Sunday, 23 August 2015

It's a Grand day in the Pyrenees.

I've been anchoring over the last year to get some European mountain experience and certainly been having a turbulent journey in doing so. Not least is that I've found that these mountains highlight all inadequacy's that the mountains in the UK can hide. Yet, in spite of the knocks I'm enjoying every lousy, hard, pretty, painful, revealing adventure along the way. With three ultras in France over the last three months I'd say I'm finally starting to learn a few things.

This weekend I embarked upon the Les Grand Raid Pyrenees race, encouraged and supported by team Raidlight UK (thanks Team Raidlight). The GRP course boasts 10,000 metres of total ascent over 160 km, my 100 mile debut, whahay, small problem, I'd not been near a hill for six weeks, since Mont Blanc 80km. How arrogant to think I could get away with that.

But get away with it I did, for about 10hrs. I had a stormer, pacing well, fuelling great and in spite of sizzling sun, under the circumstances I managed to keep hydrated (see earlier comments about learning along the way) and kept any stomach issues at bay.

The calamity started after about ten hrs. I inadvertently used a boulder as a football, causing too much pain, hematoma, ripped an already loose toe nail and forced it into it's bed, at the first opportunity I managed to get some hillside first aid. Subsequently I was over compensating with foot placement to protect my foot (toe) created no end of blisters etc, boring details. I started with pain relief and sought the assistance of the Podo's at the aid stations. Those crazies were happy to examine, cringe and pad my toe and other ailments of the feet each and every time. Thanks so much for the time that you dedicated to helping get me as far as you did Podo's. Unfortunately the aid that I needed coupled with the pain I was managing meant far too much time in the checkpoints and for me the race was over. Now it was about getting to the end in a relatively ok piece.

Of course it was only a matter of time before it got messy. No more pain relief left me hopping the descents gingerly. No way to finish a debut I guess. I took the decision to pull out after 120km. I'm a light weight and fickle you'll know this by now, I couldn't find the reason to climb the last hill as I know that it would have taken me about six hours to get off it. I simply could not descent with the pain in the toe, well not with any kind of normal walking or running gait that's for sure.

 I simply can't wait to get back out there and get all of the right ingredients in the pot to evidence my determination. In spite of my disappointment at another DNF, on another level, I feel that I am learning and that soon enough my hard work, perseverance and knowledge will come to fruition. What's the rush?

 Huge well done to the British contingency , especially Digby Harris for a perfectly executed and well earned 10th place. What a phenomenal runner you are.

Some things I recall and a few nuggets I've learnt in no particular order other than the first:

1.Laying down in the middle of the night on the side of a mountain, looking up and seeing the most. amazing sea of stars, I couldn't move, didn't want to move.
2. Pacing is everything
3. Eating salty food when dehydrated prolongs re hydration (obvious but difficult when you want soup)
4. Je ne parlez pas Francaise
5. Ca va
6. D'accord
7. I love running in nice weather
8. Lac Bleu is the most colorful body of water I've seen for years.
9. The further the better.
10. I'm a stronger uphill runner than I've been telling myself.
11. Running through the night is the most peaceful experience, until you stumble across someone's turd on the narrow trail.
12. The Pyrenees are breath taking.
13. The support and encouragement by locals around the race course is unmatched.
14. My Raidlight ultra race vest was like a second skin, not a mark anywhere after 28 hrs, genius.
14. You cannot not train on mountains and hills and expect to do well in mountain races.

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Raidlight's Olmo5

Olmo 5

At first blush, you may be forgiven in thinking "there's just so much going on with this pack".

There are so many pockets, storage, nooks and crannies. I decided to give it a run for it's money during the Mont Blanc 80k race this weekend. The pack sits rather high however the reasoning becomes clear with you pack your water bottles in the perfectly positioned front pockets on the straps. I don't use bladders, I use soft flasks. Raidlight's 500ml are an example of ones that can be used, however any soft flask will fit as I used an INOV8 one in one pocket and the Raidlight in the other. 

Practically, this little gem meant that at no point did I have to take it off. What? How can this be possible over 20 hours. Well, everything i needed was at the front of the pack or in accessible within reach compartments. My essential kit list was stored in the back,waterproofs, emergency blanket etc, the kind of stuff that you are likely not to use throughout the run unless a change in weather for example. So food, gels, water, head torch, arm warmers and all the little trinkets had been compartmentalised at the front. But not just at the front of this pack. There is a little secret about this pack and it's wonderful. If you reach behind you to the base of the pack, there is a zip, open it, and there is a huge storage compartment enough to fit, jacket, head torch, gloves, it's what sold the product to me. 

Once you have got to grips where you have stored what you begin to realise the other features. Again, there are many little quirks with the Olmo 5. Are you a pole user? Well you have a choice where to pop your poles when not in use. At the front, yeap, that's right at the front, or if you don't think you'll be using them but want to have them with you, how about the traditional, across the back placement. 

The only feature that I struggled with was the zip pocket on the side of the pack. again a spacious storage space, however once open I found that I couldn't reach the zipper again to close the darn thing. Probably need to put something in this pocket that you are not likely to want to be retrieving to often throughout your run. The Olmo5 is packed with other little quirky features, I'll let you discover these.

Importantly, after 20 hours, no chaffing. Not even a red mark or a burn, the kind that you usually only find you have when in the shower post run. A comfortable fit and a thumbs up for this tardis 5 litre pack

Thank you Raidlight. 

The morning after the night before

When entering the Mont Blanc 80k it was done so on a whim, well, kind of. If truth be known, I simply wanted to get some uninterrupted miles in my legs to help bring me back up to fitness. No doubt many will sniff at my method and mutter a few unpleasantries about my stupidity under their breath, 'What, get fit, run yourself into the ground more like'. Maybe so, yet I can't separate my running quite so easily. I use it as a catalyst for how i'm feeling, who I am is so intrinsically expressed through running. I guess that's why I can't settle into a set formula, a proven program, or sensible routine and consistency, all the things that make the great, great.

The aim then was simply, to finish the race. Yeah, I'd like to have done so in a specific time. Of course I wasn't going to race this little gem, as already alluded, I lost so much fitness getting over a stress fracture and for me I still had Annecy, a half marathon and a park run in  my legs all within the last four weeks (see previous comment about getting some strength and fitness back again). In fact I enjoy entering races with different agenda's. Again see previous comments about 'who I am intrinsically expressed through running'. It would be so much easier to have that mentality that is enter race and race to win (or thereabouts). Of course then, I'd not feel a need to explain poor performances etc.

Regardless, Mont Blanc 80k ticked the finish a tough 80k race with no pressure to do well. It is described as an 82k race with 6000 meters of vertical. It has been recognised as one of the most technical trail races in France, it is difficult, but it is also one of the most beautiful.

I'm not going to argue with those comments. There are four major climbs, each one very different in the ground underfoot and the profile of the mountain, the nature of the vertical and how it is to be climbed. I haven't entered many European races and whilst I'd been told of mass starts that result in grid lock, nothing prepared me for the total of about 30 mins waiting around once the race had started. The first climb and I was stuck, mid pack, waiting for near on 1500 people to form an orderly single file onto the trail. I had an aim to keep my heart rate within a 10bpm frame. I couldn't move fast enough in the mass of folk to get it to the minimum that I wanted. Not until half way up Brevent that it. 

We can't replicate these mountains in the UK, and the enormity of them has my jaw dropping. I am blown away by their beauty. How can these crumpled results of the earths crust caused by the meeting of tectonic plates leave us with such wonderful landscapes?

Ok so this is the morning after the night before (or day before). And I can barely sit down. Why? Well, let me tell you. Climb number two up to Col de la Terrasse, a brutal vertical, and the highest on the course. Helped me discover that in fact, I am useless at altitude, anything above about 1500 and I am reduced to forced breathing and fighting for life (or so it seems). Anyhow, back to the point, the descent. The top of the Moontan was covered with snow and the easiest and fastest way off the top was to sit in one of the toboggan grooves that had been made by those that had past before, and literally slide down on your butt. Fifteen mins of wonderful childish excitement. It was amazing, I was wooping and screeching like there was no one around. And yet, so were the other runners around me too. I felt no pain, until this morning. I have no skin on either butt cheek. Raw and weeping, but worth every ouch.

I'll fast forward to the last climb, the realisation had hit  the closer that Montenvers became. This was not going to be a quick final surge of energy that had been held back. Hell no, it turned out to be a never ending ending. I had been suffering from nausea, from about ten hours in with moments of respite from it, however from Les Bois, the nausea was there to stay. And so, no more fuel, the thought of eating anything made me heave. Not a good position to be in, but I kept putting one foot in front of the other. The summit never came, or so it seemed. Maybe the mountain was growing. A great climb up, for me, it was the most forgiving, had it not come so late in the race. Up and up and up, it was incessant, exacerbated by my nausea and desire to fall into a heep, curl up and go to sleep for ten mins. I didn't, I simply continued with this one foot in front of the other business. Then a light, yes it was dusk alright, am I ashamed, not at all! I had not given up, I was putting up with those nausea demons. "The top, is this the top" "oui, oui" the marshal ushered me to my senses and pointed me into the direction of the descent. The final descent, the one that I had been waiting for, I was going to blast it, I love descending. Head torch was on, head torch was on, wasn't it, I can't tell, damn you head torch, you piece of ****. It was old, I'd not changed the batteries in it since it was brought. Three years ago. There was a warm glow from it, just enough to make out some uneven terrain underfoot. Coupled with lack of fuel and robot legs... pahahaha, blast the descent, jeez Tracy, you and your lofty ideas.

Walking and plodding down the hill side was my last effort. "Ca va" "Oui ca va", the conversation with every single person (of which there were many) that bounded past, flying down that hill. If only I knew how to say in French, "no, no not at all as I have robot legs and can't see a freaking thing" probably just as well, "Oui Ca va" (again). Every now and then, I tried to stick with a brilliant head torch attached to a runner's head, but robot legs wouldn't hold out, besides, they had morphed into dangly numb things attatched to my hips. And so it goes. Importantly however, to end, was the strangeness of Chamonix moving itself. Yes, Chamonix town center (or the lights at least) kept moving further away from the hill side I was descending, it kept getting further and further away. "surely it was meant to be getting closer" Yet it was drifting away. When would this descent end? In one very surreal moment, I stopped, to check out if I had started to ascend back the way I had come. "no no you crazy horse, you are going down the hill, it's not you, it's someone moving the town center". 

Needless to say, the lights did eventually show up in front of me and that run to the finish was the most welcome run that I have every undertaken. A great, long day out. Now, I'll rest (I promise). 

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Park life

There's a song in there somewhere!

Well, I guess it had to be done, the Park Run. I don't know if it's with shame or excitement, however I did my Park Run debut today. I am unsure of how I finally got roped into this one, however I have to admit, it was a great speed session. I didn't enter for the jolly around, I didn't enter for the scenery, however it was a beautiful course. I entered in order to get the legs turning over and to inject some fun into my training. If any of you folk are similar then one of the main battles I have is to keep training and running unpredictable and exciting and not letting the same ol same ol creep in. When it does, then motivation starts to dwindle with it. So, The Worsley Wood park run in Manchester has me fired up and the 21.42 mins of hell were most enjoyable.

Joasia Zakrzewski, 1st lady big smiles, even without cake

Park Run organiser George Bates, ultra runner turned speedster

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Road runs, love em or hate em?

Ok so I wish i'd not stated "i'll let you know how it goes" because, frankly repeating the Potter's Arf marathon to you is as painful as I found it on race day. The race had been entered as a speed session as it was given that I was still recovering from the World Champs in Annecy two weeks ago, however, It seems that as soon as I get on a start line all sense goes out of the window and the competitor in me kicks in. So what should have been a lovely enjoyable plod around a half marathon course inevitably turned out to be me wanting to get a PB on the less than flat "Potters Alf" marathon route. 

Certainly for the first 8 miles ish, I felt great, comfortable and really believed that I had this in the bag in terms of a PB half marathon, which would have placed me top 10. Yet, lets talk about mile 10, the point that 85k and 5300m ascent reintroduced themselves. (Well just shy of). Perceived effort at mile 10 was that I was well on track (I was so tired that I'd stopped checking the Suunto) however when I started to get over taken mile 11, 12 and 13 I understood I'd been kidding myself, probably just so that I actually finish a race this year. 

So the next race (in two weeks time) is certainly not going to be one that I am going to be competitive in, it's one that I intend to use to get my fitness levels back whilst having a great time in a beautiful part of the world, Chamonix. It'll take all that I have to not be competitive and burn myself out, yet i'm sure my patience will bear fruit later in the year. 

Overcoming a serious injury has been a huge wake up call and whilst I've almost been taking great running for granted, It's good to have been brought back to reality and reminded of how much time, effort and shear determination that I need to put into my training if I want to do well. Complacency, however forced does not cut the mustard when you want to get the best out of yourself. 

So, I'm excited about the next adventure and the next chapter, and I'm sure I will continue to bore you all with my shenanigans whilst i'm in the Alps as I intend to rest well with feet up, jeez I may even get the knitting needles out. 

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Potters Arf marathon

So when taking some time to recover, what's the training program look like. Well how about a little road half marathon to start with? 
The Potters Arf is my local marathon. I've ran it once in the past and can firmly assert it's not one for those seeking PB's however, I view it as a great speed session with some cheeky hills in it to keep you on your toes. It's next Sunday, and I'll be having a jolly around it this year. I'll let you know how it goes my running friends. Potters Arf.

Monday, 8 June 2015

I'm excited and lucky to have some super sponsors, including new ones for this year (more on that later eager beavers). INOV8 continue to support me with some great footwear. When you find a style of shoe that suits you, works for you and you trust why would you deviate from that? I'm currently trying out a few models including The Roclight 280's, which got me around the world champs in Annecy. They took on the terrain like they were made for it! Well, they were haha. I found that they are a great oober light all rounder which coped with the mostly dry, trail. A great choice. The Race Ultra 270 are a fabulous alternative to the 290's. There is the obvious lighter weight, and they just seem more responsive if you like that kind of thing. Where the 290's seem a more robust and supportive shoe I find them more cumbersome. I put my trust in the 270's for the long days out, and thus far they have not let me down in spite of arguably being the trimmed down version of the 290's. Thanks INOV8 I adore you.

TORQ continue to fuel me, thankfully. I have grown familiar with the TORQ fuelling system and adore the gels, I simply get on well with them. The recovery fuel I tend to use after harder training weeks and so am not as consistent with the recover, I'm pretty sure Martin will reprimand me for not being more holistic in my approach, and of course he's right, maybe I'm simply to lazy. Thank you TORQ guys, you're ace.

My newest sponsor (and I'm super exited) is Raidlight. Raidlight are primarily a backpack supplier. These guys know how to make packs, jeez, they've been in the business long enough, and they centre their efforts on catering for ultra distance runners. They are specialist in this field and have stood the test of time. My first pack was a Raidlight backpack. I think I'd purchased it from Racekit for the mountain marathons. I still have that pack, and I still use it. I'm currently testing out two packs and I'll choose which to use on the up coming Mount Blanc 80k race that I've randomly entered. Gilet responsive 8L is looking favourite thus far, simply because of it's simplicity, ease, comfort, minimalism and weight. Fellow team mate Kim Collison used a protocol during the World Champs in Annecy and he loved it. I understand why. The alternative is the Olmo 5. It has a greater capacity to hold more essentials, yet it's like the old comfy chair, just a modern version. I'll see how it goes with this one. The allure, however is the ease at which you can attach poles to the front, no faff and easy access. Now, I know with the mention of poles that most of you folk will coil and retreat, "Poles" .... phish... we're British". Yet, whilst I'm with you all the way, I have to possibly shamefully admit, that they help on those good ol European switch backs. So yes, I've also tested the Raidlight Carbon trail pole. Wow, if you want a super light pole (OK so they don't fold to the size of a postage stamp), then these bad boys won't let you down. 

As well as the backpacks (and like most specialist running companies these days) Raidlight have also ventured and expanded into other kit, clothing and accessories. See comments about these guys know what they are talking about. I'll update when I've put kit through the mill, however it's great to see that they aren't just churning out kit with a logo, the kit is technical, they have considered minor detail and they know what Trail runners need. Seriously, I'm excited. I am in danger of keeping my Skort on 24 7, although I'd probably get kicked out of Court. 

Finally, given that I've had my first experience of a stress fracture, I never intend to go back there. Ouch and too much time lost cross training. So I contacted Superfeet, a company that has been around for a while who deal with shoe insoles. Seriously, they have an insole for every day of the week. Wow, and do they do the job, hell yeah. Check them out, heels, arches, cushion, support, stability, stabilising orthotic, I'm working my way through a range and thus far I can say this. They get better when broken in, and my feet think they are in heaven. Why I've not taken this much care of them in the past is beyond me. 

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Come on Deano, get your act together...Having a bad race is not the be all and end all is it? Well it probably seems that way for a while when it's a World Champs race. Seems that I'm having as many falls as rises at the moment.

I'd been placed on the reserve list to represent GB at the World Trail running Championships in Annecy on the 30th May. Whilst this should be an honor it was a little short of that for me and without trying to be conceited, I can't hide that I was disappointed. Yet on the other hand, it kind of made sense given that I'd picked up a stress fracture and couldn't run for nearly six weeks.

I worked really hard with cross training and yet, the fitness was slipping away as well, cross training is just not specific enough to running. That said, it was a necessary evil and i'm amazed I recovered as quickly as I did and made it to the start line in Annecy. I was painfully aware that I was not running to capacity at the time nonetheless. It was all I could do to be smart, play it safe and do what I could.

I'd planned on a conservative first half of the race, as I'd become familiar with the course and knew exactly what to expect. It's a wonderfully brutal course the Maxi-race, I was so excited to get out there on race day. However, you know that sense when everything just isn't right on the start line? Pre race had been a calm affair, I'd tapered well, relaxed well, had some space and did all the pre race rituals that I know work for me. Yet, on the start line I realised I had not got my splits, so I was simply going to have to just run to feel. All the careful plans to pot. This unsettled me initially, excuses, excuses. I'll not list them all, however it's safe to say that I was fighting negative demons from the off, how energy sapping that it.

The intention was to put some effort in at the half way stage, Doussard, and yet so many folk had gone blasting off at the beginnng that I simply didn't believe that I could make the time back. Again, negative mind set that took way too much energy in the end. So plenty of meandering, hiking, and three hours of nausea overcome and Doussard arrived. "Better start racing and get a wiggle on" I recall blurting out to Elenor, GB support crew, "yes you had" she insisted.

So I left the checkpoint, and turn the burners on, I said, "turned the burners on" ... nothing, there was nothing there, it was the same plod that i'd started with. What the hell happened, this was supposed to be where I speed up and do all of my overtaking, blast the field and sail home. Er, nope, again I tried to quicken the pace and get into my groove, yet, it simply was not happening. I felt nauseous again, a different kind of nausea though. This time it was disappointment, with myself, with overestimating my capacity post injury and feeling a failure through and through.

I talked myself into stopping at St Bernard, if the other GB girls were going well. I had no idea where I was in the race, or placed compared to other women, I was so consumed with beating myself up for lack of fitness. If the girls didn't need me to count then I had firmly convinced myself that it was time to stop. Adrian of course gave it all he could to get me to continue, yet, he was wonderful in making it ok to stop too. Are you a failure when you DNF, are you weak and fickle? Is it self preservation so that you can keep running ok over the coming months. I DNF'd because I was not up to fitness, I'm not going to fain any other reason. I simply didn't have what it takes on this occasion.

The best advice I was ever given was, "get yourself booked into your next race" as soon as you can after a bad one. No ruminating, the next races are booked, and safe to say, i'll be doing another 80 ish k in two weeks. Nutter, yes, determined to use races to get fit and strong again, yes, proud to have represented my country again, yes, excited to see what the rest of the year brings, yes. Glad it's summer, yes, the start of the fly eating season. Consumed two on today's canal run.

Saturday, 6 June 2015

What's occuring

Folks... it's been a while and so much has been occurring it's difficult to know where to start. I guess the obvious place is Annecy and the World Trail Running Championships. At the eleventh hour I was called from reserve (after proving fitness) as there had been a withdrawal from the women's GB team. I had initially been disappointed to have only been selected as reserve, however gave myself a big pinch as, well, all things considered this is a pretty remarkable achievement. That said, I've been injured, in fact injured seriously with a stress fracture that had put me out of running for six weeks. So whilst I'd been actively cross training like a demon, it is not running!

So, I ran the Keilder Ultra race in Scotland and was happy to have a great run and demonstrate that I was good to run. The foot gave me no problems and in spite of running for a mile in the wrong direction at one point, I managed to claw it back with a great result. There was always this little niggle however that I had not trained as hard as I'd expect for the Worlds. Maybe a combination of injury recovery as well as the psychological effect of being reserve in the first instance, just more of a negative frame of mind as I always felt, the under study, a difficult mind set to rise above i guess. Nonetheless, there have been lots of positives occurring recently too. I adore being an INOV8 ambassador, as I believe in and get on well with the foot wear. I have been experimenting with Superfeet products recently, and must admit, I'm excited as I'm already noticing a positive different in terms of taking care of my battered feet, toes, arches and heels during runs and the in between everyday times too.

Additionally, I'd been approached by Raidlight (UK) as an ambassador and member of their ultra trail running team. Wow, what an honor. Raidlight was the first backpack product that I ever used. I still don that sac occasionally now. Again another product that I hold close and therefore was excited to accept and become an ambassador for them. Not only this, but also a promise of helping me to compete in more of the international races, something that I desperately need more experience and well, not being anywhere near a full time athlete, (apart from in my dreams) every little helps.

There's been plenty of adventures, hanging out with great runners, including the remarkable Jo Zakrzewski, fellow Raidlight team mate in order that I get myself up to speed for the Worlds. I'll post separately about my race at the IAU world champs in Annecy however safe to say, it's all a great learning experience. And what better way to get to know yourself even better.

Summit of Semnoz

ymmm, Raclette

Madam, looking at pictures

Maxi Race

Maxi race concept car

Sunday, 8 February 2015


Sometimes, I don't want to win. Well, I guess it's a half truth, I'm competitive by nature so whilst that drive is always in me, on occasion, I use races in order to develop my skills and work on my weakness's. So, a 26 mile Trail marathon, is just one example of this recently. The Montane, Grizdale Forest Trail marathon in the lake district, Cumbria I entered at the 11th hour and the purpose was to focus. 

It's easy to get carried away, swept along, frustrated, competitive, lack confidence and all the other things you want to say describe those times when you run someone else's race and throw your own away in doing so. 

The aim for Grizdale was to run the first loop conservatively, holding back, sticking to the time that I had set for myself to complete the first 13.1 (or 14.5) and to focus focus focus on what I was doing. There were moments, when chatting to a few familiar faces, where I got into their groove, and had to bring myself back to my stride and let them go. It's hard, it's really hard to do this, there is a sense of losing it, throwing it away, being a lesser person, lacking in skill, speed and failure, however, I was prepared to experience all of this however uncomfortable and adhere to the goal of focusing. 

Given that the first loop was all runnable, it was just as hard to not push on in order to get a good lead before the more technical second loop which had plenty of drawn out climbs to contend. Yet, I flexed the re focus muscle constantly and whenever I caught myself day dreaming or getting competitive, I'd pull myself back into the moment, focus on how my body felt and kept well within my comfort levels, fighting off the chattering monkeys is hard work.

Loop 2, I spent pretty much alone, so I found this much easier to focus. I relaxed, enjoyed my running, chanting mantra's to keep me focused, pushing my boundaries, running unrunnable sections, the focus was to run my race, and so it didn't matter if I fatigued too quickly. And, fatigue quickly I did, I pushed on, refocused and fought the worry demons, beat them down, they were taking way too much energy out of me to give them time anymore. So I enjoyed my running, the crisp conditions, the warmth of the sun rays through the forest trees, the mountains pushing their tips through the low lying mist and fog what a day. 

Now there is always a calamity in Fairy world, and I'm happy when I learn lessons. Safe to say, whilst it's great to focus and stick to the plan, it's also worth now and then just becoming aware that you are actually in a race. I crossed the finish line, 1st lady. 2nd lady.... ahem, 4 seconds behind. I had no idea. 

FACTS: I used TORQ gels every 30 mins.
              250ml of fluid
              Handful of nuts
              It was not 26.2
              INOV8 Race Ultra 5
              Trailroc 245's

Thank you sponsors INOV8 and TORQ