Sunday, 28 December 2014

Setting a ladies world record.

So what on earth makes a person have any hint of desire to run more than 20 minutes on a treadmill. I wish I could give a reasonable and plausible answer, I can't so, you'll have to make do with a cobbled one. Having recently completed a few of my runs on a treadmill in my constant quest to become more comfortable with speed, pacing and form, I had to try to make it more fun in order to keep me at it I guess. So, about a month ago, I had the crazy idea to give the treadmill running a purpose in it's own right. I perused the internet, in order to see what kind of running had been completed on the treadmill and found my way to the realisation that 50km record hadn't actually been set for women as yet. Great, a goal. I'd already completed a two hour run on the treadmill a couple of months before and so, I did another, at the pace that I thought was reasonable, comfortable, and likely to see me complete the 50km distance in about 4hrs 10 mins. I couldn't walk the next day. Was this going to stop a slightly unhinged ultra runner, no way. I could run 2 hours on a treadmill, I could run 4.

Coincidentally, two weeks ago, a great runner Paul Navesey an acquaintance, had a crack, and smashed the men's 50km record in a staggering 3 hours 5 mins. I pondered the coincidence and wondered just how many ultra runners take the to indoors during the colder months for their longer runs? In any event, I felt slightly uncomfortable about having an attempt at the women's record given that a pal had smashed the men's. It just felt a little more, well, awkward. Nonetheless, I'd been here before (recently) with not fulfilling some of my goals because of the timing of something similar with others, so, as uncomfortable as it felt, I stuck with it, selfishly.

The week preceding was full of doubt, something that had been plaguing me for a while with regards to my capacity generally. I guess it's a mindful state that most runners feel at some point, however I had been having trouble shifting mine. I know I'm not a fast runner, yet, I know I am resilient and have tenacity beyond comprehension at times, that, sets me apart. Four hours on a treadmill, no problem. Can you see the battle here?

Edit Berces (Hungary) in 2004m set a 24 hour world record on the treadmill and set the 100 mile, 100km and 50km as well en route. So whilst there was no official women's 50km record, I was informed that I would have to complete the 50km in half of Edit's 100km time of 8:35:05. Four hours ten seemed reasonable then, with a few minutes to spare. The criteria requires that a standard treadmill is used, this means then that every 60 mins, that the treadmill would need to be restarted, it took about 40 seconds to restart and this would add to the overall time of the attempt. 

My local gym was fully on board and gave me great support, I hadn't been aware until after that they had gone to the trouble to have two brand new treadmills, shipped in from Germany fully calibrated to the standard. Wow, thank you Pure gym. Carl the manager was remarkable, anything that I wanted he arranged. 

So the planned start was 10 am on the 27th December 2014. I called at the supermarket en route, for petroleum jelly and pain relief, perhaps only ultra runners will understand this strange combination. I arrived at the gym, and unpacked, getting everything just right, having all that sense of control and adequate preparation, everything in it's place, no mobile phone. Panic, as after emptying my kit bags time and again, I guessed that I'd left it in the supermarket at the checkout. I jumped back in the car, and calmly retraced my steps, smiling at the realisation, that you can try to control and make everything perfect, yet, life will throw anomalies that you just have to deal with. A word with the security guard revealed that It was likely that my phone was gone. On the off chance, I went to the self service checkout where I had completed my purchases, picked up the gleaming black piece of technology, and headed back to the gym. 

A pal, Ant Bethell soon arrive as did my coach John Danahay, these were the official time keepers, both qualified to do so as per rules for setting a world record of this nature. A few princess instructions, a quick interview the the local Newspaper, a couple of cheesy photographs on the treadmill to accompany, then I was off. Ant posted a live feed just in case folk wanted to test there endurance and watch. Here is a link boring viewing. However, there was a problem with Wifi and Ant had used his portable dongle, which, ran out of credit with about 20 mins to go. Doh. There is a video that captures the last moments however and I'll post it here when I have it.

The run was pretty unremarkable, other than two toilet stops that were not planned, however like my sister Angela pointed out, 4 hours will seem like 24 if you don't go! I had plenty of support from friends and family and without them I'd have not completed. The distractions were important, as it was boring, and yet, conversing and watching those who were there, on their Saturday morning, giving up their time for me, made me more determined than ever to get the job done. At 3hrs10 ish, I developed a stitch I'd increased the pace of the treadmill by 0.3kmph and the change in pace sent me out of kilter and stitch developed. I panicked as I was unsure I could ride it through, the pain was immense,  It was crippling, and I felt I had no choice than to take pain relief. After ten mins it settled and part of me considered I'd failed, another battle, tsk.
I hadn't failed of course, I was still going, playing with the speed trying to compensate for the stops and the restarting of the treadmill, I so desperately wanted to do well. The last 20 mins were hard work, the motivation came from John, he knew exactly what to say to keep me at it. 

The world record was set at 4:15:01. It's not a fast time, it's almost embarrassingly slow, there are so many faster 50km runners out there. Are they daft enough to spend that time on a treadmill, well, of course they are and it'll be great, if It's inspired you ladies to take my record. 

Gels: TORQ x8
Mini Cheddar x1 (not packet, just 1.. haha)
750ml water
300ml TORQ perfomance energy drink

Shoe: INOV8 F-light 195
INOV8 workout short

Treadmill was set at 12kph however I tinkered with increasing this speed as I felt appropriate.

The results of poor taping under bra strap

Thanks to those who popped in to support me: Angela, Matt, Issac, John, Ant, Darren Washington, and Scott Boulton (briefly).
Thanks also to radio Stoke, Paul and Nina,
Liam and Leanne from The Sentinel.
Puregym: Carl Wallace and Laurence
Matrix: Tom Johnson

Happy New Year folks and look forward to an exciting 2015.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Winter wonderland

It felt like winter  this afternoon, for the first time this year. A reminder of the winter training, in the damp, dank, rain, (snow if were're lucky). Yet, Snowdon Hill reps soon get you to focus on your run rather than distractions like weather. I completed one and a half reps, so about 15 miles, on Wales highest mountain today (1085m) and remembered why I adore hill running. Traffic was light on the Llanberris path and the cafe was closed for business, however i'm pretty sure that this fact contributed to a great decent as pit stops had to occur at the bottom. 

Some are likely to wonder why a hill repeat on the same climb when there are so many to choose in Wales, and I'm likely to state that I think it's good for continual, long, drawn out climb and a repeat means you've something to measure then next time. Hope everyone is having a good start to their winter training and no doubt i'll have some stuff to talk about here soon.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Eastridge Half Trail Marathon.

Saturday 5th July 2014

How do recover from a 24 hour round? Race a 2300ft half trail marathon in Snailbeach of course. I'd entered the race with the TORQ performance team alongside Matty Brennan and Johnathan Hedger. I'd not realised quite how hilly this little gem of a race was until I looked at the map in the registration hall. 'Bugger, how the hell am I going to race this'. I was still feeling the Rigby in my legs and knew that any hint of a climb would sap what little strength they had managed to regain after the Rigby. TORQ were part of the sponsorship for the race and I had wanted to do well as an ambassador for them. I was worried! The first half of the course was a gradual climb on a long and drawn out section of forest and private farming land. I simply hadn't had the recovery and ended up hiking, striding and generally wangling a trot to the turn around point. I was sitting in second placed female and knew that first lady was a good few minutes ahead. The beauty about an out and back section is that you obviously get the opportunity to see where your competition is in relation to yourself. It was safe to say that a nothing short of a miracle was going to get me anywhere near Emma (Gould) a remarkable fell runner. Nonetheless, the second half of the course was more forgiving, descending. The life came back into my legs and I was able to enjoy the run along the trail. Interestingly TORQ's Matt Hart had entered the race as a 'bit of fun'. He's a remarkably fit mountain biker/ road cyclist but hadn't ran further than a 10k distance for a long time. Surely he couldn't beat me! I'm on his performance running team and he was up ahead. I pulled out the stops to catch him in his moment of weakness, (descending) and breezed past, remarking on how tired he looked. 'Cunning plan' I'd thought sniggering to myself, only then to spend the rest of the race looking behind me to see just how close he was to breezing past again on the small climbs. It's safe to say, that I managed to hold on to a good solid finish and in a time of 1hr 45.48 finished second lady (and in front of Matt, phew). A beautiful little race in it's first year and a great one for anyone who wants to make the transition from road to trail. Thanks TORQ for fueling me and making this run a fun day in the hills. 

Friday, 4 July 2014

Ruminating the Rigby Round

It was approximately 3 weeks ago that a friend, Jonathan Whilock said to me, 'why don't you come and do the Rigby Round'. Now, I've ran with JW a lot over the years, and supported him on his Ramsey Round last year. In fact I owe so much of my early running training and experiences to JW. The 'rounds' will be familiar to a large majority of folk, the more popular one of course being the Bob Graham Round. The Rigby round is so named after Mark Rigby who first undertook the challenge and in 1988. True to Mark's attempt the Rigby round is intended to be undertaken without any support, and without any previous reconnaissance of the route. Therefore you essentially (if you are keeping true to the spirit of the round) have one attempt at it.

I've written a detailed report that is available here and therefore I'll not repeat that information, however, I want to share some randomness details below.

  • Prior to undertaking the Rigby Round I'd not ran above 13 hours in one hit in the mountains. 
  • The Rigby Round could be considered to be like a very extended OMM given the lack of paths and the navigation required on the hoof.
  • You can complete the Rigby Round in any direction, visiting the peaks in any order.
  • You don't have to do it in 24 hours.
  • The Rigby Round is less about peak bagging and more about how you tackle the journey from one peak to another. 
  • A 2am start means only 2hrs of darkness in the morning and depending on how quick you finish, only a few hours in the evening. 
  • Water is not as plentiful after 10hrs (ish) an the anti-clockwise round
  • There is more potential running that in any of the other rounds (from my experience).
  • The terrain is very technical, there are no defined paths, and it is tough under foot, it is certainly not for the faint hearted.
  • I ate every 30 mins using a combination of real food and gels
  • I used a combination of real food and energy gels (later on).
  • Midges are in abundance at the start/finish
  • There are tons of wild deer in the Cairngorm range. 
  • There is some scrambling and climbing involved to reach some of the summits. 
  • There is no shelter for pee stops
  • The Munroes are intimidating at worst and beautiful at best.
  • Heather and Boulders form your paths.
  • There are lots of frogs
  • Be prepared for bogs and peat.
  • As there are not natural stops, I broke the Round down into peaks 
  • I didn't look at the time until 23hrs 31mins and 53 secs had passed and I pressed stop.
  • I am amazed how the human body will just keep going and going if you get the fuelling right.
  • I had a lull every 6 hrs and came out of them relatively quickly.
  • Only one injury on left lower shin.
  • GPS's are a life saver when the clag is down. 
  • My back pack weighted 4kg.
Thanks to Inov8 for supplying me with the essential kit, to TORQ for fuelling me and Ndure for providing me with a flask. 
Jon Whilock and Jon Gay

Both of these chaps have writen independent accounts which i'll share here.
'Rigby Round Team Effort'.
A personal account of an unsupported anti clockwise completion of the Rigby Round of 
Cairngorm Munros, together with Tracy Dean and Jonathan Whilock on 22nd to 23rd June 
2014. Time: 23 hours 32 minutes.
Jon Gay (Lochaber AC).

I was delighted to complete the Rigby Round of the Cairngorms at the weekend in the company 
of Tracy Dean and Jonathan Whilock both from Staffordshire Moorlands AC, and what good 
company they were. We have decided to each write a short personal account, probably we will 
repeat some information. Since I doubt any of us have yet come back 'down to earth' mine will be 
rather subjective and may lack detail. Some vagueness may be acceptable since it is a 'turn up 
and try it' round! We got on very well, there were lots of small incidents most of them funny, I 
wish I could remember them all. It was interesting how our interactions and relaxed approach 
helped us get through the inevitable 'darker' bits.

The round takes in 18 Munros within 24 hours, starting and finishing at Glenmore Youth Hostel, it 
was devised by Mark Rigby in 1988. In contrast to some of the other big rounds it is intended to 
be done self supported and without prior reconnaissance- 'spiced up' as M.R. says in his original 
account. Serious in the remote vastness of the Gorms. A long way..

We first met on Jonathan's Charlie Ramsay's Round, on the last leg we compared notes on our 
longer runs and decided to do more in future. I remember Jonathan's determination in the heat of 
the Mamores and Tracy's enthusiasm, she had decided to run back a huge distance rather than 
take the car. I had total confidence in their ability. I enjoy both solo and supported runs but really 
like the simplicity of running in a small reliable group. We planned a simultaneous 'self contained' 

This was Tracy and Jonathan's first trip to the range so we drove up to the ski area to take in the 
view. The scale of what I had agreed to undertake hit me. As a youngster the ski area seemed 
vast, Cairngorm summit unattainable. My first climbs in the Northern Corries and walks onto the 
plateau continuing on to Ben Macdui felt like a rite of passage. Later on multi day walking trips I 
managed to tick the hills- but to do them all at once?? Luckily the clouds were down and we 
couldn't see the whole lot! For Tracy and Jonathan it must have been spectacular to have 
experienced this place for the first time.

After the usual comparing of rucksacks and nervous eating we left at 2am and along the track to 
Rothiemurchus Lodge. Everything felt natural and relaxed, and we got in some early jokes 
including nicknames for the respective Jon's. Very soon I realised that we were paying good 
attention to the map and discussing decisions in a quiet and consensual way- we settled into 
roles quickly. It felt strange yet reassuring to know we were being monitored by the tracker from This was very motivational and it was nice to share our weekend.
We had optimistically said that the clag would lift. It didn't and we were soon navigating 
paranoiac ally off Braereach like in a mountain marathon. We 'hand railed' along the Gleann 
Einich corrie edge but dipped low into rough ground which was not very amenable at the start of 
a run- but no recces allowed! Surprisingly we passed quite a few tents- I was jealous, at this 
point I had stiff joints and hadn't got going, I would have paid for a coffee and a go of a sleeping 
bag. Hopefully we didn't wake anyone up, they would wonder what we were playing at.
As I had feared, from Sgor Gaoith there was lots of flat or undulating running. Jonathan's walk 
was my jog, Tracy seemed to float. It's lucky I didn't know at the time that Tracy has won the UK Ultra Championships or I might have psyched myself out! We did a long section on an 
inappropriate scar of a Land Rover track before and after Mullach Clach a Bhlair which I found 
painful. Concentrating all the way we commenced a dreich contouring traverse worthy of the 
most cynical mountain marathon planner fond of 'over or round' problems- to reach Bhrotain. 
There was time to chat on some of the up hills including funny stuff. Often as well we were 
bashing away in our own worlds.

Sgor an Lochain Uaine to Devil's point to me is very memorable and classic Cairngorm territory, I 
was glad that the mist allowed us to share the views down the cliffs and along the Lairig Ghru. 
Tracy & Jonathan were able to appreciate just how big the Cairngorms are. We inadvertently ran 
out of water so enjoyed crunching spring snow from an old cornice. My short cut off Devil's Point 
left something to be desired in the light of a concealed hard snow bank, I liked how Tracy said 
'just do it' as I hesitated before bum sliding down. 

The sun came out as we passed the Corrour bothy, disappointingly there was no coffee to be 
blagged. Pausing before the steep 'informal' ascent ahead we defaulted to more laughter this 
time concerning vastly excessive food consumption, certainly a theme of our round. This was 
about the right time for things to get harder and as muscles tightened it did. Then I noticed 
Jonathan's 'bargain' shoe was starting to disintegrate, he was unconcerned since he had some 
string. In this case I was glad of my Inov8's. It certainly wasn't the normal walkers route and 
halfway up the discussion turned to climbing. 

I thought Carn a Mhaim was stunning with it's wide view and I felt very happy, especially to be 
half way. Jonathan apparently had a temporary energy low going up Ben Macdui but it was hard 
to tell- he 'gets on with it'. 

Derry Cairngorm to Beinn Mheadhoin was sublime although we cursed the teetering boulder 
fields of the 'out and back'. Clearing skies also gave us a chance to see and plan most of the 
remaining route which was alarming in scale. I hope Tracy and Jonathan had time to take in the 
ruggedness of the Shelter Stone crags and Loch Avon corries. 

On to Beinn Bhreac which we thought was the fastest sequence. But the ground was far from 
quick. Then time for my 'lull' after extensive bog running where we had picked up some time. 
Drinking a large amount of honey soon had me back. Along with some coffee powder also 
'enjoyed' by Tracy.

Generally I was surprised at the roughness of much of the route, my preconceptions may be 
based on the 'normal' Munro bagger's approaches which I had done in the past. Route choices 
are nowhere near as plentiful or obvious as on say the Ramsay's. We were very relieved not to 
have clag on the plateau onto Beinn a Bhuird which would have been a navigational nightmare. I 
found the Ben Avon area including sculpted tors, crags and corries very stimulating, possibly it 
was the caffeine. 

The usual contouring and micro nav brought us tantalisingly through bog and tussocks towards 
Chairorain, (which can also be done in a different order). Along the way on a bearing, through 
knolls, in the vast tundra wild scape, in the middle of nowhere- we nearly tripped up on the guy 
lines of a tent. And had a brief encounter with a most annoying man (probably this was the the 
best place for him). We had only seen ptarmigan and deer until then. Jonathan said a friendly 'hi' 
and explained that we were trying the 18 Munros in 24 hours. Rudely but hilariously the 
individual retorted that 'oh- that's a standard mountain rescue training regime'- as if to belittle our 
efforts in the last 20 or so hours. Easy!! Indignation 'got me going' again and I even attempted a 
demonstration jog up hill.Jonathan had said we should keep the glucose tablets for when the 'shi*t hits the fan'- so all tiring at this point we had some. We became more and more interested in the schedule, counting kilometres and contours against the limited available splits. I thought it started to look tight as we were slow on Chaorainn but I'm not sure what the others were thinking. 

I could see that Jonathan was experiencing a 'dip', not literally, at the Fords of Avon and was 
fighting nausea. I know how hard he is and knew he would get through. Probably however it was 
obvious I was concerned about the schedule, I may not have come across as the most positive. I 
admit I discussed splitting up as I felt I was going OK at the time (I was fortunate enough to be 
spared the nausea and was eating). As soon as I said it I regretted doing so- it had been so great 
running together. It was way, way more important to finish together. Even if it it risked being a 
little over the academic figure of 24 hours. In retrospect I believe that with Jonathan's superior 
planning he knew if we bashed away we would do it.

Tracy says- 'There was a light heartedness that even during our respective lulls we just all got on 
with it and no doom and gloom was allow to breed and I think this made for a stress free and 
pleasurable day out on the hills'. This is very kind given my 'wobble' above but yes we did fit in 
well and it was always uplifting to be part of this team, for me at least. 

The Tracker wasn't accurate at Bynack Mor, it makes it look like we didn't summit, which we 
most certainly did! I can also see other various blips but we have our GPX files.
Despite feeling like death warmed up Jonathan proceeded to fly off dreadful ground, navigating 
beautifully in the dark through a squall to commence a grim 400m final struggle up boulders on 
the side of Cairngorm. Tracy felt sick but kept bashing away, very tough. Having been lucky 
enough to have supported Nicky Spinks in her record breaking Ramsay's recently I can see that 
Tracy is a brilliant and very professional runner. She was incredibly 'positive' at all times and this 
influenced much of our success.

I experienced a despondent low point here with an energy crisis too- serves me right. I was glad 
not to be on my own! I was thinking how dreadful being late would be, especially as theoretically 
you only 'get one go' since reconnaissance isn't really on. 

Near the top we got out the schedule and realised we had time in hand- what satisfaction! We 
navigated through dense cold mist to the weather station and 'skied' the piste to the road, being 
careful but enjoying it. Having failed a Bob Graham Round I have heard that running along the 
road at the end is a euphoric experience and I hugely enjoyed the descent and our chat on the 
road, memorable.

Tracy was the first ever lady to complete, Jonathan is one of only a few to complete 'all 4 big' 
rounds: including the Paddy Buckley, the Bob Graham and the Charlie Ramsay's Round. 
Subsequently we have all been elated, decided to do something together in the future it was 
wonderful company in one of the best places.

Jonathon Whilock
I'd not heard of the Rigby round until i'd caught a conversation between Bryan (Carr) and Simon (Reed). A bit of research later and I was hooked. No support crew, just map, compass and a backpack with some food in, simple. No set date just go when the weather is good, a nice day out on the mountains. The nav's easy in good visability too, famous last words. 
I didn't fancy the trek on my own so tried to recruit anyone daft enough to join me. Jon had no excuse, he knows how tough these things are and I told Tracy it was easy and she'd be the first lady and she was sold, I could sell snow to eskimos. 
The weather would not settle so we went for a 2am Sunday morning start as it looked mostly ok for the next 24 hours. After a bit of a wander around the start/finish and look at the reindeer in Glenmor the midges got the better of us and we crashed in the car for a few hours kip.
Most of my other challenges have involved walking the hills and running the flats and descents, it was quite ominous that we seemed to be running the uphills from the off, this might not be the easy day pit I had planned.
We hit clag from 1000m and didn't leave it for a few hours, our route from 1-2 ended up through some messy rough ground, our lines were good but we couldn't see to pick the easiest route. Once the clag lifted a bit over Tom Dubh it became so much quicker. 
The distance between the Munroes on the Rigby are so much greater that we had to run whenever the ground would allow as you lose so much time on boulders and in peat bogs. To take the best lines there was a few hairy looking ascents. Jon had climbed before but I didn't know how good Tracy's head was for this stuff; shouldn't have worried she was a lot braver than me and judging my the amount of blood pouring from her shins after a nasty scrape or 2 on boulders, handles pain well too. 
We all had low points, Jon's ability to consume honey amazed me, Tracy never lost her appetite, I just wanted to throw up at the thought of food. We had 7hrs from Ben Avon, 'easy, you can do the mamores in that' said Jon. 
The weather closed in as it went dark on Baynack Mor and our route up Cairngorm was risky but we hit the top with 1hr 40 mins to go so an easy run in and we made it. 23 hrs 32 mins.
I have to say it was an fantastic day out with two amazing people, but by heck it was tough. Jon got it right as we were trying to run over some rough ground, he said 'it feels like this is all i've ever done', it was so consuming.
A very difficult challenge which pushes you mentally and physically. Go for it

Saturday, 21 June 2014


I've never ran longer than 13 hours in the mountains, so my little jaunt to the Munroes tomorrow with John Gay and John Whilock will be new territory for me as we plan to take in 18 summits, 75 miles and about 19,000ft ascent. You can follow us here on Open Tracking. 

The mountains that I'll  be visiting  and more about the challenge is available here

We will be starting at 2am Sunday 22nd June. The round is unsupported and independent, therefore no previous recce's and whilst there are three of us starting together, we are independent, so essentially there is no hanging about for one another and we will self reliant! gulp!

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

A quick 50k

It's unlike me to enter an ultra without a taper, so just to keep it interesting that's what I did. I intended to complete the 50k trail marathon on tired legs in an effort to get my endurance levels up a little. In the proceeding week I'd possibly had my highest mileage week this year and so was not only with tired legs, I was generally worn out. So on the start line in Portumna forest whilst everyone was registering Tracy was fast asleep in the car. I'd been chaperoned to the event by a good friend Jonathon and he'd gone off to look at the course, and do some faffing. He was under strict instructions to wake me up when the folks start to line up on the start line. So he did, and, I had a minute to spare.

The race was fairly flat on forest path on a 5k loop. The weather was perfect running weather and the scenery was amazing. Ireland is soooo green. Given my intention to stay at the back of the race and walk and chat, I had a leisurely start and the first loop took about 25 mins. This remained the pace or there abouts for the first 5 laps. However, as the race progressed I just didn't feel like I needed to go that slowly, the legs were by now accustomed to the tired aching and yet I felt I could put more effort in. I just kept getting stronger and stronger and by the end I was completing laps in 22mins. I was passing racers who had 'blown up' and were walking, so this is what 'pacing' is all about... light bulb. I loved it. 

I finished the race in 3hrs 54 not bad given my holding back and no intention to win. Had I understood just how strong I was running, then maybe I'd have put more of an effort in a little earlier in the race which would have taken me under the 3hr 50 qualifying time for the world trophy. Kicking myself now, but an amazing lesson learnt and who knows what is around the corner.

Coming up to the finish line

The finish was a remarkable affair. This was a wonderful race and a difficult one to orchestrate for the race organisers for sure as there were a 100k, 50k, marathon and 1/2 marathon all occurring at once. I was a little bewildered but understanding as I came through the finish line and was ushered to the medals table, presented with a half marathon medal and asked my time. I looked at my watch, about '3hrs 54', my medal was taken off my neck, replaced with a different one and I was congratulated as I blurted out that 'I think I may have won'. 

3.54.12 New Course record. 6th Overall

Shoes: INOV8 Road-x 233's
INOV8 FF workout short
INOV8 Race ultra vest
10 TORQ Gels

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Soft Flasks v Bottles

Ok well it's less of a comparison and more of my experiences of using a soft flask products.

Hydration is a topic of conversation (and opinion) that can fill a whole day of running in the trail running community and even then there is no definitive as someone will inevitably throw another opinion or view in that is just as valid as all the others that came before it. How, when, with what you like to fill up the water tank on the go really is a matter of personal preference and so what I can confidently make reference to is my own experiences and preferred watering methods. 

I don't drink a lot on the run, I'm almost embarrassed to say, I simply find water boring, I'll almost go as far as admitting that I don't like the taste of it, but, there is no taste, so not a valid comment. Nonetheless, its' life saving properties have me reaching for it when my thirsty body insists and so the next task is to get the right equipment for use on the run.

I've used hydration bladders during the early days, however they are simply not a preferred bit of kit not for me, I find them cumbersome and inevitably, as full at the end of the run as they it was when I started. Bottles have always been my preferred choice. I've persevered with them in hand and in packs. There is a new wave of hydration products that has come into fruition and I'm sure that most folk by now have tried a soft flask. 

I was excited about trying my first one and knew immediately that I'd probably never carry a bottle again. The first one I tried however lasted half a dozen outings before a leak in the plastic revealed a weakness with the product. Nonetheless I wanted to persevere as I liked the concept so much. I subsequently obtained a couple of NDURE's version of the soft flask and have been using them since.  

They have a range of sizes of soft flask from 148ml (5oz) through to a 500ml (17oz). They even have soft flasks with straws if a straw is your thing.  I have teamed an 11oz soft flask with an Inov8 Race Ultra 0.25 hand strap. Interestingly you don't need to grip the flask in the hand strap as the strap holds it firmly into your hand. The flask itself has a grippy texture and consequently no slipping. When I was scrambling over large rocks in Cyprus's Avgas Gorge and needed two hands, the durability of the plastic body of the flask was put to the test. Inadvertently I slammed it into rocks whilst using my hands to haul myself over the rocky outcrops. It survived, although I wouldn't have wanted to push my luck repeating the action too many times. 

Usually when you are in the peace and quiet of your run, there is the inevitable sloshing fluid noise from your backpack or hand held to keep you company. Yet the flask boasts it's compression the emptier it gets and in doing so, eliminates the sloshing and jiggling. 

I have not been disappointed in how it performs in a race vest or pack either. If there is a securing system to hold bottles in place on your backpack, then the flask performs equally as well as bottles. Certainly the large mesh pockets on my race vest were too big to hold the flask alone, which is slender and minimal. The simple design is comprised of a plastic body and the bite valve. That's it, no fussy locking systems or extras that are simply unnecessary such as a valve covers. This flask did not leak it's contents as the valve alone acts as the locking system. My ultra race vest has elastic bungee's attached inside the pockets and i simply hooked this around the hard plastic neck of the flasks valve, this keeps it firmly in place and on the go it's a matter of unhook and drink, no fighting to squeeze an over sized bottle in to a under sized pocket. Not once has a flask fallen out. When empty it packs down and weighs nothing. I usually refill in streams if I run out of water and found it a fuss free experience with the flask and no different to filling a bottle. There is no complexity to removing the bite valve, it's simply a case of twist, fill and go. 

When it comes to cleaning: the flasks have a fairly wide neck opening which enables you to get a small brush inside. This is important if you use the 5oz flask (for example) for gels or other gluppy fuelling substances. 

Overall then, what I like about the soft flask is it's ease of use, no bulky bottles digging in ribs or collar bones. No twisting or pulling on bottle mouth pieces, just bite the value and you're hydrating. It's impressive compression when empty and that it is a crowd puller amongst the rambling fraternity. The real crunch though comes when considering it's cost effectiveness and the price is possibly the most reasonable on the market, for example the 500ml flask is priced at EUR 16.95 the equivalent of £10.55, cheap as chips, for a product that does the job as good as any on the market at the moment.

If there is anything to consider: then there may be some merit in adding a feature to assist in grabbing it out of a pack and/or allows it to be secured into a pack. During test there has been the odd occasion (as the flask becomes empty and I'd stuffed if further into the pocket) where it was taking longer to get the flask out of the vest pocket as I had to fish around for it. A grab strap for example would assist and smooth the process. Would this be an unnecessary feature I talked about earlier I don't know? 

In addition, I've tested NDURE's 250ml Hydra cup on the go and whilst it's relatively small it's a handy bit of kit when water is in ample supply and you don't want to carry bottles or flasks. Certainly I've folded it down and put it in the zip pocket of my trail shorts and got it out when I've needed a sip on route. 

If nothing else it'll satisfy a kit list item of having to carry a cup i.e on Mountain Marathons as it packs down to post it note size. 

What ever your preference these types of products are worth a test at least as in my view hydration systems are becoming more sophisticated and these guys are listening to the needs of the runner and responding with great products. Thanks NDURE. You can visit their website to view their other treats here: no here, haha, got ya.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

BGR, Howgills 26 and Peaks recce all in a weekend.

24/05/2013: Last weekend was the first in a long time that I've supported a Bob Graham Round attempt. Janson Heath is a local chap who has over the years succumbed to the greatness of the mountains. He has been training hard over the last six months to reach his potential fitness and strength in order to complete the personal challenge. He has written a blow by blow account of his experience here. I was scheduled as support crew on his leg 4 making the journey from Wasdale to Honister. The mountain summits that the beast requires you to visit (if completing a clockwise round) during this section (in order) are Yewbarrow (628m), Red Pike (828m), Steeple (849m), Pillar (853m), Kirk Fell (802m) Great Gable (899), Green Gable (750m), Brandreth (675 ish), Grey Knotts (697) and finishing at Honister Pass. Needless to say, as Janson quite rightly points out, there is always a calamity when I'm involved, so after sitting in the wrong car park in Wasdale waiting for the crew and runners to arrive, I refrained from punching myself in the face, and made my way to the right car park, which was the actual National trust one over the bridge and not the pretend National Trust (village green) one that a bunch of ramblers convinced me I was in! Luckily when I arrived, Leg 3 support crew were still hanging around, and informed that there were three others with Janson who was well on his way up to Yewbarrow (it was unlikely at this stage that I'd have caught them up) and so I made the decision to drive to Honister pass and jump on the last leg with the folks. 
Janson on Steeple

I arrived in plenty of time and was able to catch up with some familiar faces. Janson was having a great round and was well up on his schedule and whilst the weather conditions throughout the night had been horrendous and navigation near on impossible, he had made good time in the day light hours and was consistently strong and determined. Singularly three fell runners came over the horizon of the grassy spur for the decent into Honister whilst we were waiting, the third one being fellow Inov8 team mate Ben Bardsley, he was training on Ennerdale fell race route, the race of which is the beginning of June. Whilst he's not been running as much over the winter, he's certainly keeping fit with his mountain biking and skiing. Moments later Janson appeared with his entourage and after a quick pit stop, he was raring to go dragging his crew behind him. The short section between Honister to Keswick was a great run out, it was good to be back in he mountains again, I've missed this place. I always feel humbled when I see a BGR completer touch the last summit. The relief, the pleasure, the tiredness and pain and yet the pure exhilaration that the individual expresses during those moments, in their own manner, is incredible to witness. Janson was no exception, his calm smile signalled the beginning of the end. He was 'up' on his schedule and when he was told that if he gets a wiggle on he'll make a sub 22hr round, there was no stopping him. A grand effort to Moot hall and another remarkable man doing his thing. Well done Janson who finished the 66 miles and visited 42 mountain peaks (total of 1562m/27,000ft) in a remarkable 21hrs 47 mins (thereby qualifying him as a member of the Bob Graham club having completed under 24hrs). 

25/05/2013: Whilst I didn't do much running on Sunday it was another remarkable day of supporting and witnessing others achieve. John Danahay has a track running background and continues to be a remarkable runner (and coach) as a vet. He represented England, November last year in the British and Irish Masters championship (XC) and so continues to evidence his capacity running shorter races. He has however started to venture into the longer distances and I supported his second attempt at a trail marathon in the Howgills this weekend. John was more than capable of running the distance, he'd done so, many times in training however, he was a novice in terms of the perils that trail running and being on your feet for a long time entails in these specific race conditions. The things that trailees take as second nature once a few races have been experienced, I witness the birth of in John. His fuelling strategy, his ability to cope with adversity, how he motivates himself to carry on when he should be stopping and giving up, navigational errors, blood, sweat and almost tears. I feel very privileged to have been part of that for him. Well done John, who finished second place in the Howgills 26 marathon coming second only to Martin Cox, who had a tremendous race and another of Britain's finest.
John number 5029 November 2013

26/05/2014: I had a jolly around the Peaksky race race route on Monday. Just shy of 29 miles with plenty of gentle ascent in the Peak district. It's a difficult place to get the type of ascent that the nearby mountains have to offer, if you are starting in Buxton. Nearby Castleton for example will at least give more opportunity to climb in this area, however in terms of the training over challenging terrain, well, it delivers every time. Long drawn out gradual climbs, exposed featureless areas, bogs, trod, fell, rock, technical ground (I tried X-talon 190's for the first time over this distance) and Shuttlingsloe race. Yes, by coincidence as we approached Shuttingsloe it became apparent that the yearly fell race (straight up and down) was taking place. Whilst I missed the front runners descending the hill, it was great to see the majority of the competitors windmilling down the fell side. Fellow Inov8 team mate Simon Bailey won this short sharp race in a time of 15mins 48. A full on 6 hour day storming around the peak district in relatively favourable weather, a nice way to end the bank holiday weekend.
Shuttlingsloe in the distance

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Experiences galore

You win some and you learn from some. I can't recall the precise moment that that thought came to me, however it was post race in Iznik, Turkey, after an 80km trail race, for sure.

It wasn't too long ago that I'd heard the phrase 'you learn more from the ones you don't win than you do the ones that you do'. Mr Corless' talk Ultra pod cast was, I think, responsible for cementing that notion. Talking of Mr Corless, he'd invited a number of runners to one of his favourite races, the Iznik Ultra 2014. There are four race distances of 10km, 42km, 80km and 130km. I'd hovered undecided over which distance to run, however settled for the 80km as it would be my first experience of running internationally, abroad, in a race that I could expect to fair well in. The group met up in Birmingham International Airport, Marcus Scotney, Jo Meek (and her husband Jon), Stu Air, Ian and Niandi. My Inov8 team mate Robbie Britton was to meet us in Turkey as he as travelling over from his little shed in Las Palmas.

We spent a night in Istanbul before heading over to Iznik in plenty of time before race day. I adored hanging out with the other folk, however, I was inexperienced with and therefore caught unawares of just how overbearing it can be to share great lengths of pre-race time with your competitors even when they are good and wonderful people.  I had innocently gone to Turkey believing that I'd do ok and that it was just going to be a good fun race to experience. However, I was starting to get a sense and feel of something else, that I'd not felt before, ever, and it was overbearing and unexplainable. I came to realise, like a light bulb moment, (again in my naivety or ignorance), that I was indeed there to put on a show and race, how could I have been so blind? How can a determined and focused runner not be so serious pre race, pre-trip! In spite of my perseverance once the prospect had dawned upon me and with hindsight, I was making decisions that were not good for me or conducive to a comfortable or familiar routine required for a stress free race.

One of those decisions was to eat hotel food at breakfast on the morning of the race that I would not usually eat. I am in the process of discovering that I've developed an intolerance of certain foods, and whilst I don't want to accept this, It has been obvious for some time. Needless to say, I stood on the start line, with bloating and stomach cramps. I chose to believe that this was nothing more than those massive nerves that had appeared and that It would all sort itself out during the race. Can you really sort these kinds of challenges out during a race?

Within an hour, I was looking for bushes and sporadically, throughout the race, this was the story. Certainly the bloating eased yet the cramps increased. How the race had panned out, Jo, was putting in a sterling performance and Mr Corless pre-race predictions for Jo, were certainly coming to fruition. Given her super fast speed and strength on the climbs, there was no room to be toilet stopping as I was, during the race. Jo would pull away and I'd have to work double hard to catch her after I'd flushed the chain (so to speak). Most of the catching up was done on the descending, however this just increased the cramps and caused a stitch, what a wreck I was, it also meant that I was running outside of myself for large chunks of the race causing me to fatigue much more quickly than was healthy. 

The final descent of approximately 750m dropping down into Soloz at the 60km point was where I should have covered a lot of fast ground in order to close any gap in distance that I'd lost. Rather, however, after the only a few minutes of descending on the hard path, I stopped, the cramp and stitch were simply being exacerbated by the hard pounding on the metalled path. I could not fly down this hill. In spite of desperately trying to stretch out my abdominals and taking it easy, the pain had become consuming. I still had a good 20km to go on flat road, this prospect now started to plague me.

Lets say for an explanation sake, psychologically and emotionally, that I usually start a race on a level of about an 8 (give or take) on a scale of 1-10. There were a number of factors impacting negatively on this number for this race. Both race related and otherwise, in reality, I was closer to a 3 or 4 on the start line. Ordinarily as a race progresses I ride the lulls and work my way through any difficulties as they arise. However, when the physical difficulties needed to be addressed I needed the mental prowess, I needed to have been on an 8 in the first instance to make the job easier, however, it just hadn't happened and everything went wonky.

Jo was motoring and I learnt that her target had been for faster races lately, therefore with this in mind, I knew I'd have to get some wind in my sail in order to make it interesting at the front end. Yet, where I should have been making ground on the descent, I was walking with cramps, this was madness! The decision was to be made about how to continue this race. Do I walk it, there was now no way I could run, or do I stop. Now, given the mental starting point, I described above, the decision came way way to easily to stop. That race was over.

This experience has filled my tool bag with so many riches that I can't begin to tell you all of them. They are lessons and experiences that no amount of being informed will suffice, you simply have to experience them in order to gain the strength and knowledge from them. I am so so lucky to have had the opportunity to have learn so much. All of the other Brits won their races and so a huge well done to Jo, Robbie and Marcus. (Unfortunately Stu, sensibly for his recovery, didn't race).

So how do you overcome the feelings of disappointment and would haves and could haves that pour into your mindset when this kind of decision has been made. Well in fairy land you enter your next race, when the cramps and bloating have gone and you're feeling relatively strong again. The next day maybe? A cheeky little 10km and then you win it. 

Thank you to Ian Corless for helping me to learn from experience. A huge huge thanks for the hospitality and opportunity given by Caner Odabasoglu the race director. Thanks to my super sponsors Inov8 who provided me with a kit that meets the demands of trail running. I wore trailroc 236 shoes and Inov8 Race Ultra Vest which is like the tardis and weighs less than my hairband. It housed all of my kit list requirement along with 14 TORQ gels (thanks TORQ) and four Hydration Flasks that had been provided by ENURE. These flasks were super easy to use packed down to a fraction of their size when empty and fast to refill again, thanks UltrAspire. 

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Relaxing on the Trails

In order to gain more experience and develop my running I wanted to mooch around some of the trails in Europe this year. I decided to take a trip over to Lake Annecy after recommendation from a couple of folk. Annecy is known as the 'Venice of the Alps' and when in the old town it's easy to see why. This place blew my mind. The lake itself is reported to be the cleanest in Europe, it is beautiful, however I was there for Mountains. I was not disappointed. Montagne Du Semnoz mostly following the Tour Du Lac Annecy trail up to Cret de Chatillon is basically a 20km climb up to 1699m so a total positive gain of about 1240m.
I'm pointing at athe first 10km or so of the climb of Montagne Du Semnoz

The route choice for the drop off that I followed largely stuck to the TDLA for half an hour of pure fun. The decent was challenging, fast, technical and any wrong footing will have you tumbling the rest of the way, so it required full attention on this tough terrain. I came off the TDLA route at Touviere and picked up other paths and a road in order to weave a way over to Montagne d'Entrevernes . A challenging climb much sharper than Montagne Du Semnoz, had my lungs bursting, and remained that way until I was able to put them back again at the summit.
Montagne Semnoz and Mountain Entrevernes in the background

The ridge of Montagne d'Entrevernes lends itself to fast running, the snow slowed the pace a bit, however added to the fun. It's all a little surreal running in the warm sunshine with snow under your feet, well, not under your feet, actually, I was thigh deep in snow at times, so mostly feet under the snow! It was roughly about 17ÂșC. I'm unsure if I've found an efficient snow hiking technique as yet, is it more efficient to find virgin ground, or plant your feet into already made footsteps?
Add caption
Finger tip points to Mont Veyrier peak up yonder.

The descent was largely through forestry and was sufficiently way marked and on defined paths. A speed session to finish the day on the run along the road to Duingt, where my running partner Ant Bethell and I caught a bus (cheap as chips) back to Seynod. I devoured and refuelled on Salade de carottes repees as I've had a carrot addiction for a few years now so this was heaven, I've since made it at home it was that tasty... my recipe needs work! 

Day two and I was over the east side of the lake saving the best til last. Starting in Bluffy, we picked up the TDLA and followed it (mostly) to the summit reaching 1254m. This mountain is should be on every ones bucket list. It is so inspiring. It has everything you want in a mountain, something that sharpens your senses, focuses you mind, challenges your soul and gives you the freedom to let it all go on the descent. The decent is fast and steep. There is no doubt Mount Veyrier is stunning. There is the choice of a few different paths and you need to make sure that your navigation is up to speed if you are looking for a fast one. You're feet will definitely be up to speed as they will be churning over ten to the dozen on the way down. Your eye balls will need to be as quick as your responses. It is exciting, I was using rocks, grass, jumps and trees to get me down, I was ready for Salade de carottes repees for supper.
 Venice of the Alps

On day three my legs were sufficiently chewed and torn, the decision was to stay low and do a run around parts of the lake itself. So we ran from Seynod, through the old town and up to the lake. One of the joys of running is that you can go to new places, don your pumps and learn more about a city, town or village by tootling around it for your early morning run than you can all day sight seeing. Through Venice with it's canals and boutiques brought us right to Pont Des Amours.

On a 8 min miling drum finding mission
 From here I heard drumming across the lac and was intrigued, the sound was carrying and I'm nosey and wanted to discover who these tireless musicians were.

Lac d'Annecy
An hour or so of gentle running around Lac d'Annecy and three drummers were found lakeside beating out the vibes on their bongo's and frames. I sat on the edge of the wooden walkway, chilling to their sounds and getting all pensive watching the gathering of kids open mouthed and nodding along.

I was safe in the knowledge that the run back home again would be just as adventurous. 

Inov8 Athlete retreat

I recently had the opportunity to join other team Inov8 runners at the retreat in the Lake district. It was a fun action packed long weekend of events and an experience that will stay with me for a very long time. It involved plenty of running including a blast up Ruston Scar, and for some, the Middlefell race on the Saturday. A storming race for the Inov8 team with seven of the male contingency in the top 10 and a storming win for young Tom Addison and Judit Franch coming in third for the ladies. Not bad for an ultra trail runner. Unfortunately I didn't have the chance to have a jolly around the Middlefell race as I had taken a trip over to Shrewsbury to spend time with the TORQ team as they were having their gathering during the same weekend.

So half a dozen trains journeys later and I was over in Church Stretton with Matty, John, Richard and Matt. We had a fun day on the hills there testing out some kit and having a great day taking some snaps.

In the evening we had our nutritional knowledge tested during the team quiz where the swimming tea, cycle team, Tri-team and us runners were pitched against each other in understanding the importance of nutrition during competition, and how best to perform in training and in competing. Finding a fuelling system that works for you I believe, is as not something that should to be taken lightly. I believe that you can't 'chance' it and that you can only benefit from having a full understanding of how your body responds to different fuel during a race. The quiz turned into socials before my return back to Eskdale the following morning.

Besides the running (and there were lots of social runs for the team too) we were introduced to some of the new apparel and were encouraged to input and give feedback on the shoes, clothing and accessories. I spent most of my running in the XTalon as it's a show that I've only started to wear more recently on the fell and I have to say that I am hooked. This input by the team is highly valued by Inov8 as they want to work closely with their athletes in order to develop a true understanding of the needs of a runner. They didn't want to hear all the good stuff, the team are innovative and they want to know what to improve, what can be tweaked and how the current footwear and kit is functioning out there. This transparent communication between Inov8 and the athlete's works exceptionally well for the runner as footwear and kit are the tools of the trade and it is so so important to have the right feel, the right technical capacity, the right functionality and something that you trust in. When you are up a mountain in the middle of clag or in the blistering heat, you need to know that your feet are being looked after and that you can trust your choice of shoe and further that your kit is working with you and protecting you from the ailments. Thanks Inov8 for this exciting opportunity.

Monday, 3 March 2014

There's been some really exciting things occurring this year for sure. More about this in March, however I'm honoured to have been asked by both INOV8 and TORQ this year to support their brands and be part of their trail running teams. It's an easy answer when you believe in the products and kit that you are using and then are welcomed on board to become more involved. I'm so excited.

Otherwise, it's been a little quiet since the New Year, yet I managed to sneak a cheeky little ultra race in yesterday, The Millennium Way Ultra

The Way for the Millennium is a nation trail that was setup 14 years ago to celebrate the millennium. It's a pretty flat course and the event organiser Richard Weremiuk from Beyond Marathon Events, describes it as (only) a 'miserable 220 metres of climbing on the whole course' and he suggests that it's 'practically downhill'. You can see why!

millennium way

The route follows old train lines, waterways and field land. It's all trail.
Trent Canal

The route:

Begins on the Shropshire border just outside the village of Outwoods. It then head towards the town of Stafford and joins the River Trent and the Trent Mersey Canal, you travel on to the river through Colwich. It's then along the river into Rugely, before heading over fields for the next 8 miles or so before rejoining the Trent and Mersey Canal for the last 7 miles into Burton upon Trent to finish in Shobnall. 

The race:
I entered this race on a whim at the eleventh hour. I haven't been training for this type of race and hadn't rested beforehand, so whilst I always have a competitive head on, I'd no bright ideas about fairing too well and took the view that I was happy to have the new experience of running on a flat course over this distance. It certainly was a new experience to have constant cadence for 38 miles, however it's fair to say that the field section in the middle whilst was heavy and slow going, did provide some respite because of the change in terrain. The fields were incredibly muddy and so it was a mudfest of churned up sinking mud through fields for a chunk of time and this was a challenge in itself. All things considered it's certainly the course for a trail shoe rather than a less technical running shoe. I wore Xtalons, light with fairly grippy lugs to get me through the mud. 

The pack:
In terms of the race, there were a few familiar faces in the front running pack, Robbin Carter (later on) and Billy barefoot Craig (early doors). As the field settled into its positioning it was, for the first half,  pretty much consistent with Lee Knight, Billy and Damo Taylor playing yoyo with one another. 

Billy, Damo, Lee

Lee was probably the most consistent, he positioned himself at the front and pretty much stayed there. Billy had gone out fast which was evidenced by the latter half of the race when his wheels fell off more that he'd have liked. Robin had moved from the chasing group, (I say group, it was a wonderful man called Robert Kerr, Robin and myself) and joined the chaps up front pretty early on. 

Robin Carter, myself, Robbie Kerr, Matthew Knight the early chasing group
The front group towards the latter half of the race ended up being Lee Knight and Robin Carter. They were always in sight however once back on the canal towpath for the last 8 miles or so, they pulled away to gain their respective leads. Lee managed a 4 mins gap from Robin and Robin a 6 mins lead on me. As alluded to early, Robbie Kerr was a chap that was running pretty much in pace with myself and so throughout the race we found ourselves together. Sometimes words don't need to be said! We pretty quickly got in tune with one another and pushed and pulled each other through. I owe my life to this man, saved, from killer cows (yet again), he flapped his arms whilst I dive bombed to the style (as usual). Good luck in MDS this year Robbie, you're an awesome runner and very much the gentleman, who at the end of the race stepped back to allow me to dib in first. We were both a joint 3rd in reality.

The fuelling strategy was pretty straight forward and I'm pleased that I have found a formula that works well for me, it mostly involves TORQ gels every 30-40 mins. I managed the timing perfectly and didn't get depleted at all. The biggest problem during the race was the dealing with the soreness from the constant cadence of my running stride. The last 8 miles on the canal tow path were brutal. I'm simply not used to it and for sure my pace slowed to reflect the uncomfortableness that I was experiencing. This is the learning for me this time, and will be food for thought in the future....talking of food, where's my dinner?

MWU - 38.5 miles / 61.9km

Ist lady 5 hrs 22mins
3rd Overall

Thanks to runner friend Forest Bethell who came along to support the runners and crewed for me along the way. Great to see you out there doing bits of running yesterday Forest. Thanks to John Danahay for peservering with me (constantly). Thanks to my beautiful sister for being on the finish line.