Tuesday 21 October 2014

Ultima Frontera 166km 2014 - Spain 1st + CR

It might sound a little bit of a crazy idea running 2 100 mile races in 2 weeks (the last was Magredi Mountain Trail 100 mile in Italy) fair enough.... Though seeing as I've done worse things before and I just love running, especially if there is an odd mountain about, the trails here are amazing, (which is one of the main reasons I'm holding a coaching and training week here too) I just had to get it booked! 

I've been to the Ultima Frontera race twice before in 2011 and 2013 (2011 slightly shorter course with less ascent and in 2013 the same course as this) The organisation is great and the flights to Malaga from the UK are pretty low priced meaning it can actually be cheaper to go to Spain than it would have been to head down towards southern England or up into Scotland for example. From leaving the hotel at 8am to being back home by 1pm on Monday it's pretty good! 

To the actual race! Registration was on the Friday or pre race on Saturday. I arrived in Loja and grabbed some food before collecting my number etc and catching up with the crew! Headed back to base for a good feed in the evening and an earlyish night. 

View behind the hotel, the final couple of km comes around the front of that hill.

The checkpoint distances (35km and 64km were the same place and also 118km and 147km were also the same place) The route is 2 x 83km laps with about 5500m elevation total

Race started out at 9.15 on Saturday morning with an 83km race, 55km race, half marathon and the 166km all out on the same route for the first 10k, I was running around 6th person here although 2nd in the 166km. In my head I was expecting something between 18 and 20 hours considering the MMT and the hot weather forecast (apparently it sailed past 30 degrees) it felt hot and there isn't a lot of shade until it goes dark!

I noticed that the climbs felt easier than last year and felt really good, I moved into the lead of the 166 although still behind one runner of the shorter 83km event until about 30km where I passed him on the long 8km climb to cp2 and the highest point of the course.

Reaching 35km feeling good I headed off to 48km cp and made light work of the long climb and chewed up the descent pretty fast too. Roughly ... I was getting through 500ml of water and about 300ml of coke between most cps and adding 10 drops of EleteWater to the water. I did have a few additional gulps from the odd fountain as we passed through the small towns here and there too! Next up is a small climb followed by a long single track section before a gradual but exposed climb to the 64km cp, a very runnable section if you can handle the rocky single track. It was getting hot though and I drunk my fluids so eased the pace for 3 or 4km to reach the cp.

Next up quite a short section about 6-8km to the final cp with little ascent to deal with. I made use of a stream and lay in it to cool down, I was pretty hot but held the pace off and tipped water over myself whenever possible. It was a fairly brief cp stop before running on towards the half way point (aka the finish line in another 83km!) I think a lot of people who didn't finish get to the half way point just as night is arriving and the pressure of a 30 hour cut off combined with the fact that your hotel is a mile away and you're about to set off for ANOTHER 50 mile lap... if you're not totally focused beware of that! I got through in plenty of light, about 8 hours something for half way so about 5.30 in the evening, not too bad. I went in and ran my head under the cold tap for a couple of minutes before topping up my bottles and doing a few mobility exercises and heading out for some more trail slaying!

Despite being later in the day I felt hot and made use of a couple of springs to cool off thinking of it more as time invested rather than wasted. I knew I'd moved a little slower here to the first cp but I felt great and arrived at 103km before dark. There is a decent hill between here and the next cp 10 miles away and I knocked it out in about 1 hour 40 looking back. I had received a message to say that 2nd place was over 2 hours behind at half way and I was still moving comfortably. As I hit the cp at 131km I got a message to say that 2nd place had just left the 103km cp. We were both heading to the same cp next although it being my 147km point and his 118km point... Who would arrive first....?
I ran better on this section than I did during the first lap as it had cooled down to around 20 degrees now and it was dark, I was feeling even better than I did during the afternoon! I was enjoying the trail but suddenly felt something in my right calf..... I kept going, few minutes later felt it again... I eased off to a steady run then suddenly again I felt something weird... A little tiny dog had been following me for I don't know how long and made me jump big time! There was nothing wrong with my calf just the dog had brushed against my leg, being dark and totally focused on what I was stepping on in front I didn't expect it at all. Anyway it stopped and ran back and suddenly I had hit the cp, no sign of runner number two who would now have to be at least 3 and a half hours behind. I knew it was 'in the bag' now and changed my head torch batteries, had a quick chat and topped up my water before heading on for the final cp!! Last 14 miles to go! 

I moved well over the last section and made my way up the gentle climb towards the last descent into Loja. I wasn't sure on my actual time at that point but knew I hit 161km at 17 hours 30 something and decided that the final 5km with a decent uphill could be doable in under 30 mins. I pushed pretty hard for it but came home in 18 hours 2 minutes! Not quite the sub 18 but I was happy that I had run well without any particular low spots other than being a bit hot during the day.

Some might notice I ran in road shoes, the tracks and trails are firm and there are a few short tarmac sections through towns, it's not too technical if you're regularly on the trails and fells although if you're only used to running on the road I guess it would feel quite technical in places.

A few of the questions I've been asked about this one so far...
Did I eat anything? I had a banana in terms of food during the race, calories from 2 fruit juice cartons and an orange juice carton, literally a couple of crisps at a checkpoint and coke for fluids.

Before the race? 3 breakfast 9bars on the morning. The night before I had Spag Bol and a massive sandwich which had everything from eggs to chicken, ham and bacon in it. Delicious!

Is it easy to do a race abroad? The ones I have done YES. Organisers tend to be very helpful from my experience, at the airport or bus terminals etc there is always someone speaking English too if that is a concern you have. It's not too difficult to learn a few words though either and I wouldn't be surprised if someone has an app that translates things on those fancy phones?

So have you another 100 mile booked in 2 more weeks?
Haha... not as it stands, having an easy week and then looking at training and racing plan for next year and then what events to fit in where! Thanks to winning this I now have an entry in the AAUT for 2015 too! Should make a nice summer holiday after the Dragons Back.

If you'd be interested in finding out more about the trail running coaching week held towards the end of February 2015, to see if it's right for you, hear some more details, just send me a message through the contact form on my website and I'll keep you in the loop! 

Friday 17 October 2014

Trail Running Coaching Holiday 2015

How would you like to spend an intensive week in Spain with myself and a small group of keen trail runners learning how to take your trail running to the next level? Everything from kit to technique to training and racing.

What if the routes and sessions were taken care of, logistics were arranged along with comfortable accommodation? 

You could literally just enjoy the running and have a fantastic week with like-minded runners in a friendly and supportive environment. If it sounds like it might be of interest to you,

It would be aimed at runners who'd like to... 
Improve their technique and feel more confident over varied terrain, 
Discover how to strengthen the body, including the core, effectively and specifically to running, 
Learn what to fuel your body with to improve your recovery,
Find out and try out safe ways to include quality speed training within your schedule,

Learn how to cruise up hills and tackle longer races...
And of course those of you who'd like to enjoy a fantastic week of trail running with awesome, like-minded people in (probably  ) nice weather with plenty of time to relax whilst you're there too!

We've got the accommodation sorted for the 21st to the 28th February 2015 in Spain so we're close to trails and we have the in depth local knowledge of Paul Bateson who lives in the area and organises races in the region and has probably scouted out more of the trails than most, to make sure each run is fantastic! Places are strictly limited, we are looking to keep the group small <10 so everyone gets the attention they need and to ensure everyone has a fantastic experience.

Here are some images from around the area Alhama De Granada and the accommodation to whet your appetite ready! 

If you'd like to find out a little bit more information and keep up to date with the finalised details and  see if it's right for you, just drop Charlie a message through his website contact form HERE with your questions and he'll be able to give you a call! You'd have to arrange your own flights to and from Malaga (AGP) Airport and we'll deal with the rest! Final details soon!

Thursday 9 October 2014

Magredi Mountain Trail 100 mile race (MMT 100)

 Magredi Mountain Trail is a 100 mile race in Northern Italy starting about 1 hour from Venice. I first heard of it when I was trawling through the internet early in the year looking for 100 mile races to do, this one struck me as it has a lot of ascent (7700m) and involves some good looking mountains. 2014 was the 4th year, I believe the course this year was slightly longer as they had added some sections of single track to avoid anything resembling a road as much as possible, I'd never been to Italy before either so flights booked and race entered.

 A quick look at the profile shows a high point of around 1400m and 3 main climbs gaining nearly 1000m at a time (like a trip up Snowdon for example), along with plenty of smaller climbs which although on the profile don't look like much, were actually pretty stiff themselves! The highlight of the route came just after 60 miles.... 1100m of ascent in 2.8km! More on that later!

All the information on the race website was pretty clear and the organisation and correspondence pre race was fantastic. I'll do a short section on the logistics for travelling there at the end! I travelled out on the Tuesday after doing a 30 mile ultra on the weekend on the Isle of Man. This meant I could travel up to the area and have a few days to explore and chill out. I hiked up the 2nd biggest climb of the route and made it into a 10 mile loop on the Wednesday which gave me an idea of what the course was like, pretty rocky and the mountain was a little steeper than I thought but felt ok. On the Thursday I had a little look around another section and walked out the first and last mile or two in the small town the race was based Vivaro. After that it was pretty much time to eat pizza and spaghetti oh and a mixed grill.

On race day I had a relaxed start and enjoyed lunch at the hotel Gelindo de Magredi where the registration was and where I stayed pre and post race, then registered just after lunch ready for the 6pm start. Kit check was straight forwards and race pack + drop bag bags were given out. You could have 3 drop bags, 1 at each 'life base' like a major checkpoint where you could go inside and get hot food, as opposed to the normal checkpoints where you got water and a good spread of food too! Checkpoints were almost too good! Some log cabins up in the hills with log fires and sausages cooking for example, I didn't really stop at the majority of cps other than to fill my bottles up, would be difficult to leave once you got comfortable!

The route was incredibly well marked all the way around, I would be surprised if anyone ran off course who was paying attention. I had the gps for backup but didn't pay much attention to it as the markings were very good!

A short briefing in Italian and English before we walked over to the start line, the small town was bustling with activity and there was a really friendly atmosphere all around!

From the start there was a couple of guys doing the 'one time race leader' thing, the first 17km follows a dried up river on trail which is rocky in places but feels flat so I became part of the lead group of 4 runners together we ran the first 10 miles in just under an hour 20 mins. Darkness was upon us now and the route begins to climb, 2 runners went on ahead and I was 3rd, quickly losing any contact with the chap behind and the two guys infront. The climb starts although gaining nearly 2000m in the miles 10 to 20, it didn't feel that bad and I had a steady jog up the majority, I didn't have the gps out or a watch on so didn't really know about my pace and just ran what felt comfortable, every now and again I'd see a light in the distance as we undulated through woods and over the hills on some fairly technical tracks and trails to the first major life base. Up to now it had been more technical than I imagined but I hadn't really noticed the hills, all good I was apparently about 5 mins behind the first runner! 

At each checkpoint I topped up my water and took some coke, I felt that at my last 100 the coke was more than enough to keep me going energy wise when I had it, although the couple of checkpoints I didn't have it were when I felt sleepy and motivation wobbled SO this time I decided to make sure I took some at each CP, around 400ml I guess at 12 checkpoints and about the same of water.

The run through the night went well and I was feeling great and enjoying the route, although I didn't get to admire many views as it was dark... a long night.. around 12 hours of darkness, So around about 50km I passed a guy running, quite swiftly and he fell out of sight quickly, so now in 2nd place and I continued on knowing that I was about to drop down into the town I had stayed Maniago at around 70km and onto familiar ground at least for a few miles! As I dropped into town and into the Cp there was Austrian runner who I thought was first just leaving. I knew this climb and knew I could run the majority even though it was pretty hard I dropped into my steady climbing gear and grinded up passing the guy and creating a large gap fairly quickly again, realising that I'd passed the two people infront I'd now be leading the race!!! Quite an exciting thought! I was moving really well, still in the dark through some decent climbs and long descents until I came across the halfway life base at about 86km. 

I was greeted by the organiser who asked how the route was and the markings, at many times I saw the crew through the night out on course checking the markings and placing extras! Really amazing considering the route and where it went! I was running well and suddenly saw a light ahead... I was a little confused.. I thought the runner must have been lost and looking for the CP so I caught up and told him that the cp was behind us.. he must have missed it, but he was sure he had just been. I never thought to ask at the cp whether I was first or not, I just assumed it after passing 2 runners from 3rd place surely there is nobody else infront.... anyway I was a bit concerned, someone must have taken a short cut somewhere either the guy I passed around 55km or this guy now... I overtook and moved ahead again creating a gap quite quickly, I felt like I was moving a lot faster than those runners I'd passed which made me feel quite good! Ticking off another cp they said it was about 10km to the next one and the start of the 'vertical km' before that though was a tough climb in itself! I hit the cp and was anxious to know where I was still in first, Yes I was! Once up this climb the majority of the climbing is done and dusted. 

 It took me ages to get up the 2.8km section, probably around 90 minutes! Progress was very slow, it was so steep even small hiking steps were tough. I couldn't believe a climb like his featured in a 100 mile race let alone at 60 mile point. I was pulling at grass and rocks and anything to help me up. I arrived at what looked like the top only to find that it was a ridge and there was still a couple of 100m of ascent to go!  Brutal! I stopped to admire the views now the sun was fully up and it was an impressive sight!

I knew after the mountain there was a long descent followed by some tunnels which were 2km long each and obviously dark but also very wet inside with lots of drips to the effect of torrential rain in places! I kept my torch on my head for this reason and in no time at all I hit a small mountain hut, this wasn't the cp but they pointed out the track where to go and the next cp was only a few minutes further. A fantastic mountain hut high in the hills where I topped up the bottles and began the long steep and technical descent. I made some pretty good time down here and the legs although I could tell I'd been running a long time, felt great and really enjoyed it!

 We drop down across a dam and around a lake which was like a mirror before hitting the tunnel, I was beginning to notice the path we were taking lead into a dead end in the valley, If I hadn't known of the tunnel I would have been expecting a monster ascent! Tunnels done and it was nice and cool inside! A little wet inside but it would have been possible to keep dry! I expected we had to go through water and get our feet wet at some point so didn't make an attempt to keep my feet dry, turns out you could have swerved the puddles and made it through. The checkpoint was immediately after the 2nd tunnel and I changed my socks (carried a spare pair in the backpack) I had a banana to eat here also before moving on and running out of the valley towards the 3rd and final life point.

About a mile out from the life point I met some of the crew and said hello as I ran on to the stop. I came back to phone signal and got a text from a couple of people watching the tracker online who said I had 1 hour 8 minute lead on 2nd place at the 100km point!! I was pretty happy with this seeing as I had only come into the lead for certain at 80 something km. A quick toilet stop and top the bottles up I asked what the gap was like now, one of the cp guys said not much at all but I looked better. I was pretty shocked that the gap must have come down after I had run so well so moved on from the cp with a pretty good pace and pushed myself up the next hill which was a lot bigger than the profile made out, or rather it felt bigger than 400m of ascent! I continued to push quite hard still not having heard any news about an update on the tracking, I had been pretty relaxed up until that cp and my thought then was that it would be crazy to lose the lead so close to the end and that making up an hour of time on me over the 20 odd km section when I was already moving what felt like a good pace... I thought if someone was so close they must have short cutted some how, surely gaining 3min per km on me couldn't have happened? I reached a cp which was a bit confusing, I was execting it a little later but was greeted by friendly faces who offered me still or sparkling water and an assortment of food and coke, I took the  coke and still water option and was through the cp quickly and burnt off the next descent towards the finish. My bottle started fizzing up and I took a sip to find fizzy water yuk! I tried to flatten it but it still tasted a bit strange and the heat of the day was starting to hit it's high point, I decided the end must be fairly close and around 10k so I dumped the fizzy water.

Passing through a small village and dropping down through some fields to cross the dry river bed I continued before hitting a nice flat track towards the finish, I checked the GPS and I had in theory got a few km to go as from the last cp it was 13km to the finish! Then I felt the phone go and checked to see a text filled with relief... CP just updated tracker, @ 123km 1 hour 40 min ahead of 2nd place keep going! I read it twice and instantly relaxed, before I knew it I could see people all cheering ahead and then I realised... It was the checkpoint at 90 miles, although the on my Garmin I'd one 98 miles now! Great I thought, bonus miles ( I assume due to the extra single tracks we got to run on compared with previous years) I got to the cp and took a moment to relax and say hello to some friendly faces and the crew.

I got over the fact that I was going to be running longer than expected and proceeded on to a very rocky riverbed section, I walked over this mile or so as it was rocky and I knew I had enough time to keep the lead even if I walked the whole way in! The long straight track onto a long straight dirt road started to drag a little but it wasn't long before I was hitting the road into town and could hear the church bells ringing and knew where I was, last mile or so to go! Running in there were people along the streets cheering and clapping and the atmosphere running into the finish gave me goosebumps.  FIRST PLACE it had to be!

Approaching the line there were a lot of photographs been taken and I was greeted by the crew and medics and interviewed by different people briefly. I sat in the shade and was asked if I needed anything or any help 'Just an ice cream and a cold drink please' was my response! The medical guys were pretty keen to weigh me and I chilled out at the finish area for about 30 mins before making my way back up to the hotel to check in.

Finishers under 24 hours get a buckle (only me under 24 hours this time) and all finishers get the fleecy gillet! Very nice! I had a quick shower then just lay around drinking apple juice for a while before walking back out to the finish area to see if anyone else had finished and to tuck into the buffet for the finishers, I only actually had a bowl of soup in the end as I wasn't really feeling hungry, then it was back to hotel to lay down some more and try to sleep... think I was that hyped up on coke and e numbers that I only slept 4 or 5 hours!

The presentation was in the middle of the towns square the following morning so I went along for my prize and to do some clapping and just lay out in the sun! A fantastic hamper of food and wine for a prize and some more interviews there and then! Such a fantastic experience that I wont be forgetting! I would really really recommend the race to anyone looking for a hard 100 mile event with plenty of climbs, although if you prefer to take your time about things there is a 45 hour time limit meaning you don't have to be moving ultra fast!

In terms of getting there, easiest for me was to fly to Venice Marco Polo airport then take a bus to Pordenone which is easy to do, the tourist information staff can usually speak good English so no worries there if you're not fluent in Italian, That's €13 to the bus and train station  there and then I took a bus to Maniago to stay there before the race for about €3.

If you were going straight to the race then you'd take the bus to Vivaro directly which is only a few € also. The other option would be to hire a car which if a small group was doing it, would be quite economical and you could drive to some sections of the route and have a look around beforehand!

In the actual town of Vivaro staying in Gelindo de Magredi is a good move, the briefing was there and it's 400m from the race finish, has a pool and nice clean rooms and a good restaurant with helpful staff! It's easy to do really, flights were less than £70 return when I booked them from Manchester Airport with just hand luggage (I never bother with hold bags for this sort of thing) 

I have to say it was the toughest but best marked 100 mile race I've done so far! Great organisation and a fantastic atmosphere! A brilliant excuse to go to Italy. Thanks heaps for all the supportive messages I got, it really means a lot! Now I'm back, planning is under way for a Trail Running Coaching week in Spain in February 2015...

It's aimed at runners who'd like to... 
Improve their technique, 
Feel more confident and get faster over varied terrain, 
Discover how to strengthen the body, including the core, 
Learn what to fuel your body with to improve your recovery and run well,
Find out and try out safe ways to include quality speed training within your schedule....
and of course ideal if you'd like to enjoy a fantastic week of trail running with awesome, like-minded people in (probably  ) nice weather with plenty of time to relax and explore also! 

If it's something you might be interested in, drop me a message and we can have a chat to see if it will be suitable for you, how to prepare, what to expect and all the juicy details you need! 

Magredi Mountain Trail 100 mile results and website are here


Wednesday 8 October 2014

Isle of Man Mountain Ultra

Well I'd never been to the Isle of Man and any race with the words Mountain and Ultra in the title have got to be worth a look right?!!

It's a short flight away from Liverpool airport, literally before you finish going up the plane starts coming back down again! One of the organisers had arranged for a quick tour of the Island on the Friday after arriving. We drove about and pointed out which hills were which and had a little stroll up Snafell, about 10km into the race then drove down towards the finish where I would be staying for the weekend at Cherry Orchard (a hotel with some self catering apartments too) in Port Erin. Port Erin is a nice little town with nearby headlands overlooking the sea. Had a little 10k run around on the Friday afternoon in some stunning weather.

It's a linear route finishing at Port Erin so staying there made sense and also there was a shuttle from there on the morning of the race to the start. Very easy for runners in terms of logistics. The bus to or from the airport straight to Port Erin is only a few £ and about 7 miles away.

So race day starts with a 6am bus to the start line. There is a 7.30 start and an 8.30 start so those planning to mostly walk or take their time can get going a bit sooner. Kit check and registration in a village hall so sheltered from the elements although at this point it was fairly nice and fantastic watching the sunrise!

As the early group set out I had a run up the first mile or so of the course for a warm up and then back to the start. The route I would describe as a bit like a fell race initially then turning into more of a trail race around half way then finishing as a fantastic section along some coastal paths! If you want variety and scenery then you're in the right place! There are some flagged sections and on the whole in clear weather it's easy to stay on the route, on the day it began cloudy however...

From the start I led out along the sea front and then on to the first climb, nearing the top of the first climb a runner edged past and off into the mist. The route essentially follows a ridge so although the path was relatively obvious an eye on the map was useful. I was moving well but wary of pushing too hard as I was literally flying to Italy 3 days later for a 100 mile race at the weekend, the plan was to run just as hard as needed if at the front, but try and get by with fresh legs as possible as I was really focusing on the MMT 100.

After the first 10k or so there was another decent climb up Snafell which had been clear on Friday was now in the cloud, being a little bit more like a fell race at this point choosing the best line up the hill was important. I kept seeing some of the local guys along side just a few meters away on a better 'path' so a quick shuffle across to catch back up kept me in the game. I enjoyed the descent next before picking up another little trod wiggling its way along the road side. One thing I did notice was a lot of support at road crossings there were a surprising amount of spectators and friendly faces!

Over the next few peaks the same thing happened, I'd pass runners only to be caught as I was looking for the right trods and tracks to follow in the cloud, whilst I never got lost and was always heading in the right direction it was becoming clear that local knowledge was keeping me from getting any significant ground on anyone. I eased the pace a little and just focused on running smoothly over the rough terrain. There is quite a lot of ascent (2500m) in the 30ish mile course which although there are no giant climbs, means there are lots of smaller ones, some with a bit of a bite to them! 

After another ascent up into the mist again I was just struggling to get the best lines across the fells although heading the right way, a few meters to one side or the other would make a significant difference to the quality of track.

Approaching half way the paths are more defined, and the route becomes more like a trail race, after a section wading through gorse I wasn't all that pleased about (sharp stuff that!) we descended down to a roadside cp. There are quite frequent water stops and they had jelly babies on them too, if you're running it though you'd probably be best to carry what food you want as they are technically just water points.

A pretty good climb up through the woods and I had resorted by now to just jog it in to the end and enjoy the route, on a clear day it likely would have been easier to spot the tracks over the fells but I guess some of the locals were happy with the cloud who seemed to know the route well not even needing the maps out! The weather brightened up by now and a good fast section along firm trail led to a road crossing with an out and back up to the top of a hill, It was quite good to be able to see other runners who were just infront and behind and shout some encouragement to each other. I had guessed it to be 8-10 miles from the end at this point and there are only really 2 climbs left and some undulations from there.

The final 5ish miles runs along the coast with some stunning views out to see! It was fantastic weather by now and I really enjoyed running along this section! There is a very short but quite stiff climb before you gain the final headland and then it's a run around towards Port Erin on nice coastal trail! The finish was a hive of activity with many people out to support and cheer the runners in.

The finishers medal was made of slate and was pretty unique! There were beers for finishers too and everyone just lay about on the grass in the sun clapping in other runners! Overall the event had such a friendly and welcoming atmosphere and the organisation was spot on! The Manx Fell runners and all the volunteers involved did a great job, literally at every road crossing there would be someone cheering!

There is time for everyone to get showered and changed and  fed before the presentation in the evening at the Cherry Orchard where it was great to be able to catch up with local runners and some of those who had travelled over too. Lots of clapping all round with some fantastic performances! I rolled in over the 6 hour mark inside the top 10 but having had a fantastic run! It is definitely very cool running pretty much the length of a whole island too!
Jump on the Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/IsleOfManMountainUltra?fref=ts for more information and for next years event! A fantastic running holiday without a long flight!
Thanks to all those involved for looking after us tourists, especially Mark, Lloyd and the Manx Fell Runners!

I think the race would suit someone with a bit of fell race experience yet equally there are some good fast trails to be had later in the race and on a clear day the scenery is fantastic! I think I played the sensible option dropping off the intensity as it meant I didn't get tired legs and could go on to run well in Italy (a win at the Magredi Mountain Trail 100 mile, blog here this week once I get the photos together!)