Tuen Geurts-Schoenmakers, used only map and compass...and he still took 13 hours off the course record. But most racers do use a GPS to some extent. The combination of fatigue, sleep deprivation and cold caused a few competitors to have difficulty route finding even with a GPS - once again proving that whilst GPS is an important item in many racers' navigation tool box, it is not always the whole solution.

Also, for UK racers, the Belgium mapping system is very different to the Ordnance Survey we are used to...

  • Belgium maps are highly pictorial rather than symbolic as the OS. 
  • Contours interval is 5m with index contours at 20m. Can make the map look quite busy in steep terrain. 
  • The map grid uses Mercator Projection therefore is not as intuitive as OS Grid. Hence Belgian navigators do not use the grid as much as we do in the UK.
  • The scale is 1:20,000 so at 1km = 5cm there is detail in the built up areas at least as good as 1:25,000 OS.
In 2017 saw the first British finisher of The Legends. Ryan Wood rocked up to a very creditable 15th place. Allan Rumbles with his own brand of solid, relentless, forward progress toughed it out to 26th place, finishing to loud applause and several La Chouffre beers in celebration.


At 250km the Legends is the longest and most arduous, ultra challenge in the Benelux countries. In 2017 a total of 29 Legends were made from 61 starters. Willemijn Jongens and Sarah Johnson finished in 22nd place, proving that 'this girl can'.

The 2018 Legends Trails promises even more adventures, even more Legends. The question is, will you be there? 

Stu Westfield
Legends Trails Safety Team Coordinator 





Thursday, 16 February 2017

#027 Dark Peak Winter Report 2017 & Montane Flux Jacket Mini-Test

Thursday 16 February 2017

One thing's for certain, the annual Daily Express' doom laden forecast of the 'worst winter in 500 years' hasn't come true.

Here in the Dark Peak we have seen a fair amount of the white stuff, but it's character has been a sudden dumping, settling on high ground typically over 400 metres, followed by a fairly rapid thaw.


November 2016

In November, Ranger Ultras organised the inaugural Peak South 2 North Ultra over two stages. Saturday's White Peak trails stage was run under blue skies in crisp fresh air. The pin sharp light made a perfect showcase for the limestone dales and vales. Sunday's Dark Peak Challenge could not have been more different. Overnight, an un-seasonal early snowfall left the course covered in several inches of snow, with deeper drifting just off the trail.


Prior to the start Race Directors, Stu and Peter, took the decision to omit the more wilderness elements of the event. We considered the modified course (following the Pennine Way over Kinder Scout, Bleaklow and Black Hill, then down into Marsden) difficult enough under snow. Most of the entrants were also Spine Race competitors, so they were very happy to have a route which gave them a complete reccie of the Dark Peak section of The Pennine Way as part of their Spine build up.

Supporting the Peak South 2 North, we had a superb team of friends and volunteers, many of whom are Mountain Leaders. Safety teams were positioned at each road head, with hot soup and food for racers as well as being ready to help any racer in need on the course. (We look after our volunteers equally as well as racers. So every volunteer in our events receives a personal free entry into one of our later races or stages) For additional safety monitoring, each racer carried a tracker from Legends Tracking:   http://www.legendstracking.com/



From a race director's point of view, it is always the wish for racers to be engaged in ding-dong battles all the way to the finish line. Indeed, just like what we had seen a month earlier on our Ranger Ultras, Yorkshire 3 Peaks Ultra, where Richard Lendon and Tom Hollins had pushed each other to the limit all the way up to the last 200 metres. At the final field, where there is a narrow path where to overtake would involve unsportsmanlike barging, they agreed that if they were within an few metres of each other they would rock into the finish at Hawes as joint winners. But this was no soft option joint finish. When I greeted them at the finish line they were truly a sight. Battered, bloodied and bruised, they sat down and like a double act, without pausing for breath, told me the whole story of their race. Their faces beaming with wide smiles.


http://rangerultras.co.uk/index.php/y3pu-2016-results/

A couple of months later, Tom went on to win the 2017 Spine Race in a inspired strategic, go big or go home, finish along the Cheviot, overhauling previous winners Pavel Paloncy and Eugenie. He would never describe himself as such, so I'll say it here. In those final miles, Tom became a Spine Legend.


The PS2N Stage 2 story was very different yet no less satisfying from a Race Director's perspective. Among the racers was experienced International Mountain Leader, Paul Gale, elite ultra runner Jenn Gaskell and several competitors who had joined our Ranger Ultras Complete Racer Training Days. By the time they had reached the A57 it became very clear that the race had become an expedition of attrition. The field had combined into two distinct groups, each with team members taking turns to break trail, navigate and check navigation. As they approached Snake Pass, it was a superb sight to see the bonds of camaraderie, forged out of adversity, with everyone working towards the common goal.


We had hired the Parochial Hall at Marsden until 22:00 on the Sunday, thinking this would be a very generous time for racers to complete the course. We were glad we had, as the second group took some 13 hours to complete. Every racer arriving felt it was truly an epic adventurous day out.

http://rangerultras.co.uk/index.php/ps2n-results-2016/

Looking to 2017, the Ranger Ultras races are now open for bookings with Si-Entries:
YORKSHIRE 3 PEAKS ULTRA: http://rangerultras.co.uk/index.php/yorkshire-3-peaks-ultra/


PEAK SOUTH 2 NORTH: http://rangerultras.co.uk/index.php/peak-district-south-2-north/



To help racers prepare for Y3PU and PS2N Ultras, our Complete Racer training is available:
http://rangerultras.co.uk/index.php/complete-racer-training/


September - December 2016

During the autumn and early winter, as official training provider for The Montane Spine Race, we welcomed many runners to our Ranger Expeditions Complete Racer events and one-2-one training. The courses look at all aspects of the Spine Race, drawing upon 6 years race history as well as remote expeditions and competitive racing. We investigate the factors contributing to success - i.e. finisher's medal - and the reasons why so many racers DNF across the whole spectrum of entries. Navigation is a major concern for potential racers, so we dedicate penty of time to skills and practice. Our courses have helped many Spiners journey with greater confidence and proficiency. The Complete Racer approach has raised awareness of important aspects of strategy which racers have often not devoted sufficient attention.



A few words from our Complete Racer participants....

"A big thanks for all the help and tips that made it possible for me to finish the Spine race...wow what a journey and at times it didn't seem possible but I did it. Cheers"

"priceless advice on your masterclass. Really helpful, thanks"

Bookings are now open for 2017, Ranger Expeditions, Complete Racer, Spine Race specific training.
http://rangerexped.co.uk/index.php/spine-race/


2017 also brings the first 'summer Spine' Fusion and Flare races, for which we have the following training event:
http://rangerexped.co.uk/index.php/spine-fusion-flare-training/

Sunday 12 February 2017

The mild winter had confounded my best efforts to match location and timing with a excursion into the white playground. During my annual stint on The Spine Race as Safety Team Coordinator I had arranged a few hours of down time with fellow Safety Team crew at the Auchope Refuge Hut on the Cheviots. But the weather up there was like summer. It looked like a planned trip to Chill FactorE in Manchester might be the only snow I would make contact with this winter.


So to my delight, last Sunday, the forecast looked promising. From my house I can't quite see Kinder, but by midday Mount Famine had a dusting. I threw some kit into my Millet ProLighter sack, pulled on a pair of salopettes and decided to test drive the Montane Flux Jacket given to me by the race sponsor at The Spine.


Worn directly over a base garment, the Flux jacket felt a generous enough fit so that if I wanted to wear another layer underneath it would still be comfortable. As I ascended Sandy Heys, the spin drift started to sting, so I swapped my wrap around sunglasses for proper ski goggles. Combined with a buff to protect my cheeks and nose, the Flux jacket hood made a good barrier and closure against the freezing ice crystal missiles. Cresting onto the Pennine Way wind gusted over the edge of the Kinder plateau blowing drifts across the trail. It was time to get a shifty on.


Moving at a brisk pace was sufficient to generate enough heat to feel comfortable in the Primaloft Silver insulated Flux. When blown against the jacket, it shed the snow without soaking into the fabric. Of course, this was a first excursion for the jacket so its water repellent surface treatment was at it's optimal newness. I fully expect to have to regularly renew with treatment products to maintain this level of performance. However, in these conditions a insulated jacket such as the Flux would never be my ultimate protection against weather - in my rucksack I also carried a shell jacket in case the falling snow turned to sleet or heavy rain.

As I progressed along the Pennine Way, I mentally ticked off the features memorised from the many previous walks on Kinder. Of course, map, compass and GPS, were carried in case of total white out, but I could see enough of the way ahead, through the flurries and greyness, as well as the contours to be confident I was on track.

A quick stop for hot black coffee and Eccles cake among the sheltered rocks above The Downfall. Past the Red Brook re-entrant. Taking care not to let the pull of gravity take me too far westward. The large cairn at Kinder Low, tick. Follow the faint flat impression of the trail in the snow in a southerly direction looking for the slabbed branch to Swine's Back. West of Swines back a drift had accumulated nearly up to the top of a dry stone wall. I chuckled at the enjoyment of being the first person to wade through it.

Descending down the Oakden Clough bridleway, I reflected on the micro-adventure with satisfaction. I hadn't seen anyone since ascending Sandy Heys. The experience felt visceral and good for the soul. The Monane Flux Jacket had done everything I wanted from it. At 400 metres ASL I dropped below the snow line, pulled off my goggles and unzipped the hood.

No time to pause though, there was a fresh black coffee with my name on it at The Sportsman Inn, Hayfield.

Stu Westfield
Mountain & Expedition Leader
Ranger Expeditions:   www.rangerexped.co.uk
Ranger Ultras:   www.rangerultras.co.uk




Monday, 30 January 2017

#026 They Were Legends

On the first weekend of March 2016, the first edition of The Legends Trails was held in the historic Belgium Ardennes.



The 250km course was over constantly undulating terrain. A wet winter had turned the trails into a muddy quagmire which had been covered with slushy spring snow. The temperature hovered around freezing, with more snow falling on the higher hills and sleet lower down. This chilling, wet environment made an almost perfect recipe for hypothermia and immersion (trench) foot.

The Legends Trails is the creation of Tim De Vriendt and Stef Schuermans. Both have raced in the Spine Challenger, a 108 mile expedition style ultra race along the Pennine Way in the UK. Taking their inspiration from the Spine, they developed The Legends to be the longest and certainly the most arduous ultra race in Belgium.



Like the Spine, there are fixed checkpoints with hot food and drinks for the runners, who may also bivvy outside to rest. But the race is non-stop, in so much as the clock is always ticking towards intermediate and final cut-off times.

Many Legends racers have written engaging and captivating first had accounts of their varied experiences in the atmospheric forests of the Ardennes. These blogs should serve as an essential reference for future Legends racers. They give insights into kit and clothing selection and also indicate what strategies worked well. 

With 15 finishers from 47 starters it is also very worthwhile to read the blogs of racers who did not finish. (Race Director, Stef Schuermans, suggested that on the Legends there should not be "DNF's and Finishers", rather "Myths and Legends.")



But as always there should be a word of caution regarding using information, research and social media: What works, or indeed does not work, for them will not necessarily be the same for someone else. The only way to develop a robust strategy and select kit that works for you, is to personally test, review, develop and improve. Its a mantra we encourage on Ranger Ultras 'Complete Racer' training courses, along with the skills and shared knowledge for racers to make informed decisions regarding their personal racing strategies.

The ability to independently navigate is an essential skill for the Legends. With frequent changes of direction along the whole course, racers cannot afford to mentally switch off. 
Some sections do follow GR way marking which helps. But racers still need to be aware of their location identify where the course leaves the GR trail. Also there are numerous local 'promenade' trails intersecting and crossing the course, adding to the opportunities for navigation error.

GPS with uploaded GPX files was the navigation tool of choice for many racers. However, the environmental conditions contributed to several units failing. In previous blogs, I have recommended that GPS units are used inside a protective, transparent bag, with a silica gel sachet added for good measure...no matter what the manufacturers claims as to water resistance.

But slavishly following GPS, with 'heads down' is surely not necessarily the most efficient or engaging way to run a trail race. With some basic navigation techniques, such as orientating the map, contour awareness, timing and an understanding of location grid references, a racer can journey with greater efficiency. Also with a paper map it is easier to read ahead and anticipate upcoming route finding challenges. 

That said, I'm not anti-GPS. When a ultra racer is fatigued, sleep deprived and up against time cut offs, the ability to dial up a grid reference to relocate position can save vital minutes. Whether GPS, map or compass, your ability to observe and understand, all are legitimate navigation tools, so why not have a range of tools and techniques at your disposal.



I was delighted to help run the Legends Safety Team, along with fellow coordinators Wim Bastiaens and Dieter Van Holder, plus Joop De Wel managing the racer tracking system. Using the successful model I developed for the 2016 Spine Race, the team quickly picked up the simple reporting and monitoring system. 

The safety teams on-the-ground did a superb job of recovering racers from the course and bringing them to warm checkpoints to recover from their ordeals. It was interesting to note that racers tended to self select out of the race before their condition seriously deteriorated into hypothermia. Perhaps this was due to the Legends being a new style of endurance race of a distance previously unheard of in Belgium. 



In my past life, I worked as an aerospace engineer. Often reporting and investigating failures, quality escapes and non-conformance. I apply this process orientated approach to race safety. The aim is to have the simplest, easiest to implement solution which has capability and capacity to suit the event. Events such as Legends rely upon volunteers, many of whom are working together for the first time, so the safety system had to have minimal training and the best possible communications.

The inaugural Legends Trails was a huge success, both from the perspective of the racers and the race organisation. In the final kilometers of the race, we were treated to an incredible chase down of Belgian elite runners by visiting ultra racer, Michael Frenz and local lad Joris Jacobs. One by one Michael and Joris overtook the lead runners. It became a edge of seat 'will they, won't they' spectacular!



In the final metres, Joris ushered Michael forward to claim the win. Later saying that he would not have made it as far as he had without Michael's navigation skills and strategy. It was a gesture which of a true sportsman, emotionally appreciated by everyone watching and garnering both athletes with the utmost respect.



Every racer following into the finish was given equal applause and rousing welcome to the finish. They were presented with their finisher's medal by Tim and Stef along with a sponsors gift of La Chouffe beer.

On the first weekend of March in 2016, Legends were made.
In 2017 we look forward to making some more.

Stu Westfield

Legends Trails Safety Team Coordinator