Tuesday, 25 November 2014

No Bedlam. What About Insanity?

Unfortunately this year I'm missing out on the Bedlamite night race series because I've started taking my daughter to the KCAC juniors. She loves it as she gets to run round in circles with her friends and generally wear herself out. Patrick the coach is a good lad and they always seem to be having lots of fun.

I saw some mention of the "Insanity in East Morton" exercise class pop up on Facebook after some friends from running signed up. L used to do Boot Camp after work but the classes were cancelled due to lack of interest. So I thought this would fill the gap for her and give me some much needed core muscle workout and cross training. Plus we can do it together and it's just round the corner from JP Towers.

This is the first time I've been to an organised fitness class and I wasn't sure what to expect. All I had to go on were the usual stereotypes of loud music and people shouting at me telling me what to do. Thankfully it the music wasn't that load and both Clare and Sarah didn't shout too much.

The workout format seems to be a warm up, three blocks of three rounds of different exercises (making nine blocks in all) and then a cool down / stretch. Sounds easy eh?

I have never sweated as much doing a workout. Comedic amounts of perspiration overloaded my technical T-shirt leaving the floor slippery after I laid down during one routine. Some of the routines were easier than I thought (running and cycling muscles obviously helped here) but some were really really difficult and I couldn't do the full minute.

The instructors said to aim for 90% effort. My core muscles, well, I feel like I've certainly given it that and I'm still enjoying the endorphins as I write.

Same time next week? Assuming my muscles have recovered by then!

Fellow Cyclists Of The Aire Valley...

...or "observations on fellow cycling commuters what I sometimes see when I'm on me bike and that"

A recent survey said that over 40% of cyclists use the bike for commuting. These are some of the ones that I see...

"Brompton Man"
Not in fact the missing link between homo erectus and homo sapiens but a chap on a small wheeled bicycle (probably not even a Brommie) with a large neon bag on the front rack. Not a nodder but always well lit.

Karl W
Colleague and mountain biking partner who lives further down the valley. Travels in later than me so never actually seen on the commute.

"Chap who Looks Like Andy M"
The most often spotted. Red jacket, road bike, rucksack. Looks very much like climbing acquaintance Andy Makison but it isn't him. I think. If it is you Andy, hello! Always a friendly greeting.

Bob W
An ex colleague, talented outdoorsman/cyclist/climber and all round nice chap. Mostly seen in his Skipton CC jersey. Always a nod hello and a greeting. He has a blog that is always interesting.

"Other Skipton CC Man"
Seen once or twice, easily confused with a Bob. Hellos.

Patrick McSinglespeed
Not often spotted as we both tend to be cycling in the same direction. First noticed a while back before I found him using Strava's Flyby stalking tool. Rides a blue singlespeed and has a Rapha jacket. Obviously into the whole cycling thing. Managed a couple of hellos.

"The Canal Accountant"
Gets on the canal by the golf club in Utley and rides to Silsden. Chatted to him but have forgotten his name. He rode into a hedge on our first meeting. Inauspicious start.

"Mrs Squeaky Bottom Bracket (and/or) Pedal"
Seen a couple of times near home. Friendly hellos. Bike in need of an oil or tighten as it does creak loudly with every pedal rotation.

"Happy Chap"
Well lit chap with a bike that looks suspiciously like it has a basket on the front. Always a big smile (grimace?) but no return nods.

Mark G
Another colleague and mountain biking partner who lives just down the road, mostly seen from behind as he powers off into the distance. All round nice chap.

"Hi Vis Man"
Rides a generic mountain bike, massive hi vis jacket and black beanie hat (no helmet). Not a nodder.

"Mr Double Back Roller"
Road bike with two Ortleib Back Roller pannier bags (to my single). Generally a hello as he is being overtaken.

"That's Odd, She Looked Just Like Lorna From Running Club But I Thought She Lived In Cononley So It Can't Be Her And My Shaky Facial Recognition Doesn't Work When Out Of Context Anyway I've Only Seen Her Mostly On Night Fell Runs"
Actually was Lorna from running club. Sorry I didn't realise!

P.S. After writing this post, everyone I've seen has been suspiciously freindly...

Thursday, 13 November 2014

A Tale Of Two Runs

The First Run Walk

As part of the drive to indoctrinate the kids that walking and being outdoors is fun we went for an "adventure", defined in this case as "exploring somewhere that we've never been." The place in this case was Glen woods and Sunny Dale reservoir on the hill above East Morton. I've walked, cycled and run around the area but never on this particular path.

The path followed the top edge of the woods with a steep in places drop to the stream in the valley bottom. There were still a few autumnal leaves clinging to the trees and the floor was a mushy orange carpet hiding slippery wet tree roots and squelchy puddles. Perfect terrain for small welly boots and those of us breaking in our new B3 winter boots.

The woods were beautiful in their autumn coat and the twisting path winding round the contours of the valley gave new views and perspectives on a regular basis. Nice to stand around eating a sandwich and listening to Blue Tits arguing in the trees above.

Pottering along we stopped to look at anything that took our interest - rotten tree stumps, waterfalls, bridges that trolls live under, rocks that look like giant brains and more fungi than you could shake a stick at. We know, we tried.

We dropped out of the woods and along the dam of the reservoir and down past the old stone built terraced cottages into East Morton village.

Looking for fish in the reservoir

From East Morton we snuck along the back of the allotments, dodging nettles all the way. I like the way that allotments look so chaotic and yet oddly organised. From there it is only a short drop back down the hill into Riddlesden via Bury Lane.

We all agreed that this was a good walk.

The Second Run

Many of the paths we walked on that day are part of my usual running routes around the local area and I wanted to try the path through the woods at speed. So the next evening I put on my headtorch and fell running shoes, setting out to follow the exact route we took on our walk.

I've always loved off road running at night. The landscape changes dramatically with views replaced with twinkling lights in the distance. Not that you notice as much because your attention is drawn inwards and focused almost entirely on that small spot of light from your torch cast on the path in front of you.

The track did not disappoint. The constant undulation, the twists and turns, off camber sections studded with wet tree roots, fast and flowing it left me grinning from ear to ear.

Things we saw the previous day appeared like single frames from a film; a fallen log where we'd counted five different fungi, the brain rock, the tree stump, the slippery bridge. They came and went in an instant, familiar but fleeting, like looking through a series of photo we'd taken, recognisable object but lacking some kind of context.

I was more aware of sound on the run through the woods. Startled birds flying from their roost, an owl calling further down the hill, running water, ducks splash landing in the reservoir.

I used to be terrified of the woods at night and these unexpected sounds still make me jump. This time I'm merely uneasy, nervous, trying to dismiss thoughts of what might be lurking behind the dark trunks, attempting to restrain my imagination whilst my legs thump along, the adrenalin from this unseen threat powering my flight. Emerging from the woods I almost felt like I'd survived being eaten or caught but I'd managed to outrun the danger.

A steady track downhill into East Morton past bemused dog walkers and a man trundling a wheeled suitcase up an unlit road - I wonder what they think of this odd ball of light jogging around?

Last but not least is the descent down Bury Lane. Steep with the rocks from tumbledown dry stone walls lurking under the leaves. Running this path is easier than walking, floating over the obstacles rather than stubbing your toe on them. Again it all goes by in a smooth flowing rush, reminding me again why I choose to run off road at night.

A Tale Of Two Runs

It has been interesting to compare the run and the walk like this. I enjoyed each but for different reasons. The speed, adrenalin and feeling of flow and motion from the run. The relaxing walk with the family, discovering things, seeing things from a small persons perspective and stopping to savour autumn and the changing season.

Running is great, but to really appreciate the surroundings we should dial back the speed and look around. It's nice outside.


Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Bike Light Controller Re-Design

It's not often that I finish the various small projects I undertake. Tesla coils, mass spectrometers, automated tomato plant watering systems, homebrew heaters have all been conceived and sometimes parts bought and assembled with some even making it as far as working. This project however made it all the way to finished.

Torchy Oriole Bike Light

I wanted to do some night mountain biking on the moors above my home and for that a light was required. I bought a Torchy Oriole for £40 from Mr. Torchy's shop on eBay based on the strength of some reviews I'd read and the price; £££ of Hope or Exposure lights was a bit out of my budget. I'll be writing a mini review later once I've had more chance to test it in anger.

Torchy Oriole bundle (image courtesy of Mr. Torchy)

The main issues I had was the on/off/mode button was not debounced - switch contact bounce caused multiple button presses to be registered by the controller. So a single button press can cycle through two/three modes. Annoying.

Also, the "strobe" mode on the light was an epilepsy inducing 8-( super bright flashing mode that would only serve to annoy motorists and have no use on the trail. Also annoying.

Existing Controller

This PCB was inside the handlebar mounted button. A 2 layer PCB (no insulation between bottom layer and anodised aluminium housing), some kind of micro with the number removed from the top (probably a PIC), 4 LEDs driven direct from the PIC pins (no current limit) for battery level indication, a transistor to buffer the on/off PWM output to the SMPS in the light head and a tantalum capacitor.

Initially I tried to add a capacitor to ground from one of the button pins to debounce the switch but in doing so I managed to break the controller. More annoying. Time to roll my own!

New Controller

Thankfully the control output from the micro to the light head is a standard 3.3V logic PWM signal so making a replacement controller involves no reverse engineering. Spec time:
  • Single push button to select modes
  • Lighting modes
    • 100% constant
    • 50% constant
    • 15% constant
    • 15% constant with a 2Hz, 100ms, 100% flash strobe AKA commuter mode
  • Fit into existing button housing
  • High and low battery warning LEDs
  • A debounced button input
The strobe-plus-steady lighting mode is very effective at catching drivers eye's when commuting; I think Exposure lights have this lighting mode. It has the effect of providing the super birght flash to make you noticed without blinding people whilst providing a steady light so that your speed can be judged more easily.

I've got lots of experience with the Arduino platform which is great for quickly lashing things up but even the smallest Arduino based solution would be too big for this project. So, having designed with Atmel AVR microcontrollers before I chose one of the smallest ones for this job, the ATtiny25. The 2kB of program memory is more than sufficient for this application and an 8 pin SOIC package should fit on the board OK. Programming was handled using the AVRISP MKII and code was written using the excellent Codevision AVR C compiler.

Schematic of the new controller

Surface mount components had to be used to fit everything into the available space which was a bit of a squeeze. I made my own circuit board by taking some copper clad board and hacking grooves in it with a craft knife. Crude but effective.

I used a 78L33 regulator to get the DC supply for the micro because it has inbuilt over current protection and a 30V max input voltage - many smaller regulators only had a 7.5V maximum voltage and could have been damaged by a fully charged battery.

The ATtiny25 can drive up to 40mA direct from the pins, more than enough for an LED. The voltage divider from the battery line was calculated to give 2.56V (same as the internal reference) from a 10V battery (higher than the worst case LiPo voltage for the supplied battery). The actual voltage levels vs battery indicator type were taken from measurements made on the original controller.


Programming connections were a bit of a nightmare to attach

The finished controller

Everything fitted nicely inside. Cable entry (2 o clock), battery voltage divider (3 o clock), voltage regulator (4 o clock), LEDs, 8 o clock and microcontroller (half past 10). I reused the button from the original controller as it had a small profile and worked with the existing mechanics well. Overall diameter 22mm.

With diffuser in place and button ready to screw on top


The software was crude but effective. I don't do enough coding to write elegant, super efficient code which is why I like Arduino so much as the pre-written functions make life so much easier. As a result delays are brute force for (;;) loops and the debounce code will probably make grown men wince. But it works which is the main thing. Click here if you want to have a look.

The built in PWM mode of timer 1 is used to produce a 120Hz PWM to drive the lamp SMPS controller via the green wire. The controller also steps down the maximum PWM to 15% if the battery voltage goes below 6.7V as a "get you home" mode. The battery voltage monitoring function has some hysteresis in the level thresholds to prevent constant flipping between modes. To make life simpler, the ADC output is only the 8 MSBs of it's 10 bit range so it can be mapped to an unsigned char rather than an int type. This is done by setting the ADLAR bit.

When entering strobe mode, the strobe flashes straight away to provide clear visual feedback that the button press has been registered. Also, when the battery is initially connected the indicator LEDs both light and the main LED pulses up to 15% as a self test of the system.

Conclusion and Possible Improvements

The new controller works great and is a vast improvement on the old one.

I'd be tempted to add a more sophisticated hysteresis function into the battery level monitor as it does trip between "green" and "red" LED states with every strobe pulse when in strobe mode but that's a small complaint.

Also it could benefit from a transistor to isolate the PWM pin from the main LED controller during startup as the LED turns on full brightness until the micro boots up and initialises the outputs correctly. This isn't a massive issue.

Time to get up onto Ilkley Moor on Herman for more of this!

Baht 'at, but with helmet and a reet big lamp!

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Haglofs Open 5 - Low Wray, Lake District (2014)

21 miles of mountain biking and 8 miles of running in 5 hours whilst orienteering? Sounds fun!


My friend Emma (an experienced adventure racer) had told me about adventure racing back in the winter of 2012/3 and since I'd only just started fell running at that point it all sounded a bit crazy. Cut to 2014, I'm much fitter, I've just bought a mountain bike, and I had a good time doing a sprint triathlon in October and wanted to keep the multisport theme going. So adventure racing it is then and I entered the Haglofs Open 5 Lake District race.

Getting Started

There was a big queue of traffic coming into the National Trust Low Wray campsite which wasn't moving as they were struggling to find parking spaces for all the competitors. So we pulled in by the farm and I fished Herman out of the boot and cycled in so Louise could escape to the shops.

Registered, got my numbers and map and fiddled about putting the homemade map board on the bike (old house for sale sign which worked rather well) before heading for transition. I was wondering how the couple on the MTB tandem were going to do and thinking how Louise would feel about doing a bit of racing. Time moves quickly whilst getting everything ready and before I knew it I was punching the start control and being handed my control description card.

First thing was to cross out the missing controls (5 each on the MTB and run respectively in this case) and then I wrote the points value of each control on the map (waterproof map, Sharpie marker). This makes the route choice more obvious as you can decide which controls are worth going for and how to link them all together. Scratching together a route using highlighter (doesn't work too well on the map) it was time to go!

"Breasty Haw" - 8-)


Taking care to head off in the right direction (getting out of the car park is always the bit I get wrong) I set off on my first adventure race. I was uneasy and nervous at this point but as soon as I saw other racers heading in the same direction as me and checked the first control the nerves settled.

Along some slightly sloppy bridleway and fording a stream to the first control then (mostly pushing) up a steep wet leafy track to the road into Hawkshead. Bridleway to the next control on a forestry road and then some rocky singletrack and boardwalk downhill to the next control.

35 points for the control on the singletrack, well worth the effort!

I was feeling very slow at this point with wobbly arms and the slightly technical nature of the track knocked my confidence a bit. However I remembered the lessons from my MTB Improvers course with Iain from MTB Cycle Yorkshire started to kick in and, improving my attack position and looking well ahead on the trails I suprised myself by getting through sections I would have normally pushed. Well worth going on the course!

I ignored some of the controls above Grizedale and just bombed straight down the road to Satterthwaite instead reasoning that time was more important than 25 points worth of controls for maybe an additional 20/30 minutes of cycling. I'm guessing that this is what makes the difference in this type of adventure racing; the trade off between points and time.

The rest of the controls were ticked off with some speedy forestry track (fun!) and slippery rocky singletrack descents (more fun!) and I became more and more confident on Herman as the day went on. Nice finish up the coast of Windemere and back to transition.

Strava log of the ride


After marking off the controls on the run map (old hand at this by now) and bagging the nice high value control nearest the start point I shuffled down the coast of Windemere towards Latterbarrow hill keeping up with a lad and dad pair to the summit and to be rewarded with a view of the Lakes in its autumnal glory. The combination of brown bracken, slate grey rocks, green trees and silvery threads of streams is totally bewitching when combined with the epic majesty of the fells. It's a marvellous playground.

A tussle trying to find CP33 (wrong location, it was 50m too far down the wall) lost a couple of minutes and then my alarm went off telling me I had half an hour left to get back before the 5 hour time limit was up - fook!

Thankfully I made good time after a gel and some fig rolls to perk me up and had time to check a control out on a bit of a spur. The campsite was in touching distance but there was no access across the fields turning a 1/4 mile crow flies line into a 1 mile race to the finish. Shame to see a male pair ignoring this rule and heading straight across the field back to the campsite - bad form chaps, it's not as if it wasn't clear on the map!

Strava link for the run.


I made it back 10 minutes under the 5 hour limit so no points docked for me!

Collapse in heap. Put on Buffalo. Drink chocolate milk. Eventually realise that I'm not going to get warm lying in a field so go to download results and get a brew and order a wood fired pizza - yum.

I spotted Rosemary of Planet Byde fame at the end of the race. I'd been reading her excellent blog to try and get some tips on the Open 5 series and some of them stood me in good stead today. It was nice to chat to her and say thanks for the advice.


I scored 400 points which I was reasonably happy with, not knowing if this was a good score or not. When the prizes were being given I realised that I was going to be top half of the table in the Male Solo category. I was very suprised to find I finished 25th out of 70 in my class, my best ever race result and not bad for a rookie! Emma finished 5th in the female pairs and her friend Ben (who I'd seen several times around the course) collected his 10,000 points award for the Open 5 series.

What was most impressive, as Emma pointed out, was that 1st and 3rd overall was the Mixed Pairs and female solo respectively showing that the women are just as fast as the guys - go girls.

Thanks to all the organisers, volunteers and marshals for making the day great fun for this first timer. It's a great community feel.

Lessons Learned

  1. Write down your start time in the corner of the map. This way you know exactly how much time you've got left.
  2. The control might not be exactly where the map/description says. Keep your eyes open.
  3. Evaluate all routes between controls e.g. the road might be longer but faster overall
  4. Better to stop for 30 sec and check your nav instead of running off in the wrong direction (thankfully I didn't do this... this time)
  5. Time moves quickly at the start, in the middle and especially at the end. Minimise faffing at each control and in transition.
  6. Practice navigating with a 1:50k and 1:25k map - I never use 1:50k normally so it took a bit of getting used to the distances/pacing on the MTB stage.
  7. There is a really good community spirit amongst all the organisers competitors which makes for a great event.
  8. Homemade map boards are suprisingly effective :)
  9. Take a camera next time, the views are often spectacular!
  10. You can get mud in places you didn't think it was possible...

In Conclusion

Thanks for talking me into it Emma!
Would I do it again? Definitely.