The Three Peaks Race takes in the the mountains of Phen-y-Ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough. 23.3 miles with 5279 feet of climb. This was my first time running. 
In the marquee before the race I tried to get my tactics straight in my head. Everyone I had talked to said that you can get in to real trouble if you set off too fast (and your race can end at Whernside), but I didn't really know how fast was too fast and how slow was too slow. I decided to follow Rob Baker initially, one thing I have learnt racing him over the last few years is that he always goes off sensibly so when the guns were fired and a few runners sprinted to the front I dropped in to the pocket with Rob. We chatted a little through Horton about the hills that awaited us. The first (Phen-y-Ghent), Rob told me, was the highest climb of the three.  

After a few minutes up the track that snakes up the first peak the race took on a Tour de France feel. Carl Bell had got a lead on the peleton which contained, from what I could see, all the main contenders. We weaved our way up the hill everyone trying to get in to the middle of the bunch to duck out of the strong wind to save some energy for later. As the climb got steeper we caught the break away but soon after the bunch fragmented. I let the lead pack, including Rob, go and stuck with Karl Grey who had also dropped back a little. I took a few glimpses of the great panarorama to our right before summiting. 

I took the descent really steady. I knew this was where you could wreck your legs for later and saw Carl Bell and Graham Pearce overtake me. I ran the long run across to Whernside alone. I tried to keep the pace honest and gauge it on the runners I could see ahead. When the race route climbed a small hill to the road I was worried that I had overcooked it. My legs were already starting to feel some tiredness an i'd only just gone over one hour of running. The big crowd at Ribblehead helped. I saw my mum who gave my a drinks bottle and some food which I tried willfully to eat on the go. 

I could still see a pack of runners ahead and as i climbed Whernside I expereienced some OMM deja vu. I could see all the front 9 now and the back few of that 9 were struggling. I caught Pearce and almost caught Tom Owens, punching the top 10 seconds later. I again took the descent steady and watched him disappear.

As I reached the bottom of the valley and started the final climb my legs were starting to feel it, despite this though I reeled in Owens again and could see Karl Grey not too far ahead. On the only out and back part of the course I saw everyone ahead apart from Joe Symonds. I gave Rob a shout of encouragement as he passed on the shoulder of Carl Bell (unfortunately he was in too much of a race blur to hear me). 
The wind had been strong all day but turning back off the top of Ingleborough was tough. Down the steep rocky section I started cramping up, not badly but enough to get me worried. I decided to try and get some more dextrose tablets down me but struggled and managed to fall. No damage done. I tried to run as quick as I could but I was really starting to feel it. Owens ran past saying "well run Oli" or something to that effect. I could see he was feeling it too though and there was a rather comedy moment across a long flat stretch where I could see we were both trying ridiculously hard to move fast but our bodies and the wind were just not letting it happen and we were confined to a slow trudge. Fortunately for both of us it really wasn't too far now and I got in to the finish in 9th place after several anxious looks behind me to finish in a time of 3.05.48.

It was an incredible race. The support on the hills was immense and so many people offered us water and food on the way round - a lot of thanks goes to them. Dark Peak claimed the team prize (Rob, Myself, Oli, Jon). The event was sponsored by Solomon who gave out some cool stuff to the winners. Props to them. This video produced by Solomon makes me want to do more of this kind of racing in the future.  
Since starting back running about seven weeks ago things have been going really well. I had to revise my aims for the cross country season and took the races as a painful means to an end in getting back in to some sort of shape. I have managed a good block of training and am starting to feel like i'm almost back in to the shape I was in before my injury. Those long hours put in on the treadmill over Christmas have definitely paid of. 

I have been getting in quite a lot of technical orienteering - particularly sprint. While many people headed to the Midlands this weekend for a run around a town I stayed in the sprint capital of the world to run the orienteering race that ran alongside the Sheffield Adventure Film Festival (SHAFF). SHAFF is an annual event and incorporates films from a load of extremely cool sports. I would certainly recommend searching for Danny Macaskill on youtube for those who have not heard of him. 

The orienteering race was planned by Oli Johnson on an area of new map around Park Hill and Sheaf Park. As you can see below it's another great area on our door step. The course was well planned with a good variety of leg lengths and route choices to choose from. I orienteered well around the course and my only time loss was at 15 where I did not see the small set of stairs loosing about 15 seconds. 
The courses took in the Cholera Monument as well as the Victoria Quays. 

Unfortunately Kris was a bit ill so was not in the best of shape for a closer battle. 
Splits are here: 

Now begins a tough few weekends of selection races in the run up to my finals. Busy, busy busy. 
Last night The Adventure Show featured the OMM (Original Mountain Marathon) particularly focusing on the Elite class which Douglas and myself competed in towards the end of 2011. 

It was aired on BBC 2 (Scotland) which I suppose is quite a large audience so great exposure for an excellent event. It was also great exposure for Douglas' snowman hat which featured heavily. 

Thanks to BBC Iplayer you can watch it again within the next 6 days. Obviously it is quite a long programme so here in my biased opinion are the best bits. 

06:11-06:50 Some footage of Douglas and I wrecked at the end of Day 1 followed by an interview with Shane demonstrating how nuts we all are. 

07:47-09:30 A good little intro by Mr Eades is followed by some pictures of my backside alongside a commentary of the group that formed on Day 1. Unfortunately they cut out the banter that was occurring at that particular point in the race. This is followed by some more good commentary and pictures of the wild weather and terrain. 

50:21-52:30 Footage of half way round the second day. Some commentary of the elite race followed by the top 4 teans running through the control when the snowman hat is featured. I then talk a bit about orienteering.

55:54-56:59 More of us running then some more chat where the interviewer feeds our ego. 

58.04-58.11 Need I say more. 

Here is the link to the programme:

In other news I am back in the game. 
As the Irishman Ronan Keating says "life is a roller coaster, you just got to ride it". 

I've actually just googled the lyrics to that song and as expected they are all third rate and out of context for this post so i'm just going to take my time and roll with the snippet to say what i've got to say (give yourself a pat on the back if you got that one). 

Training had been going extremely well. Ridiculously well in truth. I was flying. I turned up to a fell race (leg it round Lathkill) in November, at the end of a tough week of training, and equaled the second fastest time ever on the course (set by Llloyd Taggart in 2008). The plan that I had set out at the beginning of the year was being implemented perfectly. I had decided to step it up this year, I felt I was ready for that step. 

Unfortunately at the squad weekend in Hebden Bridge I ran in to some trouble. I ran the hills session in the morning feeling good but during the drills session in the afternoon a pain came on in my left foot which when I stopped at the end stiffened up good and proper. A few days later and the pain had localised to my second metatarsal. The physios gave me some words of encouragement saying that it still could be soft tissue but the niggly pain, despite getting markedly better, did not go away. 

I saw the squad physio this week who thought it was a stress fracture an x-ray confirmed our suspicions.  
My fracture looked like this apart from mine was in the 2nd not 3rd metatarsal. Healing well and small. 

So lessons to be learned in terms of pushing it in training. I'm lucky in that its come at a good time. I will have plenty of time to prepare for the big races in the Spring so we can bring out the "Didier" again. 

Its given me more time to do some work for the upcoming January exams at least. 

Its spinning on the agenda for me for a few more weeks. 

In other news this is the coolest video i've seen in a long time. 
Last weekend I competed in the OMM (Original Mountain Marathon). I've competed in the competition a few times before,  with Douglas Tullie, but this was our first venture in the most competitive and brutal class - the elite. Despite our inexperience at this level in mountain marathons and our relative youthfulness we were quietly confident that we would be in the mix at the end of the two days of racing. This years race was held in the Scottish mountains bounded at the north and south by the lochs Tay and Earn. 

On the day of the race we ate porridge and a hearty fried breakfast (including the obligatory haggis) before driving to the bus stop where we were ferried in to the area. A winding track up on to the side of the hill from there took us to the start where we waited in the wind and rain popping dextrose tablets. After 20 minutes it was our turn to start and we chose quickly to go over the hill to number 1 which looking back was perhaps not the right decision but I was put off by the bracken that we had seen on the way to the start. We got in to a good rhythm on the way to control 2 and a pack formed when Oli and Rob caught us and then we subsequently caught Tom and Al. We took slightly different lines to 3 and 4 but we always came back together at the controls. 

The decisive leg was number 7. By this point Steve and Jethro had joined the train and they pushed hard on the track leg to get away. Douglas and I dropped back and lost the other three pairs as we tried to stick to our own pace. This paid of when we caught them again on the giant hill not long after. There was a lot of very tired and extremely cold bodies going up that hill and Steve and Jethro pulled away as they seemed to be struggling the least. The top of the hill was thick with clag and cold rain poured down our necks in our rush to escape this we came off the hill too far left and took a while to realise. We arrived at the control with Rob and Oli but unfortunately but they were really struggling and we pulled away. Eventually we reached the campsite in a very wet and cold state after over 38km of racing. We got the tent up as quickly as possible and tried to get warm. After a good few hours in the supine position eating chocolate truffles we cooked our dehydrated meals. I had a bit of disaster with some scrambled eggs which I had been showing off about the previous night to Tom B and Dave S so I had to eat my hat. 

Below is an extremely poorly scanned portion of map that shows the epic number 7 that took us over 2 hrs 20 mins to do. 
The second day started very early as always but to be honest I'd had enough cold uninterrupted sleep and was ready to get going. Duncan and Shane came past us quickly having started just behind us in the chasing start, Steve and Jethro passed soon after. We both silently hoped that they would come back to us and although we caught glimpses of the three teams ahead we were never side by side. We powered home from number 6 and thanks to some good route choices overtook a team to the penultimate control that turned out to be Steve and Jethro to take third place just 5 minutes behind the deserved winners Shane and Duncan (Congratulations to those two!). That result completed a clean sweep for orienteers in the line classes, although perhaps the C class winners should not have been running that class. There were numerous BBC cameras around the hills and we were interviewed at the end so look out for the Adventure Show featuring the competition. 

1    10:56:53    Duncan Archer 6:07:57 (3) 
                         Shane Ohly 4:48:56 (1)
2    10:57:06     Tim Higginbottom 6:01:38 (1) 
                          Chris Near 4:55:28 (3)
3    11:02:44     Douglas Tullie 6:07:38 (2) 
                         John Rocke 4:55:06 (2)

Dave drove expertly back to Sheffield and we had time to stop in Lockerbie for a donner calzone which went down extremely well. Tom also got to experience the greatest service station he has ever seen. Ask him to tell you about it. 

A fantastic video was produced by planet fear of the weekend that depicts the area and the atmospheric nature of the environment incredibly well. We are featured at 3:23 and 4:01. At the end is the piper that played at 6am on Sunday morning. A great start to a day. 
On Saturday I ran the UK Fell Relay Championships in Kettlewell. My club Dark Peak Fell Runners were given little hope in the predictions on the popular fell running forums and independent blogs online. The competition was going to be tough and we were thought of as too weak an opposition for Bingley, Leeds AC, Shettleston Harriers, Borrowdale and Pudsey and Bramley. 

The race consists of four legs, two of which are run in pairs. I was handed the navigation leg (one of the pairs legs) by our team captain Rob Little. After the nightmare at the Ian Hodgson's a couple of weeks before I was keen to right my wrong doings with a map in hand. 

The captain got us off to a great start tearing in to the finishing field in first place ahead of some quality runners. He handed over to Oli and Rob who I imagine spent most of their leg arguing about training philosophy, which type of chocolate milk offers "optimum performance" and politics. Despite this Rhys and I saw them coming down the hill to the changeover having increased the advantage over Mercia. We got a bit of banter from the teams at that point along the lines of "the pressures on now boys". After Rob and Oli passed on the metaphorical baton with a weary hand slap Rhys and I set off hard. We didn't want to act as navigators for the chasing pack. We hit the first and second controls with ease and managed to get out of the line of sight. We were slightly left on the way to three but it didn't take much to adjust our line (see map below). The rest of the race passed quickly and on the way to control 6 we could see that we had a big gap. A quick descent later we were back at the finish handing over to Lloyd who finished off the job. 
In the end we were almost five minutes clear and we picked up our gold UK athletics medals in the evening sunshine. I asked a well respected professional sports development officer later that day if a UKA gold medal is better than a WOC gold and he said it is - so it must be. I hope you are reading GG. 

This is extremely exciting for Dark Peak. There were some good teams out but our victory was convincing. With the likes of Stuart Bond, Ralph Street, Matthew Speake, Dave Schorah and Tom Beasant all on the "bench" or in the "injury room" the first team could be a mouth watering proposition for years to come. I hope I can make it next year. 


Other blog posts:

Unfortunately Lloyd had to go and catch his ferry so missed this. 
Now the Orienteering season has been long wrapped up it is time to start thinking about last year and planning ahead for next year. The 2010-2011 "year" turned out to be a good one. After a few years of standing still after progressing to the senior ranks in 2008 I felt I made some positive steps forward. I made a concerted effort this year to perform at sprint races and will continue next year down the same path. 

The best result of the year came at the JK sprint distance. Training had been going excellently in the run up but I was hampered by being on placement in Accident and Emergency at the Northern General where I had to do 5 night shifts 12 days before the competition. Despite this I managed to steer clear of illness and tiredness and felt great warming up. The race was in general smooth. I made an early mistake but had a great middle section. I felt tiredness creeping in through the final three controls but hung on to claim third place not far behind Murray Strain and with Dave Schorah just one second behind. It was great to take an individual medal home especially as it was from Belfast which has strong ties with my family history.

Murray went on to take a great result at the World Championships sprint later in the year. Sprint orienteering is by far the Brits strongest discipline and I can see increasing competition for those three places at WOC with some quick guys progressing well. 

Unfortunately I was unavailable for the Nordic Orienteering Tour due to my elective in South Africa, Namibia and Botswana which would have given me a bit more experience at running against the world's best. Saying that though Africa was unbelievable and I would recommend taking a trip down there to anyone. 

Another reason for my progression is as always the support in Sheffield. Mainly from the other members of the University Orienteering Club in terms of pushing me in training and being such a good laugh. Thanks also goes out to Elle Baker who lead my physical training this year helping me to reach my goals in running and orienteering. 
Finishing the JK sprint.