MCC 40km at the UTMB

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I entered myself into the CCC ballot in December 2017, you need to be thinking ahead to get your ultra races planned, especially if you want to race in some of the more popular events. As expected, I was unsuccessful and received my bad luck email sometime in January. With me already being entered into Highland Fling and Lakeland 50, I wasn’t too concerned about not getting a place to run 100km only 4 weeks after running 50 miles. With that option out if the window we decided to still head out to Chamonix for a week in August, but we brought it forward a few days as Rosie was due back at work on the Friday of the UTMB. We booked for Wednesday to Wednesday, aiming to get a bit of the UTMB hype at the end of the week.

Roll on 6 weeks and I got a message saying that there was a new race in the UTMB week for volunteers and locals, but any places not taken up would be for those that missed out on the lottery. I don’t think there were many locals and volunteers running as there were heaps of foreigners running it too. Another money making race, marketed as giving something back. Let’s not complain though, as it got me a race whilst I was going to be there. It was to take place on the Monday, 26th August and run from Martigny in Switzerland back to Chamonix, France, covering 40km and 2000m of elevation gain/loss.

Pre Race

We were staying in an air BnB flat 10 minutes walk (up a big hill) from the town centre and started the week with a walk up to Chalet Floria, a potter around the town and a gentle run out along the river. I wanted to get some form of run in pre race so set off at 7am on day 2 heading up the vertical km and running through the clouds to Lac Cornu at 2200m. It was a bit of a struggling to make myself head back for breakfast, it’s always far too easy to go a bit further than you planned and run your race in the days leading up to a race.

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Lunch at Hotel Floria

Day 3 saw us getting out early and heading for Vallorcine on the train, I was planning to have a look at the race route from Col du Balme down to Le Tour but the weather was honking and all we managed to see was 10 metres in front of us. We walked up to Col du Balme, hearing and not seeing the cows grazing next to us and then headed for Refuge Albert 1er at 2700m above sea level. The weather worsened and all we managed to see on the way up was a decapitated Marmot, cloud and the arrival of snow flakes. A quick cuppa and a sarnie and we headed back down, with the cloud opening up to give us some worthwhile views.

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Descending from Refuge Albert 1er

The weekend saw a noticeable increase in race participants arriving in the town, there was a definite increase in tanned, shaven legged runners sporting gilets of the various races they’d finished. All of whom, me included, casting sneaky glances at people they pass, just to see what kit they’re sporting. Sad acts.

We had a quiet day on Sunday, not wanting to do too much. Registration was at the sports centre and we headed down for the time slot I’d selected. On the way in I asked about the supporter buses and was over heard by a fellow Brit, Robbie Britton, who lives and runs in the Chamonix region. He offered some advice on the course and described which bits were runnable, rocky and steep. All very useful and I failed to heed any of it, working too hard and overheating on a steep section before the runnable bit. Post registration it was time for pizza. And chips. And a Nutella crepe. Then back up the hill to the apartment for an early night.

Race Day – de Martigny-Combe À Chamonix (MCC) 44km

Monday was race day, I was fully prepped the night before and was ready to go with plenty of time to spare. I’ve got this much more finely tuned the more races I’ve done. All you want is a stress free pre race routine! Kit laid out next to a packed race vest with number already attached to tshirt. A 15 minute walk to the bus got the nerves jangling and the hour and a half bus journey didn’t improve things. I ate a banana and drank some water with electrolytes in on the way. We pulled up at the start in Martigny-Combe, a small Swiss town in the base of a steep sided valley, lined with vineyard’s. We hoped off the bus and I left my bag with Rosie to jump in the toilet queue, it wasn’t too bad. Business taken care of we headed for the start area. I’ve either packed my bag really well, or it’s much lighter than it should be…. FAAAARRRKK.

My dry bag, with all of my mandatory kit in, was missing. Panic. Stations. We ran back to where Rosie had waited for me, it wasn’t there. Rosie legged it to see if the bus had left already, I nashed into the school hall acting as race HQ and registration. It was there… Handed in as soon as it had been dropped pretty much. They’d already identified me by my driving licence stashed in my first aid kit and were planning an announcement on the start line. Talk about avoiding a walk of shame in front of 1000 people and a few town majors. Relaxed, kinda, I went for a quick jog to get my legs operating and then headed into the starting pen.

Martigne – Col de Forclaz

The race. Stood waiting for the start, listening to several Swiss and French mayors I was getting itchy feet. The weather was chilly, but there was clear blue skies and the forecast was set for 25°C and breezey high up. The usual UTMB fanfare and hollering and a overly long countdown before we set off. As I ran through the town, waving at Rosie, I passed a middle aged woman dressed as a playboy bunnie (picture Bridget Jones Diary). Who’d got herself positioned on the front row, set off at a sprint and looked knackered after 800m. We saw her at the prize giving, she won the fancy dress award so fair play. Got herself out there.

Based on the route description from Robbie Britton, the route was broken into a long first climb to Col de Forclaz, a flat 2 miles, a steep climb and a rocky technical section up to Col du Balme, runnable single-track and hard descent into Argentiere and a small section of woodland tracks before a fast flat 4 miles into Chamonix. And it was bang on.

Running along the road on the climb out of town I knocked the first mile out in 8 minutes, probably too quickly for the gradient. Once onto the trail, we climbed up grassy slopes on paths behind people’s houses and every few hundred metres we would pop out onto a road switchback and start the climb again. It was warm going, and I was already lamenting the decision not to use poles. It got much hotter than I anticipated that early and I was soaked through, I passed the chance to put my hat under a hosepipe which I’d regret within the hour. As I reached Col de Forclaz I guessed I was in and around the top 20. I was 15th. The number of people out supporting and the enthusiasm they show is a real positive and negative at the same time. 200 people shouting “allez allez allez!” “UP UP UP!” and “GO GO GO Michelle!” gets the juices flowing, I power hiked up the steep grassy bank not realising I could feel my pulse beating in my temple. As ever, Rosie was the first person to see me and the first person I heard! Cresting the hill I set off around a corner and within 20 seconds was on a flat forest track, on my own, and blowing out my arse.

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Warming up!

Col de Forclaz – Col du Balme

I ran the flat track steady away, and crossed a bridge to start the climb up to Col du Balme. I knew I was off as soon as I started climbing. How did I know? The people just in front of me hiked away from me like I was standing still and I was passed by 6 or 7 people within 15 minutes. Life was shit. It was emphasised when I passed a couple of hikers out for a walk and couldn’t pull away from them, my legs literally wouldn’t move quicker than a regular walk. Figuring out what had happened didn’t take long, I wasn’t sweating and my head was boiling hot. Accepting my fate, I dribbled some water down my neck and carried on hoping things would turn around. When the trail began to level out I started to move a little better, it became rocky and quite technical, which slowed me down, barely (and everyone else) which gave me the chance to cool down, not work too hard and enjoy the slight breeze that was blowing higher up. As I continued to pick my way along the bouldery path I started to feel a lot better, I rounded a corner and could see Col Du Balme up ahead. The vast majority of the climbing was done. I hiked the last climb into the CP and grabbed a drink of coke, filled my bottles and set off on the amazing singletrack that followed, it flowed and switch backed its was down the side of the Col Du Balme ski area, which in the summer months is a upland grazing meadow and big mountain biking area.

Col du Balme – Argentiere

The scenery was epic, and I didn’t even realise that I was on some of the same paths that we’d walked along a couple of days earlier. I really got into a nice rhythm on this section and caught a couple of people ahead of me, not wanting to overheat I decided not to work too hard to pass along the singletrak and as they were unwilling to move to the side (despite clearly moving quicker than them) I contented myself with sitting in behind for a little bit and see what the downhill entailed. As we started to descent to Le Tour that dropped 2000ft in 2 miles, all on hard packed dusty paths I was clearly moving quicker than the guys in front. I found a couple of chances to pass but they didn’t seem keen to oblige. I ended up running off path for a short section to get passed. This is something I’ve found with races in Europe, it’s very much every man/woman for themselves. As the descent wore on, I noticed that my feet were starting to feel a bit hot, I was having to apply the brakes too often on the sharp switchbacks and I felt like there was a pebble in my shoe. It quickly became apart that this wasn’t the case, as when do you have a pebble in each shoe sat in the exact same spot? The answer is you don’t. And you’ve got the beginnings of a blister. As the path started to level I stopped to retie my laces to prevent any further foot slipping. I had a quick look at one of my heels and I couldn’t see anything, but it was definitely there! The path had now dropped back into a woodland area and as I emerged from the trees Mike Jones was waiting for me, he jogged along side for a couple of minutes asking how I was and how it was going so far. His advice was just what I wanted to hear. “Most of the people ahead of you look like shit.” … yeah, but what do I look like? “Take your time in the CP, get some extra fluids in, cool down and get ready to bury yourself on the flat run to the finish” I then realised how hot I still was, my head was boiling and the day had started to really warm up, it was mid to late 20s at this stage. “You can definitely catch five people before the finish!” I can? I can! I left Mike and ran the bit of tarmac before the CP into Argentiere and as I ran in, I passed Rosie, she said afterwards that I looked terrible here. I knew Mike was lying to me! I couldn’t face any food, so just necked a cup of coke and kept going. I got a bucket of water poured over my head on the way out which did wonders. Waved to Rosie and set off towards Chamonix. Only 7 miles to go.

Argentiere – Chamonix

The path from Argentiere to Chamonix is a rolling woodland trail with some short hills, a couple of runnable climbs and a section of tree roots before emerging by the river on the valley floor when it flattens out to the finish. I started well, knocked out a few 8 min miles and felt good. I passed a couple of runners only a mile or two outside the CP, but things started to slide after this. I hit a gradual incline in the woods that I was trying to run, but every 20m I would get a spasm of cramps up the inside of my right thigh, I changed my running style and tried to push through it. I’d only just passed my third victim since Argentiere and I wasn’t going to start walking straight after it. He must have been in a worse way as I didn’t see him again, despite my own ailments. The path dropped sharply through a patch of boulders and tree roots which in most circumstances would be fun to run through, having to stop because of bouts of cramp took away the joy factor. I resolved myself to run through as much cramp as possible and only stop for a stretch or leg loosen when it reduced me to a walk.

As I emerged onto a road heading in Les Praz on the outskirts of Chamonix I was really struggling. Both legs were cramping badly, all I could muster was a grimacing shuffle. I rounded a corner and arrived at a water trough with a runner filling his water bottles up. I ran up to it, put my entire head into the trough and left it there for 20 seconds. Emerged, filled up and drank a full bottle and set off after refilling my bottle again. If only there’d been a water trough sooner. I was a new man. Admittedly I knew there was only two miles to go. But I was now moving freely and quickly dispatched the chap who’d stopped for a drink. I now knew in my head how far was left as I’d run this section on yesterdays jog out. It was flat and horrible, but I could see a runner in the distance and was determined to catch him. As the town centre got closer and we passed over the final timing matt before the finish, I saw the runner ahead look behind. Bingo. Gave myself one last kick up the backside and moved ahead of him just before the town centre. I tried to turn right but was blocked off by a marshall, WTF? He pointed over my shoulder at the three tiered gantry that crossed over the road. You’ve got to be kidding me?! Cursing, I climbed up and hobbled down the other side and ran towards the finish. The town centre was packed, it was 2:30pm and it made for a noisey finish. I gave out a host of high 5s on my way through and the rush of elation you get when being cheered on by hundreds of people you don’t know is goose bump stuff. Rosie was in the same position as the last time I raced in UTMB week, The OCC, in 2016. I crossed the finish line with a massive grin on my face, delighted I was able to turn things around.

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Post Race

Post race I felt horrendous, I ate a mountain of water melon, took off my shoes and realised the size of my blisters. BIG. I chatted with Rosie and Mike for a while before Rosie headed off to get my flip flops, the shoes were NOT going back on my feet. I stood and cheered other runners under the arch, and started to feel faint. I was still in the sun. I sought out some shade. With flip flops on my feet I limped to the medical tent to enquire if my blisters could be tended to. I sat on the camp bed and the lady volunteering took a look, then drained both blisters with a syringe. The dye that was injected into them didn’t disappear for 8 weeks. We hobbled to a nearby smoothie cafe when Rosie returned. After an hour I felt able to walk up the two big hills back to the apartment for a shower before heading back out for some bait. I had a burger and frittes, with lashings of salt. I couldn’t get enough of the stuff.

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Blisters getting fettled (fella next door wasn’t too clever)

The next day I was in for a shock when I tried to walk down the hill for a baguette. Try spending the day walking only on your toes after a marathon the day before. Grim. We pottered around the town centre, did a few laps of the expo, Rosie got a signed copy of Emelie Forsbergs book and we went for a lounge in the sun and a dip at the swimming pool. We flew home on Wednesday morning, after another epic week in Chamonix and The Alps. If you’ve never been before, I would urge you to head out during the summer to see the scale of the mountains, the alpine flowers and just enjoy being outside. The area is so accessible. The whole area is serviced by chairlifts so even if you’re not a runner or walker you can get up high and enjoy the scenery.

Post Chamonix

Since getting home and getting this blog post written up (3 months… SHAME SHAME SHAME!) I’ve actually been back to Cham again, this time for a 3 day outing for Ian’s 40th. We had a couple of runs in the mountains, ate a heap and drank coffee like water. While out there, I got the news that I’d been selected to be a part of the Squirrels Nut Butter (SNB) and X Miles ambassador team. SNB isn’t, like Rosie thought, a range of peanut butter, it is in fact superbly effective anti chafe salve for your errr… nuts. Along with other body parts that may be on the receiving end of some chafage. It’s made of all natural products, is great on dry and cracked skin and their Happie Toes product has seen off some of my feet issues (miracles do happen).  If only I’d had some on my feet in August. X Miles is a specialist sports nutrition store that caters nutritional advice and plans for endurance athletes and stock all manner of running products along with a huge range of nutrition products. Check them out!

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Autumn in The Alps!
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Highland Fling 2018

Before the race report here’s what I’ve been doing so far this year. Just scroll down for the race report. Another long overdue blog update. The resolutions actually went quite well! Heres a recap:

  1. Cross train – I never actually used it as a way to increase mileage. I did however get on it once a week early in the year to increase training time and as a strength building exercise through the use of isolated leg cycling.
  2. Foam Roll/Stretch – Very much and big tick, made a conserted effort to roll more and also to self massage and I’m sure it helped keep the legs fresh. Used the tens machine as a self massage tool to loosen off quads and calves too.
  3. Make a plan – I made my own plan but ended up not using it as Mike Jones got back in touch and we started a training plan, this made a massive difference. He had me running terrain specific sessions working on my speed, endurance and technique. I’m planning a post on what things have changed in my training. Expect that in 2019!
  4. Be more consistent – We had a very busy start to the year in the workshop so some weeks I had to sacrifice a few sessions, however, with a plan to follow and having someone to alter my plan to suit what I could manage on a week by week basis meant I got what I could out of each week.
  5. Get more sleep – FAIL.

 

2018 so far

January – Inskip Half Marathon – Ran in driving sleet and snow, shielding my eyes with my hand during first 3 miles was grim and eyeballs felt frozen. Pretty happy with 1:19, wasn’t expecting much more.

February – Dalemain Trail 10km – First time I’d run this race around Dalemain Estate, Penrith. Total sufferfest, decided to attack the hills. Managed to get a lead on first long drag and ran scared from there to the finish. 1st place and won a rather nice running pack.

March – Edale Skyline Fell Race (English Champs Counter) – An addition by Mike to my plan and my first 20 miler of the year. The goal wasn’t to go eyeballs out, but a more steady/tempo effort. Felt bloody hard if you ask me, but was still running well at the finish. 100th place, more than happy.

 

Highland Fling 53 miles

This post is going to follow the same format as last year, purely because I copied and pasted it. If you want to have a look at that, you can read it here

Fling Eve

Exactly the same as last year, drove up Friday post work, registered in Milngavie, back to Glasgow and out for pizza in the same place again. A rather tasty veg pizza served up by a waiter with the tightest white shirt I’d ever seen. Then back to sort my kit, take a pre race pic of my kit, like a loser, and into bed for 10.30pm. Last year my alarm went off at 4.30am and we were in a bit of a rush. This year it was 3.50am, so I could get some food into me (porridge and banana) 2 hours before race start. I had another 15 minutes of lying in bed fully dressed before we headed to the start. Again, the same as last year, drop bags into the correct vehicles, I only had 2 this time (Rowardennan and Inversnaid) as Rosie was going to be at the other two check points. A loooong queue for the bog for my PMT and it was almost start time.

Milngavie – Drymen 

More nerves on the start line this year, probably due to my higher expectations. I was thinking I could manage around 8:10 if I had a good day and also hoped that I might be able to sneak into the top 10, this would depend on who else was running of course. The 5 minute count down disappeared insanely quickly and the hooter/siren/gun went off (not sure what noise it was).  I set off at a fairly steady pace, and running up the first hill out of the woods my legs felt fresh and strong, good signs.

Having discussed a race strategy with Mike of running a similar pace to last year to Drymen (1:35) and then with the extra work I’d done on running gradual hills and a bit more strength work we were then aiming to pic up the effort a little bit more along Loch Lomond to arrive at Beinglas in Mikes rather poetic term “95% fooked” with that in mind I kept telling myself to go easy and not to worry where in the field I was this early. I passed a runner from the larger quicker moving group in front who had stopped for a run off and he soon caught up, he wanted away from the fast pace and we started chatting for 30 mins, he was the guy who face planted a tree (Gary House), just for the crack I think. He was telling me about his running group, runSTRONG, and if you want a few entertaining videos, I would suggest giving him a follow on Instagram. Before I knew it we’d knocked in a 7:20 6:50 and 7:00 miles, taking my leave I also pulled over for a pit stop and resumed at a more leisurely pace along the road to Drymen.

I arrived in 1:31, 4 minutes up on last year and on the race plan. The pace didn’t feel difficult and I felt like I was holding back still to run 1:31, I also ran straight through as I had plenty of energy drink to get to Balmaha, this may have been an error. I should really have stopped for a bit of water and a salt tab.

12 miles | 1hr 31m

Drymen – Balmaha 

This section again, went better than last year, 8 minutes better. I slurped a load of fluids into me and got some walking in as I made my way through the forestry and up onto Conic Hill. The descent off Conic was a bity dicey as I opted for road shoes this year, trying to avoid the greasy wet patches slowed me down a bit but I wasn’t too fussed as I was well up on where I had planned to be by this stage. I passed a couple of runners on this section and was feeling optimistic about the rest of the race. Spirits were high. I saved time on last year in the checkpoint too as I just did a swap of empty bottles for full ones and grabbed a few gels from Rosie.

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sticking to the dry stuff down Conic Hill

19.2 miles | 2hrs 36m

Balmaha – Rowardennan

Again, as last year I had bonnie banks o’ Loch Lomond stuck in my head. Grrrr.

Nothing much to note in this section, was running pretty well, walking any hills I found and making good progress on the flats. Got into a group with a couple other runners who caught me just after Balmaha and we were moving well. Passed the leading lady at mile 22 and was rather enjoying myself at this point. Legs were still good, and no complaints from glutes, groins or quads. I ran into the checkpoint 3rd in a line of 4 and as the marshalls called out our numbers mine was read incorrectly, it was my own fault, I had my number slightly around the side of my shorts and my 342 got called as 842. I hollered my correct number out but as the marshalls were gathering the other drop bags I wasn’t heard. I got my water filled up, but had to wait for my drop bag. I tipped a sachet of energy powder into my bottle and set off after the other three, who had made a minute or so on me. I wouldn’t see 2 of them again. I learned a lesson from this too, don’t try and drink out of a bottle with powder sat at the top. A mouth full of sherbert, a blocked bottle nossle and a sticky hand after using a finger to mix the contents up. 7 minutes quicker than last year.

26.4 miles | 3hrs 41mins

Rowardennan – Inversnaid

Legs certainly started to feel like they’d run a fair distance already. My longest run of the year had been 26 miles and I began to feel the first signs of tiredness. I was still plugging away at a good pace, but I was aware that the climbs and descents weren’t as easy on my body anymore. As it began to warm up, my arm sleeves came off and I instantly felt better with some fresh air against my skin. Had a good spell along some single track into Inversnaid checkpoint, fully aware that it was going to get a whole lot harder from this point onwards. I was now 33 minutes ahead of last years splits and I felt like I had conserved plenty of energy to expend in the last 10 miles. All I had to do was maintain what I was doing, staying within myself and then work hard from Beinglas to the finish, hopefully picking off a few runners in the process.

 

33.7 miles | 4hrs 48m

Inversnaid – Beinglas

This tactic started well, I passed a couple of runners in the slow technical section after Inversnaid, I also passed a large number of cyclists pushing their bikes (fully weighed down with paniers and the works) along a path that it was hard enough to travel along with just your feet. Wouldn’t have fancied hauling them up and over the 8 foot high foot bridges. With the increasingly rough terrain, I was doing a lot more stepping over things, this seemed to kick start a few twinges of cramp that would soon escalate into full leg shakes. I was now taking S!Caps every 30 mins and trying to drink a bit more in a bid to stave off any issues later on. But I rather think it was down to the duration and level of effort that my legs weren’t accustomed to. Blissfully unaware that the worst was yet to come I was still having spells where I was moving well and as soon as I emerged from the lake shore, I thought I was home and hosed. Incorrect. 500m after that, in pretty much the same place as last years bad patch I got a big old dose of cramps up the inside of my left leg, I had to stop and give it a rub then walk for a minute or two. I was passed on the next climb a couple of miles from Beinglas and I was very much desperate for the checkpoint to appear, it did. Eventually. I fannied around too much here but I wanted to get some calories in and some water. I lost the gap I had made earlier on another couple of runners but I was in self preservation mode, certainly not looking to push hard for the next 12 miles. 5 mins quicker than last year (with massive room for improvement).

40.5 miles | 6hrs 16m

Beinglas – Tyndrum

The encouragement I received from everyone at the checkpoint and from Rosie made a massive difference, I was still struggling but I was determined to fight it as much as I could and to keep pushing hard when my legs allowed it. In my tired state I forgot to pick up any gels here and was left with a squeezable baby yoghurt and two gels to get me to the finish line, probably a gel or two short when I was needing to put more energy in all the time. I’d have preferred to get calories in every 20 mins at this stage but 30 would have to do. The rolling hills for the first 3 miles out of Beinglas are a real bitch IMO and I was suffering enough to put music on for the first time ever in a race. It certainly helped. Although I was passed by 2 runners in the 2 miles after Beinglas, I repassed them either side of crossing under the road.

Coming up to Cow Poo Alley, I could see it was a different ball game to last year, this time around it was deep and sloppy and with no routes around it, it was head down and bash on. Having worked on a farm for several years in my youth, cow poo doesn’t really bother me, kicking a stone lurking under the surface, like the iceberg that sank the Titanic, and crashing down on my side certainly did bother me. My right arm was submerged to my shoulder and my left to the wrist. To make things worse I got a spasm of cramps at the same time so I was thrashing around like a beached whale in 6 inches of skitter. Annoyed and stinking, I actually managed to pass the guy in front who was also getting a lot of cramps. I quickly pulled over, washed my arms and t shirt sleeve in a stream and pressed on to Crianlarich where Rosie was waiting, with her cheer squad April and Kellie, whom she met at last years Fling. Getting shouts and cheers from people you have met through the same race and from running other ultras is ace, and very much appreciated! Taking a drink here and quickly getting told to stop farting about and get moving as 14th place was about to catch you I set off into the hilly forest section looking over my shoulder.

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minutes after coo poo alley

I thought I was improving on the cramp front when another bout would bring me to a standstill in a 20m stretch. This continued all the way to the finish, but I actually ran the downhill pretty comfortably. As comfortably as you can with 49 miles in your legs. Crossing the main road without breaking stride I thought I might have put some time into the runner behind me. I hadn’t. After half a mile I had a glance back and the first female, Rachel Normand, was 50 yards behind me, I got to a gate, opened it and immediately cramped up. As a result I just held it open and cheered her through. I actually picked up running behind Rachel, I offered some words of encouragement as she was worried she would be caught. As we got into the last couple of miles she started to pull away but kept having a look back, I assured her there was nobody catching her (especially not me) and she went on to win in an impressive 8:22:23, I snuck into the finish line photo in the distance as I ran down the red carpet to finish in 8:22:47, well happy but also a little frustrated I was held back by cramps, but it’s part of it and getting my nutrition and legs in order is something I can try to improve on heading towards the Lakeland 50. 3 mins quicker than last year, and 42 minutes overall.

53 miles | 8hrs 23m| 14th place

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Happy

The usual first class treatment post finish line, a cup of tea, a catch up with Gary who was sporting a fat lip and a bloody shirt, a hot shower and a massage with a hot water bottle and blankets. Amazing. I was moving pretty well and my legs felt ok. We were staying in Glasgow on the Saturday night too, so we hung around to watch the other finishers come in and the prize ceremony. Several cups of tea and coffee and again, some of the best soup I’ve ever had, and I was starting to feel normal. We saw Rich finish, a fellow DH Runner, who had to battle with a sore leg and pretty much walked the entire last 20 miles to get home in 13:07.

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DH Runners! Rich, looking grey after sticking it out for 20 miles!

I’ve recovered from this race better than any other ultra I’ve run so far. I walked on Sunday and Monday, managed easy runs on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.  Not sure if its because I’ve a done a few now and so my body is adapting to it, or because my legs were better conditioned for the distance. Next up is The Lakeland 50, with a couple of smaller races in there as a build up. I’m feeling optimistic, as long as I can improve my down hill running and not get lost I hope I can have another similar result to this.

 

Buttermere 10 Race Report

Spoiler: I took home the bacon. [Not actual bacon, which would have been nice, but a glass trophy, also very nice]

Now, I don’t want to write this post and try to be a) casual about winning, as I’m absolutely loving the fact I did and fairly surprised also, or b) overplay the significance of it, as clearly it wouldn’t take much for a faster runner to be on the start line and I’d get comfortably beaten. But hey, you can only run against who is there I guess. Onwards.

It was an early start on Sunday morning, alarm at 6.30am, granola fruit and yoghurt (the usual) and a coffee to gan and I was out the door with Agnes and Molly. I was looking after my brothers dog Molly for the weekend. Shes an awesome black Cocker Spaniel who NEVER stops. But she exercises Agnes nicely. Race registration was 8.30-10, but with parking at a premium I went early and took the dogs for a walk along Buttermere for 45 mins. I think if you want to really enjoy places like Buttermere then you have to get there early, ahead of the crowds. The Lake was like a mill pond and with the sun rising just above the fells tops it made for a beautiful morning.

I met Rosie at registration and collected my number, used the facilities and headed back to the car to change and drop of the dogs. Although the sun was out it wasn’t warm enough to make the van hot, even so I hung a dust sheet up inside the van to stop it warming up. We left the dogs at the last minute and jogged down to the start, an entertaining briefing from Ian Mulvey and we were ready.

I’d had knee pain on Fridays run and spent the eve foam rolling like a mad man for the entirety of Titanic. I lashed on some kinesio tape in a way I seem to remember Dan Anderton showing me last year (wild guess) so I was dubious if I’d be halted with some more knee pain. I also paced a guy round Carlisle parkrun for his A-level assesment on Sat morning and then broke in a new pair of runners that eve whilst testing my knee (Inov-8 Roclite 290), not the first time I’ve raced in a brand new pair. I ran 33 miles in a pair straight out the box last summer during OCC. I’ll get caught out one day.

Race strategy – go out hard for 2 miles, see how the knee is and where you are at. I’m generally very cautious and running hard from the start isn’t my usual tactic, but you gotta try sometimes, right?

Mile 1 – The countdown started from 30 (thirty) seconds… 20 seconds… 15..10.. (can I warm up again please?) 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, GO! With not many folk seemingly keen to be at the front there was plenty of space and I was first over the footbridge and along Buttermere shoreline. This was the best part of the course for running, nice and hard gravel paths. I could hear 3/4 pairs of feet close behind me. I was already blowing hard but told myself to keep at it until 2 miles.

Mile 2 – A quick u-turn and a rocky uphill section through the trees. Had a glance, there were 4 of us all 15 yards apart from each other. I was pulling away uphill, but the fella in 2nd closed the gap on the flat. Back at the footbridge and on towards Crummock Water.

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Mile 2

Mile 3 – Having done my hard 2 miles I figured I’d do another and see where 2nd place was. This was a very wet and rocky mile along hard paths and windy single track. Think I made some ground, not sure.

Mile 4 – Starting to feel it a bit now, stupidly had a glance behind me, kicked a stone and fell forwards, putting my hands down to save my knees. Something that lots of people didn’t manage to do. The mixture of bog, boggy grass and rocks made for slippery going, I counted 5 people with split knees getting patched up at the finish line. But, we ain’t there yet.

Mile 5 – More of the same, one minute I felt like I was going well only to run into a bog or take a poor line and slow down or lose rhythm. Still grafting, wondering if I’d be able to keep this up for another 6 miles.

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Running along Crummock

Mile 6 – No bogs! Huzzah! Interesting section along shale beach, over footbridges and on top of concrete flood type walls (that’s their name). Much better going made it easier to enjoy, had a glance back at a kissing gate, had about a minute lead. Could I?

Mile 7 – Doubts. Legs starting to struggle uphill, took a gel, wish I hadn’t. “Mmmmm mocha syrup with no water, just what I wanted in my dry mouth”. This would be a great bit of track to run along without the fear of being caught in your head.

Mile 8 – Legs gone. Water station was at the start of this mile, much needed gobful of water, some poured on my head. It was a steady pull up Rannerdale, where in a months time it will look like this, and I was really struggling. Another kissing gate, another gap update. Much closer, 30 metres. Oh heck. “I’d have taken 2nd at the start”… “don’t be a berk, keep running”.

Mile 9 – I was loving the downhills, I felt like my legs were turning over easily. However, the start of this mile took us up and over the corner of Rannerdale Knotts, it was only 100 or so feet, but it was steep and I was walking, practically on the spot. Looked behind me at the top. Has that guy just jumped 50 feet up that hill? “FFS I’m gonna be caught!”. Pegged it down the hill as fast as I could, over the road and passed the corner of Crummock. Kissing gate, I’ve pulled away! “How much faster would he have to run to catch me over a mile?…” “Too much to think about, keep running”.

Mile 10 – I’m actually going to win. Bloody brilliant. Ran in behind Buttermere village, through Syke Farm campsite and along the gravel road to the finish line. All with a cheesy grin on my face. I managed to put 30 seconds onto 2nd place in the last mile and finished in 1:09:09. A quick photo and a slug of water and I walked back to get the dogs while cheering on the other finishers.

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Finish line snap

The dogs didn’t even get excited when I arrived, too busy sleeping! Miserable gits. I shouted at Rosie as she passed us, she’d just overtaken someone so didn’t want to be caught. She finished 5th women in 1:39:46, amazing effort as she’d not done much running due to work lately. The dogs had a swim, we had some cake and chatted in the sun.

An altogether excellent day out!

Distance – 10 miles | Elevation – 900 feet | Time on feet – 1hr 9mins

Trail booty

 

Strava view

Inter Counties Cross Country Report

I got to wear a Cumbria vest. For sport. Amazing. That’s something that I had hoped might happen a while back, but certainly not for running.

I’d like to thank Mike Storey, a fellow DH Runner, firstly, for telling me about the Carlisle XC at Rickerby Park the morning after the DH Christmas Party, he said at the time he would do it too! Halfway round I was wishing I hadn’t either. That was my entry into cross country running, an alcohol fueled headache/don’t be sick fest. Having forgotten how much I’d suffered a month earlier, I decided to run the Cumbria XC Champs, also at Rickerby Park in January. I placed 9th and that was enough to receive a surprise email informing me I’d qualified to represent Cumbria at the Inter-Counties in Loughborough on March 11th. Chuck in a clarty 3rd at Knowsley Safari Park with blisters for the Northern XC Champs and I was race ready for a national event…

My alarm went off at 4.45am (not a typo) to catch the bus leaving Carlisle at 5.30am. We arrived at an airfield in/near/around Loughborough at 10.30am, the senior mens race wasn’t until 2.45pm. Queue 4 hours of standing about, paddling in the mud trying to watch the other races, in which Cumbria did quite well, especially the juniors (a 1st and a 2nd). It was noon when I realised I hadn’t taken any cash out and that 2 plain porridge pots from Asda and a banana weren’t going to sustain my energy levels for the rest of the afternoon. There’s always lessons to learn. Ignoring my hunger I went for a warm up with a few of the other lads, we ran 2 miles around part of the course and I got dropped. Ouch. Oh well, nothing left for it. Dribble the last of my water into my mouth and neck a caffeine gel… wait… that should have been the other way around.

The course was 3 small loops and 2 big loops, in a rather confusing order. The ground was pretty firm with sections of 50-100m of slop to get through and there wasn’t any big hills, wasn’t much flat stuff either in fairness. I’d have preferred it hillier.

2.44pm, standing in the Cumbria start  gate with 8 team mates ahead of me. “Right, don’t go out to fast…” Jeez Louise! I ran a 5.30 something first mile and was 20 yards from the back! I grafted my way around the remaining 6.5 miles and finished in 53 minutes, placed 269th out of 284 runners, wasn’t the last Cumbrian to finish (one of my goals) and was fairly chuffed with my time. Andy Vernon won, he’s a double Olympian, 2 x European Championships medallist and has competed at the World Cross Country Championships 6 times. Fair company. Some guy who pooed himself came 2nd, he’ll be hoping no one remembers 2nd place! They won’t remember 269th either, but I will.
And that’s that. I’ve got a Cumbria vest for my wall.

Race attire.
That’s me far right.