The Aftermath

I have been doing a lot of soul searching these last 10 days, since finishing the Thames Path 100. The conclusion I have come to- I simply love running ultras and I need to ensure it stays that way and I am excited, not just doing something for the sake of it.

Everyone who reads this knows that Western States is my dream race, but it is by no means the be all and end all of my running. I think everyone needs a goal if you are to run ultras, be that managing unhealthy lifestyle choices, losing weight, creating friendships or improving ones times. My goal is and always has been to toe the line in Squaw valley, but it is also all of the above.

Quite simply, running a very long way is the healthiest way to fuck myself up that I know. It is my outlet, my way of getting drunk and my way of switching off from real life every now and again. When I look at myself in the mirror now, there is no way I am giving up on something that makes me who I am. Yet, I need to evolve my running.

I have come a long way since I first stumbled over the line at the NDW50 in 2012. I can take that for granted at times. Getting these races done can be something I take for granted, but they really shouldn’t be. Confidence and knowing I am prepared is one thing, taking them for granted is another.

But at the same time, I need to find something now where there is a good chance of failure to make the finish all the more sweet or the come back have a focus if I fail to finish. I believe in fate and it is no coincidence that I feel like this after reading James Adams Running & Stuff where he felt empty after certain finishes and fulfilled after the ones that broke him. My Western States is James’ Spartathlon.

Chatting to Chris Mills yesterday after he sadly dropped at Transvulcania, I honestly said to him that I felt a drop at a race of that level of difficulty was more important than a finish at my Thames Path. I need to find my Transvulcania and put myself out there, stood on a start line, legs shaking with fear.

So with this in mind, I already have my A race lined up for 2016, even before the 2015 season truly gets underway. If I don’t get into Western States in December again, I will be heading to Oregon in September 2016 to run Hal Koerner’s Pine to Palm Race.

In many respects, this is similar to Western States, and possibly more difficult. It is a 100 mile point to point race through the Oregon mountains and forests and looks about as beautiful as trail running gets. Most importantly, a finish is in no way guaranteed, but an epic experience is, in one of the most beautiful parts of the USA.

Already I am excited. I will also do the South Downs Way 100 as my Western States qualifier, as this is the most beautiful of the Centurion 100 milers.

For now, I am dropping the 12 Labours of Hercules in July as I am just not excited about it. Why do a race if you aren’t up for it? Instead, I will run my favourite marathon, the Bath Trail Marathon where I came 20th in 2013 and I will give this my absolute all. I love the course and I love the thought of pushing myself hard for 4 hours on a hilly course, as opposed to 23 hours on a flat course.

Then, in September I can’t wait to return to the 100 mile distance, but at probably the hardest one I have done so far, the Cotswold Way 100 miler.

In-between, I am just excited to run again and run on hills. There has been too much flat recently and as Buff say, Flat is Boring. Bring on the hills. Bring on being free and bring on running for love, not because I must.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Thames Path 100- 2015 Race Report

IMG_2196

I almost titled this one; ‘From Sofa To Ultra To Sofa’, because on Sunday morning I really couldn’t work out why I was doing this anymore.

Last night, I had a good chat on the phone with my Mum and I can tell how much she worries about me doing these types of races, even if on the surface she is supportive. I believe her exact words last night were “fucking ridiculous, Timmy…”. She has a point!

And I have been giving this a lot of thought since we spoke. Ultramarathons are silly. They do push you to your limits and the thing she worries about most are the long term health implications. I will go into detail shortly about what happened during the race, but a few things happened during the race which I know are familiar to a lot of ultrarunners, but were new to me. However, I also have to weigh up the benefits of what ultras have done for me.

I race quite little compared with a lot of people I know and genuinely mainly run for fun- it’s not even training. Yes, the races may hurt but I do not believe I am doing long term damage. What was a lot more damaging for sure, was how I used to live before I found ultras.

That said, I want to find a balance that is right for me. I can pretty categorically say that I will never enter a race longer than 100 miles. The GUCR and Spartathlon have never been high on my list and have just been relegated a long way down! For me, I want to get back to a position of finding a challenge without this being based around distance or speed. The challenge is still Western States and this takes me back to why I was lining up at 10am on Saturday morning in Richmond, on the bank of the River Thames.

For the last two years I have qualified for Western States using the North Downs Way 50 in 2013 (when 50 mile qualifiers were still allowed) and the North Downs Way 100 in 2014, when the qualification criteria was toughened. This year I wanted to do a different qualifier to get my tickets up to 4 in the lottery and I opted for the Thames Path 100.

On paper, this is a fairly flat and fast 100 miler, but in reality the drop out rates for the last few years show how difficult this one is, with a finish average of just over 60% for the last 4 years. This is much lower than most Centurion races in the UK.

I woke up early on Saturday morning and had breakfast at the in-laws in London. Logistically, this was a great race as I could stay in West London with them and get the tube to the start at a decent hour in the morning, as opposed to a hotel like usual. And I was looked after both before and after the race like royalty.

Having a little stretch with the monkeys at the start.

Having a little stretch with the monkeys at the start.

I went alone to register and Solange, Monty and Luena joined me afterwards to see me off at the start. One of Solange’s friends, Flo, also joined us and I knew they would all have a great day heading off for hot chocolate and to see the deer in Richmond Park after I headed off. A quick kiss to the kids, James Elson runs through his final briefing (“…if you’re running through Reading wearing fluorescent clothing after dark, you will get shouted at, just so you know…”) and we were off.

The thing about this race is, much of it looks very similar and many parts of the race have merged in my mind. I have decided not to go into detail about the sections between aid stations as, in all honesty, much of it blended into one and I simply don’t remember many parts of the race.

The first 11 miles went totally to plan and I arrived at the first aid station ten minutes ahead of schedule. However, my feet were hurting more than I expected at this stage and this didn’t bode well. Whilst a different pair, these were the same type of shoes- the Hoka Rapa Nui- that I used for 75 miles of the Brazos Bend 100 back in December and they felt amazing there. Here, even though I had trained for most of my long runs in these shoes, they hurt an extreme amount on the lower outsides of my feet. I have no idea why this was the case, but on the flip side whilst it hurt it also gave me something to focus on to take away the monotony of the similarity of the route. I tried changing my stride and found the more I ran on my toes, the better the pain got which made it a little more sustainable. Before I knew it I was at mile 22 and greeted by a smiling Gary Dalton who remarked that I looked “happy”. Maybe I missed my calling as an actor.

Somewhere near Kingston- early days. Photo: c/o Nigel Rothwell

Somewhere near Kingston- early days. Photo: c/o Nigel Rothwell

From here, the no-mans-land grind began and I just focussed on getting to halfway in as decent shape as possible. Without going into great detail, I always take an Imodium before I start an ultra and this has always worked well for me. However, this race was pretty humid during the day compared with what I had expected so I was drinking a lot, as well as eating well at aid stations, and I quickly felt myself getting bloated. Between miles 40 and 51 I was starting to feel a little nauseous, which is not something I have experienced before. I have only been sick in an ultra once and with hindsight this was more something getting stuck in my throat and regurgitation as much as anything and was in my first ultra. So I was a little concerned that I may be sick here.

Actually, I was petrified. I was in pain from my feet anyway and I was worried that if I was sick once, I would be sick all night and losing the precious calories I had taken on board and with an inability to take on more, I would drop. And dropping meant having to return to the NDW100 in August to get my WS qualifier. That wasn’t going to happen. No way.

At mile 51 I had access to my first drop bag and changed clothes getting ready for dusk. I managed to get some pasta down which was kindly brought to me by Peter Lemon and had a quick chat with him and James Adams. Having read my blog before the race, James asked if I was on A, B or C plan at this stage. I said I didn’t see much chance of a negative split so was on B plan for now- a sub 24 hour finish. I had hit halfway in 10 hours, so had 14 to get the second half done. This was still potentially do-able, if my body would play ball.

A few miles before here I had buddied up with a runner called Paul. I presume from the results he is Paul Gunner, but I didn’t grab his surname on the day. Paul was running his first 100 miler and was keen to buddy up for the night leg. I told him that was cool with me but also warned him I can get pretty grumpy and might not say a lot, but we actually worked really well together overnight. We only had one small navigation error and probably only added an extra mile at worst, but overall just ground it out well. I was due to be kindly paced by Paul Ali from 3am but I told him I was way off my 20 hour goal and it was likely to be a death march so a pacer was unnecessary, although a very kind offer.

The thing about this race was, none of it was unfamiliar. I knew what was coming even though I didn’t know the route. I knew the pain, the sleep demons, the yawning, the desperation for caffeine without tempering the heart rate. It was unemotionally familiar. But then, as I left Reading, having spoken to Paul Ali and been booted out the door by Jacqui Byrne, I downed a gel and it happened.

The saliva built up in my mouth and as I spat, I knew what was coming. Heave. Here we go. I was bent double by the side of the trail and Paul stopped to make sure I was OK. I think Ilsuk Han was also with us. My system emptied, I stood back up straight and felt absolutely awesome. I had heard about this and read about this. A system re-set and you are off again. The next hour was probably my best hour of running during the whole race. I just took on water and settled my stomach and felt like I was floating on air. Yet at the same time, with 40 miles to go, I knew this wasn’t sustainable so had to formulate a plan. My misery seemed to make Bryan Webster happy though as he jogged by chuckling to his evil self.

Gels were now out and real food was not appealing. I knew I could probably handle soup so this was what I chose from here on in when available. I also opted to get on Robbie Britton’s sugar train 20 miles sooner than expected and the only thing that appealed were Jelly Babies.

Because I was in no way taking on the calories I needed, I opted to also go for a 50/50 mix of coca-cola and water in my bottles for the remainder of the run. This was pretty sickly, but meant I could handle the calories and I needed to just keep the tank fuelled up enough to finish.

As the sun rose, I could feel Paul was stronger than me. I insisted that he go ahead now it was light, not only so he got the time he deserved, but also so I could run my own race now. Not only was I not in the mood to talk by this point, I was even angry at my own i-pod and hated every song. It was now a case of getting the last 20 miles done at my own pace and if I finished in a C Plan time, so be it. But I knew I had a better chance if I was alone to do my own thing. I knew what I had to do. The night had thrown up some obstacles, but this was now familiar again.

Since being sick at mile 59 I was pretty cautious with how I managed the night and somehow hadn’t been sick since. I just needed to sustain myself now and get to Oxford sensibly (sensible is a relative term in this world I have come to realise).

Sure enough, the old adage of ‘it never always gets worse’ kicked in. Between mile 85 and 91 I stopped feeling like dog mince and started feeling like a dogs dinner. I ran this 10k in just over an hour and started to feel warm again for the first time in ages. I knew I was back on for a sub-24 hour time, even if most of this race had been disastrous. There was no way I was giving that buckle up now, with 9 miles to go and 2 hours and 45 minutes to get home in. I smashed out the next 4 miles in 45 minutes (11 minute mileing after 95 miles and no food and no sleep- amazing) and was greeted at the final aid station by Ian Walker- a good friend. I had two hours to cover the last 4.9 miles, but Ian was not happy with my complacency. He calmly told me to run and walk but keep moving. But I secretly knew I had it in the bag now.

A couple of miles on I saw Justin Bateman walking back towards me. I couldn’t quite work out what was happening- he was going the wrong way. He explained he had damaged his knee and just couldn’t finish. He was 3 miles from the finish line. I told him he could and to walk with me, but he was adamant it was serious and I wasn’t one to argue with him so tragically watched him hobble back towards the aid station to drop out. I reminded myself that no one has it in the bag until they cross the finish line.

10 minutes later Chris Mills popped into view and it was great to see him. I was walking now with a pacer called Matt and I forget the name of his runner and Chris joined us to stroll in. None of us were running now, we were done and knew we could stroll in for sub 24. Whether it was the site of Chris’s calves or whether it was relief that I had done it and could stop doing maths, about a mile from the finish I found myself bent double again and wretching my guts out. I’m not quite sure what the Sunday morning dog walkers thought of that but I think seeing the state of us all coming in made them realise this wasn’t a 5k fun run.

I knew that Solange and Monty were coming up on the first train from Paddington to meet me at the finish and that this arrived at 9am. If they were on time and got a cab straight away, I would be able to finish crossing the line with Monty, but sadly the train was delayed and I needed to get this done. Unemotional, once again, I crossed the line got my photos, got my hugs, got my buckle and wandered inside to try and work out where on earth I was.

The drowned rat finishes. Photo: c/o Jon Fielden

The drowned rat finishes. Photo: c/o Jon Fielden

23 hours and 19 minutes. It could have been so much better. It also could have been so much worse. What a journey I have been on these last three years.

Actually, it is less than 3 years. My first ultra was in August 2012 and since then I have run 3 100 milers in the last 9 months (2 sub-24 and one internationally), the North Downs Way 50 three times, the South Downs Way 50, The Brecon Beacons Ultra, The Dorset CTS Ultra, The Green Man Ultra and numerous marathons including a PB in Venice in August. That is quite a haul and I need to take pride in that. And this is why I do this. I am proud of the man I am becoming and after each race where I break myself down mentally, I grow back stronger.

The thing is, sadly Saturday and Sunday evolved into a box ticking exercise, where I was finishing to simply apply for another race. I didn’t enjoy it or take pride from the challenge and that is a real shame. I am not done with ultras by any means, but I am also not going to run for the sake of running and need to get back to the passion and enjoyment.

Maybe this is just a post race downer, I don’t know, but as daft as it sounds, 100 miles isn’t the challenge it once was. Going longer isn’t going to happen, but finding peace and beauty is. I am not in this for the brutality of it, but the places it allows me to see and feel. I am going to now take a few weeks to take stock and work out what the next challenge will be, but one thing is for sure, I am not done until you see me in Squaw.

A happy Monty, a confused Tim. Looking like I fought Mayweather on Saturday night.

A happy Monty, a confused Tim. Looking like I fought Mayweather on Saturday night.

A few thank you’s- to all of the volunteers that make Centurion races so special. Each and every one of you who stayed up all night and got us idiots in and out safely. To Stuart March- who I always fail to mention, but is a great friend and even better photographer, to Nici and James for making these events sustainable and safe, Clare, Natasha, Jon, Nikki, Simon and Liz at the finish. Stu and Roz and everyone who helped me as I struggled at the end. Chris Mills, fast becoming one of my best mates (unless you drop at Transvulcania next weekend- then you’re dead to me) and finally Solange and Teresa for looking after me on Sunday and Monday with sympathy even though I had only done this to myself!

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Thames Path 100. Two Weeks To Go

Two weeks on Saturday, at 10am I start my fourth 100 mile race, the Thames Path 100, with a view to getting my third finish at the distance.

This follows the Thames, as the name suggests, as it meanders between Richmond in South-West London to Oxford.

For months I was not excited about this race. I entered simply to ensure I keep my Western States lottery momentum going and simply need to finish under the cut-off of 28 hours to achieve that. However, as the race has got closer and I study the map I am now firmly excited. The route is hugely historic, starting in our capital and finishing in one of our most beautiful cities. The route passes some major landmarks and the early indications are the fine weather we are experiencing right now might just hang around for a while, meaning less mud or diversions that have dogged this race in the past.

Finishing a 100 miler is never a given by any means and the drop out rate in this race is staggeringly high, considering its low elevation profile, but after a great run at Brazos Bend in December on a similar profile course I feel I should at the very least finish.

Brazos was hot and humid, but to counter that I had no mandatory kit so a similar time would be respectable. That said, I have never felt fitter than I do right now so as my splits show below, I am aiming for a finish of 20 hours as my A plan.

11143731_10155394895565587_5260679715403244277_n

The B plan is sub 24 and the C plan is simply finish and get 4 Western States lottery tickets for December. Finishing will also allow me to re-enter the UTMB lottery in December, where I will have double the chance of this year (as you can see, lotteries haven’t gone my way so far in running…or life, come to that. Still working).

I have also changed my training style quite a bit since Christmas. Namely, I have completely ditched technology and gone back to running for the fun of it, not that I used technology much before to be honest. My philosophy, and whilst I want to improve- don’t get me wrong, is that this is my hobby, so why make it feel like work. I love running and I loathe technology, so I have gone back to basics.

Most people these days follow some kind of plan or have a coach, from the elites through to the mid-pack. They use Strava to compete in training or just map their workouts and use GPS watches. The only thing I occasionally use is a heart rate monitor, but even that is less frequently than before as I know my body better now.

And that is precisely it, whilst I may not be “training” in a conventional way, through getting back to basics I have got to know my body. I know when to push and when to back off as I feel a niggle or my breathing is too hard. I don’t like to let technology dictate the speed I should be running.

Yes, this might mean I am losing time compared with my friends. I ran with Chris Mills recently and he left me for dust with his coaches training plan and Suunto Ambit, which was great to see, so what works for one person may not work for another.

But the thing I have found the most these last few months is I simply love running again and I look forward to every run. I still have days where I lose my passion, but overall I have never found this more enjoyable and so whether I finish in 19:30 or 27:59 in just over two weeks, my one aim is to enjoy a 100 miler.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Compound Interest and New Distances- Keeping Goals Positive & Realistic

In January 2012 I signed up for my first ultramarathon- the North Downs Way 50 miler which was scheduled to be held in August. I had already run two marathons and I had my third coming up in April where I wanted to run under 4 hours for the first time.

I remember in my registration pack I received a sticker of the digital finishing clock, where you could pull tabs off to show the time you wanted. It then stuck to your fridge for you to look at each day. I pulled the tabs on mine to not show my London goal, but my North Downs goal. I looked at 09:30 every day for 8 months in the build up to that race.

But why did I have 9 hours and 30 minutes in my head? Well, my previous best London Marathon was 4:30 in 2011. So I thought, well if I can run a marathon in 4:30 then add half an hour for the second 25 miles to another 4:30 (to factor in slowing down) and I will finish in 9:30. Simple.

What I hadn’t considered was the principal of compound interest. Only not in a good way, like with your pension.

The deadly compound interest.

The deadly compound interest.

To define compound interest I have pulled the below from Wikipedia:

Compound interest is interest added to the principal of a deposit or loan so that the added interest also earns interest from then on. This addition of interest to the principal is called compounding. A bank account, for example, may have its interest compounded every year: in this case, an account with £1000 initial principal and 20% interest per year would have a balance of £1200 at the end of the first year, £1440 at the end of the second year, £1728 at the end of the third year, and so on.

In a similar vein if you were playing 18 holes of golf and someone gave you £1 on the first hole and doubled the amount on every hole so it was £2 on hole 2, £4 on hole 3, £8 on hole 4 and so on, how much do you think you would have by hole 18? £200? £400? The answer is a staggering £131,072.

Now, from my limited experience running ultramarathons, each time I build up to a new distance is like compound interest, but not in a good way. Each and every mile after my previous longest distance felt like I was compounding the miles I had already run.

Back in August 2012, because I had no idea what I was in for- every mile over mile 26 was new to me, I ended up coming away from that run disappointed as I finished over two hours off my time goal but also missed the sub 11 hour qualification zone to go into the Western States lottery.

Instead of coming away elated that I had just done something epic- and running 50 miles across hills for the first time is epic- I came away deflated.

OK, this isn't me, but you don't want to finish your first race feeling like her. Photo: technicallyrunning.com

OK, this isn’t me, but you don’t want to finish your first race feeling like her. Photo: technicallyrunning.com

The same thing happened when I built up to my first 100 mile race. Again this was at the North Downs, but is still the only race I have ever dropped from of any distance. I had set myself a goal of sub 24 hours and when this was slipping away, my mind did as well. And you can’t run 100 miles if the mind isn’t with the legs on the journey.

But- once I knew these distances, I knew the pain and I bettered them. I returned to the North Downs 50 and took an hour and a half off my time. I then ran a personal best a year later at the South Downs 50 taking another hour and a half off my time. All because I knew what to expect. I knew the pain, I knew the food, I knew the strategy and I knew what the compound interest would do to me. It became familiar. The same applied to my two 100 mile races so far. My last 100 mile race in December was six hours faster than the first. Yes, the course was easier- but mainly I just knew what to expect from my body and the pain.

I wanted to write this post for a number of reasons. I know a lot of people are using the South Downs Way 50 on Saturday 4th April to run 50 miles for the first time and I want those people to feel elated when they finish, not disappointed like I did. Don’t set a time goal for a new distance, just finish it- it will be a PB anyway. And once you’ve run that distance and know what to expect, better that time at another race or return a year later.

And if you must set a goal, double your marathon time and then add a third as the bare minimum. i.e. if your P.B. to date is 4 hours at a road marathon, double this to 8. Multiply by 0.33 and add this 2.64 to the 8. 10:30 would then be the very best to shoot for, but even then this is a lofty goal. Just finish.

Only the very elite build up to a new distance with a competitive goal. One example is Stephanie Howe at Western States last year who not only won the race, but it was her first 100 miler. I have mid-pack stamped all over my forehead and that sort of thing doesn’t happen to people like me. Obviously I don’t mean the win, I mean setting a time goal for a new distance and achieving it. The real goal for most of us with a new distance should simply be getting it done.

And the compounding gets worse the longer the distance. If you want examples of this, read race reports such as Sam Robson’s from the 145 mile Grand Union Canal Race last year or Victor Ballesteros from the Tahoe 200 mile race. Every time the distance steps up, the compounding does too, so go easy on yourself and flip the pressure to positive as opposed to inevitably missing out on your time goals.

As Ultrasportslive.Tv use as their motto, “Every Finish Is Amazing”. Most people will never run an ultra and you may well forget your time in the future from your first race. But you’ll never forget crossing the finish line at a new distance.

Harvey Lewis Finishes Badwater. Now, that's a finish. Photo: chicabands.com

Harvey Lewis Finishes Badwater. Now, that’s a finish. Photo: chicabands.com

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The Green Man Ultra 2015- Race Report

Entering CP2. Photo: Amanda Forman/ Ultrarunning Ltd

Entering CP2. Photo: Amanda Forman/ Ultrarunning Ltd

I made the fatal mistake of saying to the guy next to me, around halfway through the Green Man Ultra on Saturday, that “this is probably the easiest ultra I have done so far…”. Never a sensible thing to say on a course you don’t know, that you have to navigate yourself and you are 20 odd miles from the finish.

By the end of the race, I regretted that statement.

In terms of terrain, yes, it was the easiest ultra I have done to date, but with a finish time two minutes shy of 10 hours for a 44 mile course, it doesn’t take an astrophysicist to work out I averaged 4.4 miles per hour, or just under 15 minute miles. That is not quick, even by ultra standards.

To put it in context, I ran nine and a half hours at the 47 mile Brecon Beacons ultra, which is far tougher in terms of terrain or just 12 minutes slower at the North Downs Way 50 mile race when I was much less fit than I am now. Quite simply, this race threw me because it wasn’t marked and I didn’t have a GPS. Using the maps, navigation wasn’t a huge issue but it took a lot of time stopping, checking and making sure I was going the right way- even when I teamed up with Christian Maleedy for the last 20 odd miles.

One of the things that was toughest was even when having determined a route, I didn’t run with full confidence and therefore full speed, as I was second guessing myself a lot. The whole race I felt like I was holding back and never really running with a rhythm. I am pretty sure I wasn’t the only one who felt this way.

That said, I entered this race to get out of comfort zone. It is a classic British race now and one I have wanted to do for a couple of years, but hadn’t managed to squeeze in. I understand where we started from and finished this year, in Long Ashton, is new as a headquarters but you wouldn’t have known it. This is the first race I have done with Ultrarunning Ltd and I have to say they were fantastic. Certainly more low key than Centurion, but equally passionate and with great volunteers and aid stations that had everything I needed. Whilst the medal is already in the garage, it is one of the most impressive ones I have ever seen and was a big motivator when I was having low spots. I wanted that medal.

Once registered, I had the usual slightly nervous/apprehensive chats. I met Dawn Riden for the first time face to face as well as Roz Glover who I had seen the weekend before at the CW50K. Stu Wilkie was also there, last years winner, as well as Dennis Cartwright who I haven’t seen since the North Downs 100. But mainly I was chatting to Ian Walker.

Now, Ian has annoyed me here. Because he has ruined one of my excuses for a poor time at this race. I would have said that running a 50K the weekend before this race wasn’t sensible, but then Ian goes and comes 16th in 8:07 and Bryan Robb runs in 4th in 7:20. Both ran last weekends 50K with me. Inconsiderate bastards.

For the first 10 miles of the race, we headed South and then West around Bristol towards Keynsham and then headed North. The first 10 miles were by far the hilliest ones but even then, nothing like the Cotswold Way or the North Downs. Everything was very runnable, but very muddy. Navigation wasn’t an issue as we were still a big pack by then and it was also very rural, so there was only one or two paths we could follow. It was the urban sections that threw me where there were multiple route choices, but more of that later.

I got into a good rhythm here and was running well within myself and pacing fine. It was turning into a stunner of a day and I am probably one of very few people who can say they got sunburnt on March 7th in England. That is quite a skill, even for a ginger.

Somewhere in the early miles. Photo: Amanda Forman/ Ultrarunning Ltd

Somewhere in the early miles. Photo: Amanda Forman/ Ultrarunning Ltd

As always, I had a few chats but preferred to run alone and just enjoy some me time. I find running these races is one of the few times I am truly alone and whilst I like company, its nice just to be by myself sometimes. As I have learnt through some work psychological profiling recently, whilst I have a people oriented role in work, I am a natural introvert and I like solitude when the time is right.

Check Point 1 came and went in just over an hour, seven miles in, and I had a quick chat with Darryl Carter who was volunteering (and held the course record until later that day), before filling my bottles and getting back out. CP2 came an hour and a half later and I was well on for a circa 8:30 finishing time, which was way up on what I was expecting.

Between CP2 and CP3 is a bit of a blur but this was a much longer section with around 12 miles to cover. I only filled two bottles so had just over a litre of water for this, but had underestimated the time it would take so the last three miles I was dry. When I finally reached this checkpoint, I needed a few minutes to re-hydrate and get some calories in.

The one thing I am most pleased with during this race was how well I ate and digested. I absolutely stuffed myself at each aid station with typically having a few cups of coke, three cheese rolls, some cake, a 9 bar and taking a couple of gels with me. I didn’t once feel sick and ate between checkpoints with snickers that I was carrying. Energy wise, I felt great the whole day. One of the race sponsors was Red Bull and these were available at each aid station, but I wasn’t even tempted. I don’t even like caffeinated gels and the only caffeine I have at races is Coke, but I would prefer sprite if it were available. My heart rate gets high enough without caffeine and I don’t like mixing it with exercise. This is just a personal thing, but I did see others guzzling the cans and clearly it works well for some.

I arrived at CP3 with Christian Maleedy and we spent probably six miles before this together and then the rest of the race. Our pace fell in step and whilst I am not usually that talkative, we spoke a lot and it just helped the miles click by. I felt we got to know each other quite well during the race and from polite chat at first, that migrated to full on swearing and piss taking by the end. So much so that when I fell over a couple of miles from the line and with us chasing down a time still starting with a 9, he was laughing at me as I swore and laughed myself. We just had a laugh and neither of us took it too seriously.

One thing we did talk about a lot was that if someone handed us a headtorch and a refill of the bottles at the finish and said do it again (which still would have been 16 miles shy of a 100 mile race) there is absolutely no way in hell we could have. It is amazing that you really can run the distance you tell yourself you will in your head, but not a step further. That is why the piece of string run is such a fascinating concept. 44 miles was our limit that day and we were chasing down the daylight to get in by 6pm.

Between CP3 and CP4 was where things started to go array. We found ourselves lost a couple of times and backtracking or second guessing where we were. By now the field was spread out, but without a GPS between us Christian was looking at the written directions and I was following the map, trying to agree the route. The map provided was not hugely detailed so it was easy to miscalculate a turn. We ended up taking about 45 minutes longer than we expected because of these issues here and whilst we were both physically fine after 30+ miles, we were frustrated at times when lost but shrugged it off.

Neither of us are hugely competitive, but nevertheless we both wanted to get finished in the best time we could. Eventually we hit CP4 which was in a park with some beautiful features, especially by the gates as you entered by the manor house. There weren’t many things of beauty on this run, but this was absolutely one of them as the sun lit up the features here.

We refilled, had some soup and realised we had two hours and ten minutes to get to the finish, approximately 8 miles away. Sounds very easy, but we knew this was a very urban section coming up and would involve lots of concentration as we headed into Clifton and into Long Ashton to close the loop.

We took a while getting out of the park as, again, we were second guessing our instructions with where some other runners were going but stuck to our gut instincts. We mostly ran alone but followed a few others where we could until pace dictated we were either dropped or we moved ahead. Eventually, we found and crossed the Clifton Suspension Bridge commenting that whilst we were a little sore and jaded, we weren’t yet ready to call the Samaritans hotline plastered all over the bridge. Maybe on a second loop…

Here we entered a huge park and it was just two miles to the finish, maybe three. We met a guy here going the complete other direction to us and whilst we found this odd, we stuck to the map and then got a little lost. We should have followed him, but it just didn’t feel right and our gut had got us through most of the day. We came out of the park and realised we were too far south so had to follow the main road back up to where we should have crossed. By now we had just 25 minutes to get in under 10 hours and I was very focussed on getting in by that time. For some reason, a 9 was acceptable and a 10 was absolutely not. We both agreed on this.

This is where I tripped and cut my leg, we then decided the road was a little dicey in the dusk so crossed the road prematurely and climbed a steep hill. We then had to vault a wall and finally found ourselves on the wrong side of the right golf course. We crossed it and eventually joined the correct route with arrows spray painted for the last half a mile guiding us in.

As we found this path I remember shouting to Christian that we had 7 minutes to get in under 10 hours. He then did his best Kilian impression and bounded down the hill like a gazelle with me limping along in his slipstream. Finally we came out of the woods as I shouted “4 minutes” and we entered the finish turn as I shouted “2 minutes!”.

Scraping home under 10 hours. Photo: Amanda Forman/ Ultrarunning Ltd

Scraping home under 10 hours. Photo: Amanda Forman/ Ultrarunning Ltd

9 hours 58 minutes and 30 odd seconds. We had done it. 106th and 107th place respectively.

We both agreed we will return next year now we know the route and both with GPS watches. I firmly believe we could take an hour and a half off our time, but that said the weather was amazing considering it is only just Spring and on a wet and windy day, our times would have been pretty decent. In fact, prior to this year we would have been in the top 100 fastest times ever “hall of fame” on this course. It just shows how much slower this course is in bad weather.

Certificate and that fantastic medal.

Certificate and that fantastic medal.

All in all, a cracking race and I can’t recommend it enough. Now, just six weeks until the Thames Path 100 on May 2nd.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Cotswold Way 50k: Mark 2: 2015

The Start: Several runners joined later on, getting attendance over 40 for the day.

The Start: Several runners joined later on, getting attendance over 40 for the day.

It started last year with 19 runners. This year we got up to 40. Within a few years I will be charging you bastards and able to put my feet up, counting the cash as you run over the hills.

Or not. Social Ultra is just that. A group of runners, used to training alone and coming together for a group run in a non-competitive environment. Last year I ran a lot with Emily Canvin, this year it was Mark Fox. Two runners who’s backs I usually see for about the first 0.3 of a mile during a race, but during a social I get to chat to them.

Heading up the first hill.

Heading up the first hill. Photo: Brian Connelly

Dave Urwin and I came up with the idea for this run in late 2013 and it started the Social Ultra scene in the UK, at least in an organised sense. Rich Cranswick and Chris Mills then took it to the next level with the Social Ultra website and Facebook page and now there are group runs every few weekends.

If you have a favourite training route and want to share it with others, get on the page and post it. We all enjoy building up to our races, but training alone on the long runs can be a slog. Sometimes it is welcome solitude, but Social Ultras bridge that gap between competitive running and training.

Photo: Dylan Gould

Photo: Dylan Gould

This year the run was supported by Helen Crossland, Rachael Gould and her daughter Chloe along with Nikki Mills. They set up some roving aid stations that would put Endurancelife to shame and did it all for free. In return, we asked runners to make a donation to BRAKE, the road safety charity after the recent accident close to the start of our run that claimed 4 lives, including that of 4 year old Mitzi Steady. A quick tot up on the JustGiving page shows over £100 from our runners, with other cash donations due to be added soon.

Rachel & Chloe politely letting Chris know that there are others behind him...

Rachel & Chloe politely letting Chris know that there are others behind him… Photo: Dylan Gould

It was pretty much the muddiest I have ever seen the Cotswold Way and made a route that people underestimate anyway, even tougher. Because it wasn’t a race I don’t know how many people finished, but I know a few decided to skip the finish in the dark due to the terrain and I can understand that. Even knowing the route like the back of my hand, as the weather came in during dusk I was ready to get finished.

Nikki & Rachael at the half way point.

Nikki & Rachael at the half way point. Photo: Brian Connelly

I used this as a last long run before the Green Man Ultra this coming weekend. It was great to catch up with some friends and also meet some new runners, some of who were using this as their first run post marathon distance which was great to see.

This is what it is all about. Smiles and miles. And abuse.

This is what it is all about. Smiles and miles. And abuse. Photo: Vicki Luck

All in all, a fantastic day on the hills and let’s hope we double attendance again next year.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Training in Les Contamines

Panoramic View from Le Truc

Panoramic View from Le Truc

This weekend I managed to get out for a flying visit to the Alps. I went with two friends, one a skier, one a snowboarder and me, a runner.

The summit at Le Truc

The summit at Le Truc

We flew out very early on Thursday morning and returned on Sunday night. In that short period I managed to spend four, five hour days on the mountain and got some significant vertical on the legs in preparation for the 2015 ultra season. I also ate a record 22 snickers in that time.

Halfway up from Les Contamines with Saint Gervais in the valley below.

Halfway up from Les Contamines with Saint Gervais in the valley below.

The last time I trained in Les Contamines was March 2013 when the snow was a lot less than this time around and it gave me a good set of confidence for that season. I returned from that trip and took an hour and a half off my 50 mile PB two months later. With the Green Man Ultra just 3 weeks away now, I wanted to get some good hard sessions in ready to do my very best on this difficult course and set myself up nicely for my A race this year, the Thames Path 100 in early May.

View from Le Truc

View from Le Truc

I was the only runner on the mountain, but met a lot of snow-shoers and cross-country skiers. In my garbled French I had some great chats and all of them asked me if I was training for UTMB. I said I was, but always have been. Whilst I didn’t get a place this year, I will hopefully next year and besides I will always be training for UTMB and Western States, my two dream races.

Panoramic of Dome de Miage.

Panoramic of Dome de Miage.

UTMB travels through Les Contamines so everyone in the small mountain town knows the race. Whenever I passed through the town in my running gear, people cheered me on as it is still almost too early to see runners training there.

The S-LAB Sense 3's were perfect in the snow

The S-LAB Sense 3’s were perfect in the snow

There is just something so beautiful about being up high in the Alps. I would go for hours and not see another soul and just take in the stunning scenery all around me.

Map of the trails I managed to get on

Map of the trails I managed to get on

It feels like it was a dream now, but not in my legs. They worked hard as I slipped and went up to my thighs at time in the snow, but it was a magical weekend and I cannot wait to get the season started shortly.

A little colder and windier on the Sunday.

A little colder and windier on the Sunday.

But first up, the Cotswold Way 50K on 28th February. Come and join us- its completely free.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment