Sunday, 14 December 2014

North Wales - Men and dogs

Great winter weekend in North wales with the dogs... 3 areas explored - Glyders, Nantle ridge and Cadair Idris

Tiger and Panda spotted in Wales from Andy Humphrey on Vimeo.

Friday, 24 October 2014

Ouse Micro

Micro adventure / wild camp down the River Ouse

Ouse MicroAdventure from Andy Humphrey on Vimeo.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Cornwall 2014

What a week  : glorious sunshine, Lands End, Beaches, Swiming with horses, Scilly Isles, Seals ...

Cornwall 2014 from Andy Humphrey on Vimeo.

Swimming with horses from Andy Humphrey on Vimeo.

Friday, 12 September 2014

UTMB // CCC 2014

The UTMB is surely a global race of such distinction that few others come close to the organisation, the course, the depths of despair that so many will have to endure to complete. Amazing people one and all who had managed to get to the start line, a high accolade to those making the finish. Of course, it is not perfect. An event like this comes with some negatives. I was going to start this write up with such words, the CCConga....long queues and seemingly miserable runners, a focus on making money. But, once you get into the race it is truly difficult not to get wrapped up in the warmth and joy this large race has to offer, to feel emotion and to realise you are taking part in something pretty special that few get to experience. To those that question whether to do it. Sign up now and ensure you make a long weekend of it. Take in the ambiance of the town before and after, it does have that magical feel of a big competition which few Ultras could claim. I will though enjoy those quiet ultras immeasurable in the future.

I had arrived a couple of days early and had planned a wild camp up the Aig d'Midi. But on meeting Orla, an instantly likeable American, at the apartment I decided to stay in town, register for the race, enjoy the company and relax with a few drinks and a good meal, I was joined by more friends who were in the valley, Jake and Melissa. We even saw Timmy Olson, Mike Wardian and others in the MBC bar.
The day before Orla decided on a taper run!!! Nothing doing there for me. With the weather looking perfect I decided to meet Jake and Melissa up at Brevent and took an acclimatisation hike up to one of the smaller summits. The panoramas from this side of the valley must be hard to beat in the world.

Back in town I was introduced to Milan, a Czech living in Holland with a great pedigree of epic ultra running. It was clear how international this race was. People from 75 far afield nations had gathered to compete in this iconic race.

So, what of the race?
Up early and sneaking out so as not to disturb the others (Jan and Jiri had arrived late and crashed in the lounge). I did not want to wake anyone as these guys would have to be up shortly and run the race of their lives in the UTMB, where stamina and mental strength would determine how long it would take. The transfer to Courmayer was simple, quick and straight forward. In Italy there was not much to do for an hour. I rested up in the sports hall and waited until the inevitable migration to the start line.
The CCC (Courmayer - Champex - Chamonix) race stats are crazy. A quick run down of the race; 101km with 6100m of vertical. The first 10km are uphill. Km's 30 to 50 are all down and from km60 onwards it's steeply up, then down, up then down, up then finally down to the finish.

Courmayeur - Tete de la Tronche : 10.4km / 3hrs8mins / 1435m gain /1924th-1722nd (202 places taken)  -- It starts, slowly.
1924 runners started. I began at the back, strangely for once with no 'issues', body felt good and the dreaded cold that seems to follow me on race days didn't make an appearance. The front was filled with compression clad pros, the middle pack, congested with cladded hopefuls. The day was to be enjoyed, not ruined with the frustrations of dodging poles, elbows and people so I began my journey at the back of queue. Although impatience did get the better of me at times. Bottlenecks and queues were a given for the first ascent. In fact, I was caught up at some points by slower groups the entire race and the last section into Chamonix was the only place that no-one got in my way. But I was here to complete and not worry about a time or placing. The crowds added to the atmosphere and it gave me a few opportunities to talk to fellow runners. Up to La Tronche I had a good chat with Sarah, a Kiwi from Edinburgh. We set the political agenda right on the upcoming referendum then moved swiftly on to more interesting conversation. Unfortunately, one of my overtaking manoeuvres separated us. Sarah was unable to follow and the gap soon grew. Finally after over 3hrs of slow slogging uphill we climbed no more. We could enjoy the views and give our thighs a brief breather.

Tete de la Tronche - Refuge Bertone : 4.3km (14.7km) / 640m loss /  3hrs50 (42mins on section) / 1639th (83) -- Lost time and views to die for.

With such a slow pace there was no time to dawdle. We all set off on a fast paced exhilarating descent back down to the valley bottom.  I'd hoped to see Sarah again at the CP and wish her luck but the mass of people and the desire to keep moving pushed me on, taking a couple of pieces of cake with me. I have learnt that  by taking a large ziplock bag I can grab a few things and get going without wasting too much time. This worked, although I always grabbed too much and by the end it resembled a mush of 20 varieties of food stuffs.

Refuge Bertone - Ref. Bonatti : 7.4km (22.1km) / 320m gain 350m loss / 5hrs4 (1hr14) /1548th (91) --  La Valle Beautful

The Aosta Valley is certainly breathtaking. Glacial filled rivers, one side imitating a Welsh valley, the other showcasing the might of the Alps. Mt Blanc was shrouded in clouds but the Grandes Jorasses et al bared down on us with their menacing seracs and rock walls. This section rolled and in the main was runable, when crowd dispersal allowed. A pleasant chat with a lad from North Face and the the next CP was reached.

Ref. Bonatti - Arnuva : 5.2km (27.4km) / 230m gain 370m loss / 6hrs (56mins) / 1476th (72) -- Perfect trails.

More enjoyable running to the head of the valley and to a major CP where many runners (too many in my opinion) were taking a respite. If this is what it took to spread out the field then it works for me.

Arnuva - Grand col Ferret : 4,4 km (31.8km) / 770m gain 90m loss / 7hrs30 (1hr30) / 1412th (64) -- Ciao Italie

Up, Up and UP, we went. The poles came out. Better to use them than carry them. Nearing the top the weather certainly started to turn. The clouds darkened and the wind whipped around us. Feeling the altitude a few took refuge in the acclimatisation tents. Rich oxygen to re-energise their bodies and return them to the field. I certainly felt the altitude but it never hit me hard thankfully. Taking sips of water would leave me gasping for breath for a few moments and then it would pass.
I had now been going for 7hrs 30 and had done less than 32km. That's 20 miles. I now understood why it would take so long to complete this race. The terrain continually working you hard and slowing you down.

G Col Ferret - La Fouly : 10.1km (41.9km) / 235m gain 1140m loss / 8hrs53 (1hr20) / 1305th (107) -- Allez Allez

From the top it was downhill for a long way. And what a descent, one of the best. I linked up with Susanne from Sweden here and we zig- zagged our way down. It was fun after the hours of slogging uphill just to be able to fly down the hill and zip past people (It felt that way, the videos show it as a little more laborious). Enjoyment was slightly marred with the onset of rain. We made our way at the head of the valley, lush with forest and fresh rivers to the town of La Fouly with another large CP.

La Fouly - Champex Lac : 14.1km (55km) / 700m gain 900m loss / 11hrs24 (2hr30) / 1163rd (142)  -- Rain

Leaving the CP, I again lost my running partner. Susanne had her dad in the valley to help so I am sure we would of run at different paces in any case. I had gone 10+ mins out of town when a sudden realisation that my poles were not in my hands. D'oh. Now, I did deliberate for a good few minutes on leaving them. If they were cheap I might well of. But they weren't so I retraced my steps, found my poles in the tent and re-started.

Although surrounded with low clouds and looking rather miserable you had that feeling that this was a beautiful valley and one to visit again in better conditions. The first third took us along the river and then a path cut into the mountain side. The second part went into the valley where we got to enjoy the open space and the local communities. They had all come out to cheer each and every one of us along. One family even set up a tea and coffee stand. Excellent support from warm, friendly people. The final third took us back into the forests and hills and up to the small ski resort of Champex (one to explore when I return ski touring). Closing in on the CP, daytime turned to darkness and it seemed that each runner was waiting for someone else to put their torch on first and so we all carried on trekking in the darkness until the bright lights of Champex shone through and showed us the way.

Champex - La Giete : 11.2km (67km) / 900m gain 400m loss / 14hr28 (3hr4) / 1008th (155) -- Schoolboy error

Relaxing in the huge marquee I got some pasta and soup, filled my flask with tea and got my cold weather/night time gear ready. Baselayer - check, waterproof coat - check. Head torch - check.  Hang on why is only a quarter battery showing!! No problem I will use my spares. Not working!! Fiddlesticks. My crappy spare torch would just have to do when my main one ran out. I left the tent a little flustered while everyone inside seemed to be getting ready for 3 course meals, fresh clothes and unwinding. There was certainly no rush to get back out from the majority.

I had hoped the rain had dispelled but it seemed stronger so I stopped and put on my waterproof jacket on again. With luck this time I realised a little sooner about my poles and didn't need to deliberate on turning around to retrieve them!

Once out of Champex I had decided to only use my torch when there was a risk of hurting myself. I followed from light to light, tucking in behind someone (asking for any spares, which no-one had) and using their light to direct me. There was still enough people around that the ones behind helped illuminate the way and if I wanted to press on I could by-pass and soon link up with someone else. This did suck though and I really hoped that at the top of the mountain an all night supermarket would be open!! Wishful thinking. Depending on others to help show me the way was not what I wanted for the rest of the night. One thought was to hold up once my lights had run out and to wait for day light. Whilst I still had light and friends around I would proceed. One of which was another English lady and we egged each other on up the relentless hill, through rain and washed out tracks.

La Giete - Trient : 4.8km (72km) / 260m gain 760m loss / 15hr17 (51min) / 951st (57) -- Overtaking

Through the timing gate and we made our way around the mountain. The weather did start to lighten up and you could see Martingy and the bottom of the valley, burning orange with the street lighting.

Time to turn on my torch and turn up the pace. I actually felt fresh and my legs strong - were they getting stronger?? It was a little surreal feeling this good after 15hours but I felt great and the descent was full of exhilaration and a little danger. The paths were slippery, narrow and full of slow movers and I wanted to move fast down. Many seemed to be extremely reluctant to just move aside a little and let a fellow runner by. It did become a little frustrating, especially in these testing conditions. I was on a high and wanted to make the most of this good feeling. A lot of 'Excusez Mois!' yards behind seemed to get most to at least step a little to one side so I could side track them. I am sure if it was daylight some of the tracks would have scared me and put my brakes on but in the dark I could only see my beam and focused purely on this light and let my legs go.

Closing around Col De Forclaz, the town of Trient shone in the valley below and littered all the way up the other valley up the the Croix de Fer pass were illuminated runners. A memorable sight which also highlighted another tough upcoming passage.

Trient - Catogne : 5.5km (77.4km) / 810m gain 230m loss / 16hrs57 (1hr40) / 824th (127) -- To love a Petzl man

Coming into the CP, again the crowds were warm and uplifting. I saw a Petzl tent and went over and chatted to the guys to see what could be done. I was expecting to buy a replacement torch for 100+euros. But these guys made my night. They just replaced my dead battery with a charged one. I was so pleased that I hugged them. Now I could carry on without the stress of 'if' and 'when' my light would run out. More soup and bread and On y Va!
Refreshed in both body and spirit I fast hiked out of town with a mindset that the hills would take an hour and then its off running again. Upwards I went, chipping away at several small groups and individuals. I was moving well, although there was always more lights high above.  Then half way up I finally caught up with a train of slow movers. To overtake one or a few guys is ok. It doesn't take much out of you and there are gaps to pass especially at the switch backs. But to try and take on 20+ people would just take too much out of the legs and gain you little. I reluctantly stepped into the train line and followed the next guys arse up to the top of the hill whilst all those I had overtaken moved in behind me. Very frustrating.

Catogne - Vallorcine 5.1km (82.5km) / 90m gain 750m loss / 17hr49 (52min) / 765th (59) -- Loving the descents

The slow going meant I was even more eager to get going at the top, and even more fresh it seems. As soon as the path flattened I pushed off with my Excusez's and Pardons and worked to a reasonable pace down the steep slopes to Vallorcine. Concentration was key here as one slip would be the end of my race. Rock and tree obstacles littered the area. I was loving the descents and it was these thoughts that got me up the endless hills in between. I only wished that the growing number of walkers would let me through more easily. Nearing town I took my one and only tumble, with luck just on a slippery grass slope so only got a wet and muddy bum but a stark reminder to keep the mind on the footing and not to go too all out.

Vallorcine - La Tete au Vents : 7.7km (90.3km) / 900m gain 250m loss / 20hrs08 (2hrs19) / 663rd (102) -- The End, or is it?

A funny CP. There was a feeling that we had done it hanging in the atmosphere. But, we were far from the finish line and looking at the profile map brought all those finishing emotions to a grinding halt.  We still had nearly 20kms to go (and would take nearly 4hours). Far from over but I didn't care. It was one last long uphill and then a descent and I still felt good. I took only my second paracetamol with caffeine of the race. My thoughts pre race was a to munch on these to get me through but like most things in my bag they remained as a contingency only.
The final hill was a beast and seeing the torch lights stringed out high above only highlighted the effort that was going to be needed. Numerous quick switch backs later and I again slotted into a grouping of CCCers, this time happily slowing to save my remaining strength for the faster sections.

T au Vents - Flegere : 3.5km (93.8km) / 60m gain 330m loss / 20hrs51 (41mins) / 639th (24) -- A forgotten ridge

Where did this come from? It seemed never ending and fraught with danger in the twists and turns, ups and downs with lots of potential hazards waiting for a tired mind and body to trip up on. It was only 40 minutes but I loved this ridge. I only wished daylight came sooner so that I could see the stunning ridges and panoramas from up high.

Flegere - Chamonix : 7.2km (101km) / 190m gain 1000m loss / 21hrs57 (1hr6) / 601st (38) -- C'est fini

From this CP it definitely felt that the end was achievable. It's all downhill from here....metaphorically and literally. With few people around I ran all the way in (well, it felt like running!). The dawn was breaking with uplifting views of Mt Blanc and it's impressive range. I ran down through the cloud inversion. I ran into Chamonix with the early risers cheering 'Allez Allez'  and 'Bravo Bravo'. 
Along the way I had thought about finishing and got a little emotional but as I finally passed the finish line there was no room for tears, I just felt pure joy in finishing a truly amazing race. The crowds were thin at 7am but it was great seeing a friend, Peter, who had just finished as well. We congratulated each other, went for a couple of beers on the steps and caught up on life quickly before calling it a day and heading off to contemplate our achievement.

CCC 101km 22hrs 6100m +/- 601st place.

1945 Starters / 1423 Finishers (73% success compared with only 40% on the UTMB, do I really want to do this next year?)
A race for all Ultra runners to try. These races test you physically, mentally and emotionally. Which is partly why we do this.

Transitions/CPs were good, I never stuck around for long. I still lost 50mins in the bigger CPs plus 35mins at Champex whilst I exhausted all options for getting more out of my torch batteries. I lost more time going back for my pole at La Fouly, around 25mins. And maybe 1 to 3 hours in slow queue trains and the constant stop starts of overtaking on difficult terrain.

I loved the race though, there was a special atmosphere to it all week. The atmosphere was electric, the town buzzed for days. I did feel a little disappointed that the mood of other runners felt a bit flat. I did manage to talk to a few, mainly women, but most runners seemed lost in their own thoughts and unwilling to communicate. Maybe I just expected too much, maybe they didn't speak English!

After the finish it was nice to relax in the town square cheering on the others runners finishing the other races, PTL and UTMB - this went on for another day and a half.

Jiri (sickness and fever) and Orla (see picture) had had to pull from the UTMB. Milan was still out there though. We went up to see him come down the final CP at Flegere. Jan and Jiri, with fresher legs, went of to see him further up. Orla and myself hobbled up to a nice resting spot by a stream and cheered on the many other UTMBers coming down. Milan came past, looking surprisingly fresh. We cheered 'Bravo Bravo' and try as we might, we could not keep up with him on the descent. Luckily at the bottom we had a car waiting to take us to the finish line in town. Cheering Milan through the tape was a wonderful experience. I haven't seen many friends through a finish line and could relate, in a small way, to what depths a person had to go through to make that finish. Bravo Milan you are an extraordinary man.

More rest, more beers and more food were enjoyed over the next couple of days before our little group parted company. I certainly hope I get to meet up with these inspiring guys again someday soon.

As for running the UTMB myself, it would be good to test myself on one of the top races so I'll enter the ballet and make a tough decision for 2015 if I get in.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

South Down Way 100 Mile Ultra

Only a couple of years back I had never heard of an Ultra and would think that only those dedicated enough, or crazy enough, to be able to run a serious long distance all day. Then you try one and realise that running far is possible.  You begin to dream and seek out the challenge of conquering those impossible distances.

So there I stood at the start of the Centurion South Downs Way Ultra. 100 miles to test my physical ability and mental strength. The South Downs stretches from Winchester in Hampshire across a constant rolling countryside to Eastbourne in Sussex. The terrain is hilly with over 4000m vertical, differing from grass to mud, chalk to stones, battering your feet every step of the way. An engaging environment of stunning vistas and, most importantly, superb aid stations filled with a welcoming atmosphere and encouraging people.

I started slow with no intention of pushing the pace at any point so I had to laugh when I saw Stuart Mills, true to his philosophy, going out hard and fast well ahead of anyone else. The rest of us gradually slotted in at our own paces and worked our way over to Cheesefoot Head where the hustle and bustle of 250 runners quietened to individuals and small groupings. I ran with Rachel here and chatted about our running experiences. I was especially glad to talk to someone who had run a 100 before and gain any insights that would give me the confidence to finish my race.

The section all the way to Queen Elizabeth CP you felt you were 'in' The Downs, running tracks and trail and occasionally topping out The Downs at Beacon Hill (1st CP pitstop), Old Winchester Hill and finally Butser Hill. It was during this stage that I met Gary and with similar pace and race attitudes we clicked. Unbeknownst to us at that time, we would then spend the next 90 odd miles together, pushing and encouraging each other on.

QECP CP had a fine spread and importantly we were a quarter way home. Breaking down the race like this certainly helped our mindset. At each aid station the focus was where was the next one....7 miles....ok, that's circa 1.5 hrs to go then. Also, we broke down the distances, we're a quarter though, a third, halfway, two thirds, a quarter to go, four fifths and done. One helpful fella had us counting down the mileage as well. So at mile 31 we only had 69 miles to go so we were in the 60's, etc. We constantly manipulated the figures in a positive way ensuring nothing felt too big. We also kept an eye on Gary's timing from 2 years ago when he ran well until blowing his ankle with 20ish miles to go and slowed down significantly to finish 10min within the cutoff in final placing. At each CP we arrived at a better time and knew we were moving well.  We would have plenty of time if we had to walk it in.

Hiking out of QECP having covered 23 miles in 4hrs30 I felt fresh. Well the legs felt fresh, it was a sweltering day and the sweat just clung to us! I haven't done many Ultras where my legs didn't already feel heavy after 20 miles so it was pleasing to feel this way. My training was maxed out with low mileage. Maybe you don't have to pound the weekly miles, just ensure you keep your motor going, which for me included lots of dog walking. Since running a 50 mile and a 50km event in May I have hardly run so a plentiful taper seems to have got me ready. I am hoping this knowledge will encourage me in future races and I will feel less apprehensive and unprepared at the start. Especially if I up my training.

This next section was 'on' The Downs seamless ridge line and had breathtaking views keeping our minds occupied on the outside and not on what was going on inside the body. The long descent into Cocking CP thoroughly tiring out the thigh muscles. Another quickish pitstop and the obligatory climb out. Although we were moving at a pretty decent pace any thoughts of a sub 24hr race were knocked on the head around this point. We settled in to enjoy this day and to finish.

My memory of the next section is blurry but the hills kept coming. We also had a few welcome rain showers to cool things down before it became humid again. We managed to pick up the pace on the downs and flats falling into a nice rhythm we soon hit the halfway point in 11 hours.  We pushed on hard to Washington and a long needed break.

How getting some hot food, a change of socks and a cup of tea takes over half an hour I will never know and, what's more, I felt rushed at the end. I decided that taping my feet was not working and was actually detrimental, the taping causing my skin to soften and therefore blister and bruise quite easily. 'Trench foot' was another issue I was having due to my feet sweating continually and being wet after running through a few puddles.  In hindsight, I believe that wearing thick (winter) socks were the main cause. I thought thicker socks equaled more comfort. Wrong! Luckily I had been carrying a thin pair of socks which I duly changed into and kept on for the remaining 46 miles. My feet, although getting somewhat sorer, never got completely unmanageable. My main problem from here was randomly kicking the camouflaged jagged flint rock, putting an end to many of my toenails. In fact, all bar one will be gone. Ironically, the only toenail I would like to see the back of (in-growing) is the only healthy one left. I'll have to try and knock this one off on my next run.

Back out on the course and over halfway with some 12 hours to break the 'in a day' race. We dreamed for a bit that we could do it and energetically pushed on up the hills and kept to running the downs and flats. The stunning area around Steyning and beyond helped, with the setting sun and clear views over to the English channel. Things improved with the appearance of Jake, a friend, who came out to help pace and check everything was going alright.  It was a much needed impetus and we all flew down the Devils Dyke ....where the devil tested me out....I lost attention briefly and I let one of my poles drop out of my grasp which then levered onto a rock and jabbed me 'o' so close to my nether-regions with enough force to break the pole. Shock kept me moving and soon after relief that I had been extremely lucky keeping myself in one piece and being able to stay in the run. This is where I was starting to find out the mental side of things and concentration in these last sections were paramount so as not to put an end to your days work.

Jake left us before the Windmills. He was a much needed distraction and kinda proves that pacers have their place in long runs to help keep momentum going. Running through the flying bats we made the CP just as it got dark. 70 miles down in 16 hours. My worst moments were about to hit me. In hindsight maybe I shouldn't of run so hard with Jake. Maybe instead of running and loving it I should have remembered to keep drinking and eating regularly, maybe I shouldn't have rested too long at the CP. One of these or all of these factors led to me feeling quite down coming out of the CP.

It got cold so I put my baselayer on only to get too hot and have to make another stop to take off my t-shirt, wasting time sure does infuriate me. Another time killer was the constant peeing. We were drinking plenty and had a good dose of caffeine in us so no sooner had I put it away than it seemed that I needed to go again. All night!

I was also starting to feel sick now. How do you solve nausea quickly? I'm not sure you do. My nutritional plan was to eat as much as I could at the CPs and take a variety of cereal bars in-between these. The CPs were stacked with a multitude of snacks, wraps and fruit. (For me the only things missing were Ritz crackers - something I got into on the Weald Challenge - and hot soup at the latter CPs would have gone down well.  In fact I was wishing for soup at several CPs but I made do with a hot cuppa!). The hot day ruined my appetite and by now I was on a real low.  Not being able to stomach anything made for a really trying period for an hour or two. I took the GU gels on offer, something I have never really used, and these certainly picked me up and got me out of my dip and on to the finish.

One of the highlights of the night section was seeing head torches stretching over the horizon in all directions. Best seen around the natural horseshoe bowl near Kingston with lines of lights strewn all over. Jake made another appearance here. Hooked on the 'ultra' feeling he had come out to enjoy a midnight run with us. The only problem was after our decent into Southease the running was done. The next few miles went up and up, slowing us right down and unfortunately putting any last pipe dreams of winning a one day buckle out of reach for this year. Still, the finish line was tantalisingly close and the main goal was just that -  to finish. Jake left at the top and told us that only 2 more big hills left.

The one out of Alfiston was a soul destroyer. The day was dawning and the hill was never-ending. Over stones that felt like boulders and a slope that felt Alpine. The invigorating new day didn't really materialise as it was dull and overcast.

One final hill out of Jevington. A false summit later and we were met by a dedicated Centurion (Drew, I think) who cheerily congratulated us and sent us on our final descent down into Eastbourne. A tricky one, filled with danger for those lacking the strength for one final mental and physical period of concentration. Unable to use my legs anymore to brake I hurtled down pleading that my broken pole didn't disintegrate further and with it me in a heap. The slope finally flattened and from the wilderness of the Downs we entered modern civilisation.

We shuffled our way to the finish, ever slower and lost in our own happy thoughts that we had done it. Entering the stadium we picked up the pace to finish in a canter run. Handshakes and hugs. Smiles and medals.....and that big release of Endorphins.

Finishing a 100 mile race, something I thought impossible, was now achieved and sure does feel good.

100 Miles in 24hrs42.

None of this would of been possible without the first class organisation of the Centurion Team and their dedicated and superb volunteers. My race will be remembered not just for finishing my first 100miler but the run itself, the aid stations and the people we met on the South Downs Way.

Personal notes for my next long races.
Right things;
Food and snacks in the first half then Gu gels and whatever you can stomach from half way+
Salt tablet (elete) every hour.
Poles - a pain to carry and I stabbed Gary a few times, I nearly tripped over them countless times and could have stopped my race but overall they were good to have.
Taping heels, no hot spots.
3B = no chaffing - applied only once where it matters.

Wrong things;
Thinking that taping would save my toes from blisters -- wrong. Never again. Lube up.
Wearing winter socks on a hot day - go thin and buy a decent wicking pair.
When feeling good and fast remember to carry on eating and drinking otherwise it catches up on you.
No need for pro plus and red bull in drop bags. You can get by on tea and gels.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Weald Challenge 50km Ultra

It's not often I win anything. You can forget the lottery though, I had won a place in the inaugural Weald Challenge 50km from Trail Running Sussex (run by UltraStu himself). I won this by guessing the downloads UltraTales would have when it released it's latest version.

Truth be told I wasn't going to write a blog after just completing the Apocalypse 50 miler the weekend before and writing about that, but as the prize was from UltraTales it would be rude not to do some sort of write up and post it.  To be completely honest I didn't really want to race a 50km right after a 50miler but, with the SDW100 in 3 weeks and a distinct lack of training, these back to back long runs would at least give me an indication of whether I was fooling myself into thinking I could run 100 miles this year.

The race started in the tranquil village setting of Muddles Green in East Sussex. The day promised to be a beauty although a couple of friends I was meeting up with, who were doing their first Ultra (in fact their first run over 30km), assured me it was going to rain heavy early afternoon.  After panicked conversations of what to take, I eventually settled for rucksack, baselayer and waterproofs. Of course the sun shone hot all day! This was much to the amusement of Paul, who had parked next to us.  We both knew we knew each other somehow, but couldn't quite place where. He was back recovering from an horrendous sounding injury (dislocating his knee amongst other things at the Spine earlier in the year). Paul didn't need our good wishes as he won the race quite comfortably, which I hope means he is back to running at his strongest.

After a quick briefing UltraStu walked us to the starting position and sent us on our way. My friends, Jake and Melissa, were off with the eagerness of first timers.  After the first few miles, and in need of a pitstop, I let them go on hoping to catch them up later in the day.  I was looking forward to spending some time with them and getting the opportunity to hear all about their honeymoon in Nepal. Sadly it wasn't to be and we would have to save that conversation for the beer and BBQ afterwards. Meanwhile, I did get talking to John about all things good about running and competing in the SDW50. With the expectation of yo-yoing, and catching up later, I let him run up a hill and immediately found myself engaged in a chat with Paul, who had careered from fighting (karate) to running.....whilst battling Asthma.

All this talking somehow made us take a right turn on the main road and before we could say 'we're lost' we saw the WC signage which we duly, and rather ignorantly, followed. Over 1.5 miles later, just as I was thinking of picking up speed to try and catch Jake, Paul made an off hand comment that we had run some 8.5 miles on his GPS which got us thinking why we hadn't seen the CP  which was between 7 and 8 miles? Maps out and after setting the GPS on my phone we slowly figured out we had inadvertently gotten onto the homeward bound course markings!! Bugger. Turning around we picked up another couple of runners who had gotten it wrong as well. Somehow, we all took it in good spirits and just treated it as just adding a little extra to the legs!

(Leg 1 :1hr55 was 17km should of been 11km)

Once back on track and passed CP1, with some marathon runners flying past us, Paul began struggling with his asthma and needed to take more walking breaks so I pushed on. I suddenly found myself needing to rush, where bears go, to relieve a painful stomach. Whether this was due to the heat, the pace or the nutrition of the day (or the 9 ales on the Friday night) we shall never know. After my unplanned break I managed to catch up with Paul and the others again so I slowed to have another chat.  Thankfully my stomach settled down nicely so I pushed on again. The day was heating up making me wonder why I was carrying my baselayer and waterproofs? Pointless, but like the extra miles I guess it is all good training.

The route took us northwards through wonderful scenic trails and one very nice looking hotel (Buxted) taking away the anguish from painfully heavy legs. At the next CP marathon runners went right and ultras left. The temptation to go right was pretty strong but I was here to see if I could run 50km so left I went, after stopping for refreshments and thanking the marshalls.
(Leg 2 : 1hr12, 10.6km)

The next section was both beautiful and tough. Immediately the route climbed and climbed and climbed up to Camp Hill and breathtaking views over the Ashdown forest valley,  More heathland than forest though. I could see for miles and what dawned on me is I could see no other runners. Which pretty much meant I was running the rest of this race on my own so I took out my mp3 and tuned into some music to help ease my way up and down the Ashdown valley.
(Leg 3 : 1hr, 8km)

We were now passed the halfway point and had turned around/  We were heading southwards on the Vanguard Trail through picturesque farmlands and quiet single tracks. Meeting up with the odd runner now and again brought me out of my isolation and helped force me on with tiring legs.
(Leg 4 : 1hr20, 10.5km)

The next CP brought me to the familiar surrounding from our misadventure earlier on. The section was mixed with some country lane running which, although lent itself to moving faster, it meant that walking breaks were hard to come by. In the baking sun and with tender thighs the breaks were becoming more and more welcome. At least we were near the end and the final CP was close by.
(Leg 5 : 40min, 5.6km)

A quick refreshment and a final chat with the marshalls and runners and I set off to finish the race as quickly as possible. 'It's 5k' a volunteer shouted. Spurred on by this comment I sprinted around the corner only to be set upon by a hill which brought me to a grinding halt. I staggered up this slight incline. Seeing a runner in the distance encouraged me to keep moving and, where possible, get a good pace on. Finally managing to overtake him where the footpath was at its most overgrown and muddy. Soon after I popped out from nature's solitude into the hustle and bustle of a pub garden in full flow. 'Go left' was the call I heard from some helpful bystanders. A few hundred yards further had me thinking whether they were having me on. I stopped and checked my map.  The helpful person was proved correct and I made my way further down the road, starting to remember this was the road we started on all those hours ago.

(Leg 6 : 38min, 5.2km)

Finishing felt so good.  I felt good.  All in all it was a great day, a stunning route and great organisation and CPs from the organisers Trail Running Sussex. I had managed back to back ultras and Jake and Melissa had a good day and good finishes, although they did wonder where the hell I had got to!
Total : 6hr45, 57km, 35+miles

Bring on the SDW100 in June!!!

Friday, 23 May 2014

Apocalypse 50 Ultra

Ultras tend to bring to the fore all sorts of questions which lead to apprehension, mainly around whether you are capable of completing!
This was my second 50 miler. It is the start of a summer madness of running and this was to kick start me into training more and getting my running mojo back from a dispirited last 6 months. I blame our new dog. She doesn't care.
So, could I do it?
This was the Apocalypse in the Longmynd. An inaugural race from the Beyond Marathon team with options on a 50 or 100 mile route around the Shropshire hills. The fun 50 for me, Hell on earth for those choosing the latter!
Race day began easy. The sun was out and was going to stay out. The start time was a luxury; 9am. The friendly atmosphere was relaxed, full of eagerness and anticipation for a great challenge ahead for the 100 or so 'Apocaliptics'.

We huddled for a quick debrief and 'Go'. The End had started. I choose to amble away up the 1000ft climb to Pole Bank mainly so I could get to know some other runners. A good chat and all to soon we were at the top and having no further excuses we all broke into intermittent jogs. Glorious 360' views of the Longmynd eased us into the rolling course and increasing temperatures to CP2 (10ish miles 1hr53 - feeling good, thighs a little sore, already!).
A quick refuel and top up and I was on the Conquest loop. The biggest conquest was to climb Corndon hill in the blazing heat. Then the usual undulating terrain taking us back to CP2/6 (20ish miles 4hrs33 - hot. The river was nice, thighs feeling it).
The next stage was a point to point taking us northwards over the famous Stipperstones, luckily dry, an altogether different experience in the wet but, still a hard proposition over the natural cobblestones. It was here that myself and Caroline started our 8 hour chat all the way to the finish line. Although we had yo-yo'd a few times and spoken from here we joined forces to help us both get through this event. Especially as things were getting tough and knowing where you were and reading a map were vitally important so that we did not get lost for long.

Out of water, out of touch and with the first sign of mirages conjuring in my mind we crawled into Pulverbatch (which is kinda how I felt) and took a pitstop in the White Horse Pub. The most welcoming landlord took care of us and refreshed us with ice cold drinks. It was a hardship to drag ourselves away from cold beer and the FA Cup final. But knowing the next CP was also a Pub we dragged ourselves away reaching the CP pub in a better state for stopping. Here we rested up for some 20+minutes and gave ourselves a proper cool down and ate and drunk plenty on the fresh cold grass (30ish miles 7hrs. Refreshed and legs hurting).

With the Famine loop looming I stocked up on plenty of pork pies. This looked to be a fast leg with a lot of flatter ground all the way to Earls Hill. With my mind and legs dreary Caroline pushed me onwards and we made good time. Unfortunately one small wrong turn did cost us a bit and it is always demoralizing having to pass people you have already made the effort to overtake. We took an indirect horseshoe route around and up to Earls Hill. I pretty much felt my worse here in the ascent. I just felt my body overheating and there was nothing I could do except keep it steady and drink loads. With the heat I had been finding everything tough especially eating. On top of Earls the wind whipped up and instantly refreshed me and gave me a second breath of energy. Although the legs were now certainly feeling it on the steep descents. A seemingly never ending track took us back to the pub CP for another well deserved break (40 miles, 10hrs. Doesn't matter now we are nearly home).

The last leg winds southwards back to Church Stretton. With tired bodies and mind small things went wrong. Caroline forgot her waterbottle at the pub. I rested up whilst she retrieved it then some simple map reading went wrong forcing us to retrace our heavy steps. But all in all we were making steady progress as twilight moved in, followed by the billion flies all wanting to take a bath in my eyes. A long slog up hill to the final CP  and then we dreamed and hoped that we could make the finish in daylight. It was wishful but gave us something to push us on that little bit more before we crumbled. With eyes adjusted to the 'darkness' we powered down Carding valley to the finish. Handshakes, hugs and medals were shared and a personal moment taken to reflect on an achievement to be proud of.

Finish time : 12hrs45, 12th (52 starters?) Knackered.
Chicked at the line by Caroline. For someone who said to me at the start she was nervous of being left behind by all these adonis type characters,she held her own on her first 50miler and more, she was 1st Lady. Well done Caroline, a truly amazing achievement and I hope you 'enjoyed' the experience.

That's the course description. More inspiring is the people you get to meet who make these days. The ones I can remember through blurred memories are...

Colin and his guys, on the 100 enjoying the day and taking it as it comes. Makes these races fun.
Dave, getting back from injury and has one tough summer ahead, culminating in the T184. Good luck and great stuff on completing this 100.
Carmine, the chatter man and all things good about Italians.
Chris, doing his first Ultra after only running a marathon this year. Too much, who knows but he did finish the 50 strong and on a flatter course and no map reading I'm sure a 100 would of been a cert. Go get it.
Nick, go buy that dog.
Caroline, amazing women. This was a birthday present to herself and through everything she smashed it.

Congratulations to all who took part. A tough course on a brutally hot day.

Beyond Marathon. Great organisation from start to finish, the volunteers were helpful, encouraging and superb. CP's stocked and good and a great course. I look forward to doing another event with you when the calender allows.

Pros - Great course/area, superb weather, good CPs and marshals
Cons - a fair bit of tarmac running (could of used road shoes)

More event pics at :

Friday, 10 January 2014



A quiet end to the year but, not a quiet life. This year seems to be spit in two. The first, dedication to train and run ultra's the 2nd finding motivation with no focus and incorporating change. Life is very different from 12 months ago. We were in a flat, now 2 moves later we are in our dream home, I have a full time job and we have a dog. All 3 looked unreachable last Christmas but now I'm here sat at home, with the dog asleep and I'm looking forward to work in a few days time. Now, I just need to find that mojo to get out running more and to start writing a little more.
That's the personal stuff out the way. I need to look back at the year and hope it helps rekindle my desire to push myself further as 2014 will be my biggest yet.

2013 started with big plans to run far, to run many. I managed one goal and ironically it was the one I least wanted and had to do it with a stinking cold  - the London Marathon. The rest fell away due to injury and lack of money. January came and went with first the rain then the snow but the training was so varied and enjoyable and rolled into February with an exciting micro adventure up into Snowdonia where the weather tested - or ruined - our equipment.
PhotoWe also finally moved out of our flat to a rental house which reinvigorated us and the weather. Not my foot though, which had not been right (and still isn't fully) and so I rested it and even visited a gym a few times to avoid impact.
PhotoWith a months rest I started up the running again but always knowing that any 'fast' time for a road marathon was gone and so it proved in London. But who cares about roads, in April I manged my first Ultra (27miles) around the Purbecks, always stunning, always tough. Then a good wild camping weekend away in Shropshire with a meet up with fellow Ultra enthusiasts at the Torq trail weekend, great fun- just a shame that I haven't really bumped into anyone again.
PhotoTaking a break from running the bike came out for a Coast to Coast 3 day micro from north to south Devon. An amazing weekend, looking back why I have not fulfilled my promise to return and run around Dartmoor? Only a week later I ran the Ridgeway 40, my bike legs feeling it all the way along and I've never been so pleased to see the finish.
PhotoIn prime fitness I planned my next big challenge - a 2 day variation of the Paddy Buckley. Things went slow but I was loving the movement around the mountains, then my back spasmed and that was it! A painful 5 hrs to return to the car over the Glyders, 5 hrs drinking to forget the pain, a 5hr interrupted sleep and 5hrs through gritted teeth driving home. This was a major set back and the start of losing my motivation and more importantly money. With the injury I didn't work for a bit and then I couldn't find a lot of work. This culminated in me cancelling my dream of holidaying in the Dolomites and sneaking in the Lavaredo Ultra. So, no holiday, no A race and no money. Life kinda sucked.
PhotoI did help out at the SDW100 run by Centurion. I thoroughly enjoy volunteering and as a 'bonus' I now have a free entry + my A race for 2014.
For July I had won a 2 night break in Devon in a lovely old hotel. We added an extra few nights camping down in South devon adn I picked up the running along with relaxing on the beach. For my birthday, I treated myself to running the entire Test way. Well, nearly, I managed 32miles before I rested up in a pub and the beer and food were a bigger draw than running the final 18miles. One to do again.0
PhotoBut best of all we moved into our home, something we had been wanting for all to long. Typically work picked up just as I was planning on taking time off to vamp up the house and brought low miles in Sept. I did get to North wales again for a splendid climbing weekend managing 2 all time classics, Amphitheater Buttress and Grooved Arete in decent weather. The latter I had been trying to climb for 10+years having been thwarted each and ever time by weather and crowds.
October brought more changes in a permanent job. Not only giving the hope of better stability in life but a chance to run lots of miles.. 9 to 12 miles back from work. This was gonna work for me.
PhotoNovember.. a strange month.. Settling in very nicely and then we find our dog.. she is something special to us and we are so happy to have rescued her and let her become part of us.
I also had a very reflective moment. It came out of the blue. I was running home along the Itchen with just the one headphone on and ran past what I thought was a fisherman night fishing, 20 yards further a nagging doubt took me back up the path to find an old lady in the freezing river up to her waist, in all manner of problems. Once I comforted her and tried, in vain, moving her out.. I went and found her husband in a nearby house and after an age we managed to get her back to the house. This was far from easy with difficulties ever step. What was conflicting is that she was a little hysterical and trying to commit suicide. Difficult to know what exactly to do and the husband said that they had tried help etc and would seek further aide. I visited the next night and all seemed better with the lady more embarrassed than anything. I can only hope it was a weak moment and that this scare will help her focus on living her life better and not trying to end it short.
PhotoDecember I became a dog walker. I walked and walked and walked with very little running. My only consolation was that for Ultra's walking is a good training method..Right? Who cares to be honest when you love taking your dog out out, sacrifices have to be made so until I find a routine that suits me the dog will always come first.
And that was 2013 my worst running mileage since starting 2 years ago... but a lot of changes and sometimes you need routines to enable yourself to find the dedicated time to train .
I ran 1260 miles (3 Ultras, 1 marathon). Biked 300miles (very poor, but did a C2C). 100hrs of other training (i expect this to increase with dog walking now in)

2014 plans.. fingers crossed I actually attempt more of these than I managed in 2013. I hope I can find the needed commitment to participate in all these. Good luck with your 2014 plans and dreams.

Jan - Winters tanner  (oops, that was a good start)
Feb -Punchbowl?
Mar - New Forest Challenge / and/or Ski mountaineering
Apr -
May - Apocalpse 50
           Sussex Weald Ultra
Jun - SDW100
Jul - Rest / wild camping / Biking
Aug - CCC UTMB (Ballot)