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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, 4 December 2011

The North Face Endurance Challenge Final - 50miles (10,000ft +/-) - San Francisco

A very quick report for now. Full results can be found here.

On balance, I'm pretty pleased with my 7th place in 6hrs 49mins 33secs, some 25 minutes quicker than my time from last year (7hrs 14 minutes). The field was deep, we all know about that. I beat many top runners, and was beaten my a handful of top, top runners. The pace was always going to be brutal and it certainly didn't disppoint. Many casualties fell along the way, some were literally sat on the side of the course completely wiped out, from as early as 30 miles in. Many of the best fell, only those right on their game made the podium.

The disappointing thing for me was not really settling in to the race until about 25 miles. Perhaps the sign of a good 100 mile ultra runner, but somewhat fustrating that my recent speedwork hadn't quite had time to kick in. This certainly isn't a race where you can get away with that, you need to be right 'on it' from the gun. But taking a step back, I'm still hitting my long term goal of continued improvement, so I can't feel too down about my run.

The running itself was a real treat. The Marin Headlands is a beautiful place to run on any day, but with blue skies and unusually good visibility, it was a real joy to charge around those trails alongside so many world class runners. Highlights included the views of the Goldon Gate Bridge and San Francisco city at sun rise, cruising the singletrack through the Giant Redwood forests, and the cracking trail conditions underfoot - almost Western States dusty-and-dry.

So all in all a really enjoyable experience. Finally I must just give a special mention to friend and fellow The North Face team mate, Mike Wolfe. What a run he had to take the win in 6hrs 19mins. He completely smashed it, in what must be the performance of his career. Surely enough to claim Ultra Runner of Year given the super competitive nature of the races where he has competed?


Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Western States 100 - Running Fitness magazine article

Click here for the article I wrote earlier in the year for UK running magazine, Running Fitness, about another memorable year racing the Western States 100.

I also write a monthly column for the magazine so do check it out....

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

October & Snowdonia Marathon

October’s highlight came at the end of the month with my first significant race since UTMB, the Snowdonia Marathon. The Snowdonia Marathon is now in its 29th year and for many is an annual favourite given its beautiful course, great value and impressive organisation. It was founded by the National Trust who are the major landowner in the area, and they continue to play a big part in its organisation, albeit they are no longer solely in charge. The course is around 90% road and 10% gravel track, following a big loop around Snowdon, the highest mountain in England and Wales, and is always a sell out with around 2,000 runners taking part. As has been the case for the last three or four events, the weather for this year’s race was pretty grim; strong winds and heavy rain, not all that unusual for this part of the world. The conditions, coupled with the challenging course (1,150m ascent/ descent- in a road marathon!), made for a great workout, which was exactly what I had hoped for in preparation for The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 miler at the beginning of December.

After only ‘freshening up’ for a day or two before the race, I suspected it was going to be a painful affair, but actually I ran a really strong, comfortable and controlled race. The only time I didn’t feel comfortable was in the first few miles during the climb up Llanberis Pass. That was probably just lingering fatigue from recent training - and no taper. Not all that surprising really. Beyond that point I got going nicely and I felt I could adjust the pace as necessary to overtake people and run a respectable race.  I finished in the solid, if unspectacular, position of  7th in a time 2hrs 45mins - only a couple of minutes outside my rather lame and longstanding marathon PB of 2h 43min set on a flat course at Lochaber in 2007. To give myself a little more credibility a 2h45min performance would have won the race on several occasions previously, but this year’s field was pretty stacked with top class marathon and shorter distance runners, and so it didn’t prove to be a great hunting ground for a distance hungry ultra runner like myself. I felt going into the race I was probably in around 2h35min shape for the marathon and my Snowdonia Marathon result seemed to confirm that – British marathon runners will tell you the ‘Snowdonia factor’ is fairly significant. It was also a good sign for me that I ran through to the finish at a consistent and strong pace and, had the weather not been so nasty, could quite happily have run a second loop at a pace not much slower than the first. I guess that’s the ultra runner in me….

So it was a good one for confidence and training, and a great stepping stone towards the Endurance Challenge next month.

Prior to Snowdonia I put in a decent 4 week block of training – basically the month of October – which followed a month off running in September. The rest from running and conditioning work I did during that period certainly freshened my legs and mind up, putting me in a great place for some quality training thereafter. It provided a great platform for a fresh start and I’ve been a lot more disciplined about the sessions I’ve been doing, definitely benefitting from the focus and speedwork. I’ve run a 5km time trial and a 12km trail race, again using the ‘races’ as sessions to try and push on my ultra race pace.
Now well into November, there isn’t a huge amount of time before it will be time to taper for the Endurance Challenge. A couple more solid weeks of training, including some longer runs along the coast path, should conclude preparations nicely.

Hey, the new Jez has turned an even bigger corner – I’ve just joined a running club for the first time in my career. I am now a fully fledged member of Bournemouth AC who have on their books some of the best road runners in the area – particularly their marathon group , with whom I’m looking forward to training on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Watch this space…..

See here for the Snowdonia Marathon race report on Mud Sweat & Tears.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011


I’ve just reached the end of my post-UTMB refresh and I'm definitely raring to go again now. After a solid four weeks off running, my Singletracks are now dusted off and back in action and I’m looking forward some great autumn trail running around Dorset and the south coast of the UK. Cooler temperatures, the stunning autumn colours in the forests and plenty of mud – happy days.

You may wonder why it’s only four weeks that I’ve taken off, when its actually been five since UTMB – well I was up in the Lake District on a TNF photo shoot immediately after UTMB, and I wasn’t able to rest properly when I was up there (running back and forth all day is not really resting), so I thought I would hold back on the proper rest until I got back. Also, what else do you do with spare time in the Lakes, other than hit the fells?

The training I put in for Western States and UTMB earlier in the year was tough, and both races fell relatively close together, so I decided the best way to get ready for the final part of the season was to take some proper time out. There were several aims for the time out period, but the key ones were allowing a little time for a small ankle niggle to heal properly, giving my legs a proper rest from running and to do some quality cross training/ conditioning work as primary training rather than secondary. Well you didn’t think it would be complete rest did you?

I loved the change in training – gym sessions, loads of miles on my road bike, hiking and swimming. None of it even comes close to the enjoyment I get from trail running, but the benefits have certainly prevailed and it's all given me a renewed spring in my step - both mentally and physically.

So now plans for the final few months of the season/ year are clicking into place. I’m targeting The North Face Endurance Challenge final in San Francisco, early December, and in the build-up I will run the Snowdonia Marathon at the end of October.

My training for the Endurance Challenge wasn’t great last year, so I’m looking forward to a fresh approach this year. Snowdonia provides a great build up; it’s a tough, hilly, road marathon, but super-fast and intense, and the best race I have found to replicate the Endurance Challenge course in the Marin Headlands. It’s not the first time I’ve run it, Snowdonia was the second marathon of the three day ‘triple’ which I did several years ago (Beachy Head, Snowdonia & Dublin on consecutive days), although conditions were horrendous that day, much like it was for my Snowdon reps earlier in the summer. Hopefully on race day it will be more like it was last Wednesday when I managed a quick afternoon hike up Snowdon before a talk I did for TNF at Plas Y Brenin. So you can sometimes see the top of Snowdon?.....

Snowdon, from the Watkins path - 28/09

View from Snowdon ascent - looking WSW - 28/09

Friday, 16 September 2011

The North Face Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc 2011 - DNF

Despite pulling out of this year’s UTMB race around two thirds of the way through (at Champex, 124km out of c.170km), I have not felt any post-race mental negativity. I was forced to pull out due to breathing difficulties (later diagnosed as a chest infection) which quickly developed from around the half way point and eventually got so bad that I was concerned about passing out due to lack of oxygen and doing myself some real damage.

So why am I not disappointed about a DNF – only the third of my running career – which probably involves around 150 races? Well, it was a factor completely out of my control. I had a bad cold a couple of weeks before the race, it lingered for quite a while, but was 95% clear by race day. It wasn’t even on the radar as a concern and from experience, it wouldn’t have impacted my performance in 9 out of 10 races. But lest we forget – UTMB is different…..

Up to the point at which I pulled out I had run a smart and solid race, moving through the field steadily in my usual style, and I was up to 12th place. I can tell you now, I would have completely different feelings about the race if my legs had gone or I had blown up; I would have been in down in the doldrums then. But I didn’t blow up; my legs felt great, or at least as good as they could do given the 16 odd hours of mountain running I had completed.

So, a quick summary of the race.

After the events of 2010 most of the focus before the race was on the weather and, low and behold, it kicked off again. In 2010 the 6.30pm Friday night race start coincided almost perfectly with the passing of a significant weather front. Unbelievably, exactly the same thing happened again this year, but this time the organisers were well prepared. It was abundantly clear that the organisers had learnt their lessons and done their homework. There were two clear differences: (1) all ‘trailers’ were required to carry a more comprehensive set of clothing and equipment, designed to ensure the race could proceed in much more arduous conditions than before with the runners still being ‘safe’, and (2) from what I gathered from Race Director, Catherine Poletti, there were over ten course ‘variantes’ which could be employed should any given section of the route be blocked or be unsafe to pass.  All good stuff I feel.

The several thousand runners converging on Chamonix during build up to race weekend enjoyed clear, sunny and hot weather but as race day(s) arrived that rapidly gave way to wind and rain as a hefty weather front moved across. The decision was made mid-morning on race day (Friday) to postpone the start of the race by five hours. That would allow the worst of the front to move across before the runners tackled the first main pass of the race, Col du Bonhomme, which would be around 3 hours in. It was a shrewd decision and the weather forecasting was absolutely spot on.

Gathering in the rain at the race start area in Chamonix, the sense of déjà vu I was already feeling, grew considerably stronger. I took strength from the fact that as a British runner I would be better prepared for the adverse weather conditions than most – particularly after spending most of the summer training in wet and windy weather which seemed to follow me wherever I went.

The rain falls at the race start - here we go again.....

Maybe it was just me, but the traditionally emotional build-up at the start of the race seemed to be slightly more muted this year, perhaps due to the strong sense of the runners just wanting to get going after waiting around all day and evening. But eventually, we did. The traditional stampede out of Chamonix was stronger than ever, many runners charging out at sub 6 min/ mile pace, at the start of a 100+ mile race. Nuts. I went out pretty quickly too, but it was conservative in comparison, settling in at around 30th place along the wide trail through the woods paralleling the river, down valley to Les Houches. There is always a huge sense of relief in actually getting going in these big races – runners aren’t very good at sitting around tapering and resting before a race – but the sense of relief seems to be on another level with UTMB, probably due to it’s scale and the massive build-up which always comes with it. As one of the The North Face guys said to Lizzy and I as we were walking to start “it’s ok, you can just run now!”. That just about summed it up.
Despite it being the early hours, dark, windy, raining and generally uninviting for running in the mountains, 2,300 trail runners, all with a relentless enthusiasm and passion for pushing themselves to the limits in some of the most beautiful mountain scenery in the world, were now loose and doing their thing!
Despite the race now being underway, what I was really looking forward to was running solo so I could have some real space to settle in. I’m not really interested in running in groups with the leaders or whoever else. I want to run my own race and at my own pace, rather than feeling dictated to by running as part of a group. That’s what works best for me and suits my style. Thankfully, being at the front end, the groups had thinned nicely by the start of the first climb up Col du Voza and, whilst the first one is always a bit of a shock to the system, I felt great.
I reached Delevret (14km), the top of the first climb of c.750m (all vertical ascent/ descent figures) in 29th, and then descended the 1,100m steadily to reach Saint Gervais (21km) in 24th. Despite picking off a handful of places I didn’t accelerate or push at all, I just maintained the same pace and rhythm.
Saint Gervais is usually a hive of noise and entertainment on race night, but this year it was sadly a lot quieter, a symptom of the delayed start time. 1.30am inevitably isn’t half as attractive as 8.30pm for getting supporters out. Most were probably doing the sensible thing and saving themselves for the daytime on Saturday. The rain was still falling heavily but my body temperature was spot on wearing the Capri tights, a vest, arm warmers, the Triumph anorak and Scully beanie – all by The North Face.
Moving through Saint Gervais alongside Stuart Mills

I started the valley bottom section from Saint Gervais to Les Contamines running with Nick Clarke and Stuart Mills, but again I wanted some space so we were leap frogging each other before Nick pulled away and Stuart dropped back. The rain started to ease so I planned a clothing change at Les Contamines, as well as a decent replen on my food supplies as it would be the last time I would see my crew until Cormayeur some 47km later. I arrived in Les Contamines (31km) in good spirits and just a few minutes behind my planned schedule. I took a pit stop of a couple of minutes, changing into a base layer with vest over, stashing the jacket and grabbing some bars and gels. And off again…..
The feeling on leaving Les Contamines, or perhaps more so Notre Dame de la Gorge slightly up valley where there is always a warm welcome from a good crowd, is of solitude, warming adrenaline and apprehension. I find it’s the same each year at this stage. This is where the mountain wilderness really starts and I truly love it. I like being able to forget the race for a while, run in my own little bubble formed from a headtorch, and enjoy the environment.
After being battered by the wind and rain, all of a sudden there was a serenity to the mountains and the stars began to come out. I made the climb up to Croix du Bonhomme (45km, 1,300m climb) with relative ease, reaching the top in 19th place – moving up the field well. Above about 2,200 metres there was a decent dusting of snow making the footing slightly tricky but the beauty of the white carpet far outweighed that negative. The descent into Les Chapieux is never one of my favourites and again I made hard work of it, losing a couple of places coming down. It also seemed unnecessarily protracted towards the bottom and I suspected some runners may not have followed each and every switchback in the lower section which at the time I found frustrating. However I suspect I wasn’t being completely rational due to tiredness.
Aside from the kit check which I was pleased to see in place, I didn’t hang around at Les Chapieux (50km), other than to re-fill bottles. I guess I was slightly annoyed to have lost a couple of places so I vowed to push on during the road section climbing to the base of Col de la Seigne. I suspect I’m not the only one to strongly dislike this road climb which seems too steep and damaging to run, but too easy to walk. I ran it, and picked off a couple of guys in doing so. In fact, it seemed to give me a nice bit of momentum leading into the crux of the climb where I took another place. The enjoyment came flooding back, particularly as the light in the sky started to arrive and I was able to switch off my headtorch to get a true sense of the surroundings. Fellow runners in front and behind hadn’t done so which helped me determine their whereabouts.
The light got stronger and stronger as I reached Col de la Seigne (60km, 2,516m) and again the area was snow covered, this time a few centimetres deeper. The temperature had also dropped and must have been below freezing due to the crunch of the trail underfoot. The view from the top was one of the most beautiful I have ever experienced, no doubt strengthened by the challenging weather we had passed through. It was cold and sharp, with just a few clouds dotted around, but the views across to the Italian Alps and beyond were staggering, lit up by the glow of the rising sun; it felt very special. I was very happy to have arrived in Italy :o)

About to ascend Arete Mont Favre

Slightly less technical and better formed, I enjoyed descending the fast trail to the stunning valley where Lac Combal (65km) is situated, lured on by the thought of some decent sustenance. Noodle soup, pieces of energy bar and chocolate did the trick and refuelled the tanks nicely ready for the final climb before Cormayeur, up to Arret Mont Favre. At this point I had caught up with Japanese runner and fellow TNF team mate, Tsuyoshi Kaburaki, a runner of very similar ability to me from the several races we have both run before. It gave me confidence to be running with Kaburaki, knowing my pacing was pretty much spot on, and I hoped we could spur each other on to continue to move through the field together. We leap frogged each other a couple of times on the climb, then both picked off Scott Jurek who seemed to be having a rough time of it.
Unknown, but beautiful, location en route

The vistas from the top of Arete Mont Favre (69km, 2,435m) were the best yet - by this time we were now in direct sunlight to help warm us through properly. The singletrack contouring around to the Cormayeur ski area was smooth and fast flowing. Kaburaki lead the way, I was a couple of hundred metres back. We overtook Vincent Delebarre before arriving at Col Checroit where I looked forward to the chance to say a quick in-passing ‘hello’ to Jacquemot, the legendary owner of this wonderful mountain refuge. Again, no time to hang around, just a short (5km, 750m - it’s all relative with UTMB) descent to the first major checkpoint at Cormayeur, Italy, where I knew my crew would be waiting.
I arrived in Cormayeur (78km) in 16th place and in an elapsed time of 9hrs 29mins. If I had written my perfect scenario for this point of the race – that was exactly it. I felt strong, confident, well fuelled and excited. Changing from tights into shorts, removing the base layer and grabbing more food supplies, I had every reason to be optimistic at the start of this wonderful new day.
Changing at Cormayeur - ever been filmed getting change before?!

The first benefit of the delayed race start manifested itself on the cobbled high street in Cormayeur. A compere introduced me and plenty of passers by shouted encouragement. 9am this time, compared to 4-5am normally, makes a big difference to numbers! I ran the road climb up to the base of the next major climb, a nice 800m vertical slog up to Refuge Bertone (82km). I was strong on the climb, hitting the top in just over an hour from Cormayeur – pretty good going. I hadn’t had sight of any other runners for a while now, however as I continued on along the contouring trail heading up the side of the stunning Val Ferret, I just caught the odd glimpse now and again of Kaburaki doing battle with another runner ahead. Kaburaki seemed to be pushing it fairly hard however the buffer between us remained the same and we both gained a couple of places as I moved up to 13th by Arnuva (95km).
It was on leaving Arnuva and starting first section of the climb up to the Grand Col Ferret that I first started to experience breathing difficulties. I struggled to clear my chest and found myself working much harder than I should have been for a fast-walk ascent. I didn’t think too much of it initially, but after making the pass (2,537m, 99km) into Switzerland and beginning the descent, I really knew something was amiss. Even running downhill became a huge effort. Not my leg speed or strength, simply my body’s ability to get enough oxygen in to maintain the pace. I stuck at it, not really knowing what was going on, and made it down the big descent into la Fouly (110km) without losing any places, but it was becoming apparent the effort required was completely unsustainable.
I decided on a section by section approach, my next focus beyond la Fouly being Champex. The majority of that section of trail is downhill, alongside the river, which undoubtedly masked the extent of the problem somewhat, however it soon showed it’s ugly face again on the stiff climb up to Champex, and then came the shocking realisation that it was rapidly getting worse. I arrived in Champex (124km) still in 12th place, but I simply didn’t have the heart to pull out from the race. My legs were still working fine so there was almost a sense of refusal to accept the circumstances - which were so unusual -  and like nothing I’ve experienced before.
Soldiering on, I left Champex and hit the trail again. It was no good though, I simply couldn’t breathe, and on beginning the descent to Martigny – a variante due to Bovine being impassable – I thankfully stumbled across my crew who were by chance trying to intersect me, and I announced my decision to pull out. What ensued was like a bad dream - a lift back to Chamonix, a trip to the medical centre, several hours in the hospital. Nightmare.
I knew I couldn’t have gone on running safely, or if I had, then I was at risk of doing lasting damage. It’s not like a painful knee or ankle which will patch up or go numb, breathing is a fundamental, a decision which is made for itself. Unfortunately that didn’t make it any easier to come to terms with at the time.
I was immediately hit by a sense of shock and emptiness. It didn’t feel real, but it of course it was. My 2011 race was over and with it so many hard hours of training in the mountains and meticulous preparations. UTMB is a race you live and breathe (great choice of word Jez!); waking up and the race being your first thought of the day, going to sleep and it being the last. That’s the sort of dedication it takes to be successful but that’s also what makes it hurt more when it doesn’t go right.
For me, like many others, the race is the ultimate dream. It is without doubt a ruthless race, one which chews runners up and spits them out, but one which teaches us so much about ourselves, as runners, as people, as lovers of the mountains. I was definitely spat out hard this year, but it is all experience which will make me stronger and wiser for future years.
And with that, UTMB winds up for another year. I would like to give special thanks to my support crew, family and friends for all their support at the race which meant a huge amount, and to The North Face team for making it another memorable race week in Chamonix.
TNF Team - post race

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Had to pull :o(

No luck with the 5 out of 5. Gutted. Felt strong for the first 10 hours, but started to develop a chest infection soon after Bonatti (c. 83km). It wds probably on the back of a recent cold which seems to have lingered, then running in below freezing conditions, snow and heavy rain has triggered this rather bizzare issue.

My breathing became increasingly laboured to the point at which running downhill had me working as if I was running steeply up. Not good. Endeavoured to soldier on but got to the point where I was in danger of starving my body of oxygen and doing proper damage, so pulled the plug soon out of Champex. I think I was in 12th at the time, had been working my way through the field in my usual style all race and legs felt good enough to be striking higher positions.

Just back from a precautionary trip to the hospital - managed to avoid the overnight stay which they seemed quite keen on!.....

Thanks for all the support from everyone, very touching.

Friday, 26 August 2011

UTMB: Delay to Start Time

The start time for the race has been put back until 11.30pm (10.30GMT) due to a big weather front which is passing through during the first part of this evening. The only other change is that the final climb to Tete aux Vents/ Flegere is also out, making the finish a relatively quick blast down the valley from Col du Montets to Chamonix, via Argentiere. This means we're effectively back to the 2007 course.

A sound decision by the organisers in my opinion, particularly given that it was made mid morning Friday, allowing the runners plenty of time to adjust their pre-race schedules.

And with that, I'm off to bed.....

Also worth noting that Eurosport are covering the race this year, with a half hour summary programme due to go out at 11.30pm ish on Sunday night. You may even see me being interviewed :o)

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

UTMB Pre-Race

The UTMB LIVE race tracking facility is now up and running, ready for the start of the race on Friday at 1830 (1730 GMT).

Follow this link.

There is heaps of other pre-race coverage on the web and a good set of pre-race interviews with the elites from irunfar here.

Lots of talk around town about the new mandatory kit requirements and the weight it's going to add to our packs. I've just put my full race kit together and have managed to fit it all into TNF's Enduro 13 pack - the same one I wore last year. No big deal in my opinion and with the forecast as it is, a very good thing.

Just about to head out to collect race number one at check in. Eeeek!....

More soon.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Catching up

I haven't blogged for ages now. I've been meaning to, but with one thing or another it hasn't happened. You may read something into this, especially remaining quiet after all the excitement of Western States, but there's genuinely nothing to read at all, just plain slackness. You know that scenario when you put something off for a while, then it grows and grows and starts to nag you and eventually turns into a chore – well that’s probably the case here. Anyway, I’m back now and perhaps I’ll make it a post-UTMB resolution of mine to post here more regularly……

Maybe I’m being a little unfair on myself - I did actually write a piece about my Western States experience for British magazine Running Fitness, however it was specifically written for the general running community and therefore probably contains less of the nitty gritty stuff which blog readers are probably interested in. Anyway, once the magazine article is published I shall post it here and you can decide for yourself.

What about the detail then? Well I may consign that to the murky depths of history in the back of my head because I’m not sure I’ve got the will to dig it out right now. Alternatively, buy me a beer after the UTMB race.

I guess the least I can do is muster up a few summary thoughts……

Firstly, as with my 2009 experience, I absolutely loved every moment of Western States this year. Hats off to the WS team for putting on such a brilliant race, perfectly tuned to deliver the best possible experience for the runners. It's slick, it's exciting, it's professional and its got to be cream of the crop in the US.

My race strategy was fairly plain to see; run steadily throughout, at my pace, on my own if necessary, then try to do some damage in the latter stages. None of that is much of a secret, it’s how I bring out the best in myself and it’s the way I have run my best races. It was all perfectly to plan until mile 80/ the Green Gate aid station, at which point I couldn't maintain the pace to enjoy battling it out with the three other guys to the finish. That was a real frustration because I was running completely within myself up to that point and there was just a couple of minutes separating the four of us at the front (Jornet, Wolfe, Clarke & Bragg). A couple of months of reflection has allowed me to pin point the reasons for that blip (I think). I won't bore you with all the detail but needless to say I've made some changes to bring about improvements.

Reading this you've probably gathered I wasn't all that pleased with the 4th place. I was pleased with the time (albeit the revised course was a fast one), but I was targeting better (as I am sure many other guys were). The annoying thing is I'll probably have to go back next year now. Oh, what a shame....

So, what have I been up to since? Heaps of UTMB specific training which has been a lot of fun. Any excuse to get into the mountains hey. I was in the UK to start with, spending a few days running round the Bob Graham Round route in the Lake District, north west England. The BG is classic British long distance challenge, a big loop of around 72 miles taking in 42 of the highest peaks in the Lakes, with a total elevation change of c. 27,000feet. Being only a week after Western States, and the first time I’m been round any of the route before, I split it into three days and stayed overnight at a couple of hostels. The opportunity to get out in the stunningly beautiful Lakes and check out the route for the first time was magical. Definitely one to come back to for a non-stop effort in the future.....

Shortly afterwards I headed out to the Alps for two weeks of bigger stuff which involved a fast pack of the Walkers' Haute Route - Chamonix to Zermatt (c.185km, 14,000m+/-), a three day loop over the full UTMB course (166km, 9,400+/-) with the rest of The North Face team and a load of other single day outings. Back on UK soil I also did my annual Snowdon reps session (4x) in lashing rain (which obviously falls sideways being in Wales) and a night run on the coast path from Shell Bay, Poole to Weymouth. Basically, lots of good stuff in the bag, but more importantly a load of nicely varied and very enjoyable trail running. All I would say looking back on all those outtings is that the rain seemed to follow me wherever I went. I recon around 50% of my training this summer has been on wet days. Sorry in advance to fellow UTMBers if I’ve brought it with me to Chamonix….

So then, I hear there is a little race on this weekend?! I can't quite believe it's that time again. It is of course the big dance in Chamonix, The North Face Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc. From a quick scan of the entrants list it looks like we've got the deepest ever field lining up (yawn, yes I know, said many times before, but by some margin in my mind). Predictions? No way - impossible. The safest bet is there will be a big battle from the off and probably quite a few big name casualties based on the last few races here.

This is now my 5th time at UTMB, and I've yet to pull, so number one priority has got to be getting to the finish line for 5 out of 5. Whilst I've never run a fast time on the full route, my experience from previous races, at least the same number of training loops and the fact I've improved quite a bit as a runner over the last couple of years, will (hopefully) stand me in good stead.

Whilst there is probably more hype than I like before a race with UTMB (we runners just like to run….), the excitement and general build-up all contribute towards making this the truly great race it is. Chamonix, the mountain haven for so many different sports, is an incredible place to hang out, particularly with all the international runners in town.

Whether you're at home following on the internet, out on the course supporting with your cowbell or running one the races yourself – I hope you ENJOY this weekend’s races.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Western States result

Wow - that was a race alright. Cat and mouse all the way. I ran very consistently but didn't quite have the legs for the battle at the end. 4th place, 15 hours 55mins. I'll take that.

Thanks for all the brilliant support from the UK.


Friday, 24 June 2011

Western States 100 pre-race

So then, less than 24 hours to go until the big one.

I was hoping to have posted some detailed pre race thoughts but with limited internet access where we're staying at Lake Tahoe I've been forced to keep quiet. Perhaps not a bad thing.

From what I've picked up there has been quite a lot of hype about the race and the deep fields lined up for both men and women. I'm excited to be part of the race, but not really too bothered about the other guys, I will only be concerned with what I can personally control, that's my running and my performance.

So with my drop bags packed, GB badge sown on shorts and glycogen stores bursting, it's time to race!

Follow via the official race webcast linked from www.ws100.com , or via twitter using #ws100 or #irunfar as the search hashtags.

Race starts at 5am US west coast time Saturday 25th, or 1pm GMT same day.

Thanks for the messages of support - much appreciated.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

The Fellsman (c.62miles/ 11,000feet)

A good couple of weeks have now passed since The Fellsman and for one reason or another my write up has been delayed (just a generally busy life really). But better late than never I guess.

So just two weeks after a hard workout at The Highland Fling in Scotland I found myself toeing the start line of another epic, The Fellsman. I’m the first to admit that two big races in two weeks was a tall order, but I’d like to think a carefully calculated one.

These were ‘B’ races for me, planned as part of my build up to two ‘A’ races this summer; The Western States 100 on 25 June and UTMB in late August. My ‘B’ classification of these two races doesn’t mean I don’t take them seriously or put less than 100% effort in - I struggle to do anything less in a race – but is perhaps more from a mental perspective. Essentially I don’t let myself lose sleep over them and probably don’t taper all that much either. The goals further ahead are more important. The aim is to get race pace intensity into my legs and build some confidence in my ability to compete and race full stop, particularly after some lengthy periods of just training and racing shorter distances.

In it's 49th year, The Fellsman is one of the classics on the fell and ultra calendar. It's a truly British race - for the characteristics you will hear about in this piece - and I absolutely love it. The route is around 60miles - depending exactly which one you take (the choice is yours, it’s a point-to-point self navigation race) - in an almighty horseshoe shaped route starting in Ingleton and finishing in Threshfield, in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales.

The route is largely untracked and in quite a few places is knee-deep marsh or bog, sometimes making it more of a trudge rather than a run. For any American or European readers who like a nicely groomed singletrack trail - this is definitely not the race for you…..

Given the possible trail and weather conditions competitors must carry a set of basic safety kit and equipment which includes full waterproofs, emergency food, map, compass, first aid kit, survival bag, spare clothing, head torch etc etc. This necessitates a fairly sizeable pack which also adds to the challenge. See the photo below for my pre-race kit laid out. I used the Spring 11 The North Face Enduro 13 pack which I absolutely love.

Race kit laid out

As I stood on the start line with the other 400 or so competitors, 9am on a late spring Saturday morning, I was admittedly anxious about the day ahead. It would surely be epic; it always is?

I trotted up to the top of Ingleborough with Mark Hartell, 11 times (did I count right?) winner of the event, and we chatted about this, that and the other – generally putting the world to rights. At the top, next to the trig point, was the first of 24 checkpoints, the majority of which are located on the tops like this one. There I got my plastic tally card punched for the first time (who needs electronic chips?), the very traditional but completely effective method of checking participants have visited all the checkpoints, and quickly moved on on. The Fellsman tally card

Mark flew off from the top, taking a very direct line down a greasy rock strewn grassy bank where he showed off his fine descending skills. I followed, but slightly more cautiously. By the run off at the bottom, on the approach to the Hill Inn checkpoint, I had just about reeled him in, but this burst proved to be his undoing, as he tweaked his hamstring which ultimately forced his retirement a couple of checkpoints later at Kingsdale.

Re-fuelling near Kingsdale

By Kingsdale I was in the lead but close behind was Andy Mouncey and Adam Perry, a very talented youngster who had a strong race. I didn’t really look back thereafter, my focus being on running my own race at a pace which felt right to me. If I’m honest, that’s the way I prefer it. Without really consciously trying I started to build a lead that steadily grew over the course of the day.

I enjoyed the solo front running. If it hadn’t been for the checkpoints and occasional supporters then I might have forgotten there was a race on at all!

There was a stiff westerly cross wind, particularly noticeable on the beautiful high level ridge section between Gregareth and Great Coum, but after the turn east to head down towards Dent, it was welcome tail wind for the rest of the day. I felt like I was being swept along……

Dent is one of the bigger checkpoints about 20miles in and at that point, one third into the race, I felt great and very positive. I had also made good time, so started to map out in my head a possible schedule for the remainder. From rudimentary calculations in my head I was on track for sub-ten hours - assuming no slowing down – however there was obviously quite a bit of optimism in that calculation as unfortunately it’s often not quite as simple as that in events like this. Having said that, I have pulled off even or negative splits plenty of times before, so I didn’t think it was completely out the question.

The section from Dent to Stone House went smoothly, I even hit the line off Blea Moor perfectly for the first time ever (its one of the simpler 'lines', but I've never hit the stile into the woods quite right before). At Stone House there was plenty of excitement amongst the checkpoint staff who were running a sweepstake for the time of the first runner. I was about a minute too early apparently. Ooops, sorry. There I wolfed down a bit of plain pasta and grabbed a cheese butty for take out.

For the most part it was all rather uneventful. The all important navigation kept me focused, which I was constantly aware could have screwed up my race if mistakes had been made. Thankfully the visibility on the tops was much better than the last time I took part in 2009.

I hit a good line off Dodd Fell and arrived at Fleet Moss starting to feel a bit jaded but still in good time and maintaining a good pace. I wish I had my splits to share but unfortunately my watch splits messed up. Beyond the Fleet Moss checkpoint is the trickiest section for navigation across the featureless moor (bog?), and even more so this year from a last minute change to the location of the Middle Tongue checkpoint. Usually it’s on the peak next to the trig point, this year it was further south and out of sight due to landowner access issues. This also forced us to follow the southern route variant from Fleet Moss, rather than the direct line across the top. In the main this suited me well as it’s my favoured option anyway, being smoother and more runnable, albeit slightly longer.

I hit the new checkpoint at Middle Tongue without a problem, although I was saved slightly by one of the checkpoint staff being stood up as I approached. I may have struggled to pick out their small khaki green tent otherwise. But on arrival my anxieties had faded. That was the big risk for me, but once successfully negotiated, I knew I was in control of the rest.

It was a single bearing from the new Middle Tongue to Hell Gap which, although long, rough and untracked, was fairly fool proof. I blasted down the vehicle track to Cray and felt a lot more relaxed and confident about finishing in a good time. The real problem I had in trying to keep tabs on progress was not knowing the checkpoint split distances. All I knew was that Fleet Moss was at about 36miles (approximately). Having said that, I think there’s a lot to be said for keeping race plans simple, and mine certainly was…..

The two remaining climbs up Buckden Pike and Great Whernside went well. My legs felt pretty shot on the steep sections but that was to be expected. On the gentler gradients, flatw and downhills they remained fast and didn’t let me down. There were plenty of ankle rolls, trips (x4) and bog wipeouts, but they are all part and parcel of running fast on this kind of terrain. They were quite funny really, one or two fairly spectacular.

Off Great Whernside I started to wind the pace up and realised I was close to record pace. It was however finely balanced and difficult to factor in the fast terrain of the last six miles, in terms of whether I really could pull it off or not.

It was only when I reached the final checkpoint at Yarnbury that realised the record really was on. The checkpoint staff did as well; they were excited and encouraging. The last section was a gradual downhill on the road back to Threshfield and I guess I was probably running c.6min/mile pace down there - very enjoyable - and there is nothing more motivating than the knowledge that the faster you run, the more you will take off the record.

Approaching Yarnbury, on the home straight

I arrived back through the door of the school with a finishing time of 10h 06 mins taking several minutes off the previous record, on a course which was generally felt to be slightly longer. It had been a really enjoyable and satisfying day out, but most importantly I was back in one piece.

Coming away from the race I was pleased with the time on what is a technical and tough course, and one that is not really conducive to quick running. My legs had the pace when they needed to and dealt with the hills with relative ease. Great for confidence heading into Western States.

The final words must be of thanks to the wonderful volunteers and organisers of the event who work tirelessly throughout the year to keep the Fellsman going. It is brilliant to see the event going through a renaissance in recent years and given how successful this year’s event was, I can only see than continuing.

Next stop: California :o)

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

A Red Hot Fling

The Highland Fling Race:

53 miles trail, along southern ‘half’ of the West Highland Way, Scotland.
UKA Ultra Trail Championships/ Scottish Ultra Trail Championships/ GB Ultra Trail Team Qualifier.

I had to settle for 2nd place at this year’s Fling. Despite breaking my previous record of 7h19m by 4 minutes, Andrew James went one better and beat it by 7 minutes. It was a great race - one I will certainly remember in years to come. In the couple of days which have past since the race, I have been trying to remember if I’ve ever been pushed so hard in a UK ultra race. The Commonwealth 100km Championships in Keswick, September 2009, is the only race that springs to mind – that day Matt Giles was the culprit, although the difference with that race was that I managed to come good in the end. Whilst I don’t like losing much, I love the competition, and hat’s off to Andrew for running a strong and smart race.

The way the race panned out is simple to report. I was part of a lead group of three for the first 23 odd miles – which included Andrew and Stuart Mills. Stuart’s tactics were fairly indiscreet (which I am sure he will be the first to admit), to run shoulder to shoulder with me for as long as possible. But when Stuart dropped off the pace, it was a simple partnership with Andrew who I had not met or run with before. I felt the pace dropped off a bit along Lomond-side, but I think it had to after the smoky fast first 19 miles to Balmaha. The heat was a big challenge, rising steadily over the course of the day. Despite a coolish breeze, the many sheltered sections of trail made it feel roasting, and there was no respite from cloud cover whatsoever. I knew it was getting a bit warm for me when all I could think about was jumping in Loch Lomond for a decent cool off – I just about managed to resist. Conditions reminded me a bit of Western States/ California – dusty, tinder dry, beautiful single track trail, crystal clear blue skies, and that wonderful scent of pine and timber through the woods. Quite pleasant had it not been for the extreme effort we were putting in.

If it hadn’t been for the high temperatures, I suspect we would have been running faster still, but it was a case of just trying to block it out, and to keep moving at a decent pace section after section. The trail was certainly very busy which also kept us on our toes. And not just from the couple of hundred early race starters who we had to overtake, also big groups of West Highland Way trekkers who were understandably making the best of the stunning spring weather. I was just sorry to be semi-forcefully coming past them all. I shouted ahead to forewarn everyone, and gave my sincerest thanks, but it was a tricky operation in the many narrow sections of trail.

On the approach to Derrydaroch, at c.46miles. Photo courtesy of "MtM".

After an enjoyable stint running with Andrew in which we both had our moments, him taking a couple of impressive tumbles, me acquainting myself with the bushes, we got to the top of Loch Lomond and the Beinglas checkpoint (40.6 miles) pretty much at the same time. I realised this could well be a critical moment of the race, and so it proved to be. He moved through very quickly, not appearing to take much of a water re-supply. I decided to do things properly knowing there was still a tough 12 mile section ahead, and left with a litre-and-a-half of liquid in two handhelds and a waste pack bottle, as well as taking the opportunity for a good dousing courtesy of the kind checkpoint staff. Andrew upped the pace and flew off up the climb towards Derrydaroch, to which I admittedly didn’t have a reply. I was still running well, but not with any spring to keep up. Andrew steadily moved away and was pretty much out of sight by the woods above Crianlarich. I figured he had a 4-5minute lead at this point. With only a handful of miles left to the finish, I thought he probably had a 80% chance of finishing it off for an impressive win. My only hope was a spectacular blow-up, or a navigational error, neither of which prevailed in the end. I picked up and was gaining on him in the last few miles, but I had run out of trail and he finished three minutes ahead. He was a worthy victor and winner of the UKA title as well as a nice course record.

Once again my sincerest thanks go to Ellen, Murdo and Tim who have created a brilliant race in the space of just six years. It’s a true runner’s race; all beautifully thought out and organised, and one which thoroughly deserves its undoubted success. You only had to be there at the finish line this year, seeing all the smiling runners and supporters enjoying the Highland setting and sunshine, to know what I mean. See you next year.

Next up – the Fellsman a week on Saturday. Eeeek!

Friday, 7 January 2011

2010 in Pictures

Yes I know - buses and my blog posts - none for ages then two at once.

I was going to write a full 2010 review but it will probably be Christmas 2011 before I get round to it, so here's the best of 2010 in pictures.

Here's the pick of the bunch:

It was of course a year of two very different halves for me; out of action injured for the first half then back with a BOOM! in Chamonix.

Happy New Year everyone. Here's to more great running adventures in 2011......

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

The Long Mynd 50 Winter Run

There is a bit of a theme developing to my pre-Christmas jaunts now. With the weather, that is. Last year's winter West Highland Way record attempt of the same timing was, frankly, bloody freezing, and so too was this year's effort in Shropshire. I thought a mid-winter trip around one of my favourite race routes, The Long Mynd Hike 50, would be a much tamer affair than the Scottish Highlands had been in December 2009. An easy option even? With the winter we've had this year, and it being the coldest December on record, I was of course wrong.

This year I recruited a partner; fellow England and Great Britain team mate Matt Giles no less. It should have been three but that's another story. We did, however, have no support.

The conditions were probably best described as arctic. The ground was deep frozen from what seemed like weeks of sub-zero temperatures, a thick blanket of dry powdery snow covered the valleys and temperatures for the duration of the run ranged between -10°C and -5°C. Lovely.

In the days leading up to the run I was impressed by Matt's unfaltering commitment to give it a go, no matter how snowy, cold and downright unappealing the prospect of running 50 miles around Shropshire three days before Christmas Day was. Good lad. Or perhaps that's a symptom of having two young kids?

The alarm went at 2.50am, I got to Matt's for just after 4am and we were togged up ready to start the run at about just before 6am - an hour behind schedule already. Kit choice would be vital and could have been a drawn out process in itself had it not been for the -10°C temperature as we fumbled through our kit bags in the boot of Matt’s car parked in sleepy Church Stretton, a lovely town nestled in the Shropshire Hills. I went for a pair of tights, windstopper bottoms (by TNF of course, turning out to be a legendary piece of kit), two base layers, a Gore-Tex paclite shell, ski mitts, a buff and three beanies. Footwear was a pair of Singletracks and one pair of socks. I also carried a spare base layer and spare pair of socks, but we had to stay fast and light so it was minimal, and if it went horribly wrong we would still need to keep moving.

In summary, the route is a well established classic: a 50 mile figure-of-eight route over the rugged countryside of South Shropshire and the Welsh Marches, with about 8,000 feet of climbing covering eight summits. Statistically it's fairly tame, but the trails constantly undulate making it impossible to settle in to any rhythm. I always find it’s niggly tough and a solid challenge even in good weather.

Within a mile we were into the first hill, Caer Caradoc, which was horrible. One step forward, half a step back; frozen ground and slippery powdery snow made the steep climb difficult. Cue worries about a long day ahead and me openly stating that we could cut the route short to preserve pub time in the evening. Priorities hey. Freezing fog was another big problem and if we hadn't been on that hill dozens of times before, navigation would have been impossible. But the top's the top and we found it in the end, as well as the descent route for our first spell of foot skiing.

Once we dropped down out of the freezing fog, it was actually the last we saw of it all day. And after that hill, I had no further question marks over our ability to complete the whole route. We got warm, stayed warm, and didn't ever stop longer enough to get cold. That was the trick really – keep moving. The only point we both felt a bit on the edge of being too cold was across Stiperstones ridge with the cold northerly wind coming straight at us. But at that point I just donned all three beanies, sealed myself up in my hood and battled on.

Navigation could have been tricky, particularly as Matt dropped his carefully marked up map somewhere on Stiperstones (not very good as a D of E instructor), but luckily we managed to stay on track almost perfectly all the way round despite the white blanket.

We carried all our provisions for the day in our packs except fluids which required a replen at the shop next to the Stiperstones Inn. The biggest issue was keeping the food and drinks at a suitable temperature to consume, with the tendency being for them to freeze. Matt had a few problems with frozen pipes and bottles.

And the knowledgeable local runner we met outside the Stiperstones Inn who tried to recruit us for the Devils Chair fell race on Boxing day was of course right, his prediction that we would finish before last light was spot on. We got back to Church Stretton just before 4.30pm with no need for the headtorches to come back out again. Our time for the full route was just under 10 hours 30 mins. We were pretty pleased to have got round, and to have run it self sufficiently in such a time. The winning time for the annual October race is just over 8 hours, so more than respectable on that basis.

And of course, the fast time meant we were showered, changed and down the pub in good time to make a proper evening of it. Well, maybe if we hadn’t been quite so knackered.

It begs the question what next year’s jaunt will bring?!…..