About Me

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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!

Thursday, 3 October 2013

UTMB 2013

Here's a link to my write up on this year's UTMB, published on the Run247 website.

Friday, 23 August 2013

Back to it

It’s amazing to think that six months have passed since I finished Te Araroa and that’s the last time I posted anything here. Whilst the blog suggests otherwise, I don’t really feel like I’ve been ‘away’ from running as such but patience has been important to claw myself back from the rather low place I was in physically.. In the few months immediately after the expedition I wrote a lot about my experiences for magazines and interviews, and reflected upon the experience as a whole. I’m sure you’ve had enough of all that, and I certainly think it’s time to start looking forward again.

The plan from here is to get back into some racing and ‘shorter’ challenges, and initially to have a go at some races that remain unticked on my bucket list. I get asked a lot whether I will do another ‘long trail’ project, and hand on heart I couldn’t say no to that question, but it would definitely be a few years down the line because the impact on body, mind, family and friends is massive. However some shorter fastest known time (FKT) challenges appeal to me, of which there are plenty to choose from in the UK for starters. I am mulling over some options for next year at the moment. Hush hush.

But right now I’m feeling in a really good place in terms of strength, health and fitness. Hurray. It’s a good job really, because in a couple of weeks time I shall once again be on the start line for the The North Face Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc; possibly not the most forgiving ultra race around, particularly as a comeback race. And of course it’s not a new race to me, like I said would be my focus. But it’s a race I really love, and the last time I had a ‘clean’ build-up i.e. without much racing involved in the few months beforehand was 2010 on the comeback from injury, and that year I had a belter. So why not hey…..

So what have I been up to over the last six months? Just pulling myself back together really. Back in health now, I’ve realised just how low I really was after Te Araroa. Yes, I know, it’s not a massive surprise to hear I was deeply fatigued after all that running, but actually, I was pretty bad. In the final part of the run, I never really properly recovered from the stomach bug that stopped me in my tracks for 3 days, and I really just soldiered on, determined to finish the job in hand. We suspected it was giardia at the time, but after it lingered for weeks on return to the UK, I had various tests and I found out I was actually suffering from salmonella. So the chances are it was salmonella all the time, and with my beaten up immune system it probably lurked in my body for several weeks, and only really responded positively after two courses of antibiotics. I will never really know for sure, but what I do know is that my recovery was particularly drawn out by my body’s struggle to absorb what it needed, and it’s never great to have something like that sit around in your system for too long.

I started doing some light running, walking and swimming within a few weeks of getting back around mid-February. I felt like I was learning to do all these things for the first time again, such hard work it proved to be. The complicated picture of having a beaten up ‘system’ mixed with general fatigue simply from the duration of the run was hard to pick my way through. The exercise I was doing didn’t involve any significant exertion, so I felt it important to at least get my limbs moving again after so much ‘rust’ had accumulated.

Before I finished Te Araroa my plan had been to taper down from the daily distance and running routine by at least doing a little bit each day for the few weeks afterwards. But what actually happened was that as soon as my mind knew it was all over, so too my body let go, and physically my body was just not up to anything. I soon let go of that idea, and did nothing in the immediate aftermath.

I started to turn a significant corner during a holiday to Scotland at the end of April. Running around the low level tracks of the local glens was a really positive experience, and I could do it without stopping – progress! From that point I gained some consistency, and step-by-step, run-by-run, my endurance and speed started to creep back.

Mindful of just drifting back into a ploddy Te Araroa pace and that finding some ‘speed’ would be the real challenge, I entered a couple of local road races to try and push myself on. The first was the Purbeck 10k which was, frankly, horrible. The first 5km was bearable, but the second 5km was horribly painful. I’ve never been overtaken by so many people during a race. But it gave me some focus for a spell of speedwork, and tempos runs to work on threshold pace, and that proved successful with a win at a local 8mile fun run and 2nd place at a half marathon. Progress….

By this time I was starting to run ‘long’ again, with a staple diet of one or two twenty milers per week, sometimes a little bit more. Without any taper I ran the Cortina Trail race in the Dolomites which again felt like part of the process of getting me back to the right place. I wasn’t competitive – I’m not sure I ever will be at the shorter ultra distance races without specific focus – but I ran a solid race, did my own thing, and at a slightly slower pace I could easily have held on for a much greater distance.

I then felt like there was a platform there for UTMB, so I’ve spent the summer focusing my training accordingly, with several trips to the mountains to get the necessary climbing and descending into my legs. I’ve been to the Brecon Beacons, Shropshire Hills, Scottish Highlands, round the UTMB course over 3 days and Snowdonia for my annual Snowdon ‘reps’ session. With these training weekends alone, it’s been quite a summer already with some great weather to enjoy long days in the mountains.

Col du Bonhomme on the UTMB course
You can read about these outings in the blog posts I’ve written for run247.com:

In all honesty I still don’t know for sure how my body will be over 100 miles in the mountains, and I won’t know the answer to that until at least after Cormayeur on the UTMB course. It’s a fine balance between pushing yourself hard to get fit, but not tiring yourself so much that you’re actually losing strength in the process of training. Whatever happens in UTMB this year, I’m out to enjoy it, and I’ll certainly be starting with a big grin on my face, simply from the experiences I’ve had over the summer, and the sheer excitement that a unique race like UTMB brings. Let’s just cross our fingers for some better weather this year, and a race on the full course.

Poles? Maybe, haven't decided yet.

on the Ramsay Round route, big Ben in the background

Chamonix bound on the last day of my UTMB training loop

The last munro on the Ramsay Round route. Phew.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Te Araroa - articles and coverage - UPDATED 14/02/13

Pre Expedition

Ian Corless

The Independent newspaper


The Telegraph newspaper - The Adventure Interview

Competitor online

Run 247

Run 247

'Advendure' - Greece

Mid Expedition

The North Face Journal - photos, video, blog, infographic

North Island video dispatch 

Epic Adventurer

Wilderness magazine, NZ

Marathon Talk - podcast interview

Trail Runner Magazine

Ian Corless/ Talk Ultra

Run 247

Outside online

Post Expedition

iRunFar's detailed expedition round-up

Ian Corless / Talk Ultra interview

Ian Corless expedition round-up 

Run 247

Mud, Sweat & Tears

Wilderness magazine, NZ

Trail Runner magazine, US

Te Araroa - official website, NZ

Outdoors Magic

Go Trail

Planet Fear

Independent newspaper

The North Face website - expedition photo collection by Damiano Levati

Peignee Verticale, France

U-Trail, France

Telegraph newspaper

Tim Taylor - NZ Kayaker - our Cook Strait Guide - Tim's write up

'Advendure' - Greece

Day 53: Riverton to Bluff - THE FINISH :o)

Start: Riverton (2,988km)
Finish: Bluff (3,054km)
Distance for the day: 68km
Cumulative distance: 3,054km
Distance to Bluff: 0km

At a 1601hrs this afternoon, 53 days 9 hours and 1 minute after setting from Cape Reigna, I finally completed my long journey down the Te Araroa trail, arriving in Bluff – lands end on the southern tip of New Zealand’s South Island. Gathered there waiting were my crew, Mark & James, my wife Gemma, my mum and my mother-in-law, Hilary. Damiano from the Storyteller Collective was there capturing the moment on photo and video, just has he done so magnificently throughout the expedition. They sprayed me with champagne and we danced around the landmark yellow finger post like we’d just won the lottery. There were bystanders around too, probably wondering what the heck was going on, but none of us gave a hoot. It was raw emotion for me; all my heart and soul, sweat and tears, had been put into realizing this moment, and it almost happened too suddenly to take it all in. I’ve been a robotic state for most of the time since I started – in my own little bubble – and I think it’s going to take several days to snap out of it. My body is also going to want to know what the heck is going on when I don’t run tomorrow; so I think some wind down jogging/ walking is going to be important.

So how did the day unfold? Well in the usual manner really. A 5am alarm call felt a wee bit harsh as we had all been up late last night – I only got in from the trail at 9.30pm – but there was a nice buzz in the air from the thought of the finish. It was exciting to think about the day ahead, but that doesn’t make it any easier to get out the campervan door with so much cumulative fatigue in my legs, not to mention the mental tiredness. But once out, and 10 minutes or so up the road, everything started to warm up and then we were away. The sky this morning was incredible, the colors rich and colorful, before the sun eventually rose from the sea and brought the day to life. Once through Riveton, the route was straight on to the beach for 25km around a nicely curved, sandy bay, and it was a lovely spell for solitude and reflection which was exactly what I needed after many weeks of relentless and intense running. The running was far from easy with a mixture of sand and shingle, but I felt strong from thoughts of the finish and kept moving on at decent pace.

From the end of the beach it was on to the road all the way through to the outskirts of Bluff, skirting to the west of Invercargill, most of it on the shoulder of Highway 1. It wasn’t all that much fun and the tarmac was unforgiving underfoot, causing further soreness in my feet and ankles. But the soreness wasn’t really occupying my thoughts, it was more occupied with thoughts about finishing. I had music on the go to help switch off, but it seemed to bring on regular emotional streaks where I was breaking into tears. I’ve said before that this run has worn me down and exposed my inner emotions, and there were so many examples of that today.

By lunchtime at 1.15pm I had 50km under my belt, and thoughts of a mid-afternoon finish were starting to get muted. I didn’t really stop long for lunch, I just wanted to get the job done, so it was straight back on the road through to the outskirts of Bluff. So all that was left was a 7km stretch of trail around the Bluff peninsula to the Stirling Point fingerpost, the official finish to the trail. The first 3km of this section was rough running through long grass from marker post to marker post, but then I hit the millennium trail, and nicely graded gravel track leading all the way to the finish. It was a real blast. No tomorrow to save myself for, nothing to lose, no reason to hold back. But no time to really prepare myself for stopping; that’s the bit which is going to feel very strange.

We’re now sitting in the communal room of Bluff campsite, sharing photos, drinking cider and beer, and starting to reflect and share the memories. Where do you start? I’ve spent 53 days reflecting, and now I need time to reflect. Work that one out - very strange. But one thing I know I will be doing for sure is taking a week’s holiday with my wonderfully supportive wife. I feel like the luckiest man alive….

It’s hardly suffice, but just initially I want to say a massive thank you to my incredible support guys, James and Mark. They have given up nine weeks of their life to support me with this expedition and words can’t express how grateful I am to them both for what they have done. It is with great sadness that this team will split up from tomorrow – it really has been an incredible team effort – I have just been fronting it.

I hope to share some of my reflections about the expedition as a whole over the coming days. I too don’t want it to stop, so I will get a few more posts out.

And finally a big thank you to everyone who has followed my journey and provided so many supportive comments and feedback. I hope you have enjoyed it all as much as I have.

Sunrise on the Beach (credit: Damiano Levati/ The North Face)

The day is alive! On the beach.... (credit: Damiano Levati/ The North Face)

Focused on the final day (credit: Damiano Levati/ The North Face)

Finished! (credit: Damiano Levati/ The North Face)

The team celebrating at the finish (credit: Damiano Levati/ The North Face)

Friday, 1 February 2013

Our Kea Campervan

Where would the Te Araroa expedition be without our Kea camper van? Well, there would be no expedition! The van provides us with the freedom & flexibility that we need to provide Jez with a superbly comfortable haven wherever & whenever he needs it.

He will often arrive at the van after one or two nights away under canvas or in a hut, dreaming of that hot shower & a large plate of freshly cooked food. It revives him & prepares him for the next arduous Te Araroa trail section. What we have really appreciated is the comfort & reliability of the van - in fact, if we could, we would like to take it home with us!

So, thank you Kea Campers, for providing us with the means to carry out this expedition - we couldn't be doing it without you!

Our amazing Kea Camper

Day 52: Merrivale Road (Longwood Forest) to Riverton

Start: Merrivale Road (Longwood Forest) (2,924km)
Finish: Riverton (2,988km)
Distance for the day: 64km
Cumulative distance: 2,988km
Distance to Bluff: 66km

I guess in golfing or football terms, today was the chip on to the green, or the cross into the box. I completed the tough Longwood Forest section, hit the coast, and started the final part of my journey east/ south east towards Bluff. In doing so I have set myself up for a potential finish tomorrow – yippee!

We started the day just inside Longwood Forest, a dense and mature forest of mainly beech, and it wasn’t until 5pm this afternoon that I finally got out. It did make me feel rather trapped, but I coped reasonably well.

The forest runs north to south in a long thin strip, covering a rolling set of hills and (of course) the Te Araroa route follows the ridge and the high ground. The tops of the hills are mostly exposed which is great for the views, but not so great for moving at any kind of decent pace because they’re covered in tussocks and spiky cactus type plants. My ankles were sore all day, and the unevenness of the ground was one of the greatest challenges.

Rough terrain on the exposed tops

I guess I set about the forest task in a rather business-like fashion, focusing on getting the job done, or perhaps I’m just turning into a running robot – that was another thought I had out on the trail! But I was pretty chilled out and moved at a brisk, but not ground braking, pace to make the crossing.

The guys had very helpfully recced accessed points yesterday, so we had a couple of meeting points for food and drink re-supply planned, to help break up the 50km section. However the sections were still long, and it was another warm one, so I probably wasn’t eating and drinking as much as I should have been. The first in the series of peaks on the route was Bald Hill, and I was up there for about 8am, rewarded with some wonderful views of the South Island’s south coast and my first glimpse of the end point, Bluff. When I caught that view I paused and the emotions started coming, so I quickly started running again!

View from Bald Hill towards Bluff.
The last section of Longwood was both bizarre and amazing. Constructed by the Chinese gold miners in the late 19th Century, the perfectly benched track follows a precise contour, and in doing so snakes in and out of all spurs, river cut outs and re-entrants in a quite incredible fashion. Talk about a convoluted way to get from A to B, however I’m sure they had their reasons for constructing it in that manner. Now somewhat dilapidated and overgrown, it offers a great walking route and is a fascinating part of Te Araroa.

I eventually popped out at the Round Hill car park around 5pm, with the crossing having taken 11 hours – a long day already. But to set up a potential finish tomorrow I really wanted to get close to 65km as a total, so I quickly decided to run the 18km leg around Colac Bay and over the headland to Riverton, to achieve that total. After a few glitches navigating the final section I arrived at the overnight stop about 9.30pm, some 15.5 hours after I set off this morning. Another big day with some seriously tough terrain – that’s the ‘hard tramping for you…..

Arriving at the south coast
I’m not going to lie, I was seriously tempted to run all through the night in an attempt to finish the trail at the earliest opportunity, but I came to the conclusion that my swollen feet and ankles are just not up to that, and they need a proper rest before finishing the job tomorrow. So it will be up at 5am for a 6am start with 66km to go until I reach Bluff.

Tomorrow is going to be one seriously special - and I suspect emotional – day. I can’t wait.