Why Sky races? plus some training tips on how to get more out these and other “off the beaten track” events

As a relative newbie to the world of Ultra and trail running, well running of any kind that didn’t involve carrying any webbing or a rifle and stomping along in boots from past Army years, the announcement of UK Skyrunning races in 2014 were an opportunity for me to reach out of my comfort zone currently being tested around the North Yorkshire moors. My skill set lies more with mid distance ultra races and more “runnable” terrain, though I have always enjoyed being in and around mountains given the opportunity.  I felt that this was an great chance to get me into some of the UK`s more extreme areas not just to race in but spend time training and exploring, plus give me a taste of what Skyrunning is about should I ever have the opportunity to do any of the world series/European events.

Out in the open, myself James Elllis and Tim Pleijt. Photo courtesy of Seamus White

Peaks Sky race 2014, myself James Elllis and Tim Pleijt. Photo courtesy of Seamus White

As the courses are all marked out I felt that this offered a level playing field for those who didn’t know the routes inside out: though I like to try and get to know a course prior to racing it isn’t always possible. The Garmin Mourne Skyline race was a great example of this. Unfortunately I had never even heard of the Mourne mountains before, but turned up for the race and had one of the best times; the course marking was superb and the dramatic scenery of steep granite clad mountains dropping to the sea blew me away.

This was as closest most of us got to Emilie Forsberg at the Glencoe Skyrace - a remarkable athlete with a big smile!

This was as close most of us got to Emilie Forsberg at the Glencoe Skyrace – a remarkable athlete with a big smile!

 

Now, I absolutely love the thrill of being able to travel swiftly through these stunningly rugged and often intimidating areas – all in the UK. I think due to the nature and remoteness of these races the feeling between runners becomes more about camaraderie than competitiveness. The mountains become your competition: they will exploit your weaknesses whether mental or physical. If you haven’t had much experience with this before, then here are a few things I have done which would compliment and extend any normal trail race preparation.

1.Get used to extremely long and very steep climbs – both up and down. It sounds obvious but really is key because with the best will in the world that short stepped run will be reduced to a walk, so don’t be afraid to practice hard, steep walking – The best place to practice is in the mountains but can still be done on any short climbs, long flights of stairs – anything you can find that is steep. Carrying extra weight, i.e. a large rucksack will help with building strength.

A great photo showing the ups and downs of the Mourne Skyline

A great photo showing the ups and downs of the Mourne Skyline

2. Feel confident on technical terrain, not necessarily fast, but comfortable. The more relaxed you stay the less energy you waste. Again time in the terrain helps, though you can build up some foundation first with ankle strengthening and co-ordination exercises. Take things a step further than just balancing on one foot: stand on a wobble cushion and do various movements such as one legged squats to introduce instability. Single leg jumps on and off a box are great too. My favourite is using the slackline as this works so many different elements and can help reduce that disco leg you may get traversing Crib Goch!

V3K descent of Tryfan

V3K descent of Tryfan

3. Have at least a basic level of mountain skills. I feel that it is important I take responsibility for my own safety, not just for during the race but when out training. The mountains are inherently dangerous and we all get (slightly) lost or disorientated from time to time. There are some great courses run by the FRA (Fell Running Association) for navigation, independent training days/camps or you could join other more experienced people for recce days and learn from them. Some race organisations offer these so look out for details on their own websites or pages.

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The 3×3000 in the lakes and the Top of Helvellyn – It suddenly got a bit bleak!

4. Prepare yourself for the mountains mentally. Being in this environment can throw up some additional challenges; you can suddenly be alone in the fog thousands of feet up, or climbing non-stop hands on knees for over a hour, down a quick descent then back on another hour long climb, so progress can feel slow and painful. Be ready for these situations, be honest with yourself and what your fears are, imagine how you will feel and think through how you will overcome any negative thoughts – visualise and keep that end goal and sense of achievement at the front of your mind.

Loving the grippy Granite Rocks - another great photo from Ian Corless

Loving the grippy Granite Rocks in Mourne – another great photo from Ian Corless

5. Don’t just run but climb. Some of the races require climbing or scrambling, and, in a race situation the adrenaline is pumping and you are suddenly changing mind-set from runner to climber. Spend some time practicing the specific climbs or more challenging ones – obviously there is another layer of safety and planning required here so take a guide or someone experienced enough if you need it. There are also lots of indoor climbing walls in the UK so why not have some fun indoors over the winter.

 

Curved ridge in the Glencoe Skyline - not as bad as it looks!

Curved ridge in the Glencoe Skyline – not as bad as it looks!

There we go, a few things I have learnt along the way, i am sure there are loads of other things people have found that helped them to prepare for such events – very interested to hear those if anyone wants to share anything or has any questions.

Good luck!

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Montane Lakeland 50 Race Report 2015

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Lathering myself up with sunscreen in a field of other like-minded souls, the feeling of nervous trepidation over what was to come in the next 8 or so hours was almost at its peak. How would the day play out; would the preparation be enough; would I be able to dig deep into the place that I knew I had to go for the desired result?

Memories and feelings of the Lakeland 50 back in July feel slightly surreal now, but the thread of contact with my emotions and feelings throughout the day continue to trickle into my focus and motivation every day. Now, in the planning phase for 2016, it is great to reflect on a day that has bitter-sweet memories, of really happy times with friends but also the deep physical struggles and punishment I put myself through.

Cudos to pink Tutu guy! Photo taken by Sports Sunday

Cudos to pink Tutu guy!!!! Photo taken by Sports Sunday

Rewinding a little to Jan 15 having just come off crutches from an ankle operation, I had a game plan in mind for the year and the Lakeland 50 was at the centre of this. Having this focus in mind helped me to get back up to strength quickly: the fully functional ankle combined with a new training routine seemed to put me in great form. Fantastic support and sponsorship with The Ultra Runner Store providing some really nice X-Bionic and Ultimate Direction kit set things up nicely for the year, though it wasn’t until I did the Hardmoors Rosedale marathon in early June that I realised how good things were. Taking over 15 minutes off my time from 2 years ago, most of which was done in the second half, I felt much more solid over distance and, with some fine tuning in the weeks leading up to the LL50, things were looking good.

2 weeks before race day I had a really good run out along the middle part of the LL50 route. I felt great running at the splits I wanted to do in the race and feeling really good, though things went a bit downhill from there. The week after I caught a bug which really hit my chest, elevated heart rate, tight breathing, all the usual stuff you don’t want going into a race. Kim and I ran some of the course around Ambleside 2 days before race day and I remember struggling to keep up with her (not that she is any slouch!)

Knowing that dwelling on this wasn’t going to help I just tried to relax and enjoy the build-up, seeing so many good friends there and cheering on those crazy 100 mile runners when they set of the night before our race. My head was in a good place and I felt connected with my motivation, the reasons why I was here and what my goals were. Support and encouragement from close friends was great and helped a lot with calming pre-race jitters.

Lakeland 100 starting the day before my race!

Lakeland 100 starting the day before my race!

I changed my game plan a bit to accommodate the below par aerobic system. Knowing that I would struggle to keep up with any fast efforts at the start, I needed to rely on my endurance and that the second part of the race would be my best chance to remain competitive. More than ever I needed to think of running my own race; doing my absolute best was all I could ask for.

From the start Marcus Scotney made his mark and pulled out a good lead. I was a little surprised that no-one followed him but at the same time this gave me confidence to know that I wasn’t alone in my choice of letting him go. I found myself out in no-man’s land behind him and just ahead of the chasing pack. As expected I was struggling with my breathing and knew I was pushing harder than I should be so calmed things down a little.  About 11 miles in Ben Abdelnore caught me going up Fusedale where he offered some kind words of encouragement and positivity. I battled to stay with him up the rest of the climb but once on the summit and running along the top of the common I started to feel good again, finding my feet and rhythm, and settling down a bit.

All good so far, I was running with Ben and feeling like we had a good pace going. Marcus was nowhere to be seen but I knew we were moving quickly now blasting down to Haweswater and then along the rocky lakeside trail. Then it came: first a few little twinges when I sprang off my toes then about 2 miles from CP 2 my calves went schizo and fully locked out causing my toes to try and get as far away from the rest of me as possible. Reduced to a walk/hobble, all I could do was watch Ben disappear in front. This happening 15 Miles into a 50 mile race was a pretty frustrating place to be. I jumped into the nearest stream trying to ease things off, before coaxing my legs back into a steady and very delicate run, trying not to aggravate any more spasms.

Coming into the second checkpoint I saw John Kynaston on his own 100 mile adventure. Though I felt like I was running on eggshells, he looked really smooth, even having covered 50 odd more miles than me! I was happy to see a friendly face and as I came into the second checkpoint, Ben was bounding up the next climb looking strong.  All I could do was try to fix the cramp so I threw a couple of salt sachets down my throat thinking that was the cure, hmmm maybe not the best idea. Obviously it tasted revolting and I had to chuckle at my own stupidity of nearly making myself sick!

Getting my head down up the long steep climb to Gatesgarth pass I resolved my focus and tried to calm things down a little with some perspective: I knew I wasn’t a million miles away from the other two in front and that there was a long way to go yet. I also had the splits from previous years’ times and found that I was still within 1 or 2 minutes of the winning paces, and that was with the issues I had had too. If I could calm down the cramping, then things could still work out.

Thanks to X-bionic and Ultimate direction for the comfy gear! Photo thanks to Sport Sunday

Thanks to X-bionic and Ultimate direction for the comfy gear! Photo thanks to Sport Sunday

Coming over the pass and down the steep descent I tried running again only to feel the now very familiar tightening of calf muscles locking solid. Now having to completely stop and face back up the hill in an attempt to stretch them out, I managed to ease them off a bit and found that running downhill and slamming my feet down hard seemed to help as long as I didn’t try to spring off my toes too much!

It was a pretty long descent and by the bottom of here things started to improve. I managed to settle into a rhythm, learning to limit using my calves, then coming onto a flat bit of track I caught sight of Marcus, merrily chatting away with a group who were clearly not racing the LL50. This gave me a boost, but also confused me a bit. I caught him going into the next climb were we chatted for a bit. He told me about his plans for the World 100km champs coming up and that he didn’t want to jeopardise that race, so had decided to take things a bit easier now.  I wished him luck and feeling a bit looser got stuck into the next climb up towards Stile end. Getting my head down I felt strong now, pushing on to the next CP in Kentmere. Quickly topping up I saw Katie Boden who was running the LL100 (finishing 2nd lady!) She gave me a big hug and a real boost when she told me Ben was about 5/6 mins ahead.

Heading up Garburn Pass, although feeling tired the cramps were being held at bay and at just over half way, I was feeling better than 10 miles ago.  I think this was my favourite part of the route: the climb was steep but still runnable with big rocks and gaps to bounce off and over, and the descent over the other side felt really fast with big lumps of shale and rock keeping me amused!

A little unnerved by a checkpoint full of help full Clowns! cheers Flip and team!

A little unnerved by a checkpoint full of help full Clowns! cheers Flip and team!

I came into Ambleside CP starting to flag a bit; I seemed to be managing the cramp by adjusting my technique slightly to more of a gliding approach.  I was getting a huge boost from seeing a few of the 100 runners and loads of great encouragement from people in town.  I was informed that the gap between me and Ben was now down to 2 minutes. With 16 miles left and after everything so far I felt like I was still in a good place with more left in the tank.  Then about 3 miles out of Ambleside descending a short bit of road towards Skelwith Bridge I caught sight of Ben. I felt surprised to pick him up so suddenly looking like he was a bit worse for wear. I genuinely felt for him when he turned to me and told me he was done. He offered me loads of really positive encouragement and told me to push on, which was totally amazing considering how he must have been feeling.

So now we had a bit of a change and it suddenly dawned on me that I was in the lead.  No matter what race I am in, I find being in this position quite a scary feeling. Part of me is going ‘oh my gosh, oh my gosh, this is awesome’, and another part is going nuts telling me to stay focused and work even harder! The problem now was I had absolutely no idea how far or who was behind me. Anyone could have been having a stronger race than me and I knew there was about 13 miles or two(ish) hours of running left, so plenty of time for anything to happen. Determined not to let myself switch off, I gave myself a real kick up the arse to stay focused.

By Chapel Stile CP, I was feeling pretty beaten up now. Having had to adjust my running style to compensate for and prevent further cramp, then pushing hard in the middle section, I needed to re-fuel.  By now I had come up with a bit of a theory as to where the cramp came from. Some of the gels I was using had guarana in them. I had stopped taking these ones after the first onset of cramp, and stayed clear of them since, as it happened things had eased off. However I was now at a point where I only had guarana gels left and my brain really wasn’t processing things well enough to decide what else I should eat, so down they went…

Needless to say pretty much the whole way from Chapel Stile I went through phases of uncontrollable cramping, then easing off and running well to another frustrating stop and stretch things off. Moving as smoothly as possible seemed to help but I was convinced that someone was going to catch and pass me any minute.  This didn’t help when I caught sight of what I thought may or may not be 100 runners in the distance behind me. Once over the final pass from Tilberthwaite and only a couple of miles to go, I was now sure I could see someone approaching quickly. I threw myself down the final descent and onto the road which marks about a mile to the finish. Relying on the leg slamming technique from earlier, giving up on any sort of graceful running style by now I threw everything I had into forward motion, almost hopping down the road!

LL50 Finish

 

Into Coniston now, a few checks behind me and no one was in sight. Some encouragement from Dennis Atherton and all I had to do was negotiate a pub, some traffic and then in towards the finish line, something I had been focusing on so hard for the last 8 hours. Knowing how much physical and mental relief this would offer, I tried to savour that last 100 yards and arrival into the finish. Crossing the line was incredible: I can still feel the enormous rush of emotions, immense relief, total joy and complete exhaustion. Seeing my hero Jon Steele there and getting congratulations from Ben who even gave me a couple of chips was the cherry on the cake!

 

I think I stayed down for a while!

I think I stayed down for a while!

I had given this race absolutely everything, physically and mentally. The challenges I had that day were far more than I had expected, but having overcome them gave back so much more too. I spent pretty much most of the rest of the day in and around the finish area, eating anything going and catching up with friends. One of the best parts to the whole weekend was watching other 100 or 50 mile competitors coming into the finish, seeing the emotions on people’s faces, the joy, relief and sense of achievement being shared, from completing something they have spent months or even years preparing for. Sharing in this passion and excitement was very humbling and great to be a part of.

Now on the cusp of 2016, the wall planner is out and I am to-ing and fro-ing with thoughts on which races to do next: leaning towards those that genuinely excite me and I feel a desire to either go back and do better or new ones that are waiting to be discovered, though one date is pretty solid – The Lakeland 50 in 2016. Huge thank you to The Endurance store and Montane, but most of all to those who supported and marshalled, it was a fantastic atmosphere and true showcase for how great the sport is.

Very honoured to have this trophy and will always remember "Chase the Ball"

Very honoured to have this trophy and will always remember “Chase the Ball” from Jack

Lakeland 50 2015

1, Jayson Cavill 08:04:24
2,Matty Brennan 08:28:24
3, Paul Grundy 08:28:54

1, Sally Fawcett 08:43:43
2, Debbie Martin-Consani 09:04:30
3, Mel Varvel 09:22:27

Lakeland 100 2015

1, Paul Tierney 20:42:07
2, Marco Consani 21:45:50
3, Duncan Oakes/Jason Lewis 23:01:39

1, Carol Morgan 25:47:32
2, Katie Boden 28:36:19
3, Isobel Wykes/Nicky Taylor 29:23:52

Cleveland Way Relay – 110 miles flat out!

The Cleveland way relay is a team event which covers the whole route of the 110 mile Cleveland way, the route being broken up into legs, where each runner covers a distance ranging between 4 and 9 miles, with 16 legs in total. Teams start at 5 am in Filey and keep going until the end in Helmsley, there is another mass start about 70 miles into the route at 2pm whereby all the teams not already past that point start together again, this just ensures the route can be completed by everyone in daylight hours and makes things a little easier logistically.

110 Mile Cleveland Way

110 Mile Cleveland Way

This year I somehow ended up organising two teams, one for Pickering Running Club and the other a mixture of Hardmoor`s friends and Ultra Runner Trail Team members , Team H.U.R.T.T (Hardmoors Ultra Runner Trail Team). Pickering have had a team involved and myself over the past two years which have always been great fun.  With plenty of interest from friends in the Hardmoors community it seemed like a great opportunity to get another new team involved.

Feeling good in my fresh new X-Bionic Kit from The Ultra Runner Store

Feeling good in my fresh new X-Bionic Kit from The Ultra Runner Store

“Awarding” myself the first leg for team H.U.R.T.T which was a 5am mass start, I also “awarded” Kim the second leg from Scarborough, deciding at last minute to camp out in Filey to give us a lie in! (I could not face giving someone else the 5am start!) though Jack (The dog) had other ideas of a good night sleep and I ended up walking him along the very empty beach at 2am, not really in the plan but it was nice and peaceful! Getting up a couple of hours later I felt surprisingly good for that time of day, we gathered for the first “start” on the cobble landing and were soon set off by Martin Dietrich, heading off along the sand in Filey, I was feeling quite awake and comfortable as we headed out along the coast with some early morning drizzle to wake up to. Running a bit quicker than expected I finished the first leg a couple of minutes ahead of schedule and also the next runner in from the Loftus team, though Kim had been having a quick Reece of her route through town so I had to wait a couple of minutes for her to get back and handover too, she soon got going though and zoomed off like a bullet now in second place!

Bob Horseman handing over to Rich "The Rocket" Buckle

Bob Horseman handing over to Rich “The Rocket” Buckle

The rest of the day became a repeat of handover`s and runners speeding off, as Richard demonstrates in the picture above! the energy at each handover point where everyone gathered was fantastic! Having supported people around the whole route on other various races such as the Hardmoors 110, it was amazing to see how much quicker the distance was covered by people running short sections flat out – like doing HM110 support in fast forward!! Kim was enjoying the speedwork so much she even did a second leg for Pickering in the afternoon!

Kim in full X-Bionic gear, speeding in to finish her first of two legs

Kim in full X-Bionic gear, speeding in to finish her first of two legs

Throughout the day I was inspired by  just how much everyone was putting into their individual legs and doing their best to put together a fast pace, the individual logistics of this type of event are often as challenging as the actual run itself, but everyone just got on with it, some happy running back along the way they came for some extra mileage, It really was a great team spirit throughout the day, luckily the weather was much nicer than forecast  and everyone was happy to be hanging out waiting for their handovers, despite my dodgy leg time estimations!

Russ Grayson handing over to Sally brown after a extremely quick leg into Ravenscar

Russ Grayson handing over to Sally brown after a extremely quick leg into Ravenscar

The man of Steele! taking over from Pam in Osmotherly

The man of Steele! taking over from Pam in Osmotherly

 

I really enjoyed the idea that this is a team event, everyone does their bit and it all adds up to covering a very long distance in a short amount of time, a fantastic day and really good atmosphere around the route. Next year it would be great to have two team H.U.R.T.T`s  a A and B team as so many people wanted to be involved, there would easily be enough for two teams. As Martin says in his report below, maybe a team to challenge Loftus all the way around would be good!

Not a bad way to fill a Sunday!

Not a bad way to fill a Sunday!

A huge thanks to everyone who took part from all teams involved to the behind the scenes supporters driving everyone around too, especially those who jumped in at last minute. A special mention to Jerry for driving up from Lincolnshire to do a leg for PRC.  Mostly a massive thanks to Martin Dietrich for organising this event.

H..U.R.T.T Team members (in Leg order)

Jayson Cavill, Kim England, Bob Horseman, Rich Buckle, Martin Dietrich, Ady Benn, Phlip Reese, Jason Highland, Adnan Khan, Bridget Houlston, Tim Taylor, John Hamnett, Pam Costello, Jon Steele, Shirley Steele.

Pickering Running Club (in Leg order)

Nick Cousins, Andy Blades, Russ Grayson, Sally Brown, Sue Slack, Simon Jones, Philly Hare, Karen Farmer, Jerry McCulla, Nichola Wise, Ian Farrer, Ailish Lilley/Dean Wise, Kim England, Simon Ridley, Rebecca Bruce, Lynn Humpleby.

Here is Martins report and the results;

Cleveland Way Relay 2015 Report

I may even get Rosedale Marathon written up soon too!!! Cheers Jayson 🙂

Hardmoors 110 – Interview with Ladies winner Kim England

The dust has almost settled on yet another unforgettable weekend of Ultra running at the Hardmoors 110 and 160. Conditions were almost ideal as runners from all over the country and further afield came to take on the challenge of completing the full Cleveland way and in some cases the Howardian hill route combined – all in the aid of “fun”

Here is an inside glimpse and interview with first time 100+ plus miler and ladies winner Kim England.

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Congratulations on your first ever 100+ mile Ultra! And also being the first lady across the line..
A couple of days have passed now, how are you feeling?

A bit dazed! It still hasn’t sunk in that I won my first 100 miler and that I did the 100 in under 24 hours but people keep telling me how well I’ve done, so it must be true!
I am still a bit sore: my feet are still a little swollen and tender because the ground was so hard and I think my shoes were done up a little too tightly for such a long race. I’m walking slowly too as my legs are stiff and my appetite hasn’t really come back yet but I’m sure it will.
I’m just really pleased that I was able to finish with relatively little damage, and to do it in a time that I was pleased with.

It was really interesting to see the race unfold from a support point of view, but how did it all look to you? What was your strategy for the event?

I was really nervous at the start because I knew that it was a tough route and that a lot of people didn’t complete it. My main focus had just been to do it to achieve the Hardmoors Grand Slam but secretly I did want to win and believed that I could if everything went right.

My strategy was to run within myself but not burn out. I started very slowly on the 60 last year and I don’t think it did me any favours, as I was continually playing catch up. On the 55, I pushed myself a bit more and it worked, so on the 110, I did something similar. The plan was not to stop at any checkpoints for long or to sit down, as I had seen others do this and how much time, momentum and focus they lost. I also knew I had to keep eating as much as possible for as long as possible as several more experienced runners had told me that I would reach a point where I wouldn’t want to eat anything. This did happen, so I was glad I had taken in a lot early on. Basically, I just planned to keep moving at a reasonable pace, walk the ups and enjoy it while I could!

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A question that many people “outside” the sport ask – What on earth made you want to do a 100 mile run?

Several things really. The clichéd answer is I read ‘Born to Run’ and it just struck something in me. The idea that humans can be capable of something like this but have lost it because we have such an easy life now made me wonder what I could do personally. I like the thought that I can do something that most other people consider impossible.

Also, I went to the start of the Hardmoors 110 about 4 years ago just to see what these people were like: did they look like a bunch of weirdoes? Were they all super fit and muscular? I was pleasantly surprised that they all seemed pretty ‘normal’! It was a really electric atmosphere and it got under my skin. Then a friend – Lorraine Laycock – signed up to run it the year after and I went to marshal at Scarborough and to see her finish. I saw the impact it had on her and even though she told me never to do it, the next week she had totally changed her mind!

How did you prepare for this type of event, where there any specific things you did for this?

The main thing was a slow build up for me. I have had problems with my ITB and it is a constant concern. I ran the Edinburgh marathon a few years ago and the flat, hard surface put me out of running for almost 6 months. It was incredibly frustrating and I never wanted to have to go through it again, so I have been very careful to not step up my distance too quickly. After a couple of years of doing regular Hardmoors trail marathons and LDWA events, I felt confident that it could hold up on something longer.

My weekly mileage probably topped out at about 60 running miles and often I was doing less than that, maybe 45. It consisted of some speed work and threshold runs in the form of Parkruns, long slow runs and recovery runs. I also started doing a bit of swimming and have been doing Kettlercise classes for a while now. Strength and conditioning work is also really important to me for keeping my wonky gait in check and making sure I am strong enough to compensate for it. The 55 was my last big test and I also did a run through the night with The Man of Steele (Hardmoors RD) on his own 110. This helped a lot as I had run at night plenty of times but never gone right through without sleep.

The Legend himself

The Legend himself

What was your nutrition plan? What did you do leading up to the event and during?

I try to eat healthily all the time but like things like cheese, cakes, ice cream and sweets so I don’t deny myself: I just don’t eat them every day. Leading up to the event, I tried to eat more than usual and bulked my meals out with pasta and rice. I also started drinking fresh beetroot juice about a month beforehand as it’s meant to open up blood vessels and get more energy into your muscles. I have chia seeds in smoothies most days too, as I am a bit paranoid about not getting enough protein when training hard.

During the event, I ate a lot of white baguette and Edam, as I find that quite bland food goes down easily. I also enjoyed oranges, melon and apples, as when I got a bit sick of Snickers, gels and sweets, they were very refreshing. I like Kendal mint cake as it cleans your mouth out a bit and Gin Gins, a ginger sweet that settles your stomach if you’re feeling a bit queasy.

I drank Hi5 orange cherry electrolyte drink, water, coke and one can of Red Bull. Chai and Earl Grey tea was also really good, especially in the night when I needed something comforting.

After the race, I drank Forever Ultra chocolate protein shake, which has huge amounts of minerals and vitamins in it and it tastes really good mixed with coconut milk. When you’re not feeling like eating but you need something, this is excellent as it is tasty and feels like it’s doing you some good. I had a couple of servings on the Sunday and I genuinely think it aids recovery.

What was your choice of kit and why?

Normally I use a Salomon backpack and soft flasks, but my sponsor, The Ultra Runner Store, had sent me some new kit the day before, so after a quick test I decided to use it. The Ultimate Direction SJ backpack was fantastic. It fit really well for a unisex pack and even though it was a hot day, it felt comfortable. The pockets are easy to get to and there is just the right amount of space for a supported run. The UD soft flasks were great too: they have a really wide mouth so are easy to fill and the lids also lock so you don’t lose anything by accident.

I also wore Injinji socks for the first time, another piece of kit from the Ultra Runner Store. They were so cosy and I didn’t change them once. I only got a few blisters because of my deformed toes and I think my feet would have been a mess if not for these socks.

My shoes were the Scott Trail Rockets – a quite minimal shoe with a fairly light tread. The ground was so dry and firm that these were perfect. I had intended on changing into my Hokas when it got light but couldn’t bear the thought of having to put my feet into something different! It’s a good job as I don’t think they would have fit, my feet were so puffy from so much time on them!

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On top of the…. moors

 

Was it everything you expected it to be?

It was. These events are so special because of the way they are organised and the support they get. Jon and Shirley love the sport and it shines through and spreads to everyone involved. My support made it almost easy too! Even when things went a little wrong, I felt very calm and trusted that they would make it okay.

Yes, the atmosphere was almost like a festival on the Saturday, lots of enthusiastic energy. The support van breaking down in Guisborough could have been a disaster, but you just cracked on and seemed to speed up, how much were you aware of things going on in the background?

Garry Scott, who we crewed on the 160 last year, was due to meet me at Slapewath and run until midnight with me. In Guisborough woods, I had a weird feeling that he wasn’t going to be there, but I got onto the descent down to the road and he was coming up to meet me. That was where he told me that the van had broken down and you were going to have to get a tow back home to pick the car up. At first I thought it was going to be a disaster but knew that you all would do everything you could to keep me going. It turned out fine, as Garry just took over in his car until you met us at Staithes when it was dark and Garry finally joined me. Luckily, I was still feeling good so didn’t need any extra motivation at that point. In some ways, I think it was better that I was on my own for that bit longer as I was enjoying listening to my music!

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What was your lowest point?

I had a really slow leg somewhere on the coast that was about 5 miles, but it seemed to take an eternity. I can’t even remember where it was. I could feel a blister on my little toe and got a bit obsessed with wanting to pop it, so I stopped and took my shoe and sock off and just started stabbing my toe with a safety pin! Steve, my support runner, had to get me moving again. I didn’t ever feel like I would give up but that just slowed me down a bit. Also, the stretch between Scalby Mills and where you round the corner on Scarborough seafront hurt my legs a lot. That was really the only time I had to have a few walk breaks.

What was your highest point?

The whole first day was fantastic, as I spent time chatting with other runners – Heather Mochrie, Jason Ellis and their supporters – and enjoying the scenery and weather. There are not many things better than being out there meeting other people who love the experience like you do. The marshals are always brilliant too, so seeing so many familiar faces, willing me on was great. Seeing Shelli just before Cayton Bay was lovely too. We had a hug and a tiny almost sob before I left her to complete her phenomenal run. Obviously, the end was amazing too. I could hear the whoops from the finish line before I could even see anyone, and finally being able to let myself go emotionally was a massive relief.

Back in the day

Back in the day

 

Will you do it again?

Probably! It would be nice to break 24 hours for the whole race. I would still like to try the UTMB and a 100 miler in America too. I don’t think I would want to do more than one 100 a year though, so Hardmoors may have to wait if I get into the UTMB in the next couple of years!

And finally; have you given any thought to how you will reward your amazing support crew?

Some beer for one, lots of gratitude for a few more and probably returning the favour at some point for a couple or more!

Hardmoors 55 Race report; Records fall and podiums climbed

Todays Hardmoors 55 mile race broke the norm of previous years snow and blizzards, providing todays competitors with fantastic conditions.  Dry solid ground and even a tail wind blowing down most of the Clevland way from Guisborough to Helmsley were a great platform for a hard and fast race: the athletes toeing the line did not disappoint. I was lucky enough to support Kim and catch the top 15 through most places; here is how it unfolded;

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300+ Runners heading your way!

In the Men`s race Kim Collison hit the start keen. The 2014 UK Ultra trail champion was eager to test his form prior to representing Team GB in the World Champs later this year. Paul Nelson was hot on his heels from the start and a chasing group formed behind these two. As the race evolved Kim continued to look smooth and consistent pulling a good gap out in front, flying through the check points on for a good race, Paul continued to push still striving for a good time.The chasing group started to spread out and it wasn’t until after Osmotherly, 30 odd miles in, that Dave Troman managed to make a small break to third.

By Sutton Bank and with 10 miles remaining, Kim had set down a fantastic pace and was now a good 30 minutes ahead of Paul Nelson, now being closed down by Dave. The last push into Helmsley saw Kim set down a new course record of 7:39  – 30 minutes faster than the previous CR. Coming in a fantastic second place was Paul in 8:15  (only 6 minutes off the previous CR), with Dave Troman looking strong for 3rd in 8:24, more than 30 minutes faster than his time last year

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Kim Collison 1st Place in record time A great start to 2015

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The ladies’ race was chalk and cheese from the men’s. The first four ladies were only separated by 5 minutes up to Clay Bank, with Shelli Gordon and Heather Mochrie having fun out in front with Kim England and Charmaine Horsfall not far behind.  Coming into Lord Stones around 25 miles all four had grouped together, from here it looked wide open. Kim was surprised that she was in such a good position and feeling good but the race didn’t really develop until Osmotherley with the ladies staying close together and working well as a group. Unfortunately, Heather had been suffering from stomach problems and had to pull out at Osmotherley. Charmaine looked keen to make a move and pushed hard out of Square corner up onto the long climb towards High Paradise farm – though a long way from actual paradise – and Kim and Shelli remained close behind.

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Charmaine pushes hard for 1st

By Sutton Bank Charmaine had surged ahead, cutting through the men’s field too and going up to 7th overall. Shelli and Kim were now 30 minutes back but smiling and looking good as if they were only 10 miles in not 45! Into Helmsley and Charmaine finshed in a superp time taking down her own course record by 10 minutes for a finish time of 8:39 and overall place of 7th (TBC). Ultra Runner Store Trail Team mates Kim and Shelli finished in a cracking time of 9:04. Kim was over the moon as she was aiming for 10 hours and finished running with her hero Shelli.

It was not just the front 3 putting down solid runs, there were some amazing performances throughout the night as people came in. Jason Ellis had a cracking second half race and closed some serious ground on the front groups; John Kynaston`s discipline in running to heart rate throughout paid off as he finished very happy and relaxed; Simon Ridey and Bob Horsman both got in under 11 hours. Shelli and Nikki completing 1000 hardmoors miles! So many other friends and faces looked really chuffed and sorry, I can’t remember everyones’ names, but you all looked great and thanks for smilling as I kept popping up in random car parks. Well done all: Jon and Shirley you have put on a blindingly great event yet again – roll on the 110!!

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Go Team Ultra Runner Store! great camaraderie smiles!

Trail team with a dash of Fell running

“Hurray! Were in a Team! Not just any team but the Ultra Runner Store Trail Team. I am absolutely over the moon to be a part of this along with Kim England, David Beech, Steph Scott, Sheli Gordon and of course Tony Holland, all really great people and dedicated athletes. Check out everyone’s Bio`s on the website. It looks like it will be mainly Montane and Hoka equipment supporting the team which is certainly not new to me, both brands having a great product range so looking forward to seeing the new logo`d kit! See what the team are up to on Facebook here.

Ultra runner trail team

Having met Tony through the support he gives to the Hardmoors races, I have always been impressed with his dedication and enthusiasm for running along with knowledge of the kit we use for it. His very honest approach is great, the brands he carries are not only leading the way in development and science of the sport but are also closely matched with the types of events I enjoy doing.

Last year Tony took the plunge and expanded his commitment to the cause by opening his own store in Cramlington, further complimenting his excellent web service and regular presence at several races such as the Hardmoors race series,  V3K and Trail Outlaws events, if this was not enough he even organises some local races too, including the Northumberlandi 5k trail race.

Some more icing on the cake this weekend at Glaisdale fell race. I love this route, having raced and won it for the last two years I really wanted to be a part of it again this year, though was cautious as have not really done much off road or long runs since my steady return in January.  I had a initial plan of feeling my way back into it by starting off slowly and picking things up later, this went out of the window in the first climb out of the village. I was shocked to find myself upfront and feeling quite comfortable running with Chris Roberts, Ian MacGrath and Paul Butler. I was not sure if I had the miles in my legs to maintain this but wanted to give it a good go anyway.

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Chris and I had a great race running side by side for the first 4 or so miles, with Paul and Ian not far behind.  I only managed to put some distance into Chris on the second climb just after half way, I pressed on and made the most of this. Even though things were hurting now I was still very surprised and a little giddy at the pace I was keeping pleased that my legs had not completely blown. Even into the final descent Chris was still pushing hard, though I was cautious not to repeat last years fall and end the day in A&E for more stitches in my knee! I managed to hold my own finishing feeling really strong and extremely happy with first place and Chris only 23 seconds behind.  Kim also had a strong run, after putting some hard miles in her legs over the last few weeks in preparation for the Hardmoors 55, she still had some good speed to finish second lady and into her best ever fell race position!

I am really look forward to being part of the Trail team and developing things along the way, I just need to get through a couple more months of training so that I can get out there and do it all justice! but things are looking up already. The continued support I am receiving from Clare Davidson at Pocklington Physio has been a huge help getting me in good shape for what I hope to be a interesting year.

Time for some maintenance

“How’s the recovery going Jayson?” A frequent question at the moment, especially when throwing myself into a social situation with lots of other runners. Not that I mind though, it is always nice when people ask and are interested. Unfortunately for them I proceed to bore, daze, bemuse the unsuspecting victim with my ramblings and life story of the last 3 months! Now taking it a step further I wanted to do the same on here. Ok maybe I will keep some things out so that people still talk to me afterwards, but I am aware there has been a significant gap since my last post and, although I have nothing exciting to report on the race front, I thought sharing something from the less intense side may still be interesting.

For those I have not seen for a while, last November I went in for surgery on my ankle. Without going into too much gory detail, the peroneal tendon and supporting ligaments had deteriorated to a point where ongoing physio treatment was not responding. This was an issue caused more from pre-running days and youthful exuberance in various states of wellbeing than anything significant since running became my passion. With my bigger races complete for the year and last couple of key events hampered by this issue, things had got to a point where I felt nervous even going down the stairs, so getting it sorted was the right time and way forwards. To do this just needed a few hours in hospital for surgery and 6 weeks of wearing a cast/boot, plus being a slight pain in the arse to those around me: easy right? Well it was different for me anyway!

Tea time, this was my "hands free" alternative to crutches

Tea time, this was my “hands free” alternative to crutches

What I didn’t realise beforehand was how different my approach to things would be after having 6 weeks of no running. It was a great opportunity to reflect and think about how to tackle the next year, as well as build a stronger core and platform to begin 2015. With running out of the equation and after the initial post op rest period I looked to other activities, I found there are things called “swimming pools” which you can throw yourself up and down as much as you like but don’t put huge impact and stress through your body, making you really stretch the lungs and giving you a great workout. I also rediscovered my enjoyment of cycling and after a while on the turbo trainer ventured outside. Since having the boot off I have gotten into a nice routine of biking the 30 mile round trip to and from work a couple of days a week – luckily for me the road is relatively quite so I don’t feel too intimidated by traffic rushing past. Now I have found the right balance of warm/waterproof clothing it has become quite an enjoyable part of the day I look forward to.

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Still a bike geek at heart, a perfect afternoon alternative to being outside training was building this up from scratch, aah

With this new routine of regular swimming and cycling, I have had to make a conscious effort to squeeze the running back in. Slowly building this up, the ankle already feels better than pre operation days, though as good as it does feel I am still aware that there is a long way to go, ligaments need time to heal well and I want to give it that chance rather than rush back. Plus I am still not even close to the fitness level I had previously. Just getting back into running again has been hard, building the spring back into my leg which was immobile for so long has taken time and patience. With physio and strength work being key, things are progressing and I am confident that I will be stronger throughout than before.

Realising how much my form dropped off certainly left me open to feeling demoralised, with negative thoughts and doubts about ever returning to form creeping in.  I seem to be overcoming this by keeping my mind set on shorter term goals, doing different routes/types of running so as not to compare where I was last year. Delving into a few park runs to satisfy my racing itch and also provide a great way to measure improvement is helping me stay focussed and positive.

Early January now feels like a age ago when I first took the boot off and hobbled along on the treadmill at more than 12 minute miles before stopping after a mere 15 minutes.  But in reality it was less than 6 weeks and now things are looking up, the volume of training is back up. Though the ratio of running is still relatively low, the hard quality sessions are creeping back in and feeling more fluid each time, I even managed to max out the treadmill last week on 800m intervals which felt great! Beat the machine ha.  Though I think it is a bit out of calibration and still has some incline to go before I completely master it!  Certainly a fresh new routine with less running impact and more cross training is helping with the return of speed and motivation; I am keen to see how this translates when I start pushing up the pace on longer trail runs.

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So we can just run right over the top of it then?

Planning the year is proving tricky as it is hard to know when I think I will be strong enough to race at my best and I am reluctant to try anything too soon, going with the flow is the way forward at the moment. There are still a few plans going on and other things in addition to my own racing. The main one so far has been Kim`s plan to complete the Hardmoors Grand slam, the culmination of 4 Ultra distance races throughout the year: the 30 mile race on New year’s day, the HM55 in March, HM110 miler in May and the HM60 in September.  She is certainly putting in the training and looking on form at the moment, making me work hard to keep up and surpassing my long run capability at the moment. Unfortunately she was really ill for the event on New Year’s day, but still went out there and got through it. Now looking forward to the 55 in a few weeks, I can’t wait to see her get stuck in!

For me, nothing big is set in the calendar until June/July.  I have an entry for the LL50 in July so that will be a key race this year, followed by the Matterhorn Ultraks Skyrace in Switzerland in August, which ties in well with a two week holiday around the Alps! I am also keen to return to Ireland for the Mourne Skyline Sky race again, I feel I have a score to settle with that course and want to go back and do it justice. Definitely some more Hardmoors races in there too, plus some support of friends doing Bob Graham rounds. I am keen to see what that is all about and what is involved. There are some other potential developments in the planning stages, so watch this space for those too. For now I am just really happy to be back out there and running around, having a blast with friends and seeing some fantastic achievements by other people. Spring is coming, bringing with it the growing buds of the winters hard work, looking forward to seeing it all blossom in an array of coloured lycra and excitement!

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A Northern Ireland affair

There felt like quite a buzz in the lead up to this event, the Mourne Mountains over in Northern Ireland being a very new and quite unheard of place to me, NiRunning/Mourne Skyline MTR team  were hosting the last race in Skyrunning Uk series. The information and statistics confirmed this would be a tough one, with 11,000 feet of climbing over 22 miles, a serious amount of ascent and descent – equating to 500 feet per mile, almost double the climbing of the Yorkshire Three peaks route over a slightly shorter distance.  In addition to the tough course, there was also a tough field: exciting to think that we would be lining up with the Skyrunning World series ladies champion Stevie Kremer, British Ultra trail champions Kim Collison and Jo Meek, plus more well know British and international runners such as Paul Teirney, Paul Navesey, J Marshall Thomson, Allan Bogle, Eoin Lennon and more. Was it time to feel a little overwhelmed? No, just extremely excited as the Skyrunning UK series finale looked set to be really interesting.

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The stunning mountains on a clear day!

Following on from the 3×3000 DNF and issues, I spent the two weeks before working on the stiffness that had ground me to a halt, teasing this out with the help of physio Clare and also trying to get the ankle somewhere near use-able. Even if I could get it pain free, the proprioception would need some work too.  I decided to make myself run every day, just slow and steady with lots of stretching going back to basics with some early morning drills, balance and strength work. Every day I went out felling better and better, staying disciplined to not push when I felt good.  I knew it was not an ideal situation and lacked any intesity but I was determined to go out to Ireland and give it my absolute best.

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The start – Breezy but at least in daylight!

Arriving in Newcastle (County Down) on Friday, Kim and I had a gentle run up the hill to check out the first and last couple of miles. My legs were feeling the best they had for weeks, and I was only slightly nervous on my ankle, but pain free at least. We bumped into some of the very friendly organisers who were out working hard taping the course; this friendliness set the scene for the whole weekend on how welcoming the locals were to us out of towners. The Mourne Mountains were obviously a big part of the community here and with it came respect for the mountains and terrain.

Saturday morning and a sociable start time in the daylight, not too cold but a lot of wind! And that was down at sea level, so going higher was going to be interesting. Everyone seemed in great spirits, for such a competitive field it had a very friendly and nice atmosphere. After a quick briefing we were off. I settled into a comfortable rhythm in the lead group of 7 or 8 before we spread out a little more over the first few miles, heading up through the first pass, weaving along a nice boulder strewn track, which was also part of the descent back down to the finish.

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Blowing the cobwebs out!

I was not really sure how best to pace this race, being 22 miles it was certainly relatively short on distance, but with so much climbing I didn’t want to overdo things too soon. Without doing any short races recently or speed work, I was lacking the pace to start quickly and knew that the best plan for me was to start a little more reserved and try to push on after half way. The first three pulled away and I settled into a group just behind, though still strung out a little more now. As we summited the first ascent, we climbed over the Mourne wall to be met with a face full of wind. Almost stopping us in our tracks, it took a lot of leaning forwards to get moving through this and onto a really nice trail descent.  Feeling my way into a good rhythm here, I started to gain some places and make up ground on the leading three now a good minute or so ahead.

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Kim Collison looking strong and happy around halfway

Once down here it was the start of a few very steep ups and very steep downs, some very rocky too and we ran veering into and then away from the Mourne wall several times. This at least offered some shelter from the wind, the direction of which seemed to be all over the place; I wasn’t sure if we were changing direction all the time or if it was the wind! On one of the descents I remember having to lean right back to stop from being picked up and dumped at the bottom of the hill! Positions chopped and changed throughout this though I think there were 4 ahead, Paul Navesey and I chopped and changed position as we all tried to survive being battered around.

We headed down another long gradual descent towards the drop bag and water stop approximately halfway. I again got into a good pace here and put a bit of chase onto those in front. This was a lovely grassy descent and I finished it off with an unplanned (though in my mind stylish) 20 foot slide on my bum in front of a few laughing supporters! (obviously not thinking it looked to stylish!) Luckily this did no real damage, getting me down the hill faster.

Starting to have fun now, I grabbed some water from the checkpoint and made my way up the only bit of road with David Steele. By the top Paul had caught us up and we pushed on at a good pace with the front four still just in sight. I felt we were now pushing harder and working well together. Feeling better here, we started another set of roller coaster climbs and descents. Following the Mourne wall and luckily sheltered from the wind for a little while, I got into a really good climbing rhythm here as I left the others behind and started closing in on the next person Allan Bogle, though catching him a little more quickly than expected, I felt for him as he told me he was having a real rough patch and was struggling, which he must have as was in the leading three only a mile before, not a nice place to be in with still a long way to go.

Loving the grippy Granite Rocks - another great photo from Ian Corless

Loving the grippy Granite Rocks – another great photo from Ian Corless

Next, I could see J Marshall Thomson in fourth place only a minute or so ahead, we came back onto some of the real technical terrain we already covered on the way out. The climb up Slieve Meelmore was horrendous, it seemed so steep and there were poor foot holes so it was tough to get any sort of rhythm, just trying to put one foot forward/up and grit it out, then over the other side onto a very scrabbly rocky descent. I made good time up here and closed in on J Marshall, following him for a little while. He turned around and asked if we were on course, which I thought we still were, then he kicked away strongly as I started to tire, now paying for my enthusiasm on the descent, again following the wall up and down. I was feeling the climbs now watching him gradually pull away, but we were both closing in on Andrew Annett in third so still a good incentive to keep pushing and the race is never over until the finish line.

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Either up or down, nothing else!

From here I lost track of where we actually were on the route. I knew Slieve Donard was the last climb and was an out and back. It wasn’t until I caught sight of Eoin Lennon coming down on the other side of the wall that I realised we were on it already! The last summit was there before us hiding in the mist and wind, this gave me a boost though I didn’t feel like I had much climbing left in me! It had become a real battle of will power and the legs were starting to turn to jelly. Managing to catch Andrew before the summit I was now in fourth with J Marshall ahead. Still feeling strong on the descent and I was looking forward to the last 3 miles of descent to the finish where I felt I could make up some more time and push hard to chase for another position.

Sorry, no idea who this is, though a great photo showing the ups and downs

Sorry, no idea who this is, though a great photo showing the ups and downs

Knowing in my head that my legs were fairly wobbly still, I was trying not to get too carried away before getting into downhill mode, then I think I lost concentration slightly and slipped on a rock, only to feel the sinking, sickening sensation of my ankle roll and pop, dropping me to the floor like a sack of spuds. Damn, game over…

I appreciated Andrew for coming over to check I was ok, good man, but I knew all I could do was try and get off the hill without my ankle going over again. This was unfortunately not one of those that you can run off, believe me I would have tried everything to get going again but with it having gone only two weeks before it really was on borrowed time, so I ambled my way down as those I had worked hard to race quickly caught and passed me, also saying hello to Ian Corless again: he gets everywhere! I also had the pleasure to see the first two ladies come flying past, first was Stevie Kremer who looked so fresh with a big smile! She was followed not far behind by Jo Meek looking really strong and too, both very impressive as they glided down the rocky descent.

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Stevie Kramer – parting the clouds she was so fast!

Carrying on, I managed to run again once on the fire road, eventually crossing the line in 14th. Obviously not the result I hoped for but a real thrilling experience nonetheless. I was also really pleased to hear that Kim Collison had taken the win, with Eoin Lennon second and J Marshall Thomson pushing well for third. I had the pleasure of running against Kim on my first ever marathon (Hardmoors Osmotherly) and he showed his amazing speed then, so trying to hang onto him is always a challenge I enjoy!

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The Winner!

Kim (my girlfriend Kim, yes slightly confusing – keep up!) was also racing, though she had been out of action since finishing third in the Hardmoors 60 with ITB problems. She was determined to start this race with the aim of finishing in her own time. I don’t think either of us realised how tough this would be, not only from the climbing but technically too. Probably not the best thing for an ITB problem! without doubt the most technical race she has taken on. She yet again pulled it out of the bag and I managed to catch her belting down the hill towards the finish with a huge smile on her face and cheering “I have beaten my ITB!” Happy days! Knowing how hard she has been working to get running again it was a real achievement for her.

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Kim flying into the finish

This was a great finale to the whole series. There was definitely an air of something special throughout the whole event: the entire field of runners was really friendly, with Niandi and Ian both there supporting from Skyrunning UK and the Mourne Skyline organisers were all really good, of course a huge thank you and respect to the marshal’s for helping point us in the right direction and enduring such strong winds. The course was well marked out all the way, especially where it mattered, which is no mean feat over such terrain. There is obviously a great local running community in such a friendly town, I will be putting this on the calendar for next year – and hopefully spend some more time out there exploring afterwards.

The flattest part of the course!

The flattest part of the course!

Skyrunning on home turf: The first year for this in the UK. Huge thanks to Ian Corless and Niandi Carmont for bringing us a great series with some beautiful locations. Great sponsors throughout the year including some really good prizes for Kim and I from Inov8 and Raidlight.  Skyrunning seems similar to fell running in many ways I guess, one off the differences being that these are over set routes, rather than point to point as some fell races are. This is quite appealing when going somewhere new, not needing to rely too much on navigating or local knowledge to get around the course. The 4 races offered such a variety of terrain, competitors and challenges, I feel lucky to have been a part of these, relishing the experiences each has offered.  At the prize giving Ian also revealed that there will be 6 maybe 7 races in the series next year with possibly 11 in 2016, so very exciting times for the UK and Sky race series, hopefully with more vertical K races the night before!!

A nice weighty medal

A nice weighty medal

What’s next? Well as I said before it was always in the plan to have a good long rest after this race, though I would like to finish the year on a good blast and get back to my roots, so providing I can get my ankle to stay together, I will be taking on the Hardmoors Goathland trail marathon on the 8th of November, I always enjoy the relaxed friendly atmosphere Jon and Shirley bring to the series, plus the route is around the stunning moors and forest where I grew up so has extra sentimental appeal. Despite the area lacking the total height of mountains there are some tough climbs and great routes, one of the Hardmoors events would make a great Skyrace or Ultra trail champs races! The Goathland event is now sold out with strong field of 400 plus runners too. With a time to beat from last year and regardless of position I will be pushing myself hard, using it as a good way to measure any gains from last year. After this I will see about a rest and a plan for next year, already talks between Kim and I for our first 100 miler close to home and a sprinkling of European/UK Sky races!

The North Yorkshire Moors - closer to home next time

The North Yorkshire Moors – closer to home next time

My birthday treat!

Throwing it down at 5am on a dark October morning in Keswick, it seemed a long time since the bright lights of the Alps!  The third race in the new Skyrunning UK series, with 4000m of climbing and at over 80k, the 3×3000 High terrain event in the Lake district was the longest race in the series so far, heading over the 3 highest peaks in the area, Scafell Pike, Helvellyn and Skiddaw, there were certainly some challenges laying ahead.

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A nice bright and early start!

We headed off into the mountains for another running adventure, splashing our way along what I assumed were normally trails not streams, though still moving at a fairly brisk pace, maybe more just to get us warmed up than race for position. The first 8 miles was a lower level climb over Watendlath, parts of which were supposed to be along the side of a river but had now become part of the river itself due to the monsoon and resulting floods. It was around here that things started to go a bit wrong for me: I ended up following a little too closely behind someone, misjudging my step and rolling my right ankle. It didn’t seem too bad but hurt enough to cause my already stiff stride to go a bit askew. I pushed on in the hope that it would ease off.

After a few miles the order of things settled and I found myself with Lee Kemp and Edward Catmur with Donnie Campbell out of sight in the lead. By the time we hit the first feed station at Seathwaite we had all closed up again. Heading off up the first big climb to Styhead,  I was struggling to get comfortable and the usual stiffness I feel at the start of a race wasn’t easing off, though the plan was always to run my own race in again new territory, so I pushed on but didn’t stress when the other three moved ahead up the climb.

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Kind of sums up the first 2 hours!!

With the route shortened slightly due to the weather we missed out Scafell Pike and went straight from Sty Head to Esk Hause. Having just passed Ed just after Sty head I missed a turn so ended up passing him again on the descent to Stake pass, probably confusing us both a little. By now it was light so head torch off, Lee and Donnie had pushed on and increased the gap, though I was pretty busy trying to focus on my footing and enjoy the long descent to Stake pass. From here it was a slog across some heather and bog then up to High Raise fully exposed to the elements before a really long descent to the first proper check point at Wythburn car park about 20 miles in. The descent took us through lots of marsh land, made even more fun by the additional water. I managed to drop in over my waist crossing a couple of “streams” though it sounds cold and wet I was quite enjoying all of the splashing around and wildness of being off the beaten tracks!  Coming down the valley the legs seemed very tight now and my ankle was throbbing a bit, I felt like every step was of defense rather than rhythm, though I loved the off camber slippery track and I still seemed to be making good progress so tried to enjoy it._wsb_560x149_route+profile+copy

Just before the check point I was cheered in by some good friends Garry Scott, his brother and Stevie Major out doing a spot of wild camping or “wild” something! It was great to see them, especially as they informed me I was only 2 minutes behind Lee and Donnie, giving me a lift to the check point where Kim was waiting. Trying not to waste time here, I got some food down quickly preparing for the ascent up Helvellyn.

Not thinking I had stopped for too long, my legs felt as though they hadn’t moved for hours, I tried to get moving and break out of the stiffness, but the harder I pushed the more things tightened. Ian Corless was positioned on the climb braving the elements and snapping away, we had a brief chat as he offered some words of encouragement, then he ran off up the hill in front of me to get more photos! This did make me chuckle a bit and there are not many camera men so dedicated to getting good shots!! Though I was frustrated I couldn’t be more impressive and run at this point!!

I knew the climb leveled off closer to the summit. When I recced this I could comfortably run to the summit, so I was hoping that once I reached this point I would be able to get into a better rhythm. Unfortunately, it wasn’t happening; I didn’t feel tired but just very stiff, when I tried to push the range of movement, my hamstrings and back screamed sharp pain at me and my now sore ankle just added insult to this, not good.

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Some great shots from Ian Corless, thanks

Without waffling on too much about how I hurt and was feeling sorry for myself, I basically decided that carrying on would either end up being a long long walk or I would do more and more damage so pulled out of the race at the summit.  For some reason though I didn’t think to just turn around and go back down to the last CP, I just kept going towards the next CP at the other end of the Dodds about 8 miles away – I phoned Kim to let her know what I was doing and shuffled along to meet her. At first I thought I would be hugely annoyed at pulling out were things that bad or was it all in my head, but as I carried on, things got even worse. I went over on my ankle again, feeling the sickening popping noise of the ligaments letting go. I got to a point where I couldn’t even run down hill without having to stop and stretch. By the time I reached Kim it was at a slow walk and I knew I had made the best and possibly only choice in the circumstances.

 

We managed to catch the first few returning to Keswick at the finish. Donnie came through first, though didn’t realise he was in first place as Lee had taken a wrong turn coming off Skiddaw. They both ran a strong race finishing in fantastic times: it must have been a good battle between them.  Another really well organised and friendly event, despite the bad weather the organisers stayed resolute and taking out Scafell for safety reasons was far better than leaving it in and someone getting into trouble.  I certainly recommend this event for anyone next year and hope it remains part of the Skyrunning UK series in 2015 – Billy Bland himself presented the prizes so a nice touch there too.

 

A DNF: the fallout… I don’t claim to be the hardest nut in the squirrel stash but have been lucky enough put myself through some fairly difficult and testing situations, particularly while serving and completing my All arms commando course, Arctic warfare training and some other arduous experiences serving and in ultras since then, during which time I have never pulled out or failed to complete anything. If I  have I cannot remember it and have erased it from my memory! (you may say I haven’t fully challenged myself, though I do think I have or at least been very close). Not that I am comparing this race to any of those, or saying I am anything special, the point I am trying to make is that not finishing something just does not register with me and is quite an unnerving experience and mental place to be in, as a good friend pointed out, once you get in the habit of DNFing it is slippery slope. Though I think some situations demand this, the error is in getting into the situation through incorrect preparation, failure to prepare is preparing to fail and all that.

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Helvellyn summit, the marshal’s were well ard!

It has taken me a couple of weeks to get this right in my head, for me the important lesson here wasn’t about what happened on the day, I know that pulling out was the right thing to do under the circumstances, it has been more about looking at the events leading up to the day, I think the mistakes were made well before then, as I believe a lot of what happens on race day is delivering on the results of the preparation.  Why did I seize up after a relatively short time, how did I feel during the days leading into this, what had I been doing, what hadn’t I been doing, what condition is my body really in after the CCC, what have I changed?

On reflection and looking at things more closely, I had given myself a week off after the CCC, focusing on getting my neck sorted out and ignored the rest of my body. I then felt really good so hit the training hard, focusing on higher intensity sessions and fewer slow easy runs. I think the icing on the cake was the week before the 3×3000 where I was working in Norway, I escaped for a two and a half hour mountain run, finishing it off down a 3 mile descent on a steep forest track. Feeling good and over exuberant, I decided to see what sort of 5k time I could do (16.45 at the end of a long run). From here I didn’t seem quite right and I think this sort of training hammered all of the poor muscle tissues still in repair mode from France, my lower back and hamstrings were solid which is where the pain was coming from. I then decided to try and taper and not do anything (plus I was travelling a lot with work), rather than keeping ticking over with slow easy runs.  The conclusion to this was an already battered body, hammered some more when it should have been recovering, then put away in a cupboard for three days to seize up and brought out to perform on race day. How we love hindsight eh, but as I said in my very first blog, I am on a huge learning curve here and this is only a snap shot of the lessons learned throughout the year, the important thing for me is to learn from these experiences and apply it next time.

Moving, onwards and upwards, what about the next race then, well the last in the Skyrace series is/was the Mourne Skyline MTR in Northern Island. This was to be mine and Kim’s last race of the year before putting our feet up. Only two weeks after the 3×3000 I thought it would be difficult to recover fully in time, even without the problems I was having. The course has an incredible amount of climbing in it and is one of the most technical, testing nerve as well as climbing strength, plus a very competitive line up would make it an interesting series finale.

 

Mourne Race report to follow soon

A jolly around Mont Blanc

After 40 miles of pushing hard over mountains, approaching yet another summit, the distinct tinkle and knocking of bells began to approach: lots of bells in fact, but I was miles away from any town where the majority of people had been congregating, greeting each runner with enthusiastic cheering.  No, this was a gentle, random more scattered chime. Had I really pushed so much that I was hearing things? Would ghostly hallucinations soon follow? Rounding a bend, the beastly bell ringers came in to view. Oblivious to the hundreds of runners passing through their green carpeted home during the week, were of course a large herd of grazing cattle: not just any cattle – these were Bovine cows, at home in the mountains of the Alps.

Now well into my 8th hour of racing hard, I was in new territory here, like a fish out of water as I had been all day. My original game plan was thrown out of the window in the first mile, with what felt like a disastrous early 15 miles, but things had changed. Everyone was suffering now, everyone’s legs hurt, but now I was here, in the mountains and meadows populated with Bovine cows wearing huge bells. I was getting faster, feeling stronger, trying to retrieve what felt like a written off race only a few hours earlier….

Ok, rewinding a bit: the CCC eh, sounds like a glamorous race to do, stunning scenery through beautiful mountains, a grand start and finish with lots of people lining the streets, should be fun right? Well yes of course, but when it is all a bit new and you are suddenly there in the moment, reality kicks in, it can start to become quite intimidating. This is not a turn up and pay £7 on the day then run with 100 other friendly fellow fell racers. This was really serious, camera crews, elite athletes, helicopters at the start, exciting in a whole new way! The town of Chamonix was a buzz and completely focused on the whole UTMB week, it felt like a festival but for runners!

The North Face Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc 2012

Arriving in Chamonix a couple of weeks before the race, we spent the first week acclimatizing, casually going round the route over 3 days, carrying minimal kit. We spent a couple of nights in mountain refuges which was a great way to see and just be present in the mountains, allowing us the time to take in the spectacular views of glaciers, vast meadows and the Mont Blanc ranges, so a great preparation week.

UTMB: Panoramica comparada de las carreras del Mont Blanc.

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Course profile, love the three different flags across this..

Unfortunately 5 days before race day my body had other ideas of good preparation. I pulled something in my neck, resulting in my back and right arm seizing up, any movement led to sharp pain. I called up my amazing physio Claire, who thought the problem was a partial disc bulge. The next few days consisted of hourly exercises, minimal anti-inflammatories and trying not to turn my head whenever Kim saw something interesting – which being in the mountains was quite a lot! Claire was great, talking to me every night checking progress and modifying exercises to suit. As the week progressed the immediate pain wore off, only leaving a very stiff back and shoulders to deal with. I consoled myself with the thought that  even if I just got to the start line and ran 10 miles, at least I would get the experience (kind of knowing once I had done 10 miles I would be able to manage a few more!)

The day before my own was Kim`s event, the OCC. Covering the last 30 miles of the CCC and UTMB route, supporting Kim on this was a great opportunity for me to see her in action and try to help at the various stages allowed, not that she needed it much! I had such a great time seeing her progress through the field and come into each checkpoint with a huge smile on her face, obviously relishing the whole experience!

Kim looking Strong after 20 miles

Kim looking Strong after 20 miles

She moved from about 260th overall at the first CP through to 88th overall at the end, managing 10th lady. In a field of over 1600 runners this was a really fantastic result. Though probably more technical than she would have liked, I think her performance on the descents surprised even her, she looked so strong all the time and I felt immensely proud to see her cross the line in Chamonix, superb finish! – she is getting fast this girl!

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Super star Finish!

In all the excitement I kind of neglected my own needs and really suffered in the sun. It sounds ridiculous that she was the one out running in the heat and I ended up getting dizzy and having to sit down in the shade at the end!! So not ideal the day before the biggest race of my life, but I was buzzing so much from Kim`s success I could have gone home happy there and then!

Excuses over, I knew what was done was done; I just had to get on with it. Feeling pretty good and relaxed on the start line all things considered, I tried to take in and enjoy the pre race shenanigans. Managing to position myself somewhere in the first 200 or so, it was not ideal but close enough to make some headroom. A helicopter came over us as we were counted down in Italian, quattro, tre, due, uno, go!! The start wasn’t too fast and I managed to get close enough to the front pack to settle into an even pace. The helicopter still overhead blasting us with downdraft and noise, drowning out the cheering and music blasting out, as we paraded around Courmayeur. Kim spotted me first giving me a nice loud shout and smile before I headed out on the first long 6.5 mile climb to 2500m.

What should have felt like a comfortable pace for me really started to become quite a serious effort. Thinking it maybe just down to a lack of warming up, I tried to push on, but things just didn’t seem to be getting any better. Everything in my chest and back was tight, my legs felt heavy, it was as though I was in one of those dreams where you can’t run, wading through treacle, not the feeling where I am usually holding back at the start of a long race.  After a couple of miles I resigned myself to slowing right down, pushing this hard was not sustainable or right. This continued for longer than I wanted as people were streaming past, all I could do was shut everything out and try to focus on a rhythm and relax, take on some food early and press on. Maybe things would change once we started to descend, I just had to get to the top first…

I hit the summit after 1 hour 45 min of pretty much continuous climbing. 15 minutes behind the leaders and feeling much worse than I wanted to do at this stage, I was keen to get on the descent and try to start correcting things. This seemed to feel a little better but as soon as I hit a flat or slight incline I would go backwards again: not good. Ok time to change the game plan; this wasn’t working, I wasn’t having any fun, I wanted to stop, go home and not run until I felt ok again – definitely feeling sorry for myself.

Cheer up, Only 55 miles to go….

I thought about things people had said in the buildup, why was I here, what it all meant to me, looking around to appreciate the mountains and views – things you need to dig into when times are hard. They usually come towards the end of a race, not within the first 15 miles! So my plan of damage limitation came to fruition. I decided to screw the climbs, they just weren’t happening today, if I carried on hurting this much so early I would be blown by 30 miles. So what felt good? The descents, passing people, the views were spectacular and people cheering you shouting your name (name and nationality was on your number – real nice touch) all gave me a positive feeling.  So plan B, hang the climbs, take as long as I needed, go as fast as I could and have fun on the downhills, smile, wave, say “merci” to anyone who cheered and ask for none myself!  A nice fast technical descent in Arnuva about 15 miles in confirmed that this was a good plan. I passed a few people here, before heading off on the long climb up to Grand col Ferret, around 19 miles, not feeling great but starting to level off.

At over 2500m this was the highest altitude climb, rewarding us with the most spectacular views from all sides. I pressed on over the pass, then begun a long 10 mile drop in altitude, beginning as a smooth high mountain trail. You could see for miles; the vastness of these mountains really struck home here, with the trail developing into steep technical woody single track, interspersed with a few short rolling climbs. Unsure if running the down hills hard would take its toll, I threw caution to the wind and let it go, determined to get some fun out of this at least! Now catching people quickly, reminiscing of racing friends down the mountains of Wales, I was starting to feel human again and really enjoying myself.

Pretty awesome views!!

Spectacular views!!

Briefly re-fuelling at the La Fouly CP, before continuing along the still gradual downhill section, I managed a couple of faster 7 ish minute miles, feeling better, feeding energy off anyone cheering in the small Swiss out of the way towns. I still had no idea of my position thinking it would be a miracle if I was close to the top 100. I just wanted to get to Champex where I would see Kim for the first time, knowing this would give me a lift and opportunity to regroup. After a cheeky climb up to Champex there was a huge crowd and long line of cheering supporters, mentally lifting me into the refreshment tent where Kim was waiting.

I spurted out everything going on in my head to Kim, whilst struggling to hold back the emotions. She was great, nice and calm, had everything laid out for me ready and gave the exact information and words I needed: I was in 56th! Having moved up from 88th position at the top of the first climb! What? I couldn’t comprehend this, convinced I had been further back, but I knew to trust her – she explained people had dropped out, were suffering, even the guy in second place had dropped out at Champex! That I was doing great. This lifted me back in race mode now, still a long way to go and further down the field than I originally wanted, it sounded like the front pace had been fast and people were suffering for it. 22295736Could I be hurting less than others? Time to see…

Spurred on by lots of cheering “Bravo” “Allez”, I left Champex, running nicely now. This was how I should have felt at the start! Settling into a nice comfy rhythm, I figured out that there were three big climbs and ascents to go.  If I could pass 5 people in each of those sections then I may be able to squeeze into the top 30.  Now running climbs I would have had to walk earlier, I made up some more places before the summit, then thinking who`s next, looking for them – like targets focusing my mind. Having possibly hit the climb a little hard, my legs took a while to get going on the next long descent, still waiting for the burning quads so many had warned me of from the long descents. Still I thought, I will deal with that when it comes, this is still fun and a fantastic fast rough descent awaited.

Feeling happy after the first half!

Feeling happy after the first half!

Kim`s smile welcomed me into Trient where I grabbed some bits and pieces. The noodle soup, oranges and raisins were working really well for me. I only felt a little sick at times but overall my stomach was doing really well and remained good for the whole race, so happy days there. While in the tent, I had started waffling some rubbish to the commentator about Yorkshire puddings! Luckily an Aussie guy heard me rambling and told me to move off my arse and get on with it! Realizing this was a good point, I moved on! Though not before telling Kim I felt tired! She then told me I had moved up from 56th to 36th position! “Whatever you are doing just keep doing it!” she said. I think it was more the look of pride in her eyes, but it’s amazing how these things make you feel emotional, sticking in your mind and spurring you on.

A big cheer from Simon Ellis as I left the tent set me off on the second to last leg in good spirits. Everyone was spread out now; the main company coming from cows ringing their bells, providing a false sense of comfort, after all the only real comfort would be at the end in Chamonix. Reaching the summit, again straight into a fast smooth descent. My feet were hurting a little now, starting to feel the need to hold back a little on the fast descents, then a really nice technical section switched my mind back into fell mode and I was off, again enjoying the buzz of my subconscious working faster than my mind, throwing myself into drops and turns laughing away as I passed a few startled walkers: so much fun.

Leaving Trient, thanks for the picture Simon

The last CP at Vallorcine greeted me with slight drizzle and fading light. The final CP and only 10ish miles to go, Kim quickly got me sorted, though the tracking had gone down and she wasn’t sure of my position. I was maybe 29th by now and had become more focused on my time. The sub 14 hours was looking good and I felt closer to 13 ½ was do-able. I wanted to conquer this beast, get it done, only 10 miles left, just 1 1/2  laps of the Wainstones route right?

Head torches now on, I followed the gradual climb out of Vallorcine, feeling comfortable running on this. But then into the final nasty steep ascent to Tete aux vents, I was amazed how quickly the environment changed around me, going from warm sunshine, cooling off at the odd stream, to now pouring rain, darkness, fog and cold: you were suddenly aware of being alone in the mountains. With my legs feeling heavy, the steep climb became a battle, made worse by the stream now rushing down against me. Teaming up with another guy to help keep the track in view as visibility was very poor, we reached what we assumed to be the summit, smiled and shook hands, only to realize it was a false summit – not there yet! Eventually a solitary guy appeared out of the mist marking the real summit. The traverse from here to the last CP seemed to last for ages, with lots of rocky drops, turns and bogs hiding behind a wall of fog leaving only 5 feet of visibility: blasting down here wasn’t a option. Feeling the cold now I was trying to move as quickly as I could, so lost the guy I had ascended with, then all of a sudden, salvation – the last CP, La Flegere! It was all downhill from here!

We were soon into another technical sweeping descent, with lots of switch backs, roots and rocks. This was immense fun in the daylight, but in the fog and rain became a real test of focus. Not sure if it was the coffee I had necked at the top, but I was absolutely buzzing down here, forgetting the burning quads and catching a couple more, before passing a third as the track opened up into fire road again. Coming into Chamonix town now, feeling pretty happy and quite relieved to be back into civilization, I could hear the guy I had just passed (Nick Boyd GB) catching me and we agreed to run in together, which was pretty gracious as I think we both knew he would have had me on the flat!

Pounding through the streets of Chamonix, I thought that all the rain would have washed everyone away, but these are hardy supporters and the finish line welcome felt as though I was the first one in! I crossed the line with Kim waiting, a huge hug, cameras, shaking of hands and bright lights! I asked Kim if I could stop running now, she gave me a look, smiled and told me I was joint 20th ! 13 hours 54 minutes – mint! That set me off a bit! Such a fantastic feeling, I was buzzing, so, so happy from the whole experience. I only slept for about 4 hours that night, I was too excited!

Slightly soggy but extremely happy, crossing the line with Nick Boyd

Slightly soggy but extremely happy, crossing the line with Nick Boyd

Looking back, this was such a fantastic experience, not just the race, but the whole time in Chamonix. It felt like a real place where runners are welcomed and accepted, not viewed as crazy obsessive outsiders! The achievement of finishing and placing feels really special, but the experience, amount I have learned and taken away from this and other peoples’ achievements, feels very rich and wholesome. Running for that long and feeling the way I did in the second half has given me such a boost, re-affirming the training is working, yet given me ideas for more things to work on. I feel so proud and privileged to have been a part of the UTMB festivities. The British performances out there this year were superb. I have total respect for anyone who has done any of these races, especially the UTMB. To do what I did plus another 40 miles and in a lot of cases keep going after two full nights of being awake! That is some level of toughness.

A great big thank you to anyone who spared the time to give me their advice leading up to this, and encouraged me to do it in the first place! Everyone who supported Kim and I during the events and week. It seems crazy that people were tracking it on-line and some even managed to spot us on TV at the finish!  Huge thanks to Claire at Pocklington Physio for going out of her way to get me sorted.  Everyone’s support all means a great deal and I can’t wait until next time!! Bring on the Lake District 3×3000 Ultra!