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Welcome to my blog which I hope to develop with some interesting material on ultra running both on the trails and road including reports on races and interesting training runs, views on kit and equipment as well as anything else I find of interest. I love running for adventure, opportunity and well being. Enjoy!

Friday, 20 May 2016

Back on the wagon

So it’s been nearly 3 weeks since the Fling and definitely about time for an update. Gem and I had a great week in the north-eastern Cairngorms immediately after the race, initially just learning to walk again, but then actually getting some pretty darn good walking days in.

Located near Tomintoul, a relatively quiet and tucked away side of the Cairngorms, we walked some local hills, explored Strath Avon up into the Cairngorms, plus a big finale of the ‘Lochaber horseshoe’ once the wind had suitably abated. I hadn't been up four of the five munros on the route, so it was a productive day, and a lot of fun traversing the extensive snow patches which still remained after the late season flurry. Over the course of the week the weather was cool, breezy but generally dry, so ideal for getting out and about to blow of the cobwebs after the Fling. The area has an abundance and variety of wildlife that I haven't seen matched elsewhere in Scotland – I think we pretty much managed the full array of what can be found up there – golden eagle, arctic hare, ptarmigan, owls, red squirrel etc etc. Okay, so you’ve got me on the wild cats and pine martins. Next time...

The running didn’t re-start until we were back, so it’s been the usual process of coaching the legs back to life. The change for me at this stage in the season is to crank up the endurance and elevation ready for the longer races coming up in the Alps – firstly Lavaredo Ultra Trail (119km, 5,800m +/-) towards the end of June and then UTMB. Heck, the summer is nearly here, not much time to dwell.

The first of the longer days was a look at the ‘Brecon Beacons Traverse’ last Saturday – a route in south Wales taking in 31 of the 2,000ft+ summits across the Carmarthen Fan, Fforest (yes 2x Ff’s) Fawr, Brecon Beacons and Black Mountains going west to east. The area is classic welsh rough stuff and there are lots of fairly direct lines required to link the groups of hills; the bits most folk don’t do, so are relatively un-trodden & pathless. But also some nice fast high level sections which on a sunny spring day were a joy to run.

I ran with BAC club mate Toby Chapman who was trying a long day out for the first time, and I couldn’t fault the enthusiasm for getting stuck in and joining me :o) His longest run prior to this was 4 hours - we were running for over 8! I felt a bit weary early on, but soon started to settle in, inevitably for Toby it was the opposite, but we nailed 40miles (first 60%) of the route which was the plan from the outset. We were both about done by the end, although still fool-hardy enough to want to round up to 40 when we arrived back at the car with 39.8 miles on the clock. That's a bit of the BAC OCD for you.

So I just need to check out The Black Mountains bit now, which will be a good day out in itself, then I might be in a position to have a go at the whole thing. I’ve got some crew recruiting to do :o)

Might prove a nice little summer project, or maybe another year, we shall see.

Here's a selection of photo's from the Brecon Beacons last Saturday:

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Hoka Highland Fling Race

Despite feeling disappointed with my time and finishing place in Saturday’s Highland Fling race, I couldn’t help but come away with a smile. It’s nothing less than remarkable how this race has developed since it was first conceived 10 years ago. I was one of the 18 runners who took part that inaugural year – it was not much more than a supported training run for the West Highland Way Race - and to see how it’s evolved into such a genuinely brilliant event is impressive to say the least. There are now nearly 1,000 participants taking part across both the ultra and relay events (and it could easily fill 2 or 3 times over), but it’s the spirit and organisation of the race which really impresses, certainly surpassing anything else I’ve experienced in the UK. Basically it’s just a whole lot of fun – everyone is out enjoying themselves from the checkpoint volunteers, to the musicians en route, the photographers, spectators and of course the runners. It’s great example of the spirit that our sport carries; nobody taking themselves too seriously, bucket loads of Scottish hospitality and warmth, and free beer at the end. Brilliant.

So to the racing - well I guess I was a bit rusty! Rustiness hadn’t been something I was particularly worried about pre-race, but on reflection, perhaps the lack of competitive / fast ultra racing in the last 18 months was a bit of an issue. The Fling was hosting the UK trail championships and qualifier for the GB Trail Team this year so I wanted to perform, but so too did lots of other top guys who were all there with exactly the same intentions. 6th place and a time of 7:38 was some way off my best on the Fling course and not exactly what I had in mind, so somewhat disappointing on the face of it.

But I guess there is some context which I need to factor in, which a little reflective time has allowed me to discover. The second half of 2015 was probably the lowest spell I’ve had to contend in the 12 years I’ve been running ultras - trying to find my way through a blurred picture of illness which started with a(nother) gastro bug which forced my withdrawal from the Dragon’s Back Race and then then seemed to kick start issues with my UC and possibly other things too. Anyway, I remembered after the race on Saturday evening that I could barely run at all in December simply due to physical weakness, and essentially I had a standing start trying to re-build fitness from the start of this year. Save for a chest infection, my spell of training this year has been pretty solid and I’ve worked hard at it, but always within the confines of having an awkward illness, the commitment of running my own business and not having much of a base to build from. I expect a lot from myself, I always have, so the aim for the race was the same as it always has been; running for a podium slot. But in the context of all of the above, perhaps I shouldn’t be too hard on myself…

My race plan was to run relatively conservatively for the first half at least and then try to build from there. I fully expected a vicious pace from a lead group right from the off and that’s exactly what happened, with Donnie Campbell, Joe Symonds, Robbie Britton and Kim Collison pushing hard right from the gun. Unfortunately I suffered with stomach issues from early on, taking the 1st of 10 or so visits to the bushes within the first few miles, so it was tricky to hang with any sort of a group, and far from ideal in terms of maintaining strength!

Approaching Balmaha, 40 wish miles in. Photo credit: Thomas Loehndorf.

Once I pulled away from Jayson Cavill who was having a tough time of it just after Conic Hill, essentially it became a solo run for the remaining 30miles. I spent plenty of time pondering how it may be unfolding upfront, and to be honest I fully expected guys to fall by the wayside which impressively, never really prevailed. There was certainly some mixing up of places as Donnie pulled away from the lead group for a strong final 13 miles to break the course record, and Damien Hall ran a blinding second half from Rowardennan (where he was only minutes ahead of me) to also finish sub-7 hours and nab second place. That was the race I wanted to run, and felt in a place to do so up until about 30 miles when the gas ran out. I didn’t have a great time of it with my UC/ stomach on the day, which certainly didn’t help energy levels, but I suspect race sharpness was the biggest factor of all.

Red carpet, finish line :o)

That said, the running was really quite special. A clear and frosty start soon warmed from the sunshine, and we enjoyed sunny intervals and just the odd shower on our journey north from Milngavie (Glasgow). The views up Loch Lomond from Conic hill were superb, and the variety of the Loch-side trails and scenery equally so. You forgot what a classic bit of trail this is, and why it’s so popular with the multi-day trekkers. For the runners, lots of fast undulating trail to attack along with some interesting technical sections before and after Inversnaid Hotel. And some good little climbs and descents in the final 13 mile section from Balmaha to the finish also helping to mix things up when the legs are smashed.

At the finish the atmosphere really gets going with free beer, food and a unique festival atmosphere as finishers enjoy their moment on the famous red carpet to cross the line. There were loads of inspiring stories from the folk I spoke to, many telling me how they had run a previous edition of the Fling as their first ultra, and so providing an important gateway to the sport. It’s all set up perfectly for that, and long may it last as such a brilliantly organised event. It’s nothing less than heroic what Race Director ‘Johnny Fling’ has achieved, and all on a not-for-profit basis. Awesome.

So all in all a mixed bag for me from the Fling, but plenty to build on for the year ahead, and definitely no danger of peaking too early :o)

Next up will be the Lavaredo Ultra Trail in late June.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

The week in running (to 10 April '16)

Fourth and final peak week done – survived – and still intact. Just about. The tiredness is definitely building a bit, but with cut back and taper time in sight, it’s mentally much easier to have a final push. 

It was the last of the BAC marathon sessions on Wednesday night – a mere 80 minutes of efforts to go at! The weather (well, wind) is always a pretty key factor for our out and back efforts on the Bournemouth prom, so it was pretty unfortunate that we had a 25mph westerly to run straight into for 50% of the time. Character building for sure, but also very rewarding when it comes to getting it done, and perhaps even more beneficial. Resistance running?! My legs were still a little weary from Taunton, but all things considered I was pleased to be running, on average, at what would be my marathon pace. Well if I ever actually got round to doing one properly.

My other key runs were then at the weekend, loading up as usual, with a 31miler around the north Dorset hills on Saturday morning and then 13miles at a brisk ish pace on Sunday morning.

The north Dorset countryside was as lovely as usual, if a little muddy in places. After rain overnight there was a beautiful sun rise, and nice warm sunshine for the first half. Then I got nailed in a hail storm, but with the westerly wind then behind me, and a warm car on the horizon, it wasn't so bad.

Sunday was a mega fatigue moment, but all about trying to force the legs back into life with some brisker road running after a fairly big run on the trails.

As always, my focus has just been on staying healthy, getting something close to the right amount of sleep, and not working too much. Life, hey. Next weekend’s London Marathon should provide a welcome distraction during my taper, watching all my BAC club mates smash it out on the streets of the big smoke. It's been fun training alongside them for much of the year, but then we peel off in different directions at this point. 

The spring is a great time of year for running for so many different reasons, but the London-vibe always ups the interest amongst the public even more, so it’s going to be a great few weeks.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

The week in running (to 03 April '16)

As usual the week started with a lingering sense of fatigue after a big weekend, but ended on a real high with a strong run at the Taunton Marathon on Sunday – more on that later. Even after 12 years training for and running ultras, I’m still amazed by the body’s ability to recover - to feel exhausted one day, and surprisingly sprightly the next. Even if it doesn’t always happen, clutching on to that thought is often enough to get yourself out the door, which isn't a bad thing. Due to work commitments I do have to ‘cram’ a little at the weekends, and the earlier part of the week tends to be more about recovery than anything else, with the week mentally kicking off properly on Wednesday.

At the start of the week I was struggling to get my head round the idea of another big marathon session on Wednesday night, let along a marathon race effort on Sunday. Eeeekk. The first effort on Wednesday wasn’t anything special, but I got stronger as the session went on, and felt the best I have done for quite some time towards the end. Nice. Maybe all this training malarkey is starting to pay off. We did a total of 71 minutes of efforts in decreasing durations from 24 minutes, and rather enjoyed it, particularly with the better light after the clocks change, and not too much wind – certainly a novelty for the Wednesday night gang….

I decided to slot in a parkrun ‘sandwich’ session on Saturday morning, running down to Blandford parkrun from home, a hard 5km park run effort, and then a run home again (15miles total). 17:33 wasn’t too bad given it’s not the quickest of courses and my legs felt heavy.

The big finale for the week was then the Taunton Marathon on Sunday which I was targeting as a long tempo effort as part of my build up to the Fling. My aim was to run 6.30m/m pace to hit about 2hrs 50mins, but ended up averaging 6.19m/m pace to finish in 2hrs 46mins, 30 seconds behind BAC team mate Toby Chapman. We ran side by side for 25miles before he showed his youth and pushed on at the end to take a deserved win in his home town – a really strong performance which bodes well for a quicker PB attempt at the London Marathon in a couple of weeks time.

Most importantly, it felt like a controlled effort, and I wasn’t completely destroyed at the end, so it did feel like a positive milestone in my training. So one last marathon training session on Wednesday and a long run at the weekend to complete, probably as part of a 100ish mile week like the last few, then I’ll start to think about gradually winding down towards race day. On we march.

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

The week in running (to 27 Mar '16)

The highlight of last week had to be a long day out with Mr Giles on the Brecon Beacons on Good Friday. It's been a while since we've done a hill blitz - we used to make regular trips to the Shropshire Hills and Snowdonia as former fellow midland-ers. We picked the date fairly randomly a good couple of months ago, and for once the weather gods were more than kind, providing a beautifully clear and sunny spring day – the best of the year so far. 

We ran one of the ‘Might Contain Nuts’ race routes (just to give us a bit of structure on a well planned route) heading out from Talybont-on-Usk over Tor r Foel, Graig Fan Ddu, Bwlch Duwynt, Fan Frynych, Corn Du, Pen y Fan, Cribyn, Fan y Big, Craig Cwareli and Craig y Fan before returning to Talybont. On paper there were some rather tortuous loops involving a full descent off the hill, before heading back up again – but on the ground it made more sense and was all rather pleasant. The visibility was excellent throughout providing lovely views and the opportunity to get to know an area that I’ve spent relatively little time exploring, despite being the closest set of decent hills to where I live. I came away vowing to make regular trips over the summer when I’m specifically preparing for some mountain races.

A token snow patch.

Getting propped up on the last summit.

Gilsey descending towards Talybont Reservoir

We weren’t out to break any records, just get some good hills into the legs which the 3,000m of ascent/ descent over 40 miles ably did. It’s a tricky balance mixing marathon speedwork with hill strength, both seeming to pull in opposite directions, but hopefully it will have the desired effect when it comes to overall race fitness for the end of April.

Earlier in the week I had a solid marathon session on Wednesday night, finding a bit of speed despite lingering tiredness from the New Forest 50km race effort on Saturday. The session was 25min, 5 x 4min, 25min – as vicious as it sounds! It was all good apart from the last 10mins when my legs were, errr, battered.

And the week was nicely capped off with a 23mile run with Gem on Sunday morning as part of her marathon training. I was on pacing duty, aiming for 7.45m/m pace on average, but we ended up with 7.29m/m which she was more than pleased with. It wasn’t the flattest of routes, and we were nailed by a monster driving hail storm towards the end, so not bad all things considered. I probably wouldn’t have run quite so far on my own, and she wouldn’t have run quite so briskly on her own, so mutually beneficial. Nice.

So another 100mile week in the bag, and another decent step forwards with fitness working towards the Fling. More of the same please.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

The week in running (to 20 Mar '16)

A solid training week – it is nice to be reporting that :o)  

So despite some lingering sinusitis in the early part of the week, I managed to train through without it flaring up again (maybe the antibiotics are working), and it feels like I’ve just about got away with it. Monday to Wednesday involved long days away working in the Midlands and London, but I still managed to get my runs in, and was back in Bournemouth in time (just) to jump on the back of the Bournemouth AC train banging out a marathon session on the prom. It was horrible, I’m not going to lie, with a stiff easterly wind to contend with one way, but I got the session done, albeit not quite as quickly as planned.

I then trained through and toed the line at the New Forest 50km on Saturday morning, a 3 loop trail race around some lovely rolling gravel tracks. This was my substitute for the Hobble which I had to bail on the week before, and I admit to feeling rather blasé and not really up for it on Saturday morning after Thursday and Friday nights out (must be getting old, can’t handle it anymore), but again the machine took over, and I turned out a really pleasing run.

Start of The New Forest 50km (am I asleep?)

I knew a win wouldn’t be realistic given some still competition from Southampton speedster Matthew Bennett (who’s currently in the midst of Comrades training), but my aim was to average sub 7 min/ mile pace, and get round in one piece. The first lap felt a little laboured, and the cold easterly certainly didn’t help the sinuses, but I seemed to feel my way into the race and ran the last lap really strongly, bringing the average pace down from 7.04m/m end of lap 2, to 6.57m/m at the finish. I finished second according to the results, but 3rd according to my counting, in 3hr 40mins (measured at 31.5miles). Happy days.

So it made for a pleasing 100 mile week, my first in the best part of a year, and some reasonable quality in there too. Hopefully I can maintain that sort of mileage for a couple of weeks, before my taper for the Fling starts in about 3 weeks time.

Kudos must also go to BAC team mate Steve Way who ran 3.55 for 40 miles at the Barry 40 on Sunday, and in doing so achieved a world best (for an old boy) at the distance. Nicely done mate!

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Two weeks in running (to 13 Mar '16)

I wrote this blog post over a week ago but it got stuck on my laptop which went into melt down and had to go in for repair :o(

So it’s a 2+ week summary instead. Essentially the bumpy journey continues but overall heading in the right direction. My cold returned with a vengeance about 2 weeks ago and then rather annoyingly developed into sinusitis with some horrible headaches, particularly during the middle part of the day. So my planned mini taper for the Haworth Hobble last weekend turned into 5 days completely off running, and cancellation of my race plans.  Booo…. Somewhat frustrating, but definitely the right decision when looking at the bigger picture. The mega drive up north probably wouldn’t have been too much fun anyway.

I managed to get some reasonable runs in over the weekend instead, and have been back to something close to full training this week. The plan is to run the New Forest 50km this weekend instead and, although I’m far from 100%, at this moment in time it feels like a goer, and that it would be a positive training race to run. I’m going to be annoyed if I can’t run after paying a rather extortionate entry fee! I did think about running the Barry 40 track race for all of about 10 seconds – Mr Way sowed the seed – but not sure I could face the 160 laps.

I had an enjoyable run out at the Wimborne 20 a couple of weekends ago, just using it as a long progressive training run, and feeling very comfortable until the last 5 when the hills and my cold meant a levelling out of splits as opposed to getting quicker.

The Fling isn’t a million miles away now so I’m just keen to keep on the straight and narrow of health and fitness. The consistency hasn’t been too bad, I’ve managed 6 out of 7 of the BAC Wednesday night marathon sessions, plus lots of brisk longish runs, and some 5km efforts too.  Not over cooking it early in the year remains my mantra, hence a little a bit of caution here and there. Not a usual trait of ultra runners!

The BAC rabble at the Wimborne 20