Sunday, 26 April 2015

The Nav4 Mountain Running Essentials Weekend

After another Western States refusal I was left feeling a tad flat. I was struggling to find races in 2015 that got the juices flowing. Badwater was high on the to-do list but I can't justify the cost of it right now, so that was out. I've had a hankering to run the Thames Ring 250 but as I sat there reading the blurb, finger hovering ready to take the plunge, I couldn't do it. I asked my self (a) Did it excite me? and (b) Did I really want to run or possibly walk 250 miles in one go? The answers were no and no. All I had for 2015 was the Thames path 100 which is my go to WS qualifier and incidentally my 10th Centurion buckle, so get out the party poppers!! In January I received an email that contained a link to the Dragons back race. Wow this looks exciting. Multi day, not done that, full on nav, not done that and an iconic race to boot. This ignited the fire in my belly and I put my entry in. Dragons Back is to be one of two "A" races in 2015. I looked at every aspect of the event and nothing really bothered me apart from the navigation. I can find my way around a map but bearings? compasses?? Night navigation ??? Pretty much all the vital stuff I needed for the race. A pal of mine had used Nav 4 before for navigation training and his recommendation was good enough for me so I booked the Mountain Running Essentials weekend.
Me and Dave half way up Skiddaw

The course took place over a Saturday and Sunday and covered pretty much everything you could want to know regarding Mountain skills including Nav, route choice, kit and some hands on advice and tips from the two time Dragons back finisher Joe Faulkner. Also a good opportunity to spend some time with like minded individuals.
A good friend of mine, Dave Bowen is in a similar place to myself regarding navigation and mountain running. He has had his fair share of getting lost but is also a pretty decent runner who loves a bit of mountain running. So I thought I'd ask him if he wanted to join me and make a bit of a weekend of it. Of course he did.
The location of the course is in the Lakes, on Ullswater outside of Pooley bridge. I met Dave at Penrith station on Friday with the idea of bagging a few peaks. He drove us down to Keswick where we had decided to run the first leg of the Bob Graham. Keswick-Skiddaw-Great Calva-Blencathra

Top of Skiddaw
Keswick. Easy.                                                                                                                                      We set off on our run and it was nice and warm, low cloud on the tops but nice all the same. The further we ascended the colder it got, the east wind was indeed blowing. The snow drifts were 3 feet in places and as we reached the top the wind chill must have been minus double figures. I had ice all down one side of my leg and Dave was sporting an icy beard, it was cold. Most alarmingly my man bits were really hurting in the icy wind and I had visions of getting frostbite and it dropping off. Tactical readjustment was needed fast. We carried on over the summit but as we progressed we couldn't tell the sky from the ground, it was all just white. the decision was quickly made to retrace our steps and descend fast. As we got lower we picked up a lovely trail and ended up having a cracking run.
We arrived at the bunkhouse at about 7pm and we were the first to arrive, we grabbed our bunks and headed straight for the pub. Stuart, one of the instructors had given us lengthy instructions on how to get to the nearest decent pub. These instructions started with turn left at the gate. Well we went through the gate and turned right. Navigational gurus for sure.
The bunkhouse
We got back and had an informal meet and greet we all introduced ourselves and said what we wanted from the course. There was five of us doing the Dragons Back and we all wanted the nav training plus Joes insider knowledge of the event. A couple of people doing Lakeland 50 and the rest although training for nothing specific wanted the navigation training. Between us there was a PTL finisher, UTMB, CCC, TDS, MDS, Spine, Lakeland 100, Welsh 3000s, the list went on but all in all a lot of experience In that room.
Introductions made we went to the pub, Dave already knew Richard and Annabelle, so we sat and talked about all things running. Very nice too. It was a bit late by the time I got to bed and the bunk house was freezing but I soon got to sleep.
I was up at 6 and had breakfast, Joe and the team had laid on endless supplies and it was all self service so no reason to go hungry. The bunkhouse lacked a seating area so we all just stood in the kitchen and got to know each other. 9am we hit the classroom and met the instructor for the day. Bernie, John and Stuart. We were split into groups of four, Myself, Dave, Richard and Annabelle teamed up with John as our tutor. We covered basic compass work in the class before heading out for a practical session.
The Nav4 team
John is an adventure racer with loads of navigational experience and taught us well. He didn't over complicate things, just gave us sound teaching that we then applied to the terrain. It was amazingly easy to learn, I did feel for John though as every feature he picked for us to find wasn't there, Stream sources etc that had long since dried up, comical but not his fault. We spent a good few hours practicing with little running but to be fair I needed to get to grips with the navigation and that is what we did. There was some snow still about and my feet were freezing so when John invited me to lead a run down a ridge I was off and cheekily took it a bit further than asked as it was such a gorgeous run. After finding various points as a group we were asked to find points on our own and the others would follow to pinpoint where we had stopped on the map. All interesting stuff. It was still very cold so rather than stopping we carried on through until about 3ish before heading back to the bunkhouse classroom to discuss route choices and decision making which would would be vital for the Dragons Back. Joe spent the next hour discussing specific DB relevant stuff which was really informative. After a while the other groups joined us and we all carried on a group discussion regarding all things running.
We have to navigate here!?
Joe then gave us a talk on kit which was very informative but could have been a bit more interactive. The time soon ebbed away and dinner was served in the classroom, homemade lasagne, salad, jacket spuds and garlic bread followed by dessert. It was lovely and enough to feed another dozen.
As soon as the food had gone down we were handed a sheet with grid references on and a map. We had to plot our control points on the map and decide on a route. We then changed into our running gear and headed to the fells for the night navigation session. I had a good route planned and decided I was going to run it at pace to give a feel for navigation whilst running.
John, Dave, Richard and Annabelle
I did ok, it was very dark and the ground was very rough but remembering Johns instructions I made very few mistakes. I struggled a bit with using time to measure how far I'd run but that is something I'm practicing. All in all I found it easy to navigate at night but if you make a mistake it is very easy to get confused. At one point I used a wall as a point to aim at but when I reached it I ran the wrong way along it, I'm still struggling to work out what made me run the wrong way but mistakes like that cant happen during the DB race. We finished around 10.30 and headed for the pub for a couple before heading back and crashing out.
Sunday I was up early again and after masses of toast and eggs we all converged on the meeting room. With very little chit chat we were told to plot some points onto a map in preparation for a mock mountain marathon. I was still not awake and rushing. I was making mistakes already so had to reel it in and start again. Glad I did as my first attempt was totally wrong. We then had to quickly decide on a route before setting off to rendezvous at the start point. We had 4 hours to reach as many points as we could before returning to the start within the time.
Its not often you'll see me in running trousers
Everyone went their own way and I set off along an easy part of the trail to get some easy miles in my legs and pick off a couple of easy checkpoints. I would tackle the harder stuff later. I got the first two quickly but fannied about a bit with the third.
The fourth I lost it completely and although I knew I was right on it I couldn't find the control point. I decided to move on, because I had lost my exact position I had to head to a visible trig point and re-navigate from there. I picked off a few of the higher control points before heading out to furthest point on the course. I just couldn't find one and spent ages running around a peak looking before telling myself I was on the wrong peak and the next one must be the one I'm looking for. After a further half hour of looking a gave up and picked up the others all the way back to the finish. I made a further error and had to climb a big hill to get to a control point that I could have got earlier whilst on the high ground. Only when I returned to the start did I find that the furthest point I had been looking for wasn't out at all. We were all told before we started except I had been concentrating on something else and like a typical man I cant use my brain and ears at the same time. Doh! Anyhow I learnt a lot on that exercise and realized that my bull in a china shop attitude doesn't cut it when it comes to navigation. It s far better to take a few extra minutes with the map instead of rushing off in the wrong direction or making a poor route choice. I must constantly remember this at the Dragons Back. We all finished at about 1ish and headed back to the bunkhouse.
Everyone seemed in a hurry to get away which was a shame because we had all that experience at our disposal. Everyone was gone by about 2 so I didn't want to keep Joe and the others there just for me so left too and got an earlier train.
Overall the course was very good and well worth doing if you intend doing any navigational type races. Everyone on the course was really nice and some will remain friends for a very long time. John's teaching was really good and Joe's Dragons back knowledge was fantastic. I've nothing negative to say about the weekend, as a whole it did exactly what it said it would if I was to change a couple of things, I would make the kit talk a bit more interactive but that's probably more our fault for not making it so and I'd have liked something planned on the Sunday afternoon to encourage a few to stay but these are minor details that didn't affect the weekend.
So a big thumbs up from me and I wouldn't hesitate in recommending Nav4. Thanks to Joe, John, Bernie and Stuart. Also great to meet Paul and Nicola, Richard and Annabelle, Andy and Liz, Simon, Lizzie, Nigel, Leo and of course thanks Dave for joining me.

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