Sunday 8 November 2015

Warrington Way 40 mile ultra 2015

Being from Warrington the idea of running an ultra that passes within a couple of miles from home was quite appealing. On the other hand though, part of me was thinking 'Hmmm... Do I really fancy running 40 miles around Warrington...?'

I had a look at the route map posted online and recognised about 75% of the route from various training runs in the past few years. I didn't really know any of the last 10 miles but went out and did a few recces in the nice dry, sunny Autumn weather. The first thing that struck me was how flat the route is (compared to my typical races these days). Also with the route being so dry even across the fields it made for easy running at a good pace. I also noticed that even though it was stressed that you should be able to find your own way, on the day it was to be marked really well with tape. I decided after recceing a few parts in such nice conditions I'd get an entry. More on those conditions later!!

Having covered all the route in advance I knew what was coming and wouldn't need to get the map out on the day and could just focus on running. I reckoned that a sub 5 hour time was comfortably achievable. I was initially thinking somewhere just under the 4.40 mark would be my aim. Then it rained on and off for a couple of weeks and in a final recce run a few days before, even running 7 min mile pace was taking a bit too much effort over the fields. I came up with a rough schedule to hit each 10 mile checkpoint considering where the worst of the mud was and fields, elevation etc
(predicted times)
10 mile = 1.07
20 mile = 2.20
26 mile = 3.03
30 mile = 3.35
40 mile = 4.50 Finish!
*The last 10 miles have the most fields and most of the elevation comes between 27 and 30 miles.

So on to race day.... I could hear the rain outside when I woke up. I did a warm up before leaving home for 6am registration. After arriving and parking there was water running along the road and it had been raining hard for some time now. A quick and painless registration before a briefing in which we were told of a small diversion at mile 18 giving us an extra mile and then gathering on the start line just as it was turning light at 7am. The weather actually wasn't that bad overall once we got running, after a couple of miles of rain it was showery on and off though I had a good patch of sunshine when I finished.

I was straight to the front from the start and over the first few miles relaxed into an intensity that felt right. I'd been totally alone until nearly 9 mile when I heard some breathing and footsteps behind. It was Mat another local runner. We chatted over the next few miles and cruised straight through cp1 in 1hr 6 min 58 sec.... 2 seconds faster than I expected! No complaints. Shortly after the cp was the second longish field section where it can get quite muddy but we moved over there taking in the sights such as the M62 and B&Q and it wasn't as muddy as I expected. I slowed slightly to have a quick drink and a gel as we passed Buzzard Alley (that's where a Buzzard swooped me and cut the back of my head a few months ago) Mat moved about 5 seconds or so in front briefly and we were back together into the next section of fields before heading toward Burtonwood Services.

I don't think there was a quick way to run over the paths in that field so we just did our best and kept to it. The majority of the next few miles from mile 14 all the way to the 2nd cp at mile 20 is on farm tracks though we had the diversion to follow which meant we would arrive at cp2 at 21 miles. Just as we crossed the A57 at Bold Heath Mat dropped back and shouted something along the lines of see you at the finish. I turned to see he was ok and waved as I continued on to reach the cp in 2 hours 22 min so 2 minutes behind schedule but having done a mile extra. There was a lot of cheering as I passed and headed on toward Fiddlers Ferry and the Trans Pennine Trail.

As I was running alone my mind was drifting around in a trance, I did wonder where the relay runners were, I'd expected there might be a few ahead of me by now. Before long I realised I was almost at marathon distance and glanced at my watch to see it pass at 2 hours 58 mins. Next up is Moore Nature Reserve and the path drops down to the right down some stairs to weave along the path before starting with the gentle hills that make up the majority of the elevation. I was focused on getting to the next cp at 30 miles and I thought if I could get there with 1 hour 20 to spare as a worse case scenario I could average 8 min miles over the last leg and still make sub 5. 

I felt like I was working a bit harder to maintain the pace but in reality it is slightly uphill over that section as you pass the Appleton Reservoir behind Walton Gardens. Once across the fields and closing in on Hatton the pace came back ticking off 50km in 3 hr 36 min and passing the final cp in 3 hours 40 mins. I knew I was 5 minutes over my estimate but having followed the extra mile detour I thought I must actually be running just a bit quicker than my estimates. There were plenty of fields to come but I knew the route in my head and was expecting the mud that was to come. Behind Spooky world the infamous cow slurry did not disappoint. 

I was closing in fast on the M6 crossing and managed to leap the electric fences clean, as we crossed the sheep field. After getting out on the A50 road crossing I knew there were only 3 fields left before the woods and the first two were fairly straight forward. Some friendly cows in the 3rd came with me although they hadn't quite figured out how to use the style at the other end of the field. I glanced at the watch knowing I was within about 10 mins of the finish line and pushed on passing the Lymm Dam and down the Dingle before popping out in the middle of town getting some strange looks as I darted across the roads past the memorial and up the cobbled street toward the finish.

4 hours 51 mins for 41 miles... That'll do! Really happy to have been able to take part in the race and I think Kieran and Lymm Runners have done a great job of putting together the race and making use of a lot of tracks and trails that I'm sure a lot of local runners, never knew existed! In terms of organisation it was pretty much spot on... Can't think of anything that would need changing? I got some fantastic support around the route which was amazing and a huge boost! Going from what I heard after the race a lot of people had pushed themselves to new limits which is awesome too!

So was it muddy? ...

Getting there!

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Saturday 24 October 2015

Gelita Heidelberg Trail Marathon, Germany

I'd been looking for a hilly marathon to run a couple of weeks before the Rodopi 100 mile in Greece and was recommended to this race by some German friends. Before entering the race I'd never been to Germany and after having a look at the website, concluded that this was actually a fairly tough marathon. Over 1500m of ascent (1800m on Strava) puts it somewhere similar in terms of ascent to that of the Excalibur trail marathon and just a little less than Scafell Pike trail marathon. I think on the entry form I put that I expected 3.30 to 3.40 for a finish  time.

I was able to get out a few days earlier and explore some of the route in 2 chunks. It was useful as it gave me an idea of the terrain and the gradients although the course on the day was to be fully marked with sawdust and tape.

The route starts up in the castle overlooking Heidelberg, there is a quick descent on the cobbles through the altstadt (old town) and over the river Neckar before a climb up around 6km to 400m. From the start I'd been on the front line... Two guys in matching racing kit bolted and led closely followed by a couple of others and myself. I did the first mile in about 6 minutes and there was already a gap between me and those leading. We began to climb up towards Thingstatte which is like an amphitheater type structure, with plenty of steps... The route then weaves through the forest and descends on some slippery single track down into the first checkpoint.

I picked off a runner here and then followed the undulating trail over the next few kms as we climbed back up to about 560m I was passed by two runners and soon after arrived at the second cp just over 10 miles in a wee bit over 90 mins. I guessed I was somewhere in the top 10 maybe 8th... but not sure and just stuck with my pace. There were heaps of runners cheering at each cp so far it was really lively.

Next after running on the top in the forest for a couple of km it is essentially downhill from 20 to 30km where you cross back over the river. There were a few undulations but I knocked the 10k section out in 40 mins and was now had 12km to go and 2hr 20 on the clock... only one more thing.... There is a rather meaty climb still to go including the 'Stairway to Heaven'. So over the next 6km I climbed and climbed to reach the Konigstuhl around 550m again in 3 hour 3 min... I had passed 2 runners at the bottom of the climb one was in the marathon but the other I realised was in a relay team!! I had completely forgotten about the relay runners. I wasn't sure but thought I must be somewhere in the top 10 still.

As I ascended the stairs a relay guy passed me too so it was a bit confusing position wise I just set to descending strong to the castle and the finish. It's pretty rocky and the slippery paths full of roots but I had used the same descent in one of my recce runs and was comfortable to let the legs go. I had held back a little during the earlier stages of the race knowing the last climb was pretty big although it passed much quicker than I expected. It wasn't long before I could hear the spectators cheering and the loudspeaker with the commentator and I was entering the castle grounds. I picked the pace up and ran into the finish to find out I came 3rd. Within 1 minute of the 2nd place who unfortunately was being promptly strapped onto a stretcher when I finished.

I'd finished in 3 hr 25 mins which was a bit quicker than I'd expected but had felt like a good run. The castle was the venue for the post race meal and presentation and I was up on stage to take a nice wooden trophy and complete a few interviews with the German press.

The town itself is really nice and has enough to keep you occupied if you wanted to make a long weekend out of the race! One I'd definitely recommend! I managed a trip around the castle too whilst I was there. Interesting stuff!

Tuesday 20 October 2015

Rodopi 100 mile, Greece. 1st + CR

100 well marked miles of remote Greek forest trails, 
8000m of ascent from 'gradual and runnable' to zig zagging hands on thighs stuff, 
6 checkpoints with some incredible volunteers, food and drink,
20 additional timing points, 
160 eager runners on the start line,
5th edition of the race
and ????s of ravines and streams to cross.

I like to aim at a longer race around Autumn time, capitalise on an increased fitness from the Summer's races. I'd spotted the race a couple of years ago but last year went to Italy and Spain for 100 milers in October, I didn't think 3 in 3 weeks would have been a great idea....So, I was keen to enter and take the trip to Greece this year.

*****logistical details for those interested***** feel free to skip

In terms of logistics it was relatively straight forwards despite the remote starting location up at 1300m altitude in the North East just below the boarder with Bulgaria (you'll never see a bus up there I don't think, or a shop!) 
Ideally fly to Thessaloniki and for ease I just hired a car, straight forwards to drive, once you're out of the city roads are very, very quiet. I stayed at Kyeti hotel from there it's a 30 min drive up to registration, start/ finish etc. You can camp up at the start. A good meal the night before and a breakfast pack included at registration made things easier still.


The website stresses the need for experience and self sufficiency and the organisers have aimed to keep a sense of adventure and remoteness combined with the endurance challenge. I liked the sound of it, at times it felt like I could be the only person on earth! Aside from the race crew and supporters I saw literally 1 person who was rounding up his horses... More on him later! 

In terms of race plan, I've done over a dozen similar hundred milers or longer so can usually get a reasonable idea of a range of finish times. I spoke to the previous course record holder who had run lakeland 100 and a few other runners with previous finishes. I learned that the long downhill looking section was going to be the most uphill running of the race (Yeah I was confused too) and that there were lots of ravines (If you have ever done the High Peak 40 mile..... throw some more water in the bottom and a few bonus rocks) bearing all this in mind I thought I would likely pass the 100mile point in 24 hours something. At 168km it's about 4 miles longer which could be an hour on a tough ascent!

We gathered out at the start ready for 6am so we had 90 mins before sunrise. I set out behind a group of about 5 or 6 for a couple of minutes whilst I took my jacket off and got a feel for the course markings then moved ahead by myself within a mile or two. It's a fairly fast start descending on a wide, moderately rocky track before the single track through the forest. In the dark the markings reflected really well off the torch light, there were also arrows pointing the correct way at any junctions and a cross marking any turn offs that you shouldn't take.

It wasn't long before the group and myself hit the first cp about 27km in 2 hours 40. I topped up my water and put my torch and stuff in my bag and left in 5th or 6th. We had a net downhill so far so the pace was fairly comfortable especially so early in the race. I rarely saw people ahead until I was right on their backs as there were so many twists and turns and ups and downs. It seemed like hardly any time at all until the 41km point just before we did the big loop (the route is essentially a lollypop shape with the first and last 41km the same and a big loop between) I'd passed a few runners although hadn't really paid much attention to how many. I grabbed a quick drink and set off out the cp. There were loads of people cheering and helping, I don't know how they got there it's incredibly remote! I was first to leave although I didn't know at the time I noticed over the next few miles of single track I was running through spider webs. It had warmed up a fair bit and I felt the heat in the open sections out of the shade of the trees. I splashed about in some of the streams and filled my bottles a few times from them.

As I continued to climb up towards the high point around 1600m about half way I backed the pace off a little bit as the quads were doing that funny pulsing thing they do before a cramp sets in, it only lasted a couple of hours. I stepped over the boarder once I reached the top so technically I've been to Bulgaria too. Looking back I was checking the distance quite a lot as I climbed but didn't notice at the time. So now for the downhill that would feel like the most up hill part of the course...

I had reached 50 miles in 10.33 knowing that the second half would have a little more up hill and that there was 54 miles left. I reckoned that a sub 24 would be quite likely and was aware the course record was just over 23.30. I was looking forwards to the temperature dropping a bit and made my way steady downhill. There were a fair amount of uphill parts and some tricky sections. I slowed a little to get around some cows and 2nd place popped up behind me. He moved ahead slightly although I came up behind him a few km later at a junction where a marking had been moved. We scratched our heads a moment before looking around and finding the next marking. We stuck together for the next few miles, my quads gave the odd little tingle like they wanted to cramp so I just kept a steady pace and all was good. We passed a junction which the markings weren't so obvious , the trail looked like a river bed I stopped and said I was going back and taking the turning I was certain it wasn't up the track we were on. Sure enough there was a marker just around behind a fallen tree and we were good as gold. Soon enough the next cp, I decided to get some soup and had a piece of potato along with a bit of coke, I don't usually stop at cps but we left together probably within 3 or 4 mins. I swapped the glasses for my head torch and put my batteries in as dusk was an hour away.

Pretty soon we were drifting apart and darkness fell. I passed some horses on a good wide track and not long after heard a vehicle chugging along, it was like something out of one of those movies where a bunch of students go into the woods to stay in a log cabin, break down and get rescued by an old 4x4 that happens to be some sort of cannibal/ axe murderer etc.... I passed a hut .... I kept on running and the truck drove past with a pip of the horn... all good! That would have been some story hey? I could smell smoke and saw a flicker of a torch infront... A welcome sign that there was some sort of life ahead and indeed there was in the form of a timing point (essentially a few enthusiastic folk with a walkie talkie and a clip board radioing back to HQ who were updating the website) those guys were awesome, some must literally have been camping out there all weekend waiting for us in the middle of nowhere! 

I was feeling really good over the next few hours though time seemed to be going slowly, I was actually moving well through the next few cps. I was about 30 miles from the end and I was sure that I saw the flash of a torch behind me as I weaved around another ravine. I carried on and didn't really change anything I was enjoying the trail and the legs had been behaving just fine. Not long before I was expecting to hit the 5th cp about a marathon from the end, I heard the cow bells ringing and saw lights ahead. It was just one of the timing points so I still had a few miles to the cp. As I was definitely approaching the cp a little later I was sure once again I saw a torch behind as I turned. I didn't really need anything from the cp so just grabbed a bit of water and a handful of crisps and carried on just over 16 hours elapsed.. No sign of the torch behind me.

The last 45km involves going up and over 1 mountain then beginning the climb up to the finish. I'm guessing but probably 2000m ascent. I thought realistically it could take 8 hours though I was feeling good and felt confident I could go quicker than that. The next climb up the zig zags was tough going. I stopped near the top and turned out my torch... It was totally dark and silent. It was stunning how peaceful and still it was. I carried on and hit the timing point feeling good, by now the energy from the volunteers was awesome. They were more excited than me by the thought of the new course record! I wanted to hit the next cp  before looking at the time again and it came by quite quickly. Everyone was trying to give me food but I didn't need any and just took a bit of water. Ready for the last 26km ish. I didn't really  remember that much about the next section but moved well through a couple more ascents and a few timing points. I looked at the clock and knew I would be under the course record but wasn't sure what would be happening behind me so carried on as I was. I'd decided now that I wasn't going to finish anything other than 1st and that anyone challenging from behind would have to be smashing it... Then I hit the zig zags up through the forest...

Effectively the last climb is like going up Snowdon could be runnable by itself... Not so much after 90 odd miles, though I did manage the majority. I hit the last timing point and then it was 7km to the finish. I was just over 22 hours so I did push for the slightly unlikely looking sub 23. I startled some horses near the top and remembered from the start they were only a couple of kms from the line. A few minutes later I saw a torch and the welcoming voice of Christos one of the organisors 500m to go he said.... I ran hard into the finish, having not looked at the time I ran it in to the sound of the cow bells and flashes of cameras... 23 hours 5 mins and a new course record by 30 mins. I was just over 20 mins ahead of 2nd after all those miles. To be honest I would have been happy in any position with the time I ran.

I was well looked after at the finish, a quick interview and some food and drink before a shower and a massage. I actually dozed off on the massage table before chilling out for a few hours and then driving out to my hotel, where funnily enough, I would meet someone from Bolton not far from where I live.

In terms of how the race went I ran well and responded well to the course. I didn't have any really low moments during the race just a couple of hours in the middle where I backed off and focused on getting on top of my energy levels ready for the final quarter. The race was pretty tough overall, with the terrain I tore through some nearly new Mizuno trail shoes and wore out some also quite new Injini socks with multiple holes in each.  

Doing the race again I would probably try to increase calories intake overall and I would have carried less stuff. I had all kinds of extra layers, had it snowed I would have been ok. I had a Berghaus vapour light windproof on for the first mile and then a vest for the rest of the race although we had pretty ideal weather conditions it could get a bit wild out there! You could make use of drop bags and doing it again I would have taken a small waist pack and stashed layers in drop bags just in case. You could carry less water than I did (2 x 500ml) bottles and just fill up a single bottle from streams. One stream was a little murky but I didn't feel ill from it.

If you're after a challenging 100 miler with a fantastic amount of support and energy, well organised and well marked and minimal road (I reckon less than 2 miles on tarmac!) you can't go far wrong with this one! Be warned it is remote, you'll not see much in the way of civilisation all the way around... I liked that! A huge thank you to all involved with the organising and support, obviously a big well done to all the runners that got to the end! If you fancy a go at your own ultra in the future I'll be taking applications for my coaching holidays for 2016 in the coming weeks! Jump on my coaching website for more info there! 

Friday 18 September 2015

Gritstone Grind 35 mile 2015 - 1st

An early start to get registered and on the bus to the start by 7am. By 8am we were piling out of the bus. I grabbed a couple of kms for a warm up along the canal and then back ready for briefing and we started just before 8.30.

Same as last year the route is on the edge of the Peak District and links the train stations on Kidsgrove to Disley, 35 mile linear route, that seems to take in everything resembling a hill between the two points. Mow Cop, The Cloud, Wincle Minn, Croker Hill, Tegg's Nose, Kerridge Hill and Sponds Hill before dropping through Lyme Country Park and into Disley. There were 3 checkpoints and about 5 self clips between those.

I was expecting to be able to run under the 5 hour mark after last years 5 hour 1 minute effort. I hadn't checked any split times but roughly remembered been around the 1.10 mark for the first checkpoint below the Cloud.

I started out at the front and led up the canal. The route crosses over a bridge then continues along the canal briefly before turning onto another bridge up some steps which is a different canal... I got to the bridge and was totally confused. Don't remember that from last year and spent a good 30 seconds looking around, not convinced I knew where I was going... I went up on to the canal and continued on. It's a couple of miles before the first Gritstone trail sign comes up! There are 5 main climbs on the route and I jogged up the first, Mow Cop quite happily. As we turned I could see the next runners about 2 or 3 minutes behind after about 4 miles.

From Mow Cop a fast descent, a dicey moment with a bull and a tiny bit of uphill before reaching the first cp feeling great in what I thought was about a minute or two ahead of my split last year. Onwards up the Cloud which I enjoyed having not run here since last year. Over the next section the recent rain had left the ground a bit wetter than last year. One field I literally skidded down with the wet grass. I was remembering the route well and the signs are pretty good to follow provided you keep an eye out for them. I could feel myself working harder over the slippery ground and skidding about in the muddier sections a lot.

I was closing in on marathon distance not long after Tegg's nose and passed through at 3 hours 50 mins just after descending from the White Nancy. I couldn't recall what time I got here last year so just kept pushing on to the final checkpoint.

I left the cp and settled back into a good pace running through the remainder of the route in my head. It wasn't long before I was approaching Lyme park and glanced at the watch to see I was definitely not going to break the 5 hour mark today. I relaxed into a comfortable pace and just enjoyed the last few miles down to the finish... Not like the blistering descent of last year, I hadn't really considered anyone being behind me. I'd set the bar high for a sub 5 finish and once I could see that wasn't happening it didn't really matter to me what time I took over the last few miles.

The weather was perfect on the day, as always an excellent bunch behind the organisation and checkpoints. Beyond Marathon can definitely call their events some of the best organised races I've ever done. Some of the photos I have used I took from last year. Thanks Richard for the start and finish photos!

Saturday 12 September 2015

UTMB 2015 - Ultra Trail Du Mont Blanc

Ultra Trail Du Mont Blanc 2015. Thousands of runners descend to Chamonix in France each year for the UTMB and various other events under the same organisation. I was lucky enough to be selected first time in the 'lottery' for a place, seeing as the race gets even more entrants than places available. To be honest I'd not expected to make it in this year but apparently your chance of being selected increases for each year. Having done the Dragon's Back and AAUT very close together I had planned on a fairly steady August to ensure I was rested up and ready for a good run at the end of the month. I chopped down to about 50-70 mile a week and made use of some 30-35 mile races in the Peak District for some long steady runs.

You definitely need to sort out everything well in advance like accommodation and transfers as the town in rammed with people through the week. I managed to find a room in a chalet not far from town which was great, Flew in on Wednesday and arrived in time to get registration out of the way. If you're not keen on big crowds or ques of people then it's worth getting in late or early to the registration. Registration was fairly straight forwards, just there's a lot of people to get through I think I heard 6000 runners over the 5 events? About 2200 in the 170km. On the Thursday I had the day to explore a little bit. I had a stroll up the zig zags to Plan Praz which is about a vertical km. The weather was amazing so views were great! Other than that I ate some Crepes and had a look around and bumped into a surprising amount of Brits and runners I've met whilst racing around and about in Europe.

Friday - Race day... The start is 6pm so it's just a waiting game really. I got settled in a good cafe for some food around lunch then went to chill out in a park just far enough away from all the hustle. Once bag drop opened I got that sorted and headed to the start still about 90 mins to go.... It was a mission in itself getting to the start and I couldn't even get close to the front pen. After over an hour of being packed into the town square the countdown to the start began and we proceeded to walk out of town (literally rammed with people so unable to get running to start with).

After running Magredi Mountain Trail 100 mile last year I'd run just over 22 hours for the 105 miles with 7800m ascent. So with the UTMB Basically adding an extra 2000m ascent I was expecting something like 25-26 hours possibly a bit quicker if there were no major issues. For the first 5 miles it's flat here so I tried to settle into around 7 min mile pace which was difficult in the crowds so I just did what I could along to Les Houches where we had our first climb to around 1800m. Apart from a lot of walking poles flailing around all good so far (no I didn't use poles). It was great to see some friendly faces out on the route. Lot's of enthusiastic supporters out lining large portions of the route too! I found it a bit loud and busy and was looking forwards to getting out into the mountains and enjoying the trail. The descent into St Gervais was good fun! Pretty sustained but the dry conditions made it straight forwards. The grassy sections would be a bit hellish after rain I reckon!

From 21km to about 45km is pretty much up hill. Going from about 800m to 2400m. The scenery was fantastic and seeing the sun disappear and the sky start to light up with stars and the moon was pretty special! It was literally bright enough to move without a head torch at times. It was a great sight to see hundreds of head torch lights snaking up the valley after Les Contamines where the gradient stepped up a notch! I was moving well and passed the first quarter in just under 6 hours which I thought was about right compared to what I was expecting but started to feel a bit breathless as I plodded up over the mountain pass before dropping into Les Chappieux. The pace had felt relatively comfortable up to now but I was literally crawling before the high point. On the descent I had to lay down and try to stretch out my chest and take some deep breaths. I tried to adjust my race pack in case that was affecting me but didn't seem to feel much different. The breathlessness subsided and I moved on carefully and focused on just moving efficiently forwards and kept on top of my nutrition and hydration as I made my way up the next climb lasting around 10km and taking us back up to 2500m where again progress slowed. Obviously you're going to be working harder uphill but I was having to actually stop to rest whilst walking uphill even at this relatively early stage in the race.

There was a fairly rocky bouldery section which I'd not expected (a veteran of 2 previous finishes told me it was added in but I was non the wiser) I love that kind of terrain and although struggling I was happy and loving the extra climb and rocky descent we were treated to. I took my jacket from my bag just in case I would need to wear it as I again had to take a minute on the uphill. The was another chance to look at the huge trail of head torches making their way around the route both in front and behind which was quite cool, the moon was bright and I was now in Italy. What more could one want on a Friday evening?

There are a few smaller climbs before a 10km section descending down into Courmayeur which is where the drop bags go (not quite half way). I had reached here in 13 hours and my legs felt good, I took a small stone out of my shoe and checked my feet which were fine and not causing any bother. I had some snacks and topped up my drinks, whilst having a quick chat to Mr Lendon who left before me, I took out some more food from my drop bag and got going again. In terms of time I was pretty much on what I expected despite the struggles I was having. I knew if my breathing was to remain as it was my average pace would drop over the second half.

 It had just gone light before I had reached the cp and the sun was starting warm up. I was chatting to another Brit as we climbed up to the next checkpoint at Refuge Bertone just shy of 2000m. From there, there is a bit of a plateau before another decent climb to Grand Col Ferret, which pretty much took me into the mid afternoon sun and also into Switzerland. Temperatures were hitting a lot of people and making it quite tough going although I was happy enough in the sunshine and just used any streams for a quick dip on route. Some great scenery and fantastic views before a lonnng descent lasting about 10 miles down to a small town.

Now on the profile it looks relatively easy to the finish... 50km with 4 'hills' left increasing in size each time with the final 10 or 12 km all downhill...... I think mentally breaking down the route checkpoint by checkpoint is a good way to go but a quick calculation I couldn't help but make was suggesting a 3am finish to me! For some reason I never thought about quitting I just thought about how I could keep going. The climb up to Champex-lac was really hard how I was feeling (although it's actually one of the easier climbs of the route) really minuscule compared to the rest! I moved from there ok and I think the following checkpoint Triente was where I got my head torches back out. I felt really good as darkness fell once again. Everything felt great other than my chest and I was able to pass a lot of people on the descents. There are some good steep climbs towards the back end of the race and the final climb was awesome! I turned my torch off and used the moon light to ascend up to the rocky path that snaked along the tops towards the final checkpoint at La Flegere. From here just a matter of 8km downhill to deal with. By now it was into the early hours of Sunday morning and I was focused on keeping a steady pace and staying on my feet. It wasn't long before I was dropping into the top of Chamonix and starting to hit the road around town and into the finish.

There were still people lining the streets even at 3am as I crossed the line in 32 hours and some minutes! I want to say a massive thanks to everyone who was sending messages of support and watching out on the tracker and the live webcams! (The race website has a basic checkpoint tracking system but I also used Race Drone tracker too for live gps coverage) thanks to Lawrence (who'd run really well in the TDS earlier in the week) for helping me get my stuff sorted afterwards too!

Other than my breathing/ chest issues everything seemed to go really well. I've experienced similar feelings of breathlessness looking back a couple of times when I've been over 2000m... Although I don't know that altitude could have affected me so much so quickly it's something I need to look into. Other than that there could have been something postural from carrying a heavier race pack than normal although again on its own seems unlikely to have caused that much trouble. Since the race I've been back out running and climbing most days and haven't had any issues to note.

 The route is fantastic. It's great that so many people are out to support the event and the runners but it just felt crowded to me, I like to run in the mountains for the feeling of exposure and quietness which was difficult to get in such a busy event. I'm not really planning to go back for another bash at the moment, there are that many events out there I love the chance to explore a different part of the world with each race!  Some photos I took myself on the Gopro, others are from the official race photographers. Ohhhh and one last warning THERE IS NO MEDAL!!! For a race that costs more than most I thought that was a bit disappointing but we did get a body warmer type fleece.

Well done to everyone who finished and took part! I couldn't begin to name everyone I met and caught up with, there really were heaps of runners there! It was fantastic to see you all! Enjoy the trails!

Sunday 16 August 2015

How To: Prepare Your Body For The Dragon's Back Race

''The legendary Dragon’s Back Race™ follows the mountainous spine of Wales from Conwy Castle to Carreg Cennen Castle. This incredible 5-day journey is approximately 300 kilometres long with 16,000 metres of ascent across wild, trackless, remote and mountainous terrain. It is not a trail race.''

Ian Corless photo

So what does it take to finish it?
Do you need to be super human? Running since birth? Using a compass before you could walk?
Have legs carved out of rock? Maybe such characteristics could help, but in a word, NO!

I think finishing the Dragon's Back comes down to 3 things.
A - How much you want to finish.
B - How well you look after yourself during the race.
C - How well conditioned your body is to the long days on your feet.

In my first multi stage race (Gobi Challenge) in 2010 I was probably one of the least experienced entrants and didn't really run much before that (it was my first running event) but I had practiced doing long 2-3 day hikes on tough ground carrying my pack along with strength training for my legs. In the race I relied heavily on determination to get me through. I was mid pack and I had to really work for that finish medal. I REALLY WANTED to finish! I didn't care if it meant I was the last finisher.

Some questions to ask to help you focus your training time effectively and best prepare for the DBR  ....
What is your aim within the race?
Where are you at right now?
What type of terrain do you usually run on?
What experience do you have in the mountains?
How confident are you navigating remote and often trackless areas potentially in the cloud?
How tough are you mentally?
What kind of state you want to be in at the finish?

Essentially you need to define your areas of weakness and figure out what might be holding you back from finishing the race. Get used to the kit you plan to use, practice with it and refine it, consider your fueling strategy, get some long days out in the hills to experience the terrain, someone who has been crushing loads of fast miles on the road wont necessarily be in a good position for an event like this.

Ian Corless image

In terms of getting your body ready for the event which I'm covering in this article here's the process I'd go through.

1 - Assess running form and technique
See what your technique and form is like when running. If your technique is very poor then any training you do will stress the body more than necessary. Similar to driving around with your brakes partially on in the car. I don't think there is one global running style that suits everyone but it makes sense to make some small tweaks. If there was something simple to at least keep you upright and more relaxed for example, keeping your eyes up and looking a few steps ahead rather than looking straight down to the floor when you're on runnable sections or keeping your cadence up when ascending and reducing your stride length, perhaps becoming more aware of your foot placement when descending, landing with your weight over your foot rather than your foot being far ahead. These findings could help improve your running without having to add to your training time. Also if you can place less stress on the body that's great to reduce the chance of an overuse injury.

2 - Define any weaknesses or imbalances.
If you've got a problem area that keeps causing issues, maybe preventing you from training or maybe just something a bit stiff or niggle-y, it's worth seeing someone who knows what they are looking for and getting help fixing it. It could be that the ITB keeps bothering you causing some pain, or an aching hip that comes back when you increase your mileage. Simply stretching and massaging something that constantly bothers you is only a temporary fix. Find out why that's happening and learn what you can do to get the body in good alignment.

Most of the non running training I do when racing a lot is keeping things mobile and ensuring that my body is working smoothly and in good alignment. Again it's a way of reducing the stress on the body, you might be strong enough to get through 40 - 60 miles a week without any pain but perhaps some tightness, consider the race length much longer than this, it's difficult to mask an area that's hurting for that long. Worse still you could end up putting more stress on to a different area of the body in order to compensate causing a chain of issues.

3 - Build your training up gradually!
I know, I know, ground breaking statement right?! Not really, whilst we all know someone who just went out and started running and did their first ultra with no training. I've not seen anyone come up with the magic number of miles to train per week or month. The nature of the DBR means some long days out in the hills, 5 days in a row to be exact. Over the past few years I've used back to back long runs regularly in my training and since I started them, my stamina in ultras has grown and grown. It depends where you're at right now but you might start going out for an easy paced hour the day after a marathon or perhaps something like the shorter mountain marathon type events where you're doing 3 to 4 hours in the hills back to back. If you're planning on entering the next Dragon's Back then it's likely you've already got some sort of base of running or hiking fitness. I used some of the national trails in New Zealand to hike over a couple of days as part of my training for my first stage race. I learned a lot! Nowadays I pick a couple of trail races on the same weekend such as a marathon and a 40 miler I did one weekend or my own planned routes in Snowdonia.

4 - Practice makes perfect?
Providing you practice something specific to the race of course! Can you switch some of your runs and include more running on hilly or rough terrain? Squeeze in a few trips to the hills to recce the area of the race? It doesn't have to be every run. Once a week near where I live I can drive 30 mins to some small hills and if I really try I can get over 500m of ascent in a couple of hours. Not quite up to DBR standards but making the most of what's available! The weekends I try to get to somewhere like Snowdonia to train on some real hills or do a race (generally I pick the hillier ones) but the rest of the week days I have to make do with either flat road or canal path type trail. I can use these days to either work on my speed or recover either with easy running or some cycling.

In summary.
First get to grips with where you honestly and realistically are, right now. Ask yourself what areas will be holding you back the most. Weight, navigation skills, stamina, confidence?
Now it's time to make some decisions.... Decide which area will have the biggest impact on you and set to work improving that aspect first. Speak to a relevant person if needed. Your friends mums taxi driver who was 'reet good at that there cross country at school' might not be your best bet! It could be a physio, coach, navigation expert, past competitor or something totally different.
Break down and list the steps between where you are now and where you want to be and then....
DO SOMETHING STRAIGHT AWAY.  Sitting there all motivated is great but wont get you through it alone! Start doing something right away that will help you toward that finish line!
Be consistent, keep focused and listen to the body.

You can read my own personal experience of the DBR on my race blog at
There is also a free video series and other articles you might enjoy!

Friday 7 August 2015

Peak Sky Race 2015

The Peak Skyrace, back for it’s second edition in the Peak District. The course was fully marked again with better marking than last year, I only veered away from a junction once on the Roaches. Along with about 5 other runners ... some who were supposedly following the maps in their hands? ;) The marker had vanished on the actual junction though with one path leading down hill away from the ridge and the other leading right onto the ridge it was straight forwards to figure it out within a minute or two going the wrong way. Then the markers returned again pretty much immediately and were just visible from the junction. As long as you had your eyes open it was fine! Only other areas possible to get confused could have been the two short out and back sections. A couple of people asked me what was happening on each one but having run around last year I was expecting it.
The Roaches

It's  29.7miles (48km) long and takes in famous sights such as Axe Edge, The Roaches, Shutlingsloe, Shining Tor, Burbage Edge, The Ramshaw Rocks and the Three Shires Head (meeting point for Cheshire, Derbyshire and Staffordshire boundaries) The route has a sneaky 2000m of elevation and is fairly varied underfoot. Nothing too crazy but enough to keep you on your toes!  
I entered last minute to save doing a training run on my own as I was camping and climbing not far from Buxton that weekend anyway, it was ideal! I'd estimated a steady 5 hour run would be pretty much 10 min mile average and ran what felt comfortable. 
I started at the back of  the field and moved through into the top 20 I guess of 130 runners within the first climb. It was good to catch up with some friends who were running, though I somehow manage to miss a few that were running too! It wasn't long before things settled down a bit and I caught up with Chris BH and we pretty much ran together from around 1 hour in. The first cp is at 10 miles and after questioning my navigation he very nearly proceeded to set off down the wrong track, easily done though ;) the checkpoint is at a cross roads. 
Checking in at cp 3. thanks Denise for the pic! 

The route takes none of the roads and instead sneaks over a style and up a rolling hill and on towards the Roaches where I'd been climbing on a previous weekend. Here I was leading a small group and overshot a turning. We backtracked uphill a minute or two and continued along the ridge on good path with Shutlingsloe looming in the distance. Dropping down through the woods and into the 2nd water station for a quick cup of coke. 
Shutlingsloe summit

From there it's relatively good going to the 'big pointy hill'. From the track to the summit is about 800m including a bit of climbing so although it's pretty steep it's not too long, great views on top of surrounding areas before retracing your steps back down and cutting off to the left as we head towards the final CP at the Cat and Fiddle. I had a dip in the stream to keep cool but was dry by the time I reached the cp. I caught a few people who were starting to feel the pace nearly 24 miles in and moved into the top 10 or so. I had a chat with the awesome crew at the cp before moving on to Mam Tor for the next little out and back. The next section was much less overgrown than last year and made for easy running (not too technical but some more climbing) before a fast few miles off the top and back down into Buxton. I did glance at the watch with 10km to go and I looked to be a minute or two ahead of 5 hour pace. I rolled over the line in 4.59.11 on the results. Quite happy with that judgement there! 
Organisation and the crew were all spot on once again! One of the nicer race routes around the Peak District! Plenty of food, a tshirt and medal at the end, all in all a grand day out! 

Friday 17 July 2015

Al Andalus Ultimate Trail race 230km - 5 days

After having such a fantastic experience in 2014 I simply had to come back for another run. My only reservation was that I had the Dragon's Back race with only a week between. (300+km with 16000m ascent across the mountains of Wales) After umming and ahhh-ing and thinking it over for about... 5 seconds, I'd made up my mind and there I was on the start list.

The organisation and logistics of the race are fantastic! If you'd like to read more about how the race works then you can jump on the blog I did last year HERE. In summary it's 5 days with days 1, 3 and 5 being 38/39km, day 2 48km and day 4 at 67km. The terrain is a mix of good trail, like dirt roads and some single track and trails through the woods. The area around Alhama de Granada isn't known for being flat but there is nothing resembling rock climbing or the likes! The route markings are incredible and support staff are amazing too. Another thing to mention this is Spain and also summer... this year we experienced the local towns record temperature of 42C (in the shade) A thermometer in the sun near the finish line was showing 53C!

IF YOU JUST WANT TO READ ABOUT THE RACE AND DON'T CARE ABOUT KIT DETAILS ... skip down a little bit to the next image :)

In terms of kit, I should have reread my notes from last year as this would have saved me packing some things. Here's what I took and in ***s are things I would NOT TAKE next time

CAMP stuff

Snugpak sleeping bag (comfort rating 7degrees) never needed to zip it up ***would just take a liner
Thermarest - would be pretty uncomfortable without one!
Inflatable pillow *** could just use backpack for pillow but takes up little space
Towel - Microfibre one - just dried myself in the sun after showering and swimming though
Tooth brush + paste + suncream + aftersun
 Shoes for around camp - some road trainers incase I fancied wearing them *** would take flip flops or smaller shoes
 Shorts, long sleeve Vest and Berghaus jacket for at camp. never used the jacket but had long sleeve on to save being bitten by bugs once or twice

RUN stuff

Blister plasters, adhesive tape - basic first aid things, never had to use any of it.
Elete electrolyte 
Vaseline - Small tin ... Stops things rubbing, worth carrying though I never used it
1 pairs of injinji socks (washed all kit after running so wore exactly same kit each day)
1 pair of run shorts
1 9bar team vest
1 hat about £1 from Teneriefe a couple of weeks ago... broke on day one but pinned it together... you get what you pay for!
1 pair of Berghaus vapour claw Trail shoes - perfect
Salomon Xt wings belt - bottle holder belt with an extra couple of pockets for first aid and camera.
2 x 600ml bottles, usually only had 1 to drink between CP's but used the other for tipping water on myself on longer days - worth considering how long you'll be between cps some people who were slower runners were going through all the water before the cps...
Camera phone for piccies on route also has inbuilt torch for around camp at night
Garmin 310xt gps watch, record the data and keep an eye on things if you want to
Sunglasses - The usual Oakley's

Food wise I took....
3 x Dehydrated meals, the Decathlon ones which were nice enough. Day 1 finishes literally at a bar so I bought food there. Day 5 finishes in town so went to the supermarket. The other days I had this about 3 hours after finishing.
8 x Breakfast 9bars (2 each morning although on Wednesday and Friday I only ate 1)
4 x recovery shake... .Had this soon after finishing 
3 x SIS Go carbohydrate sachets ... handy to carry and mix into water if needed. Used 2 of them during the week one on day 2 and one on day 4
4 x protein recovery bars. had between meals or before bed.

Not really much that I could cut out that I packed. I didn't use the first aid stuff but I wouldn't run without it. If you get something causing a blister  during a stage and don't stop to tape it, a couple hours can soon make your race uncomfortable. Didn't have a mark on my feet at the end. Sleeping bag was too hot to sleep in again. The waist pack was fine for the running, most people had race vests but if I can get away with a small waist pack instead I will. Most people had much more stuff than that (or at least much bigger bags) 
I personally think the less stuff you have to mess with the more simple it is. 

Less decisions = less stress perhaps? Also less stuff is less to organise. I've done a lot of races and multi day runs now and have a pretty good idea what I will use and need. If you're doing your first one you might end up taking a bit of extra stuff. 

Anyway on to day 1!

Day 1
I had run about 50 miles the week after Dragons Back and a bit of cycling and climbing. The legs were feeling ok though I hadn't done anything hard or intense with them so opted for a gentle start on day 1. It felt hotter than the previous year and I remembered feeling a bit hot towards the back end of the first day in 2014. From the start there were 2 guys in the lead and pushing a good pace towards the first hill and the climb up to cp 1 at 11km. Mauri a local runner and Carlos from Brazil. Then myself and a group of 4 or 5 runners a little bit behind. As the climb started to kick in I pulled away from the group aside from Belgian Jochan who passed me and we caught up with Carlos moving into 2nd and 3rd as we climbed toward the first cp. I actually felt like I wasn't working as hard as last year but hit the cp within 60 seconds of my time last year.

The next 10km is generally down hill with a few little climbs here and there and I moved on at a comfortable pace slowly gaining on 2nd. Aside from my hat breaking and trying to tie it together pretty it was all fine and I was happy with the legs as the temperature started to climb. A quick refill cp 2 then off along the undulating road to cp3. I was feeling the heat a lot now and didn't really have any shade or a hat which seemed to make a big difference as I didn't feel quite as hot on the other days. I was glad to refill my water and get a cup of coke at the 3rd cp then it was home straight back to Alhama de Granada where I held a coaching holiday in February so I knew exactly how far it was to the finish. I felt like I was getting cooked and dropped the pace over the last section to arrive in 3rd, very warm but feeling physically great and made the most of the pool and nice food available throughout the afternoon and evening.

My post race routine was basically to get hydrated as soon as possible**
I'd have fluids with some elete water post race for the first 30 mins or so. Whilst I was cooling down. Then a recovery shake and milk where possible.
I'd continue nibbling on watermelon and sipping away at water before having a feed about 90 mins post run and again about 90 mins after that. Basically when I wasn't running I was drinking water, eating and lying in the shade or splashing about in the pool. Generally I was going to bed around midnight when the temps had cooled (hardly) and waking up 30 - 60 mins before the start time... Yes you might say cutting it fine but I was on my holiday and wanted a relaxed week of running :)

**I used no electrolytes on day 1 just to see what would happen and whether they were making a difference. It took me until almost 6 hours after the race to get properly hydrated again. The other days I continued to use Elete water after running in a couple of my drinks until I was hydrated which was generally 2 or 3 hours. In the race I was averaging 800ml per 10km of running and probably drinking about 8 - 10l per day of fluids maybe a bit more

Day 2 
I woke up feeling fresh and ready, basically I would guzzle down about 500ml of water then my 9 bars, clothes on, bag packed, quick mobility routine and on the start line.
For day 2 I was feeling good knowing the legs were ok and that the Dragons Back Race hadn't done any damage. I love the gorge at Alhama de Granada and the route sets off straight though there and out onto some undulating tracks before hitting cp 2 and the start of the single tracks (those on the coaching weeks with me will know what I'm talking about! Awesome trail through there!!) Me and Mauricio the leader were running together for most of this day and we moved through the trails together seeing deer and wild pigs. Just before 40km I found a stream and got myself in there to float around for a few minutes and cool down. 

Mauricio continued on ahead and maintained a lead somewhere around 10 mins I think from memory. The last few miles felt quite comfortable also as we climbed into Jatar and into the camp with the cold stream!! Despite me spending time floating about in 3 or 4 different streams and a trough I still ran quicker than last year. For the evening meal we walked about 500m into town where a local bar had prepared our food. I had plenty and polished off a good amount of leftovers too (thanks guys!) not sure if they were trying to weigh me down or help me out but thanks!!

Day 3
Although the middle day of the week is one of the short ones and relatively quick going it doesn't really feel like half way though when you speak to most runners... For most the main concern is the 'long day' Day 4 which is just over 40 miles 67km. If you can get through the first 3 days feeling reasonable then you can have a good long day and just give whatever you have got left for the final day. I set out at a decent pace but not quite as quick as last year whilst a group of runners set off for a fast start, I left them to it. Generally when I run I ignore any other runners pace and unless it's going to make a difference to the final positioning in the final miles I wouldn't usually alter my pace. As tempting as it was to tear off down the road with them I sat on my comfy pace around 4 mins per km (just under 7min mile pace)

After the initial undulations the route really starts to ascend about 13 km. A pretty good climb over the next 10km passing checkpoint 2 near the top. This section is almost on a plateau and you can maintain a decent pace. I was really feeling the heat again in the sun as there was very little water on the route to cool off with (no streams) but it wasn't long until I reached the 3rd cp and was ready to start descending down towards the finish. The white dirt tracks reflected the heat but descending gave enough breeze to take the edge off through the odd shaded patches. I had a quick dip in a little trough of water not far from the finish then it was into camp and time to relax before the paella dinner! 

There were a few people feeling a bit uneasy about the 'long' day

Day 4

The fourth day is 40 miles and is made up of some undulating single track over the first 10km, a fantastic lakeside trail over the next 10km before hitting a couple of good climbs through the hills and small towns on the way to the 50km checkpoint. From there it's a little bit of undulating on an exposed track before the final cp and descent down into the finish just outside the Alhama Gorge.
I literally rolled on to the start line filling my water bottle up as the countdown struck 0, there had been an earlier start group (30mins before) and I woke up hearing their countdown. A group of 3 set off at the front with a small gap to me and then quite a large gap to the rest of the field as we twisted around the hills, we spread out more and more and it wasn't long before I could see nobody infront or behind. Just before cp1 I began passing runners from the earlier start group and before I knew it I was heading along the lake. Pretty shaded and good trail though I didn't feel like I was moving that fast I was running well and seemed to get stronger and stronger as the day went on.

After the 2nd checkpoint on the dam there is a decent climb and a few undulations on the way to the 3rd cp. Progress was good and I remembered the next section down into the 40km checkpoint being quite good running. I was getting pretty warm by now and made some good pace and must have been fairly close to my time from last year. There is a river crossing at 43km which I didn't take advantage of... this year I lay there and drifted about for a few moments... It felt great and over the next climb I felt pretty fresh and reached the cp comfortably. Topped up the bottles and headed off for the final cp having done most of the ascent and ready to enjoy the downhill (ish) finish. This section for me last year was probably the hardest of the whole event as I got caught in the heat and guzzled through my water in no time. This year it wasn't quite so bad and there was an intermediate water point along with Graeme and Orla out on route. Soon enough I hit the final cp and descended well on the good tracks to the finish (there's a little bit of a hill sneaked in at the end there which caught me out last year) I arrived in not too far off last years time which I was happy with! There was time to chill out in the shade for a bit before heading to the local pool and restaurant (about 1km away) where we all caught up and relaxed before dinner before our final day! 

Day 5
It was a little sad that today would be our last day of the race. I was enjoying the trails and the sunshine but most importantly the atmosphere and being part of such an enthusiastic group that were all keen and motivated (well mostly, even if there were a few sets of achy legs ;) ) to get it done! The route for day 5 is fairly good going with a couple of climbs, though nothing too epic. The gap between myself and the front two runners and the 4th runner on the overall standings meant that in reality positions were unlikely to change unless there was some sort of incident. I took my time on the last day and ran a slightly more relaxed pace and tried to chat to all the earlier runners that I passed by. Everyone seemed in good spirits and the guys at the checkpoints were as always, super supportive! 

After reaching the final cp it's majority downhill and I managed to pass the final couple of guys who'd taken the earlier start times and rolled over the finish line in 3rd overall a total time of 21  hours 21 mins for the 230km. What a week! 

Although about an hour slower than last year overall (most of that on day 1) I had a fantastic run! I had a slightly more relaxed approach than last year as I was expecting to have felt some effects of the Dragon's Back still. I don't usually like to go back to the long races for a second time but this is definitely a race I'd make an exception for! Whether you really want to push yourself to the limit and run it as fast as you can or whether simply dragging yourself over the finish line would be a dream for you this race is definitely worth a look! You'll be well looked after and gain an experience of a lifetime! There's a strong possibility I'll be back next year! I like the area so much I held a trail run coaching holiday there in February! If you'd like to get some more details on the next one just jump on my coaching site 

Huge thanks to everyone involved with organising the event and looking after us for the week! Also a big well done to everyone who signed up and took part! I know there were some amazing shows of determination and strength through the field! Same time next year?