Friday 4 September 2015

Race Report : UTMB CCC 2015...a finishers story

The start line

1st climb with Steve
UTMB CCC 2015 was the hardest, the longest and almost (Transvulcania) the hottest day out on the trails I have ever experienced. Combined with 6100+ metres of ascent and decent and a DNF last year, it made finishing even more special!

One of the UTMB events is on the bucket list for almost every trail runner I know, so to be able to say I have finished one, means a huge amount. And having completed the CCC, it makes me realise how the TDS, the UTMB and especially the PTL entrants are 1, 2 or perhaps 10 levels above me in terms of fitness, strength and perhaps madness.....100km in the Alps is enough, let alone 300km, 6 nights and being self thank you!

The 2015 race was somewhat down played from 2014, which hadn't gone to plan. We arrived Thursday lunch time and got registered, had some food with friends before disappearing off to the hotel to re-pack, have dinner and then get our heads down ahead of the bus ride though the tunnel at 7am Friday morning. Registration was a doddle and I was in and out inside 10 minutes and Nikki collected her bus ticket, which I was determined she'd need this year. Last year I'd DNF'd as she was about to leave Chamonix on the first bus to La Fouley.

James Elson was staying over in Courymayeur and we rocked up to his place for a cuppa before heading to the start area. Paul, Steve and I were all in different starting waves, although I had already decided I wanted to move back a pen this year and not feel pressured on the first climb. As the initial two waves left at 0900 and 0910, we shuffled forward and with a few final waves to the girls, Bev and Nikki, as Steve and I set off on our trek at 0920.

The trip around the town is a stop start affair and really sets the tone for the next 4-6 hours as the 2000 odd runners spread themselves out across the Alpine trails. I was at a very comfortable pace and didn't let the runners push me along too fast, if anything I was probably a little too slow up this first section. Coming up the mountain there is a snake of runners ahead and behind, with nothing you can really do other than go with it. The wildlife even join in the race with two Donkeys joining in the climb up the mountain assuming they were off trekking with us. 

 At the top of the first climb, I took on some food and water again and Steve took a photo (see below) before we set off downhill to the first CP. This is also where I last saw Steve, who's quads aren't quite as big as mine as I descended quicker than him. Feeling good, I grabbed some food at the CP and topped up my bottle before cracking on to the next CP 7km away. This section is very runnable although it is a bit of a stop, start affair as overtaking is difficult.

I didn't hang about at Refuge Bonatti, I was feeling much better than the year before and wanted to keep moving, ever hopeful I'd make it out of Italy before the cutoffs (which I couldn't remember). With only 5km and mainly downhill to Arnuva, I pushed on and got to the bottom of the 2nd biggest climb in about 6.5hrs. Yes that's 6.5 hours to travel about 17 miles....very, very slow but gives you some idea of how much climbing and how hot it was, oh and the fact I'm generally slow!

Getting to the top of the Grand Col Ferret was my next goal and boy is that a hard climb in the heat of the afternoon. The sun was beating down and it was 17km to the next aid station and I'd been told that there wasn't much water available on the course. This was a little concerning to me as I'm a water hog, so I was quite pleased at the couple of streams and animal water points I came across on the way up the mountain. I was popping S-Caps (salt tablets Mum) and drinking water like it was going out of fashion and dunking my hat in the water at every opportunity to keep my head cool.

Doug, Anna and me passing at Champex Lac
As you summit the Grand Col, you are timed in and to my surprise, a lot of people sat down for a considerable amount of time and took in the view. Perhaps they had all been a the Lakeland 100 briefing earlier this year and were "Living in the Moment". I took on some food, collapsed my poles and prepared to run in the next 10km downhill to La Fouly. Running downhill comes quite naturally to me and I really enjoy it, it makes up for the painfully slow uphill bits. Unfortunately this amount of downhill did put some pressure on my quads, for which I'd pay the price later in the race.

Arriving in to La Fouly I saw a vision ahead of me, it was a beautiful sight to behold and something I wasn't expecting to see....the wife had taken an extra two buses to come and visit me earlier than we'd planned. This was really great and gives you such a boost. She told me Anna and Doug were about 30 minutes ahead of me and suffering like most people with the heat. I grabbed some food at the CP and we spent 5-10 minutes together as we walked down the road. Nikki peeled off and went to get her bus to Champex-Lac where I'd see her in a couple of hours times.

The next section will remain with me forever, as I was jogging along with a German chap when he jumped to the right, just as I noticed a small black snake on the floor almost under my right foot, as which point I jumped off to the left, just as it hissed at us. I wish I'd had my heart rate monitor on as I'm sure I'd have a new max heart rate for sure.

The climb up in to Champex-Lac brought with it darkness and the need to put on our head torches and what I hoped would be some cooler weather. The temperature had hit 35C during Friday afternoon and whilst I wasn't burnt, it was warm and the cloudless night sky should have brought with it milder weather. This was not to be the case and throughout the night apart from when I was next to the river, it remained very warm indeed.

Nikki was in Champex-Lac and I saw Anna and Doug for the first time too. We stopped for a quick hello before wishing each other best of the luck. Similarly to when I was at La Fouly, I scoffed down some food and topped up bottles, or Nikki did, before being thrust out the door and the promise of a hello at Trient. With about 35 miles completed, we were over half way with 3 climbs ahead, all of which have their challenges, especially when strung together one after the other.

Bovine was a bitch! The climb is long with about 1000 metres of positive & negative change between Champex-Lac and Trient with so many switchbacks, during the daytime you'd at least be able to see how much progress you'd made but at night you can only see the stream of headlights up above and how much further you have to go up. Once you come out on to the ridgeline, you traverse at a shallow gradient and get to look back down the valley and feel sorry for all of those headlamps just starting this cow (boom tish!) of a climb.

Dropping in to Trient my ever faithful wife was once again there to tend my every need, filling bottles, offering up advice and the terrible news that James, Paul and Steve had all dropped. This was to be the first of many pieces of bad news, with what seemed like every one of our friends who had either had an injury or had been beaten by the relentless heat in these hills. I'm not sure how true it is and I've not seen official numbers but I heard that their was a 50% DNF rate in the UTMB race which is 10-15% higher than normal. Heat, hills and 100 miles is a painful mix.

I'd agreed with Nikki that she should skip the crew point at Vallorcine and head home for a few hours kip, aren't I generous hey? She was cold and hanging around waiting for my slowass wasn't helping matters. We said our goodbyes and I headed off out of Trient and on my way to a section of the course I've traversed 3 times before and so was confident of the route and of getting to that finish line. I tried to push up the climb as best I could, my legs giving me some power after the pasta dinner I'd just scoffed. Reaching the top of this penultimate climb I knew I could pack away my poles and descend in to the aid station...although this wasn't to be easy as my quads had taken a pounding earlier and decided at this point going downwards was going to be more difficult than climbing. I gingerly descended across the wet fields and just before I got to the bottom, I slipped and managed to snap a pole in half. Brilliant, I'd now have to manage the last 10 miles or so with only one pole, the only saving grace being it did prevent a fall, so I guess it did perform a job.

As I arrived in to the last big aid station where crew were allowed, I noticed Doug and Anna across the table and went and joined them. The last two aids we'd passed at the entrance/exit but I'd managed to catch them mid-meal, which gave me a boost at what would otherwise have been a lonely few minutes for sure. I grabbed some food and we agreed to head out a few minutes later and tackle the final section together. 

The last 10 miles were a slog, the climb up from Col des Montets was painful beyond belief with the only positive being the sun coming up, although by 8am it was blistering heat that we could have done without. None of us could manage to climb or descend particularly well and we just trudged onwards, with multiple sit downs on the ups to catch our breath and take on fluids & gels. As we arrived at the final aid station, we grabbed some drink and headed down the ski slope and entered in to the woodland switchbacks, down, down, down. Past La Floria cafe, which was open and very enticing indeed and finally in to the edge of town. 

The number of people watching and cheering were increasing and as we hit the tarmac, we felt compelled to run or waddle in my case in to the town centre. Anna set off at a terrific pace although we did manage to keep her insight, as the three of us weaved in and out of the crowds, around the town, with slapping of kids hands and to lots of shouting and cheering, we crossed the line just under 25 hours after starting. We'd done where is my f**king gilet!!!

The hours that followed included many photos, food, drinks, more food, lots of sitting down, a little big of sleep, did I mention food which was then followed up with more food. Stories of the journey were recounted to anybody who'd listen, the snake being my particular favourite along with the donkeys and the donkey jokes which Steve found very amusing.

What a rollercoaster of a trip. 2014 wasn't my year but 2015 brought a new start and I conquered something that beat me the year before. To say I'm happy is an understatement. There are so many people who have helped me along the way, far too many to mention everybody and so I'll just mention the one person who is by my side through thick and thin. The one person who has to pick up the pieces when I fail and the inevitable bad moods this bring about. The [lucky] person who gets to travel the world and stay up all night waiting for a grumpy sod to appear, demand food and water before promptly[ish] leaving again. The person who does this without complaining [much] and with zero reward. Yes, it's my wonderful wife, thank you, I love you!

Friday 15 May 2015

Race Report : Transvulcania 2015

Warning: get a cuppa of tea now....this is a long one!

"Ah Balls". 

No, not a political statement about Ed (although I did smile when I heard he didn't quite make it), just my annoyance at collecting a[nother] DNF!

I knew if would be tough, 45 miles around a beautiful volcanic island with a minuscule 4200 metres of vertical ascent and probably more cruelly, a similar amount of decent. There is no doubting that Transvulcania is a beast and now I've had time to linger on it, it's a beast I plan on taming in 2016, hopefully with the help of a friend or two.

The alarm woke me at 2am, although I really hadn't managed any kind of sleep, tossing and turning and constantly jumping up thinking I'd missed my alarm and throwing the covers off to realise it was only 34 seconds since I last performed this stupid bedroom dance. Why I needed to be on a bus at 3am for a 45-60 minute journey for a race that started at 6am is anybodies guess. Better early than not at all and after scoffing some yoghurt and peanut butter, Nikki very kindly dropped me off and returned to the apartment to continue her beauty sleep.

The bus journey was uneventful, mainly because I slept the whole way much to the amazement of the Spanish chap sitting next to me. In fact I was a little groggy upon arrival which made him chuckle more. The start of the race is at the most Southerly point on the Island, Faro de Fuencaliente, a beautiful lighthouse and a very cold breeze awaited us as we disembarked. The buses appeared to have dropped us 5km from the start (aka 800-1000m), so we got to "enjoy" the downward slope down the sandy trail to the start line, where our 2 hour wait would commence.

I found a spot to curl up out of the wind and concentrate on not getting too cold. Luckily I had a drop bag with me, which would be transported to the finish and I wrapped myself in the clothing I had for an hour or so before taking on some of the extra water and food and then covering myself in P20 lotion to protect myself from what I expected would be a hot day of climbing. After dropping my bag off I made my way down the final decent and in to the crowd, after saying hello to Rick Ashton (who was right at the front, again) and then huddling like a [insert collective noun here] of Emperor Penguins on the ice. we were off! Or not as it was in my case. The start is somewhat congested and only those right at the front could really make any headway and get themselves into a prime slot before the single/double track started 500 metres up the hill. I have never liked being pushed along at other peoples pace and so had made the decision to hang back, let the miles roll by and not get worried about things taking a long time.

Sometime later I looked down at my watch, 35 minutes (or thereabouts) in, everything going well.....wait a minute, I've only moved a mile? Jeeze, this is hard work hanging back.....must get a grip, keep calm, everything is fine, it's a marathon not a sprint. After the first few miles, the trail opens up a bit and I started my little trot up the hill, overtaking a few people who were clearly puffing having been pushed hard up that first sandy climb. At this point you maybe asking yourself, why can't you overtake? Well you can but you will sink in the sand more than you do on the trail and you'll end up carrying a shoe or two's worth of black sand with you until you can find the time to stop and remove it...yes even with gators on this happens.

Sunrise over the mountain
We got to experience a beautiful sunrise over the mountainside (see picture), before heading into the first aid station. I took a cup of water but didn't fill up my bottles, I was only 1 hr 15 mins or so in to the race and still had about a litre on me. Note to self, it's only in hindsight that I should have realised this was the start of a bad day out, drinking little and often is better than gulping it down when really thirsty. Although Nikki had planned on being at this aid station, we'd not agreed it 100% due to estimating my arrival timing, so it wasn't a shock not to see her as I quickly carried on up the trail.

The climb to the next aid station was uneventful, so much so that as I write this blog, I can't picture it in my mind at all. I do remember topping up with water and eating a nak'd bar at this point before pushing onwards and upwards. The route isn't crazy steep at any point but it's still quite soft underfoot with the black sand giving way to a larger, more gravel like, trail. The breeze that had been making us cold at the start had all but gone and the sun was rising in to the sky with the views out to sea fabulous with the clouds inverted and sitting well below us. Today was going to be....schorchio!

The black sandy trails
My pace felt comfortable, I wasn't getting overtaken and I certainly didn't feel like I was being pushed upwards by the other people around me. We'd been caught by the very fast front runners of the half marathon, which followed the same course to aid station 3 but they set off an hour later. Those guys were storming it!

Dropping in to Aid Station 3, I recognised the trail from a video I'd seen of the race in 2014 when Anna Frost ran through the wooded aid station which I believe is also the start point of the marathon. I grabbed a top up of my bottles, took on some of the lemon juice on offer but I don't remember eating anything (duh!). Seeing Nikki was a real boost and I stopped and chatted for a minute before departing on the next climb. 

Topping out above the clouds
By this stage it was hotting up and I'd thrown too much liquid in to my stomach in a short space of time at the aid station and so I felt a little bloated on the climb out of Refugio de El Pilar. The trail changes around this point and the loose gravel disappears and the trails become more rocky and dried & dusty, to the extent when the wind blew, you'd end up with a drier mouth if you weren't careful. The next stop was about 7km up the mountain and I made a conscious effort to try and push on as best I could to this point, running what I could manage especially on the bits of downhill.

Having been bloated leaving El Pilar, I'd only drunk half a litre on arrival at the next aid station but I was feeling ok. I topped up my bottles and took on some watermelon and some dried apricots before continuing upwards. The big signs, yes two of them, were telling everybody it was clearly 12.7km to the next aid station where there would be food and water available. 

It was now very hot indeed and the climb was relentless. I was getting slower. I was having to stop in the shade, not to catch my breath but to get some shelter from the relentless heat. I was drinking more and more, although ever worried I would run out, I kept a little bit back in reserve, just for a rainy day. For those of you who don't know me, I drink a lot. I've always drunk a lot, to the extent my friends mother tested me for diabetes at the age of 18 (or so) worried with the amount of fluids I needed to consume. 

That means having to eek your water out doesn't work well for me, it makes me want more water and it was a constant battle telling myself to not drink when my lips & mouth were dry and it was so bloody hot (hitting 32C according to my watch). I did my best but it wasn't good enough and I was soon out of water but I didn't have that far to go to the aid station, or so I thought. Up ahead I could see a building, it looked like a refuge of some kind and there were people there with water bottles. It felt like I was saved, I'd made it, my sorry ass was going to rehydrate and I'd be on my way again.

The view from the highest point on the course
Upon arrival at said hut, I was informed the water wasn't drinkable and it was only for cooling runners down. Ed Balls to that....I needed water and so I filled up my bottles, covered myself in water and headed on my way. It was so sweet, the water was just perfect and I drank what I could, not wanting to bloat my stomach again. Within what felt like only minutes, my shirt and buff were bone dry and I was baking again but I had full bottles and I was informed it was only 2-3km to the aid station at Pico de la Nieve. I could manage that with a litre of water, no problem.

I came over the top of the hill and I saw the timing equipment and the little tent, I'd made it and I rewarded myself with the final few sips of water from my bottles as I crossed the mat and my time was recored at 14:36, that's 8 hours 36 minutes into the race and only 38.5km of the 73km distance! 

Where was the aid station? It's about 5km further on the guy said, or I understood from his broken English. What? Another 5km? But I didn't have any water and there was now no shade whatsoever as we were pretty much above the tree line from this point onwards. Crap or words to that effect were used. Sit down, take stock and go again....this became the repetitive nature of the next 5km as I battled every increasing levels of thirst and the feeling like I was going to burst into flames.

Around this point I met a couple of Americans from Texas, who had both been at Rocky Raccoon in January. I forget names at the best of times so forgive me for not remembering them 9 hours into an ultra, so for now I've called them "he/him" and "she/her" . Anyway, *he* was going through a bad patch, as was I and we were both being shown up by *her* who was shouting at *him* to get up and keep moving etc. I did nothing to help *him* quite happy that somebody else was sitting down as often as I was. Then it dawned upon me that perhaps I should man up and show *her* that at least one of us was a man who could climb a mountain in the midafternoon heat. 

Spurred on by my new found friends and the fact that *she* was very kindly letting me drink her vaulable water, we continued up the trail, step after step, stopping when I could to pinch a bit of rest in some shade but not wanting to let *her* get too far ahead as my only source of water (and English conversation). At this stage of writing, I've decided *his* name was Drew but I'm too lazy to go back and correct everything, so you'll have to make that link in you head, he/him = Drew from now on.

Drew had dropped off from us and *she* was setting a pace I couldn't manage for much longer. We passed a lot of people on the sides of the trail with medical assistance being provided, or on their way to them. There was a helicopter evacuating one person (lucky git) and other people manhandling a stretcher with some poor guy covered in a foil blanket (he can't have been cold!). Then, as we came over the top of the next climb it was another false summit but it didn't matter, there were medical people running down the trail stopping at the runners heading up and giving them a drink.....oh please God, don't let them drink it all before getting to me.

The guys were running out to some injured person so couldn't hang around but promised us the aid station was close by, 10 minutes maximum. Around the next corner was another person, who promptly told me the aid station was 20 minutes away. This was getting crazy, how much further is this bloody place!

Finally I crested a summit and there it was, the white tents covering an army of people who would bath me in ice cold water and mop my brow and tell me it was going to be ok. Well, maybe not, but it was certainly a sight for sore eyes, as I plonked myself down in to the first chair and shoved my bottle into the hand of the nearest volunteer. I subsequently discovered that this aid station had been moved 5km further up the trail yet nobody had been told, meaning that it was 17-18km between aid stations which with the heat was probably too much. It's not an excuse for me not carrying more water, I know personally I think for this type of event I need to carry 3l but it is a factor in my demise during the race.

Cold water hitting your lips is wonderful when you are so hot and haven't drunk much for the passed two hours. When it hits your stomach, it's not quite so nice and if you aren't careful it tends to bounce. Luckily in my case it didn't otherwise there would have been more mess to clean up than just the empty water bottles and melon peel. I was in a hole and I wasn't sure I could make the cut off at the next aid station (11 hours) which was another 5km away. I needed to sit in the shade and sip water slowly, rehydrating over 10-15 minutes rather than attempting to neck a load of fluid.

Views during the big decent
Nikki popped up at this point and I think perhaps was a little taken aback by my appearance, needless to say I wasn't looking my best. She would later say to me that I wasn't capable of stringing a sentence together, I was a little withdrawn and my eyes were sunken into my skull...all in all I was generally looking a bit shit (cheers love). 

Just seeing Nikki helped me decide that I should get in the car and go home, I was done in and there was no way I could get 5km in 50 minutes. Part of me had secretly hoped she'd be there and when I saw her I knew it was time to quit but the bigger part of me wondered whether I could make the cutoff or not and it was somewhat better to be told you were out, rather than quitting of your own doing. 

Balls! That's it, I'm out! The watch was turned off, the officials informed and I was helped by Nikki to the car. Now just what I need is a 90 minute journey to get back home, why didn't you bring the time machine wife?

A DNF at Transvulcania is not what I came here for but it is what I'm going home with, along with experiences which I'll use in the future and especially at this event next year. I came here to challenge myself, to push myself out of my comfort zone and to see if I could handle the heat. In 2015 it turns out, I couldn't manage it but as my coach pointed out to me post race, it's only two years ago, almost to the day that I ran my first ultra (NDW50) and look how far I've come so just imagine where I could be next year (maybe we could be millionaires Rodney!).

Muchas gracias to my wonderfully supportive wife Nikki, giving up your valuable holiday time to watch me almost kill myself must be such a hardship. Although I'm just not sure you should be carrying around the life assurance policy with you at these events, it does look a little dodgy darling! Love ya!

Monday 2 February 2015

Race Report : Rocky Raccoon 100

Rocky Raccoon Course Map
I've been in hiding for the past few months after another DNF in 2014 as well as failing to get a finish at my first 100 mile event, The Winter 100. Nobody to blame but my body, as I picked up an ITB niggle and quit at mile 75...and I still believe that was the right decision. I ended up taking 6 weeks off running, which was tough and really impacted my fitness levels but seems to have got me over the issue (caused by a fallen arch).

Anyway, enough of that, this is all about Rocky Raccoon, which I entered at the beginning of December having spent a week or two back running without any knee issues and discussing it with James Elson (not to be confused with James Elston, who is a friend of Dean Karnazes). My events calendar was already sorted for 2015 and the only options I had to fit in a 100 without forgoing another event was in the January/February timeframe and as James was planning on running it, it seemed like a good idea.  

Huntsville State Park, Texas
Entries confirmed and having recruited John Volanthen to join us, we set off for Texas to run five 20 mile loops around a park in Huntsville. We booked in to the palatial Motel 6 just up the road, which is a little pricey, so to save a bit of cash John and I shared a room to bring the average cost per person per night to under $25 which is my price ceiling for hotels. 

After a delayed arrival, thanks to a fault, we arrived late on the Thursday evening and got in to the hotel around 1am. Our plan had been to try and stay on UK time as much as possible, with the race only one day away, we'd need to be at the start early doors so it made sense. Friday was a long day with quite a bit of it spent hanging around Starbucks, McDonalds, The Olive Garden, Subway, Starbucks again and a quick visit to the park to collect our bib numbers and listen to the race briefing.

The briefing was straight forward, follow the markers out on the course and don't drop any litter. With the most important piece of advice being imparted to us by the local park ranger, don't park on the grass or you'll get towed away. Oh and there are Alligators in the water, including a 9ft one, so don't go for a dip. A very sensible race policy I think, I can't abide bad parking.

John between visits to the gents pre-race
After going to bed what would have been artificially early (7pm) if we hadn't been on UK time, the reason our hotel was cheap became clear. They hadn't constructed the hotel with normal partition walls, they'd use rice paper or perhaps a cheaper alternative, which isn't renowned for it's sound reducing qualities. The room next door were making some interesting noises throughout and caused some broken sleep before John and I decided to get up and head to the start (around 4am).

Having bagged a good parking spot and with a bucket of coffee from McDonalds, we now just had to sit it out in the car park for 2 hours. John used this time to make 413 visits to the rest room (this is what the yanks call the toilet) while I sat around wondering what on earth I was doing sitting in a car park in the middle of the night, 5000 miles from home and about to run around a random state park with 500 others.

Without much fanfare, we proceeded to the start line, dropped off our drop bags, shook hands wishing everybody the best of luck before the horn went off. No time to turn back now, we were shuffling down the trail on our first loop of five. It was a little crowded and the first mile was very stop start taking almost 15 minutes, although it certainly felt even slower than this. 

The first loop was pretty uneventful and John and I ran all of it together, starting in the dark by the time we got to our drop bags at Damnation it was getting light. We dropped off head torches and continued getting used to watching exactly where to place your feet as we side stepped all the way round the 6 mile loop and back to Damnation again before proceeding on to the final aid station and then back to the start. One lap done and right on race plan (3 hours 33 minutes).

Friday's race briefing
After a quick stop, John and I left together but I slowed during this lap, just a little and sat about 3-5 minutes behind his pace. I knew this because we passed James around Damnation, looking as fresh as a daisy. The second lap was uneventful too although the temperature was creeping up and by the time I got back to the end of the loop I knew I hadn't drunk or eaten enough and had to take a few minutes to sort myself out. Forty miles in and I was still on race plan, it just so happened I was starting to feel a bit minging.

Getting out on lap 3 I'd dropped right back from John and was having a bit of a mare, when Ian Sharman lapped me and informed me it would pass and to keep going. Words of encouragement from the eventual race winner (and course record holder) was nice, it's not many sports where the elites give us slow runners much attention. During lap 3, it got really hot. I was overheating & feeling dehydrated. Having informed the girl I was running with, she suggested I take my shirt off. This isn't something I normally do (Robbie take note) but after I did, I felt cooler although I did have to keep telling people that while I look a bit like him, I wasn't in fact Anton Krupicka.

Back at the start at the 60 mile marker, I was feeling awful although I was only just behind my race plan by 14 minutes. I took some time here and changed shoes (big mistake) and forced myself out on to the course again. I walked the 3 miles to the next aid station, feeling terrible with people passing me all the time. Head torches were now back on, so you could see people coming, which on a lapped course plays havoc with your head. You don't know if people are ahead or behind you but psychologically it's horrible being passed in a race.

Funnily enough this was the Start/Finish
After a good 10 minute sit down again at the aid station, I got some noodles and set off on what I thought would be a 37 mile death march to the finish. I got to Dam nation (another 3 miles further on) and was starting to feel a little better, the food had really helped and I was now drinking half a litre of water between aid stations which was helping with the earlier dehydration issues. I also met a nice Mexican chap here, who didn't speak much English but we worked together to push on and run what we could. This helped me around the loop and back to Damnation when I let him go on ahead as I changed my top and put on my waterproof (it had finally started to drizzle).

80 miles in 18 hours 25 minutes, so I knew that all I had to do was keep walking and I'd get my finishers buckle. Sounds easy but I was tired and had already had a few occurrences of falling asleep on my feet on lap 4. I changed my shoes back again (a joyous feeling) took some paracetamol (I know!) with caffeine, put some ibuprofen gel on my leg and got out there again on my final lap. Knowing it's your final lap is mentally rewarding but the negative creeps in and says "you've still got 6 hours to go". 

I was feeling much better now and began pushing to maintain a 4 mile an hour pace, walking and running whenever I could. The first half of this loop flew by (relatively speaking) but my legs became very heavy and I slowed down on the back half. With the sub 24 hour time slipping away, I didn't care as I knew I was going to make it, get that buckle and banish those DNF demons.

The clock ticked over to 24 hours 20 minutes 2 seconds as I stepped over the finish line, not a moment too soon. I certainly had a feeling of accomplishment, in equal measure with that of complete and utter happiness that the pain was now over, no more loops, no more tree roots, no more aid stations snacks. It was over, I'd earned my buckle and now it was time to relax.

4 British Runners, 4 Finishers!

John had also done it (sub 23 hours too), I found him in the car waiting for me (probably because it was more comfortable than going back to the hotel). James had also managed an amazing 8th place with a time of 14 hours 50 minutes and Pete had also achieved his sub 18 hour race, ensuring he's got an automatic Spartathlon qualifier! Unfortunately, Travis DNF'd after a nasty fall and with breathing difficulties, it sounds like he took the sensible option, there'll always be another event, in his case, that's next weekend (gulp!).

After an uneventful flight home, on which I slept like the dead, unsurprisingly, normality is returning and normal life resumes. While I don't compete for position, it's that race bubble that I now have diminishing, that I crave. I love the support from near and afar, on the phone, twitter, facebook etc. It's nice to know people are watching you and willing you on as you trudge around far away places, even if some are verging on stalker status (not mentioning any names Louise). Thank you for all the lovely messages and support, reading them yesterday took some time but was so wonderful!

January has kicked off the year with a big tick, 100 mile finish and my highest mileage month ever (327m/527km). All good prep for what's next on the calendar, Transvulcania but first I need to lose some of my winter coat and then I'll start preparing for 'them thar hills'.

100 mile BLING!
Rocky Raccoon official lap timings below and my Strava track is here

Lap 1 03:33:34
Lap 2 03:49:58
Lap 3 04:50:31
Lap 4 06:11:00
Lap 5 05:54:59

Tuesday 28 October 2014

Like The Wind Magazine

My piece on Addiction in Like the Wind #3
If you haven't come across this wonderful publication yet, I suggest you pick up a copy ASAP.  Check them out here.

Simon and Julia take a very different approach that is both refreshing and unique, whilst immersive and spell binding all at the same time. With contributions from the running community as a whole, including yours truly this edition, the pages are full of real life stories that you connect with immediately. It's a colourful and completely packed magazine, whose pages smell and feel fabulous, making the experience of reading it, different and amazing at the same time.

Tuesday 21 October 2014

Race Report : The Winter 100

Kit check and registration
This past weekend was Centurion's Winter 100 event starting and finishing in Goring-on-Thames.  A quaint little village in leafy Oxfordshire that is the meeting point of two national trails, the Thames Path and the Ridgeway, providing a perfect location for this 100 mile endurance event.  

But before I get stuck in to the details of the weekend, I thought I'd change things around a little.  Almost every blog post I write, I end up saying thank you to a load of people right at the end, last and not least my ever present wife, Nikki.  So I thought it was high time I dedicated a little more [digital] ink and put some more effort in to the thank yous up front.  

Nikki gave up another valuable weekend to support me through what ended up being a particularly tough event. Not only was she there to help fetch, carry, etc before and during the event but even more so afterwards, when I was doing my very best John Wayne impression.  As if that wasn't enough, she also volunteered at the start/finish doing the timings for all the runners coming in and out during most of the day and night, putting in, I'm guessing an 18-20 hour shift.  So from me and I'm sure the rest of the Centurion family, thank you Nikki for everything, especially this past weekend.

And back to the race...which was slated to be a very, very wet day according to the forecasters.   At kit-check at 7am on Saturday morning, it was drizzling and the BBC and Yahoo weather were predicting heavy rain from about 10am right the way through to 4pm.  As I headed back to the hotel after collecting my number (#3), Nikki and I headed down to breakfast overlooking the Thames as the drizzle and cloud cover continued to build.  As an aside and although a little pricy, the Swan in Streatley/Goring is a very nice location if you fancy a weekend away somewhere with your significant other.

The start of the race was just up the road from Goring Village Hall, to prevent 150 runners having to cross the main road without causing traffic issues.  This was the same start point as the previous years and so very familiar to the majority of people running.  After the short briefing in the hall, we all headed up to the start line with about 10 minutes or so to spare.  At this stage I was keen to ensure I was near the back of the field to prevent getting too giddy and tearing off far too fast and killing myself in the first few miles.  

Handing over my wavier in case of death
The hooter went off and I was perfectly positioned in the back 3rd as we set off on the first of four 25 mile sections, each of them a 12.5 mile out and back.  This section heads North on the Thames Path snaking it's way through beautiful Oxfordshire.  I had a time of 4 hour 20 minutes in my head for this loop and was very happy to arrive at the turn around point in 2 hours 10 minutes almost exactly.  This checkpoint had 2 of the most wonderful food items on offer, hard boiled eggs (with salt to dip in) and some kind of rice and egg wrapped in breadcrumbs which were divine (I need the recipe if anybody has this).

The rain was holding off which was great and the return leg to Goring went by really quickly.  I stopped at CP3 for a top up of water.  I'd been getting through a lot of it but the weather was really hot considering it was October; the humidity levels must have been very high indeed.  I had to keep my pace in check as I passed a few people on this return leg I'd seen earlier and knew to be quicker than me.  I was determined to try and keep my pace steady and not go too fast too soon.  This appeared to be working as I returned to the Goring CP in 4 hours 30 minutes...nearly bang on schedule.

After a quick hello with the wife, I picked up the map for the next section on the Ridgeway and got out of dodge, whilst wolfing down a couple of peanut butter sandwiches and topping up my bottles and changing my shirt.  This was one thing I'd not expected to have to do but I was soaked to the skin from sweat and so I switched to my spare top to prevent getting cold later on.

The second out and back is along the Ridgeway, which tracks North up the Thames (on the opposite side to the first spur) before heading off East towards the turn around point at Swancombe.  There is an early CP at North Stoke around mile 29, where I bumped into Steve and had a quick natter before heading out again in to what felt like a mid-Summers day, although considerably overcast.  The longer section out to the Swancombe CP went quite well, walking quickly on the up hills and jogging all the flats and downhills, I was keeping to schedule.  

The bling
With 4 out and back spurs, the Winter 100 gives you a unique insight into the condition of the runners whom I would not normally see during a race; the speedy guys and gals at the front of the pack.  This is wonderful to see and helps you appreciate that they are human too and go through good times and bad over the 100 mile sections.  That said, without fail, everybody running in the opposite direction to me, put on a smile and said hello and passed on some level of congratulations or encouragement.  This is what makes this sport so much fun. The people are just fantastic without any elitism or egos getting in the way.

At Swancombe I tried to be quick, top up the bottles, grab some food and a cuppa tea and get out of the door again.  It was nice to see another friendly face again, with some words of encouragement from Paul Corderoy although briefly.  The return leg to North Stoke seemed quicker mainly due to being slightly more downhill than the outward journey I suspect.  I had hoped to get back to the North Stoke CP before needing my head torch but it wasn't to be and I had to stop about a mile out to put on my light.  Another cuppa sugary tea, a cheese sandwich and some abuse from Steve and I was on the last 4 miles in to Goring.  It was at this point I felt a little twinge on the outside of my right knee, a light pain I'd never felt before.  I took a couple of walking breaks and it appeared to ease and I thought no more of it.

Arriving in to Goring again at the 50 mile mark, I was 9 hours 45 minutes in and bang on schedule.  I'd allowed myself 10 hours for the first 50 and 14 hours for the back half, which I knew I'd be slower on and I'd hoped I could get in under the 24 hour barrier.  A wonderful welcome awaited me as I entered the hall with  Nikki, James Elson, James Adams and my pacer for the next 25 miles, the infamous John Volanthen, all there to pat me on the back and tell me how well I was doing.  At this stage of the race, I actually felt better than I've ever felt before 50 miles in.  No stomach issues, no real fatigue other than expected, I was ready to get the back half of the race completed.  

I gave Nikki (and James Elson) a peck of the cheek goodbye and headed out with John for another 25 miles along the Ridgeway, this time heading West out of Goring.  This section is uphill to begin with, nothing too steep but the pathway along here is cut up in places due to it being a Byway, it gets cars and bikes along the track which really doesn't do it much good in my view.  As we headed out of town I'd said to John about my knee giving me a bit of jip and how a good walking break up the hills would probably really help.  We jogged a few of the downhills but otherwise continued a fast-ish (4 mph?) walking pace as we put the world to rights.  I think a few people caught us on this outward journey as my pace continued to tail off and my knee pain got worse.  

At the turnaround point I think I knew I was done for but John kept me in good spirits and we headed off back towards Goring.  The wind was picking up and we got a bit of rain although the temperature never really dropped off and it was unusually warm.  After passing through the CP and seeing Ultra Chicken (again) my knee got worse and John ended up fashioning a crutch for me from a tree branch.  This helped quite a bit although my co-ordination was somewhat out of whack as I couldn't figure out if the crutch should go in my left or right arm and which foot I should move it with.  It reminded me of being a kid and trying to pat your head with one hand and rubbing circles on your stomach with your other...(you can stop trying it now).

I can't have been a very chatty patient at this stage, 3am and almost 75 miles in, I knew I was done for but John was ever positive and told me to think only of the CP @ Goring.  This I tried to do but I did have to keep stopping as the pain was considerable, even after taking a few aspirin.  As we dropped off the Ridgeway on to the road, the downhill caused a lot of pain and I slowed even more and at one point considered quitting and asking John to call the medic to come and get me.  With some determination I kept going and got to the CP, hobbling in with my stick to a somewhat downbeat Nikki and James and my next victim (a.k.a pacer), Tim Lambert.  

I changed shoes, took on some water and after 10 minutes or so Tim and I set off out the door with me hobbling along very slowly.  The first 50 miles had taken me less than 10 hours, yet the section from 50 to 75 miles had taken me 8 hours and I'd dropped significantly in the overall standing.  I still had plenty of time to get out to Reading and back inside the 30 hour cutoff but I was now not sure I could tolerate another 8-10 hour painful walk.  After going no more than about 400 metres I told Tim enough was enough and I'd have to call it a day.  I knew in my head and my heart that this was the right decision.  Right at this time I wasn't sure what was causing the pain and I didn't want to continue to aggravate something that would put me out for a long period.

At mile 75 with my LOTR stick
With that, Tim told me it was probably the right call and we headed back in to the hall and called it a night.  I was angry of course but I know I wasn't let down by a lack of preparation or fitness and I was mentally in the perfect place, in fact I'd go as far as to say I was in a better position than I'd ever been in before.  My body had just decided that enough was enough and I needed to stop, which I dutifully did.

My sincere thanks go out to John and Tim for their help.  I know first hand pacing isn't always fun and the 8 hour walk John ended up with must have been challenging to remain positive for.  Tim, my apologies for dragging you from Bath to Goring for an 800 metre walk.  I promise to ensure you get a full outing next time.  For there really will be a next time, certainly I'm in for the Winter 100 in 2015 but I suspect they'll be another event in the calendar beforehand that will need a good pacer for.

Finally I wanted to thank James Elson for his support this year.  I've found his advice and friendship to be motivational and without which I'm sure I wouldn't be at this level of physical or mental fitness.  If anybody is looking for a coach, talk to James, you won't regret it!

Friday 17 October 2014

Pre Race Report : Winter 100

John with his weird re-breather stuff
Ok, so it's been awhile since I've posted a blog entry, mainly because it's been pretty quite and also because secretly I've not had much to talk about since my failure at the UTMB CCC in late August.  In fact I didn't even write up a race report as I was so annoyed at dropping out at mile 18; by not writing a report, it clearly didn't happen, right?

Anyway, now there is something else to talk about, a new challenge and certainly my biggest yet.  This weekend I will attempt my first 100 mile event called the Winter 100. I'm mentally prepared for this to hurt big style, as well as tax me mentally but only time will tell how much it will really hurt.  The weather looks awful but I know lots of people completing the event as well as the volunteers around the place, who I know will spur me along, including the Ultra Chicken himself.

If that wasn't enough, I've also got two good friends coming along for the ride.  They both offered to pace a 25 mile section with me; in fact they almost insisted upon it.  I'm sure most runners find it hard to find pacers willing to put themselves out and give up a perfectly good weekend to run 25 miles in the muddy, wet English countryside.  Not I! I've got them queuing up around the corner to offer their services, although I think it's fair to say, they all want to see me suffer more than they want to help me cross the finish line.

The Ginger Princess
I'm excited and apprehensive about what tomorrow will bring.  So what happens when an ex-fatty, a caveman and a ginger princess head off to run 100 miles?  Well you'll have to come back next week to find out!

Oh and if I don't make it through this weekends exploits, please do not believe anything Tim Lambert writes about me.  He is a compulsive liar and holds some kind of grudge over me after I wrote an honest and open account on the experiences of pacing him through his first 100 miler earlier this year.  Some would say I was too honest but what would they know, they probably all vote for the Liberal party.