Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Welsh 14/3Ks: Part 4 Stage Two

Recap Stage OneStage one of the walk had taken four hours. We were now rewarded with a thirty minute rest at the campsite (which, by the time we had started moving again, had morphed in to something closer to an hours rest). As we had descended out of the clouds shrouding the summits of the previous section things had warmed up. The cloud broke and we were treated to warmth and the occasional ray of sunshine. The wind had also dropped. I was feeling great and was quite psyched for the next section.

I had done the Welsh 14/3Ks several years ago and on this second section (the climb up Elidir Fawr), I recalled it being the hardest part of the whole walk. You have a lot of height to gain, perhaps more than at any other point on the walk. Once upon the massif itself, there would be no more ascents like this on section two. From memory, the previous attempt had involved a long, grinding slog uphill and we had had the sun beating down on our backs. It looked like today would be similar - although a few clouds promised to shelter us from the worst.

Stage Two
So, rested and with replenished water supplies on board, we set off. The climb takes about 2.5 hours and is quite monotonous. As I ascended I started to feel heavily fatigued. About an hour or so in to the walk I had to take a rest. When we sat down I immediately felt the need to close my eyes. When they closed, I felt I could sleep straight away. I remembered this feeling from my previous attempt on the route - so was not overly concerned - I mean we had been up since 0300hrs after only a few hours sleep, and had done a lot of walking already.

I ensured I was hydrated with regular sips of water from my Platypus, but found the pace tough, and as I walked realised that I was having occasional difficulty focusing on my feet - as if both eyes wanted to move independently. If I gazed a few meters further forwards I was fine, but anything closer than two or three meters was difficult. Worse was to follow. My need to rest increased. I need to rest more and more - only for a minute at a time or so, but the drive was deep within me. I stopped speaking and when I did speak it was slightly slurred. I could hear how I was failing to enunciate each word and was lazily expressing them - trying to minimise movement of my lips. I could walk and think, but things were not looking good.

It was strange. I felt incredibly tired, but knew I could carry on as, although tired, my mind was conscious of my predicament. My subconscious fell in to a logical analysis of my situation (which was shortly to prove quite profound). Prior to this my thoughts had been peppered with the idea of breaking the fast. Somehow it seemed easy to rationalise that if I ate, I'd be fine. But something about this conclusion didn't sit easily with me. I would hold out on the fast for a while longer.

On one of the rests I reflected on how hard I was feeling this climb to be; the level of intensity. I was also aware of how refreshing I was finding short rests. Part of me thought that this was a possible case of lassitude (a la Rum Doodle), or perhaps a grave consequence of fasting. (Prior to the walk I had expressed to my colleagues that I felt a bit nauseous in the morning; I was unsure of the source and purification methods of the water at the local campsite so this was another possible explanation for how I felt).

But another thought that occurred to me was that I was suffering from the long and intense nature of the climb. I could see that short bursts of activity followed by a rest are actually EXACTLY how I train and this might explain why short bursts of walking with short rests suited me. (It also dawned on me that my once-weekly training walks were lacking the level of sustained intensity currently demanded of me).

This was a MASSIVE boost - perhaps the psychological pivot point of the whole walk. I had had the realisation that I should tackle this event in a 'saw tooth' pattern of activity. This was truly liberating. I was now confident that I had a strategy to get to the top of this particular summit.

I will add at this point that most of us in the team were feeling the difficulty, but I would offer that my position was amongst the worst. However now, I had growing confidence that I would at least make it to the top whilst maintaining the fast if not beyond.

The others - including distance runners and ball-sports enthusiasts, were suffering even though they were regularly eating and snacking en route. Rather than trying to fight this mountain on its terms or stick with the pace of the group, I decided to apply my 'saw tooth' strategy and use 'power law' bursts of activity for the remainder of the climb; resting as required.

At the top of Elidir Fawr and having gained the principle amount of height for stage two. I felt relieved. I recovered quite well on the less strenuous sections; those that were downhill and along plateau. These were sections where, whilst walking, I felt I was able to 'power up'. At every stop I would quickly sit down and relax.

I took a video camera with me on the walk and filmed something on every summit and many bits in between. After summiting on Y Garn we stopped at Llyn Y Cwn prior to the ascent of the Glyders. I am lying down talking to the camera, The sun is baking me and I know I am tired. But as I pan the camera around and talk to my colleagues, their heads are down and their response barely audible.

My last moment of lassitude (which was nothing in comparison to what had happened on the ascent up to Elidir Fawr, more of a heavy fatigue,), occurred at Glyder Fach. I was now 20-odd hours in to the fast and my rate of fat metabolism, I guess, was now optimised as I started to feel much, much better.

It was clear that metabolically, everything was now ramped up. My body would understand that this was a black swan event, not my usually profile of exertion and chronic in nature. Thus informed it, was adapting accordingly, and was getting stronger all the time.

The Glyders are a plateau of rocks and boulders. It is like walking on the cheval de frise surrounding the Iron Age hill forts of Inis Mor, to the west of Ireland. Eroded vertical bedding planes have left sharp fins of rock. Lots of loose boulders ranging in size from golf balls to basket balls await the foot-fall of the unwary hiker. The VFFs were superb. They again demanded a lot of foot-eye coordination to avoid sharp edges or stubbing a toe, but the feedback through the soles is addictive. Like an ongoing massage (albeit vigorous).

Large blocks the size of SUVs form twisted structures reminiscent of Gothic castles. Castle of the Winds between Glyder Fach and Glyder Fawr is one such feature. Here, at Castle of the Winds, suddenly I was whole again!

A descent down the scree slopes to the right of Bristly Ridge and then up to Tryfan ensued. Tryfan has two pillar-like boulders on the summit called Adam and Eve. There is a challenge to jump from one to the other. It is quite expose, heavily polished and the consequences of a'd likely only fail once! But my legs felt great. I did the jump from Adam to Eve and back again. Twice.

We scrambled down from the summit of Tryfan. I was feeling better with each step. Ogwen Cottage would be the end of stage two and offer a further thirty minute rest.

Short bursts of power with a rest in between. This is how I train so, given the nature of adaption (specificity is the number one rule of training), my experience is not unsurprising. Given that I had never done so many repeated chronically intense exercise events then you'd expect SOME kind of 'adjustment period' as the body seeks to transition. The thing for me is that I stuck with it. I felt things would get better...and it did. It BLOODY WELL worked! I was relieved and amazed.

But the challenge was not over. There was still stage three! Last time I had tackled this walk I was eating a vegetarian, carb-rich diet; snacking along the way. I recall that the ascent of Pen-Yr-Ole-Wen had proved VERY hard. As with the climb up Elidir Fawr, it is a big ascent which gains the majority of the height for this section of the walk. This was another bit of the walk I was dreading - but for several reasons

On the previous walk itself, particularly the latter stages, I felt heavily fatigued both physically and mentally and, to cap it all, I developed a debilitating pain in the outer right of my knee. This was later diagnosed as Illiotibial Band Syndrome. The knee injury was about two or three hours from the end of the walk. The cloud came in, visibility dropped, it rained, the wind picked up and it became dark. We were on a featureless plateau and progress was significantly slowed. This added had on about three hours to our already exhausting journey. Basically that previous hike had turned it to what we call 'An Epic'. I was keen not to repeat the experience.

I had other concerns on this occasion. Not only had I had problems climbing Elidir Fawr which I still could not rule out happening again on this final stage, but also this latter stage was the one section where, in the preparation stage for the walk, I had seriously considered abandoning the VFFs for more traditional footwear. The thought of more Cheval-De-Frise walking in the cold/wet/dark filled me with dread.
So how would I fare? Should I continue V-Footed? Would I need to break the fast?

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5


RS said...

I have posted a link to this article on the ADV Members' Forum under the topic:

An outstanding achievement by another one of our members.

Asclepius said...

Thanks for both the complimentary topic title and for taking the time to bring this blog to a wider audience. Much appreciated.