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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!

Sunday, 20 July 2008

IAU 100km World Cup, Italy, 08 November 2008

I am delighted to report I have been selected to represent Great Britain at this year's IAU 100km World Cup taking place in Italy on 08 November. I will be running as an individual as no other male runners have achieve the qualifying standard. This year's race will start in Tuscania, nr Rome, and finish in Tarquinia. I believe the course comprises a linear section of approximately 35km followed by a number of laps of a loop. In any event is sounds more interesting than the pancake flat 10x10km course of last year's event at Winschoten which was mentally extremely tough. I am also hoping there will be some significant undulations to suit my running strengths.

I will begin my build up immediately after the Ultra Trail Tour du Mont Blanc race at the end of August and will hopefully provide a good platform for the Commonwealth 100km Championships now confirmed for September 2009.

It certainly doesn't get any better than running for GB and I am delighted to have earned my second GB vest in consecutive years.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

A 2 Day Paddy Buckley Round

Last weekend, with two days clear in my diary, I headed to the hills to do some TMB-specific training in the Snowdonia area with running friend Allen Smalls. We decided to have a bash at the Paddy Buckley Round (PBR) route following a two day format.

The PBR is probably the least known and attempted of the UK rounds, but nevertheless it’s one of the classics. It includes no less than 47 peaks ranging between 466m and 1085m in height, covering a distance of roughly 62miles and 28,000ft of ascent/ descent. The record for the PBR is an impressive 18hours 10mins, held jointly between Mark Hartell and Christopher Near, the runs remarkably being completed on separate occasions.

After a hasty overnight camp in an empty National Trust car park in the village of Nantmor we got off to an early start at just gone six on Saturday morning and were straight into the first climb of the day, Bryn Banog (519m) which forms the shoulder to the more impressive Moel Hebog (782m). Within a few miles we were running fabulous untracked terrain and it soon became clear that this was classic PBR terrain, typical of the less trodden parts of Snowdonia. What struck me was how typically British it all was; sheep tracks, heather, bog, rocky outcrops, damp underfoot, misty rain and non-existent paths. Being very patriotic, there lied a great deal of appeal!

What a contrast to the comparatively manicured trails of California I had been running just a few weeks before. In California the challenge was the heat and altitude but in Snowdonia the challenge of the damp and relative cold, and terrain that just isn’t particularly conducive to a quick progress on the ground.

We soon we had a handful of peaks under out belt and found ourselves on the impressive Nantle ridge which links the peaks of Trum y Ddysgl (709m) and Mynydd Drws y Coad (695m) and providing an exciting level of exposure with good views between the intermittent cloud.

After a short stop-off at Rhyd-Ddu village we pressed on to maintain momentum and soon found ourselves climbing the gentle but rutted slopes of Craig Wen (608m) before joining the ridge up to the more distinctive Yy Aran (747m) and the real start of the Snowdon range. It was obvious we were in vicinity of Snowdon by the streams of hikers we came across traipsing up the well-formed tracks. It was very entertaining to see their reactions to us flying past in shorts and other minimalist kit, despite the cold and wet weather, being quite the opposite to their their head-to-toe Gore Tex outfits. Despite it being mid-July the conditions at the top of Snowdon (1,085m) were grim and wintry but I enjoyed the long climb up taking a different route to my usual from the Llanberis side. Approaching the summit it was a strange feeling to come across so many people, the change from the peace and quiet of the early part of the day was stark and uncomfortable so after a quick touch of the trig point we were down the other side making a fast descent to Cwm Brwynog (674m) via Garnedd Ugain (1,065m). From here we were on to a stunning grassy section starting with Moel Cynghorion (674m) and ending on Moel Eilo (880m) with beautifully graded and even slopes to run between before a long and gentle descent to Llanberis and straight into Pete’s Eats to refuel.

Feeling a little stronger we began the climb up Elider Fach (795m) taking a long-winded and steep route to the summit via Nant Peris – mistake. Whilst this is probably the quickest route avoiding the ‘out of bounds’ quarries, and the one recommended in Allen’s book, we decided that cutting through the quarries and up the inclines was probably the done thing for the PBR – despite not strictly being legal – but an important cut-through to maintain progress and avoid the detour. To compund matters the climb was a brutal one, and we both started to feel it, but we got to the rather disappointing peak eventually and moved straight on to Eildir Fawr (923m) and the start of some superb ridge running across the majestic Glyders range. We worked our way along the ridge, enjoying the many runnable sections, and working our way round to the distinctive standalone peak of Tryfan (915m) with its impressive jagged faces forming a classic glacial pyramidal peak. The sun came out for this, our last climb of day, and somehow rejuvenated us for the final descent of our epic fourteen hour day. It was first time we had been warmed by the sun all day and as I took a moment to enjoy the view at the top of this incredible peak I felt a deep sleep on one of the slabs at the top could easily have been achieved! Allen dragged me on and we took the steep descent down the north face very steadily, eventually reaching our stopover point at Idwal Cottage YH just after 8pm.

Our start to the second day, Sunday, followed much the same pattern at the first. We were out the door just gone 6am, but this time welcome by much clearer skies and higher cloud making us both feel positive despite admitted weariness. The climb up Pen yer Ole Wen (978m) began pretty much opposite the YH, so not much time to warm up, but the steep technical ascent demanded plenty of concentration and not too much time to think about tired legs. We made an impressively fast ascent claiming the first peak of the day within an hour, and followed the ridge to the rocky summits of Carnedd Dafydd (1,044m) and Carnedd Llewelyn (1064m). Dropping off Carnedd Llewelyn to the south east we picked up a new, technical ridge, which lead us across to two further peaks to complete our work on the Carnedds and we then ran hard the descent to the A5 and Capel Curig for more re-fueling at the legendary Pinnacle CafĂ©. Nutritionists look away – I managed to put away a bacon and egg bap, several welsh cakes, a bottle of coke and a cup of tea in the space of about 15minutes. All I can say is that my body was craving it.

But it actually seemed to work to kill of the lethargy I had felt all morning, and our ascent of what turned out to be my favourite peak, Moel Siadbod (872m), was impressively efficient. Impressive too were the views from the top, particularly towards the Snowdon range. The majority of the peaks we had climbed so far were visible, and it was fascinating to see them from afar, and to string together the various ridges and lines the PBR follows.

Descending on smooth grass we had bright blue skies to light up a perfect backdrop, and so the sequence of relatively low grassy peaks that connect Moel Siadbod and the Moelywns was for me the most enjoyable section of running of the weekend. We were relatively care free at this stage being close to the end, so we were pushing hard and taking a few risks. We progressed quickly, eventually arriving at Allt Fawr (698m) around 3pm, with time still in hand to finish the remaining six peaks. But this is where it all went horribly wrong. In a moment of navigation madness during a discussion on the best route option to the next peak, Foel Ddu, we fixed it in our heads that it was directly in front of us. It wasn’t, that was in fact Cnicht, our final peak. It was just was on the final push to the summit that I began to feel that something wasn’t quite right, and when the penny finally dropped we were gutted! But it was too late to make amends at that point, we both agreed to call it day and make the journey home before it got too late. So we ended up completing 90% of the route, ending up with a bizarre twist right at the end.

The two days on PBR certainly provided some excellent training for TMB, both routes having similar total ascent/ descent, albeit TMB being longer in distance. For me it was all about building some decent leg strength, and from the evidence of today when I did another day out in Snowdonia, it’s on the way. Leg strength on the climbs and descents is the key thing for the TMB race so I intend to continue my hill focus as the race fast approaches.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Western States 100 mile Endurance Run 2008: the race that never was

For the first time in the thirty-five year history of the race, this year’s Western States Endurance run was cancelled due to widespread forest fires in Northern California. The fires were caused by a storm of dry lightning strikes which passed over the Sierra Nevada mountains during the weekend of 21/ 22 June. Western States is widely regarded as the premier 100 mile trail race in the US, if not the world. It’s the race that the best trail runners want to run. For me it was a dream opportunity to compete against the world's best, but a dream that was broken by an act of god.

The decision to cancel the race was made by the board of directors on Wednesday (25 June). In my mind there was no doubting it was the right one. Squaw Valley, the starting point for the race and the host venue for the 1960 winter Olympics, was engulfed in smoke and further down the course within a mile of the trail, the fires raged and potentially posed a major safety issue to runners and firefighters alike. The concept of running 100 miles across mountain wilderness, at altitude, in high temperatures and within the 30 hour cut-off is hard enough on it’s own, the runners didn’t need pollution levels recorded to be ten times above safe levels to add to the challenge.

It is only now, having left Squaw Valley to return to the UK, that the impact of the race cancellation has really hit me. For the last six months, since my name was confirmed on the start list – a significant challenge in itself – the race has been at the forefront of my daily thoughts and dreams. Before I had even experienced the atmosphere the race generates in California, I knew from research that this is the one to run, the one to peak for, the one to try and win. And that was my mission for the year, one that was aborted right at the last minute.

So from Wednesday 25 June, after the decision had been made, it was plan B. From the organisers that meant a series of activities to keep those already in Squaw Valley occupied. For me that meant making the best of the remaining time left by running and exploring spectacular trails in and around Lake Tahoe in the Sierra Nevada mountains. I have run plenty of trails in various parts of the world but to me, these are simply the best. The diversity of terrain is incredible; lush woodland, desert-like stretches of sand, rocky outcrops, patches of snow, scree slopes, creeks, 10,000ft peaks, spectacular vistas, solitude, silence, altitude, everything a trail runner could want and more. There were also some the world’s best trail runners hanging out in the area, all booked into accommodation for the race, so it was also a golden opportunity to meet other runners, run together and share some adventure, stories, advice and beers! I met some great folk, Paul Charteris the massively committed and enthusiastic Kiwi, Simon Mtuy the Mount Kilimanjaro running guide from Tanzania who also happens to hold the ascent/ descent world record for the mountain, plus a host of others all of whom it was a pleasure to meet and share stories with.

There are certainly many memories to take away from the trip, but it is still hugely disappointing that the 2008 Western States will be remembered for all the wrong reasons; the race that never was. I am taking away with me a better knowledge of the terrain, course and likely race conditions and hope to return in 2009 with a better chance of a top performance. Until then, it will be another 12 months of Western States dreams……