Sunday, 16 July 2017

The Irish Bob Graham Round

Some clips from leg 1 and leg 2 of a successful Bob Graham Round from Newcastle AC members Mark, Stephen and Dominic (and Justin). Awesome night out on the fells. Glad to see I can still navigate too.



Saturday, 17 June 2017

Camelbak Ultra Pro race vest review

For many years, I’ve admired the build of Camelbak’s running packs but have always steered myself away from them as I’m not a bladder man; I like my bottles and/or soft flasks as I like to know how much I’m drinking. The packs have always looked well thought out and have a nice shape to them, looking like they would be really comfortable for trail running. I became very interested earlier this year when I noticed that Camelbak had produced a minimalist race vest designed for use with soft flasks, the Ultra Pro Vest.





I was very kindly sent a pack to try out by Burton McCall Ltd, UK distributor for Camelbak.

The first thing you notice is just how light the pack is, weighing in at a svelte 180g. This is definitely a minimalist pack and gives the impression that it is made for racing, this is not an expedition pack. There are lots of easily accessible pockets of varying sizes to suit every eventuality of kit we are determined (or instructed) to carry.






I particularly liked the large zipped pocket on the upper left chest strap which can take a mobile phone but I tended to use it for trail snacks and energy bars.








On the opposite chest strap is a small two pocket combination, useful for items like salt tabs and also includes a whistle, which is clipped to the strap (no flapping around – nice touch.) 







The under arm pockets are simple stretch mesh affairs, but can take good stash of bits and bobs. Over the late winter/early spring months, I kept hat and gloves in these pockets for easy access. What I really liked about these side pockets was that I could easily reach back to use them, even when running at a good pace. I have struggled to contort my arms to reach these type of pockets on some other race vests but had no problem with the Camelbak.


On your back, you have the main storage compartment for those items for which you don’t need immediate access. For a minimalist pack, you can get a fair amount of gear in there and, I’m sure that if you really thought it through, you could probably squeeze in compulsory kit for events like The Lakeland 100. When I was forced to stuff a number of bigger clothing items in during the recent Hardmoors 110 mile race, I found that the shape of the pack was altered to the point where the set-up I had on the straps was no longer comfortable and I had to readjust on the move. The minimalist nature of the pack will not cope with extra fleece jumpers and jackets, but I don’t think that was really in the design brief. When packed to the correct capacity, this is a very comfortable pack.

One more pocket design I liked was the outer mesh pocket on the back. I could stuff a light jacket, maps, extra gloves, hat and food into this space and still reach back and access anything whilst on the run. When I’m racing, I really don’t want to be taking my pack off to reach essential items, I could even put a small video camera in any one of the pockets; this is a versatile little pack.



The pack comes in three different sizes (S, M and L with an online size guide) with the medium fitting me nicely though I did have to spend a lot of time on my first few training runs with the pack trying different chest strap options until I found the best combination. Initially, the fully loaded bottles were bouncing around a lot, but persistence paid off and I got the perfect fit. Both front chest straps are adjustable in width and height.

Now for the main shift from Camelbak; the Quick Stow 500ml soft flasks. On some other race vests, the flasks are designed to be used whilst staying in the chest pouch, this does involve a degree of neck craning unless you use flasks with straws, as I do. As the name suggests, the Camelbak flasks are more of a half-way house between traditional bottles and “stowed” soft flasks. You take them out of the pouch to drink from and are then able to quickly pop them back in place once finished drinking, as you would with traditional bottles. This system does work but it’s a little bit trickier, making it a trade-off between not quite having the ease and speed of a bottle whilst enjoying the greater comfort of a soft flask. I guess you pays your money and takes your choice.



The flasks themselves are really well made, feeling robust, and are a nice shape to hold and stow away on the run. They have a slightly larger opening than some other flasks which makes adding powders to you drinks a bit easier.











In addition to a normal bite valve, there is an extra twist locking mechanism to prevent leaking. This may be a bit of over-kill, but it certainly works well.










On really long runs/races, I still prefer to drink from the flasks without taking them out of the pouch, so I am delighted that pretty much any type of flask will fit and I could substitute my straw flasks when required.







To really set this pack off nicely, I would like to have seen some sort of facility for carrying running poles. I know this will not be an issue for lots of ultra-runners who do not use poles, but I am sitting on a plane as I write this having just had a week training in Chamonix (sorry everyone ;-) ) and I like running poles, particularly in the BIG mountains. There are other packs in the Camelbak range that do provide a harness for running poles, such as the Ultra 10 vest.

Those of you that know me personally or who read this blog regularly will know that I am a self-confessed kit nerd and I will only use equipment that I think will aid my performance, to this end, after a month or so of training with this pack I decided to use it as my pack for the recent Hardmoors 110 mile race. 


This was a supported race meaning I could go for minimalist kit, seeing my crew every 60 – 90 minutes. However, during the hours of darkness we were required to carry more mandatory kit which the pack swallowed with ease. The Camelbak Ultra Pro Vest performed flawlessly, to the point that I didn’t really know I was wearing it for long periods of time and I guess that is just about the nicest comment you can make about any race vest.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Hardmoors 110 race report

I came into the Hardmoors 110 feeling really confident and excited to be back on the race route, previously done in 2014. The H55 in mid March had gone exactly to plan, with the idea that I would run steady and simply ease off every time I felt a tough patch was imminent. The aim wasn't to run a super fast time but to consolidate my position in the Hardmoors Grand Slam. I was delighted with 6th place and even happier with the way I recovered and got back into full training so quickly.

Having done relatively little distance work so far this year, it was nice to finally build up some weekly mileage, putting together a block of four weeks, including some recces of the route out along the coast. I was definitely ready.

On Friday, Tracey and I met up with my dad in Helmsley, parking up the campervan (with the bed already laid out ready to take some tired bodies at the finish) and transferred all our kit over into dad's nice new car. Sorry about the mess, dad! We made our way over to Filey, had a look at the start/registration area and, finally, checked in to our caravan for the night, about 3 miles from the start.



Up at about 6am, shovel in a bowl of Morning Fuel and we were good to go. As ever, it was great to catch up with friends at registration and to feel the subtle blend of excitement, trepidation and outright "what the hell am I doing?" in the air. Tracey and I had a wander over to the cafe to have a cappuccino - all was good with the world.





The general plan was to get to Saltburn (about 53 miles) for as little effort as possible and see what happens after that. With that in mind, I was quite happy to settle into an easy pace just a little way back from the leaders and potter along. As always, you make friends quickly with those around you and I was soon chatting away with Tony and Nick. We scooted through Scarborough where I had a quick chat with Andy who was taking on the H200, I'll say it again 200 miles! (You can see a great video from my friend John Kynaston on Andy and Sarah's attempt at the 200 here.) I met the crew just after Scarborough to make sure I had enough drink to get through to Ravenscar, the 22 mile point.



Everything felt really easy at this point; running was comfortable and I was eating and drinking exactly as planned. At Ravenscar, the race takes an out and back route so we were able to get an idea of the state of play at the front; Jason (quick high five) and Chris looked comfortable, along with another couple of runners and our group was now joined by Peter. A nice psychological boost to be so close to the leaders without really pushing things. I had a nice chat with Tracey, my dad and John Kynaston in the checkpoint, loaded up and set off towards Robin Hood's Bay.

We had nice running conditions for most of the daylight hours; a little overcast but perhaps a bit windy - certainly not as hot as the previous day. It was somewhere along here that Nick pushed on and was not seen by us again. He went on the hunt down the leaders and finally finished in second place; a really well executed race plan.

Things were progressing nicely as we ticked off the miles along the coast, the usual battle through the crowds in Whitby and the long tarmac section to Sandsend. It was lovely to get a boost from the one-person-cheerleading-crew that is Emma Hardwick at Sandsend. I had a few minutes with my support crew here, getting some Morning Fuel and chocolate soya milk shake in and climbed the steps from the checkpoint in really good spirits.

The next big question was would I be able to take the beach route at Runswick Bay or would the high tide force me round the longer/higher route. As I approached along the cliffs, I tried to make out whether people were walking along the beach or not; it was difficult to tell, but with no marshal to direct me onto the upper route, I made my way down. I just about made it through the rocks and onto the road at the village itself, literally just. I have no idea whether those ahead of me made it through, but it must have been touch and go for them. I met Shirley (race director) in the village and she kindly pointed out the route up to the checkpoint. I think this was the only part of the race route that I've never done before, always using the road on previous occasions. I'd had a look at the Cleveland Way Google Maps street view the day before so was ready for the detour.



I really enjoyed my few minutes at this checkpoint, catching up with my crew, but also seeing Shelli (on her way to finishing first lady in the 200 mile race) and Heather (part of her support crew). For the first time, I didn't have as much desire to eat at this point, perhaps just a few mouthfuls, but I got my bottles filled and took some jelly with me, still feeling like I was running well. During the early part of the year, I have been trialling a new product from Mountain Fuel with great success. Unfortunately, the batch of samples has run low so I tried to buy an alternative to get me through this race, however, I was aware that this alternative contained quite a lot of processed sugars which I generally try to avoid in races. I had been using them in training and all seemed good, but I wonder if this played a part in my race outcome.

I was running on my own now, probably in 4th place, occasionally passing a 200 mile runner and somehow trying to put into words have bloody amazing they were. Words like legend, machine and phenomenal just don't seem to be enough.

Photo - Melanie Pallister

I was really looking forward to Saltburn. For me, a significant point in the race: finishing with the coastline, turning back towards the finish, the race really starts here, a change of socks and shoes and a chance to meet "The Happy Crew". It was so uplifting to meet a group of our close friends, who have nothing to do with ultra-running, who decided to spend their Saturday afternoon/evening driving over to Saltburn to cheer me on. (OK, the traditional fish and chips might have had a small part to play.)

Photo - Melanie Pallister

Despite all this positivity, I really struggled to eat or drink anything, I just couldn't take anything with flavour at all. After a few minutes, I needed to get moving again, so grabbed a jelly and took water with me, hugs all round and set off towards Slapewath. Looking at the race splits, I ran quite a swift leg from Runswick Bay to Saltburn. At the time it didn't feel fast, but I think that might have played a role in how things unfolded over the second half of the race. Oops!

Things were feeling a little different now.... and not in a good way. I was conscious that I wasn't eating particularly well and was only really managing to get water in. I was still moving OK, but suddenly felt that I needed to force some calories in. I got a jelly pouch in, along with some water and instantly felt better (psychologically?)

Through Guisborough Woods, out to Roseberry Topping and down to Cockshaw Woods, I was moving but leaking time with every mile. There was no major catastrophe, just a gradual slide which I felt was getting out of hand. By now it was water only. I think what I needed to do was take a bit of a regroup with my crew, but in the heat of battle I felt I needed to keep moving to make up for the time I was losing. What a plonker!

At Cockshaw Woods, I needed to collect all my mandatory kit for the night ahead. We ticked off all the items, I grabbed some food in the hope that I might be able to get some in and set off. It was starting to get really cold by this point so I donned extra layers.

The original plan was that I wouldn't see my crew again until Clay Bank, some 14 miles ahead. I knew I was sliding towards a dark place and my crew could see this happening. They suggested that they could meet me again on the long road up onto the moors just after Kildale. What a great idea! I still took all my night gear just in case there was a problem but it was a nice lift to know I could break down this next long leg a little.

I actually felt OK on the climb to Captain Cook's Monument, but struggled on the flat and descent down to Kildale village; this was getting ugly. I knew that a runner was slowly catching me and my competitive urges kept driving me on, but I really should have regrouped when I was with my crew after Kildale; get myself sorted for the long night ahead. Instead, I grabbed some food that I knew I couldn't eat and pushed on.

It was getting seriously cold by now and very windy. I had a thick jacket on with gloves and a buff, I was warm but had to keep moving to remain so. To add to the adventure, a hill mist had developed which made the light from my head torch reflect back, so I had to carry the head torch in my hand in order to see properly.

As I made my way to Bloworth Crossing, steadily uphill with too many walking breaks, I could see a head torch behind, slowly gaining on me. Stupidly, I thought I might be able to tag onto this runner and get dragged along to Clay Bank. It turned out to be Pete, who I was running with along the coast earlier. He was grinding out a really good steady pace and caught me just as we reached Bloworth Crossing. I really tried, with his encouragement, to stay with him but it just wasn't happening and in no time his light was gone.

All I could think about was meeting Tracey and my dad at Clay Bank. I felt as if I was in some kind of a tunnel, limited by the extent of my torch light and all I could do was try to get out of the other end of the tunnel as best I could. After what seemed like an eternity, I finally dropped down to the road at Clay Bank. I needed to sit down. I was so desperate to eat something but as Tracey and my dad placed various foods in my hands, my stomach turned. Eventually, it got to the point where I started retching and brought up some liquid. Oh, great - the only thing I've managed to get in me for the last few hours is now on the roadside. Still, I did feel a bit better. Tracey suggested some Tictacs to clear my palate, which seemed to work and I felt a bit better.

The plan at Clay Bank was for me to grab my running poles to help my power hiking over the Three Sisters and on towards Osmotherley. Since starting to use poles when training for UTMB in 2014, I've become really confident with them and can power hike to great effect. In the end, I kept using the poles in this race right to the finish and am so glad I put them in the car, just in case. As well as the poles, I also put on another layer which at least showed I still had some lucidity at this point. It was bitterly cold and I wasn't moving fast so I had to layer up. I finally set off up the hill with Tictacs in my mouth, poles in my hand and four layers of clothing on my back.

I did feel a little better and was pleased with the way I attacked the three climbs towards Lordstones, even managing to get a jelly in as I topped out on the first climb; the first calories I'd put in for hours. I made sure I had a look for "Tony Robinson's gate" from the Coast to Coast series (if you watched it, you'll know what I mean), so I must have had some whits about me. The climb up Carlton Bank was tough and hit me with force. The next 4 miles to Scarth Nick were a nightmare. The lack of calories really showed; I was tired beyond belief and actually started to run with my eyes closed for a few seconds at a time, weaving across the track, all I wanted to do was sleep. I've never slept in a race before but this sudden feeling took root and I got the plan in my head that I would have a short nap at the next checkpoint which might reboot the system.

Eventually, I arrived at the checkpoint, climbed in the car, explained the plan and asked my dad to wake me in 10 minutes. Tracey said I was asleep in less than 10 seconds. After what felt like a minute, my dad woke me and said that 10 minutes was up - give me another 10 was my immediate reply. Finally, after 25 minutes asleep, they woke me and I felt slightly recovered. I immediately got some sugary drink in me and some food - this was the turning point. It was still bitterly cold, dark and windy but I distinctly remember Tracey saying if I don't get going soon I might never get going. That was a little kick up the bum and I thought about the Grand Slam; the main goal for this season was on the line here - did I really want it or was I happy to take the easy option and stay in the car? After a stop of 45 minutes in total, it was Game On!

In that instant, everything changed for the better. My mind and body were now in a good place and I set off towards Osmotherley with renewed purpose. I'm not saying I was bouncing along but at least I was moving better and was in a more solid psychological state. In no time I was up in the woods, going past the mast and looking for the right turn to drop down the diagonal path. Where the bloomin' 'ek is the path? Suddenly, I was out in the open field at the top of the hill instead of the bottom; I'd missed the path - I don't make navigation errors in these races, this is bonkers. I got my map out, worked out what I'd done and could see where I needed to go. I didn't want to take any short cuts so, instead of continuing to run along the top edge of the field which would have brought me down to the Cleveland Way further along, turned right and fought my way down through the forest to pick up the diagonal path as best I could. Two sides of a triangle done instead of one! Oh well, one small error I could live with, nothing major in the wider scheme of this race.

The navigating fun and games were not over. I was happily running down the road into the dark and quite streets of Osmotherley and before I knew it I had run right through the village, past the centre, past the pub, past the hall and out the other side, missing the small turning for the race route. Bloomin' 'ek again! Again, I had to double back to get back on route. Despite the two errors, my mind was in a good place because I was now running OK. I power hiked the long climb up to Square Corner and arrived feeling much better than the last time I saw my crew. To be safe, I decided to have another sit in the car before the longer stretch to Sutton Bank. Another 10 minutes would probably pay dividends later. I changed my bigger head torch for a smaller one with just an hour of darkness left and set off.

I took walking breaks on any inclines, but was happy to do so as I was power hiking really strongly by now and I was getting Mountain Fuel Xtreme Energy drinks back in. I'm not saying it was fast, but it was forward progress. Finally, the headtorch could go into my pack. To illustrate how my mindset had changed, I was now looking ahead to see if I could see any runners to chase; I was now back in a race.

Sutton Bank is a great spot for support as you can see your crew twice in a short space of time. Again, I had a quick 5 minutes sit in the car, some soya chocolate dessert and I was off round the White Horse loop, again hoping I might see another runner to chase and wanting to avoid anyone chasing me - I saw no one. At Hambledon, I had one final sit down before the last push to Helmsley; two more desserts, see you guys at the finish.

I was starting to warm up over this final section as the wind dropped and the sun came out. I had to stop and take some layers off and try to stuff them into my rather minimalist pack, but just about managed. I admit I had a few walking breaks along the flat road but I was on my way home now and I didn't care. My dad ran out to meet me in the fields above Helmsley and Tracey joined us for the final stretch through the town and up to the finish at the sports club. We finally came into the finish in 6th place in round about 24:20 hours. Blimey that was an adventure!



This race needs a proper blog post with some reflection on what happened, but I am immensely proud of the way the three of us managed to turn round a desperate situation and salvage a good result. The role of a good support crew cannot be overestimated. I am pleased with the final placing, especially with the speed of the front three runners who posted some amazing times; Jason Millward having the mental and physical strength to set a target of breaking the course record and running sub 20 hours is phenomenal (read how a race should be run here, Jason's blog). Obviously, I am disappointed with the time having spent over 1:30 hours sitting in the car at various times, but that has been overshadowed by the satisfaction of digging myself out of a very dark place that could have easily resulted in a DNF. More reflection to come I think.



I cannot thank Tracey and my dad enough for the role they played in this adventure. Crewing is a tough job when things are going well, but to cope with a deteriorating situation and manage to turn it round shows their worth; They really earned their bacon sandwiched after this one. As ever, Jon and Shirley put on a fantastic event, assisted by all their helpers and marshals; I cannot recommend the Hardmoors races enough. Thank you for the company to all those runners that I shared some of the trail with. Finally, a special thank you to the Happy Crew at Saltburn and Emma at Sandsend; those little moments are very important.

You win or you learn!



Saturday, 25 February 2017

Hardmoors 30 report

Well, it's a good job I run faster than I blog!

As reported previously, my focus for this year is the Hardmoors Grand Slam series. This should give me a season long focus with the H30 on New Years Day, the H55 in mid March, the H110 in early May and the H60 in September. I'm also trying out a radically different training programme this year which I've managed to periodise around the Hardmoors series and the TDS revenge mission in August. I'll put together a review of the training later in the year when I've had the chance to see if it works - watch this space.

What I can report is that the initial period of training, which involved lots of short interval training sessions (3 minute reps) worked a treat for the Hardmoors 30 on New Years Day.

Now, this was the first time I have raced on NYD since I used to go to the Lyme Park orienteering score event near Manchester 35 years ago.... blimey, that sentence alone makes me feel old! This time, we were staying with friends near Yarm and enjoyed a lovely meal and get together with family and friends, including some seriously competitive Scalextric racing. After seeing in the new year, I bailed on the party and tried to get as much sleep as possible before an early start to cover the hour drive to Robin Hood's Bay.



Once registered, I went for a proper warm up as I knew it was a fast start along the old railway to Whitby. After my recces of the course in October, I felt I needed to be careful on this initial section as it would be easy to hammer along on the flat and then struggle on the coastal path. I know I'm better on the rougher/muddier trails and wanted to make the most of this, so I set myself a pace limit on the railway of 7:30 minute miles. I did find my self bettering this at times and just took the foot off the gas, letting those around me push on, trusting that I would make time after the first checkpoint. After my initial block of speed work training, I felt pretty comfortable on this first 6 miles but was pleased that I kept my discipline and stuck to the race plan, arriving at the Whitby checkpoint in about 6th or 7th place, about 3 minutes down on the leaders. A quick refill of the drinks bottle to top up with Mountain Fuel and I was away.



As soon as I left the checkpoint and ran down into Whitby, my race focus changed. This next section, back towards Robin Hood's Bay along the coastal path was where I wanted to push the pace. I had made a late decision to race in shoes with a more aggressive tread pattern (Merrell All Out Crush) which would be less comfortable on the stoney railway path but much more stable on the mud. My racing mind-set, grippy shoes and strong tail wind combined and I flew along, constantly making progress on the leaders, eventually catching David Smithers, Ross Bibby and Jerome McCulla about two thirds of the way back.

It was now decision time. At that moment of the race, I was running quicker than the others, due mainly to the extra grip I had in the mud and, as I saw it, I had two choices; I could push on and try to build a couple of minutes lead before we headed back onto the railway path again or I could sit in and take a mile or two to regroup after a fast section. I knew that the others, particularly David, would be faster along the railway and I just didn't fancy being the hare, putting that extra pressure on myself. Instead I felt I should wait, see how well I could hold on along the next long flat section before the turn at the south end of the course when we would once again be back on the muddy terrain. If I could stay in touch, I felt I had a chance.

In the last mile before the checkpoint, back at the start again, David used his considerable flat speed to open up a gap, but I was happy to take it steady into the checkpoint where I took Tracey by surprise, being at least 10 minutes quicker than I thought I'd be. A quick bottle swap and resupply of nutrition and I was away in no time. During the race I was trying out a new product from Mountain Fuel, the first time it has been used in anger and, while it is still in development, I can report that it was so easy to use and kept me topped up, even at the relatively high intensity of this 30 miler.

After the checkpoint, the dynamics had changed slightly with David bombing off into the distance and Ross and myself setting off in pursuit. It's a long, fast drag all the way down the railway, past Ravenscar and on to the turn at Hayburn Wyke and I slowly started to pull away from Ross a little but to give some idea as to how fast and strong David was, three hours into the race I was running at 6:45 minutes/mile and David was running out of sight, building up a lead of 4 or 5 minutes - seriously impressive.

At the turn, I still hoped to mount a challenge and drew on the memory of how I managed to catch up on the section from Whitby, setting off with purpose. I kept looking ahead to try and catch sight of David but his speed and the nature of the course meant that I never saw him. Looking back, one thing I am really pleased about is that my mind stayed set on trying to catch first place and never settled on trying to stay ahead of third; I like that positive attitude.

It was lovely to run back through the checkpoint at Ravenscar, to be able to shout encouragement to those who were setting off on the loop I had finished and to get that same buzz back from them. One last push over the last 4 or 5 miles to the finish, still with the thought that I might be able to catch David. I knew we had just two more of those leg sapping steep drops and climbs along this section and I tried to run as much of the climbs as I could but I finally felt I was slowing down a little.

When I dropped down into Robin Hood's Bay, I was surprised at the number of people milling around which had it's positives and negatives. It meant that the runners had to weave around quite a lot avoiding children and dogs, but on the plus side I felt that I had to save face and run all the way up the hill to the finish. Job done.

In the end, David had a comfortable win, 4 minutes ahead, an superbly strong runner and an amazing turn of pace along the second section on railway path; chapeau! I finished a couple of minutes ahead of Ross.

Prize giving, with race director Jon Steele

I have taken so many positives from this race. Racing at that kind of pace at the head of a race suggests that the first block of training has served it's purpose, more of which at a later date. My hydration and nutrition were spot on, even at that relatively high intensity where more and more blood is diverted away from the digestive system to supply the demand from the muscles. I managed to be the first finisher in the Grand Slam, so I have a narrow lead in that competition after the race that, I feel, suits me least.

There is that small niggling doubt that I may have taken the easy option mid race when I could have pushed on and taken the race by the scruff of the neck as David did; he got the rewards and I got second. Seeing how the race panned out, I don't think it would have made any difference, David was the fastest runner in the race, but you never know.

As ever, the organisers and marshals were amazing all day long, everyone was feeling the Hardmoors love :-)


Monday, 19 December 2016

TDS therapy

Sooooo, the time has come to get a few thoughts down on what went right and what went wrong in the TDS during the summer.

Feels a bit like this.....


I felt really confident on the build-up to the race and was definitely looking for a "racing" performance, not a "just enjoy the day out" event. However, right from the start I just felt that I had nothing in my legs, within 3 hours I was pretty wrecked, by 4 hours I was sitting down in an aid station contemplating a withdrawal.

Registration

I stayed at the Col du Petit St Bernard for about 25 minutes, feeling very sorry for myself but managed to get some liquid in me. Looking at the next leg to Bourg St Maurice, it was downhill all the way for about 15km, so I thought I'd give it a go. After half an hour I thought I was starting to turn things around, but as I dropped further down into the valley, the temperature went higher and higher, reaching somewhere around 38 degrees in the town centre. By the time I reached the checkpoint, I could hardly walk in a straight line, felt dizzy and was vomiting. I lay down for half an hour but just couldn't cool down and began to realise that going on to the next climb had "helicopter evacuation" written all over it. I met up with a couple of other runners, Noel and Sandy along with their support crew, and these folk really looked after me, but I was a lost cause. I rang Tracey (first time ever in a race) and had a good chat with her, but I was in a real mess and knew that there was only one option. After something like 90 minutes in the checkpoint, I finally withdrew from the race. It actually felt like a relief at the time and even now, after all this time, I do not regret the decision. A couple of days later, Tracey and I met one of the ladies that helped me get back to Chamonix. She commented that she works in a hospital and has seem quite a few dead bodies, most of which looked much better than I did during that time in Bourg St Maurice. I wish I had some video footage from that time to see just what a state I was in.

On the Bus of Shame - a broken man

I feel that I got lots of things spot on in my preparation, but after some deliberation, I know there are certain points I have to address if I'm going to go back and get revenge on the course.

My general periodisation for the year worked really well. In 2015, I felt that I was a little jaded by the time I got to the Lakeland 100 in July and the TDS was a full month later. With this in mind, I held myself back in training over the winter, not really pushing training until I was nearly into March. This paid dividends as I felt like I was kicking on with my training as summer approached.

I got in lots of big climbs, mainly using Skiddaw and Blencathra, regularly doing double and triple summit visits in one session, always using poles, getting to the point where I was really comfortable with them.

I had my kit totally dialled in Click here.

Kit check

When we arrived in Chamonix, two and a half weeks before the race, I felt really fit and raring to go. I had planned three specific training runs to do in those first few days. Two power hikes up to around 2500m with an easy run down, just to get used to some altitude, plus a recce of the route from Les Contamines to the start of the last climb. Again, I felt great on these sessions Click here.

The final climb - Col du Tricot

Even standing on the start line in Italy at 6:00am, I still felt supremely confident - so what went wrong?

Start in Courmayeur, Italy
The majority of the answers keep coming back to the heat!

When we first arrived in Chamonix, it was hot but not ridiculous. I was powering up the mountains and feeling good. For the next three weeks it just got hotter and hotter and, thinking back, I was always struggling to get on top of my daily hydration, probably putting myself further and further in debt. As I was tapering after those initial training runs, dehydration was never really a problem, but I was obviously getting into a state of general dehydration.

To compound this, we spent way too long out in the heat of the day going for long walks, exploring the valley. I'm not a professional athlete, this is our main holiday of the year and we love exploring. But again, 3 to 4 hours every day in the heat must have had a cumulative effect, slowly sapping my power for the race.

I think I left a bit too much of my preparation to the day before the race, spending a lot of the day faffing around, getting everything ready when I should have been sitting with my feet up, relaxing. Looking back, I was definitely using up nervous energy. This is purely a logistics error and it's bloody annoying to make it!

All of this could have been irrelevant with regards to getting round the course if I hadn't been so bloody minded at the start. What I should have realised, very early on, was that it was not going to be a day that I could race round one of the toughest ultra courses out there. I live and train in the wettest place in England and to try and race in that oppressive heat for the best part of 24 hours was suicidal - and so it proved. What I should have done was re-evaluate my goals for the event and gone for the "enjoy the day out" approach instead of racing. However, I had spent six months training to race this time and my brain was too stubborn to let go of that. I told myself, early on, that I was feeling like crap because it was so early in the morning and I'd only had a couple of hours sleep - keep pushing through it and you'll be fine #fail.

 I feel that I have taken a lot on board from this experience and am determined to go back and get a TDS finish to my name. I have no problem with any person beating me but I hate being beaten by a course. So, I have just entered the TDS for 2017 and will be keeping my fingers crossed for the ballot in January. Significantly, I have decided to do my racing in the UK next year, having a crack at the Hardmoors Grand Slam, leaving a TDS finishers gillet as a target for Chamonix. Sounds like a plan.

Monday, 15 August 2016

Training in Chamonix

With a week and a half to go, I have now finished my training for the TDS race and am switching to taper mode. For once, I feel ready to taper and am looking forward to easing back.

I planned three main sessions for Chamonix. I wanted to get up to 2500m altitude a couple of times after suffering a bit at those heights in the UTMB race two years ago and I wanted to have a look at the course over in Les Contamines which is, hopefully, the area where I will be going into the dark. That means I will have recced the final 4 hours of the route.

If you are sitting in the UK watching this video, probably in the chucking rain..... sorry ;-)


Wednesday, 3 August 2016

TDS kit vlog post

I thought I'd try a different way of presenting things today.

As I'm about to head out to Chamonix, I've started to put together my kit for the TDS race and had the idea of doing a vlog (video blog) to explain what I'm taking with me during the race.

If I'm happy with the results, I may do something similar with regard to nutrition, drop bag kit and whatever else takes my fancy.... watch this space.


Saturday, 2 July 2016

Every day is a school day

So, I've been umming and ahhing for a few weeks as to how to go about writing a report on the Keswick Mountain Festival and the 50k trail race.

I was really keen to have another bash at this race having enjoyed the event so much last year. Being able to run in a big event in my own town is just too good an opportunity to pass. The whole weekend took on a special importance a couple of months before, when I was asked by Berghaus, in conjunction with Mountain Fuel, to do a talk during the Mountain Festival; something along the lines of an introduction to ultra running, or as I see it "what I wish I'd known five years ago".

In preparation for the presentation, I spent a good few hours at various times being filmed on the trails and fells around Keswick, with a film put together featuring a few local athletes and our playground. This was played just before the talk and seemed to go down well and acted as a nice introduction.

Berghaus shoot (James Appleton)


I was a little worried that, with a time slot of 3:45pm on the Friday afternoon, there might not be many folk there for the talk (Tracey agreed to come so there would, at least, be someone there). I needn't have worried; it was a full house, with some even sitting on the floor.

Talk in progress (James Appleton)


It was tricky to know how to pitch the talk. sitting in front of me were some runners making their first attempt at an ultra in the 50k race that weekend and others who have won 100 mile races; a potentially tough gig.

Anyhoo, it seemed to go down really well, lots of questions and, in fact, I stayed around outside the tent for another 45 minutes chatting. The area of most interest was the core conditioning that I've been doing all winter. We even did some demonstrations on request.

I must admit, despite standing up in front of people every day for my job, I got a real buzz from the whole event and would definitely jump at the chance to do something like this again.

Tracey and I spent most of the weekend at the Mountain Festival, which has grown into a spectacular celebration of all things mountain. As well as Friday evening for the talk, we spent most of Saturday afternoon on site after I went down to register for the race and, finally, I arrived at 5:30am on Sunday for the 6:00am start and left the event at about 7:00pm on the Sunday evening. The weather helped; the views from the event site down Derwentwater were just stunning.

Derwentwater


In last year's race, I ran a very conservative first half and smashed the second half, but gave myself just a little bit too much to do and finished second, just over 2 minutes down in 5:08 hours. As I have documented previously, I have held back the training so far this year with more than one eye on the TDS race in Chamonix at the end of August. it would be interesting to see what shape I would was in after running just four days per week in training. I hoped to be able to run a smidge quicker than last year but wasn't sure if that was realistic or not.

The field was stacked, including UK champions Donnie Campbell and Beth Pascall. I generally know my place in the pecking order, but I still hoped to go out a bit faster than last year and see what happened. From the start, the pace was frantic to say the least. I was 7 minute miling and the leaders were waltzing off into the distance - this could have disaster written all over it for me. I thought I was easing back, but the GPS data says otherwise.

My nutrition plan was to use Mountain Fuel Xtreme energy drinks throughout, supplemented with some fruit bars and pancakes during the first half, with a homemade gel in a soft flaks for the second half. I've had some good training runs with my homemade gels (based on some pureed fruit, Mountain Fuel Xtreme Energy and Morning Fuel), also using one during my win at the Kielder 80k, so I was confident with this for the final few hours of the race. However, after about an hour, I felt in the pocket of my race vest to find .... nothing! Disaster - the soft flask had bounced out somewhere on the trail and my nutrition plan had fallen out with it.

I've been running/racing/training since I was 14 years old, I teach A-level psychology, I teach A-level sports psychology, so how come I dealt with this incident so badly? As I think back, I seemed to panic and, for some reason,  put the hammer down for the next hour or so. The only thing I can liken it to is when you fall in a shorter, faster race and, with the rush of adrenaline, go full gas to catch up again.

Going full gas! (Rupert Bonnington)


What all meant was that I was constantly gaining time on last year, but wasn't thinking about how this might impact later in the race. To put it simply, I didn't deal well with the incident from a psychological point of view, which, to be honest, really rattled me for a week or so. During the race, I just tried to fuel myself from the drinks I had with me, making no effort to try the food at the checkpoints. So, as I look back in the cold light of day, the inevitable drop-off in performance that came over the final hour and a half, was catalysed by the speeding up after dropping the bottle and the refusal to adapt my fuelling strategy - both should have been dealt with much more efficiently.

The upshot was that after being around 6 minutes up on last year's time, I ended up finishing in 5:21 hours, some 13 minutes slower (losing 19 minutes on last year's pace over those final stages). I still managed to dig deep and finish in 8th place, so not disastrous, but not quite what I wanted.

As you can tell, I'm disappointed with the outcome and the way I dealt with the whole situation, but I feel I have learnt from this and will be better prepared to cope in the future. I'm certainly going to run through more scenarios of what might happen and how I might deal with them - good psychological preparation.

Interestingly, I have been absolutely loving my training since the race. I always intended to ramp things up after this race and have my mind firmly fixed on Chamonix. Perhaps this was just the kick up the back-side that I needed at the perfect time. I'm now clocking up 10 to 12 hours of training per week (which is a lot for me) and am coping well. Bring it on ;-)

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Kielder 80k race report

After six years of rocking up at ultra races, I can finally pen some thoughts on a WIN :-)

It's been an interesting winter with regards to preparation for the season, with experimentation on a number of factors. I've had a long delay in the start of my running training with the hope of peaking at the end of August, there has been the new focus on core and strength exercises, I've been playing around with the concentrations of the Mountain Fuel Xtreme Energy drinks, introduced sweet potatoes to my race food and started mixing my own gels.

At this point in time, I've no idea whether any of these factors has contributed through some marginal gains, but who cares, I've got a win.

What I do know is that I have enjoyed checking out the trails round Kielder. This is a new race to me and, with any new race, I try to take the opportunity to recce the course. Four trips up to Kielder gave me enough knowledge to know how to pay out my energy on race day with the most important point to note that the tougher running came in the first half of the race, with some seriously fast tracks in the final few hours. This blog is not the place to dwell on the various navigation mistakes I made on these recces - what happens in Kielder, stays in Kielder!

4am in the campervan, the alarm goes off, I pull back the curtains and can't see out. Two inches of snow at low levels, six inches on the fells. This could make things interesting.

For the first hour and a half loop to the Kielder Castle checkpoint, I settled in with three others, forming the lead group. It felt like a good but comfortable pace. After a bit of chatting, we sussed out that Jacob and Hugh were on the 100k event while Jon and myself were in the 80k. So at this point, at least, I had an idea of who I was up against.

We all arrived together at Kielder Castle, just a quick refill of a bottle and we were all away, ready for the next three and a half hour loop over the higher and rougher terrain. The snow had not been an issue for the first section from the start, but now it became a significant variable. As we climbed, the snow became thicker and the visibility became less. I was starting to think that safety in numbers might be the order of the day over the fell section so I tucked in with Jacob, Hugh was a few paces behind and Jon was just drifting out of sight, depending on the visibility. I had already got my compass and map out, but the course markings were just about close enough together to see us through the open fell section.

As we came back into the forest, a slight rise saw me open a small gap on the others and I thought I'd push on a bit here. I wouldn't normally open the gas this early in a race but I was concious of the fact that my strength is on the rougher ground and I felt I should try to take advantage of this. I had no idea how far back Jon was; the trees prevented any long views back, so I had to presume he was just out of sight. I made good use of the steep climb to Three Pikes and the (very snowy) single track to Grey's Pike and opened up a lead. In for a penny, in for a pound.


Photo - Ian Mulvey


Coming back to Kielder Castle, I thought that if I could get in and out before the next runners arrived, it would give me a psychological lift. The marshals were great and you know you are getting the star treatment when the race directors (Ian and Paul) offer to sort out your drinks bottles. Within two or three minutes I was on my way with no sign of any other runners.

I had taken my jacket off on the way into the checkpoint and spent the next 30 minutes regretting that. My fingers, in particular, went really cold and I struggled to sort out food so just relied on some drink for a while. I went through a bit of a low for this period but, as the sun started to warm me, I perked up. This section takes about two hours and brings you out at the dam, at the other end of the lake. I must admit I spent a lot of time looking back over my shoulder, trying to get a gauge on how much of a lead I might have but the terrain never really allowed a good view.

Photo - Ian Mulvey


Finaly, just as I was entering the checkpoint at the dam, I was joined by three other runners; Simon, Mark and Ryan, who were the three leaders of the 50k race which started some hours after us. This was going to make the final couple of hours interesting, as the one part of the course where I could get a good look back was round the cycle path round the lake all the way back to the finish, but I would have no idea whether those chasing me were in the 50k or the 80k. I basically told myself that if you wanted to guarantee the win I would have to assume anyone might be chasing me down so I'll just have to try and stay ahead.

I tried desperately to hang onto the three leaders in the 50k but that was never going to happen and they drifted away, chatting and smiling. I then spent the next hour and a half looking back over my shoulder and kicking myself up the backside every time I felt I was easing off - not easy to do after all that running. It was definitely a grind compared to the bounce I had for a lot of the day, but a grind proved to be enough to hold off any others and I crossed the line in first place in about 8:45 hours - happy bunny.



In the end, I had over an hour on Jon in second place, but I wasn't to know that and it was pleasing that when I needed to dig in I was able to push myself over the final 90 minutes or so. So, after coming so close to an ultra win at the 2014 Osmotherley Phoenix, I had finally claimed a top spot. OK, so it wasn't the UK Ultra Championships with a stacked field, but I just wanted to be able to say I had actually won one of these bloomin' events. Job done.



I've done a couple of the High Terrain Events races and have enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere and personal touches from the team in charge. You feel like you are a part of the event and not just a number on the entry sheet and the race directors are all very sociable with the runners, regardless of where you appear in the results. It seems that many first time ultra runners are doing their events and I get the impression these runners are getting a positive experience. Long may that continue.

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Pre Kielder 80k Ultra

So, this weekend is the High Terrain Events Kielder 80k Ultra, which will be my first race of the year. Unusually, I'm not really sure what kind of shape I'm in as I line up on the start line. I took a long break from running training at the start of the winter and only really began this year's build up at the start of February. Normally, at this time of year, I would have had four steady months of training in my legs rather than the eight weeks at present. Those eight weeks have only averaged about 40-50 miles per week over just four runs. However, I have had a longer period of core conditioning, something new to me, and also had a turbo session each week on my bike.

My hope is that, after the Kielder race, I can slightly ramp up the training (hence the easier/later start) towards the Keswick Mountain Festival and then again kick on to the TDS in Chamonix in late August. With this kind of periodisation, I have to accept that I will not be at my best this weekend (there is, hopefully, more to come) but I have to admit that I feel ready to race and I'm looking forward to seeing what difference, if any, the core work has made.

Kielder Water


I've had a few trips up to Kielder to have a look round the course. It's very fast, on really good tracks apart from one loop which has some good off piste fell/marsh/bog sections - something to suit everyone.

So, I suppose I'm looking for a good solid performance, having some strength in my legs over the later stages, I'm trying a couple of nutrition ideas in a race for the first time (thanks to the guys at Mountain Fuel for the advice) and really want to enjoy the experience to further fire up my mojo for the next stage of the year. We shall see.

Whilst training with Rupert from Mountain Fuel earlier in the week, we did a bit of filming and I put together this short clip. It's a shame that my (free) editing software and old computer can't make full use of the mega HD of the camera, but you get the idea of the gorgeous trails on my doorstep.


Sunday, 20 March 2016

Mom bullied me into this one!

You know it's been a long time since you posted when your mother starts to complain about the lack of blogging updates.

Yes, it has been a ridiculous length of time since I posted, but I have got an excuse; I've been lazy. More seriously, I think the immediacy of Facebook and Twitter leaves blogging for a different purpose.

Anyhoo, to bring those three people who are interested back up to speed, I lost a bit of mojo after the Lakeland 100. I promised myself a couple of weeks recovery time but two became three..... well you know how it goes. Fortunately, I had a two week holiday out in Chamonix to re-ignite the fire and enjoy the atmosphere of the UTMB week. What a great time we had! We saw the winners of every race during the week and all this was with the backdrop of a two week heatwave. I didn't even have any pangs of jealousy as I never intended to race but I did make the decision that I want to go back this year and have a blast at the TDS.

Xavier Thevenard winning UTMB


Like a child in a candy shop, I went a bit crazy on the first day. A couple of hours doing some upness followed by a kamikaze drop left my quads trashed for the next few days. Eventually, I got back in the swing of things and even did some recceing of the last few hours of the TDS course.

Chamonix


I came back from Chamonix in pretty good shape and had the Lakes 3x3000 80k in October to look towards, unfortunately, I just seemed to hit a wall once the new term started. I managed to do some training at weekends but nothing really during the week. I just felt jaded during the week but then quite enjoyed my weekend adventures. It got to the point where I wouldn't have been bothered if the event had been cancelled.

In the end, I really enjoyed my day out at the race. It was good the get my competitive juices flowing again. I tried to be sensible and get to the top of Scafell Pike without using up too much energy. Once on the rough ground, I ran with Sarah Morwood who was leaving most of the field behind. I opened up a gap of a few minutes on the long and, at times, technical descent from Scafell Pike and it pretty much stayed at that distance for the remaining six hours of the race. I must admit, I did feel like I was being hunted for all that time but I was pleased that I managed to stay ahead, especially when I later found out just what a fantasic year Sarah had in the build up. I'll just say ..... Great Britain international and leave it at that!

Prize giving for 4th place


During the race, I stubbed a toe three times, continued racing for 60k and discovered, after an X-ray the next day, that I had in fact broken it - go adrenaline!

After the event I just felt that I wanted a really good break with no pressure of training, so for the next three months (yes, THREE months) I just went for a run if I fancied it and the weather was nice, if I couldn't be bothered I didn't bother. I did spend one day out acting as a guide on one of the Lakeland 100 recce events which was fantastic, running from Coniston to Buttermere.

So let's have a word on this new season. I put my name in the hat for the TDS in Chamonix at the end of August. Now, this race has never been over subscribed; you put in an entry and you get a place - simple. So Tracey and I booked our accommodation early, only to find that there would, for the first time ever, be a ballot for places. That meant a few nervous moments waiting for the draw but all came good; I got my place. The season is now built around a peak at the end of August.

There is a mantra that says something about training the same way will get the same results. Although I am getting on a bit, I still feel there is life in the old dog yet, so I'm still looking for ways to progress and, after some conversations with Lakeland 100 winner Paul Tierney, I knew what my focus was going to be - core strength and muscular endurance. What tends to limit my performance in the latter stages of an ultra is rarely cardio-vascular related, yet I spend most of my time training that system. What slows me down is failure or degredation of the muscular system.

To that end, I worked with Paul and his partner Sarah McCormack (check out both of their palmares) to bring their exercise class, Missing Link Fitness, to Keswick. To sum up the approach, I have copied this short paragraph from the website

We believe that the human body is designed for being active within its natural environment for most of its waking life. It expects to be used for a diverse range of movement patterns, such as climbing, balancing, jumping, running, crawling and manipulating objects.  Before the advent of modern civilisation, all humans were professional athletes, relying on their strength, skill, speed and endurance to survive in the wild.

I'll be honest here - I was crap! Over the weeks, I slowly started to improve and could see the benefits. Then, disaster! Storm Desmond not only trashed our beautiful town, but also decided to wash away the main road between Keswick and Ambleside, meaning Paul and Sarah couldn't get here. So, since December, I've been doing my own adapted version, trying to do one longer session of 45  to 60 mins and a shorter session of 15 to 30 mins each week. It is slowly getting easier and I think I can feel the difference already and, quite surprisingly, I'm enjoying it.

The TDS is at the end of August, so I'm trying to plan things carefully and build fitness through the year. To that end, I only started running training about six weeks ago and am limiting myself to four runs per week up to now, supplemented with a turbo bike session and the core strength/movement work. This adds up to a decent week of training but I don't feel like I'm pushing it yet - hopefully lots more to come.

I'm also tinkering around with some more nutrition variations with the help of the lads at Mountain Fuel, already thinking about what I might be able to do in the TDS.

Spring has sprung :-)


So that's kind of where we're at for now. First race of the year will be the Kielder 80k Ultra in three weeks time. I've had a look round most of the course and it looks very fast apart from a four hour loop on the fells, so it will be interesting to see where I'm at come race day, but I'm trying to remind myself of the bigger picture.