Monday, 3 October 2011

Sandstone Trail A Race

After spending Saturday sheltering from the 27 deg heat (the hottest October day on record) I was very relieved to wake on Sunday to grey skies and light drizzle. It was still warm but wasn’t going to be a killer.

Following a stomach-churning rally down the back lanes of Cheshire we soon made it to the start and met up with the six Spartan A racers, Ewan and Chris. The start was a bit crazy, with 170 runners lining up in one big wide line, just a few people deep. The klaxon sounded and we all had to bolt for the centre line before the path narrowed…great fun!

I went into this race with a firm pacing strategy. I had recced the route twice in the last month, with the last time being run at a pretty good pace. On that day we got to the B race start at Beeston (the 7 miles point) in 1:07. This made up my mind that I would not be able to run 1min/mile faster in the race so I was resigned to the fact that I would hit Beeston behind the B Racers and have to queue at the many stiles in that section. With that in mind I had decided to take it easy to Beeston, let the B racers spread out a little, then finish strongly in the second half. This all went to pot though as soon as we started and I was swept along on a tide of sprinting Spartans. In an instant I decided to run all out to Beeston, get there inside the hour then just hold on!

The pace was terrific through the first few hundred meters and I snuck around Alan and James and tucked in behind Andy. Up the first climb (I seemed to be the only one walking but I was keeping pace with everyone) and onto the undulating single track on legs tired from the climb. On the first short but steep descent I passed Andy and dropped in behind Ewan for a tow.

I was stunned at the pace but was loving the fast running on technical trails. I was worried that I could still see Nick not too far ahead and I really shouldn’t be this close to him! Into Peckforton Hills and we were passed by a raving fit looking bare-chested Knight of the Realm: Sir Ranulph Fiennes running the opposite direction. Hope he wasn’t out for a quiet jog!

I lost Ewan somewhere in Peckforton Hills and pulled in behind a Chester Tri runner. I could pass him on the descents but couldn’t hold the pace when I took turns at the front on the flats so he was forced to do most of the work while I got a free ride. We eventually exchanged a few words and realised that we knew each other from kids party in the summer. Thanks for the tow, Kev J.

I had been ignoring the clock but as we approached the B race start I looked at my watch and was stunned to see 50 mins. I was a full 15 minutes faster than on the recce run. It was hard to believe and I had to wait until I crossed the stile and could see the B start all milling around before I really believed that I had beaten the cut off but such a comfortable margin. My euphoria at running the first section so quickly was lifted further by the Spartan Army cheering and shouting as I approached. It gave me such a boost. I wondered how long it would be before they started passing me further down the trail.

So, past Beeston Castle and over the queue-free stiles. I started to feel tired and was slowly loosing places but I didn’t worry about it. When I decided to switch to a faster start I knew that would mean I would slow later in the race, I just hoped that overall it would result in a good time. So the feedback I was getting by slowing down actually told me that the plan was working and made me feel positive!

It was quite a while before the B runners started passing. They looked so fresh. Andrew passed quite soon, obviously doing well, then there was a big gap before Paul came by, jogging with me for a short while as we exchanged a few words, which was very welcome.

I quite enjoyed the long uphill plod after Rock Farm then we were past Summertrees Tea Room and into Primrose Wood. I was tired but feeling good…the end was getting close now. The detour to Kelsall and up over the bridge was tough…that hill is a killer, even when you are walking. I got a boost as I entered the forest and hit home turf but there was no energy to push hard and pick people off. I was giving it everything but could only just hold on to the B racers ahead.

With less that a mile to go I was suffering. Then from behind came a massive bellow “GO ON STEVE!”. It was a genuinely scary sound, more like a banshee howl than warm encouragement and I managed to pick up the pace a little. The inhuman shouting continued and got closer despite my best efforts to stay ahead and Tim soon pulled onto my shoulder. “Come on, let’s finish this together” he said, before leaving me in his dust. He looked so fresh and went on to secure 5th place in the B for our club. Great running…an outstanding result!

I was snarling so much in the final straight that Alex didn’t recognise me! I managed to stay ahead of the guy on my shoulder in our sprint finish but once I dibbed my body gave in. Dave came over to congratulate me and I had to grab him in order to avoid falling down. Several Spartans were all around, talking to me but I didn’t have the energy to speak. Someone shepherded me to the drinks station and put a cup of orange into my hand. It took a few minutes and four cups of orange before I felt human again. I came in third counter for the Spartans, two minutes behind Nick and a long way behind Dave, to make us 12th. Not bad considering the quality of the field in this race.

So, this was my first race as part of a club team and it was amazing! The event was so much better for having team-mates around and the cheering support at Beeston was the race highlight for me. BBQ and beers back at Dave & Steph’s afterwards rounded off a perfect day.

This was the first time in many years that I have tried the “run hard from the start” strategy. It was interesting. I think I got a better time overall than if I’d have taken it easier in the first 7miles, especially in this race, where a slower start can mean lost time due to queuing. I may well be trying this approach again!

Go Spartans!

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Lakeland 50 - Race Report

Joss Naylor’s speech on the morning of the race began: ”When I look out at this room today, I see the most fortunate people in the world. You are about to run fifty miles on a lovely sunny day across some of the most beautiful country there is.” Wow. If that doesn’t get you raring to go, what will?

We started off with the lap around the Dalemain estate, which was actually much more enjoyable than I expected. There were a few bottlenecks on the first lap but nothing too bad. Before we knew it we were running past the crowds of family and friends and heading out on the paths to Pooley Bridge.

Through Pooley Bridge, passing clapping but slightly bemused tourists, and after the gentle walk up to Roehead we started the fantastic descent down to Howtown.

This is magnificent running, a good trail, descending slowly with stunning views all around. Before we knew it we were into the first check point.

CP1 Howtown: 11miles, 1:58 (116th).

I dibbed, grabbed a banana, topped up my electrolyte bottle and was quickly away. Before I began the first (and toughest) climb of the day I thought I’d get some food inside me so I ate the banana then decided to have a sandwich as well, both eaten whilst walking the gentle ascent at the foot of the valley. I had been drinking only electrolyte mix and Coke up ‘till now and was really surprised to feel little pinches of cramp in my quads. I’m only 13 miles in and the climb hasn’t really started yet! Not good.

The heat of the day really started to take its toll as the ascent grew steeper. The sun was hot but the heat radiating up from the ground was even worse. It felt like a furnace in some places. My cramp was getting quite bad and I had to really slow the pace down. To make matters worse I was starting to feel sick and a little faint. I decided that I needed to try to take a salt tablet to fight the cramp but that made the sickness much worse. I was plodding onward but was shivering and feeling a little feverish. The cramp in my quads was full on now but stretching them out was not doing any good so I just kept plodding upwards, slowly drifting back through the field.

We did eventually get to the top. Next you have this wonderful run over High and Low Kop on soft ground which generally descends gently. Everyone around me was breaking into a run but I just couldn’t. I was fighting the urge to be sick and the quads were screaming at me. I tried to eat a shot blok but I had to quickly spit it out. I was pretty shocked about how it could all go wrong so soon into the race. Forget the sub-12 target…I couldn’t imagine finishing.

After walking for about five minutes my stomach started to feel a little better but I still couldn’t run because of the cramp. I forced another salt tablet down and started a slow painful jog. I was still loosing places but both stomach and legs were improving with every step. I desperately wanted water. I was carrying two water bottles but one contained Coke and the other Electrolyte mix. I couldn’t bring myself to drink either. I knew there was a fast flowing beck at the bottom of the descent so I just had to keep going until then.

I had a good run down to the footbridge and the stream. Water at last! I splashed loads on my head, had a good drink and filled one of my bottles. I instantly felt so much better and went into the run around Haweswater feeling much more positive about finishing.

We got bunched up on the single track around here and it gave me some time to stop concentrating on the running and assess the state I was in. My quads were sore and would probably stay sore for the rest of the day. They were only causing real problems on the ascents though; there is a lot of ascending still to come throughout the course but only two more major passes to endure. Cramp was obviously going to be an ongoing problem but fuel was more of a concern. I thought about all the gels, powders, electrolytes etc that I was carrying and was pretty certain I wouldn’t be able to eat any of them for the rest of the race. I made a deal with myself: CP3 at Kentmere is notorious for its fresh fruit smoothies. I don’t normally like to stop at checkpoints but if I could make it to Kentmere I would stop, sit down and have a smoothie.

CP2 Mardale Head: 21 miles, 4:29 (110th)

 I felt pretty good in the check point, as I filled both bottles with water and drank a couple of cups of Coke. Immediately after this checkpoint you hit the second big pass of the day: Gatescarth. This is steeper than Fuesdale but shorter and more honest. Right from the bottom you can see the top…there are no false summits.

I had a tough time but just kept moving slowly upwards with both quads screaming. People flooded past but I just kept moving on. Right at the top a girl passed and said the most positive thing I have heard. “It could be worse, you could be that guy in the red down at the bottom”. I looked down and way below me I could see a tiny dot just about to start the climb. It really lifted me and as I crested the top and I was in a happy place.

The legs still didn’t work though. Next comes a long decent into the valley but the cramp was still too bad for me to run. I ended up walking for about five minutes before the cramp eased enough for me to break into a trot and build into a jog. I got chatting to a 100 runner who looked pretty fresh but was limping badly. He said he was struggling with his feet and I offered him compeed. “No”, he said, “the skin has come away right across the foot”. Eek! He was hoping to make it to Kentmere where they had some foot specialists and he could get it bandaged and taped up so he would complete the final 25 miles! Phenomenal!

The journey to Howtown was quite unpleasant. The cramp hurt, I was still feeling sick and the heat of the day was tiring. I was pouring lots of water over myself to help keep cool. It was fantastic to finally reach Kentmere.

CP3 Kentmere 27 miles, 6:34 (118th)

The checkpoint felt like party central, with fairy lights hung everywhere and fruit smoothies galore! The medical and physio teams were hard at work and I toyed with the idea of having some massage on my legs but I didn’t know what effect it might have so decided against it. Two fruit smoothies later and off I went to tackle the final pass of the day. Garburn is the least significant of the three passes and I started to think that I’d be ok …I should finish. Immediately that made me think about the 20 + miles that I still had to do and I felt phased so switched my mind back to thinking in terms of checkpoint to checkpoint. 7 miles to Ambleside…that’s all I need to think about, ignore the rest for now!

Garburn hurt but when we got to the top I found I was able to run the rocky descent and started passing people. Then I realised that I was enjoying myself! Yes the legs hurt and I felt sick but this was fun! A combination of walking, limping and running brought me into Ambleside and words cannot describe the welcome we got there. Crowds were lining the street and the While Lion beer garden was crammed with people and every one of them is clapping for you alone. It very nearly brought me to tears. Just after passing them I saw my family and had to fight back the tears again…what an amazing place that checkpoint was!

CP4 Ambleside 34.5 miles, 8:35 (108th)

My body may have been struggling but during the last stage I had really got on top of things mentally. Mich was amazed how upbeat I was and I did feel great. My head was getting stronger and stronger as the race went on. I spent a little time here switching Garmins over and having a little chat before heading out again. Time didn’t seem too important and it was great to spend a couple of minutes with them.

The pace dropped in the Langdale valley as the cramp was now getting bad on flat ground too. I was feathering my pace, running right on the edge of cramp until the muscles finally gave in then walking until the pain eased enough to start running again. I was walking at a very good pace though. The daylight went here but I managed to make it to the next checkpoint before stopping to get my headtorch out.

CP 5 Chapel Stile: 39 miles, 9:58 (102nd)

This checkpoint was an oasis. A tent on a trail with fairy lights, lots of chairs and a real fire burning away! I toyed with the idea of trying some beef stew or a cuppa but wasn’t sure my stomach could handle it so I just filled my bottles for the last time and headed back out into the darkness.

This year’s event fell on a new moon, which meant it was completely dark in the valley. Apart from the odd house the only lights came from the strung out line of headtorches, a line that stretched as far as you could see in front and behind. It was beautiful and even though I was alone it was pretty special to know that all these little lights were out here sharing this experience with me. I could see a cluster of lights ahead and slowly caught them while I listened to the warblings of the live band playing in the Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel. We stayed roughly together as a group until the top of the climb after the road section then I pulled away (fast walking rather than running) and reached the final checkpoint just before 12:45am.

CP6 Tilberthwaite: 46.5 miles, 12:12 (95th)

This checkpoint was a bit like a field hospital. People were flaked out everywhere, supping down hot cups of tea and steeling themselves for the final climb of the day. My bottles were still pretty full and I didn’t want to stop so close to the finish so I just walked in, dibbed and walked straight out again.

The final climb was tough and I was really glad to have the route marked on the Garmin. I just had to keep moving forward and follow the breadcrumb trail on the GPS. Right at the top of the climb four lads passed me. I tried to stay with them but couldn’t. The rocky descent that was such a blast on the recce day was very painful to tired feet but there was another special moment at the big zig zag at the bottom of the hill when I looked up to see the line of headtorches twinkling away all the way back to up the summit. It was a breathtaking sight, one that will stay with me for a long time. Then I realised that these lights were all trying to chase me down…let’s get to the finish.

I was able to run the last mile right to the finish, all down hill but with legs screaming at me. Clapping and cheers in Coniston indicated that the end was close…and then there it was! Dib, kisses, hugs and handshakes and it’s all over. 13hrs 26mins, 96th place.

I didn't get the time I was aiming for but I feel really positive about the run; I ran the best race I could on the day. The best thing for me was that after difficulties early on I got on top of things and grew stronger and stronger mentally as the race progressed. I'll need to do that next year when I take on the 100 :-).

Sandstone Trail Challenge (May 2011)

Up until two weeks before the race my training had gone perfectly but then I picked up a cold which settled on my chest. Right up until a couple of days before the event I wasn’t sure if I’d be running but the cough eased off enough for me to decide to run, though I went into it not sure if my body would hold up the distance. 

My mates Dave (Wallman) and Jeff would be battling it out at the sharp end and Andy A was running more my sort of pace. I was going for sub-6 hrs, which I thought would probably place me quite high. Andy thought that sounded like a good aim so we decided to run together.
The route starts with 3.5 miles of canal towpath then some nice, rolling fields. The ground was bone dry and lots of people shot off into the distance. It took a lot of willpower to stick to the game plan and not go with them. We came through the first checkpoint in 26th position, pausing only to have our routecard stamped then on we went. We overtook a few people who had stopped to take on food & water but they soon caught us up and passed us again. At this point we were just running at an easy pace, chatting away. 

I’d had one gel by this point but when we hit the woods at Bickerton Hill I got out my first (chicken and ham paste) sandwich. It went down easily and I felt great from it. Into CP2 at 11 miles still in 26th place and again pausing only to get the card stamped then up into Peckforton Hills.

This was superb running and I had to force myself not to speed up too much. Andy was great at letting me know when I was going a bit too fast and we ran much better when he was in front setting the pace. Just before we arrived at Beeston (roughly the half way point at 16.5 miles, 2:40) we overtook someone for the first time and if the plan had worked then this would be the first of many. I had a nice surprise at Beeston Castle: Mrs DogT was there with the kids and kisses from all three, along with much cheering and clapping, really gave me a boost. Andy stopped for a quick break here and I headed on alone.

I felt fantastic leaving Beeston Castle and overtook a few people. I was feeling so positive but then I made a schoolboy error and followed everyone in front of me the wrong way through a field. I have run this route so many times I really should not have gone off route. After dithering around trying to establish the best way of getting back on track we ended up looping back and re-tracing our steps. It didn’t add on much distance and only cost a couple of minutes but it really blew my head and put me in a funk for the next few miles. I went from feeling super positive to tired and lack-lustre in an instant.

Still, I was passing people and came into CP3 at 22 miles in 24th. I had my first little stop at this CP, half filling my bottle with water and taking on some sweets and a cup of orange juice. The orange seemed to give me a boost and I suddenly felt great again. I wonder what they put in it?
On through Delamere Forest and the legs were tired but I was in such a positive place mentally. Mrs DogT and the kids met me again, which lifted me even further and the people I was passing were looking more and more burnt out. I passed 26.2 miles in 4:20 but I knew that the last few miles are tough, with quite a bit of walking. I knew I’d be sub-six but started to wonder if 5:45 could be possible.

Into the last CP at Manley Common (28 miles) in 14th and took on more water and magic orange juice. I was running with the 2nd and 3rd place ladies, so had people to chat to along this bit. It was great to get to the top of Frodsham Hill and only have the steep run down to Frodsham remaining. I stormed the descent with only very faint warnings of cramp in my legs. Half way down I saw Andy’s wife who told me I was in 10th place. Up until now I had no idea what position I was in and just couldn’t believe it. There was nothing to race for here, there was a big gap ahead and behind me, but I kept the pace on and ran hard right to the finish.
The reception at the end was great, with finishers and families sunbathing on the grass, clapping the finishers in. With about 20 meters to go Alex came running over with a huge grin on his face and I picked him up and staggered to the finish (33.5 miles) in 10th place in 5:47. I found it all a bit overwhelming, finishing in such a high position and finishing the run with my little boy and for the first time ever I had a little cry at the end of a race.

I soon got myself together and joined the other sunbathers to cheer in the other finishers. This was an excellent event and Helsby RC did a superb job putting it together. For £18 you got a coach ride to the start, a meal at the finish and super-enthusiastic support along the whole way. I’d advise anyone looking to try their first (tenth, or hundredth) ultra to take a look at this one next year.

Birthday run on the Sandstone Trail

I hit the big 36 this weekend and it seemed like a great idea to spend it running the sandstone trail with my best mate Dave (wallman). The plan was to take it easy, expecting to do it between 7 and 7:30hrs. Several years ago my number one running goal was to run the Sandstone Trail but having done it a few times now and raced longer races I went into this very casually.

I had a couple of slices of toast then jumped into the car down to Whitchurch. The Trail runs 33.5 miles from Whitchurch to Frodsham on footpaths through lovely rolling countryside. It's hilly enough to make it hard work but mostly runnable. The first few miles zipped along and before we knew it we were about to hit the hills.

I normally find Peckforton Hills pretty tough but today they felt pretty easy and they just flew by.

We hit Beaston Castle, the half way point, in about 2:45, feeling great. We were going much faster than expected but enjoying the pace. I opened my sack to get my sandwich only to hind it had come out of its wrapping and had been pounded to pieces. I managed to salvage about a slice of bread's worth...not great!

And so into Delamere forest and we met up with our support team of Mrs DogT and baby Josie Rose. We would have run completely unsupported but it was such a hot day we would have struggled to carry enough water. We were now about 25 miles in and I had already drunk my 2 litres. We had a very leisurely stop while Dave ate some lasagne (wish I'd have packed more food). I tried to eat one of my Snickers but managed about half before I had to spit the rest out. Because I'd not been eating enough my body had reached the point where it couldn't accept food. Hmmm.

We set off again and both felt pretty grotty after sitting down for ten minutes. But, living nearby we were both very familiar with the trail from here on in and so it felt like we were very much on home turf. Less than ten miles to go...let's get it done.

At about 30 miles I was feeling pretty dreadful. I had the shivers, couldn't even eat shot bloks and my legs felt like they didn't belong to me. I was cracking on but really regretting my completely inadiquate nutrition plans for the day. At least the end was in sight now.

So, we hit the finish in 6:15; about an hour quicker then I expected to do it and a PB for me over the distance. It causes me some problems because my dream target for the race next month was 6:30...looks like I'm going to have to aim around 5:50 :-O.

A thoroughly good day out! Brilliant run, top company and lessons learnt.

Tough time on the Delamere Loop

For months now Wallman and I have been coming across these blue signs for the Delamere Loop on our runs. We didn't know much about it but when you have a well marked route like that you've got to run it at some point!

A quick Google told us that it is a 23 mile route aimed at horse riders on a mixture of quiet lanes and bridalways. The loop passed within a mile of our houses so at 9am I jogged down to Dave's house and we were ready to go.

A fast mile and we were into Delamere Forest and on the familiar trails. After messing up my nutrition on the Sandstone Trail a couple of weeks back I was determined to get it right today. I started eating sportbeans and Lucozade tablets every mile, right from the start. In the pack I had jaffa cakes and some new potatoes and in addition to 2lts of water I carried a bottle of mixed electrolyte and a bottle of de-gassed coke. A nice picnic :-)

Things went well for the first 13 miles and the trail was good. Through the forest, out on the lanes to Kelsall and into Primrosehill Wood. Lots of country lanes led us eventually to Oulton Park race track and half marathon distance in under 1:55...pretty good considering the mixed, undulating terrain.

Into Little Budworth Country Park and a welcome respite from the tarmac but I was starting to fade. I was drifting off Dave and had a minor stitch in my side. It was also getting hot and I was parched despite constantly drinking. I went down hill fast between miles 14 and 17 and, with Dave in the distance, I took my first walk break. 

Dave waited for me at the start of the Whitegate Way and I told him to go off ahead. I wasn't in any danger but was just knackered and would have to run/walk my way home. There was no point in holding him back. I jogged on as I watched him vanish into the distance then convinced myself that I needed to eat some real fool, despite being pretty sure it would not stay down. I opened my pack to discover that the jaffa cakes had been pounded to pieces, leaving a gooey mess over everything. I couldn't bring myself to handle the tub containing my new potatoes so just zipped up the bag and carried on running.

The day got hotter, the pace got slower and the walk breaks got more frequent. The stitch was getting quite nasty too. I was not in a happy place! I was about a quarter of a mile from the end of the loop, about a mile and a quarter from home when I saw a car coming towards me. It looked a lot like Dave's car. It WAS Dave's car. There was no question in my head whether I would accept a I jumped! The temperature reading on the dash showed 26degrees.

Running long distances can make you arrogant. I did go into this run with the attitude that it's "only 23 miles". 23 miles is a long way! I went out too hard on a hot day and got spanked. I've come away from a poor run viewing it as a good learning point and have gained a strange affection for the route...I'll be back! I really do need to practice taking on food though. Three months of bonk training have been great but I've really got out of the habit of fuelling whilst on the run.

Long Tour of Bradwell, August 2010

Last year’s Long Tour of Bradwell was my first ultra. I completed it in 9hrs 30 and was really pleased to have made it around but I was a broken man at the finish. I was under no misconceptions about who was the victor that day…the route well and truly won. I was going back this year fitter, wiser and with a bone to pick with this race. My aim was to knock an hour and a half off last year’s time and finish in around eight hours.

I arrived an hour before the start and just about managed to queue for my dibber, queue for the loo and walk to the start line before the gun went off and 125 eager runners were unleashed on the hills of the Peak District. My goal was simple: take it easy. After struggling with cramp from early on in the race last year I wanted to protect my legs and get to the half way point feeling good.

The first few miles are a lovely warm up, running out up to Pin Dale before the steep technical descent into Cave Dale. 

I love this sort of rocky terrain and I flew down this last year. This year sensible me eased back and trotted down. I briefly saw my cheering family in Castleton before heading out to the climb up to Hollins Cross.

I had a steady walk up here, slowly loosing places all the time, which I took as positive sign as it meant I was taking it easy as planned! On reaching the top you instantly drop down the other side of the ridge and it’s tempting to go for it. I held my pace back but still felt some niggling warnings of cramp so started walking. I walked for a minute or two before tentatively going into a slow jog then gently building the pace. It worked and I ran slowly down the hill and kept my legs fresh.

Through Edale and onto the big climb of the day, up to the Druid Stone. This can be nasty if attacked but I kept at a comfortable walking pace and didn’t find it too bad. Some cunning navigation saw me keep on route and I climbed up into the clag to the next check point. 

More cunning navigation and I was on the steep descent back down into the valley. It was a bit of an effort to resist gravity and keep the speed down. All the time I was just thinking about looking after my quads.

I met up with a really nice chap from Brighton and we chatted as we climbed. I used the walking opportunity to eat a ham sandwich. I was in pieces on this hill last year, limping along with both legs locked in cramp. This year I felt fine. What a difference!

On reaching the top of Lose Hill you turn right and head down a fantastic, long, gentle down hill to Hope. It’s really good running and one of my favourite points of the course. 

We hit the next check point and I was off again. So far I hadn’t really stopped at the check points. I started with a full platypus and intended to fill up once more at the half way point. It’s much easier to gain time by stopping less than by running faster :-).

I went though Aston and climbed up to the woods above Ladybower. On this climb I got my first real stabs of pain in the quads. It was a big worry but I soon rounded the corner and started the fantastic gentle downhill section through the trees to the dam. I passed a few people, which was nice as I was just continually overtaken last year.

Here this year’s route deviated from last year’s. Instead of crossing the dam wall we continued on a lovely bridleway that dropped slowly down through woodland to CP9. I wanted to fill my platypus here but they were running low on water so I grabbed enough to see me through to Burbage and headed off. 

We crossed a beautiful bridge above a weir in Bamford then began the climb up Bamford Clough. What a little swine this was! It must have been 34-40 degrees in places and my quads were screaming at me when I reached the top. I tried to eat another sandwich but was feeling quite sick and just couldn’t stomach it. Not a good sign! It was a relief to finally make it to the top and onto the runnable road. I hadn’t gone far before a group of four runners breezed past me like I was standing still. They looked so fresh and I enviously watched them disappear into the distance.

Legs were feeling heavy and tender on the climb up to Stanage and I was glad to reach to top. I couldn’t see any runners in front or behind me as I started out across the edge. I had to walk a few times with cramp early on but it soon ran out and I was able to basically run across the whole thing J. As I dropped down into the Burbage checkpoint I was amazed to see I had caught the 4 speedsters so I must have done really well over that section.

At Burbage the marshals were desperately low on water so it was another case of just taking enough to see me through to the next marshalled checkpoint. This year you could choose your line down the Burbage valley. I chose the slightly longer but more runnable path under Burbage edge. Everyone around me chose this route too. 

Quick scramble down to the oddly placed checkpoint by the stream and then back to running again. I saw my first Fetch vest of the race and said hello to Phal, who was supporting another Fetchie who I thought was called Speed Cruiser (sorry, serious lack of blood to the brain by that point). It would have been nice to chat but I was in a positive place at that point so needed to keep pushing on while it lasted. 

And so down to the river. This should be a highlight of the run: it’s a stunning stretch of flat trail in woodland next to a beautiful river but I find it such a drag. You’ve been descending for several miles when you hit it so flat ground feels like hard work and you just want to get onto the final hill so you feel like you are heading for the finish. It was much better than last year but I still found it hard.

It was nice to leave the final manned checkpoint and walk up the road to the final section of the race. It’s pretty much a straight line to the finish from here so mentally it feels like you’re almost there. Unfortunately the vast majority of this is a gentle uphill slog. I walked most of it with both quads burning.

In the last few miles my quads would explode as soon as I tried any running. To make things worse I had run out of water and was parched in the hot sunshine. It was great to reach the final field before the steep descent into Bradwell.

After swapping positions several times I found myself at the top of the descent with the speedy team of four. I looked at my watch and I was on 7:50. It might just be possible to make 8hrs with one big effort. I went ahead and ran as quickly as possible down the hill. I reached the bottom at 7:57 and knew I’d blown it. There is still quite a way to go once you hit the village. I got my head down and tried to put in a big finish but my legs locked straight away and I had to walk out the cramp. I arrived at the finish area in 8:03 with a grimace on my face and was shocked that my family were nowhere in sight. As I came around the corner to the finishing dibber they all jumped out the car – they knew I was going for 8hrs but didn’t think I would do it and weren’t expecting me for another hour! How’s that for confidence :-D

This year's route was two miles longer and I finished an hour and a half faster than last year. Massively pleased with that :-). This is a very tough event but it is a superb route. Highly recommended!

Highland Fling - April 2010

After a fitful nights sleep I got up at 6am, ate a some Weetabix, got into my running kit and walked down to the start at Milnvavie station. After eight months of training it was finally here: the Highland Fling. My start wasn't until 8am but I wanted to go down earlier to see off my two much faster but slightly older mates, Dave and Jeff.

As Murdo gave his speech I spotted Dave and was pleased I managed to have a quick chat before he headed out. It was Dave's exploits into ultra running that got me started and his tales of last year's Fling made me want to enter this year.

The V40s were soon off and then an hour later it was the turn of us youngsters to line up in the underpass. 

I got together with Hendo and Andy at the back of the field and with much clapping and cheering from the supporters we were on our way.

We were very quickly out into parkland and then into green rolling fields. The ground was mainly flat on trail with some sections of tarmacked lanes. Andy, Hendo and I stayed together for the first 13 miles to Drymen, chatting away at around 10mm pace. The company was good and the miles sailed by.

Drymen was the first change over point in the relay race so there were a few people around there.  Hendo stopped here to get some water and Andy and I carried on into the forest.
The run through the trees was great and I was really enjoying Andy's company. As we left the trees and ran across the open ground towards Conic Hill I started to feel like I needed some real food and so I left Andy and wasn't to see him again. I grabbed a ham sandwich and felt better for it. 

The climb up Conic Hill was pretty steep but the views from the top were amazing. The loch looked so big and I knew we could only see a fraction of it from here. The first of the relay runners passed me on the climb; it was incredible to see how fast he was going up there, even on fresh legs.

After a descent down lots of steps and a lovely run down through the woods I came into the 20 mile point and CP1, Balmaha. The marshals were amazing. As I approached the stop someone asked me my number, which was relayed ahead so my drop bag was waiting for me when I came in. Then my bottles were whisked away and refilled while I sorted my food out. Fantastic! I was surprised to find that my mate Steph, Dave's wife, had waited around for me to give me a some support as I came though.

After three or four minutes I was back on the trail as it joined the loch side. We would follow the loch for the next 20 miles so it was a sight I would get used to. I briefly saw Hendo again then he shot off into the distance. Miles 21-23 were not happy miles for me. My legs were tightening up and I started to struggle with cramp in my quads on the ascents and descents. I got to one short but steep hill at 23 miles and my legs locked completely. I stopped half way up, not able to move and in quite a bit of pain. I tried resting, stretching, walking backwards, walking sideways but nothing worked. In the end I decided I just had to endure it and get to the top, hope I didn't strain anything and then hope I could walk it out. I wasn't the only one struggling; most of the people around me were grumbling about sore, tight legs. A bit of a worry when you have 30 miles to go!

I found I could still run on the flats but I had to be careful on ups and downs. I was tired but felt confident about finishing. I passed 26.2 miles in 5hrs 18mins and shortly after came into CP2 at Rowardennan. My Fetchie buff got a big shout from a group on the way into Rowardennan and someone (Pesto, I think) asked me who I was. When I told them I got a huge cheer and someone shouted out “Muskahounds are Always Ready”. I don't know who you were but that cheer gave me a huge boost and put a smile on my face that lasted for hours. Massive thank you all! :-)

Rowardennen to Inversnaid was a beautiful section, probably the best running on the whole route. I had to walk the up hills to fight off the cramp but it a stunning place to be. A Fetch vest pulled up alongside me and Ribenaface introduced himself. We had a bit of a chat and it was great to have company for a while but I told him he should get going (he was doing the relay and was on fresh legs, raring to go). He shot off like a gazelle...I was genuinely surprised that it was possible to run that quick on those hills.

I passed through 31 miles in about 6hrs 35mins, which I was really pleased with. That's not far off my PB for the distance and I wondered if I might be able to break 12 hours today. I was soon pulling into CP3 at Inversnaid and after another slick pit stop from the marshals I was quickly on my way again. I knew from Dave and various blogs that this section was very technical but I was still surprised at just how bad it was. 

There was lots of scrambling on hands and knees and even the flatter sections consisted of tree roots and rocks, making it virtually impossible to run. It was more like an obstacle course and progress was very slow.

Eventually we did reach the top of the loch and started the climb up to Beinglas Farm. I was especially excited about getting there because my wife, Mich, and toddler, Alex, would be meeting me there and I couldn't wait to see them. 

Beinglas had a cut off of 6pm and I arrived there at 5:30pm. That gave me three and a half hours to do a half marathon, which sounds like a ridiculously huge amount of time but I knew it would be tight. My running pace was probably around 14min miles at this point and Dave had warned me that there would be lots of walking on this last section so I knew I would be looking to average 17-18min/mile pace. That was going to see me very close to the 13 hour cut off.

I resisted the urge to stay too long with Mich and Alex and headed out on the final section. The first few miles were largely rolling, runnable drovers roads. I really felt I understood my body by now. I knew what slopes I could run up and which I would have to walk, which steps I could jump off and which I would have to carefully lower myself off, and I knew exactly how fast I could go without the cramp building. It was all pretty uncomfortable but I was still in very high spirits. I was really enjoying this race!

I had a lovely surprise at Derrydaroch Farm (44 miles) when Mich met me once more and then I began the horrible climb into the forest above Crianlarich. This would probably feel completely different on fresh legs but at this point in the race the hills just seemed relentless. There was much more walking than running but even so I found I was passing people who were looking utterly defeated. I was constantly looking at my Garmin, flicking between the time of day and the distance run and working out what pace I would have to do to get to Tyndrum before the 13hr cut off at 9pm. The chance of a DNF was seeming more and more likely but I felt strangely pragmatic about it. I had run as well as I could on the day and I was actually still enjoying the race despite the pain and tiredness. A DNF would be extremely cruel though! 

At last the woods ended and we dropped down to the valley floor. Three miles to go and 50 minutes on the clock. It was all or nothing. If it was flat then I would do it, if it was hilly then I would fail. All I could do was give it my all and hope for flat ground.

I really worked hard in those last three miles. I felt I was flying but looking back at the Garmin data it looks like I was doing about 14min/mile pace. It's all relative I guess! The light started to go and I kept plugging on. I went around a bend and heard my name being called out. There were Michelle and Dave. I was only a few hundred meters from the finish and still had over 10 minutes on the clock. I was going to complete the Highland Fling. 

I caught up with a very excited Mich, who gave me a hug and a kiss (I can't believe I smelt very good at the time) and we jogged in side by side under the pipers on the hill. Alex was in a pushchair near the finish and we stopped to get him out then I carried him over the line. Although it wasn't planned it felt so right to cross the line with Mich and Alex. The support I had had in the months of training that got me to the start line meant this really did feel like a team finish to me.

I finished in 12:50. Cutting it a little fine but I was thrilled. When I entered the Fling many months ago I really didn't think 13 hours was achievable. Murdo came over to shake my hand and present me with an awesome goodie bag and I sat down to enjoy a well earned beer and cheer the final few finishers home.

Food Log
Milngavie – Balmaha
Ham Sandwich
Gummy bears
Balmaha – Rowardennan
Shot Bloks
Cliff bar (peanut butter – was a battle to eat it)
Rowardennan – Inversnaid
Ambrosia Custard
Ham Sandwich
Inversnaid – Beinglas Farm
Cliff bar (choc chip – didn't really enjoy it)
Shot bloks
Beinglas – Tyndrum
Shot bloks

I had plenty of water throughout but my platypus had a leak and soaked my sandwiches. I would have eaten more bread if it hadn't have got wet but I don't think it affected my day.

Sandstone Trail

This was the second time I had run the 31 mile Sandstone Trail and the first time I would try it from Frodsham to Witchurch (North – South). I had run the Wuthering hike the previous weekend and was planning a nice easy week this week but my mate Dave had pulled together a big group for a day out on the SST. It was an opportunity not to be missed and Dave also managed to convince me it would be excellent training to do back to back 30 mile weekends. 

Unfortunately the plans fell apart during the week, with Dave catching a nasty stomach bug and the others falling out one by one. It ended up with just me and Jeff. After an early start we got half way to Witchurch when Jeff got a text from (a different) Dave who was waiting in Frodsham. What a mess! We turned around and headed there.

I was more than a little intimidated by my two running partners. Jeff is a wily South African who is very quick and is known for not being able to run at a slow pace. Dave is a professional running instructor, so he’s not bad either. I am a plodder, and as I hadn’t recovered from last week’s race I knew my plod would be slower than usual. We made a deal at the start that they shouldn’t wait for me and I shouldn’t try to keep up with them.

7:45am and we were off. The day was perfect, with clear skies and a thin layer of mist over the Cheshire plane. Temperature was nice and cool but it was obviously going to get warm later. This would be completely self supported. I had 2L of water in my platypus plus a fruit shoot bottle with my electrolyte mix, three ham butties, some Shot Bloks, a mint Aero and two Mars bars, all safely stashed in my fantastic brand new OMM 15L sack.

As expected Jeff went off like a greyhound whilst Dave hung back with me and chatted. We basically hung together for 10 miles before I started so drift back a little. Just before we got to Beeston Castle, at 16 miles, I suddenly felt really tired. My legs felt like they had done 25 miles…obviously the miles from last week were taking their toll. I went from drifting away from the other two to plummeting. 

I assumed they would just run on but when they realised that I was no longer with them they stopped to see what was wrong. I explained that I was just feeling tired and they should crack on. They were both looking strong and I didn’t want them to have to slow to my pace. Also, when you are going through a low patch running with fresh people just makes you feel worse. The lads stormed off and left me to make the climb into Peckforton Hills.

I was really feeling tired on the climb and started to consider whether I should call Mich and asked to be picked up in five or ten miles. I let these thoughts float around my head for five minutes then decided that if I failed today I would fail on the Highland Fling. Conversely, if I made it to the end today then I would be guaranteed a Fling finish! With the decision made my spirits rose and before I knew it I was at the top of the hill and on lovely rolling paths again.

Peckforton Hills are my favourite part of the trail. The views are stunning, with the Welsh Clwydian Rage on your right and the Peak District away to your left. The trail is constantly dipping and twisting and the ground around you is constantly changing, making it very interesting running.

I thoroughly enjoyed the run down to the A534, though I was still feeling tired. The walk up to Bickerton Hill wasn’t too bad and before I knew it I was out of the hills and had only rolling countryside between me and Witchurch.

Not much of note happened on this last section. I had a cow with big horns (which looked a lot like Pat Butcher) defending her calf so I had to take a detour through shin deep slurry, which filled my trainers. I felt very tired as I went through Michael Owen’s garden but the finish drew me onward. With five miles to go my legs were tired, my feet were hurting but I got a big second wind and my pace got faster and faster. I was soon on the canal for the last couple of miles and then there was the Horse and Jockey pub, which marked the finish.

I finished in 6:20…a PB of 1hr20mins! I found out that the lads did it in 5:15. Seriously impressive! It was hard work but another big confidence boost. 

If you live in the area the Sandstone Trail is definitely a run you should do. Run it with friends and have a fun day out (pref with beers and a BBQ at the end!)

Wuthering Hike / Howarth Hobble, March 2010

After a rocky nights sleep I was up at half four, packed my stuff and was driving off to Yorkshire an hour later. The destination was Howarth for the 32 mile Wuthering Hike, which was kicking off the Vasque Utra-Running Championships this year.

I joined the 400-500 other runners in Haworth’s quaint little cobbled high street for the start and got myself right at the back of the field. I couldn’t hear a word of the organiser’s announcements but soon we were off. It’s not often that you start a race with a walk but the high street was pretty steep and walking was definitely the sensible option. Let’s not get hot headed…there’s quite a way to go yet!

As we left the roads for the Bronte Way we could see the low level cloud in the valley ahead and it wasn’t long before the beautiful blue skies were replaced with thick clag. On the run down to Bronte Bridge I found myself in enough space to get into a nice pace and just enjoyed the warm up. At Bronte Bridge (2.5 miles in) there is a steep pull up the far side of the valley and a stile which crosses a barbed wire fence. By the time I got there an impressive queue had formed and it took five shivering minutes for me to get over and start running again. We were quickly met by two further stiles (and queues) which really made you feel cold. After this it was congestion-free running all the way.

Visibility was down to 100m as we ran down the Pennine Way to Walshaw Dean Reservoir, which appeared eerily out of the mist. I found myself in the middle of a group of three (one male and two female) who were running together and looking very strong. I also bumped into a lady called Shirley who I had met at last years Long Tour of Bradwell. Chatting made the miles fly by and we were soon through the first two check points and heading up the first big hill just after Cant Clough reservoir. I took the opportunity to eat a ham sandwich on the walk up.

The run down to checkpoint three, at the causeway, was a really nice stretch and as I dropped into a nice, comfortable pace I started to slowly move up through the field. We had a very muddy diversion around Stiperden House and I lost both shoes in the space of 100m. Luckily I managed to fish them out and I made sure the laces were tied that bit tighter.

Checkpoint 4, around 15 miles, led to an interesting change. This was the first point were there was proper food and hot drinks available and lots of runners had stopped here. I went straight through and so I suddenly found I was running with lots of new faces. There were many people around and so the run down the complex of lanes and footpaths to Todmorden, which looked intimidating on the map, was made easy. 

We had a really nasty little climb up to checkpoint 5 in Mankinholes then another up to Stooley Pike. I really felt this was a significant point in the race. From here we would turn north and head back to the finish. I was also 20 miles in and feeling great. I really had learned my lessons and my pacing and fuelling was obviously working a treat today. 

I had my first feeling of fatigue on the run down to Hebden Bridge, which was a mega steep road. We came around a corner and there far beneath us was this beautiful village. It might have just been lack of oxygen but it really blew me away; what a sight! The steep descent tempted you to push hard, daring you to just bust your quads with many miles still to go. I eased back, allowing a couple of people to pass but determined to protect my legs. 

At Hebden Bridge we were met with some evil steps to climb up to the road to Heptonstall, which was uphill all the way and pretty much walked entirely. There was a bit of confusion over exactly where the path to New Bridge left the village but we eventually found it and were off running again. This was a lovely section through the woods and again I was just stunned at how good I was feeling and how much I was enjoying this race. 

A few people were sitting about at checkpoint 8, Horse Bridge, but I quickly topped up my water and my electrolyte bottle and was off. After some indecision I spotted the correct footpath over the bridge just as a nice lady on a horse decided to help me. She wanted to know where I was going so she could make sure I was heading the right way but I just couldn’t get my brain to think of the name of the place. I really didn’t need help (I was holding a map in my hand) but she was being really friendly so rather than rudely run off I stopped while I tried to remember what the bloody place was called. Eventually it came to me. “Howarth!” “Yes, yes, that’s the right path” and so I was running again.

We now faced mile upon mile of uphill slog, gentile enough to run in parts but too steep to run entirely at this point in the race. It flattened off for a mile or two of lovely running before checkpoint nine (which I passed straight through, though I later found out I missed out on the jam donuts that they had there) and onto the last big uphill to Top of Stairs. 

What a feeling to reach the top of this hill and be looking at several miles of gentle down hill! I had a fantastic run down to Leeshaw Reservoir but was starting to feel tired now. I wasn’t in any pain, everything was still functional but I was happy to be getting close to the finish. We just had one more hill and I tried to really put the effort in to keep run/walking up this. 

Before I knew it we were coming over the top and dropping down into Howarth’s busy high street. A couple of left turns, the steep little hill to the school and it was all over. I sat down in the afternoon sunshine to enjoy my post-race meal (included in the £11 entry fee!). A superb event!

I finished in 6:34; a good hour faster than I had expected. I was 178th / 273 (teams count as a single runner on the rankings so there were more runners in front and behind me). 

I was running this primarily as a long training run for the Highland Fling. It looks like I am much fitter than I thought and the training plan has worked. My refuelling went well too, and I paced it just right. I also recovered really well from this one. All in all a massive confidence boost.

Thrill in the Hills Trail Marathon, Georgia, US - Feb 2010

I found myself in the US with work and there just happened to be this trail marathon happening that weekend. It was too good an opportunity to pass up! The day started off freezing cold. I arrived an hour before the start, which gave me time to get parked up and collect my race packet. The start/finish area was right on the shore of the lake that we would spend the next few hours running around and looked stunning as the morning sunshine rose through the trees. 

Most of the 500 runners were doing the single loop half marathon, with only 77 doing the two laps. It was the first time I had tried a lapped race so I didn’t know how I’d feel about it. At 8:20am we were called to the start line and we had to spend 10 minutes shivering waiting for the off. I positioned myself at the back of the field, hoping the crowds would slow me down on the first lap.

When the gun went off we started with a loop of the start/finish area, with Guns 'N Roses being blasted out (Welcome to the Jungle) then ran up the road for a spell. The idea was to thin the crowd before we hit the single track trail but when we reached the trees we came to a grinding halt. There was more walking than running in the first half a mile and it was pretty clogged up for the first three miles. People around me were complaining and I could understand their frustration but as I was doing the marathon I didn’t care at all. We walked most for the first half a mile in the trees.

After about three miles the crowds thinned enough to think about overtaking. The trails were tight and passing could be difficult. You would come to a line of 20 runners and have to work your way through into a bubble of space then work forwards towards the next line. I realised that someone was using me to pace themselves and I got used to the sound of the familiar footfall. We eventually got chatting and ended up running the last 8 miles of the first lap together. It was fantastic to have good company and it made the first lap feel effortless.

Talk about a race of two halves! We reached the end of the first lap; I said goodbye to my new friend, Kevin, and headed off on lap two. The trail went from very busy to just me, running alone. I got to really appreciate just how good the trails were on this second lap. Lovely twisting single track with lots of tree roots, gently undulating but never too steep. As trails go it was just about perfect. There were a couple of novelty 6 foot tall mountain bike jumps that we had to climb using hands and knees which was fun. The trees were tall pine trees and the sun was up in the blue sky making the temperature perfect. As the day went on the sun brought out the smell of pine sap, it was just a fabulous place to be running.

I thoroughly enjoyed lap two and felt strong up to about mile 22. I continued to work my way slowly though the field and didn’t get passed until the last mile, when a completely fresh looking girl flew past me as though I was standing still. The last few miles were tough; my pace dropped and I had to walk more of the up hill slopes. The finish actually appeared before I was expecting it and it was great to cross the line, collect my medal, sit down and eat some food.

I finished in 4:36:33, 32nd out of 77. Very pleased with that given the nature of the course.

This race was fantastic! Great route, great organization, friendly marshals (who gave extra big cheers to marathoners on the first lap) and friendly runners. A thoroughly enjoyably day.

Snowdonia Marathon 2009

I woke up in the hut to see the rain coming down in waves down the pass. This was going to be a wet one!

Chris and I lined up at the start about half way back and were having a such a relaxed chat it was hard to believe we were about to run a marathon. When the gun went off we headed out into the wild Welsh weather. The run through Nant Peris was great, with lots of support. Chris was running a little fast so I let her drift off. My goal was to take it very easy on the first climb up Pen-y-Pass. I held 9mm until the climb then just kept it nice and easy all the way up. You couldn’t see the mountains but the views front and back were fantastic, with runners as far as I could see in in both directions. I strategically walked a very short section where the hill steepened, just before Pen-y-Pass then it was into the long downhill.

I had to be very disciplined on the start of the down. It was very steep and wanted to pull me along at quad-cramping speed. It was nice to hit the main road where the gradient eased. The next few miles were just wonderful. Downhill all the way! The numbers started to spread a little; typically two to three people wide. I got chatting to a lovely lady from Leicester and we ran together for about a mile. I saw a superhero taking a pee…something you don’t see every day!

I started taking on fuel at around mile five and set myself the task of eating something every mile. It gave me something to target and I seemed to be knocking back the sportsbeans pretty regularly, which made it feel like the miles were flying by.

The support in Bedgellert was fantastic. Folks were lining the streets and cheering, cars beeping horns with passengers hanging out of windows shouting encouragement. Brilliant! But then we hit the next hill. I was actually very relieved. It was a grind but wasn’t very steep and I was able to run it comfortably. I decided to get my iPod out for the rest of the race (Chris had warned me that this section went on and on and felt quite lonely). I pulled it out to find that a packet of Lucozade tablets had dissolved in the rain and my iPod and headphones were covered in fury gunk. Fortunately they still worked and I didn’t get covered in sticky orange slime. I’ve never used an iPod in a race before but the music really worked and gave me an instant boost. I passed Chris on the climb out of Bedgellert. She had had a few twinges and was taking a strategic walking break.

I absolutely loved the entire section on the back of Snowdon. This was my first time in this valley and it was a shame not to be able to see the hills but the running was great. Not long after passing half way John appeared on his bike and cycled along for a bit for a chat. He told me I was looking fresh and needed a kick up the arse. When he left I decided he was probably right so I upped the pace a little. I worked my way up the field feeling fantastic and absolutely loving being out there running. In hindsight I may have run a little too fast but I don’t regret it…this was brilliant fun; the most enjoyably running I’ve had for a while.

I hit 21 miles averaging 9:10 pace and felt that if the last five miles were flat I could have held on for a sub-four marathon but the route planners had other ideas: I still had Bwlch-y-Groes to come :-). After finding the first two hills easy I was expecting much of the same for the ‘big one’ but this was nasty. I dropped into a walk as soon as the slope rose. Pretty much everyone around was walking too but I seemed to be drifting slowly back through the field. I felt very relaxed about position and just kept walking as quickly as I could. Towards the top I saw someone stretching out cramp then he suddenly went down. I helped him stretch out for about a minute then left him when he was feeling ok (it turned out to be a fetchie…’Sinatra’). As soon as I started again my right quad locked. I thought I was finished but it walked out after a couple of minutes. 

The down from Bwlch-y-Groes was worse than the climb. It was incredibly steep and very painful on the legs. We eventually made it into Llanberis and it was fantastic to see my mates all screaming like mad things in the high street. The final loop around the back of the garage was evil. My calves were locking with cramp and I had to walk up the final small hill backwards. As I passed the 26 mile marker Chris appeared on my shoulder. She was much fresher than me and could have burned me off but she suggested that we ran in together, which was fantastic. I was feeling pretty emotional as I crossed the line. Superb race.

Big thanks to all the organisers and especially the volenteers who stayed out in the wet and cold for all hours to make this such a great event.

Long Tour of Bradwell, Aug 2009

My first ultra and definitely the toughest run I’ve done so far. Great event; well organised, with friendly marshals and competitors. Blisteringly hot summer’s day but with a steady breeze throughout.

My wife, Michelle, pointed out on the start line that this was the first event she’d ever been to where everyone looked super-fit. It was a little intimidating to be lining up with all these lean, mean fellrunners, listening to them swap impressive tales and looking at the many 100+mile race t-shirts on display. I got myself on the back row of the 74 starters ready for the 9am start.

The pace was a little quick from the off but not too bad and I enjoyed the trek past the cement works and up Pin Dale. We managed to run most of the long run up to CP2, enjoying the stunning views all around then dropped quickly down Cave Dale into Castleton. Next came the first of the big ups, climbing out of the valley and up to Hollins Cross. At this point I could see I had about 10 runners behind me and was keen not to loose position so pushed as hard as I could up the hill. By now I was in a bubble of about 6 runners and there was lots of banter and encouragement.

Great relief to reach Hollins Cross and I enjoyed the steep run down to Edale. Once in Edale we hit the next (and most serious) climb of the course, up to the Druid’s Stone (on the back of Kinder). Everyone in front of me went the wrong way at the top, climbing up onto the Ringing Roger. I went the correct way, and the two people behind me followed. I gained back the 5 places I had lost on the climb.

At the top of the hill I started running again and both thighs locked with cramp. I was only 8 miles in and still had a marathon to go. In the far distance I could see Stanage and knew that when I reached that point I would still have hours of running left. It was very intimidating and the idea that I might not finish started to come into my head. I knew the cramp was set in now and I would just have to put up with it for the rest of the race.

I got behind two guys on the steep decent back into the valley and we had a good chat as we worked our way down. I really enjoyed the run down past the YHA to the marshal station, where I stopped for the first time and took on more water. 

The steep climb up to Lose hill was a killer. My legs were cramping even when walking at a slow pace and I had to stop and stretch several times to stretch out when they locked up completely. I was passed by quite a few people and felt quite despondent. I couldn’t imagine how I would possibly finish the race. However, the long gentle downhill section to CP7 in Hope was just what I needed and I managed to run all the way, in discomfort but without too much pain. 

When I arrived at the water station in Hope I couldn’t see any runners in front or behind and was convinced I was in last place. I was told there were 11 behind me, which lifted me. I took on more water and began the long drag up through Aston to the hills above Ladybower. This was my lowest point in the race. I really struggled up the hill, fighting cramp all the way and moving slowly. 

The long section through the woods above Ladybower was brilliant, though, and it felt great to get running again and loosen my legs. I ran down to the dam and met Mich, Alex, Malc and Ruth on the other side, which was lovely. Walked the 50m to the water station with Mich and Alex and had a sit down for 5 mins. Ladybower was the 2pm cut off point and I made it by 1:25pm. I must admit that part of me was kind of hoping I would be too late and pulled from the event. It was also the half way point and I was familiar with most of the remaining course so felt positive about completing it. I knew that if I could make it to Ladybower then I’d make it to the end.

Walked up the long road section to High Neb then on the causeway to Stanage. I wasted a little time trying to find CP13 (never did find it but lots of competitors couldn’t find this one so they let us off) then onto the edge. I had been really looking forward to running across Stanage but the cramp was so bad that I had to run/walk to keep stretching the thighs out. I arrived at Burbage in quite a bit of pain and collapsed for a while at the water station. I got chatting to another competitor called Iain here and we hooked up for most of the rest of the race. 

I took on enough water to see me to the end of the race and headed off down the Burbage valley. We ran the vast majority of the next few miles, until it flattened out at the river, then had to run/walk to fight off cramp. It was a relief to reach CP17 and see Mich and Alex again, and the two guys I had run off Kinder with. We all set off on the final push together but the two guys quickly left up as the hill steepened. The last 5 miles was a real sting in the tail. There were some flat sections which offered lovely running through woodland but mostly it was one long grind uphill. At this point I couldn’t run anything sloping uphill without severe cramps so there was lots of walking but I knew I was going to finish and would make the 7pm cut-off time so felt positive. It was wonderful to finally see Bradwell. I managed to run the steep down in to the village but had to walk a couple of times in the last mile, even through it was flat and I could almost smell the finish…I just had nothing left.

Nine people dropped out. Of the 65 finishers I came 64th; very glad to have made it around in once piece and able to finally stop running.

Lessons learned:-
Don't get dragged along at the pace of other competitors in the first half of the race, even if it means getting left behind. Push too hard early on and you'll pay for it later.
Keep eating, no matter how sick you feel.
Enter more ultras! I've never run in a more friendly atmosphere than I experienced during this race. There was a real sense of all being in it together.