Tuesday 30 June 2015

The Berghaus Dragon's Back Race 2015

According to the website...

''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''

Basically it's a long way, pretty hilly and the ground is rough. The route is split to 5 days and depending on your finish time the day before, you are given a time window to set off the next day between 6 and 9. Folks with the quickest finish times start later and those needing a bit more time started earlier. The course cut off time was 11pm and each day there was a cut off at the halfway checkpoint too. Fastest runners were averaging about 8 hours running each day whereas those at the back of the field who completed the event were averaging about 15 hours per day!! 

For multi day racing there is a fine balance between running too hard and wearing yourself out and running too slowly and wearing yourself out... What do I mean? Well the competitors taking the longest effectively get less rest and have to start earlier the following day. After day 1 I'd finished around 4pm, showered, rehydrated, had a couple of meals, lounged about in the sun and was feeling quite refreshed by 9pm when there were still competitors coming in to the finish who would have to rush down some food and sort their kit ready to be up at 5am to eat and prepare for their start time. Equally though you probably don't want to hit the first day as hard as you can to the point where your legs can't hold you up the next morning!

On paper the distances don't sound too crazy for your average trail race.. I estimated each day of the DBR would be double the time I'd race on the trails for similar distance. To be fair that estimate isn't far off and we had near ideal weather on the whole (few spots of rain on the final day aka very wet on the higher hills)

In 2012 I was part of the marshal crew and got to do a bit of running on day 3 and day 5. I also knew the majority of day 1 as it's my usual training ground around Snowdonia when in the hills. Aside from that there were a lot of unknown areas which I was looking forwards too! I had decided not to try and recce the route as it might dilute the adventure a little bit. I expected day 1 and day 5 to be my best days in terms of positions which was fairly accurate.

My typical daily routine was to wake up an hour before starting, wolf down 2 9bars and a bottle of water then make my way to the catering tent for an egg sandwich and a couple of cups of tea. Return to tent, stuff everything into my overnight bag (transported to the next camp) and put a fresh bag of jelly babies into my running backpack, top up the water bottles and get to the start line. Run a long way, recovery shake immediately after finishing, get washed and clean, drink tea, eat cake, drink tea eat meal, drink, eat, some mobility exercises, drink, eat again before heading to bed with a bottle of water and snacks for the morning ready to eat straight away.

My running backpack I didn't alter all week, same kit in there, just added a bag of jelly babies to it in the morning. My drop bag for the half way point also stayed the same I picked up a second bag of jelly babies or meerkats at half way point from it most days. Effectively on the course I was eating 1-2 bags of jelly sweets and over the week I had 2 or 3 gels. Aside from an ice cream stop on day 3 and day 5 that was it during the running. 

In terms of kit I carried the Berghaus Hyperlite smock and waterproof trousers along with a long sleeve top, the power stretch gloves and hat in my race vest along with the other usual compulsory kit. I ran in the same pair of Vapour Claw shoes all week. For socks I wore injinji toe socks for the first 3 days and some random coolmax hiking socks for the final 2 days. Apart from a scrape on the ankle bone from a rock and a little abrasion on the top of my big toe from kicking a rock running through some heather I had no blisters or anything to deal with.

Had the weather been more wet then I probably would have changed my top and jacket at the halfway point too. I think it would be a whole different experience in bad weather! I didn't bother to change socks at half way because they would have got wet pretty much straight away again anyway.

So now I've all the logistics out of the way... On to the start line we go in Part 2! 

Friday 19 June 2015

0 - 4 - 0 The Race up Mount Teide - Tenerife

I saw the race website a few months back and thought WOW! Mount Teide is 3817m high and the race 0 4 0 was to go from sea level (on the beach) run up to the summit (about 18 miles) and then return back down again. Starting at midnight a marked course, checkpoints and probably some sunshine! Sounded perfect! I got my flights booked and hotel sorted and was ready to go! About 2 or 3 weeks before we were due to run I got a phone call from the organiser to say that basically they had been unable to get a Race permit to access the summit...

As it stood we would still have an event only we might have to turn around just below the summit where there is a warden during the day (you need a permit to access the summit during the day, the permits are free I believe just need to be booked in advance) we were told we needed to be at the summit before 8am from a midnight start so no worries there. Still a marked route and checkpoint and some guide runners too.

I've been asked by a lot of people what happened and got a lot of worried sounding messages wondering why I hadn't started the race if there was something wrong with me etc. Thanks for the support guys! Just wanted to share with you what happened....

I flew out on the Friday and caught up with Dave and Melissa who I've known a while from various races. The race was due to start Saturday night as the clock hit midnight into Sunday morning. We met at 7pm in the hotel for dinner so we could grab food and get our heads down for a snooze before running through the night. It was now that we met up with the organiser and he informed us that there would be no support or checkpoints or guide runners or markings etc basically we'd  be all on our own.... Obviously we were pretty crushed but determined to make a good run from it somewhere. Between myself, Dave and Melissa and some phone calls to other Brits running we came up with the idea to run the following day at 3pm on our own backs just to give us time to re prepare. Now around 8pm we were informed by the organiser a group of Spanish runners were going to do it anyway and had got a water supply up to 2000m (roughly half way) they were starting around 11pm though and details were very vague... We decided to get our stuff together and give it a shot.

We crossed the beach to touch the sea and saw some runners had already begun and some were still preparing, very much a free for all. After starting ourselves it very quickly became spread out and there was nobody to follow. After maybe 30 mins or so I'd hit a track which was going around the hill side towards a town, it didn't seem right as we weren't climbing much anymore so I waited for the torch to catch me up that was running behind. It was Melissa and we continued on together. There was lights of a town just ahead so we decided to continue to there to check on the map where we actually were as the marked trail we were expecting hadn't really materialised. The road meandered around the hills and on reaching the village found we were 4 or 5 miles off route. Checking the map that we'd got (it was a pretty vague scale but the best map we'd been able to get hold of at such short notice) there wasn't really any good way to get back to the route except the way we had come. 
With everything that had gone on we decided to make our way back to the hotel then start the route at 3pm the following day! Seeing as it had long since lost the title of a race we just had to get up and down that hill one way or another! 

So 3pm the following day (Sunday now) we set out from the beach - Myself and Melissa with the plan to get up then get back down to meet the organiser for a lift back to the hotel. He waited out for us well into the night and we finally got back to the hotel at around 3am having run up the mountain!

The concept of the event is fantastic and the route itself will challenge runners of all abilities in one way or another! There is a couple of km during the middle that is a bit less steep climbing but other than that the whole way up is a decent gradient. We broke through the clouds just over 2000m and got to see an amazing sunset from about 3000m.

The route gets pretty rocky in places. With a bright torch it's easy to spot the trail within the rocks, during the daylight it would be fine! There is a particularly stiff climb up to a refuge hut (essentially like a hostel up a mountain) around 3200m we ducked in to get a drink and something to eat from the vending machines. It would be an awesome trip to get out on a multi day run stopping in these places! Really nice inside! The manager was happy to change our money for Euro coins. Once we were topped up we set off for the final push for the summit which was quite interesting. The wind was cool at this point if you were to sit directly in the path of it but as you ascended there were pockets of very warm sulphur smelling air where there were holes in the rock. Pretty cool! We followed the chained path to reach the summit where we sat out of the wind to try and get a photo. Phone batteries didn't last long in the temperatures. 

We began making our way down the incredibly rocky descent. Melissa is a little more careful descending and so we take our time back down towards the refuge. We're now well in the dark but still above the clouds and looking up the sky is illuminated with stars. There is no wind any more and it's the perfect conditions for a night time run! Together we worked our way down to meet the organiser who had waited out to give us a lift back to our hotel. He had a can of coke and a bar of milka waiting for us which went down a treat after a long run out in the mountains! 

We all had a fantastic trip aside from the obvious. It was great that we were able to get up the mountain and experience the stunning terrain! I really hope the race can be put on successfully somehow next year. A really challenging route, if you'd like to have a bash I'd suggest getting some practice in on some steep and very rocky ground. 

Bolton Hilly Marathon 2015

Having set the course record the previous  year which stood at 3 hours 3 mins I was keen to push under the 3 hour mark! In 2014 I had focused on the race and been out to do some quicker training runs along the course before the day. This year with the race being later in the year I had to try and squeeze it in between other races and didn't give it quite the same focus... So here's how it went on the day!

I rolled up just in time to grab my number and a quick warm up and say a few hello's before we were lined up on the start and ready to go. Straight from the start me and another local runner Steve set the pace and were making light work of the gentle climb to the mast on Winter Hill. A few local celebrities like Mr Kitchin lurking around taking photos on the top too! We chatted a bit and both of us seemed quite relaxed. Normally if someone pulls along side me early on a bit of chatting soon shows up if someone is running themselves out of their depth. Steve sounded comfortable enough so I was excited that we might get some quick times this year pushing each other on! We pretty much ran stride for stride down through the second cp and then traversed along Georges Lane and over towards the third cp (there were even more checkpoints this year, really well stocked, they were everywhere, no complaints of course!)

As we moved along towards the halfway point still side by side and chatting Steve had some friends out on course supporting including a guy on a mountain bike with drinks and the like. Pretty handy and kept us amused as we headed out on the out and back leg along near White Coppice, there was a slight change in route from last year due to a few signs missing so the marshals had jumped in and sorted it. Really good of them!!

So on the return leg we pass many of the top half of runners and it was great to see a good mix of smiles, determination and enthusiasm! It gave us a real boost. Shortly later Steves bike support popped up again and each time there seemed to be a nudge up in pace, it's an awesome boost seeing people you know out on the route and it made me work a bit harder to keep the pace. I had a glance at the watch and after initially feeling like we were ahead of last years pace I didn't think we were quite quick enough for the sub 3 hour at this point as we made our way along the reservoirs. A few calculations in my head and I was going to need to run a 36 minute final 10km including a 200m ascent  hmmmm..... not long later we came towards the penultimate checkpoint and I was in need of more water whilst Ste ran on with his mountain bike mate I filled up and chased on. Pulled the small gap back and we began ascending around the side of the school. I had to make a quick pit stop then tripped when I spun around and set off in pursuit again.

As we made our way up the last climb I was maybe 30 - 60 sec behind but I knew I wasn't going to be able to do the last 5 miles in 25 mins for the sub 3 hour! When I realised that I almost felt like just stopping and walking to the end. I kept running and made my way past the final checkpoint and up the last bit of climbing before cruising down towards the finish in 2nd place.

It's a fantastic local event and a generous prize fund. I had pretty much one goal... to break my course record from last year and finish in 2 hours fifty-something. I still know it's doable, hopefully the date will fall within my faster training period next time and I can put a bit of effort in to make it happen! It was great running with someone for the majority of the race. The miles literally flew by, to be honest I was surprised at the time, nothing seemed to go wrong anywhere we just hadn't run nearly as quick as last year.

The following day I headed to Scafell Pike marathon in the Lake District. I wonder if my brain was limiting me on the Saturday knowing what it was in for on the Sunday?

Next weekend I'm off to run the 0-4-0 in Teneriefe from sea level to 3817M Mount Teide and back!
After that it's the Dragons Back race and then back to Spain for AAUT!

Friday 5 June 2015

Excalibur Trail Marathon 2015 - 1st

Excalibur is a trail marathon in the Clwydian hills for the Claire House charity. It's pretty tough as trail marathons go with 1700m ascent or about 5500ft. The highest point is 500 and odd meters but lots of short sharp climbs soon add up! Trails are fairly easy going, a few bits of rocks here and there some grassy fields but on the whole good tracks. Lots of well stocked checkpoints and course markings and marshals were fantastic! Really well organised too! 

On the day it was pretty warm and there was a quick kit check before a briefing. The race also has a half marathon option which shares the same start for about 1 mile. It was great to catch up with plenty of friends who were doing the various races once again! From the start there was about 7 of us in a small group, I was having a glance around at the numbers to see who was doing the half and who was doing the marathon, turns out at the split everyone else turned on to the half route so I was alone leading the marathon. After a couple of minutes just before a steady ascent on a wide trail I heard some heavy breathing and some loud feet then had a couple of runners on my shoulder. A little bit of chat and it seemed like they were working quite hard to maintain the pace up the climb. As we reached the top I moved ahead and began to create a gap.

In terms of pacing I'd expected to take about a minute per mile off my time from 2014 which I won in 4.03. On a good day and a bit of effort something around 3.30 would be possible. For today I expected a little slower than that around about 3.40 with the upcoming Bolton Hilly Marathon and Scafell Pike Marathon on the 6/7th June. I wasn't really sure on any particular split times from last year but felt like I was moving well. It was great to see Laura and David from Sport Sunday taking photos on the course! Excellent and supportive as always! www.sportsunday.co.uk has all the official photos! 

The course is pretty consistently up and down, not many flat sections, I'd say 4 bigger climbs but plenty of shorter sharper ones to go at too in between. After a few miles the  course joins back to the half marathon runners so I was gradually moving through the field which was nice to have people to chat to during the run. Everyone was very encouraging and seemed to be enjoying the day! As we reached about half way at the furthest point of the course I could see 2nd place in the distance so kept the pace on over the next few miles so he didn't get any ideas. 

The longest climb coming up from about 20 miles to 22.5 miles I thought would be an ideal point to put a bit of effort in and make sure there was still a good gap. I looked back from the top and thought I must have about 3 minutes to play with. Knowing the route, it undulates another 2 miles before Moel Famau. I kept a steady pace and enjoyed the final miles towards Moel Famau just shy of 2 miles from the finish and all down hill from here. I had a quick chat at the checkpoint there and looked back... Would I need a sprint finish? .... No sign of 2nd place so I must have had a couple of minutes gap at least. I jogged it down to the finish knowing that for someone to make up a minute per mile on me (or more) whilst I was doing just under 7 min miles would be a big ask.  

I finished in 3.42 so about 21 minutes quicker than last year. I knew it'd be a quicker time than 2014 and was around about where I expected. I also ran 20km the week before taking in the bigger climbs of the route and even at a comfortable pace was quick on all the ascents compared to the previous year so I was confident on my prediction. I'd also picked up a 2nd place in the Harrock hill 8.5km race during the week which was my best time there too. I didn't realise how hot it was on the day and should have taken some electrolytes in hindsight. 

If you're after a tough but friendly and well supported trail marathon, this is one to look at!