Ultimate Direction Fastpack 20 Review

 

Photo: Ultimate Direction

Photo: Ultimate Direction

In many respects, I am no Anton Krupicka or Jared Campbell. I am not a racer, I am a plodder, but more importantly I simply don’t live in an environment like they do.

Seeing videos and images of Anton and Joe Grant running and climbing around the Flatirons of Boulder makes me long for that sort of life and is what spurs me to train to take on challenges in the States and Europe.

Yet, I am not fast, I live in a somewhat hilly part of a pretty flat country and most of my day to day running is not free soloing in the mountains but to and from work, with a longer trek at weekends.

So when I was offered the chance to review the new Fastpack 20 by Ultimate Direction, it was pretty obvious that the loop for the ice axe wouldn’t get a huge amount of use. So is this bag of use still for someone like me, who will mainly use it for the run commute or the odd lighter weekend jaunt?

The answer is, unquestionably, yes.

I love UD products and have both the Scott Jurek pack from the first generation and the updated and larger 2.0 Peter Bakwin pack which I use when I need more kit. The PB is a pack I would use for winter races or when I need to carry more kit, but in all honesty is typically used for my day to day run commute. However, it does have limited capacity and sometimes I have ended up with a bulky standard backpack for my run which is cumbersome and swings all over the place.

Often I need more capacity and a race vest just hasn’t been created until now that fits a runner but has the capacity for a hiker or someone who has either a lot of kit or kit that isn’t soft and doesn’t squash down. For example, a pack of documents or a folder.

Now, this isn’t why the Fastpack 20 was created, but run commuting is growing in popularity not just in the UK but around the world and it is only appropriate I review this pack for how I will use it. You can see loads of reviews of this pack in action in the mountains, like on this YouTube video, but how does it work for the day to day runner or weekend warrior?

If you have used any of the Signature Series packs, you will know they have an excellent and snug fit, whilst flexing to your body as you breath deeper when running. This is the first backpack on the market that is still being marketed as a ‘vest’ as opposed to a pack. The fit is just like the race vests but with the added benefit of one huge pocket on the rear and a second flexible pocket that expands and is easy access.

Photo: The Ultramarathon Running Store

Photo: The Ultramarathon Running Store

The pockets on the front are a little different to the race vests and here I have found one of my only two criticisms with the whole design- which isn’t bad with such a bold design. The pockets hold two water bottles if you wish (although they aren’t included, unlike the Signature Series vests). One is open and has a draw cord and the other is expanded using a zip to the side. My wish is that this zip didn’t just cover the side, but came up across the top as well to seal the pocket. This would then be ideal for items like a wallet or phone, which on this pack I can only store in the big back compartment to keep them safe. Consequently, access for secure items isn’t possible upfront. There is one small zip pocket and this is ideal for a set of keys as an example, but nothing more.

The back pocket is vast and I can just about squeeze in a sleeping bag and my The North Face Talus 2 tent as well as using the expandable pocket for clothes, so you could use this for multi day treks, just. In the summer if you just wanted the sleeping bag there would be a lot more capacity for food, extra clothes and a camping stove etc without the tent in there.

The main back pocket has a small section cut into the rear where you could keep clean clothes away from dirty ones etc, or have easy to access items such as food away from the main pocket. The main pocket itself is vast and the pack itself opens up way above the shoulder line so you can either fit a large or small load depending on what you are doing.

Photo: iRunFar.com

Photo: iRunFar.com

The Z shaped drawstrings on the sides allow you to tighten or loosen the fit so that whatever you are carrying is snug and doesn’t swing or bounce in the pack. One of my pet hates with running packs, that you don’t get with the Signature Series, is loose straps annoyingly brushing your arms or sides as you run. Here they do swing a little sadly, unless you get in the habit of tucking them into the side pockets. Again, this is only my second criticism and a design flaw that could be managed easily with some clips or webbing straps to tuck excess drawstrings into.

To either side of the pack you have two large pockets that are again expandable, in the same way as on the Peter Bakwin race vest. This allows water bottles to be carried on the sides so the front pockets can be used for food or maps etc. I would have liked to have seen one of these zipped as well to allow more secure storage and this would be easy to incorporate on a second version and would only enhance the variability of the pack.

There are also loops for poles and the aforementioned ice axe, if required.

Finally, with this pack you will likely be carrying heavier gear than you are used to on a run and when I have done this with other backpacks I have developed chafing sometimes on my shoulders and underarms. Here because it fits like a race vest and the material is seamless from the rear to the front, it cannot rub or catch which makes it very unique and comfortable.

Photo: Ultimate Direction

Photo: Ultimate Direction

Overall this is a cracking addition to the Ultimate Direction line you can buy them in the UK here. I have been using this daily for a couple of weeks now and also took it to Venice last weekend and it was perfect as a weekend bag with its huge capacity. An excellent piece of kit for run commuting, short camping trips or multi-day races where you need to carry a lot of kit, like the MDS or Dragons Back.

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Venice Marathon 2014 Race Report

About 2k from the finish

About 2k from the finish

Back in a former life, I was once fondly known by colleagues as ‘Tommy the Bone’. Simply this was derived by people with too much time on their hands playing around with my name and taking Tim to Tom to Tommy to Tombola to Tomboner and finally Tommy the Bone, over a matter of a couple of weeks.

The reason I mention it is I used to like a drink and, as tends to happen, my character changed quite dramatically over the course of an evening. I wasn’t a nasty drunk, but a foolish one and it got to the stage where my colleagues and friends asked me at the time who was coming out this evening, Tim or Tommy? My casual reply usually being, “Well, you’ll likely have a couple of hours with Tim and then Tommy will show up a little after ten…”

For a number of years I suppressed Tommy, but still joked that he was in there, which he very much still is. Now, through (ultra)running, I have found a way to take Tommy for a walk every now and then, without the carnage occurring that he used to cause.

This past weekend I was in Venice with Solange for the 2014 Venice Marathon. This has been Solange’s goal all year and she has worked very hard towards running a strong time. She has been coached by the fantastic Edwina Sutton and been put through her paces with a personalised training program. She was ready.

Flying in over the stunning Dolomites

Flying in over the stunning Dolomites

I didn’t enter the marathon because originally I was set to run the Winter 100 the weekend before. However after the North Downs 100 chew me up and spat me out (this time with a buckle) and having Brazos Bend 100 in Texas in December, I opted to drop the Winter 100. I hadn’t really considered Venice until the day before we flew out, when I decided to glibly email the organisers and see if that had any spaces left, thinking that of course they wouldn’t. They did.

I don’t want to sound like one of those arrogant ultrarunners who thinks of anything less than an ultra as a fun run- it is a marathon and the distance has to be respected. That said, I pretty much run a marathon most Saturdays as part of my training so whilst I respect the distance, it doesn’t scare me. What does scare me is fast, flat road running and I immediately felt a little pressure to record a PB, having not run a road marathon since April 2012 in London.

We landed on Friday around lunchtime and decided to head straight to the expo so Solange could register and I could grab one of the remaining spots, rather than leave it to Saturday. This being Italy and with it being a weekday, naturally the whole of the public transport network was on strike, so we had a bit of a battle to get there.

There was a big wall where entrants could sign their name and whilst Solange did the sensible thing and wrote her name, I thought about Tommy and the fact he was in for a fast canter tomorrow, so simply signed myself as ‘Speedbone’. There’s nothing in the world quite like misplaced confidence.

Speedbone 1

Speedbone 1

Speedbone 2

Speedbone 2

Edwina had set Solange a gentle two mile leg loosener that afternoon, but the kind Italian strikers helped us amend that to a two hour walk from the train station to our hotel. But this being Venice and in my opinion the most magical city in the world, it wasn’t exactly excruciating and we had very little luggage. It was also a glorious weekend weather wise without a cloud in the sky.

Uncalled for.

Uncalled for.

After a relatively quiet Saturday organising transport plans for race morning, it was Sunday at 4:30am before we knew it and we were up for breakfast which the hotel kindly organised extra early, before a ferry set for 5:39am to take us to Tronchetto where a coach would take runners to the start. Seeing the sun come up over the Grand Canal is a sight I will never forget. Simply awesome. Venice shouldn’t even be there. It was built as a result of conflict and persecution with people literally fleeing into the lagoon for their lives. They decided to stay and build the most improbable and logistically ridiculous city in the world, but did it in style. What I love most about Venice is how quiet it is. Without cars there is no noise aside from the boats, but away from the canal it is silent aside from footsteps. Without cars it also feels less aggressive and more calm and peaceful. It’s impossible not to fall in love with Venice.

Once at the start we had a good two hours until the race began and whilst sunny, it was very cold. We huddled inside a marquee and had some last minute food and chatted with a few other Brits including a girl called Lorna who had just run Abingdon marathon the weekend before and is a prolific marathon runner (she ended up getting a PB at Venice).

There are worse cities to finish a marathon in

There are worse cities to finish a marathon in

Finish bags loaded, breath held in the portaloo for the last time and it was time to get into our starting pens and prepare for the off. I gave Solange some last minute words of encouragement and she headed off to her pen and I to mine. 2014 has been a pretty stressful year for us, so it was fantastic to be doing this together and we had already agreed where to meet at the finish.

The helicopter buzzed overhead, the Italians proved there is no word in their vocabulary for ‘queue’ and the countdown began. We had been in the pens for a while and I realised I needed a pee even before we started so I would have to find a quiet hedge soon after we were off. There wasn’t one for a good three kilometres but eventually I stopped for about three minutes (one of those dreadfully timed ones that went on and on and on…) and was back running and feeling much better.

I hadn’t given much thought to my time aside from having a vague goal of three and a half hours. This worked out as exactly five minutes per kilometre and I sustained this right up until the final 7k when my pace dropped.

A marathon is never easy, but the pace was a lot easier than I expected and I know I have a significantly faster time in me yet. The crowds in all the small towns we ran through were great and there was a rock band every mile or so, which really lifted the spirits. Slipknot and the Foo Fighters are big in Italy it seems and this is exactly the sort of music I like to run to, with the odd bit of Michael Buble, Miley Cyrus and Leona Lewis thrown in for good measure. Ahem.

At the 30k mark we reached the Parco San Giuliano, which is where the expo was held. I had hit 10k in exactly 50 minutes and halfway in 1:45. Bang on 5 mins per kilometre, but I knew sustaining that pace might be tough once in Venice, not because of fatigue, but because of the narrowing of the course and the 14 bridge crossings we had yet to come (kindly warned to me before the race by Rob Pinnington who had a friend run it in recent years). At the park they had gels and electrolyte drinks for the first time, so I grabbed a handful of gels and downed a few cups, trying to get some sugar and salt into my system for the last 12k push.

Cruelly after this there is a 4k bridge crossing into Venice itself. You can see Venice on the horizon, but it just never gets any closer. I had a few small walk breaks and then kicked myself into gear that walking wasn’t acceptable and ran whilst looking down rather than at the horizon until the bridge finally ended.

Once in Venice it was hard not to be excited. The crowds lining the fenced off route were great and the scenery just spectacular. It was at this point I started racing someone who had been with me for a while and we went back and forth, him talking in Spanish and me in English and just having a laugh together. A lap of St Marks Square and then 1k to go. Coming into the finish was great, I knew my pace had dropped and I crossed the line in 3:38, which was a new PB. Not that it matters but my chip registered 3:43, which is only a five minute discrepancy and it seemed a number of others had the same issue. Either time was a PB so I couldn’t care either way. The medal is already in the garage with our others, it was the memory that will stick with me. The only memento in the house is my 100 mile treasured buckle.

Collecting dust with the others already.

Collecting dust with the others already.

Solange crossed the line in 4:14 and we met up with her naturally being over the moon and me being very proud of her indeed. From having had two emergency caesarean sections in just an 18 month period, she tried running again three years ago and came home after five minutes exhausted and crying. She ran this to prove to herself she could do it, but it is a great message to others that you can do anything if you put your mind to it and are willing to put the effort in.

A great weekend, two PB’s and we can’t recommend the Venice Marathon enough. For me it was great to get some fast miles in as I now have final preparations for the Brazos Bend 100 for which my training will end the first week in December; which will come around fast.

The Champion, herself

The Champion, herself

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The other side of the Winter 100

The Winter 100 was the first ultramarathon that I volunteered at, two years ago. It’s a miracle I ever volunteered again, after storms blew in and five of us spent all night shivering in the back of a transit van.

But I returned to the same spot in 2013 and again this last weekend. Only this weekend I wasn’t a volunteer but set to pace my good friend Chris Mills the last 25 miles.

Chris stormed the first 50 miles and I left home sooner than planned in order to meet him and get him home. I estimated based on his pace to date, but slowing down a bit, that I would start running sometime between 1am and 3am Sunday morning, but arrived for midnight just in case he was on a flyer.

Whilst waiting for Chris, I can only describe the evening as a surreal experience of true friendship. Before I even entered the village hall which was the event base, I was stopped by Simon Edwards outside and had a good hello. Quickly followed by Gary Dalton (who is much more softly spoken than I had expected for a grumpy copper) and was ushered inside. Here I met Ashok, another social media friend, for the first time and really felt his enthusiasm for the race.

I then met Chris’ (slightly) better half, Nikki Mills who was sat with James Adams (book out) and Natasha Fielden, who was also set to pace the last 25 miles with her husband, Jon, who was running stride for stride with Chris.

And on went an evening with some people I am fortunate enough to call great friends. I few years ago I was truly lost, but with this odd band of brothers is where I truly belong.

In many ways the winner here is James Elson. He is fortunate enough to have some amazing friends and volunteers at his races, but at the same time we are the winners. These events, whether running, volunteering, pacing or simply just hanging out, allow us all to congregate away from social media and really get to know one another.

Even if Mr Elson did constantly refer to me as ‘crying boy’. I’ll let him have that one.

We started to hear worrying reports from the far aid station that Chris had walked there and had taken longer than expected. This isn’t unusual in ultras and he could have been having a bad patch so didn’t really concern anyone. I still remember distinctly how awful I felt 60 miles into the NDW100 so I knew he could bounce back.

Then, later in the evening as more runners arrived who were with him earlier in the day, the news got worse. “Chris is walking and looks pretty green, maybe he just needs some food”. Then “Yep, he is about two miles away but walking with a stick”.

At this point I knew he was in trouble and if he couldn’t walk without aid, he either might not finish or would be taking it to the wire of the 30 hour cut off. But I also remembered Sam at the GUCR and how he dealt with his knee issues and was ready to tell Chris the same.

Chris arrived around 4:30am with his pacer, John, and was looking pretty down mentally. Aside from the knee pain on his ITB he felt good, strong even, but one thing knocking him down had affected his state of mind and he was, I would say, more frustrated than anything else. He made it clear he would leave with me for half a mile and make a decision, having changed his shoes. He wasn’t prepared for an eight hour walk just to finish. From my first NDW100, I could relate to this as well. There are always other days.

Sadly, as everyone knows, that walk didn’t help and Chris drew the line. But he will be back and it won’t beat him next time.

It did make me realise what little things can do for a race and if he had stashed some poles in his 50 mile drop bag, it may have been a different story that night. If you are entering your first 100 soon, just think about what can go wrong and what you can do to remedy that. For me, it was getting cold and shivering, for Chris it was support for his weakened right knee.

Once Chris made the decision to drop, my adrenaline also dropped and I realised it was 5am and I was tired. I said my goodbyes to everyone, grabbed an hours sleep in the car and drove back home.

Chris- you will get your revenge and in turn, I will get my revenge pacing blog. I have never wanted anything as much as I wanted the NDW100 in August, mostly because I failed the year before and you have the fire in your belly to finish a 100 sooner than you think. And coming back makes the finish all the more sweet. I have hit save on the images and anecdotes I planned for this weekend so I need you to finish as much as you do. That work in progress is a keeper.

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Social Media and Ultrarunning 2

Last year I wrote an article on Social Media and why I was abandoning it for a few weeks before a big race. I was finding it somewhat stifling and was often finding myself looking at posts of other people’s successes and it was putting a lot of unnecessary pressure on me. What I realised by having a break was that people often get ‘posty’ when things are going well, but not so often when having a bad patch. Thus I was always looking at other peoples achievements but not their struggles, which are often more motivating.

My break didn’t last long, however. Social Media is a big part of my involvement in this sport. Often we are stretched all over the country and further afield. It can be a lonely sport at times with miles and miles logged alone, so having a connection even via a computer can be a great help. I think this is why the Social Ultra phenomenon has taken off; so that we can share our favourite runs with other people and connect outside of race day face to face, but build up to these via our facebook connections.

However, there is another side to ultrarunning that at times is endearing and motivating whilst at others being annoying and frustrating. In a sport where often runners only meet two or three times a year and in a sport that is growing fast, I have noticed more and more people are using social media as a chest puffing exercise or simply to remain connected and remain in other people’s consciousness. Having a blog that I regularly update, I am definitely one of these so my thoughts below are merely that; thoughts, and not be taken in a disparaging way. You then have those who are the jokers and aim to add comments and thoughts in a lighthearted manner, which can then sometimes get out of hand. Sometimes I am one of these as well.

I saw one post at the weekend which gave me the spark to write this piece. Social Ultra have just released some SU Buff’s and one user uploaded a picture of his wife wearing just the Buff as a skirt and nothing else, but in a way that wasn’t graphic. This was a lighthearted post, but possibly ill thought through, and invoked the wrath of some female users of the Social Ultra group. I can see where both sides were coming from but at the end of the day, no offense was meant and it was clearly posted in a harmless manner. But it made me think, is there anything that gets on my nerves or offends me through ultrarunning social media and also, what right do I have to let that annoy me, if so?

As an example, I only joined the Facebook page ‘Ultrarunning Community’ 18 months ago when it had just 850 members. It now has ten times that, at 8,533 as of this morning. Now, whether some of these people are new to ultras as a sport or merely this group is another thing, but lets say for arguments sake that 4,000 of these are new to the sport as a whole and if 2,000 of these are in the UK that is a huge surge in numbers. Some of these people are just going to get on quietly with training and racing where as others will be the new breed of bloggers, photos of their Garmin uploaders or pictures of the chia seed and flax oil with mist of Alsatian breath porridge sharers with hash tags along the lines of #couldnotlivewithoutthis #traintoperform #livewell

I am better than you.

I am better than you.

Simply, I am pretty hard to offend, but on the flip side I seem to find it very easy to offend people, so since getting into Ultras I have noticeably toned down my comments or posts as, overall, there seem to be some social media users who take delight in getting offended and bashing anyone who does things slightly differently.

But we are a group of people who take pleasure in the extremes of our sport and naturally come from a variety of backgrounds. So surely we should also revel in the fact we are different and above all take a light hearted approach to social media and its connection to our sport. Hardly anyone reading this will be planning on winning a race anytime soon, so we should take strength in our breadth and celebrate differences.

Having said that, I admit, I have temporarily blocked peoples news feeds in the past if they share one too many photos of their watch and how many miles they did that day and at what speed. I don’t care how many miles someone did. We all train and all want to do our best, but how I train or what mileage I ran yesterday won’t motivate you tomorrow or make me a more popular person. I don’t care if someone ran 10.62 miles ‘hard’ on Movescount, because that doesn’t affect me. What I do care about, is that someone enjoyed their run and maybe saw a deer in the mist at 6am as the sun came up. That is why I do this, but equally others are here just for the performance, and that’s alright too. Different journeys, shared paths and all that.

Awesome.

Awesome.

The same applies to people who photograph their healthy food. Is this because they want to share their recipes or because they want to say I eat better than you? I don’t understand this either and it makes me want to take a photo of a king size snickers and coke and give it some hastags like #racedayeveryday #breakfastofchampions

And don’t get me started on the ‘mid run selfie’.

Cretin.

Cretin.

But rather than get annoyed by this, I now use this. I might look at that Garmin photo and give myself a kick towards some speedwork every now and then, because it obviously helps, even if I hate speedwork. Or I might look at that spinach and flax seed porridge and think maybe I should try and have a salad instead of the Sainsburys £3 meal deal of coke, crisps and a white bread sandwich.

In the same vain there are no right or wrong races. Everyone knows my obsession with Western States, but if you have an obsession with Spartathlon or another race that is great too. For me, I would much rather aim for spending 48 hours at UTMB or 36 hours at The Bear in stunning mountains, than work on speed to complete something like the GUCR or Spartathlon, but that is what is great about this sport. It is just long distance running, but there are so many ways of doing it or avenues to head down.

And, it wouldn’t be right to end a rant about ultrarunning on social media without a meme, the scourge of so many posts. Well said, Stephen Fry. It’s just running; lets agree to disagree on how best to go about it when not out on our feet.

Stephen-fry

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Mule Bar- The Range Keeps Growing

Eastern Express- new Mule Bar

Eastern Express- new Mule Bar

To Date I have only finished one Ultra feeling really good. That was the Brecon Beacons Ultramarathon in November of last year.

I have put this down to two things. Firstly, being hungry for a result after dropping in my last race. Secondly, not being hungry- as I ate Mule Bars and Mule Gels all day long.

I came across them after Anthony Forsyth raved about them after his incredible run at the 2013 North Downs Way 100. I on the other hand had a torrid day at that race, in no small part down to my nutrition choices.

At the Brecon Beacons I had no stomach issues whatsoever and managed to consume a whopping two gels and one bar per hour for the whole nine hours (and a bit) of my race. I talk about Mule a little in my race report from that day.

Mule have since been my go to product but I didn’t use them at my return to the North Downs Way 100, opting instead for the aid station food during the day and taking a chance on Torq gels overnight. This was mainly because I wanted to carry the minimal weight possible and I wasn’t running with the support of a crew. Whilst I finished the race, my second half was poor and slow and I put this down to lack of calories as much as exhaustion. Torq gels were good, but they didn’t give me the same feeling that Mule gels do.

Since then and with my build up to the Brazos Bend 100 in December as my tribute to Lon Lomas, Mule have been great and come on board as one of my sponsors for this endeavor. In return, I offered to write a review of their new Eastern Express bar.

As with most runners, in the latter stages of an Ultra I am sick of aid station food. One of the key things I hate is sweet food later on and the only sweet I can handle is through drinks like Coke and Sprite. Mule have recognised this and taken feedback from a number of their sponsored athletes and customers to create the first savoury bar in their range, the Eastern Express.

To be completely honest I would say this is an acquired taste. If you aren’t a fan of spices (not heat, but flavour) then this probably isn’t for you. However, if you like Eastern food, as I do, you will love this bar. It has a hint of sweetness and is sticky like their other bars but is easily digestible and 90% savoury.

I haven’t yet used this in a race situation, only in training, but I will definitely be taking some of these to Texas in December and am pretty sure they will play a major part in the latter part of my race, if not before. The beauty of that race is it is 4×25 mile laps, so I can re-assess and collect what I fancy after each loop depending on how I feel.

In summary, another great bar from Mule and if you haven’t tried them as a brand, they have a great range of introductory packs and offers available. In particular, the Expedition Pack currently has 24% off the RRP and comes with two of the best water bottles around as well as gels, bars and recovery protein bars.

 

 

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2015 Races

As lottery season fast approaches, I have been thinking about my plans for 2015 and what I want to achieve.

2014 has been a very good year; we kicked off the Social Ultra phenomenon in the UK with the Cotswold Way 50K back in February, I ran a PB at the 50 mile distance at the South Downs Way 50 in April, notched up a third consecutive North Downs Way 50 finish in May and completed my first 100 miler at my second attempt at the North Downs Way 100 in August. Still to come is the Brazos Bend 100 in December.

In 2014, I have achieved everything I wanted and more.

But what do I want to achieve in 2015? Well, obviously I am hoping that one of my two tickets in the Western States lottery will be drawn on Saturday December 7th. But two tickets is a very small amount in a lottery of circa 2000 names. Having said that, with qualification criteria having changed and toughened up dramatically last year it remains to be seen how full the lottery will be compared with previous years, but regardless the chances are still stacked against most of us.

The new Western States rules state that every year you apply and fail to gain entry if you qualify the year after you will get double the tickets. So next year, if I qualify again I will have four tickets in the pot (if my name isn’t drawn in December). With that in mind, my primary goal for next year is simply to qualify again.

Of the three Centurion qualifiers in the UK, the Thames Path 100 is the only one that will be new to me and I am focussed next year on new experiences ( I haven’t run the South Downs Way 100 but have run the 50 mile version, so wanted something completely new). The cut off here is 2 hours faster than other races in the series, which reflects the somewhat easier elevation change on the course compared with the two Downs 100’s. That said, the finish rate is still pretty low and hours and hours of flat, sometimes boring running can take its toll on the same muscles with little variation. So, the Thames Path 100 is my ‘A Race’ for 2015 and comes in May.

We will hold the second annual Cotswold Way 50k at the end of February as a way of testing to see how fit we are after a long, dark winter and I am following this up one week later with The Green Man Ultra, which is a 47 mile loop of Bristol, held on 80% trail. This race has been on my radar for a while and living in Bath, is less than half an hour from my house. So I am all signed up.

I was going to sign up for the Hardmoors 55 race, but have realised it falls on the same weekend as when Monty turns 5, so will put that on the back burner for another year, but is very high up my to do list.

I am leaving the summer open at this stage to see what happens in the lottery, aside from returning to the Bath trail marathon in July. I loved this in 2013 but pushed myself a little too hard so close to the North Downs Way 100. By not returning to the NDW100 in 2015, I can have another good crack at this fantastic course.

I will also put in for UTMB as I have more than the required 8 points. That said, for some reason it just doesn’t fire me up like the American 100’s do. I can’t put my finger on why that is. But it is a must do race and with the chances at Western States being slim for another few years until I bump my tickets up, it would be silly not to apply and have a hedge at another major race.

Finally, the Cotswold Way 100 miler I have volunteered at two years running. It finishes in Bath and everyone who runs it raves about it. I train a lot on the section near Bath, but have never ventured further north than Old Sodbury for time and logistical reasons, so not only will it be a great race but also give me some exploring on recce runs over the summer. I was scheduled to run it this year, but just wasn’t recovered enough from the North Downs but will make it a priority race next summer.

All three of these ultra races are new to me and I am a firm believer of not over-doing things, but spacing races and distances out over the course of a year. I’d like to do some races in the Alps as well, but financially this is unlikely next year and I will keep building up my ability and confidence here first….unless UTMB and Western States drop in my lap.

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Dominic Grossman and Hillary Coe Interview

Dominic 'Unicorn' Grossman

Dominic ‘Unicorn’ Grossman

I wanted to do something a little different with this interview. Dominic Grossman is someone I have wanted to chat to for a long time and having been friends on social media for a while now, I know he has an eclectic and varied group of close friends. Some of these are ultrarunners themselves, such as Katie deSpliter and others have found different paths but are equally obsessive and focussed.

And it was this that got me thinking; just because I have found ultrarunning as my ‘route’ how many of us have friends that forged other paths of extremity? Naturally, I am drawn to extremes, from the days I would rather forget of my early 20’s through to my running of today. I know I am not the only one and this is why I believe the friendships and bonds carved in and around ultrarunning are hard to beat.

Hillary Coe is not (yet) an ultrarunner, but has found other paths- including the fastest female drag racer in the USA ( ¼ of a mile in 8.72 seconds and 154 MPH in a diesel truck). Like Dom, she has a passion for adventure and pushing herself. Whilst she may yet run an ultra, her friendship with Dom is a result of their shared passion for life, danger, endorphins and above all enjoying this journey.

Hillary Coe

Hillary Coe

Dominic, what drew you into ultras in the first place and what got you running at all before that?

I was coming back out west from going to school in Maryland, and I just wanted something new and different from collegiate running. Ultras really fed my hunger for adrenaline, adventure, natural beauty, and challenge.

Hilary, when did you first start car racing and why?

I saw professional drag racing for the first time when I was seventeen. Watching an 8000 horsepower engine spin up and launch a dragster down the raceway was shocking and intoxicating. It felt like the first time I had truly seen something extraordinary. After the race, one of the drivers offered to let me sit in his seat. I remember telling him “I don’t want to sit in it, I want to drive it!” I guess I’m drawn to these adventures that push my limits.

Dragster

Dragster

How did you guys become friends in the first place and what was it that inspired you about each other?

Dominic- I met Hillary through my friend Peter I used to run with. Hillary is basically a huge dork, who is also very thoughtful, intelligent, and creative. I think we’ve got a similar outlook on life about going big and working hard.

Hillary- I met Dom through a mutual friend (shoutout to Peter Williams) and the first thing I noticed was how ridiculous he is in everything that he does. He is vibrating on a totally different scale, and something about that bonded us. He is obsessed and determined in a way I have rarely seen in people, and it makes me feel a little less insane.

Dominic, how has your year to date been in your races?

I was hoping to run a little faster in my races, but I’m happy with my progress and finding my limits in training and racing. I think I over-trained a bit for Western and Angeles Crest, but I was still happy to finish as well as I did… but I want to go back to Western and run faster.

Western States 2014

Training in Southern California

Dominic, I saw you finish Western States and I know it didn’t quite go to plan but was the experience everything you hoped for, even if the result wasn’t?

Runners always want things to come together neatly and nicely, but we secretly know that things will get ugly. I think the middle of the race was very tough for me, but it made the end much more sweeter as I started to pass more runners. It gave me a lot of confidence in my ability to rally in running and in life.

Hillary, you guys both lived in LA for a long time and now you are based in San Francisco. How has this changed your adventure planning together?

Nothing compares to a text from Dom that says “we’re going to cowboy camp in Altadena and then run 25 miles through the Pacific Crest Trail before lunch, you in?” It’s definitely harder to have sassy, spontaneous adventures, but I manage to make it back down to LA periodically to hang out, or for big events like the AC-100.

Dom and Hillary at Angeles Crest 2014

Dom and Hillary at Angeles Crest 2014

Dominic, what is next for you race wise and do you plan to challenge any of your competitors into a Fastest Known Time (FKT) record any time soon?

I’m just coming back from a hiatus, and might race in TNFEC in December, or I might wait until February to race at Sean O’Brien. I want to become a better climber and lower my time on the Mount Wilson Trail, which is a great place to suck wind and pump lactic acid.

Dom finishes Western States 2014

Dom finishes Western States 2014

Hillary, any plans to enter an ultramarathon in the near future?

I think it is going to take a couple more years of training before I tackle such an honored feat. But it is in my blood now, and I am going to keep on running.

Both, what is it within your friendship that helps spur you on, whether it is a work or running or adventure challenge?

Dominic- I think Hillary gives off a lot of positive energy. She usually is saying something like “well, hell yeah you’re going to kill it, you’re a friggin’ badass” and I know if someone as accomplished as Hillary believes in me, then chances are my goals are valid and worth chasing.

Hillary- When I lived in LA, Dom would get me up twice a week to run seven miles before the sun came up, and sometimes he’d take me to the Angeles Crest to get lost in the mountains for another eighteen. I bled, I blistered, and I cramped up in places I forgot were even on my body, but it was exhilarating. I saw in Dom that same excitement that I had watching my first drag race. He has an inspiring energy that stays with you. He should figure out a way to bottle it and sell it – he’d make a fortune.

Hillary mountain biking on the trails of Mount Baldy

Hillary mountain biking on the trails of Mount Baldy

Both, if you could take on one challenge in 2015, what would that be?

Dominic- If I had the time and money, it’d be to run the PCT. Realistically, it’ll probably be Western States and/or UTMB.

Hillary- I would love to surpass 30 miles through the Marin mountains, above San Francisco. Followed by 3 In N’Out Double Doubles. With fries.

Hillary's tribute to Dom after his Angeles Crest 3rd place of 2014

Hillary’s tribute to Dom after his Angeles Crest 3rd place of 2014

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