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.

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Odlo Primaloft Loftone Jacket- Review.

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That title’s a bit of a mouthful. So is Odd Roar Lofterød; the name of a Norwegian sports enthusiast who started Odlo in 1946 and where the name stems from.

A Norwegian company that has now gone international, Odlo was created originally to develop high qualify winter gear for the speed skating market. It has subsequently developed into producing extremely high quality and functional gear for the running and skiing markets in addition.

Much like Salomon, the brand originated for winter athletes and whilst Salomon now encompass summer mountain running as a core part of the brand, Odlo retains its routes as a winter brand.

I was kindly sent this jacket to review over winter and I am pictured below wearing it the morning after I finished the Brazos Bend 100 with Victor Ballesteros.

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I didn’t wear the jacket during the race as it was very humid in Houston in December, but wore it before and after the race as my body temperature struggled to control itself. However, it has been with me on most of my long runs this winter and especially on the very cold days and evenings.

Usually I try and run in the bare minimum and I have an ability to retain heat quite well. This poses a problem in the summer, but in the winter I am usually comfortable in just shorts and t-shirts on most runs. I very rarely wear tights unless it is significantly cold. Before I used the Odlo jacket, on cold days I would wear the below base layer over a t-shirt and this was taken at the Brecon Beacons ultra in late 2013.

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I bought this for around nine euros in the alps a few years back and it is the best base layer I have ever used. That said, it warms up very quickly so at both the Brecon Beacons and South Downs Way 50 last spring, I was constantly taking it off, cooling down, putting it back on and so on. Quite frustrating whilst wearing a race vest.

The Odlo jacket hits that perfect balance when it is too cold for just a waterproof jacket and yet the body temperature may fluctuate dependent on effort.

What is key here is how distinctly this has been designed for running. The material is incredibly flexible and adapts to the bodies movement. The fabric is Primaloft which offers excellent wind-proofing, although isn’t waterproof throughout. It is highly breathable with the front and sleeves being shower proof, but the back and underams being a mesh fabric to allow breathability and for airflow to allow sweat to absorb and run off.

There is only one pocket, by the right hand and this features a small hole for headphones to run from a device in the pocket and up through the jacket. In addition, the sleeves pull down over the hands so you can wear without gloves on a cold day and these have thumb hooks to stop the sleeves flapping. They are also elasticated so can be rolled up too, when you warm up.

Finally, there is even a gap on the sleeves where you can position this over your watch so you can see detail without having to adjust the sleeves. It is just all very well though through.

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At £150 RRP it is not the cheapest jacket on the market, but offers so much that it can be used in a variety of conditions. It will be my go to jacket for training runs in the cold when heavy rain isn’t forecast, for when I head to the alps to train in a couple of weeks and also for the night leg of summer UK ultras when I know I will be slowing down and need something more flexible than a base layer and warmer than a waterproof.

It also goes without saying that with a full length zip at the front, it is very easy to regulate the temperature and being as lightweight as it is, when I have warmed up and had it completely open, it doesn’t drag when fully opened.

You can find out more and buy the jacket here

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The Hoka One One- Huaka- Review

HOKA ONE ONE - Huaka - Men's

If you don’t like Hoka’s, you won’t like this review. I am a huge fan of the Hoka brand having become a convert in late 2014.

I ran the Brazos Bend 100 in December in a pair of Rapa Nui’s for the first 75 miles and then swapped out to the even more cushioned Stinson Evo’s for the last 25. During that race, in heat and humidity, I developed just one blister and had no foot pain at all the day after the race. Even flying back long haul to the UK 36 hours after finishing the race I had no leg pain even, everything just felt tired but not beaten up.

Sadly, only the Stinson’s flew back with me and the Rapa’s were gifted to the Houston dump. There was nothing wrong with them physically, but the stench. That stench couldn’t come home with me, even wrapped in sixteen carrier bags. Sadly I had to say my farewells to the best pair of shoes I have ever owned.

I will be orderding a new pair soon from The Ultramarathon Running Store as I build up to races in the Spring, but for now I wanted to stick with Hoka but try something a little different.

As I recovered from Brazos and as the evenings are still dark very early on, I am less out on the hills and footpaths, but more using the canal and road to get my miles in. I have never found a pair of road shoes that I love, so thought maybe some of the Hoka road designs might work. The model I opted for were the Huaka.

Now, if you are going to get ‘clown shoes’ you might as well get the clown colours- and these don’t let you down. Let’s face it, you’re not going to pull these off with a pair of jeans in Wetherspoons. On the flip side; what a shoe.

Since chucking the Rapa’s and until these arrived, I was back in my beaten up pair of Pearl Izumi Trail N1’s, which I still love. But I was really missing the support and cushioning I had grown accustomed to in the Rapa’s. To the extent that I felt I was potentially developing some mild Plantar Fasciitis. However, as soon as I converted back to the Huaka’s recently, that pain has gone away. Immediately.

It is not as if I am compensating for the cushioning with an aggressive heel strike either. The Huakas, much like the N1’s, offer a rolling motion, which they brand ‘rockering’. The cushioning is thinner than some lines of Hoka’s but I find the level to be just right and combined with their lightness (just 239g), you do feel you can run to your potential on the road.

In addition, the outsole is much more heavily lugged than many road shoes and would work equally well on trail. I got a bit excited when they first arrived and took them for 18 miles of bog running on the saturated Cotswold Way- not a good idea, but they will be a great dry trail shoe in summer. The level of grip means they do not slip on wet tarmac and as I write this, I ran to work this morning on an icy canal path and they held up well on this (as much as any shoe can).

As with other Hoka’s, they come with a quicklace system but also standard laces in the box. I don’t like the quicklaces so cut these out and put the standard ones in.

If, like me, you are resigned to slightly more dull, road running and canal running for the next couple of months before spring arrives and you want to try a Hoka, I can’t recommend these enough. You can also get them in some adults colours too.

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The Coming of Spring

The Ultra season now defines my calendar. And with 12 months of races available these days, the calendar and opportunities are endless.

Yet for me, ultramarathons are truly defined by Spring and Summer. May to September, when the real events are held. It is no secret that I loathe winter. For the last few months my runs have been following a patch of light illuminated from my headlamp. There is no view or scenery, just montotony and grinding out, as some say, ‘winter miles for summer smiles’.

And so with the lottery gods once again not being on my side, my race calendar is finalised for 2015, bar the odd last minute race I may go in for. Whilst all of the races this year I am doing are new to me, I don’t have the same level of excitement that I have had for previous years. None of the distances are unknowns for me and they are all in the UK, which is a shame but gives me something to work towards for 2016 when I will either get lottery-lucky or save up for a big US or European race as the focus of my season.

So whilst the distances are not unknowns, the times, positions and scenery are and I will no doubt start to feel the excitement of a coming season soon. Just a few more weeks until daylight returns as the clocks change and I can run home from work in sunlight, not torchlight.

But two things that ultrarunning has taught me is patience and resilience. Patience to get the work done over winter when I am not inspired, knowing the result will be worth it and resilience that I can achieve better things this year than I have so far. It is all still about learning and experiencing something uncomfortable that is altogether worth it.

My recovery from Brazos Bend has been fantastic and I am now returning to longer distances at weekends. My first race, the Green Man Ultra, is just six weeks away and this is preceded by the awesome Cotswold Way 50k the weekend before, where I hope to see a lot of friends, old and new. I can’t wait for the new season now, not just as a runner but as a fan, and I hope everyone is as excited as I am to see what 2015 brings racing wise. Not long now…

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2015 Ultra Goals

2014 was a good year running wise. I completed 5 races in total, which is a lot less than many people I know, but I have got to the stage where I am seeking quality over quantity yet always having something a few months away to focus on.

I ran a personal best of 8:47 at the South Downs Way 50 to start the season in April, followed by a lacklustre North Downs Way 50 where I realised I needed to focus on new races. This was my third running of this race and it never gets any easier or enjoyable.

Inspired by crewing for Jez at Western States again in June, I returned to the North Downs in August and completed the 100 mile version where I found out the second half of the race is somehow even tougher than the first, even without 50 miles on the legs. But I completed my first 100 mile race and felt I had become a fully fledged ultrarunner.

This was followed by a PB of 3:38 at the Venice Marathon in October on a last minute entry and finally a sub 24 hour hundred miler at Brazos Bend in December where I placed 18th in 22:31.

So all in all, if I had been offered these results last January, I would have bitten someones hand off to take them.

So what about 2015? Well, financially this needs to once again have a UK focus as I just don’t have the funds to make races like Pine to Palm happen, despite wanting to run this more than ever. That said, I have put in for UTMB as I can do this on the cheap and I find out on 14th January if I have been allocated a place in the lottery. I can tell you the odds like a PHD mathematician for Western States but have no clue for UTMB, so will just wait and see.

My first race of the year isn’t even a race, but is our second running of the Cotswold Way 50k on 28th Feb. We had 19 runners last year and by initial interest for this year I guess we should at least double that which would be awesome. As it is a ‘just turn up on the day’ job, we wont know until the day, but I certainly wont be running this alone. Come find us at midday on the football pitch in Weston, Bath if you are up for some hills and mud. Oh, and its totally free.

This is followed a week later by The Green Man Ultra which is a circa 46 mile loop of Bristol and something that has been on my radar for a while, which I am really looking forward to. Despite living in Bath, I don’t know the route at all so it will be a good fun day out.

My absolute ‘A Race’ for the year is the Thames Path 100 which is next up on the 2nd May. I have never run this, despite being a huge Centurion fan, and I have some lofty goals for this. Primarily, it is a case of just finishing and securing 4 tickets for the Western States lottery next December, but having come back from Houston with a lot of (possibly misplaced) confidence from such a good run at Brazos Bend, which is an equally flat yet technical in places course, and having learned a lot from that race I have been looking at last years results.

Centurion races tend to get more competitive each year and last year 10th place was 19 hours and 7 minutes, so this is the target I have set myself. Taking 3 hours off Brazos Bend is a big ask, but one I know I am capable of and to finish with a ‘teenage’ time for a 100 miler would be a dream come true. That is my focus, but it may yet just be a dream. I have five months from today to get ready for this and I know I can run this time in my heart.

In July I am set to run the 12 Labours of Hercules on the Shropshire Hills which is a new concept as a 24 hour race to me, but one that friends have run before and looks like a lot of fun.

In August it may be UTMB but if not, I have a free entry at the Cotswold Way Century in September and this will be my only other 100 miler for the year. I have volunteered at this two years running and some good friends have completed it. It finishes in Bath, so to end the season in my home town would be pretty cool.

So that is it. All brand new races to me and new experiences. Let’s have a good year!

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Brazos Bend 100- Race Report

Made it.

Made it.

I was sat on a log with my head in my hands and hadn’t seen another runner for hours. The mist was swirling and it was 3am in the middle of a dark Texan wood. All around me I could hear scratching noises of the wildlife just off the trail. I was feeling dizzy and sugar depleted and knew I needed a two minute sit down. I had been running for 21 hours now and was 94 miles into the 100 and the heat and humidity had taken its toll. As I lifted my head, through the mist a huge duck paddled a rowing boat majestically across the trail and on into the woods, completely silently. It was at this point I knew I needed to get this thing done and get some sleep. But first I needed sugar and fast.

Backtracking a tad, I was here for the most important run of my life so far. Maybe ever, in terms of emotions and significance. I wasn’t running this race for me, but in memory of Lon Lomas. This was supposed to be his first 100 mile race but fate made it me running instead, with the honour of giving the belt buckle to his wife, Alicia, at the finish. No pressure to get it done, then. But to be honest, I wasn’t nervous and I didn’t feel the significance of the pressure until it was done. I knew I would finish this race, I just didn’t know I would do as well as I did.

I landed in Houston on Thursday afternoon and after dealing with the worst people in America, the guys on passport control, I was through to meet Iain Wallace and see the best side of America. Iain was a stranger to me but was introduced through Rob Goyen who is the RD of the Brazos Bend 100. Rob had been amazing before the race, not only giving me a free entry because of why I was coming, but also free camping at the Brazos Bend State Park and when I said I could do with a ride from Houston to the park, he set me up with Iain. Iain is a Scotsman who has lived in Houston since 1994. He met me at the airport and I stayed at his house on the Thursday night before he drove me to the park on the Friday afternoon. Iain was running the 50 mile race (there was also a marathon and half marathon making this the biggest trail race in Texas history) and knew the area well. He was a fantastic host and we have become friends. He also introduced me to some of the best Mexican food I have ever had, including a deep fried burrito (you can take the man out of Scotland…)

A veteran of one of the recent wars finishing the half marathon by wheelchair

A veteran of one of the recent wars finishing the half marathon by wheelchair

Once at the park we headed over to the race start to meet the team setting up. I recognised Rob from Facebook and went over and said hello. He was as chuffed as I was to meet and like Iain, I have made a good friend in Rob. I asked Rob what he wanted before I headed out knowing Iain wanted some whiskey and Rob asked for chocolate, so I gave him a big bag from UK duty free as a little thank you for all he had done to help make this happen. I also met his lovely wife Rachael and a number of the team getting things ready, but seeing them so busy I said I would go set up my tent and come back for the pre-race briefing at 4pm.

The Brazos Bend State Park is more beautiful than I expected. One of my favourite films of all times is Forrest Gump (and not because he runs a long way…) and I always wanted to see those southern trees and this park reminded me of his house. Shimmering lakes, amazing trees and just so green everywhere. It wasn’t like the Texas I have seen on TV.

Having set up the tent and attended the briefing, I had a shower, sorted my kit for race morning and settled in to read my book and get an early night before the 6am start. Soon after I started reading I heard “Tim?” outside my tent. It was James and Kelly, two of the Lomas’ friends who I had been in contact with before the race. They were kind enough to drive out from Louisiana and crew for me which was amazing and great to meet them face to face finally. I said we would meet up again at 5am and then got back to reading and quickly fell asleep.

My tent and te stunning scenery around us

My tent and the stunning scenery around us

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I had set my alarm for 4:30am and slept remarkably well as the crickets cooed outside all night. Just as I was getting dressed I heard two more voices outside my tent calling my name- it was Alicia and Lance, Lon’s brother. The first time I was about to meet them and it made me nervous and focussed at the same time. They were both incredibly kind and also excited about the day but with naturally mixed feelings. They showed much more strength than I did by being there and I knew they would get me to finish this race no matter what.

After James and Kelly also turned up we had a brief run-through of what I would need on the day and I gave them my bags. Mainly it would be changes of clothing as the race was well catered, but above all, moral support and encouragement when it got tough later on. They had all brought mountain bikes with them so it was easy for them to meet me at certain points on each loop and do what was needed every seven miles or so. Running 4 x 25 mile loops is a lot easier logistically than a point to point course, even if it is mentally tough.

We strolled down to the start just before 6am and very soon after, the countdown began. The 100 miler was the least busy of the four distances held and 103 of us took off to run 100 miles. It was still pitch dark at 6am so most of us had headlamps on. I was wearing my reserve one which doesn’t have great light output, but I knew it was only needed for an hour or so. About half an hour in I found the field had spread out well but I was running side by side with a guy called Andres Sanchez. I am not a hugely chatty runner during races but we found we had a lot to talk about and in the end pretty much ran the first 50 miles together. Sometimes he was ahead, sometimes behind and sometimes together and it was a great way to help the miles click by. He told me his marathon PB was just over 3 hours which made me a little scared as mine is 3:38, but it was also his first 100 so I think he was taking it steady and it worked well for both of us. Just like the North Downs Way 100 I made sure that for the first 50 miles if it felt like hard work I would stop and walk to re-set.

Finishing loop one with Andres

Finishing loop one with Andres

Even early on the humidity really hit me. The sun wasn’t even up but I was sweating and I made sure to take an S-cap every half an hour as well as as much water as I needed, drinking to thirst. As the sun started to break through it was a magical sunrise and lit up the whole of the park and the sky. I quietly prayed that this would hopefully be the only sunrise I would see on this run, even though I had until midday Sunday to finish. I am not a religious man, but it was a beautiful sunrise and I quietly said hello to Lon and told him I would finish this.

The first loop I ran with just one 500ml Salomon softflask, but had another in my pocket in case it was needed, but with water every three miles and the heat still being relatively mild I just needed the one. Whilst water was every three miles, there were full aid stations at miles 6, 11 and 17 on each loop and I kept these as my focus. I didn’t carry any food with me so I made sure I took my time at each of these and ate as much as I could, even in the latter stages when I felt sick. Early on it was mainly fruit with more substantial food later in the day, along with a gel every hour.

The first part of the course travels through the lakes area where the alligators live. I was really looking forward to seeing them and not apprehensive as there has never been an incident in the park and you just need to keep your distance. No such luck on this loop, it was still too cool for them, but I was starting to bake already. It was like someone switched the calendar and moved me from December to August in a day and harder to adapt to than I had thought.

Taking a breather with Iain's dog, Bo.

Taking a breather with Iain’s dog, Bo.

From the lakes section we travelled into the woods and followed stunning single track for the remainder of the course. This weaved and darted around and made running fun and something I had to concentrate on. Whilst the course was advertised as fast, it was a lot more technical than I thought and several times I tripped on roots and tree stumps that were hidden under the thick leaf foliage. I made a mental note that in the dark with fatigue this section would take some concentration and by my calculations, all going well, I would cover two loops of this part in the night.

The course was set up in such a way that you passed other runners regularly and I was constantly told “good job”, which by the end I was dutifully returning. It was an incredibly friendly race and seeing other people on other sections really did encourage me on. Some of the half marathon runners couldn’t believe the distance we were running and them being in awe was quite cool and helped spur me on.

The 50 mile run started at 7am, an hour after us, so Andres and myself were wondering at what stage the leaders would storm past us. Sure enough, at about three hours in Ford Smith literally sailed by. It was like his feet weren’t touching the ground. Who knows, maybe he had been given some tips by the duck of the woods as to how to traverse these parts. He went on to finish in 5:48 which is pretty incredible now I know the course.

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At about mile 20, Andres and I took a wrong turn but quickly realised and doubled back after no more than a mile I guess. But adding two miles at this stage was a bit frustrating but we had to put it out of our minds and just crack on. It focussed us to have a good end to the loop and we made it back to the start/finish in 4:20, which was pretty decent for 25 miles and 2 bonus miles, with 75 left to run.

Here I realised how big this run was for me. A gazebo had been set up at by the Lomas family and 12 friends and family were there as well as others around who had heard why I was running. I met Lon and Lance’s father, Alicia’s mother, Jason and Randall, two friends of Lon’s and a host of others who all hugged me and helped me get on with the job with renewed focus. This next loop was set to be the hottest and I was likely out from 10:30am to around 3:30pm, so I stripped off my North Face tribute t-shirt and swapped it for my white and very lightweight Salomon vest, which I intended to keep drenched. A lot of other runners were now shirtless but a) the world is not ready for that yet and I didn’t fancy tensing my tits every time I saw another human and b) I asked Jez at Western States why he didn’t run shirtless when most of the elites did and he said he felt it was better to have a wet t-shirt on to keep cool than just let the moisture evaporate straight off your skin. Made sense to me.

Heading into the heat of loop two

Heading into the heat of loop two

Loop two was hot. Really hot. It got up to 27 centigrade at times and this was like a summers day back home, but it was the humidity which literally clung to me and made me feel suppressed all the time, until a breeze would quickly bring temporary reprieve. I was now using both soft flasks, one to drink from and one to douse myself with on my head and shirt.

I met Lance, James, Kelly and Alicia every few miles and they kept up a great routine of coke, sunscreen, bodyglide, cheering and encouragement. I really couldn’t have done it without them.

Each section on loop two seemed to take so much longer than the first. Things looked different in the changing light and I wasn’t once bored of the course, it just seemed to take a long time. At each aid station there was a camera crew from Ultrasportslive.tv and they were all great fun and helped me relax and enjoy the run as opposed to being focussed and putting myself under pressure.

A pit-stop with the crew

A pit-stop with the crew

Eventually I hit the more tricky technical section and the humidity in the woods was simply sapping. It felt like someone was squeezing my head with a warm towel but I knew if I could just get through this section, it would start to cool off later in the afternoon and I could get my rhythm back in the evening.

Sure enough, I came back around to the start/finish and completed 50 miles in 9:44, which I was pretty happy with. I sat down and when asked how I felt I knew I had learnt from the summer. I said “The bad news is it hurts, the good news is I know it won’t now get any more painful and I just need to work through the pain”. In a way I embraced this moment as it was the mental side that would take over. The physical knew what it was doing and I just needed to repeat what I had already done for 50 miles, albeit at an inevitably slowing pace.

Finishing loop two

Finishing loop two

I again changed my Buff and t-shirt and felt fresh. I opted not to change my shoes and socks until mile 75 as the Rapa Nui’s still felt amazing and my socks were doing a great job. It was also still very warm so I didn’t yet want to see the state of my feet until it cooled down somewhat. I had blisters for sure, but nothing in any way, shape or form like the North Downs ones.

And so for only the second time ever, I ran out of a 50 mile aid station ready to do it all over again. At least here I knew what was to come and that helped.

Heading into loop 3

Heading into loop 3

I met the guys two hours into this loop as I knew I would need my headtorch soon after 6pm and when it started to get dark here, it got dark ridiculously fast. They set me up and sprayed me with insect repellent as the mosquitos were starting to really buzz. As I write this, their bites are the only pain I have left from the race, so I would call that a pretty damn good recovery.

The last time I ran a night race I had Chris Mills to pace me, but here I was going it alone. This didn’t bother me as I knew the route well enough by now and I have been running home with a torch along the canal path for the last few months, so am pretty competent. That said I was getting tired and so blasted the i-pod until the batteries died. It also kept my mind off all of the scratching in the woods. Everything here bites, scratches or stings so I kept my wits about me as much as possible and it helped me focus.

I ended loop three in something like sixteen hours and knew I had six hours to play with for the final loop to get the coveted ‘under 22 hours’ belt buckle. This had been my focus the whole day and remained so, so I quickly changed tops for the last time, changed batteries in my headlamp and headed out for one last loop. Lance and co now saw I was getting tired and made a big effort to jeer me on for this one final push. Every step took me closer to no more dreaded loops and I could sense the finish, even though it was hours away yet.

One of the locals

One of the locals

I changed shoes and socks here, swapping out for my Stinson Evos, which were like running on marshmallows and very welcome. James tended to a couple of blisters, I bodyglided and was off and running.

All I wanted after the sun went down was noodles and broth as well as mashed potatoes and gravy when it could be found. The guys were great and every time I saw them had a cup of both for me. The aid stations and the volunteers were also incredible and I even tried my first slice of pumpkin pie. Without the calories I was forcing down my neck, there is no way I would have finished.

The last tough section was due to take about three hours between mile 85 and 98. Here I was suffering and so Lance and James made an effort to cycle out to as many spots as possible to meet me and give me coke and encouragement. They were awesome and made this lonely section manageable. Lance is not the sort of guy you would put down as scared, but even he said afterwards that those woods gave him the spooks and I was pretty glad it wasn’t just me who felt that. It was pure Blair Witch in there.

I finally got to the last tricky section again, about six miles of single track deep in the woods and started to feel a pain in my right knee. Up until this point I was making good time and pretty confident I would get in under 22 hours, but as the knee worsened I had a shooting pain up my ITB and it went completely rigid on me. Not good this late in the game and certainly not good in these woods. With hindsight, just like the hallucinations which were now coming thick and fast, both could well have been a result of me lacking sugar and my body starting to crash. I made a conscious decision then to slow down and just finish. The time didn’t matter, which buckle didn’t matter, only finishing mattered. So I walked a lot of this spooky section and massaged my knee as often as required. I had the odd sit down and then I started to recover. It never always gets worse.

Finally, I came out of the woods. I downed two horrid gels that were left by the water aid station and pushed myself to get out to mile 98 where I would see the guys for the last time before the finish. They saw I was in a state, but all I could say was “We’ve done it. We did it.” I also added “I’m pretty fucked”.

As they drove down to the finish in Lance’s truck, I jogged towards the finish and smiled. I looked up and said a few words and kept going. About a mile out, Lance had jogged up to meet me and it was at this point that I stopped running. We walked in and said a few things to each other that I am not going to share, but he and Alicia were my two rocks that day. This meant so much to all of us and it was an honour to be the one to get it done for them. A few hundred yards from the finish, Lance ran ahead to tell Rob (the RD) we were coming in and handed me over to Alicia. We walked to the finish arm in arm and, again, I am not going to share what we said but as we crossed the line we held hands and put them in the air together.

I hugged everyone there. All Lon’s family had been up for as long as me and I know from experience how mentally tiring crewing is so it was a pretty emotional finish. I got a hug from Rob and stood back as he gave the buckle to Alicia. Incredibly graciously, he also gave one to me.

With Race Director, Rob Goyen. Note the blow up Alligator which was hidden around some bends on the course. Hilarious at 1am...

With Race Director, Rob Goyen. Note the blow up Alligator which was hidden around some bends on the course. Hilarious at 1am…

Not that it matters, but I finished in 22 hours and 31 minutes. I was 18th overall and 1st international, which I am still getting my head around. My longest training run is typically around 4 hours at the weekends and I run less than 70 miles per week on average. I just wanted to emphasise that in case you happen to be reading this and feel that 100 miles is beyond you. It’s not and in my case it is 20% physical fitness, 80% mental focus.

After getting the buckles and chatting for a bit, I was crashing and needed a shower and to pass out for a few hours. That I did and we all met for breakfast about 9am before going our separate ways.

Even if I do ever get into Western States, I don’t think anything can ever touch the significance of this ultra on that day for me. How could it? If ever there is an example of dignity and strength, it is the Lomas family and I am just so happy I could do my one small bit to help make this Christmas just that little bit easier.

A final thank you to everyone who made this happen. Those of you who chipped in on Crowdfunder to cover my flight, North Face for the tent and sleeping bag, Salomon and Merrell, for clothing, Buff- my main sponsor- and everyone who sent me good luck messages. You all got me through this.

Sleep well, Lon. We both got those buckles we always wanted this year. I told you we would.

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Therapearl – Review

The Therapearl Back Wrap

The Therapearl Back Wrap

Therapearl is a product I came across after the North Downs Way 100. I had some extremely painful connective tissue issues between my shins and my feet. This was the most painful experience I have ever had and was probably a result of not just running 103 miles, but the slipping and sliding that took place on the night leg as the storm hit and the trail became very muddy and slippery.

In addition, my weakest area is my core. Its more of a keg than a six pack, which resulted in some significant lower back pain.

Therapearl is an interesting product as it can easily transition from a warm strapped pack to a cold one, which means I can use in a variety of ways depending on the injury.

Right now I am using the pack after my long weekend run in a warm fashion as I lie down or sit on the sofa. In the summer I used as a freezing pack on my legs and back. It is great to find something that has such variety and needs no cleaning or washing.

The version I have is this: http://www.therapearl.com/products/back-wrap/

Whilst specifically designed for the back, it works really well as a tight strap on the shins or thighs as well.

Probably best not to wear on a plane.

Probably best not to wear on a plane.

Simply, if you want a warm strap you place it in the microwave for a minute or two and if you want cold, you place it in the freezer for a couple of hours. It couldn’t be simpler.

Some of the key stats are below:

Cold

2 hours until ready / frozen

Apply directly onto the skin

Doesn’t Drip

Stays cold for the doctor recommended 20 mins

Hot

Short warm up time in the microwave

Doesn’t scald skin

Apply before exercise to increase blow flow to injury area

Comes with a strap so you can get on with your day

The range starts at £7.99 and you can buy online from Lloyds Pharmacy.

I’m not really one for too many gadgets or gimmicks but this really works and keeps it simple.

 

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