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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!

Monday, 30 March 2009

Celtic 100k/ Anglo Celtic Plate Race 2009 (100km)

Wow, not too sure where to start with this one!

I’ve now had a day or two to reflect on Saturday’s events but the reality is that it hasn’t really sunk in yet. It will probably take quite a while. In fact, I’m struggling to string meaningful thoughts together being pretty exhausted, but I’ll have a go whilst it’s fresh in the mind.

Since the Edinburgh 100km in May 2007 it’s been my ultimate aim to run under seven hours for the 100km. The sub-7 club is one with few members, particularly from the UK over the last 10 years or so. On Saturday I had one of those dream runs, it all came together, I felt strong from start to finish, I had a great second half and ultimately I did it – i’m in the club!

The event itself was superb, not surprising given the experience and enthusiasm of Race Director, Richard Donavon. Richard is also RD for the North Pole and Ice Antarctic Marathons as well as being a multi-record holder for extreme running. The general consensus was that it was the best Anglo Celtic Plate race in the event’s history and from my experience I wouldn’t argue with that. Fittingly, the race also drew a top class field. There were plenty of top names from the various home nations as well as from Germany who sent a development team which included the German trail running champion amongst others.

Dawn on Saturday brought a change to the weather from the preceding week. We arrived in Galway on Friday lunchtime to cloud, wind and showers but race day was perfect from my perspective; cool but sunny with a moderate breeze and occasional showers. A good omen?

Fifty or so toe-ed the start line. There was a clear apprehension amongst the runners to get started but once the hooter had gone, there wasn’t much option. My plan was to run a conservative first 50km, then see what happens in the second half – simple as that. No pressure, no frills. ‘Feel good at fifty’ was my pre-race mantra; get to half way with plenty left in the tank. I ran with England team mate and last year’s winner, Dominic Croft, for most of the first 50km. We ran fairly evenly, I was targeting splits of 8min 24 second per 2km/ 42minute per 10km and Dom was hoping for a touch quicker however the pace seemed to work well for both of us and we ran well together, carrying each other through the early stages.

As we approached 50km Marcus Scotney and Allen Smalls started to speed up and close us down but it was myself and Dom at the front at the 50km stage in a time just a smidgen under 3hrs 30mins. Spot on. Thereafter all four of us had spells at the front and it was then that the drama started to unfold. After the race one member of the England support team likened the race me to a game of chess, and in many respects it was. My target was to maintain an even pace, but the other lads seemed to have plans to shake it up a bit. Marcus seemed the keenest to push on, and eventually did, at one point putting a minute or so on me. Allen made a similar push at one point, but soon the cumulative distance started to play a part causing rough spells for us all. Eventually, at around the 65km point, I started to find a strong rhythm which allowed me to pick the pace up when the others were slowing which was the start of a fast and furious spell that brought a possible sub-7 performance into the equation.

Having not thought about it pre-race various thoughts and emotions were spinning round my head. What if I hit the rocks? What if I push too much too early? Don’t throw away this golden opportunity! Well I realised those were things I could control so I made sure I did. Keep drinking, keep taking the gels, don’t push too hard too early and most importantly don’t blow it. I was constantly trying to stay focused but at the same time trying to run some calculations in my head. Well what a waste of time that was. I’m usually quite good at maths, but after 5 hours running at 6.45/mile pace my head wasn’t in gear. So I put I a request to the support team - let me know when there is 20km to go.

The notification duly came and at the 80km point I was about one minute inside sub-7 pace. I had 1 hr 25mins to complete the final 20km. We’re on! Retaining composure was the hardest part towards the end. The thought of achieving my sub-7 goal made me feel emotional. I had dreamed about it for so long, put so much physical and mental effort into the race and been thinking about the people who I was running strong for along the way. My running rhythm was also better than it’s ever been, and my focus was clear, I had to do it.

The final lap count down at the end was inevitable, something I had fought to avoid doing over the course of the race, my body was now thinking about the end. Third from last lap was when the pure pleasure started. Nothing was going to take it away from me then. And then last lap, I gave it everything, 7mins 56 second and my fastest split of the race by 15 seconds. It was pure elation crossing the line - 6hrs 58mins dead on the clock - the best run of my life - no question.

The memories will be there forever.

Monday, 16 March 2009

Wuthering Hike (32miles/ 4,400ft)

Saturday's Wuthering Hike race was an absolute cracker, probably all the more enjoyable because it was the first time I have taken part. I've been meaning to run it for a couple of years now, but for one reason or another it hasn't happened.

As with all these self-navigation events it is a good idea to recce the course before hand, not only to get to know the route, but also to work out how best to run the race, which I fortunately had the opportunity to do 8 days before the event. On the face of it the 'Hike' part of the race's title doesn't seem to do it justice, but like a number of similar events it tells the story of it's origin as more of a challenge event as opposed to a race. Over the years this has changed, it is now very much a competitive race (as well as a hike/ challenge), and previous times confirm that those at the sharp end don't tend to hang around. Also, being part of the Vasque UK Ultra Running series, competition is strong.

The first leg which heads roughly west from the event base in Haworth, Yorkshire, was all about fighting the wind demons. It was a westerly wind and on the exposed moors of Bronte country it made for tough conditions. Whilst I felt strong, there was extra effort being put in to counter the wind, it was unsettling and made it hard to find any good rhythm.

There was however some payback later on. As we turned south-east climbing up on to the Long Causeway at around 14miles we started to get blown gently along. It was like a hand gently pushing your back; very welcome, particularly on the climbs. Into the second half of the race the group of three I was running with - Mark Palmer, Jonathan Wright and myself - started to break clear from the chasing group who up to then had been within sight. We hadn't picked the pace up, but just ran evenly and consistently and continued to do so whilst the others may have started to slow. The three of us seem to develop a silent understanding, sharing the work of front running, chatting at times and generally helping the time and miles to pass by.

Down into 'Tod' and then the stiff climb up to 'Stoodley Pike' to re-join the Pennine Way, I started to get the feeling the race was about to get going. The next climb, out of Hebden Bridge up to Heptonstall, was where it all started to happen. Mark Palmer and myself pushed on the long road climb, running side-by-side, matching each other stride-for-stride. 'Evil hill' I commented. It was. On the trail descent from Heptonstall Mark was quicker than me, showing his strong fell running background, probably putting 20metres or so between us. But there was a long drawn out climb of three miles or so still to go to take us up to the top of 'the stairs' which was effectively the last pass across the moors before the final descent and run-in to Haworth. I reeled Mark in again and we ran the track climb together, then a brief downhill to the final checkpoint before a stiff road climb to 'the stairs'. It was tough, neither of us wanted to fall off the back, we both clearly matched each other for stubborness. The closer to the finish we got, the faster the pace got; up and up the pace went. Moor Side Lane was the final stretch of climb of the race, we still ran side by side up to the quarry, contouring round the far side. It was a mile to go. I decided it was now or never so I pushed the pace towards a sprint. It was a bit risky but thankfully it paid off, I managed to put 10 metres or so between us, or at least that's what it sounded like, but I couldn’t look back for fear of tumbling over! Finally on to the cobbled High Street of Haworth, I was all out sprinting down the hill before the steep turn-off back to the Community Centre, and with it the relief of a hard fought win.

There was a great atmosphere in the centre after the race with a real community feel about it. Events like this are what it's all about; sensible entry fees, a great route, raising money for charity and a great bunch of people to enjoy the experience with.

Thanks to the organisers, marshalls and fellow competitors for a great day out.

See here for results: http://www.keighleyandcravenac.co.uk/kc_races/pdf/hobble/09_haworth_hobble.html

Monday, 2 March 2009

Wye Ultra (30 miles, trail)

This was the first running of the Wye Ultra, and also the first of twelve races in the 2009 Vasque Ultra Running Series. The advertised route followed the River Wye south from Ross-on-Wye before heading east into the forest of dean to the turnaround point where runners would re-trace their footsteps back to the start point to finish.

Unfortunately a key footbridge crossing the river at the southern most point of the course was closed by the authorities at the last minute resulting in a change to the route and race format. The organisers opted for a double out and back route instead comprising four legs of 7.5miles. It was a great shame about the forced change which was clearly out of the hands of the organisers, although the feeling amongst the runners was that something a bit more interesting that the one offered could have been achieved even with the late notice, particularly given the wealth of trails the area possesses.

The revised route left Ross Rowing club heading south for a short section along the river bank before breaking off for 3 miles or so along quiet country lanes. It then traversed a wooded bank before dropping back down to re-join the river following lovely trails through woods and fields to the turnaround point. And back to the start again. Repeat.

Once underway the race provided plenty of excitement too. Midway through the first leg there were problems with route marking - it was missing in places - resulting in the chasing group I was in going astray and adding half a mile or so to the route. Not ideal, particularly in a relatively short race. The resulting gap between the lead 2 or 3 runners and us was a tall order to make up, and was maintained until the last leg when things started to change significantly. All Smalls made a well timed push, moving through the field in the last few miles to win by a minute or two. I also started to find the right gears in the last leg but it was all too late so I had to settle for 5th, around four minutes behind Allen. There were also strong performances from Vasque series regulars Andy Davies and Andy Rankin.

It was always going to be a risky race for me to run. I was running on heavy legs straight after a week of snowboarding and hill training in the alps meaning the sharpness wasn't there. In fact I was completely knackered even before I started so all things considered it wasn't a bad performance!

It was a great shame about the teething problems with the race (I have mentioned a couple) but all in all it was a great day out and good to see all the ultra running regulars performing strongly early in the season. We are in for a great season.........