Ultimate Direction Signature Series: Anton Krupicka Adventure Vest 3.0

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OK, so I have been fortunate enough to have a few of the UD Signature Series packs over the years. I started off with the Scott Jurek version one (the red ones), then reviewed the larger Pete Bakwin version 2 (the blue ones) and finally have one of the 20l fastpacks which is my go to pack for run commuting or when I need more gear.

All of these packs evolved and Ultimate Direction are a company who take customer feedback seriously and act on it. Consequently whilst you see a few other packs here and there during an ultramarathon, I think its fair to say that between Ultimate Direction and Salomon, they have the majority of the field covered.

Last August a friend of mine who had recently received sponsorship gave me his old Salomon race vest and I used this during UTMB and the Cotswold Way Century (both DNF’s incidentally but not anything to do with the pack!). It was a great bit of kit and the soft flasks were a real asset over the previous hard bottles used by Ultimate Direction. That said there were some flaws including the size of the pockets and access to the rear when using a dry bag, but overall I thought it slightly out-did the UD packs…just.

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And then this came along…and its blown all past UD vests out of the water as well as addressing all of the faults I had come up against on the Salomon race vest. I honestly cannot think of an area of the vest that I could suggest an improvement on.

To start with, the pack is lighter at just 400g (14oz) yet the AK’s biggest weakness always was its capacity which was tiny. This has now grown to 11.5l which competes with the larger Salomon packs. The vast majority of this storage is now in the large rear pocket which features one zip which travels along the top and all the way down the right hand side. This means the pocket is much easier to open and access gear or stuff a dry bag. I tend to do the latter as no pack is fully waterproof and dry bags are very cheap. These are perfect for mandatory kit you don’t plan to access unless essential.

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In front of this pocket is a large elasticated stuff pocket which is ideal for a waterproof to be quickly accessed but also has room for a base layer, hat and gloves ( or an ideal place to store a bladder if you prefer to bottles without hindering your mandatory gear). Finally you have the bungee area which can also hold extra gear.

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Moving to the front, you have a new system to fit poles on the front which makes mountain races so much easier. At UTMB I didn’t ever fold my poles away as I was conscious of time taking my pack on and off to do this, but now you can access whilst the pack is still firmly strapped on and they don’t hinder arms whilst running.

The pack has extra storage on the front including a huge mesh pocket on the bottom left side. I drink a lot when running long distance and often find two bottles isn’t enough, but I don’t like bladders, so this expandable pocket is ideal to securely store a third (or even fourth) bottle.

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The pack comes with two 500ml 2017 softflasks as standard and has increased space for a larger smartphone on the front pockets too. The side zipped pockets, which on previous versions I said you needed to be able to dislocate your arm to access on the run, are now lower and much easier to access.

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Yes, I received this pack to review for free, but if I had to choose any pack on the market right now, it would be this one. It is expensive and I can’t talk for its longevity yet, but if built as well as or better than the older vests I have, which I still use, then it should be very sturdy indeed. For me, the key with this pack is versatility. It has more than enough capacity for big mountain races, but also using the bungees you can synch it down and carry the bare minimum for shorter races or training days out. The material is the softest I have comes across in a race vest and whilst my longest session so far was for 7.5 hours, I had no chafing or soreness when I returned.

Its truly a pack for all scenarios (bar multi-days or the Spine etc, before I have people tell me that!)

You can watch Anton Describing the pack here and you can buy the pack in the UK here

The pack comes in three sizes and all measurements are spelled out on the above links so you get the right fit.

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The Dilemma

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This is one of the hardest posts I have written since I set up Sofa to Ultra in 2012. I think the last 24 hours have been as exhausting- certainly mentally- as if I had run the actual Western States.

As with most things Western States related, I follow amendments and updates religiously. This included the two new course variations for 2017 and the addition of a waitlist at the lottery. The latter I didn’t give much thought to, aside from thinking it was a sensible way to ensure that come race day they maxed out on the correct number of starters as opposed to DNS’s skewing things.

Back in October I secured a place at the Lavaredo Ultra Trail in Italy for the same weekend as Western States and always said I would drop this for Western States if by any chance my name came up in the lottery- the logic being Western States is not only statistically harder to get into, but my absolute dream race. The chance with 8 tickets was still slim and I kinda hoped I would slide through this one to have 16 tickets in for next December.

Well, as I watched the lottery yesterday, I didn’t get in.

As the 250th and last name was read out, I knew there would always be next year and I would keep running qualifiers and putting my name in the hat and I would have 16 tickets next December. C’est La Vie.

Then came the waitlist draw. Six names were drawn and read out by the legendary Tim Twietmeyer. Then the seventh “Another from Great Britain (gulp), fourth year ticket holder (GULP), from Bath (fuck me), Tim Lambert (I’M [probably] RUNNING WESTERN STATES!!!!).

Over 4200 people had their name in that hat and I had 8 tickets with my name on out of over 11,000 total tickets. The odds of being selected were very slim, but my name was picked and very, very high up the wait list.

With 24 DNS’s last summer, this all but guarantees I would move up the list and run Western States in summer 2017. Something I have been working towards since summer 2011.

And you probably knew this was coming…but, there is a but…

With just 369 runner spots, this race is in ridiculously high demand. If you get in, you do all you can to hit that start line. Training begins at once and you have six months to get super fit and deal with any issues such as injuries. As a consequence, barring broken limbs, very few people withdraw prior to very close to race day- only when they absolutely have no chance of starting.

Yes, there is a chance that might be different this year but there is also a chance I would be training, half unsure if I would be getting into the race. With a race of such supreme importance to me, that’s tough mentally to handle. Ideally I would like the certainty of a secured place, although don’t get me wrong I appreciate I am in a very lucky position.

But to maybe have to wait until April, May or even early June to know if I am running, would put me personally at a distinct disadvantage to those picked and preparing from now. Others might get a rush off the adrenaline, but I do like a little security, its just who I am.

In addition, in order to gain a place I would be secretly and inadvertently hoping for seven runners to injure themselves or get sick. That is not good karma and I would feel like my place had been secured off the back of misfortune of others. I have a feeling this might get to me, despite there being no reason whatsoever that it should, but I do over analyse things.

I think if I lived in the USA I would feel differently, but I am not in a position to pay for flights now on the chance I might run or pay a premium for lastminute flights. The same with accommodation. I need to commit to Lavaredo or Western States and by committing to Western States, there is a chance I could spend a lot of money to run neither race. A small chance, but a chance nonetheless.

If I do decline the waitlist place, I keep my ticket count doubling each year. So I would have 16 tickets next year, 32 the year after and so on. It is highly likely that given that trajectory I will get a secured spot in the conventional lottery within the next 3 years. I have waited so long for this and I want to do it right. Obviously if the ticket count had gone I would have invested four years in nothing so would have taken the waitlist place, without a shadow of a doubt.

A good friend of mine summed it up perfectly, that the waitlist is the worst of both worlds. It’s a taster of what could be, but also limbo land and not enough to focus on Western States or Lavaredo.

Another put it less subtly “Imagine if only 6 pull out…” Cheers, Mark.

Finally after the year I have had, I need a good year to get back on the horse. If I hadn’t been picked for WS at all, I would have been OK as I had alternatives planned to build the confidence. For the last 24 hours I have been in a world of confusion as to what to do, but I think once a decision is made it is important to stick with it and commit 100%. If you second guess yourself, you’re fucked.

And that decision is I am going to run Lavaredo in 2017.

I am going to withdraw from the waitlist and I am going to qualify for 16 tickets for the draw next December. I am going to have a wonderful year of experiences and achievements and I am going to run Western States when fate calls me properly.

A lot of people will think I am nuts. Half my friends get this decision and half think I am being stupid. I can relate to both as that is the (first world) turmoil I have been going through these last 24 hours.

Thank you to everyone who has sent me congratulations and advice. This still means the world to me, as does your friendship and this wonderful community.

I might regret this decision in time but as it stands, I think it is the right one and I will see Squaw Valley when the time is right.

And most importantly…I now know for sure that they actually do put the tickets with my name on, in the tumbler. That, my friends, is key.

Happy Trails.

 

 

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The Mind Games of the 100

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I started this sport to run 100 miles. It was that simple, really. After realising ultras existed back in 2011, I said I would run 100 miles.

In 2012 I ran my first 50 and in 2014 I finally finished my first 100 mile race and it was every bit as sweet as I had imagined, day and night for three years. It was all the more sweet because it didn’t come easy and came at a race I tried, and failed, to finish in 2013.

The thing is, that first attempt at the 100 mile distance was the first race I had ever failed to finish.

I am by no means quick, but I am stubborn and I tend to get things done. It took me a year to bounce back and it took everything I had- and a lot of what I didn’t realise I had- to fall across that finish line.

To date I have stood on the start line of eight 100 milers and only finished four of them. I’ve still not dropped from a race of any other distance so what is it that’s consistently tripped me up here?

I have done a lot of thinking about this these last few months, because if you had asked me four months ago I would have said I have started six 100 milers and finished four, but two 100 mile DNF’s in a row knocked my confidence and I have subsequently hit re-set, had a break, got a bit fat and started again from scratch.

I’ve spoken to friends and fellow runners and whilst I wanted to write this piece primarily for me, to clarify my thoughts with my first race of 2017 just 3 months away, I thought it might help others either stepping up to the distance or trying to better their performances.

Insufficient Mental Strength

The vast majority of drops from 100 mile + distance races are because of mentally checking out. I have lost count of times in races of all distances where I have been scripting my excuses for a drop at the next aid station.

With a hundred miler, its not that I necessarily get any different thoughts to a shorter race, I just have longer to think about them. And let them fester. And let them slowly pluck my race from my feet. Everything can be working well, but if you don’t choke off that thought, that thread that keeps begging to be pulled and pulled, you will check out and when that happens you are done, no matter what you have left physically.

In 100 milers, I’ve sometimes taken over 3 hours to go 10 miles between aid stations. When you’re cold and exhausted and you realise you could have used those 3 hours for a Nandos and a movie and driven home, you’ve got to remember why you signed up in the first place and have been excited about this race for weeks. Precisely because you are not doing what everyone else is doing on a Saturday night and that Nandos coleslaw is rubbish.

Often it will manifest itself as a physical injury such as a strain. That initial pain becomes a strain and then the worm creeps into your brain that if you don’t stop, you’ll do yourself some serious injury.

Other times it’s a reaction to the climate- too hot, too cold, too thirsty, not pissing enough and so on.

They are all threads and need to be stopped before they start. Learn to tell a thought to do one. If it’s a real issue, it’ll come back of its own accord and really needs no encouragement or nurturing.

Two of my four drops have been for mental reasons. I blamed the first one on the heat and the second on a knee injury. Because that was easier than calling myself a wimp.

Mental Exhaustion

Not to be confused with insufficient mental strength, this is going into a race with something else heavily weighing on your mind. We all run these sorts of distances, at least in part, as a means of escapism. Not just the races themselves, but the discipline it takes to train for them. I know I do.

But sometimes I have something on my mind that wont leave during a race or on other occasions it will be a problem I have been suffering through which has now gone away and meant some of the ‘fight’ I had had up until recently had left me.

My third dropout at UTMB in August was partially down to this and partially down to being undertrained for such an endeavour. A huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders two weeks before race day and whilst this was magnificent, it also was like a boxer losing concentration mid-fight and being landed a shattering blow. UTMB was that blow and knocked me out.

UTMB wasn’t actually a drop, but I was timed out. Regardless, this meant I was not good enough to finish. I was mentally exhausted and physically unprepared for the endeavour as a consequence.

Nutrition Issues

I remember an interview with Anton Krupicka a few years back where he said he would seriously need to re-think his nutrition strategy because what got him through 50’s was making him bonk on the 100’s.

Like daily nutrition I believe variety is key but that also one can get into zombie mode mid-race and lost focus on strategy. If you get nutrition wrong, you will lose mental focus and you will then drop. You might wing it through a 50 miler on bad nutrition or just fruit and coke, but in a 100 that is virtually impossible.

We all know how bad we feel when we miss breakfast and rush around and eat lunch late- pretty rubbish. So magnify that by ten and that’s how you’ll feel if you cant eat in an ultra.

The biggest problem with nutrition is that very few of us will run more than 30 miles in training for a 100 miler or maybe the odd 50 miler thrown in a month or two before the big day. What works on a 30 miler may not work from mile 31 and you just wont know it until race day.

I have learnt that the best way to combat this is to not have just one nutrition strategy but be open minded to having to switch things up mid race. I’ll have a plan, but I will be open to deviate from that plan as soon as it no longer works.

The last race I dropped from in September was the Cotswold Way Century. It’s a midday start and I took the two hour bus ride to the start and saw this as a sensible time to stuff my face. Big mistake. I started bloated and heavy and felt rubbish from the first step. This also wasn’t helped by still, with hindsight, having slight gut issues from drinking from streams at the baking hot UTMB. I was puking from mile 30, moved quickly on to sipping gels and coke- which got me through the Thames Path 100 a couple of years back- albeit from mile 60- and started slowly bonking. I was still exhausted from UTMB and I couldn’t keep food down. I was pulled at mile 50 a broken man.

Injury

Whilst I haven’t dropped from injury myself, those who have are either carrying an injury into a race or sustain one during the run. The latter happens sometimes and it’s a risk we all take, but carrying one in is just stupid in a 100 miler. I get that races are few and far between and often it’s a qualifier that you need to finish to accumulate lottery points, but if it hurts on a 10 mile training run its going to put you in danger- and possibly others- in a 100 miler.

Yes, there is the usual ‘suck it up, buttercup’ and ‘man up’ bravado all over social media, but I have learnt ultras aren’t about being hard, they are about being sensible and knowing when you really are pushing that little bit too far.

A friend of mine summed it up perfectly a few years ago and I always have this in my mind during a race- if the pain is so bad that you need a painkiller, then drop. I’ve only taken a painkiller once in a race and I never will again as its just dangerous. Either carry on without one or step aside (but bearing in mind the insufficient mental strength- is it really that bad or is it your excuse?)

For me, it has been a very humbling experience this year. I wont be so hard on myself to improve next year like I always was, but will focus more on the completion and enjoyment of each step. Once you finish a distance, you have nothing left to prove.

Yes, you can improve your time but whether I am 109th or 67th no longer matters to me- its whether I ran smartly and whether I enjoyed the experience. I’m never going to compete at the sharp end and whilst PB’s are always a pleasant reward, a smile and knowledge that I did my best that day is what I am after next year.

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Laying the Foundations for 2017

Most of you know this year has been disappointing. Of four events started, I only finished two of them. But what most people don’t realise is I have just been grateful to be able to run at all.

UTMB was never about the race itself, as strange as that sounds. Of course I was gutted to not complete it, but it was the journey towards it that kept me focused in some pretty dark times. This year has made me realise that whilst finishes are always fantastic, as cheesy as it sounds, it really is about the journey. The excitement of entering a race or getting a place in a much sought after lottery. Of taking those first steps. Of planning races along the way to be ready for that big A race. Of using running as a means to fighting depression or any other type of anxiety. Of being the reason to get up at 5am on a cold morning. Of meeting friends to run up Pen y Fan on a winters morning. Races are not about race day I now realise, but what it takes to hit that start line.

Standing in Chamonix with 2,500 other athletes on the start line of one of the great ultramarathons in the world, having been a non-runner a few years before set the hairs on the back of my neck tingling. That was UTMB in 2016 for me. And I have no doubt whatsoever that when the time is right and things align, I will finish that race.

As I write this, my focuses for 2017 are coming together. On December 3rd I will find out if I have a place in Western States for next June and this will be my fourth consecutive lottery, which means I have 8 tickets in the hat. The odds get better each year but for the first time I am hoping my name isn’t called*. For three reasons:

  1. I already have a place in the Lavaredo Ultratrail that same weekend and this is a race I am extremely excited about, having visited Cortina earlier this year. Quite simply it is the most beautiful place I have ever been in my life and I cannot wait to return and run this iconic route. That said, it is easier to get a place than Western States so if my name is called, I will have to pull out of this and look to run another year. So many races, such little time.
  2. I have just set up my own business and money is tight. It is a lot cheaper to race at Lavaredo (I can stay with friends and flights are cheap) than fly to California. 2018 will be better financially (hopefully…!).
  3. Because 2016 was so shite, I am looking to use 2017 as a massive confidence boost to be well placed if my name was called for 2018. I would like to run well in the UK and Italy and then use Western States as my sole focus for 2018, bar a few smaller tune up races.

*I was asked recently why anyone would enter a lottery if they didn’t want a place. Western States works on cumulative ticket counts, doubling each year to give the dedicated a higher chance of success over the years. Year one, 1 ticket, year two, 2 tickets, year three, 4 tickets and so on. It is year four for me so I have 8 tickets and if I fail this year I would have 16 for next year (subject to running an approved qualifier each year), as opposed to back to one ticket if I failed to enter this December.

Regardless of what happens, I am excited for what 2017 holds and cannot wait to get back out there and racing to the best of my ability. This means a fresh start and a clean slate and after six weeks of virtually no running I am building back up again. Yet this time, I am starting with the basics and building up right. My first ultra of 2017 is in March, so I have four months to get ready and start the season right.

So, what am I doing differently this time around? Well, as opposed to just logging miles I am starting with the foundations of nutrition for the demands I am asking of my body. I have befriended the team in the local health food shop and they have started me off on three key supplements. Generally, I eat pretty well anyway and have just started juicing once a day, but what I have been supplementing to date has essentially been worthless, as it turns out. Let’s just say if the health food manager had texted me with regards what I was taking, she would have described them as ‘ducking shut’.

So its out with the supermarket multivitamins and fish oil and in with the wonderfully branded Lamberts. Must be quality with that name.

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So daily now I am taking 3 x 1100mg fish oil pills. Primarily this is to maintain and strengthen bones as I build up the miles on my legs. I have sporadically taken fish oil to date, but not to a routine and, as it turns out, the supermarket stuff is crap.

Arnica pills 30c after every run of more than six miles or one hour. Reducing swelling and muscle soreness this wonder herbal pill aids recovery and I have been directed to take before bed to recover during sleep.

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Vitamin D3. During the dark winter months where often the only sunlight I see is from the window as I work, I was recommended this for mood enhancement and bone support. Often known as the sunshine vitamin, I don’t take this daily but on days where I spend little or no time in sunlight which is sadly common during the British winter all too often.

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In addition, breakfast is now a homemade juice often including carrots, kale and spinach to support all of the above supplements.

I am upping my intake of red meat for iron and wild fish, as well as cutting out white pasta and rice to increase fibre levels.

All of the above is great as a foundation, but without the right training it won’t do it alone. The ‘junk’ miles are out in exchange for a proper training program starting in December, culminating in either Lavaredo or Western States as my goal.

I have finally submitted to technology and have bought a second hand Suunto Ambit 2 from a mate who was upgrading. Most days I forget to switch this on, but will try and do so more often to run to my training plan and not just slogging out miles. This is also great for finding new routes and I have a few winter explorations planned including running the full length of the 36 mile beautiful Limestone Link, where this watch will be invaluable on the poorly marked or junction sections.

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Finally, I have admitted to myself that it would also be hugely beneficial if I can see where I am going! All of my adult life I have worn glasses for driving and watching TV etc and I have been conscious that I really should wear these for running too. Having chatted with Jeff Browning, a friend from the US (Hardrock and Western States double record holder), who wears glasses too, he recommended a firm who could help. Consequently, I have invested in some fantastic Oakley glasses. These are super lightweight and have a transition lens, meaning they are sunglasses on sunny days and revert to a normal lens when cloudy, night-time or under tree cover. My running confidence has soared since putting these on for the first time last week. If you wear glasses and want more details, drop me a line as they have changed the game for me already.

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I have been nursing a small foot injury since UTMB and since taking the supplements and increasing my vitamins and high quality, natural food this has faded away and I am delighted with the changes and just need to stick with them. Roll on 2017 for many reasons but I am really excited to see what I can do. I firmly believe that all of the above help, but also the psychological benefits of knowing I am doing the right things will also benefit hugely.

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South Downs Way 50 & South Downs Way 100 2016

Well, admittedly these reports are a little belated. I have neglected the blog this year for one reason or another and I wanted to update it with memories of two great races from April and June, respectively, of this year.

This was my second go at the SDW50 and I was returning two years after my (still) PB at the 50 mile distance of 8:47 back in 2014. Considering it has 5,700ft (1,750m) of climb I always knew that was going to be tough to get close to and I was no way near as fit as 2014 this year.

It was a pretty average spring day and had elements of sun, wind and rain. The second half of the South Downs are pretty exposed and so when the wind blows, you always know about it.

I had no idea what to expect coming into this race, but finished just under an hour off my PB in 9:42, which- all things considered- I was delighted with.

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The 100 mile version came two months later and was something I had wanted to run for a while. I have used the North Downs Way 100 (2014) and Thames Path 100 (2015) races as Western States qualifiers in previous years and wanted to extend this to the South Downs 100 in 2016.

The 50 mile event follows the second half of the route- which was useful as I would be “running” a good chunk of this in the dark- and the first 25 miles I had marked with Chris Mills in 2015, so I felt confident I knew what to expect going into the race, bar the 25-50 mile section.

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Winchester to Eastbourne…100 miles, one (and a bit) day(s)

Held in mid-June, it is one of the longest days of the year and starts at 6am. It doesn’t properly get ‘headtorch’ dark until almost 10pm so I had a good 16 hours of daylight ahead of me, which is always attractive. On the flip side, we also had an oppressively humid day which accounted for the vast majority of the drops, I gather. Even an hour into the race at 7am if I had fallen into a lake I couldn’t have got any wetter.

This was my 4th 100 mile race at the time and the last two prior to this had been sub-24 hour times, but I knew my fitness would make this a long shot this time around. Nevertheless, it was in the back of my mind.

I ran well to mile 40, had a rough go of things in the oppressive afternoon heat to mile 50 and then somehow had an incredible section to mile 60 where I picked up my pacer and good friend, Paul Reader. It was one of those 10 mile sections that you dream about and only happen oh so rarely where everything just flowed. It’s these memories that always drag me back to another race when the pain and ‘never, ever again’ fade.

But what goes up and all that…when I met Paul, and it wasn’t his fault whatsoever, I literally instantly felt awful. We walked the first hill together after he joined me, and I waited for that feeling to pass…and waited….and waited….fuck it, lets jog a bit….nope, still feel like dogmince….try again….’ks sake….

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Snooze 1 of 196… 

And we repeated that through the night. I was pretty run down going into this race and where as tiredness is always there overnight in races, in this one it hit me hard. I couldn’t eat and Paul kindly ran to a petrol station to get me the only thing that appealed- lemonade.

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The Reader montage.

At this stage, early evening I was well on for a sub 24 hour finish by quite some margin, but in the end I would estimate of those 40 miles Paul selflessly joined me for, I walked for 30 of them and slept for over an hour. I felt awful- literally and for Paul, but in the end slunk in for just over 26 hours. Not a bad time, not what I wanted but with hindsight I couldn’t have asked for anything better.

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Bless him…somehow he is still friends with me

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“I’m fine…”

Having young kids, I’ve seen them fall down in the playground more times than I can remember. The most common being when they take a tumble, stand straight back up a little shocked and say ‘I’m fine’, before the shock wears off, the worry or pain sets in and they start crying and run for me.

Well, that’s what happened to me this year and culminated with my own fall at UTMB (metaphorically speaking…sadly I didn’t have something as spectacular as a real fall as my reason for not completing the race, but rather a power nap that turned into a, ahem, longer nap).

But I got up and said ‘I’m fine’ and quickly entered another 100 mile race for exactly a month later, against a lot of good advice. The problem is, I wasn’t fine.

At UTMB, it was an exceptionally hot year for the second year in a row. This resulted in a slower pace and, therefore, longer gaps between aid stations. Everyone in my chalet, myself included, ended up drinking from streams as a means of just getting through the race. A few days later, after we had all left Chamonix, our group chat on messenger lit up with “anyone else got a bad stomach?”. I hadn’t given it much thought as often after a race I take a few days to settle down, but yes, I realised I did have a bad stomach. But it got better and I disregarded it.

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A picture says 1000 words

This depletion of the system, combined with 25 hours out in the mountains in very hot conditions, combined with an incredibly tough year mentally- which resulted in decreased training performance- meant I was due a serious period of recuperation. I am not a runner who races that often, perhaps 3 or 4 ultras in a year, so to do another so soon was something I felt necessary and cathartic, but wasn’t sensible. It ended inevitably with a drop.

And from the wobbly lip under the swings, came the moment the pain set in.

This morning I ran 4 miles and I feel like I have just run 50. Yet it was fantastic. Running for me, not for a race around the corner. It was the late Dave Terry who said “Not all pain is significant” and I think about this a lot. The antithesis of this is my Mum saying “Listen to your body”. And I think the balance is in-between. You have to know when you can, and to push. And you have to know when you can’t and rest.

We have all seen ultra runners burn out, both at the elite and amateur level and I don’t want to burn out. Neither do I want to fade away (thanks, Neil Young), but I want to enjoy this for years to come and so, for now, I’m going to smile and enjoy my four milers and when the time is right, I’ll up that to five.

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Exactly, Beau.

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UTM(not to)B & Cotswold Fail Century

I’ll let you in on a little secret. I haven’t enjoyed running an ultra since the Green Man Ultra in March 2015. Since then I went through the motions at the Thames Path 100, my first sub 24 race on UK soil. I had run a 22:31 at the stifling, muggy Brazos Bend in Texas a few months before and thought I had it in me to go sub 20 hours at the Thames Path, but sickness transpired against me and I death marched in for a 23 something finish. That was my third 100 mile finish and the first where I felt nothing.

In September during the start of a year from hell I dropped at the Cotswold Century, emotionally wiped out by 60 miles.

But then in January this year I found out I had a place in UTMB. I firmly believe that UTMB helped me get through these last few months with something so huge, so epic to aim for amidst all the struggles I had day to day to get there.

On the way I finished the South Downs Way 50 in April and the South Downs 100 a couple of months later in June. Both finishes meant very little and I knew I was suffering.

 

2016-08-25-13-02-08

Meeting Anton was pretty cool

By the time August came around, I finally had some good news and was able to fly out to Chamonix in a positive state of mind, but you can’t run UTMB on less than 100% mental focus. I was fit for sure, but it wasn’t meant to be. I learnt a huge amount and will be back to complete this race, of that I am certain. The race didn’t destroy me physically like a lot of races do. To be honest, most of it was hiking and I was back running a week later in the Dolomites and feeling good.

 

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Framed race number. Note the cut away section on the bottom right, which was the ticket to the ‘loser bus’. I look at this every day as I work.

So good in fact, that I decided to seek redemption and for all of the wrong reasons, decided to enter the Cotswold Way Century again and close down a horrible year with a strong finish. 55 miles in this weekend I was pulled from the course having fainted and with uncontrollable vomiting from mile 30. I wasn’t ready. My body and mind weren’t ready.

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A massive thanks to Mountain King for the fantastic poles. I can’t recommend them enough.

But, and this is a huge but, both these failures were way more beautiful than my two victories earlier this year. Both took everything from me in different ways and I discovered more about myself, my strengths, my weaknesses, my goals, my aspirations, my life, my focuses in these races. I prayed during both, I cried, I fell down and I started to heal because of both.

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Factor 50, stubble and tiredness don’t mix all that well. Remember that.

I am not done with ultras. Not by a long way. But I am taking a long winter rest now and focussing on whats truly important as I look forward to life again. And if this text doesn’t sum it up, the below hopefully will.

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