Sunday, 16 October 2011

Round Rotheram 50

I can't even remember when I entered Round Rotheram, but I think it was during a misguided moment  after Transalpine.  In fact, on checking the credit card statement it would appear it was about a week after, but for only £13, what could possibly go wrong?

I had heard some, let's call them 'mixed' reviews about the race, but I guess I was really persuaded by the idea that it was a friend's (Titan PT, Paul W) first ultra attempt, and another club member (old smelly little Kev) was already going up to support - safety in numbers.  Describing it as a friend's 'first ultra attempt' is actually a bit misleading, in his first season of proper triathlon he's already completed the mammoth task of completing three iron-distance events.  Not feeling that this was enough to be able to call himself an real 'endurance athlete', he wanted to top the season off with a 50 miler, in under 11 hours, and in doing so fulfill the requirements to enter the lottery for the famous Western States 100-miler in California.

Paul had mentioned it in passing at the pub one night after swimming and for me, there is something I find quite amusing about sitting in a pub and the conversation that effectively unfolding as follows:

"So, what's next after the Ironman Triology?"
"I'm going to run 50 miles, so I can run 100 miles somewhere else"
"Oh right ok..."
"Where are you going to run the 50?"
"Round Rotheram, wanna join me?"
", go on then."

I was collected at about 3pm on Friday afternoon by Paul, Kev and Sarah B, as we were hoping to miss rush hour and make a relatively painless journey up the M1.  Things had obviously gone excellently as we arrived at the Park Inn Rotheram probably closer to 8pm than any of us would have imagined.   My attempts to convince everyone to plump for the cheaper (£4) option of sleeping of the sports hall floor had failed miserably, and so I was determined to enjoy the lavish hospitality.   We went straight for dinner, and I went for a portobello mushroom burger with fat chips and two pints of Guinness.  Paul had obviously left his testicles in London as he sipped white wine (with his pinky raised), but marginally redeemed himself by ordering a Barnsley chop.  For dessert, I had an ice cream cookie sandwich - obviously.

After heading up to the room, I managed about 6 hours interrupted sleep before a 5.15 alarm call.  I think Kev managed about 6 minutes sleep, but he seemed to be looking forward to the day ahead. I forced down (still full from the night before) a portion of apple sauce with whey protein and custard, and 2 pots of rice pudding.  After a coffee,  we made the short drive to the sports centre in time to see the early starters head off along the road.

Having been a clear night it was fairly brisk, and I was happy to get running.  Having not run at all since Jogshop 20 last week, the plan was just to take it nice and steady to start.  I ran with Paul chatting away, and soon enough the first 17km were over.  Although cold initially, it was probably close to a perfect day for running.

In fact, the first 40km passed in what seemed like almost no time at all - I guess time flies when you are having fun! After a good feed and refilling our water, we moved away from the half way point with around 5 hours on the clock.  Paul Thompson, fresh from racing (and not doing too badly) in a double ironman out in Virgina only a week ago was waiting for us, although he did admit to 'noticing some fatigue' at this point ;-)

As time wore on, it was apparent that Paul W was starting find things tough. Paul T described it well with the question "Are you entering new territory Paul?" "Yes" was the response.   It was frustrating, I wanted to help Paul, but knew there was nothing I could do except keep encouraging him as best I could.  I reminisced about my first ultra a couple of years ago in the Brecon Beacons.  Everything hurt, at only half way I thought I couldn't go on. In so many ways it was utter misery, but I also very clearly remember that when I felt like that, I couldn't possibly imagine that anyone else knew what it was like for - what ever they'd been through, this was worse, no matter what they said.  To be fair to  Paul W though, he didn't even moan, he just got on with it. I'm pretty sure I whinged all the way round.   It also turns out that Paul T raced that year of the Brecon Beacons - small world.

With Paul W valiantly battling his own demons, I spent time discussing Paul T's experiences of his double and triple Ironman's and the tricks the mind can play on you during endurance events.  To me it was fascinating, and I was having a great time.  Good weather and good company.  Rotheram was even pulling out its big guns, as we made our way past the ruins of the 12th Century Roche Abbey.  This was a noticeable improvement on the highlight of the first half of the race - the water/sewage  treatment works near Elsecar.  On reflection, the majority of the first 20km smelled like $h1t, and its probably unfair to blame that entire stretch on just the water treatment works.

Sadly however, time was marching inevitably onward and the 11 hour target was beginning to look in danger.  We came out of the second to last aid station where we were told there were 12 miles remaining - we had 2 hours 15 to do it.

We soldiered on and as the 10 hour mark approached, my feet were starting to feel decidedly achey.   The closer we got to the finish, the more it was becoming apparent how seriously close it would be at the current pace.  Paul did great to keep running, and was just stuck at turning his legs over across the variety of terrain.  The trouble is with races like these is that there is no guarantee that they aren't slightly long or short, having also got a little lost earlier on, we had certainly removed any possibility of being able to make it if we went wrong again.  I had the map - the pressure was on.

We got into the last aid station with I think about 10.27 on the clock, grabbed a final bit of fuel and moved straight on.  They said 3 miles to go, and although it felt like we were still a little over 10 min miles, I felt that we could do it.  Paul was obviously committed to giving it a go, and we pushed on.  We got onto a small canal section with perhaps a a little over 3km to go and I stopped to adjust the number on my shorts - the safety pin uncomfortably rubbing, and also to take a photo - I was confident I could catch up.  I couldn't have stopped for 30 seconds and set off quickly to catch them.

After nearly a minute of solid running I was only just gaining on them, some-one had pushed the 'go button' on Mr. W and he was really kicking on.  As I rounded a corner and finally had them in range, they ran past the next turning, I shouted and they swiftly turned around having gone about 20 yards too far and once again we were together again.  I was leading as we rand in a tight 3, and Paul W asked me to up the pace, I edged on, "faster...." ok. I was genuinely running towards the upper edge of what I felt I could manage, and loving it.... Here we go I thought.

There were lots of turnings on the map, and an entire column of directions was assigned to the last kilometre or so - this was pressure map reading at its worst.  We were mowing down people ahead of us, and Paul T even began to linger at the back.  Paul W was running like a man possessed.

In the end we came painfully close, and finished just 1 minute and 25 seconds over the 11 hour mark. A true sign of character though, is that Paul didn't stop sprinting those last 2-3km even though he perhaps may have known that he was just outside the time he was aiming for.  He said earlier the day that he wanted to finish strong - and that he certainly did.  As the time was read out, I was gutted for him, for to put yourself through that to miss out by so little is almost comical in its absurdity.   I really hope that in time Paul will look back on the day fondly, and not with obvious disappointment he showed immediately after.  To complete a 50 mile run is something to be proud of regardless of the time.  When you take into account that it was his first attempt at the distance, his endurance career to date and the season he has had so far, its easy to lose sight of the achievement.  It may not have been the desired outcome, but the performance was in no way lacking.

After the finish, as the adrenaline began to wear off, we all got showered and changed, hobbled slowly to the car and we began the journey home - not without a stop off for a KFC, which barely touched the sides.

I feel surprisingly good this morning, with no excessive soreness/tightness, but thats not to say I'm 100%, and I certainly enjoyed a massive bacon and egg sandwich whilst watching the rugby this morning.  However, I feel this may be different story tomorrow morning, gotta love the 2 day DOMS ;-)

A big thanks to Sarah B for the support at the aid stations and driving us home.  Although she did desert us at a couple of aid stations to head off on some girly lunch date?!?!? (which if you ask me I'd estimate this probably cost us about 1 minute and 26 seconds (at least!) in logistical faff),  it was great to have the extra support.....

Until the next time!!

Monday, 12 September 2011

Team Endurancelife - The Gore-tex Transalpine Run 2011 Race Report

Stage 1 
asc 1800m, desc 1400m
5 hours
57/78 mens category for stage, 156th overall for stage 
I had been looking forward to racing Transalpine again for quite a while, and all of a sudden it was upon me. The camp was unfortunately about 2km from where breakfast was served, but with the race start at 11am, we made the walk in twice (once for breakfast, once for the race – whats 4km on top of 270 odd eh??) I guess we shall see. Once we had returned to the race start area, we took our time to soak up the atmosphere, and enjoyed a coffee in a nearby square and watched the clock tick down – it was a lovely morning. So lovely, that in fact two guys next to us were enjoying a beer at the cafe (it was 9.15am).

After some final checks, lace tightening and kit adjustments we were underway. This year, with no one to make me seemingly run as fast as possible all the time (and given Chris' dubious pacing history) I made sure we set a steady pace. We gradually wound our way up through forest from Oberstdorf (812m) to the first summit (2060m) about 15km in. My effort levels seemed to be a little higher than I would have expected, but I knew that eventually it should settle. There was a descent of about 250m then a short climb to another peak, then a larger descent to the second aid station at about 20km in. As we both became accustomed to the hammering of a technical descent it was starting to heat up, and my effort levels were still higher than usual. 

We ate well and then made our way up the final climb of the day from 1298m to 1622m. This one was steep, and all of a sudden my effort level was shooting up once again, it was hot and I soon became faint. I asked Chris to hold back a couple of times whilst we waited in the shade for me to cool down a little. There were a lot of people struggling in the heat by this point, but my pasty ginger companion, strangely remained strong. After a healthy dose of water at the summit (too much) I then struggled down the final descent with a stitch. We finished relatively stronger, in just about 5 hours, and Chris I am glad to say looked like the more experienced partner, stronger all round.


I stuffed down some coke and cakes, and beer, and salami and smoothie at the finish and got cleaned up. We hit dinner as I tried to rehydrate and very slowly ate my dinner. I went to bed a little worried I'd overcooked in the heat. Having felt sick at dinner, I thought perhaps I might have had a little heatstroke, and saw that that others had suffered in the heat. There had been people throwing up a fair few times on the final climb, and all the people we spoke with seemed to have found the day relatively tough – so much for and easy first day.  

Stage 2  
53 km 
asc 2400m, desc 2900m 
9 hours 
50/70 mens category for stage, 161st overall for stage 

Today was going to be a tough one. They claimed the hardest they'd ever set in the race's history. At 53km it would be the furthest Chris had run, yet following his performance the day before, I was not worried as to whether he would be able to cope. The first 10km and more or less continuous climb up from Hirschegg (1122m) to Widdersteinhutte (2009m) was relatively uneventful as we made we just settled into the pace of the group. We had been fairly leisurely in makingour way to the start, and we found ourselves almost last across the start line. Despite making our way through the field, we were still towards the rear of the pack on the first climb, and on the narrow trails the snake of those in front of us moderated our pace. Following the previous day's somewhat over zealous effort, my HR was much more surpressed and it was good to take our time on the first climb for it would certainly be a long day. There was a steep descent, where unhindered by a bloated stomach, Chris and I were able to make much better time, and made our way through the field. We took our time at the aid stations and made good progress over the next 20km of rolling terrain and up to the second major climb of the day (2009m).


At the second aid station I had to make a few running repairs on my heels, with my inov8s not quite as comfortable as the salomons I had worn the previous day. It didnt take long though and we soon were atop the second serious climb of the day. After an aid station just over the summit, we took a deep breath and began the huge descent from 2009m down to 841m. This one was steep, and at times borderline frightening. Our descending ability, relative to those around us meant that we further moved up the field, until towards the bottom, where the gradient flattened right out. On the less steep ground, the effort to continue to keep the legs turning over made my right itb start to tighten, and I had to stop a couple of times to stretch it out. Whilst my knee had held out so far, there was a seriously long way in the stage and the race still to go, I'd known from the start that this was something that was going to have to be carefully managed. To take my mind off my leg, I started to run low on energy, and running down the road to some aggressive oncoming traffic somewhat lightheaded brought me right back into the stage. I was glad to see the third 4th and final aid station with about 11km of the stage remaining. This race is so fantastic because it is so seriously challenging. As if the uber descent we had just negotiated was not enough, they through in one final climb of 800m in about 2.5km. Chris was once again strong as I fell by the wayside, with my energy levels soon once again depleted by my previous lack of attention to detail with regards to nutrition. The weather was hot and humid, and we made slow progress stopping a couple of times in the peaceful woodland as we made our way up. Soon enough however the climb came to an end (to my relief) and it was Chris' turn to make the repairs, his big toes having been causing him some trouble. Both of his large toenails had started to blacken and he taped them up to try to offer some comfort. The descent, as fierce as the ascent, had other ideas, and Chris was now struggling. Having found some extra reserves of energy, I tried my best to keep Chris' mind off his discomfort by rambling and chatting to him all the way down. There were a couple of hilarious 'CTS-esque' final ascents to be negotiated before we made one last push to try to sneak under the arbitrary target of 9 hours. To our delight we made it by 30seconds, only to realise that we had started our watches as we crossed the start line, so in fact came in on 9.00.32. Ha!


As we finished, it started to come down in buckets, yet I still went to sit in the fountain and try to get my thighs under the stream of water pouring into it. They had taken quite a hammering. I felt very tired at dinner, and was relieved to get to bed after some serious stretching. Although it was a very very tough day and harder than I remember anything being last year, I didn't actually feel too physically mashed up – which I suppose is important considering we'd only done 2 stages!!  

Stage 3  
asc 2227, desc 970m   
6 hours 32 mins 
43/68 mens category for stage, 135th overall 

At the briefing the night before, they had announced an alteration to the course for stage 3. Due to a poor weather forecast and a stage plotted to twice reach 2600m, with a large proportion above 2000m, it was decided that it would be unsafe to continue to use this route. In taking a safer path, the ascent was changed from 2800m to 1800m and we were told we now only had 970m descent. This was perhaps somewhat of a relief, but unfortunate we couldnt enjoy what was supposed to have been a beautiful stage. I hadn't slept well the night before, and forced down breakfast. It was still pouring with rain from the night before and set to last most of the day. The new stage set up was an undulating climb of about 30km up to 2200m and then the 970m descent into Galtur over the remaining 10-12km.


With my HR now fully supressed, I was able to push on a little more confident that my cardiovascular system would keep my exertions fully in check. We made good progress through the field and tried to keep moving as best we could on the long steady inclines. I always think the worst part of this race are the sections where its flat. At least if its steep incline you can walk, and downhills do the work for you! The aid stations came every 10 or so kilometers and broke the stage up into four sections quite nicely. The first 10km I was pretty full of food, and it took a while to warm up. The second 10km seemed slow (and in fairness was), but at least I had finally got going, and some caffeine pills helped push things along. By the third section I really began to enjoy myself, over some muddy technical trail. It was still raining,and Chris and I commented on how it seemed like running in England. By the time we reached the summit, and the final aid station, the weather had closed in even more. We had some hot soup and then went about finishing the day off. We moved well, and Chris' feet seemed to be holding up. We pushed on and finally arrived in Galtur after 6 and half soggy hours. I felt much less sick at the end of this stage than the previous two, and feel like my body is starting to get acclimatised to running each day. 40Km more tomorrow, and that'll be 100 miles in 4 days, and over half way – happy days!!

Stage 4  
2102 asc, 2437 desc 
7.5 hours 
50/67 mens category for stage, 174th overall for stage

8 and a half minutes, thats how long it took to run the last kilometer of the stage, and it was steep downhill. Whats worse is that the preceding 4 hadnt been much better – yet the stage had started so well. 

It was chilly in Galtur, but thats what you get on a clear morning in a town that sits at 1589m. We however set a good steady pace and managed to run the majority of the first 10km that climbed about 550m ascent to the first checkpoint and base of the first climb. Even despite a brief comfort break, it was obvious we were considerably higher up the field than usual by seeing some of the less familiar competitors around us. The day had started off brilliantly, stunning scenery, crystal clear skies and a slick stop at the aid station to boot. We moved on up the climb at a decent controlled effort and enjoyed the surrounding scenery.  


As we climbed up to 2760 odd metres the air noticeably thinned and it became harder to concentrate as RPE increased. Soon enough however we reached the summit and made our way down the rocky trail the otherside. We were making great time, yet I had that sinking feeling knowing we would have to stop shortly. My Inov8 mud rocs, whilst offering great grip in damp conditions, are not as comfortable as my salomons that I usually wear. They rub a little on the heel, which whilst this is usually manageable over shorter distances, such prolonged running had begun to take its toll. Despite covering both heels with compeed and zinc oxide tape, the sharp descent had rubbed through onto the skin. Once we reached the bottom, I asked Chris to stop so I could treat them, knowing full well with 4 days to go, a stitch in time definitely saves nine. 


As soon as we were off, so were the new compeeds I had attached, we had only made it another 1km or so before my pace was once again slowed dramatically. We made our way to the next aid station, which was about a further 4km along. Once there I really took my time and used bandages to firmly cover all of the exposed skin, so large were the affected areas that conventional plasters wouldnt cover the wounds. It was a little frustrating to watch yet further teams pass as I treated my heels. In playing doctor, I think I probably let my nutrition slip and was playing catch up all the way up the next major climb. Coupled with reaching 2700m plus once again, the way back down couldnt come soon enough, nor could the next aid station. The views were stunning though, and the photos just dont really do them justice.  

By now Chris' toes were also starting to suffer once again, although his food management had been better than mine. The next aid station of course didnt seem to come for ages. By now I was sick of bananas and energy bars and craved coke. However, we had taken so long I was restricted to just one glass, and had to force down some iso in an attempt to get some calories in. Already feeling sick, having to drink something which makes me gag at the best of times was not good. I sat in the shade for a while as I tried to hold it all in.  

Enough was enough, I just wanted to get down, and so we set out from the last aid station - about 6km to the finish. Incidentally, the aid station more or less marks the end of stage 5 - the bergsprint, and so from then on, we were running the reverse of tomorrows stage.  

It was not pretty, despite my heels being quite painful, my lack of energy slowed me right down, which is actually worse when you are descending such a steep gradient. Although I kept running (technically), it was an embarrassingly painful shuffle. Chris' toenails were also taking a pounding on the steep downhill with his feet jarring on every step into the front of his shoes.  

After a dismal 45 minutes, we finally made it in, having perhaps lost an hour or more had we been running well. I was once again reminded that these mountains take absolutely no prisoners, and it can be a truly humbling experience when things start to go wrong.  

To cap off a rather crappy day, it was 20 min walk to our hostel, 20 mins back for the pasta party, and a final 20 mins back to the hostel to bed. Fortunately with only a Berg Sprint the following day, we still managed a good 10 hours sleep.  

Stage 5 
asc 936m 
56/67 mens category for stage, 179th overall for stage

The rest day had finally arrived. Its amazing how much a good nights sleep can do. I taped up my heels with the the proper bandages I had got from the first aid tent, and back into the salomons that I had run all last year of the transalpine in and got NO blisters, it was fine. My legs were still loose andI had good mobility - whilst the slower descent was initally more fatiguing, going slower just doesnt take as much out of you I guess.  

Teams set off for this stage in reverse order at 20 second intervals. Chris and I had agreed to stay together and just get up it without too much pain. This stage is a bit of a false economy I reckon, minimal time to be gained or lost relative to your position, but at a high energy cost. 

I had obviously blanked out much of the descent the day before, and the 936m altitude gain in what was actually under 6km was fairly savage. Steep steep steep. We took about 1.06 to get up without too much bother, but the stage provides a fantastic example of what sport specific fitness means. Chris and I, although fatigued by now are not unfit by any means, but seeing some of the runners from behind us just jog by as though they are on the flat was nothing short of astounding. Obviously it is in part how hard you are willing to push yourself, but the winners time of 38.xx minutes is quite honestly borderline ridiculous. 


After a good feed it was nice to get the bergbahnen back down, which ends right outside our hostel. A quick shower and into bed for a siesta, before trundling out for an hour or two at the nearby spa, before an early dinner and bed again.  

Only 3 days to go!!! 

Stage 6 
asc 1318m, desc1447 
4 hours 44 minutes
38/63 mens category for stage, 101st overall for stage 

After a slow start to the day in terms of kit admin (I had slept almost too well) we had a late breakfast at the camp, despite having stayed at a hostel away from the main camp in Scuol.  
The day started with a rolling descent which was great to warm up the legs, and then gradually climbed the 1300 or so metres of ascent up a narrow, yet stunning gorge. The view s back were stunning, and after the misery of day 4 I made sure I got my calories in.


Once up onto the plateau at around 2200m we stayed there for perhaps 8or so km, which once we had found a rhythm was fairly runnable. I almost stacked it massively a couple of times taking a couple of stumbles, yet we were making good progress.  

Soon the 15km to go sign came and despite the weather taking a slight turn for the worse we were into the extended descent. My salomons having taken me through many coastal trail series marathons and all of last years transalpine and so no longer have great grip and at times the steep descent with a thin film of moisture thrown into the mix was fairly treacherous, yet we were making great time. After a short stop at an aid station we were soon starting to move fast (its relative) . 

Picking off teams as we went it was difficult to keep the effort levels in check, yet soon we were to pass a mixed team from nzl we had met on the train from munich to oberstdorf, and randomly been placed with at the hostel in Scuol. After some 'chat' about how slow they were moving we passed them, only for them to latch onto us and keep pushing the pace.


With about 7km to go, it started to get out of hand, and despite gapping this pair once again, at the aid station with 6km to go, and just a 30 second stop, they were on top of us.  

Despite nothing other than competitive spirit on the line, we both preceded to push each other harder and harder throughout the last 5km. Despite Chris' slight protestations and small grumbles about how much it was hurting, I tried to remind him of how fun it would be to look back at this, and to just try to focus on each step, nothing more. The continual descent, now all on road was starting to hurt, and for this stage of the race we were clocking a decent speed. 

What turned out to be quite an advantageous situation for us, we picked off several mens teams over the last two km. It certainly hurt, but it was certainly fun!!!! 

Unfortunatley for us, as I sit here listening to the briefing for tomorrows stage, its set to head over 3000m.....if we can make it through tomorrow in one piece, we should be more or less home and dry. Fingers Crossed. 

Stage 7 
asc 2083, desc 2063 
6 hours 43 mins 
34/55 individual finishers (no overall stage placing) 

As I woke, I could certainly feel yesterdays speedy descent in my legs. Everything was more or less in order, except for the further increased levels of soreness in my legs, which was to be expected. This was also a good sign – since last year, after day 2, things didn't get any worse, because they couldn't. A years work has obviously made a big difference to my endurance, which is nice to feel.  

Based on my experiences of last year, if I got through today without feeling like I wanted to die, it would be an improvement. Chris had mentioned his hamstring was feeling tight, and so at the start we decided to take it really easy, and just get through the day. 

At the start of the run I was a bit fed up in general with the whole process. Getting to the first aid station usually entails a fair amount of discomfort in terms of trying to hold down breakfast, and remind your legs that they still can run. 

It was relatively stop-start, being somewhat further back in the field, there is generally less running on the more technical aspects of trail, and as we wound our way up the valley on a narrow path, it was difficult to get into a rhythm, but sure enough the time passed as and were soon at the base of the major climb by the first aid station.

 Having fuelled up, as we left the station, Chris told me that his hamstring was now really causing him problems. We sat on the side of the trail trying to stretch it out for a while in a vain attempt that it might help. Knowing what was ahead, the signs didn't look good for completion. Even if he were to make it through the stage, there was still tomorrow. I was gutted for him, but knew there was little I could say or do to make him feel any better. Regardless of whether its the right decision at the time or not, just contemplating withdrawal from an event is horrible thing. I suggested giving it a few minutes of walking to see if the steeper terrain might have eased the strain, but it was to no avail. After no more than 10 paces, he turned around and shook his head and started heading back down to the checkpoint.  

Almost like a yo-yo, Chris then stopped again, and said that he was determined to give it a go. Having a fairly good idea of the severity of the climb, it didnt look like the best idea to me. From the way he was moving, and the effort required to do so, withdrawal unfortunately seemed like the only viable option.  

For the next two hours we slowly soldiered up the climb, and every time you saw what you thought might be close to the summit (even though the altitude on my suunto told me otherwise), the climb just seemed to stretch on again ahead of you. A sense of scale was difficult to grasp, until you made out a small trail of coloured ants draped over the mountain – oh wait, those are people....but why are they so small, oh thats just because you have so far to go....oh ok. 


The last section was steep and difficult to get into a rhythm. Locked into the speed of those in front of you, unsure of whether they might stumble and slide back, it was not easy. It was noticeably colder too, and the effort levels increased. Soon we made it to the top and took a moment to enjoy the scenery below, I'd never climbed that high before, it was a rush. 

The first part of the descent was amazing, just soft scree where you could dig in your heels and skid down the other side, seriously steep, and seriously fun. Then the descent became a lot more technical as we made our way over boulders and large rocks, resembling more an unforgiving coastline than trail.  

Sadly, yet not unexpectedly, with his injury the huge descent was beginning to take its toll on Chris. In compensating for his hamstring, his right knee was now starting to cause him serious problems. IT would be uncomfortable for him whether we went slow or fast and we still had a long way to go, so I tried to keep the pace up, so as to get it over with.  

The trail ended and we reached some forest service road alongside a beautiful river – it was hot, and sunny, and had it not been for Chris' predicament, would have been an entirely enjoyable experience.  

On the easier service road surface, he began to fall a little further back, and I stopped to wait for him. He wasn't looking happy at all by now, and I asked him if he wanted to stop briefly in the shade (even though we were less than a km from the aid station). After a short sit down, he got up again and began to limp pretty severely at which point he just said, 'Andy I'm going to have to pull out'.


Although the writing had been on the wall for the last few hours, it was still pretty crappy to hear. The reality of this race though is that even best intentions wont get you very far. Any imbalances are magnified and exposed.  

I can see why people do hobble around and limp their way to the finish 'no matter what' and of course everyone has different goals, but I believe there is far too much importance placed on 'finishing', especially at an event like this. 

Had Chris ignored the pain and hobbled to the end, and finished (which he could have done), what would he have learned? That if he keeps running when something is obviously wrong, he can keep going and finish the race in pieces, but with a t-shirt and a medal? There is going to be pain along the way in a race like this – thats what makes it challenging, but I think it shows a different and far greater strength of character to recognise when enough is enough. Even more so, having sacrificed other races earlier this season for this one.  

I'm really glad Chris came to the right decision in the end, and I think he will have come away from this years race with far more having pulled out, than if he had crawled to a mediocre finish. As I once heard somewhere, and said to Chris on the climb up: 

'Any fool can suffer' 

I dearly hope Chris will go back and do this race next year and finish it in style and in doing so prove to himself that he did the right thing.  

It felt strange as I left the aid station alone, not having to look around for a partner. I felt good, having held back for most of the day. I soon caught up with a mixed couple from NZL. The woman of the pairing was in so much pain on the downhill that she had to physically lean on her husband to ease the strain. I thought to myself what damage must she be doing to herself? I ran with them for a while just chatting, to help distract her from her obvious discomfort, I was also relatively demotivated to push on. A 'good time' for the day was out the window, so I decided to just enjoy the day – it was about 30 degrees, there was some great scenery, and a slow jog suited me fine (I'll go hard tomorrow) I thought to myself.  

With 3km to go, the descent noticeably steepened, and the lady began to move real slow. I asked them if they would mind if I ran on to the finish alone and they said go ahead. I bounded down the last few km, and thought again how much this would have smashed Chris up even more.  

As I crossed the finish line and explained to some people we knew what had happened, I really felt for Chris, knowing he'd have to explain 100 times or more why he'd pulled out - a lot of people just couldn't understand his decision. One lady said 'its even worse because he got so close to the end', another guy retorted 'better he gets to enjoy 7 and a half days than it happen on the first'. I'm with the second guy.  

That night we enjoyed a great meal and several beers as Marty from tumbleweed sang the 'keep on running' transalpine theme tune to the competitors (twice, as usual) 

Day 8 
asc 1807, desc 1882
4 hours 24 minutes
22/59 individual finishers (no overall stage placing)

I started the day with another kiwi pair, who usually finished close to chris and I on most stages. It seemed actually quite a hard day to finish the race, especially so after what was a pretty bloody tough day 7 too. 

It was pretty much 1800m of climbing, followed by the same descent, and a tiny little bump at the end of the stage. Frustratingly, Latsch (the end of the stage) was only a few km along the valley from schlanders (the start), why couldnt we just run a flat 8km along the valley – why did we have to climb up to 2,400m only to turn around and run back down again??? ;-) 

I was feeling pretty good. I just stuck with the kiwis all the way up, and my effort levels were firmly in check. I kept eating and enjoying what was a beautiful sunny day. I tried not to think of beers and bratwurst at the end of the run just yet, there was still a way to go.  


We went through the first of two aid stations about half way up the climb after about 1.5 hours. The number of people out there just to 'get through it' appeared high, and this was just the climb, usually you see people really struggling on the downhills.  

We soon summitted, and I stopped to take some pics, made a short 500m traverse along the ridge at the top of the climb, and then took a few deep breaths before the descent. This is it I thought, I'm going to enjoy this!


The descent started with rocky, grassy trail, and soon moved into the forest below. I was feeling good and picking off people with ease. It was 100% enjoyable, and I can vividly remember the soft pine-needle covered trail beneath my feet, the speckled warming sunlight coming through the trees and the smell of the forest.  

Suddenly I heard what sounded like a twig snapping and all of a sudden my shoe felt weird. I looked down, and the lacing system on my salomons had snapped. Damn. I had run all of last years race in these shoes, most of the coastal trail series and most of this years race in them. They had taken an absolute beating. I cant even wear them in the wet since the tread has entirely worn away. They were well passed their shelf life even at the start of this race, but after my inov8s had cut my heels to shreds, they were too comfy not to wear. This was going to be their swan-song, yet at the start even I had doubted their ability to make it. The laces were frayed, and so embedded into the shoe that they had worn through the material on the upper of the shoe. Affixed only at one end, they arent regular laces, and they had snapped close to the bottom. I did my best to tie off and tighten the loose end, but the shoe was barely staying on my foot. It was actually pretty difficult to run in, especially given the uneven and irregular nature of the rocky trail. I resigned myself to just getting down. 


Soon the trail ended and we were back onto even forest service road, and the shoe seemed to stay on better, with no changes of direction necessary, I could plant my foot in a regular fashion and it was ok to run. I picked it up and was happy that I might be able to get through the stage in reasonable time. I got to the last checkpoint and had caught up most of the people I had summitted with.  

I took three banana segments to carry, necked two cups of energy drink and a handful of cake. I put my ipod in for the first time with some angry music on, and set about the last 12km. I absolutely hammered it. I hadn't listenend to my ipod all week, and the sun, the even downhill gradient, the pumping music – I absolutely flew.  

I must have passed maybe 20 teams slowly hobbling down the hill as I sped by at way under sub 7 min miles. Seriously aware of the 'little bump' at the end of the stage I tried to ease back a little, continued to eat and drink. Slowly I began to realise I had over done it a little, but now with only 6km to go, I just thought 'F*** it' lets finish this. It was starting to hurt.  

As I got lower into the valley, the temperature increased. I hit some more trail, but managed to keep it going, even on the uphill portion of the small bump. A couple of the latter teams I had passed came back by, but I was still passing people.  

5km from the end there was a mini-aid station with coke. Yes! Two cups, and the last push. 5Km in the context of this race is such a small distance, yet half an hour can seem like a BLOODY long way. I was soon into the orchards that makes up a lot of the terrain of the basin of the valley (the largest alluvial basin in the alps no less).  

I hung with a group of 4 runners as best I could, and I estimate only running 8.5/9 min miles now. I had totally blown though, totally. Quite funny, but I like the pain in some way.  

3km to go......2km to go......where is the 1km to go.....there it is, come on!! All the way on the flat it felt like my calves where about to cramp. I just kept saying to myself, hold it together.  

Then I heard my favourite sound, the pa system in the distance, and then the increasing noise of the crowd around the final corner. I saw my brother, he started to run alongside, then Lotte, my sister in law and Chris. I was totally pumped, I hi-fived lotte (???) ran past and started to worry that I'd actually I'd hit her hand pretty hard, ran to the finish jumping up and down screaming 'come on!!' like a lout.


It was a great feeling, they gave me some champagne, which I poured into the beer my brother had given me and downed it. It tasted good, it almost came back up though


Luckily it turns out that I didn't hit lotte's hand too hard, and I apparently smelled SO good after 8 days of running that hand contact was about as much as was appropriate at the time.  
549 out of 640 runners finished this year, and 245 of 320 teams. 273Km, and in the end with the revised route about 14,600m elevation.  

A massive thanks and congratulations to Chris - you were a great run partner. Thanks to Endurancelife for letting us run with the name. I'll pull together a more formal video of the event soon, but for now this will have to do. Photos can be found here.
So....whos up for the Eastern route next year??



Thursday, 1 September 2011

Gore-tex Transalpine Run - Prelude

I just thought I’d put together a brief prelude to this year’s Gore-tex Transalpine run.   This year I will be racing as part of Team EnduranceLife.  my team partner for this year will be Chris Jenkins. We hope to put together a blog for each day and upload when Internet connections permit!
I’m pretty excited to be racing and have been looking forward to the race more or less since I entered.  My experiences from last years race were ones to remember, and at the time, the greatest physical challenge I had taken on.
Although I am sure my recent the trials in the Arctic will provide me with a healthy dose of perspective in terms of the suffering I might endure this time around, I am under no illusions whatsoever as to the difficulties this year’s race will present.  As multi-day race, its not just about the moment, where you can hide behind pacing mistakes dig deep and just hope you have enough to get through that day. Personal admin, nutrition and recovery strategies are put under the microscope, and thoroughly tested. I hope to be able to lend just a little of my experience in this regard to Chris as he taking on his first multi-day experience, I know I certainly appreciated it when I took on mine.
Stage 2
The profile of this years race doesn’t disappoint with the intro, and supposed ‘easy’ day of 27km and 1800m asc., 1500m desc.  For those less familiar, I list the descent, since this is arguably the most physically demanding aspect of trail running.  When Alpine gradients come into play, it doesn’t take much to shred the legs and leave you hobbling for days to come.  To put these meaningless figures into perspective, max ascent in a CTS marathon is about 1600m, and the infamous Norseman marathon comes in at 1850m. 
Day two looks to be the real tester – 53km, 2400 asc and 2900m! descent. They are calling this one of the hardest stages they have set in the race’s history.  Day three offers no respite 43km, 2,600m climbing and 25km of the stage is above 2,000m. This years western route also offers up the Berg Sprint – Stage 5 being a 6km ‘sprint’ straight up 936m of mountain, I hope you can see why I gave it some “ “.

You get the idea.  It all adds up, with this years race totalling 273km and 15,436 meters ascent, 14,606 meters descent.  An achievement at the end of it, but best to take it less than one stage at a time.

My preparation has been much better than last year, which I only just scraped through in one piece with minimal training, owing to an injury I picked up earlier in the season.   I take solace in the fact that this year I have to run 40km less over the same 8 day period, and although more climbing is involved, I am certain that my dedicated strength and conditioning work will help hold me together.  My approach has been to run as consistently as possible and not worry overly about the distance I am covering.  With no real access to the alpine terrain, it makes it an event that is difficult to effectively train for.
Despite my best intentions, and good levels of confidence surrounding my running coming into the race,  picking up a complaint on my right knee (itb related) at the NDW50 from which I reluctantly withdrew after 30 or so miles, has brought the challenge ahead sharply into focus.  Fortunately not a chronic injury, it cleared up quickly and hasn’t troubled me since. It did however seem to appear as my glutes tighten up after prolonged runs.  Such is the scale and nature of the race, this is something I am not sure is entirely manageable, and once it goes is something that might certainly compromise completion.
After a great massage from Chris at Bodylab last night, and some handy hints and tips as to how I might use kineso-tape to offer some relief, I am feeling more confident, but we will see.  From now, I will put the finish line out of mind, and focus on performance related goals, the things I can control.  I’ll let the rest take care of itself.  I’ll try to remember to look up every now and then and take in the amazing views.  I can only but hope I once again hold out long enough to enjoy the awesomeness of the event in its entirety! 


Monday, 24 January 2011

Anglesey Coastal Trail Series Marathon 22nd January 2011

  Having managed to negotiate the Christmas and New Year break with a surprising (for me) amount of discipline with regard to diet and my training, this race was preceded by a week of thoroughly enjoyable, yet non-specific, Arctic Survival training skills with the boys in Norway.

I had been feeling fairly strong the week before that running consistently having come off a few days down in Exmoor with Lotte staying at the Blue Ball Inn (I cannot recommend this place enough – if you are looking for accom for the Exmoor race – this is the place, on the course and incredibly hospitable, great food and great atmosphere). Our time had been spent on long walks and runs on the trails that make up and surround the Exmoor marathon course, so my holiday training in that respect couldn’t have been better - it’s a real shame I won’t be around for Exmoor this year – it’s a fantastically challenging and beautiful course, I guess I’ll have to settle for the bleak Arctic tundra ;-)

After the week of training in Norway however, I’d felt somewhat sluggish on my runs, and so little was left to do but to hope that I’d find some semblance of form come the race.

With Oli deciding to recover fully from his injury at Gower (very sensible) it was down to Jay and I to fly the Team Arktix flag in Anglesey. We set off lunchtime on Friday for the long drive up, and camped about 10 minutes from the race start. We caught up with Jack Wilkinson, a member of Team Pole Position, (also racing to the North Pole this April) and went for some food in a nearby pub.  After a glass of whisky in the tent before bed we all camped down for the night.    Despite a decent frost on the car Saturday morning, we had been more than a little toasty in our nanok sleeping bags and tent.   Our gear, whilst perfect for Arctic conditions, and good practice in terms of personal admin to keep using, can only be described as overkill for Anglesey on a balmy January evening.

With ruthless efficiency we pulled pole, and drove over to the race start.  Jay set off in the early wave leaving Jack and I to pass time in the car before the main start (unfortunately, we had finished all the whisky the night before).

It was good to see a couple of familiar faces from the Transalpine on the start line, and after the usual safety briefing, without delay, we were off.

I set off at a relatively decent pace, wanting to get a little ahead of the game before the course broke off into more technical trails.  Up to the first checkpoint the course was fantastic – slippery rock and uneven winding paths – just my kind of trail! I normally set off fast, settle down and then push towards the end, and so was not surprised to see 4 or 5 pass me over the next 10 or so miles.

A picturesque run that hugs the coastline for the first 15 or so miles before an inland loop, I would have preferred slightly hillier terrain but was feeling relatively comfortable.

Just after half way I caught up with Jay on about 2 hours.  He had had a fall, but judging by how long it had taken me to catch him, I knew he must have been going well.  He seemed in high spirits and so I moved on, just as Iona (to her surprise leading the women’s field by about 30seconds or so) came alongside.

We chatted for a while and I managed to hang with her for about 30 or so minutes.  Her pace was fractionally too much for me (not to my surprise), and so she pulled away.

I had focused quite intently on getting my food in during this race, normally only taking on a handful of jelly beans and a biscuit at each aid station and a gel towards the end, I had meticulously been taking on a gel every 40-45 minutes.  Despite the increased energy levels, the flatter terrain in the midsection had taken its toll and I was beginning to tighten up.   Time passed quickly and before I knew it ,I was approaching the end facing a steep and prolonged climb inside the last mile.

Great! Finally some of the hills I’d been hoping for!  I knew it was just a short descent to the finish, and was looking forward to using my descending ability to good effect and pick off a couple of places in the final half mile.  I pushed on up the hill, but started to feel uncharacteristically tight in my calves.  I’ve never suffered from full on cramping in my calves and so just kind of hoped it wouldn’t happen.   Over the top, and Wham! It felt like someone had taken a baseball bat to my legs.  I actually started to laugh, thinking how ridiculous I must have looked, hobbling along, not making it more than a couple of paces at a time before they ceased up again.  I tried to curb my laughter as there were some actually quite precarious sections on the descent, and didn’t want to turn this disappointing finish into a DNF!  Down the flatter last section that I’d normally fly down I continued to hobble and lost yet another place, getting some quite patronising yet well intentioned encouragement from a runner of the half I’d overtaken on the ascent!

With little more to do than limp home and hope that I didn’t lose any more places I finished in 21st place and 4 hours 21.   Well done to Jay who ran sub 6 for the first time on a CTS course, a fantastic effort.  To Jack, a superb first marathon, only 19 and finishing strong not far behind me! Of course congrats to Iona for winning the ladies and Gareth for 3rd in a competitive men’s field!

Despite small set backs in consistency, my running is continually improving and as ever I look forward to the next CTS race and catching up with you all again! South Devon Ultra next up, see you there!