Monday 18 May 2015

Apocalypse 50 mile ultra - Beyond Marathon

This weekend I took to Shropshire, probably most famous for the Iron Bridge, Long Mynd and River Severn.... But.... To many new and seasoned ultra runners of the Apocalypse, it's now famous for...
Carding Mill Valley - the race start and finish near Church Stretton. 

Pole Bank Trig point - the first 'summit' and checkpoint, 2 miles in when everyone gets confused as to why there are people running back towards them on the short out and back.

Corndon Hill - about 12 miles in standing at 513m, nice steep descent before some fast kms leading to the...

Apocalyptic Woods - with the path that looks like nobody has ever been there before, it's actually ok once you know where you're heading.

The Stiperstones - a rocky ridge lasting for a few kms.... or if you Google it, ''a wild ridge of quartzite tors surrounded by a sea of heather'' It's no Crib Goch, call it a rocky path then..

The Red Lion Pub - the 3rd and 4th manned CP (30/40 mile points) ideally fitted with a pub garden, ideal for basking in the sun and consuming vast amounts of sugary food.

Earl's Hill - the short sharp climb at about 37 miles, jog-able if you're really keen, or a quick hike will see you up it, great views off the top!

Wilderly Hill - a gradual uphill through fields for 3 miles, just where you want it at about 42 miles

Those running the 100 mile will probably have enjoyed other areas like the Wenlock Edge. (I did the 100 mile race last year, some slight course changes have been made since then reducing the elevation a little although I still don't think it would be called an 'easy' 100 mile. Is there such thing? Anyway...

Compared to last year the ground was more dry and there was a breeze to keep the temperature feeling a bit cooler. Some of the fields were a bit more rough on the ankles with the ground being hardened though I prefer it like that. I almost kept my feet entirely dry by tip toeing around the mud where possible but sacrificed one foot about 26ish miles in. I'd say conditions were ideal!

***warning technical stuff on pace calculating for my race if that sounds a bit boring just skip ahead  ;)  ***

To figure out a rough idea of timing and what pace I'd expect, I had a quick look at the route to see it was pretty much the same for 40 miles as what I ran last year in the 100 mile.
It's a 50 mile course with 2500m of elevation.
I ran 34 miles last weekend with about 1000m ascent in 4hours 33 mins -  felt comfortable, marathon split was 3.24 I think from memory.... So an extra 16 miles, an extra 1500m of ascent and about 8 miles of the route was unknown territory.

I usually knock trail marathons out with between 800 and 1200m of ascent in 3 - 3.5 hours on similar ground. I decided two x 4 hour marathons would = 8 hours and 54 miles.

This leaves a little bit of room to play with for checkpoint time, opening hundreds of gates (well quite a few), reading the map/ directions, toilet stops, taking photos and if the course is slightly long on the gps etc

I had a quick look at roughly what time I was hitting the cps last year

10 mile 1.23  
20 mile  3.02
30 mile 4.54 - really felt the heat here and invested time in sitting in a river to cool down and get hydrated at the cp
40 mile 7.13 - I knew if I had a good 30-40 mile section this would come down a lot!

*** technical stuff over for a bit ;) ****

So with 8 hours as an expected time including a 'safety net' I had a good idea of what to expect and could run to what intensity felt right for the race. 

On the morning it was ideal weather with a little breeze, kit check and registration was all fast and efficient and after catching up with some friendly faces it was time for a short briefing and the start. If you've every done a Beyond Marathon event you'll know how good their organisation is! 

There was a small group of us at the front leading out of the valley as we ascended then proceeded along the good track to the first self clip checkpoint (you have a tally card that you need to hole punch occasionally) before turning around and retracing the path for a few hundred meters and hanging a left onto a nice descent. Legs were enjoying the hills and within a few minutes I remember I noticed that I couldn't hear the gates been opened or shut behind me but kept my eyes on the map and did my best to remember where I was going from a year ago! Before I knew it I had reached cp 1 @ about 1 hr 16 min about 7 mins quicker than the year before.

I moved along after topping up my water bottle and grabbing a handful of jelly babies, Corndon Hill was in the bag pretty quickly and I was dropping some fast miles over the other side. I got a little confused not long after as the original course went through the grounds of a large country house on a footpath but was changed before the race last year as the footpath was hard to find (on a previous recce i spent a lot of time walking around looking for it) after a moment checking the written route description I remembered and set off on the quite country lane around and on my way back to the now 20 mile cp. I was told I had approx 10 minute gap on the next runners at the 10 mile point and continued on for the Stiperstones. I thought someone might have at least moved the rocks for us this year. I imagine it'd be interesting when wet though the nice dry conditions we had were ideal. I didn't stop to sit on the Devil's Chair this time and on I went. I think it was about 3.56 when I passed the marathon distance putting me bang on schedule for 8 hours I thought.

Once you make it over the small hill it's quite fast underfoot down into the 30 mile point which I hit around 25 minutes faster than I did last year. I topped up my water and got to it dropping in just under 7 min mile pace on the flat sections I was feeling great. I got to the self clip and thought I'd lost my tally card and was just debating what to do when I did some more rummaging and found it had squashed into the corner of my waist pack. Phew. I took it steady on the next section leading up to Earl's Hill as I was keen to avoid my legs having an Apocalypse of their own. After here I could remember the route all the way back to the cp or so I thought. After turning the wrong way at the bottom for a minute or so I got the map back out and realised my mistake. Quickly back on course and off through the forest before a fast mile or two road section into the 40 mile cp in 6 hours 15 mins. Nearly an hour ahead of last year. I didn't hang around at the cp and a quick look at the watch suggested I could be between 7 hours 30 and 8 hours somewhere depending on how the next 10 mile section was. 

I followed the map closely and had the written route description to hand also. Some of the grass in the fields was pretty long which would have made for wet wet feet if it had rained but I couldn't help but notice the next 5 km section crossing quite a lot of contour lines on the map. It looked a long gradual uphill stint and it was just that! A few paths turned off here and there but we just maintained a straight line along until hitting a country lane and another self clip. With most of the elevation in the bag now it was about 5 miles to the finish and I had 40 minutes to do it to beat the 8 hours. 

All was good until I got to a patch of trees with a gate through the middle, I went through and then through the next gate but on the map it suggested I should have been passing the trees to one side. I back tracked a few minutes and there was no path going anywhere else so I read the written description and it said I was right the first time, quickly back through the gates and I put my foot down over the last 2 miles to pick up the track down into Carding Mill Valley again. I didn't look at the watch just ran as hard as I could to try and stay below the hour.... too late! 8:01:32  I clocked in. 

I had a really nice run, enjoyed it from start to finish, even those pesky 93 seconds at the end! Mentally I think because I was 'only doing the 50' compared with last time I ran I knew I was running the 100 miles everything felt easier than last year and with the conditions being slightly better, everything just seemed to flow. Had I been a bit slicker with the directions and got my foot down a bit more there's a small chunk of time to be sliced off in similar conditions without any extra effort.

The race itself is fantastic. All the crew as usual couldn't be more helpful and it was great to share the weekend with so many enthusiastic runners and helpers! Well done all! Same time next year perhaps? 

Tuesday 12 May 2015

Sandstone Trail Challenge 2015 - 1st

The Sandstone Trail Challenge follows the way marked path from Whitchurch to Frodsham ... Not too far from Chester and Warrington. It's about 33 or 34 miles depending on who you ask. (Came out at 54km for me) There are no huge climbs with the highest point being Raw Head at 227m the trail clocks in around 1000m ascent.

I ran the event in 2012 and during the early stages lost my shoe in a cow field and twisted my ankle, although I continued to the end it didn't feel very good and I just had to hobble as best as possible in just over 5 hours. Since then I've covered the southern section of the route a couple of times so vaguely remembered parts but I was very familiar with the rest.

Thanks John for the photo! 

The idea is that everyone drives to the finish and registers by 7am before jumping on the coaches to the start at 7.15am then race starts about an hour later. It's about a 30 minute drive from my place and I forgot to set any alarm. Woke up at 6.20 and was in the car 5 minutes later! Arrived and registered just in time and was on the bus! It was a fantastic atmosphere from the off and great to see and catch up with some talented local runners who hone their skills and regularly wear grooves into the SST! Couple of breakfast 9bars and a banana wolfed down before the start and that was me ready.

At the start, a quick speech from the Mayor and we were let loose. I'd had a bit of a niggle in my quad a few weeks earlier so planned to ease into the run and just see what it was up to. I was sat in somewhere just outside the top 5 as we set off down the canal path probably just shy of 7 min miles. 

I moved up to the front after a while and just kept a steady pace going as we headed for the fields... I had expected the fields to be really, really muddy... They were but not as bad as I imagined. I didn't fancy thrashing myself through the mud early on so just kept a steady pace to first cp and then forgot about having to get my tally card stamped. Bit of fumbling and out it came, running away from the cp with Spartans Chris and Dave. The route starts into some elevation not long after and having held a lot back through the early stages meant I could run quite relaxed on the hills. I was loving the descents and did let the legs roll a bit down to cp2 at Bickerton. I really enjoy the sandstone-y bits of the trail, not the greatest fan of boggy cow fields and with plenty of grip underfoot the miles were passing by nicely.

 Conditions on the day felt warm though it wasn't exactly cracking the flags, it stayed pretty much dry apart from about a bucketful of rain. I was surprised that the muddy fields weren't in a worse way as I moved towards the Castles at Peckforton and Beeston and was descending into cp3 at some speed. Had to wait a moment for the guys to find the clipper for my tally card so had a drink and then was back to it!

Few more fields coming up to the next cp at Rock Farm which has a fairly long gradual climb towards it. At the top the path swings left and there's a clear view of where you've come from. I could see there was a decent gap behind as nobody was in sight behind, I guessed it must have been 5 mins or more and was feeling pretty comfortable as I set out towards Delamere Forest.

This section of the route I know pretty well and have done many races in Delamere so it was relaxed running through there and onward, or so I thought.... There were some quite excited horses around doing some sort of horse event so I had a fair bit of stopping and starting so as not to startle them (after one was jumping about all over the place as I jogged on the far side of the wide trail) didn't fancy being trampled by a horse....

At the last cp just outside the forest I was getting a bit peckish and so grabbed a couple of Jaffa cakes. The first one I ate whole but didn't really go down well with it being a bit dry so I chewed the jelly and chocolate off another two as I made way up the steady field paths out of the cp. I did a couple of stretches just to see how the quad was doing and everything felt fine as I rolled through the final miles up Frodsham Hill to the monument.

Thanks Sue for the piccy! 

I knew from the monument there'd be no chance I'd get passed by anyone on the last mile ish of descent into the finish and cruised on down only stopping for a road crossing and when I dropped my water bottle before jogging it across the field into the hall.

The helper outers at the end were fantastic! A constant supply of tea and soup as finishers started to drift in. Fantastic to share the day with so many people. Great organisation and a fantastic friendly event. I'd anticipated finishing in 4.30 so rolling in at 4 hours 33 mins I wasn't far off! I was really happy to get a good long run in to test the legs out.

A few trail marathons and steady training runs over the coming month before Dragons Back. Looking to cause some damage to my CR at the Bolton Hilly marathon something in the high 2.50's should go if conditions are ok! 

Look out for this one next year, Helsby Running Club organise it,
Race Directors Report here

Tuesday 5 May 2015

100 Miles of Istria, Croatia 2015

100 miles of Istria, Croatia. Actually a sneaky 172km so a few bonus miles in there. With 7000m of ascent and a linear route (a to b rather than a loop) I'd never been to Croatia so thought I'd get an entry in! I found all the organisation was fantastic, all the pre race communications were really simple and it made the whole thing easy to organise. There are a couple of shorter distance options too, we in the 100 mile were first to start on the Friday evening in a town called Labin. The finish is in Umag along with the registration and busses are put on to get runners to the relevant start. So after an hour or so on the bus we arrived in the town square where there was a few undercover areas and a snack buffet to get us going, was nice to get a bit of pizza and churros with my 9bars! 

After a short wait we were grouped together in front of the start arch way for a photo, it was cool and the forecast was for cloud and some rain through the night and into Saturday. I was right up to the front of the photo then the count down begun... everyone proceeded to turn around and start the other way! Ahh... I crossed the line in something like 296th position oops... the first km or two is downhill on a single track which had the odd rock and was a bit wet but basically had to walk down here until the path opened out along the sea for a few quicker kms. The first proper checkpoint is about 17km and I'd made it to the top 10 or there abouts. I can't remember if it had just about gone dark then or was just about to, this photo is just before dark as we ascended into the hills the cloud thickened.

The legs had felt a bit stiff the day or two before the race but I put that just to the travel or maybe just because I'd cut the mileage quite a lot in the couple of weeks before hand? Any of the times I've had legs feeling stiff has been after weeks were I've run the least.... Anyway moving into the night I was feeling good and it felt warm on the whole aside from the last few minutes ascending up to the high point of the course at 1400m where there were some patches of snow to the side of the path. Vest and shorts weather! Progress through the night was good, although no rain as yet the ground was wet and rocks were very slippery in the wet grassy paths. There was plenty of skidding about and found myself running with 2 other guys on and off for a few hours. A few runners from the shorter distances had flew past during the night. I was coming up to the 83km CP which would be about halfway. A good long descent into the valley and I felt something in my quad, carried on running and a few steps later the same thing, I slowed thinking it might be a rogue cramp but could feel a dull ache still there. Nothing changed over the next few minutes and I stopped to do a few stretches whilst admiring the misty view of the valley in front.

It didn't seem to feel any different so I thought I'd just carry on a couple of km to the next CP which was indoors and I could have a poke around and see what was going on. It was a bit further than I thought (I think 86km) but I got in just as it had begun to rain lightly. I got a drink then began to stretch out the hips and had a feel around in my quad, one of the muscles in the quad felt a bit tight and stiff compared to the others. I wasn't expecting my legs to feel totally fresh at this point but the fact that one particular bit of the muscle felt different to the other made me a bit curious. Whilst I was stretching I decided I might as well do something useful and got some extra food and drink down. The quad didn't improve so I decided to go steady for a bit and see if it loosened off. Any kind of downhill was becoming a bit painful, I could jog on the flat ok and walking uphill also was ok. I knew my pace had dropped but was happy to just keep going and surely I could just keep walking worse case scenario?

The route got a little muddy in places and we came across a cp inside a church which was pretty cool. Again I tried to release the muscle but nothing seemed to help. It did feel a bit worse than the previous cp but I continued on anyhow. The rain began to set in a bit heavier and I was thankful that I at least had good gear on to keep dry (Berghaus Hyper Smock which packs down to smaller than a fist) This was about the worst of the mud, almost reminded me of the Viking Way! I was glad I'd packed a spare base layer and a spare jacket.

As I slowly made my way to the 110km cp it was quite open and there was no shelter from the rain so I wrapped a foil blanket around me to keep me under my backpack so I was totally dry. The cp was in a stone arch way so dry but with a cool wind blowing through. I knew the leg was getting a bit worse so I decided to sit off for an hour or so get plenty of food and drink in whilst massaging the leg then I'd carry on. After a quick change I began shoveling food down. Some runners coming through the  cp were drenched and really quite cold from the rain. Some were worried about going into the next night as they now had wet gear and wet clothes. I was glad to still be pretty dry and have a spare jacket and top to go on if needed but having tried to move around a little bit my quad was still tight. I decided to drop as something was clearly not right. 

The day after the race my legs felt ok aside from the one part of my quad which was painful. It felt like I had run all the race just using one strand of muscle! I was limping about a little bit and just iced the muscle and took it easy. The following day, so 48 hours later than finishing the race, I could slowly walk normally but still feel some tension. After checking in with Richard for a massage when I got back there was a definite difference in the texture of the muscle, plenty of foam rolling and I did some gentle cycling and some upper body training to get me through the week. 

2 weeks later I'm glad I did the right thing. Not had any pain although I've not really run more than 2.5 hours I'm confident to put some decent training runs in this week to see how we go. Looking back I didn't see the sense in limping to the end for an additional 45 miles for the sake of finishing, had I picked up a more serious injury I might not be able to do very much even now. I thought I'd be regretting dropping out at the time but it still seems like the only sensible option. I had done nearly 30km at a slower speed to give it time to loosen up.

The race itself... fantastic! The wet ground made for difficult conditions in places. I think the leg issue came about from a combination of being a bit stiff after having 2 easier weeks and also a lot of sitting during travel (aside from driving or cycling I rarely sit down) it was probably made worse from regaining a footing numerous times on the slippery descents.

Doing a little less running has given me some more time to get planning the next trail run coaching holiday for later this year. I'm just looking at possible locations although I'm keen to repeat the location from February! Here's a little trailer to whet your appetite