Saturday 30 April 2016

100 miles of Istria, Croatia 22hr 03min

170km with 7000m of ascent crossing the Istria region of Croatia, relatively close to the boarder with Italy and Slovenia nearby. The team organising the race have got things spot on logistically and looking back, I can't really think where you could improve the event. The finish is in a town against the sea called Umag and all the registration and finish ceremonies/ meals etc are here so it makes sense to stay here and take the bus to the start on the Friday afternoon to the start. After the Northburn 100 mile last month I wasn't approaching this with quite the same focus and intensity but was fully expecting to be faster here (3000m less elevation although a touch longer) with the same kind of approach it would probably crack below the 20 hour mark.
Sooooo.... Friday there's a fleet of coaches transporting runners to the start in Labin which has an old town square and hosts the start of the race. Lots of excitement here as the locals start to line the streets to see us all off.

I started near to the front within the top 20 as the path narrows within the first minute or two of running. I found myself behind a small group and moved ahead after about 15 mins when the path opens out. Probably now around tenth but just cruising along steady and settling into a rhythm. The only concern I really had was using new shoes and it felt as if my calves were working harder than normal although I was running OK, just kept at it.

Around 20km in the first big climb up to about 1400m and with a 4 PM start it meant the front end get to see the sunset near the top of the ascent which was pretty stunning! Beautiful weather for the whole race was forecast and apart from just throwing a jacket on briefly as I crossed the highest point of the course I ran in a vest.

The terrain in general is quite tricky underfoot with lots of small rocks, the most tricky I found were the sections going through rocky paths with long grass growing through although some sections going through woods with roots rocks and fallen leaves were also exciting! I was getting a little bit sleepy on a section of about ten km leading towards half way, maybe something to do with it being the middle of the night. The markings were incredible, you could literally always see the next marker and would pass more than one every minute.

Moving through the night in near perfect conditions I arrived with eventual 3rd place about a minute ahead at the 89km checkpoint which is the major halfway ish point and has drop bags and all that kind of stuff. Changed batteries in my torch and grabbed some more gels etc to restock my pack and was back out and moving well quickly.

Over the next section my legs didn't feel very lively, although the second half of the course is far easier on paper, overall I didn't feel I was moving that well between 100km and the finish. There are some shorter races taking place and joining our course and during the second half I thought I must have lost about 15 places although by the finish only 2 were in the 100 mile the rest were doing the 100km and 70km events I guess!

At one point I was running towards the 70 mile point and I hadn't seen a marking for about a minute! Normally in most races this isn't uncommon but having been so regular before this point I wasn't sure what to do. I decided as it  was a good track and there wasn't any obvious turnings I would carry on but checked the time and decided if nothing came up in half a km I'd go back. So half a km and I turned back... There was a runner coming towards me and he said we were OK but called someone and checked and we continued the way I had been going for about 5 minutes and the markers were back! All good i was happy to use those minutes checking the direction and it wasn't long before arriving at Hum checkpoint.

There are about 7 climbs of 400m or just less in the second half followed by a relatively easy final 15km. The day was beginning to warm up nicely as I picked off the next few checkpoints. Some beautiful old towns perched up on hills and all the volunteers were incredible! Time wasn't exactly flying by though I was enjoying the scenery and the weather couldn't be better! It wasn't long before I'd reached the final 30km and although it felt fairly slow I managed in about 3 hours taking me gently to the finish 18 minutes off 4 th position. There was a wide variety of countries taking part with 8 different nationalities in the top 10 which is great to see. Once again some fantastic organisation, everything was really straight forward and carefully planned!

I'm essentially building towards 170km in Andorra in July which had almost double the ascent of this so simply surviving it seems like a challenging idea. Once I get out there I'll have a better idea what I'm in for but anything much under 40 hours would place the top 10 in previous years for comparison!

Wednesday 13 April 2016

Northburn 100 mile New Zealand 2016

Back in 2008 I spent almost 2 years in New Zealand, ever since I left I always wanted to go back. I was mainly bouldering then, did some hiking too but wasn't really a runner. I decided that to make it a worthy trip I'd pack in a few races and base myself out in the mountains of Wanaka to train.
The Northburn 100 mile has been running for a few years now and has grown it's reputation for being wild and tough, the hills are very exposed, tracks are generally a bit rough underfoot with some off piste tussocky, spear grass lined patches here and there. In terms of the route it's just a slither over 100 mile with around 10000m of ascent... Some people were claiming 11 but I clocked on just under 10 including my little diversion. Weather-wise we got dry conditions with some strong winds on the top, (i got blown over a fence and had to crawl at one point) it was pretty hot down in the valley. Had it been less windy it would have been hotter... That would probably have caused more issues than the wind.

Kit check and registration was Friday evening then a very entertaining briefing from Terry, one of the organisers... We got a good and detailed run through of the course along with advice like
'The entire area is a big mass of hazards for you runners'
'Beware of the foliage'
The course had grown a bit since previous editions apparently an extra 1000m of climbing had been squeezed in. To give an idea of difficulty  there is a 48 hour cut off.
Come Saturday morning 6 am start we lined up along with 50km and 100km runners and set out into the dark. There is an initial flat 5km loop before heading off on the first long gradual climb to 1600m at about 25km. I'd ended up with the lead 50km runner until about 15km in where I moved ahead as we reached rougher ground. I hadn't expected to be leading ahead of the shorter races too but was happy with my effort levels and took it as a good sign. It was cloudy up high at this point so I just kept paying attention to the markings and passed through a checkpoint before starting to descend. It all went fairly smoothly I cruised down, kept sipping through water and grazed off a bag of jelly snakes and reached another CP where the marshal informed me I was starting the 'loop of despair'....
I jogged on up the climb and saw the leading 50km runner about 5-10 mins behind though nobody else as far as I could see. The course weaved around a gully and I followed the tape to a good track which started to descend. The previous checkpoint came back into view and I thought great! The path met the previous track I'd run up earlier and I carried on down to the checkpoint where the marshal informed me I shouldn't be here again!!! I'd been confidently following markers the whole time and couldn't figure what had happened. After a minute or two trying to figure out what happened I saw the map in the car that the checkpoints each had. I took a look and set off to retrace my steps back up the hill.

I'd done just shy of 3km extra and about 20 mins when I saw a guy I'd meet a few weeks earlier heading towards me past a marker. I stopped him and we scanned around to see some markers over the fence in the next paddock. I ripped a couple of the markers and tied on extra so it was more obvious. 2 runners had gone the correct way off the 50km and me and Paul had gone wrong, at this point nobody else has reached the turn. From this point I was stopping at nearly every bend and twist to look for markers and had a really stressful next few km. I then saw a lady running who wasn't in either of the ultras but was in the half marathon and that confused me even more... After stopping and starting, I decided just to carry on to the end of the loop and see if I was on course or not and decide what to do from there. Luckily turns out I was on track though two 50km runners had finished before me. (Well done Lucy and Paul)

I'd planned to throw down a tin of rice pudding here in an attempt to eat more than I usually do. I had about a third of a tin but decided that wasn't going down well and headed out on the second loop. I was trying to regain my focus after losing around 30 mins on loop one I was concerned about the markings and really hesitant at junctions. The course layout is pretty confusing with various loops crossing and weaving all over. The maps that cp staff had were good, would have been no problems at all if runners were given those to. I didn't take any wrong turns for the rest of the race but being in the lead meant I was the first at checkpoints and together with some of the marshals we had to figure out where I was actually meant to go next, had i not double checked with a particular checkpoint on loop 3 I would have just been sent the wrong way. They called to HQ to check where to send me as I was certain I should be climbing more.

Anyways... I was out on the second 50km loop (different to the first) and was still on track for what I thought would be a sub 24 hour time. I reckoned if I did the first 100km in 12 hours I would have 12 hours to do the last 60 odd km loop which would be fairly easy. Moving up the next climb back to 1600m I felt like I was crawling, I regretted the rice pudding and decided from there I'd stick to liquid calories like usual. I lay down in a stream for a few minutes to cool off and it was like hitting the reset button. I finished the rest of the climb and here came the windy ridge... It was here I got blown over a fence then a little later had to crawl on my hands and knees along a section of the ridge as I just couldn't move into the wind. I've been blown off my feet a few times by strong gusts but this was sustained strong wind. I was feeling good and treated to some awesome views of leaning rock. There was a van checkpoint here and the guy inside couldn't get the door open against the wind. I confirmed the direction and headed downhill one more.

I felt really strong over the next few km and the second 25km of the loop just breezed past, it wasn't long before I was heading back in to the main aid station and finishing loop 2. The watch was showing 107km in 12.44, considering my early detour I was happy with that and topped up my water and got more batteries etc for the night that was to close in shortly.
Another long climb here about 12km gaining 1200m. I knew there were 3 more decent climbs on the loop but didn't really pay any attention to the time from now. I was visiting the same checkpoints as the previous loop but a totally different order. As I was now crossing paths regularly with people still on the previous loop I spent a lot of time trying to check I was going the right way. The last thing I would have wanted was to go off course. The terrain was pretty similar aside from a little descent to a water race where a few safety ropes had been rigged up to stop anyone jumping off the edge. Soon enough I'd hit the little mountain hut checkpoint TW for the final time after the two climbs and was just 20km from the finish including a final climb. I'd had word that I was miles clear of 2nd and so enjoyed cruising down the long descent to a final cp. Just one more hill! Everything felt great and from the top it was obviously all downhill to the finish and I was passing many runners coming the other way who were just starting out on their last 60km loop. I shouted a few 'well dones' but tried not to give away that I was about to finish.

I rolled in just after 4am finishing in 22 hours 11 mins. I'd like to say a huge thank you and well done to those involved both organising, competing and supporting! Together it all added up to a great event!

I've not counted recently but it's getting toward 20x 100 mile or longer races that I've done, all my highest placing and generally best runs have been on majority liquid calories and minimal solids. Bottom line for the longer races you need to be putting calories in one way or another, I hear of a lot of people struggling to fuel properly which can lead to some epic drops in pace. When I was doing my first couple of years of ultras I ate a lot more solid food I guess as I was less fit my stomach could keep up with digesting stuff whereas now I can keep a much higher average pace it seems easier to stick to liquid.
Heading back to Europe soon, my next trail run coaching week is in June (details on my website) and I've a few races lined up before then leading up to Andorra Ultra Trail in July (170km with 13500m ascent)
Should be interesting!