Five Peaks, North Yorkshire - UK - 2020
- What? Yorkshire Dales Five Peaks
- When? December 24th, 2020
- How far? 25.5 miles (41 kms)
- Where? North Yorkshire, UK
- Website: The Five Peaks Challenge | FastestKnownTime.com
- Strava activity: https://www.strava.com/activities/4513599323/overview
- Finish time: 9 hours 54 mins
The UK's introduction of increased COVID restrictions, including a new tier 4 level, put an end to a planned FKT attempt of the Sussex Border Path with a friend on the 30th of December. The silver lining was that I would stay in the Yorkshire Dales for an extra week. Instead of doing our usual family Christmas 10ish km walk we decided to do something a bit longer. A quick search on trailrouter.com with "FKT Routes" enabled listed a number of interesting local options. One route jumped out, it was the right distance for a daytime attempt, an area I had not explored before and only a couple of FKT times. As homage to the popular Yorkshire Three Peaks route we settled on tackling the "Yorkshire Dales Five Peaks Challenge (United Kingdom)"!
Start to Wild Boar Fell (0 to 9 kms)
Of the two previous FKTs of this route, one had completed the route clockwise and one anti-clockwise. Due to the short daylight we wanted to avoid coming down the steepest section, which most likely would be covered in ice/snow, during the night. As such we opted to tackle the route anti-clockwise.
Surprisingly we managed to wake up on-time and get on the road by 6:30am, after an hour of twists-and-turns on Yorkshire roads, we arrived at the "The Moorcock Inn", which signified the start of the route.
As we begun the sun had not risen, and it was very cold. After crossing a train track we began our ascent up to Wild Boar Fell via Swarth Fell, as promised the path fell away, and we had to do our own route finding. Thankfully, I had uploaded the route GPX to my watch, and we used that to ensure we kept on course. After a km or two, I put my foot into a freezing cold puddle. That would be the end of warm feet for the next 10 hours.
Cresting Swarth Fell we were treated to some glorious views of the Dales, including a spectacular sunrise. We could see that the clouds were hanging low on the other peaks, hopefully the clouds would blow off before we got there. As we pushed higher to Wild Boar Fell, the temperature dropped precipitously, and required a few further layers to be applied.
Wild Boar Fell to High Seat (9 to 18.5 kms)
After arriving at the Wild Boar Cairn we quickly began our descent into the valley, almost straight away the wind picked up. We decided to jog down a few sections to stay warm, banking a few minutes for later! Hitting the valley floor we arrived in a small village with a number of houses, a few wrong turns here and there and we got to the start of the High Seat ascent.
The route up to High Seat was unclear, as most of the fell was covered in snow, the last section would also be a steep (50%+ gradient) slog. As we got started the path quickly fell away, leaving us to navigate again. For some reason, I got a bit disoriented and directed us too far to the west. After re-orienting ourselves, we realized that we would need to go straight up the fell path - it was really steep! As we pushed on we slowly made our way up. I was very glad we would face this as an ascent rather than a descent. Descending would have a far higher risk of slipping and having a bumpy ride down!
Cresting the top of the hill, we re-discovered the snow covered path, and pushed on to hit the cairn!
High Seat to Great Shunner Fell (18.5 to 26.6 kms)
From High Seat to we made our way through the snowy top to Gregory Chapel, and then Hugh Seat. Louise put on some spikes which she had brought. This turned out to be an excellent idea, and allowed her to move swiftly on the ice surfaces. I only had my trail shoes, to avoid slipping I needed to pay extra attention, but managed to keep the pace up regardless. Occasionally we would put our feet into an errant icy-puddle, resetting any warmth we had managed to restore.
There appeared to be a path from Hugh Seat to Shunner Fell, unfortunately with the rain and snow, the path was covered in partially melted snow and was just too boggy to use. This made the process very arduous, cold and slow. The final ascent to the top of Shunner Fell was very snowy, and extremely windy. Thankfully when we arrived at the Cairn, there was some respite from the wind as we hid behind the rocks.
Shunner Fell to Finish (26.6 to 41 kms)
The descent down from Shunner involved dropping into a valley and then popping over a smaller hill, "Tarn Hill". The descent into the valley would be very runnable in the summer, as the path was paved with stony steps. Unfortunately with this weather, the rocks were glazed with ice. This meant proceeding either on the sides of the path, or being willing to risk slipping and bashing your head on the path.
As the sun came down, we pushed our way up the final hill, and then down. The descent involved a little final route finding, but nothing too horrendous. As we arrived back at The Moorcock Inn, we were glad to be finished and finally warm up!
As I looked at the final time on my watch, we had managed to knock 35 mins off the previous fastest time which was a nice cherry on on the top! A well earned beer and fire awaited us at home!
Thanks to the folks over at https://thefivepeakschallenge.co.uk/ for establishing this route and providing great instructions. Hopefully many more will enjoy this new Dales challenge in the coming years!
Yeti 100, Damascus - Virginia - 2020
- What? Yeti 100
- When? September 25th, 2002
- How far? 100 miles
- Where? Virginia, US
- Website: https://www.yetitrailrunners.com
- Strava activity: https://www.strava.com/activities/4112935788
- Finish time: 22:39:16 official (22:26 actual :))
After hearing about the mystical Yeti 100 from some of my Ultra friends from North Carolina, I was excited to see what all the fuss was about. My place was booked on the 2nd of January 2020 as my backup 100 miler. I had 2-races in the spring which I begun training for, the LA Marathon and the Thames Path 100. Training went well for both these races as I was able to sustain consistent, though perhaps a bit low, mileage whilst avoiding any injury - you may remember I lost nearly a year of racing due to Achilles tendinitis in late 2018.
About a month before LA marathon I had a tune-up half-marathon (Kaiser SF) which I finished in a respectable time of 84:09, which was indicative of a sub-3 in LA. I knew LA marathon was going to be a much hillier marathon than I am used to, but foolishly discounted the hills and thought I could roll over them. On race day I went out at around a 2:55 pace, I crossed the half way point in 86:53 feeling good, but after another 9 kms the wheels came off, and I started getting really bad cramp in my legs. In retrospect, I should have done more hill/distance, I am not one for quitting, so I slowly stumbled my way to a very painful end with a 86 | 124 positive split! The last 12 kms taking me 91 mins :(
Around this time COVID started to sadly grab hold, and LA marathon was to be the last big marathon calendar race of the year. Not that it mattered in the end, but during a night-time training run for Thames Path, I tripped on some uneven pavement and took a pretty big fall. I initially thought I may have broken a rib, but I was just badly bruised, the pain made running impossible for around 6 weeks. During this period lock-down was in full swing and it looked like all races for 2020 would be canceled. Having moved down to San Diego, I decided that due to lack of races this year, I should spend the time with another sport. I began focusing on learning to surf! This meant that from June onwards I ran around 10 kms a week just to keep the legs ticking over, and spent the vast majority of my time surfing and swimming, which was a lot of fun!
Much to my astonishment the Yeti 100 Race Director emailed everyone letting us know that Yeti 100 would almost certainly be going ahead. I spent a couple weeks thinking through if I was comfortable traveling to Virgina to run the race and if I had time to train for it given my low-mileage. I decided with a COVID test and continuing to be careful with wearing a mask and social distancing I would be comfortable with the safety aspect, and I had just enough time to go through a light training cycle to prepare for a 100 - as long as no injuries occurred! Though I hadn't been running I was surfing 3 or 4 days a week, surfing happens to be a super good work out and my core strength and endurance were pretty high. Would this translate to running 100 miles? We would see! Just to add a bit of extra fun to the race, I called "shot" on a sub-24 hour run, which meant that if I would be entitled to a special buckle if I managed to finish under a day. If I didn't no buckle!
TLDR: I managed a 10 week training block, peaking at 40 miles/week...
After taking a few days off work to relax, I arrived in Abingdon, a cute little town close to the start of the race. The packet pickup opened early in the day, so I popped down early to grab my stuff. The bib pickup was well handled with everyone wearing masks. The Yeti team hooked all runners up with a ton of amazing SWAG - 1 buff, 2 Peak Caps, 2 Shirts, stickers and various bits and bobs, I particularly enjoy the very colorful hat and buff (see photo at end of race...)!
After getting my race bib I grabbed a few last minute supplies before heading back to the hotel to sort my kit out and have an early night sleep. I slept well, and had around 6 to 7 hours of sleep.
When I woke up and looked outside, it was raining - hard. I had been in the area for the last 4 days, and the weather had been sunny but cool - perfect running weather. Sadly, for race day it was going to be rain-rain-rain.
Upper Loop (0 to 28 miles)
Aid stations: Damascus to Green Cove and back to Damascus
Rather than have a mass start, the organizers asked runners to start at any time between 5 to 5:30 am with faster runners starting earlier. As tempting as it was to start at the last minute, I picked a time in the middle - I imagined I would be front/middle. This meant I had the most time to sleep in, but avoided any stress of missing the start. I started by myself at 5:13 am. I am used to the rousing start of the races, everyone hooting and hollering, so this felt very subdued, and a little surreal. Here I was about to run 100 miles, and I gave a chap my bib number and started - 2020 is weird. It turned out that a lot of runners had decided to start before me, this meant that I was able to do some early race passing, always good for moral to overtake rather than be overtaken.
The course this year was slightly altered due to COVID regulations. Rather than start at the top of Whitetop with a couple of out-and-backs the course was instead split into 1 big upper loop and then 4 repeats of the lower loop.
This upper loop was broken down into an up-hill and down-hill section. The up-hill section was deceptive in that it didn't feel up-hill and was very runnable, in reality it was around a 2% gradient. Rather than run it all, I decided to run/walk this section. This proved pretty effective and kept my heart-rate low. As I got to the half way point, I picked up the pace and ran back, keeping to target pace and feeling good!
And how could we forget the rain? It was pouring... Having suffered through the cold 2 to 6 am deluge in Bear, the Yeti rain was subjectively pleasant. I had even given the rain too much credit, and started the race overdressed, sporting a poncho, rain-jacket and under layer! After a couple kms I stripped down to just my running top and poncho as it was relatively warm, around 15c.
As the sun rose and the mist burnt off, the beautiful course emerged. The stand-out feature of Yeti 100 is the the wooden trestle bridges. The course is set on an old train track, the Virginia Creeper Trail. The bridges are really gorgeous and have stunning views of the rivers below. All of the Ultra Marathons I have run have had natural run/walk sections as they are broken up with rolling hills. Yeti didn't have rolling hills, so to avoid running all the time, I decided to use the bridges as my walk sections. The wood was a little slippery due to rain, so my walk sections were a safety feature!
Lower Loops 1 & 2 (28 to 64 miles)
Aid stations: Damascus to Alavadro and back x 2
As I arrived at the Damascus aid station I was pleasantly surprised with the spread of snacks. The aid stations in the first section had been relatively bare, but Damascus more than made up for that. I grabbed my feeding bag and grabbed some choice snacks. Shout-out to the baker behind the chocolate and pumpkin cake - so delicious! At the aid station I opted to swap out my very wet running shirt for a dry singlet and change to road shoes instead of trail. The rain had calmed down a bit and I predicted it would warm up.
Each out-and-back was around 30 kms, 15 kms out and 15 kms back, giving a total distance of 120 km for 4 loops, phew! I had more time than usual at the aid-station stop, just under 8 mins, but I hoped to get time back by running through the aid station at Alavadro. As I left the Damascus for the first loop it began raining again. It had to stop, didn't it?
The out-and-back was bowl shaped, run down then run up. Because of the minor gradient it was very hard to tell which section was up or down, I paced myself knowing that the middle was the inflection point. To be honest, psychologically I felt I was running up-hill all the time! As I approached the aid station in Alavadro I was relieved that it was already time to turn back, not so fast there! Sadly the aid-station wasn't the terminus of the leg, you had to run on to a "bloody long bridge". This was around 2 kms away. This false-end would play on my nerves for the rest of the race. It always felt like I had arrived at the end, but I hadn't! In the corner of my eye I saw a owl grab a mouse and fly away!
Other than those minor annoyances, the first loop went well. As I approached the end of loop 1, I began to feel very cold, mainly due to the constant rain, sheltered course and lack of sun. Having struggled when my core temperature dropped rapidly in UMSTEAD 100, I decided it was best to play it safe. Arriving at the aid station, I swapped into a new dry singlet, and put on a running base layer and rain jacket. I got rid of the poncho as it was wet inside out. Sam, from previous running adventures, would have been proud - I decided to have a nice lunch break, enjoying warm soup and quesadillas before heading back out. All-in-all spending a whopping 20 mins in the aid station! During this time another runner came in shivering and shaking from the cold. From what I could tell, they didn't have a change of clothes and were freezing. Sadly the runner decided to drop from the race, but not before swigging a small bottle of Tennessee whiskey to warm up!
As I got stuck into loop 2 I was very glad I had made the clothes swap as it continued to rain. With a bit more walking on this leg I am sure I would have got cold without the warm gear.
One enjoyable attribute of the out-and-back format is that you get to see most of the other runners, in particular you get to see who is out front. The race leader was absolutely crushing it and cruising along with ease. I made some friends along the way, I remember having had a good chat with a very impressive retired lady who was doing a cracking job and well on the way to sub-24! As we passed the crew station a random stranger shouted out, great running ladies. Perhaps I needed a hair cut after all...
As I closed in on the end of loop 2, my toes had started to blister slightly from the shoes, I had made the mistake of putting on my standard size shoes (UK 8.5), thankfully I had a fresh pair of UK 9.5's ready to go. As the rain had also become very light, I decided another wardrobe change was in order. Swapping into my evening running shirt for the final 2 loops, I decided to jettison the base-layer but keep my rain jacket with me, just in case. Thankfully the rain jacket was not needed for the rest of the race. Once again I took my time preparing myself for the next section at the aid station, with another massive 20 minute break. I made sure to stock up on food and snacks. My strategy of running through Alavadro was working well so I didn't feel bad indulging in a 2nd portion of soup!
Lower Loops 3 & 4 (64 to 100)
Aid stations: Damascus to Alavadro and back x 2
As I left for loop 3, I knew that sub-24 hour buckle was in the bag - excluding an injury or a big blow up. With a bit more mental gymnastics I realized sub-23 was pretty realistic too. I was starting to feel the lack of long distance training in the legs, but was able to keep the run/walk pace up and ground out lap 3.
- Lowlight of this loop was the long bridge at the turn-around. I dropped some choice words in the direction of the bridge as I crossed over it, @£%^!
- Highlight of this loop was the delicious freshly cooked quesadillas from the Alavadro aid station. Damn they were good!
As I began the final loop out the Damascus aid station I felt pretty good about the final 18 miles. I decide to err on the conservative side and land somewhere in the middle of 22 hours. There wasn't any need to go faster, and I really didn't want to experience the pain at the end of the LA Marathon or blow up.
During this final loop I thought about how this run had brought a bit of normalcy to 2020, even with the need to wear a face mask for sections of the race and the aid stations setup being a bit different. I also reflected on the fact that this was the first 100 that I had done solo with no pacers bringing me home. Pacers are certainly very useful, but it was nice to know that I could get the job done by myself - though I doubt that would have been the case in NDW100 or Bear. I also reflected on my experience in Bear 100 exactly 1 year previously, in that race I ran for nearly 34 hours. The experience was vastly different, Bear had made me a stronger ultra runner. During Bear I had experienced eclectic weather conditions, lots elevation gain, rain, snow, lighting, so much mud and low oxygen - a race like that really put things in perspective. As I approached the final bridge I couldn't make my mind up if I could manage a sprint finish or should just walk it in. For those who are curious, you can see what happened with the video below - NSFW! :)
Yeti 100 was by far the most enjoyable 100 mile race I have done. Great support and aid stations, a simple format which didn't require much thinking, and using my knowledge from the previous races ensured it was a great day. My feet were only slightly mashed which was refreshing! I also discovered the joy of a new kind of shoe, the recovery slip, which has really helped walking in the post-race week. After a couple nights chilling in Abingdon I headed back to sunny San Diego. For the rest of this year, I have one more challenge - legs permitting, and I still need to decide what to do next year. I hope in 2021 more races both Ultra and short distance will come back in some form. I am keen to run another road marathon, the only one I had booked, CIM 2020 in December, has already been canceled.
Bear 100, Logan - Utah - 2019
- What? The Bear 100
- When? September 27th, 2019
- How far? 100 miles
- Where? Utah, US
- Website: https://bear100.com
- Strava activity: https://www.strava.com/activities/2787372601
- Finish time: 33:54:01
|A||Finish with friends||Yes, kinda|
|C||Experience running for > 30 hours||Yes|
For a month or so leading up to the 10 Peaks race I had been nursing a lingering Achilles injury. I had tried both massaging and physical therapy, and though it was possible to push through the pain until the Achilles warmed up, I decided that the best course of action was to take a few months off running and cycling. This was a hard decision as aside from the pain, I was feeling stronger than ever.
Fast forward to 2019 and I had a place for the London marathon (yay for GFA). I had been averaging around 10 km a week and upped it to around 30 km leading up to the race. I decided to go out at 3:00 pace, see how long I could last and then "fun" run the rest. I managed the half in 1:28 and then blew up around 32 km, with a finishing time of 3:13. More importantly, the Achilles held up!
A few months later I ran a similar race in the San Francisco marathon, with a 1:29 | 3:15. Though I was slightly better trained, I was still not putting in enough miles for sub-3 to be realistic and certainly not enough hill work! SF Marathon was good fun, though I felt it was a shame I wasn't back to peak shape. It takes time to rebuild...
Perhaps we should discuss this race? Building up to Bear I focused on consistent running, without any mammoth runs and forgoing my usual 50+ km days. With that said, I did pace ~50 miles of Western States, starting 8 pm to 11 am - so I had danced with the psychological part of ultra running.
My initial foray into ultra running was with Sam (See The ONER), and after a few too many beers in late 2018 we decide it would be fun to do a race together again. I was also keen to run for at least 30 hours, to get a different experience from sub-24. Would I hallucinate? I was keen to find out! Why suffer alone? We managed to convince 2 running friends to come along for the ride. A few days later, Nick came to his senses but Dan, from 2018 Ten Peaks Fame, did not change his mind. Bear is known for being a notoriously hard race, and it was going to be Dan's first 100 miler. Sam, Dan, and I - the fellowship of the Bear!
Fast forward to the Tuesday before the race. Sam and Dan flew into Salt Lake City from London, and myself from San Francisco. We stayed in a very cool AirBNB fully equipped with a massive cinema and our old university favourite, foosball. As I had some work to do, I skipped the early morning 5 km shakeout run. When the boys came home, they were breathing far harder than they should be. Was it due to jet lag? In unison they declared that the air felt thinner, and to prove their point, Dan pointed out that his resting heart rate was 10 BPM over where it should be.
Post work, we sorted out a few chores including fixing my ultra vest and grabbing a delicious Five Guys burger. Onwards to Logan from Salt Lake City! Dan and Sam kept going on about the thin air, so I had to get in on this action. On arrival, we did a brisk 5 km jog in our new digs, and sadly, it did feel harder than it should have. Pre-race nerves? Lack of acclimatization? Too much burger?
The next day we took it easy, chilling at home, before heading for a very efficient race briefing. After the elaborate pre-race setup of Umstead and Western States, the Bear was frugal and to the point. We got to see Courtney Dauwalter chilling out and Jeff Browning walking around. We found out that Courtney was not racing but supporting her husband! Rock on!
Start → CP5 (0 to 36.92 miles)
Aid stations: Logan Peak, Leatham Hollow, Richards Hollow, Cowley Canyon, Right Hand Fork
In a minor twist, rather than a Saturday start, Bear begins on Friday morning. After the heat of Western States, we were greeted with a lovely fresh 6 am start. Sam, Dan and I were all nervous, but looking forward to the adventures that lay ahead. As we checked in, we met some people we hung out with at Western States - small world. And with that the race began!
After a few stop-start runs the gradient increased, and we hit a long single track climb. The first challenge of being a group of 3 came early. I don't really enjoy getting stuck in the middle of a long train of people. The issue is that you end up moving at the pace of the aggregate slowness of everyone in front of you. I pushed forward, but couldn't get Dan and Sam to follow. I stayed ahead of the train, and dropped back again to run with Sam/Dan a little while later. We hit some flats and downhill runnable sections, but as we were in the middle of a train we couldn't run as much as we could have.
Forging our way forward, we chatted to some of the other runners. Sam reacquainted himself with a lady who he shared some miles with at Western. On that day, the race didn't go her way - hopefully the Bear would be more successful.
We hit what was to be the most beautiful running section of the whole race, a long winding descent into Leatham Hollow. The bright red and yellows of autumn will take your breath away, if you are brave enough to look up from the twisted roots underfoot.
We hit Leatham Hollow feeling great, the aid stations and support volunteers were great. As I was feeling a little adventurous, I grabbed a slice of freshly cooked bacon. Sam and Dan were also staying on top of their nutrition and spirits were high.
We power walked out of the aid station to let the food settle. As we started an easy jog, I was just ahead of Sam and Dan. After a minute or two, Sam shouted for me to stop. Dan had vomited.
For most people, vomiting is par-for-course on Ultra runs. We had said this to Dan before the race, and reminded him again at this point. That said, I was a little concerned. It was still super early in the race, and this was the first time Dan had vomited in 20 years!
As we pushed past Richards Hollow aid station, spirits were once more on the way up. We were about to hit a long up-hill section, giving time for the food to settle further. We attacked the long steep hill with vigour, breaking up the climb with a few tactical breaks to catch our breath. As the cloud cover dissipated and the hot sun emerged, we began drenching our buffs in the cool stream running along the trail. This certainly made the heat more manageable. We were all feeling the effort but kept pushing ourselves. There was still a long way to go! Sam had a tactical chunder, but bounced back pretty quickly.
Cowley Canyon was a stand-out aid station with an amazing banana bread. Sadly, tasty baked goods can only go so far, and cracks were starting to show in the fellowship. I could see a long race at this rate, and I was keen to get a move on!
Emerging from the aid station, we knocked out another long hot hill. This involved a fair amount of marching from shade-to-shade. The three of us pushed hard on the long climb, eventually reaching the apex.
After summiting we all put in an excellent effort, getting through a hard climb and committing to a stringent run-walk schedule. My repeated cries of, "let's run this section", were paying dividends - hard love! Bear is a drop-dead gorgeous race, and this section delivered rocky landscape views with occasional streams, which we dropped our buffs into as often as possible.
After what felt like an eternity, we reached Right Hand Fork. On entering the aid station Dan seemed somewhat deflated, hopefully the help from our crew would set him right. They fixed us up with drinks, chips, Gatorade, and an ice-lolly. I even think there were some sock changes! I am usually a stickler for time in aid stations, but on this occasion a longer break would help recovery and hopefully get us back on track. After a twenty minutes break we set off.
Sam retched again just before we left.
CP5 → CP6 (36.92 to 45.15 miles)
Aid stations: Temple Fork
Personally I felt decent given the ascent and heat. I was a few meters ahead and Sam caught up with me, he asked if I should start considering going ahead as time was slowly ticking away. To be honest, I had thought about pushing on, that said our A goal was to get everyone to the end. Sam and I played through the options a bit more and Sam expressed that he was happy to stay with Dan and take a DNF in the worst case. He knew that I was keen on finishing to get my 2020 Western qualifier done. Regardless, I was eager to help Dan through his first 100 miler, and so we quelled the conversation and pushed on.
Two miles and 30 minutes later, I could tell Dan was struggling. The tell tale sign was when we hit little runnable sections, he just didn't fancy running them, even after cajoling. This early in the day, especially with decent weather, you need to be ticking these boxes. We tried some run-walking, but to little avail.
As an aside, two of our perhaps unique rules when running are:
- If you are walking, anyone can start running and you need to follow.
- If you are running, anyone can shout "Trail Run" and you need to start walking. No questions asked.
Why "Trail Run"? A little secret of ultra-trail running is that you rarely run the hills, but instead, power walk them. There is some science to this, but I will leave it to the reader to research. So, how do you decide when to walk and how to synchronize? Simple, first person to shout "Trail Run".
I heard the cry, "Trail Run", from Dan and we sat down. I walked a few meters ahead to grab some shade. Before I had sat down, I knew what was coming. With the waft of the warm Utah breeze, my hunch was confirmed - I overheard the now infamous words, "it's better to have a hard conversation now than in a few hours".
We had the talk. Honestly, I was in two minds. On the one hand, I desperately wanted to get Dan to the finish line. On the other hand, if I stayed, I would be doing more harm than good. Leaving would release Dan from worrying about my race and he could focus on himself. Tricky.
I gave Dan a hug, Sam a fist pump. And decided to push on alone. The fellowship had splintered. Only 100 km to go.
After leaving Sam and Dan behind, I made rapid progress to CP7, hitting our target split times. There was some truly beautiful running along some amazing trails accented with various people vomiting on the side of the road - it's not the easiest race in the world! There was one particularly lovely section along a river with a rapid descent which was glorious. I dunked my buff into the cold water and rejoiced.
As I hit the aid station, our crew looked down the road and asked about Sam and Dan, as this time they weren't just behind me. After delivering the bad news, I estimated they would be around 45 mins behind me. The next aid station would be half-way and I had a fully stocked drop bag waiting for me. I felt I could forgo crew support given that I suspected Dan would DNF as this check-point, and I was happy for the crew to skip on me and get them home.
CP6 → CP7 (45.15 to 51.84 miles)
Aid stations: Tony Grove
After running with two of my best friends, it was slightly demoralizing to leave an aid station by myself. As the sun went down, the sodden buff around my neck reminded me that it was turning cold, quickly. Here began 10 km of drudgery. Including 3,000 feet (900 meters) of climbing. Not far out from the aid station, a runner and his pacer caught up with me, they inquired where the rest of my team was, I delivered the unfortunate update, and we started chatting. Rather than be dropped by these runners, I asked if they minded me joining as this would help get me through the mental funk I was struggling with. I managed to hold on to these dear souls for around three-quarters of the climb before I said I needed a breather. Thank you unsung heroes, your help meant a lot. To put some perspective in how I was feeling, I had to eat a gel, something that I only take as an emergency measure on ultra runs. After a few minutes my heart rate felt better and I was ready to get a move on. Just before taking off a lady caught up with me, she was suffering from my old nemesis, the Achilles Tendon. As Karma would have it she asked if I could help pace her up the hill, and we worked together to get to the aid station!
As I entered the aid station I felt terrible. I can honestly say that was the hardest 10 km of trail "running" I have ever done. An unexpected chorus of cheers rang out, it was Sam and Dan. They gave me a quick update - after reaching Temple Fork, Sam and Dan had decided to drop. Rather than going back to a warm shower they came to meet me at the half way point to cheer me on.
Now, this was selfless of them. And it was greatly appreciated. But, seeing them "finished" made me feel a bit lost, with many thoughts running through my mind. Do I really need to finish this race? I've run 100 miles before. I could go home now, we could hit some pizza and share our mutual war stories. As these dark thoughts entered my mind, the choice to continue became unclear. For what it was worth, Sam and Dan were trying their very best to get me going. I needed to think, honestly, I was at best 50/50 to continue. There was really tasty pizza at home...
Then three things happened. Firstly, Sam volunteered to pace me for the final 25 miles. Secondly, Dan said he would join the crew. That was huge. If my friends were willing to come battle the Bear, after running for 12 hours themselves, how could I say no? I was now 75% convinced.
Glancing across the fire, I overheard the conversation between a runner and an aid station crew member who was on anti-DNF patrol! The gist of it was, 100 milers are hard, expected the unexpected, don't give up.
Without further ado, I changed into a fresh business suit - this felt good. Before I left, an unexpected bonus, Dan donated his warm running top. The top was much appreciated as it was of a much better pedigree than than the one I was rocking. Before I left the aid station, I finished my fueling with 2 tasty hot-dogs (ketchup + mayonnaise). As I exited Sam reminded me that they would see me again in 3 aid stations.
CP7 → CP10 (51.84 to 75.9 miles)
Aid stations: Franklin Trailhead, Logan River/Steep, Beaver Mt Lodge
Leaving the aid station, there was no doubt that we were deep into the darkness of the night. This section had a slight up-hill followed by mainly downhill sections. I felt beaten down, but kept up with the consistent run-walking. Often at this distance I would have picked up a pacer, so it was a new experience to run alone. As is usual at this stage of the race, there began a lot of leap-frogging. This was exacerbated by overestimating how hard I could go, blowing up and having to take breaks. I just couldn't find a rhythm. It was during this section I developed a fondness for the occasional fallen down tree, now known as the "Trees of Relaxation", for mini sit-down breaks. I also developed an affection for their cousins, the "Rocks of Relaxation". After a little while I managed to find a consistent rhythm and made good progress with far less leapfrogging.
Before the race began, we calculated estimated pacing between aid stations with a smattering of rounding which was usually under 400 meters. For some reason, I had applied a very large level of rounding into Franklin Trailhead - where is this aid station?! I'm not certain if it was GPS error, rounding or who knows, but it took 2 km more than I expected! This felt like an eternity.
Exiting the aid station, there was a very steep hill and it was chucking down with rain. The torrent of mud and gradient resulted in unlocking a new achievement, a pace of 2 km/h. I got to experiment with various slow hill walking techniques to try speed up. Joy.
After what seemed like an eternity I finally managed to get to the top. As I began to wind my way downhill the rain continued to pour and pour, turning what would in normal circumstances be a very runnable trail into a muddy slip-and-slide. So much mud! It was during this section that fatigue was starting kick in, causing me to lose it a bit. I saw a lion which turned out to be a rock. A shark, otherwise known as a tree trunk. And lots and lots of snakes - which were of course real. Real fallen branches.
As I slid down a path I came upon a couple of runners. "Hello London", they shouted. I had bumped into the pacing team from earlier! After many hours of solace, it was so great to run into some familiar friends and have a quick rant about the race. It wasn't just me, everyone was struggling, and as the rain slowed to a stop we rejoiced for half an hour. Then the rain came back in a biblical deluge. It was at this point that my rain jacket had enough, and decided to let me get wet. Given we were in the middle of the night, it was damn cold - the only thing keeping me warm was Dans jacket! I pushed on knowing that a pacer was waiting for at the next aid station, in all honesty my will to go on was not high.
I eventually arrived at the aid station. As I looked around, I didn't see any crew. This was a non-crew access aid station. I had miscalculated, my pacer was at the next aid station. Damn. Sitting down in the warm aid station tent, I began drying my clothes and seriously considered my life choices. To DNF or not?
A major downside of taking an L at this point was that this was a pretty remote aid station. If I quit here I would have to wait ages to get shuttled out, which seemed like a poor trade. Another thing to consider, I had run 110 km - don't let the Bear beat you. 10 minutes break. Warmer clothes, rain stopped. Let's do this.
CP10 to FIN (75.9 to 99.7)
Aid stations: Gibson Basin, Beaver Creek Campground, Ranger Dip, Fish Haven
Leaving the aid station we had a to cross a river. Due to the rain there was no way to cross via hopping from rock-to-rock. Splash, instant icy cold wet feet! I had to smile, it really didn't matter any more, looking up ahead the next climb was a mud river. I kept chipping away. The mud sections proved really taxing as my shoes clogged up, and I had to keep my wits about me to not slip and bash my head on exposed rocks. Closing in on the Beaver Creek Campground aid station, I slid down a hill and met up with the pacing team again. Where had 6 hours of my life gone?
Arriving at the aid station, Sam shouted as I walked past the crew car - woohooo! I was very well attended to with my feet being cleaned, new socks applied, change of top, and finally converting my rain jacket to a poncho. One thing I opted not to change was Dans jacket, it had become a talisman. The jacket got wet, but as long as I kept pushing it miraculously dried. Now that I had a pacer I was able to switch off a little bit. Dan had devised a pacing chart which was too complex for me understand, so I left pacing in Sam's hands. Smashed some noodles, and we were off!
Even though Sam and I have have run thousands of kilometers together, he had never had the pleasure of pacing me. I laid out my ground rules.
- You say "Let's go", and I will try my best to run, or most probably ultra-shuffle.
- If the path looks marginally like a hill, I will probably ignore rule 1.
In terms of time, I had now run longer than I had ever run before, but Sam had brought new wind into my sails. Our pace picked up and we rapidly made it to the next aid station. To avoid any risk of blow ups later in the race, I was instructed by Sam to sit down and take a 5 min rest. We were well ahead of cut-offs, so time was not an issue. Eating was a struggle. As Sam came back with a selection of foods, I noticed he was nibbling on a freshly cooked pancake - problem solved.
This section was compose of a generous number of rolling hills, we made good consistent pace, following the spirit of Dan's pacing chart. I also introduced Sam to my watch pacing technique. I try to pace aid-station to aid-station. In the spirit of keeping things simple whilst running, you only need to remember 2 numbers, how far to go, and the time budgeted to get to the next aid station. If so inclined, you can calculate such things as pace on your own. There is one important trick with this technique - start the new lap as you enter the aid station. This not only is a true reflection of this sections pace, but reminds you how long you have been dawdling at the aid station - eating into your time to get the lap done - it's evil but effective.
As we made our way through we got to experience all the joys of trail running. Rain pouring on us, sliding in ludicrous amounts of mud, hails battering us from all sides, lightning crashing around us. What good value for money.
We worked out way through the aid stations until the final one, Ranger Dip. At this point I was feeling a bit chilly and took a slightly longer aid station break. It had been raining a lot and everything felt wet and muddy. As we exited the aid station we were met swiftly with the steepest climb of the race to the highest point, this got the heart rate going and warmed us up. The power of walking poles were demonstrated on this section, as we were rapidly overtaken by a few thoughtful individuals who had picked up a pair. We made consistent progress, occasionally enjoying a few relaxation rocks.
As we hit the top, the hail came at us with force. The ground slowly turned white from the hail! How marvelous. We descended. And climbed. And descended. I started to feel myself micro sleeping. After what seemed like an eternity, probably 2 hours, we hit civilization. There was 2 km left of real paved road leading us to salvation.
As we approached the end, a sprightly runner appeared on the horizon. If only I could borrow those fancy fresh legs! Then he started filming us. It was Dan! He had been tracking us via GPS and come to support us for the last few kilometers. Together, we turned left, then right, then broke into a sprint finish as we did in NDW, the Oner and every other race I have completed. In some ways we got that A goal too. A tear or two was shed and I had joined the Black Bear club.
As I write these final paragraphs it has been a week since finishing Bear. My legs are in decent shape and I have recovered, aided by copious Japanese food. I'm glad I got to experience running for such an extended period of time. It's not something I would want to do often, but it gives me a taste for what it is like to be out on your legs for a ludicrous amount of time. Would I do Bear 100 again? Probably not, part of the joy of running is to experience a new unknown. I always wanted Bear to be an odyssey and not a time-trial - I got exactly what I wanted. What about Dan? I suspect his next 100 attempt won't be too far away. This sport can be weirdly addictive.
What's next? I have TP100 2020 in the UK booked. If I can manage to get a consistent training block it would be great to break my PB set at Umstead, but I am still a few months from knowing if that is a reality. At the end of the day, I enjoy getting out there no matter the speed, so will err on the side of caution as I don't fancy taking another year off!
10 Peaks, Wales - UK - 2018
- What? 10 Peaks - Brecon Beacons
- When? July 14th, 2018
- How far? 89 kms
- Where? Brecon, Wales
- Website: http://www.10peaks.com/brecon-beacons/long-course/
- Strava activity: https://www.strava.com/activities/1702647774/overview
- Finish time: 14:57:02
|A||Hang out with the front pack||Yes|
|C||Finish Top 10||Maybe|
For the last 2 years, I have made a pilgrimage to run a race in Wales called the Brecon Beacons Ultra. Given the late November date, the weather is cold, rainy and often snowy. Come 2018, a few friends chose to run an alternate Brecon Course, a little longer 74 km vs 89 km but a lot hillier and in the middle of summer. Sadly or perhaps fortunately, I was going to be San Francisco in July, so decided to pass. Fast forward 3 months and my SF plans were in flux, I decided to sign-up just in case. We all know where this story goes...
After Edinburgh marathon, I was still trying to find my way with what to do next. I had made the decision not to do any more A races in 2018 but focus mainly on using the rest of the year to try round out my general running ability. That's not to say I wouldn't run any races, but rather that races would have less pressure to achieve a certain goal time.
Leading up to Brecon I had been doing a 5 km/day running streak, and got to day 79 - sadly I had to kill the streak due to constant Achilles pain. The tipping point had been a 139 km cycling race (it's not a race!), the famous Maratona Dolomites in Italy. This was 2 weeks before Brecon and the heat, elevation and traveling proved draining.
A week before Brecon I knocked out a half marathon as part of the I Move London Relay World Record attempt and ended up catching a bus home due to pain. This was a bad sign. Would I be able to run the full 89 km without injuring myself? Probably not. Time for a new plan.
After some thought-provoking beers I came up with a new strategy, instead of trying to hit a target time, it would be interesting to run with the front pack, at least until I blew up. After my heroic fail, I would make my way to the next aid station, hand my bib back, and DNF. My A and B Goal, hurrah.
Other than the Achilles pain, the lead up to this race was pretty uneventful. I caught a lift down to Wales with a friend, and there ended up being 8 of us staying in the hotel. There were 2 chaps who had run (and DNF'd) the race before and 4 Brecon virgins. During dinner, we went over the route. If you have read any of my race reports, you will know I take a rather meticulous approach to planning these runs. Reviewing previous race times, sketching out distances and pace targets between aid stations etc. etc. Given my goal was to run the pace of someone else, this was not needed. Instead, I went through the list of entrants for this year and found the fastest finisher who was running again. Ollie Stoten, who had finished third in 2017! I would sit behind him for as long as I could and see what happened.
Now, don't get me wrong. I still loaded the map onto my phone, added the GPX route to my watch and reviewed the map pretty well. But it was a lighter touch than usual. One of the interesting parts of this race was that it was a fell run. This meant you needed to run from one location to another. Dibbing in at certain places to prove you got there, there was no marked route to follow!
As with the other Brecon Ultra, this race was billed as self-supported. There was also a recommendation to take a water filter with you, curious! After working out the distance between aid stations I decided to carry enough water bottles for 1.5L and always carry at least 1L on me.
With a 5 am start, we had an early wake up. The hotel prepared a bacon sandwich to go, of which I ate half for breakfast. I stuffed the other half in my ultra-vest for lunch.
We got to the start with time to spare. As the runners congregated I spotted my front-running "pacer", so slowly crept up behind him - shadow mode engaged.
One, two, three! GO!
After a short 10 min warm-up jog we faced our first hill, I was curious to see what the "A" team did here, thankfully the hill was pretty steep and there was no hero-running up it! At this point, we were in the mid-pack and the pace was decent. As the sun rose behind us, I knew we were going to be in for a long hot day...
After a few surges on the flats, we crested a pretty steep hill and my pacer hit the gas. As we dropped into 4 min/km pace, we left the mid-pack behind. The break-away group consisted of around 5 runners and we were roughly 4th and 5th. I continued my tactics of trying to keep Ollie close, and we eventually struck up a conversation.
I mentioned his success last year and also at NDW50 this year, where he finished 2nd. He seemed a cool chap and didn't mind my tagging along. I mentioned I would probably drop out due to Achilles pain at some point, and he cautioned against going out too hard - sound advice!
We rapidly ticked hills off and made our way to the first aid station. The front pack certainly knew their way around and grabbed some pretty chunky short-cuts by cutting switch-backs or minor diversions. Of course, the cutting meant running down a super steep hill, but this allowed us to catch a few of the people in front. First aid-station reached, supplies topped up and I was still hanging out in the front, nice!
Straight away we were up against our biggest hill yet. and then another hill and then another hill! One thing I noticed was the strength of the front runners up the hills. I felt good staying in-touch on downhills and on-flats, but my effort level was certainly higher up hills. Most of these runners ate up slight inclines like it was flat. Interesting.
After many more hills, the front runners spread out a bit more. Slowly Ollie pulled 100 meters in front of me. I had to work extra hard to keep up as he was able to keep the racing line better than I. His knowledge of the route allowed him to find paths where I found bog. Checking into the second aid station, the temperature was getting very hot. I started to fill up my supplies and the leaders left, just before me. I hurried to catch them and saw someone running to the right. I chased after him, but something didn't seem right. He was moving quite slowly and I couldn't remember his vest. As I approached the runner I asked him had he seen the runners ahead, his reply. "Sorry mate, I am not in the race. It's back the other way". Wrong way, £$!! Turning back I found that there was a path that forked from the road, which I had missed. I was now a good 10 minutes behind my pacer. Would I be able to catch them?!
I started running hard to catch up, and after a few moments the realization dawned - no, I would not be able to catch them. I was pretty baked from 30ish kms of heat and hills.
Time to DNF:
- Option 1: Shall I walk back to the aid station and wait for my friends?
- Option 2: Should I carry on to the next aid station and DNF there.
- Or, shall I introduce a C goal! Try finish in the top 10.
Race back on.
Given the large gap from the mid-pack, I could take a bit of time and allow a few people to overtake me and still be in a good position. Time to re-group. I had spent the last 30 km racing hard and needed to restore the energy, time to walk and eat and drink. During this re-group session, I really felt the heat which contributed to my low moral, I was overtaken by 2 runners. And then I bashed my left big toe on a hard-rock.
I continued to grind my way to the next aid station. Usually, I am in-and-out of aid stations in seconds - today I sat for a few minutes, drank some coke, ate.
The day was getting hotter-and-hotter with very little cloud cover. After leaving the aid-station I continued running up-and-down the hills - following the route on my watch religiously.
As lunchtime arrived, I completed a particularly beautiful and heinous section arriving at a large reservoir. This was fortunate because I was out of water and there was still quite some distance until the next aid station. In fact, I had been out of water for 20 minutes, not good. To drink or not to drink? Ladies and gentleman, I drank. Like a king. I also covered myself in water and dipped my hat in for good measure. It was lovely. Bacon sandwich devoured, I found some new energy - onwards!
From then on, whenever I found a flowing stream, I would re-supply my water and have a mini splash. The best decision I made all day.
I continued to grind through the hills and the heat. Slowly counting down the kilometers until the finish. I ran past someone who thought I was in 7th position, I thought they must be off by around 2, so put myself in 9th or 10th - not bad!
So far the hills had been somewhat runnable or allowed for hands-on knees walking. As I approached the next aid station and looked up, I knew this was about to change.
I've never run a race before where you needed to drag yourself up using tufts of grass. This was pure scrambling up a very steep hill. Though good fun, it was bloody hard work, as I neared the top I looked back, there was no-one in sight. Given we were further than halfway through the race I made a tactical decision. "Race-for-position" - from now on I would run to feel and look back to ensure no-one was catching me.
Apart from a pack of cows blocking the road, a couple of painful slips, the next 30 km proved uneventful. As I pulled up to the final aid station, there was 16 km to go! And only 3 more large hills - phew.
I ground out Peny-fan and Penny Big, knowing that there was only 6 km to go felt pretty great - I was nearly home and my 10th place was secure.
Glancing back, there was something on the horizon. Another runner.
He must have spotted me walking as he was pushing hard - closing the gap quickly. I decided that this was a spurt of bravado on his part and if I picked up the pace he would give up trying to catch me. For the next couple kilometers, I put my head down and pushed hard, it hurt, but there was no way he could have kept up, let alone close the gap. I settled down into an easier pace and subtly glanced back. There he was. Even closer than before. My speed burst had been futile, I resigned myself to being overtaken. To ease the humiliation of being overtaken, I decided to sit down and high-five him as he passed me.
As the runner drew nearer I noticed his bib. It was green. Hallelujah!
The race was split into an 89 km long course and a 69 km "short" course. Red bibs represented the long course, and green, well that's the short course. I had run 20 km more than this chap and he wasn't about to take my hard fought position!!!
As he pulled up we had a quick chat, and I decide to run behind him and use him as a pacer for as long as I could. Only around 4 km left to go!
A short while later, I crossed the finish line and sat down, drinking some lovely fresh clean water.
As I sat and relaxed, I noticed there was a flurry of discussion going on between the race-director and the rest of the crew. Trouble in paradise?
The race director strolled over and sat next to me. Bad news. I had missed the top of one hill! How was this possible? I had been meticulously following the map on my watch, making sure I hit the top of every hill I went up - and searching for dibs when I got to the top. Though I wasn't certain how many dibs I had done, I certainly hadn't cut the course. So where had I gone wrong?
After a few minutes of being a touch frustrated, I walked over to the RD and he guided me through what went wrong.
I had made 2 errors.
Error 1: I had missed a dib at the top of the final hill. He could see I passed within meters of it, so was happy(ish) with my explanation that I didn't see it when I got to the top.
Error 2: I had crested what I thought was the top of a hill, and headed to the boulders which indicate an OSI point - the top of the hill! Sadly I learned that isn't always the top of the hill, and I had failed to spot that I needed to go about 250 meters to the west to a slightly different location which was the true top of the hill - there lay the missed dib.
As the next runner came in, I saw he claimed 10th place, oops!
After eating a ton of food I headed back to the hotel to have a shower. Returning to the finish to watch for my friends who had DNF'd in previous years finish!
Though not an ideal finish, I had managed to achieve both my original A and B goals ;)
|Storey Arms SP||02:01:34|
|Blaen Llia SP||03:11:26|
|Bannau Sir Gaer||06:18:53|
|Storey Arms SP||11:09:52|
|Pen y Fan||12:20:01|
|Fan y Big||-|
Edinburgh Marathon, UK - 2018
- What? Edinburgh Marathon, UK
- When? May 27, 2018
- How far? 26.2 miles
- Website: https://www.edinburghmarathon.com/events/marathon/
- Strava activity: https://www.strava.com/activities/1599828933/overview
After dropping off my goal pace a lot at the end of Yorkshire Marathon and missing my A goal by 7 minutes & B goal by 2 minutes I decide to seek redemption!
My two A races for the first half of 2018 are Umstead (100 miles) and Edinburgh Marathon, from my experience in 2017 where I had put in Marathon training after the 100 miles (NDW100 then the Yorkshire Marathon) I knew that it is very hard to bounce back into speed training, in reality all you could do was to return to your former fitness. Due to that, I structured my training cycle into 3 Phases.
- Phase 1: Get fitness to run a sub-3 Marathon
- Phase 2: Drop pace, crank distance
- Race 1: Umstead
- Phase 3: Wait ~2 weeks to recover and then spend 5 weeks remembering how to run fast
- Race 2: Edinburgh Marathon
After phase 1 I had a test half marathon where I got a PB of 1:20, my original target was 1:25, but I felt good on the day and decide to go out at a 3:50m/km pace. Though happy with the time and a 17 minute PB, I felt like I had something left in the tank and could have gone a bit quicker.
I also did a twisty 10 km race and a few 5 km races during the training cycle with PBs in the 10 km (36:40) and 5 km (17:30).
To prove it wasn't fluke, the week before the marathon I did a 5 km race tune up, and knocked out a 17:40 - holding back in the second half.
BONUS Section: The Plan
Though the race indicators and various people I had chatted to said 2:50 was doable, I was not very confident. After the poor finish in Yorkshire, I decided to come up with a strategy that allowed a fall back to Plan B. To decide on the strategy I went through 3 years of Strava Edinburgh marathon finishes with similar times to my A & B goals. I discounted people who had gone out too quickly for my target goal (i.e aiming for 2:40). What was quite noticeable was that hardly any one managed to get a 2:50 without having finished the first half in 1:24:xx. The weird thing is that the first half (and a bit) of the Marathon is into the wind! What's that all about?
After doing a little more homework it seems that the race is slightly more subtle and should be split into 3 parts:
- Part 1: Downhill without wind for ~10 km
- Part 2: Run into the wind for 20 km
- Part 3: Run back to the finish with the wind ~12 km
Given the above I decided to run the first part just above Marathon pace, the second part just over Marathon pace and the final bit at Marathon pace!
As with the Yorkshire Marathon, for the week before the race I rocked a low carb and low calorie diet. I'm not certain if the low carb diet is worth it, given the intent to use gels on the run. I managed to drop a bit of weight during the week, so low calorie seems to be beneficial. I couldn't wait until Friday to switch back to the carbs and medium calorie intake - no idea how people survive a keto diet!!!
Myself and 2 friends jumped on the train from London to Edinburgh. Last time I was in Edinburgh, I only saw the inside of pubs on a stag do, so I was quite happy to explore the city and did the trek up Arthur's Seat for a fantastic view, though a bit paranoid about the hill [email protected] The wind was VERY strong at the top of the hill, which made us all a little nervous.
Met up with a few other runners, grabbed some delicious pasta, hit the AirBNB and went to sleep. For those curious I super hydrated throughout the day to minimize the water I would need to drink before running and avoid any mid-run pit-stops (this worked as it did in Yorkshire)!
With the late 10 am start I had a decent sleep and was looking forward to get going. I drank 500 ml of tailwind and ate a chocolate croissant for breakfast.
As an aside, after hearing the horror stories due to the heat of London Marathon I had fashioned a holey singlet, similar to Jim Walmsley/Galen Rupp. After taking it for a test run, I could feel a noticeable difference in temperature. Sadly, or fortunately for the spectators, Edinburgh was chilly, overcast and a bit misty, perfect running conditions so I decided to go with the club singlet.
Arrived at the bag drop, said good luck to friends, some doing their first battle with the beast, and made my way over to the pen just behind the elites, right at the start. After hearing about how Edinburgh was the second biggest marathon after London, I expected people everywhere, though certainly not a small marathon, it's no London!
- Quick stretch.
- Check watch.
- Throw charity jumper away.
- GO GO GO
Part 1: Going down
It all felt too easy. The start was as advertised, downhill and super quick. The crowd support was great as we wound our way through the landmarks of the city. I ended up going out a bit faster on the downhills and averaged it out with the flat sections to roughly hit my goal pace. I was cognizant of keeping something in the bank for when the wind hit. Apart from a very enjoyable start the first 10 km flowed by smoothly. Someone had a cyclist pacing them and a few runners shouted out that it wasn't allowed and the cyclist peeled off, drama over.
As we pulled up to the first water station around 5 km I executed part 1 of my nutrition strategy. Based on some feedback from ARTC members I had ditched the Stroopwafelss and stuck to gels. To avoid having a big lump of gel in my stomach I went with half a gel every 5 km (which equates to just before each water station). I also washed as much of the gel out of my mouth to avoid getting any throat burn. This gel strategy worked really well for me, and can 100% recommend. (Had 2 Gu and 2 Numa gels)
Part 2: Windy City
Though certainly not a gale-force wind ala Boston, the wind was quite noticeable for this section. I had been worried that the race would have become a bit strung out and no good groups to draft off, thankfully I was totally wrong. Duck-and-cover was the strategy for the next 20 km. I worked with probably 3 or 4 groups alternating lead or drafting to share the load Though feeling a bit of pain, the pace was manageable. Occasionally the group I was with dropped pace, when this happened I pushed on a bit quicker and found my next group to work with. After around 10 km of this I settled down with 4 chaps who seemed to be going for roughly the same time as I. Was great team work and I couldn't have kept up the effort without them.
Around 25 km we saw the race leader and 2nd pace trucking it, crazy impressive.
Part 3: Home stretch baby!
As I took the hair-pin turn around I said goodbye to my drafting team and upped the pace to just below Marathon pace. In contrast to Yorkshire, I started overtaking people consistently which gave me a great confidence boost. Just for fun we had a little trail section, which my ankles hated, Nike 4%s just aren't made to handle mushy surfaces.
As the field became more spread out I kept the pace up and just tried to slowly pick off one person at a time. During this section we ran back past the rest of the runners. This was great as a few of my friends saw me and shouted out what place I was roughly in (~70th), super cool!
I drifted past 3rd place woman who was doing a great job and slowly I felt the wheels coming off. Luckily as I pased my next victim, he decided to go with me! This was great, as we worked together for the next 6 kms. There was a silent agreement not to draft off each other, and we ran shoulder-to-shoulder pushing ourselves on. Times like this remind me how the only person you are really racing is yourself.
At some point my buddy drops off at an aid station, but job was done with only a few kms to go. I had a couple of slower Kms as the pain train hit, but had a nice little sprint finish!
JOB FREAKING DONE.
Chip time: 2:50:18
I stuck around in the finishing area to thank the drafting crew I had been working with, they were only a couple minutes behind and were happy with their results! We strolled over to the bag check, had a little chat and then I waited for a couple of friends to finish before catching the train back to London with a couple victory beers.
What did I do differently?
The following is my short list, in-order, of things I did differently which I think contributed to a better result than Yorkshire:
- Run about 10% more miles per a week (usually around 65 kms)
- Finish EVERY long run with a MP segment (as long as possible)
- Better nutrition
- Run faster at track
- No flights 2 days before
Honestly, I am not certain. Due to life commitments I have had to pull out of all my other races (SDW100/Cotswold 100) apart from Oxford Half Marathon, thus I don't have any A races booked. I think I will focus on speed for a bit and then re-attack 100 miler races in 2019. That said I do have a few plans in the works for later in the year, so let's see.
I am currently doing a year long streak challenge, we have upped the game slightly in that every run needs to be at least 5 kms. Details here for those curious.
All the advice from ARTC, The Running School and London City Athletics helped a lot - so thanks y'all.
Umstead 100, Raleigh - North Carolina - 2018
- What? Umstead 100
- When? Saturday 7th April, 2018
- How far? 100 miles
- Where? Raleigh. NC
- Website: umstead100
- Strava activity (Pt1): https://www.strava.com/activities/1495332612
- Strava activity (Pt2): https://www.strava.com/activities/1501493033
- Blog https://ultradaemon.com/#umstead-100-raleigh-north-carolina-2018
|A||< 19 hours and/or finish in the top 10||No|
|B||< 21 hours (Spartathlon Qualifying Time)||Yes|
|C||< 24 hours (Who wants to run for more than a day?)||Yes|
Umstead 100 was the first of my A-races for 2018. My training strategy was split into 2 phases. The first phase focused on improving running efficiency under duress. During this period I set a new 5k PB (17:31) and a half marathon PB (1:20). Some of the crucial workouts in this phase consisted of track running and typical marathon long runs, finishing each training run at just quicker than marathon pace (MP). I kept up my general endurance with long hilly cycling. Typical running mileage was around 50 km a week.
Around 6 weeks before the race I refocused on endurance. My view for these races are that they are 80% mind game, so tried to get in a variety of runs at different points of the day: Late at night, with my sister in snowy and boggy weather up and down the Yorkshire Dales, after eating a kebab late at night etc etc. Most of these runs were 5 to 10 km. I also got in 1 notable long run of 50 km, with the first 40 km deliberately slow to get a bunch of time on the feet and the last 10 km at MP. It’s also worth noting that most of this training cycle was in the UK and the English weather had been horrendous, so I got to enjoy lots of rainy, windy and snowy runs. At the time, this seemed like a curse...
As an aside: I’m not certain of the impact, but after seeing some of my dubious technique on the club videos from the Big Half, I got a professional coach. Unsurprisingly, we worked on tweaking form to improve efficiency. The long term goal is a sub-17 5k, but still work to do on that front!
Right! Enough of the boring technical training junk and onto....
My first and only 100 miler had been the North Down Way 100 (NDW100). On that trip, I met an awesome ultra runner from North Carolina, Karl. The Monday after NDW100 we shared some beers and he invited me out to run the historic Umstead 100 race in his back yard. After we both managed to secure spots it was going to be a re-run of NDW, but under beautiful sunny North Carolina weather.
I arrived in Raleigh, North Carolina on the Wednesday night before the race. Had a good snooze and spent the next 2 days chilling with Karl and his family. We got to checkout Raleigh; if you haven’t been, it’s a must. Beautiful running area, tasty food and an amazing micro brewery scene.
At Thursday lunch time, we met up with one of the three pacers Karl had graciously organised for the back 50 for me. Greg was a very interesting gentleman and a pretty hard core runner having just come off a gutsy run at the Yeti 100 miler! He certainly had the energy to keep us pushing on the last 2 laps, regardless of what state I would be in!
The weather report was now showing rainy conditions for parts of Saturday. I foolishly forgot to pack rain gear, so we popped to the shops to grab a pair of trousers and a rain jacket.
Finally, we checked out the local running shop with an attached beer store (Runologie - and yes, really). The big gossip of the night was about Gordy Ainsleigh and Tom Green running the race, and how it was an honour to get on the course with such ultra running legends.
Friday night. Free pasta party, check-in and the opportunity to say hello to Gordy. My feet felt Umsteady and ready to get running.
Umstead is structured as 8 identical 12.5 mile loops. It’s billed as a great first 100 miler as there is an extensive aid station system with access to water/snacks approximately every 2.5 miles. There are also only two time cut-offs. The course is by no means flat; the hills are pretty rolling, most being dangerously runnable apart from 2 steep stinkers.
We arrived at race HQ to a very wet and muddy start. The weather had changed from sunny, to somewhat rainy, to rainy all day with the chance of snow during the night.
Laps 1 to 3
Pew! The race started!
The initial part of loop 1 was a soft incline we immediately broke the fourth rule of ultra running - walk the hills. I had lost Karl at the start of the race but a few minutes after starting we stumbled into each other in the dark. We had similar pace goals for the first few loops so teamed up, as we ran he gave guidance for later on the race with regards to what hills should be run and not! This proved very useful. I pulled away a couple times, as I stretched my legs on the downhills, but Karl’s superior hill climbing technique caught me up quickly on the hills. An interesting conversation was had with a local runner named Star who had run WSER, and a friend of hers who had just attempted Barkley. We finished loop 1 a few seconds apart and after I had a tactical loo break Karl pulled away on loop 2.
This leap frogging continued for the next few aid stations. We both were hitting our A time goals and C-R-U-S-H-I-N-G.
Though the rain had been constant through laps 1 & 2 it somewhat abated on lap 3. The weather was feeling pretty decent, and I was just running in my shorts and shirt now.
Unlike some ultra races, Umstead doesn’t have an extensive mandatory kit list, so I opted to lose a few pounds and drop off my rain jacket, trousers and warm clothes.
The first half of lap 4 was pretty glorious running. I was pushing hard but really enjoying the race. I ran past Gordy who was wearing only a pair of bright pink/green running shorts and saw Tom Green pushing along steady and strong.
Though the course is a loop, there is an out and back section which forms a T junction. This allowed a rare opportunity to see the race leaders up close and personal. I got to enjoy some extremely focused and powerful running from Olivier Leblond, Jim Sweeney and Matthew Urbanski. Matthew had the biggest smile on his face and always said hey as we passed, a true gentleman!
As I hit 75 km (with 5k to go on that loop) the temperature decided to mix it up and drop the F. I don’t know the exact change, but I went from being comfortably wet to borderline hypothermic. My hands started turning a little blue and I upped the pace and ran hills to keep warm. I pulled up to the HQ and this time went into the main cabin to get some TLC.
I’d always intended to take a 10 minute or so break at the half way stage, but ended up taking 25 mins changing shoes, clothes, eating and warming up. At this point, a runner who had been on-off running with me decided to call it a day. There is also a 50 mile finish at Umstead and he had allegedly set the second best time for a 60+ year old, kudos. My aid station crew were fantastic and helped me get ready to go face the back half. Which looked like it was going to be a doozy!
Lap 5 & 6
You are allowed to pick up a pacer at mile 50 but due to illness my first 2 pacers were out. Umstead runs a volunteer pacer program, sadly no one was free so early in the day for the start of lap 5, so I jogged out on my own. Karl had also taught me a new trick of filling a little plastic bag with tasty aid station snacks. Bananas, orange slice, PB&J sandwiches, my own little picnic in the park. Thanks aid station crew, you all rocked.
It took a little while for my body to warm up on lap 5, hence the slow-paced start. The cold had also messed with my running watch and the battery was low. I swapped to a lower power mode and decided to just run to feel and not bother with time watching. As the lap progressed the weather improved slightly. Perhaps we would have a better last few laps?
I had an interesting conversation with a few random runners, names were mostly lost in the deluge, but it certainly helped pass the time. Pulling into HQ, I decided to switch back to my road running shoes as the increased weight of the trail shoes was annoying me. Amazingly my support crew had managed to arrange a replacement pacer via the volunteers for lap 6. Colin turned out to be a little bit of a pacing pro. He was originally down to pace one of the elite females but for various reasons he was a free agent. I mentioned my A goal but looking back on it, he must have thought I was a bit mad as my A time was realistically long gone due to the long aid station stop and the slow loop 5. But we went for it anyway!
Colin did an amazing job, he also helped me with a little geeking out as we pulled up to Gordy and grabbed a photo! Turns out Colin had a very respectable 22 hour finish at Umstead and subscribed to a very similar training strategy as me. He taught me a few useful running techniques for the hills and brought my loop time back to around 2:30. Only 8 park runs to go, that’s what, 3 hours? Hahahahahahaha.
Time for a little ultra shuffle:man-walking::skin-tone-3::man-walking::skin-tone-3::man-walking::skin-tone-3:.
Lap 7 & 8
Dropping off Colin I met up with Greg who was going to be pacing me on the final two loops. I was a little dazed and in the midst of a low point so just wanted to get this thing done.
I had 4 hours and 40 minutes to hit that A goal. The race was on. Greg and I hit the trail with much gusto and pushed from the very start of the lap. About 5 minutes later the grind began. As mentioned earlier the first part of the course is a somewhat soul-destroying out-and-back. It’s also quite deceptive as it has a soft gradient up and down. Judging when to run and walk proved challenging and played mind games. Greg was full of enthusiasm and bountiful hilarious stories to keep my mind off the pain. He kept me moving along and running even when I didn’t want to. A quarter way through the loop he said that unless we got moving we wouldn’t hit the splits needed for the A goals. F¥$€! I started running behind Greg and we upped the pace pushing up every hill and running down every hill. The blisters that had developed under the balls of my feet were decidedly painful and I was struggling to find that next gear. At the mid point aid station I was feeling a little maxed out, I decided to check out my watch and saw we had 3 hours to get sub 19. As much as I would love to say that a miracle happened, I realised that today was not going to be that day. In my mind I reset to the B goal with brownie points for anything lower.
We completed the 7th and penultimate lap in just under 3 hours. As we pulled into the HQ, we crossed paths with Karl and his pacer Mark going out for their 7th lap.
Having reset our goals, the final lap was quite enjoyable and I enjoyed chatting with Greg as we shuffled our way through the slowest lap of the day. The whole final lap was very distorted as I felt we were much quicker than lap 7, even though we were 22mins slower :face_with_hand_over_mouth:. We enjoyed some lovely snow and hail. And listened to the Umstead frogs! Greg is not only a fantastic runner, but did an amazing job on the graveyard shift. I can’t wait to see how he does on his next race!
It was with a sense of jubilation that I pulled up to the finish and crossed the line with a time of 20:36 (16th oa, 15th male).
I was mildly in shock from the cold and exertion so grabbed some food, put more clothes on and sat in front of the fire. Had a few conversations with other runners. It had been a pretty brutal day and claimed a large number of DNFs; there were more than a few stories of shivering cold runners.
A short while later, we packed up and headed home for a well deserved rest.
I was expecting the 2 days of post-race debilitation that had followed the NDW100, but was pleasantly surprised to be up and walking without much issue the next day. Less time on the feet, softer surfaces and better shoe management (don’t over tighten laces!) paid off. I am very happy with the result and feel I put it all out there on race day. The weather certainly played havoc on the second half of the race. Could I have gone faster? Perhaps, but not much quicker on that day in those conditions. A few more longer training runs may have helped with some of the later stage fatigue. Just over a 3 hour PB at this distance is something I am very proud of, and will wear my buckle with pride.
My second A race which will be the Edinburgh Marathon in late May. It will be my 2nd attempt at a sub-3 hour marathon. There are a few other plans in the works, but TBC!
Question: does anyone know who was leading the race for the first few laps? He was rocking an artc singlet, but seemed to have disappeared later in the race! I didn’t catch a bib number :)
Big Half, London - 2018
- What? London Big Half Marathon
- When? March 4, 2018
- How far? 13.1 miles / 21,098 miles
- Where? London, UK
- Website: https://www.thebighalf.co.uk/
- Strava activity: https://www.strava.com/activities/1435349382
|C||PB (< 1:29:30)||Yes|
After York Marathon and Brecon Beacon Ultra I took a break from focusing too hard on running, and just ran for enjoyment for a couple months. After a busy racing calendar in 2017 and a busy one in 2018 I needed to just pause and remember the fun of getting out. I was lucky enough to visit Burma and run around the rain-forest for a couple weeks, so when I got back to London and San Francisco, I was ready to hit the track and push.
My first A race, Umstead 100, takes place on the 7th of April and shortly after that my other A race, Edinburgh Marathon. The training plan I used for York Marathon seemed on point, so I tweaked it a little to factor in a few longer runs.
During this training period I managed to reduce my 5k time down to 17:31 after being stuck on 18:0X for ages (like 3 months)
I hadn't really planned any pre-Umstead race, but a kind soul in my running club had some allocations for this run at £10/$15 a pop! Hard to say no to that. Furthermore it was the inaugural Big Half race, Mo Farah, Daniel Wanjiru and Callum Hawkins would be lining up at the front. Rude to say no.
For those of you who don't live in London/England - you may not have been aware, but the week before this race it snowed and snowed and snowed. It caused mass disruption, and also mass race cancellations. Bath Half Marathon, Newport Half Marathon (Which Andy from York Marathon Fame was running) were all canceled - regardless, London Marathon Company were adamant The Big Half was going ahead. Even on the Friday before the race, streets were covered in Snow. By some sort of magic, and some very hard work from everyone involved the snow was cleared and melted away in time for the race!
I wasn't feeling 100% on Saturday, so slept quite a bit of the afternoon which turned out to be just the fix I needed. I awoke to perfect running conditions on race day.
Aside: Though the weather turned out great, a lot of people were not able to get down to London due to flight cancellations and weather related issues. The organizers allowed anyone who was not able to come to earn their medal by uploading a half-marathon run to Strava. Kudos!
Living only 15mins away I was able to have a decent sleep, meet up with the running club crew and catch the tube over to London Bridge just in time for the bag drop, though the snow had gone away, it was still bloody cold!
I had put a < 1:28 finish and got put in the A pen, got to walk around and do a few strides before the run.
My initial intention was to go out at around a 4km/min pace which would give me a < 1:25 finish. As I lined up, the words of a friend rung in my ear, "Why not 1:20?". And I guess, why not? What's the worst that could happen - I was pretty certain I could just reduce the pace if things got a bit uncomfortable.
The race starts with an ever increasing heart-beat which then descends into a fog horn start, and we were off!
The first 5kms or so were pretty much flat, with a slight up and down. I stuck to the game plan of 3:50m/km and things were flowing nicely. A benefit of wearing the club colours was an occasional random supporter in the crowd! There was limited wind, but I religiously tucked in behind every person I could, I have no shame... A fun part of this section was running through the Limehouse link tunnel, usually this is reserved for cars so was a little novel descending and then ascending the link.
At around 6kms I took my first half gel. Marathon nutrition has been a bit of stickling point. I really enjoy the Gu gels, but I struggle to ingest them when running quickly. Over the last 2 months I have worked my way through 6 different brands of gel - chocolate flavour for each <3. I finally found a brand called Huma which had just the right balance of energy, caffeine and was easy enough to swallow. I ate half a gel, drank a few sips of water and felt great.
The next 10kms were pretty uneventful apart from the novelty of running over Tower Bridge on the road. The bridge was actually rather windy so I tucked in behind whoever I could and worked my way across, I was a little more than half way now! My pace had been bang on and was still give-or-take on for 1:20ish.
Making my from Tower Bridge to Greenwich went pretty smoothly as well. Once again I tucked in behind whoever was around, and worked with them to get the job done. There was quite an amusing bit of guerrilla marketing going on, a relatively stacked chap was wearing only a pair of underwear from a brand called "Runderwear" - which cause endless amusement for spectators. I also caught sight of someone wearing a wedding gown, turned out he was going for some sort of fancy dress world record!
On the windier bits of the run my pace had wavered a little, losing a few seconds here and there. As I approached the 1km to go I decided to try seal the deal and dropped my pace to 3:40/km and finally 3:30/km for the final 500m. It felt great to finish strong, unlike York! and I finished in 1:20:39!!! A new PB by around 9 minutes 8)
After the race I met up with a few of the runners from LCAC and had a good chat with them. The club had brought in a ton of fantastic PBs, so everyone was in great spirits. A beer, a sandwich and I headed home for a well deserved rest.
Beacons Ultra - 2017
- What? Beacons Ultra
- When? November 18th, 2017
- How far? 46 Miles (74 km)
- Website? http://www.beaconsultra.com/
- Strava? https://www.strava.com/activities/1280641991
- Race Results? http://live.sportident.co.uk/home/multistage/stage/results.html?multistageid=4ca7a63e-d04e-49bf-abd3-8d8fc3a2c18f
- Blog http://ultradaemon.com/#beacons-ultra-2017
|A||~8 Hours and/or Top 10||No|
|C||Finish before dark!||Yes|
After recovering from the Yorkshire Marathon, there were only 4 weeks of training before Brecon. I was still feeling pretty fit from the Marathon cycle, and as such I opted to maintain fitness and be cautious to avoid injury. As usual I ended up doing a round trip London -> San Francisco -> New York -> London in the middle of the 28 day training cycle, less than ideal due to timezones, jet-lag and wasted time on a plane! Thankfully, I was back in the UK a week before the race, so wasn't running with jet lag like in York. I had planned a couple 35km+ runs, but due to lack of time decided that the marathon would have to count as my long run(s).
Having run Brecon in 2016 as my first ever Ultra, I knew the course pretty well. In 2016, I finished just under 10 hours and had felt pretty good throughout the race. My general fitness and long distance running had improved a lot since then and hoped to improve my time. One of my goals for 2018 is to push myself towards the front of the pack, so I decided this would be a good first race to roll the dice a little and go out fast, what better way to learn the challenges of running fast and long?
After consulting the 2016, 2015, 2014 results I decided to aim for around 8 hours, which historically would put me in a top 10 place. As my ultra running friend Karl reminded me, placing depended on who turns up on the day. So I decided to go with a dual A-goal of either 8 hours or top 10. I suspected I wouldn't be able to go much below 8 with current fitness either way!
Brecon is 2 identical loops. I decided to go with a 3:45 and a 4:15 split for each loop
As I managed to bag an AirBNB only 10 mins away from the race start, I woke up with only an hour before race start and did my usual race-day preparations. After deploying the various anti-chaffing strategies (Bodyglide + Chamois cream FTW!) I glanced down at my watch; 30 minutes till race start! After a mad dash to get there in time, I found myself towards the back of the pack, 3 minutes later and we were off!
Unlike most races, I hadn't come up with a check-point to check-point racing strategy. Partly because Brecon has a few killer hills which make pacing tricky and to be honest I forgot. Instead, I went out just quicker than the pace required for the 1st loop. As I passed runners, I would have a chat and see what they were aiming for, looking to find a few people aiming for a similar goal.
The start of the race is very runnable as it is on a hard and flat canal path, I felt great cruising along banking time before the first major hill which I would walk up. As I trudged up the hill, I noticed someone running up the whole way! I was impressed at the determination, but wondered if they would pay for the exuberance later.
From the steep hill there is a quick downhill section, my favorite, it was during this downhill section that I overtook our hill runner - guess I was right about going out too hard! Shortly after the downhill the trail ascends once more. I decided to err on the side of caution and walk the steeper bits of the slope. Low-and-behold, the hill-runner overtook me - they were running the hills again! After hitting the flats I caught up and had a chat with this relentless ascender. Turns-out the hill-runner was Michelle Maxwell, the female winner of the 2016 Brecon Beacon race and was also the winner of the 2017 NDW50. She had finished the race in roughly 8 hours last year and was on a similar trajectory this year. I decided that if I was to stick even mildly close to Michelle I would have a decent chance of finishing around 8 hours. I also made the decision to be consistent and not to run any hills :)
The rest of the first loop went pretty much according to plan, Michelle and a few other runners would pull ahead on the up-hill sections, and I would hunt them down on the downhills. I had a glorious descent after the final major uphill section, Pen Y Fan, and was bang on target.
1st Loop completed in 3:45.
It's worth mentioning that I had given up the aim for a top-10 finish at this point as the field this year was very strong and at the half-way point I was in 25th position - perhaps I could pick-off a few runners but the gap to the leaders was just a bit much.
After leaving the aid-station I pushed hard again on the canal path. I had been eating and nibbling throughout the race but I was starting to feel a bit out of sorts. I decided I was low on nutrition and ate a trusty Gu gel. I did this just as I was about to hit the main hill for the second time.
Perhaps I should have taken the gel earlier, perhaps I should have eaten more solid foods, but as soon as the gel hit my stomach I had waves of nausea engulf me and stomach cramps to boot. I kept pushing up the hill, but with far less vigor than on loop 1. This was the last time I saw Michelle until the finish. As I went higher, the pain increased. My 8 hour goal was slowly slipping away, had I gone out too fast on the first lap? As the intensity of the pain grew, I knew this was it - my first DNF. I would quit at the next aid station. I didn't have to finish this race, it wasn't a qualifier for anything. I didn't even have any friends running with me. The decision was made.
Reaching the top of the hill a couple of people overtook me, and asked if I was okay. Gah, I guess I don't look great either!!!
Pulling up to quitters checkpoint, a little girl at the aid station shouted out to me, "Are you running?" - in retrospect this was to see if I should be treated to some TLC from the aid crew or shrugged off as a local hiker - but at the time it resonated with me! Yes I am running and yes I will finish this race. Times be dammed. Onwards and upwards.
I stuffed myself with a few solid foods to stabilize the stomach and pushed on. I opted to no longer look at the watch and just run as I felt.
Rather than struggle, I started to enjoy the race again run-walking when needed and just getting the job done. The stomach issues thankfully went away and I continued to push.
Now that the stomach were resolved, I had another issue on my hands - well more to the point, on my feet. Throughout the day there had been a light drizzle, if you mix soil with rain and 300 runners you get a muddy slippery mess. With nice trail shoes, there would be no issue at all, sadly I had opted to go with my Hoka Clifton 3 Road Shoes for this race! Are you mad I hear you cry? Not exactly, the last 2 ultras I ran the first 50 miles in Cliftons and they had performed great, nice and quick on the road sections and handled the trails well, only opting to go for trail shoes during night sections for added safety. From my memory the terrain at Brecon was on-par with the NDW and the Oner - this perhaps was true in dry conditions but proved to be quite false now.
Reaching my favorite downhill running section, I realized my shoe choice was quite the folly as I slid along. Rather than lovely long joyous strides, I upped the cadence and reduced stride length. I'm not going to lie, that 5km downhill section was sketchy as hell. The rocks underfoot were quite jagged, and all it would take was a little slip and the race would end badly. If it hadn't been for my fair-chunk of slippery trail running, and this being the 4th time I ran this section, I would have had to walk it all.
I slid up to the final check-point, had a nice chat with the crew, who had hauled something like 1,000 liters of water up there! Amazing. Stuffed my face with delicious salty crisps and at least 4 chocolates brownies, and I pushed on for the final 10 kms.
A nice little sprint finish to a glorious cheer and I was done.
8:33:33 finish time and 29th overall.
~1.5 hour improvement from last year and 36 places higher up the leader-board. yay.
Given the challenging conditions and the nutrition errors I was very very pleased with my time. I managed to stave off my first DNF and finish the 2017 racing calendar on a high! A quick chat with Michelle (who finished in 2nd place in 7:55:30) and some other runners before dashing home for a shower and snooze!
I will also say the Force 12 Events team really upped their game from last year, which is saying something as 2016 was very well organized! Though a bit more self-sufficient than the Centurion race, I would say this race has a similar feel and I much prefer the new half-way and finish end-point. I may be in the minority, but I would love if everyone had a race-drone (it's much more exciting for those at home watching!) and for the half-way aid-stations to have a few sandwiches or similar.
For 2017 that's pretty much it. Next year is going to be an exciting year as I will be heading out to North Carolina to hang out with Karl and run Umstead 100, I've got another Marathon lined up for Sub-3 attempt #2 and finally the SDW100! Oh, any maybe WSER, but with my single ticket in the hat, I ain't holding my breath! Time to crack open some beers and relax before getting into proper training mode for 2018 after Christmas.
For some reason my phone kept getting locked during the race so sadly I have no photos from race day. Here are a few photos from the following day, don't be misled - we hardly saw any sunshine on race day!
Yorkshire Marathon - 2017
Date : October 8th Distance : 26 miles 385 yards or 42.195 km Cutoff : 8 hours Elevation : +469 ft +143 m Result : Finished in 3:07:05 hours (Chip time) 154th place 4,144 finishers 0 Toilet breaks
- A Goal: Sub-3:00
- B Goal: 3:05
- C Goal: Sub-3:10
Having spent most of the last 8 months running progressively longer runs cumulating with the NDW100 I felt it was time to work on speed. Having never followed a training program before, and based on the recommendations from ARTC I decided to pick-up a copy of Advanced Marathoning - I also read How to Run a 3 hour Marathon, a Just Enough Training Approach for a little balance.
In the end I roughly ended up with a weekly plan of:
- Tempo run
- Long run
I also threw in a few Park Runs and some double days to try top-up the volume. I needed 2 weeks to recover from NDW100 and with 1 week taper it meant that this training cycle was roughly 6 weeks. As I had a pretty strong aerobic base I decided to focus on speed work and form. To this end I also joined a running club (Go London City Runners!).
I managed to PR my 5 km time, reducing it from ~20:02 to 18:01. I was averaging about 50 kms (30 miles) a week. After reading and doing some calculations I thought that there was potential for a sub-3 hour marathon, though it would be tight. My previous Marathon PR was ~3:35 at San Francisco marathon, but I didn't really race it, just aiming to finish with an alright time.
I should also mention I put a lot of effort into hydration in the build up to this race. With long-distance running I tend to have a strategy of sip little but often. This cadence allows the body to keep hydrated without overloading. I didn't really want to run with water, so for this training cycle I worked on being okay with getting hydration every 5 km.
A last minute business trip to San Francisco threw a minor spanner in the works with timing. I arrived back in London on Friday - 2 days before the race. I did my best to mitigate jet-lag and tiredness but ¯\(ツ)/¯.
All the ultra distance running has got me into the habit of planning the races, haha! I came up with a bit of strategy, and read as many race-reports as possible. Fortunately there was a great race-report from Andy Wu - Run to Win - Yorkshire Marathon 2016 which matched my approximate race-strategy. I used this as a rough-guide to my plan of attack. I did the usual carbo-loading which I am always quite meh about!
My sister, Tanya, was running her first marathon on the day and our friend, Martin, was running his second. Martin's family is from York and very gracefully housed and fed us! Thanks Nelson family - they were really accommodating to all my pre-race day rituals!
We got the start line early to avoid stress, dropped off our bag and went to our starting pens.
York isn't a huge marathon and I found myself in #1 pen with the local elites and others aiming to go sub-3. One of the advantages of the first pen is there is a bit more space, so I began a few dynamic stretches and strides. I tried to figure out where to put myself in the pen and was about 4 or 5 rows back. As I looked around I spotted Andy Wu from York blogging fame! He was back in York for another sub-3 attempt. Myself and a few others felt obliged to say hello and thank him for a very useful race report - after a few good-lucks we settled down to run...
Miles  to 
I decided to either positive or even split the race, i.e do the second half a bit slower than the first. I settled into roughly a 4:12 mins/km a pace. I had originally intended to go out with the 3-hour pacer, but his pace seemed a touch on the high-side for me, perhaps he was banking time for later in the race. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a familiar yellow running shirt. It looks like Andy and I were on a similar race strategy, we formed a secondary sub-3 hour group with about 5 other runners and began working together to bring this in.
The miles zoomed by and everything went pretty smoothly. We lapsed a few times dropping into 4:16 to 4:20 min/km race - but the watches are always off by 1% or 2% so I wasn't too concerned. The group was great and had a chat with a number of runners. I enjoy having a good chat during ultras, but didn't realize it was a thing on marathons! I kept chipping away at my stinger waffles and had half a Gu. Hydration seemed to be working okay and the pace seemed fine. Only minor incident was a shoe-lace coming undone - this was my first race with my Nike Vaporfly 4% and they were performing very well! We crossed the half-way point in 1:29:30 which was pretty much bang on where we wanted to be. Given that I hardly run half-marathons this also happened to be a half-marathon PB!
During this section the sub-3 group became a little transient with people dropping off and new members joining in. Myself and Andy made a blood oath to keep together and we kept the pace just right!
Miles  to 
It was around here that the wheels started to come off.
There was a long drawn out soft up-hill section where we kept the pace around 4:18 min/km, we rotated wind blocking. Andy and another chap did a fantastic job of pushing but I was feeling the exertion a little at this point.
Once we crested the top of the hill there was a nice soft downhill, we upped the pace to 4:10 min/km to bank time for the return leg of this out-and-back section. I really started to feel the burn at this point, I dug in deep to keep with Andy and the other chap. The extra exertion was off-set by them taking most of the wind! I decided that perhaps a Gel was in-order. I though we were only a few hundred meters from a water station so smashed the whole gel. A few minutes later we arrived at the water station, guess what, it was on the other bloody side of the road - damn those out-and-backs. For those of you who don't suffer energy gels, they kind of stick to your throat and are best followed up with a swift sip of water. I had limited choice to push on, but this certainly had some mental toll.
As we ended the down section and turned to go back up the hill I decided to drop the pace a bit to avoid a bigger crash. Andy was already a good 10m in-front of me. He looked back and pointed at his shoes but I waved him on. He was looking strong and if anyone could bring in that sub-3 today, it was him, Go Andy!
A few minutes later I hit the $%@$ water station - this time on the correct side of the road. After drinking some water I felt a bit better, I decided to increase the pace again and try catch-up to Andy. For about 5 minutes. Then I decided that was wishful thinking.
Miles  to 
The last 5 miles were a war-of-attrition. I always try to be a strong finisher - really race the last section. Unfortunately my mind was having none of it. I became a nice target for a few strong finishers to zoom passed - this proved a mixed blessing as I tucked in behind and used them as a bit of a mental target to push myself on. In the back of my mind I thought perhaps a final surge at the 5 km point could bring in the bacon, when I tried to increase cadence I just didn't have it in me.
Whilst on the final damn steep hill only the crowd shouting kept me from walking - eurgh shame this isn't a trail race! I ran hard to prevent any last minute runners snatching my 154th place. And done.
As I crossed the finish line Andy had decided to stick around to welcome me in! This was a lovely bit of camaraderie and I appreciated the gesture. Over a cold Erdinger AF I filled in the blanks from when he left me, and he did the same! If you are curious how Andy did he wrote up a great race-report here.
After picking up our bags Andy headed off to go meet his wife and I retired to the finish to cheer on runners and wait for Tanya and Martin to finish. Tanya brought it in at 4:59 and Martin shortly afterwards!
I am disappointed I didn't manage to push through the wall and keep the pace at the appropriate level to bring in the sub-3. I've been through much more painful and mentally straining sections during the NDW100 & the ONER. After a weeks reflection, I've come to the conclusion that even though I had the mental toughness to get over the wall, I was not prepared to push through it quickly. When you are running for ~24 hours dropping pace by 1 minute a km and taking 45 minutes to get yourself back into race mode is not an issue. In a marathon you don't really have that time.
I didn't get fueling quite right. I was trying a slightly different strategy here, which was a hybrid of my other races. 2 Stinger waffles and then 3 Gu gels (I only consumed 1.5 gels). I also need to work on timing and getting the nutrition in.
Note: Try avoid long international flights 2 days before a race.
Given the short training cycle, limited pace work and low-mileage it was always going to be a little bit of a stretch to go sub-3. Perhaps another 4 weeks with a few more longer marathon pace runs would have done the trick?
I smashed my marathon PB by about ~28 minutes.
This was my first attempt at actually trying to race a marathon rather than just grind it out. Glad to see that targeted training pays dividends.
There are ample areas that I can use to trim those remaining minutes.
Above all, I got to run with a bunch of amazing runners who made the day that much more enjoyable, hopefully I will get to race with them once again!
Only two more proper races left in 2017, the Brecon Beacon Ultra (76 km) in mid-November and a 5 km track race just before Christmas with the club. It will be my second run of Brecon and looking to roll the dice a bit ^_^.
North Downs Way 100 - 2017
Date : August 5th - 6th 2017 Distance : 103 miles or 166 km Cutoff : 30 hours Elevation : +9930 ft +3025 m Result : Finished in 23:40:59 hours 37th place 147 finishers 229 starters 1 drop bag forgotten
Sam and I had been foolishly working our way up the minimum requirements to run a 100 mile race. Marathon, 46 miles, 82 miles and now finally - The North Day Way 100 (miles)!
To start, let's get excuses out the way. Two weeks after the ONER I ran a 35 km marathon training run with a friend, Martin. My body finished the run under duress and retaliated by gifting a tweaked right knee - the net-effect was no running for the next 6 weeks, bummer.
Future self: Even if you feel recovered, gradually increase the distance
Unfortunately, I had a 100 mile race coming up! Right then, Plan B: Get in a decent amount of cross-training whilst the legs recover. The ONER had been a brutal slog, and I hoped the NDW100 could be a little less painful - I decided to focus on the following training areas:
- Need to work on speed
- Quads - they get hammered by the hills
- Continue work on nutrition
For quads, I began cycling around Surrey every Sunday. Box Hill, a classic cycling route in Surrey, was one of the sections we would be running! Perhaps it would be easier on foot than on a bike?
After 6 weeks of no-running, an initial tentative 10 km with Sam ended up being a horrendous stop-start jog of pain and self-loathing - we had some work to do.
As part of my recovery plan, I started doing a bunch of fartleks, Yasso 800s and park runs. I was able to lower my 5 km PB by a minute or so, after a tentative start the speed training was on-track!
Post the 35 km debacle, I chose not to run greater than cough 25 km, so let's hope the solid base and all the cycling would be enough, quality over quantity?
Planning went pretty much the same way as the ONER:
- Create a big spreadsheet with time predictions
- Break race up into four marathons
- Break the marathons in check-point pacings
One tricky decision was what finish time to aim for. I was keen to punt for 24 hours and Sam was more tentative. As a compromise we settled for 2 pace charts. One for a sub-24 hour finish and one for a 28-hour finish. The 28-hour pace chart was effectively +1min/km slower than the one for 24 hours.
Our marathon pacing for 24-hour was:
Marathon 1: 4.5 hours Marathon 2: 6 hours Marathon 3: 6 hours Marathon 4: 7.5 hours sleep.
We ventured down to Franham on Friday afternoon and headed over to check-in. The Centurion team ran a slick yet welcoming operation. Kit-check was fair and we were off to the races - in about 12 hours!
We headed into town for supplies and dinner. We over carboloaded, spaghetti with a table pizza, in retrospect this was too much food and not enough time to digest - ahem.
After packing drop-bags and run kit we were in bed by around 8pm, with a 4am wake-up call. To add to sleep challenges, there was a wedding party in our hotel - I thankfully fell asleep with ease. Sam on the other hand tossed and turned not sleeping until much later.
Arriving for the pre-race briefing the room was full of expectant runners! We put our hands up when they called out for virgin 100 milers, a few nerves ran through my feet. Strolling down to the start we were ready to get (north) down to running!
Start → CP3 (0 to 39.5kms)
Aid stations: Farnham, Puttenham, Newlands Corner, Box Hill Stepping Stones
As per our 24-hour timings, the first 4 check-points had pretty aggressive pacing, roughly a 4:30 marathon. Perhaps this doesn't sound too bad until you remember there are three more marathons to follow. As the countdown hit zero everyone began a staccato run down a 2-person wide path. The group stayed bunched up and we spent a bit of time getting past various fences. The pace increased as the group spread out, I was grateful for the perfect weather for the start of a long day. I mentioned to Sam that we were on pace for 24-hours and we cracked on.
A gentleman called Darryl regaled us with his 2016 NDW100 run, he was aiming for a sub-24. His strategy the previous year was to go out hard for the first 50 miles and then grind out the final 50 miles over, this had netted him a ~25 hour finish, not bad! This year he was taking the first 50 a bit easier to see if could crack - "100 Miles in 1 day" for the NDW.
In general the first 40 km was pretty flat, as per advice at the race briefing and reinforced by Darryl, we tried to resist running too fast. Arriving bang on schedule at the Box Hill aid station was great, we quickly chowed down on some food and continued.
CP3 → CP8 (39.5 to 96.2kms)
Aid stations: Reigate Hill, Caterham, Botley Hill, Knockholt Pound, Wrotham
After stepping across the very scenic river stones we launched ourselves up Box Hill. Having heard so much about Box Hill, and memories of the soul destroying hills during the ONER, I was pleasantly surprised with the gradient and distance - in no time and limited heart-rate elevation we were at the top enjoying the lovely views. An unexpected shout at the top and a work colleague, Aubone, was there cheering us on! A handshake, quick photo and off we shot.
As the day wore on the thermometer drifted upwards, it wasn't a stonking hot day, but it certainly wasn't cool. As the sun got to me in the ONER I had decided to run with a peak-cap, this was deployed to some success. Post Box Hill the average pace was set to go down, but as there were many rolling hills, pacing became a balancing act between stomping the steep hills, running the soft hills and running slightly quicker on the flats/downhill - joy! Unlike the ONER where I ended up with quad spasms after 35 km, I didn't storm down the hills and instead ran moderately quicker to conserve the quads for later in the race, this strategy worked well - and I had no spasms at all.
As we pulled into CP 5 (Reigate Hill) Sam mentioned that he was feeling the pace/heat a bit and had slightly swollen fingers. In the ONER Sam had an upset stomach and to combat this he had opted to run with water+food only. I had stuck to my previous fueling strategy but had removed most processed sugar, which seemed to cause highs/lows and a sore stomach later in race. As we refueled at the aid station, Sam asked about his fingers. It was suggested he was low on salt/electrolytes - probably true, and given a salt tablet which he dutifully swallowed. We stocked up on water and snacks and began walking. 100m from the aid station Sam bent over and had an almighty chunder - it lasted a good minute.
First rule of running club: Don't try anything new on race day!
Sam picked himself up and we began running again, albeit slightly slower. Sam will push himself to the limit and beyond, but you could see in his eyes he was a partly broken man. We cut the pace significantly and introduced some run-walking. Advantageously we had entered a section of the course we have recced a few weeks earlier, so we knew what was to come. I would love to say that the spring in Sam's step came back, but sadly his day was over after 60 km.
At this point I had somewhat given up on the 24-hour attempt, the only silver lining to the slowness was that I felt pretty damn fresh. We had drifted 35 minutes off 24-hour pace, but perhaps there was still hope? Given that I knew the next 15 kms I felt confident to push the pace hard - I was also pretty certain I would be able to finish this thing in under 30 hours, so why not roll the dice a little?
We had been around 90th place at Box Hill and had been overtaken a lot, I began running hard for the next 2 aid stations, managing to restore some of the deficit. As was mentioned in a couple other race reports the skies opened up - Personally I was grateful for the fresh cool air even though the wet clay was hard to ascend in road shoes.
I would be remiss to not mention the fantastic volunteers at every aid station. I generally hate wasting time at aid stations - I race hard to gain every minute and don't want to spend more than a few seconds standing around. The Centurion crew have this down to a tee, as I pulled into Botley Hill aid station:
- Hand over 2 water bottles
- Centurion crew fill bottles
- I grab snacks, sandwiches and stuff my face
- Crew hand back water bottles
- Leave aid station
I think I averaged around 40 seconds per an aid station, Formula 1 drivers eat your heart out - amazing!
The half-way point came in 10 hours and 30 minutes, my body was feeling sore from the fast pace, on the positive side two marathons down and on-target, woohoooo! The amazing volunteers sat me down, brought over my drop bag, food and drink. I woofed down the fantastic warm pasta then changed shoes and socks. I opted to go for compression socks for the second half - partly as nettle protection, I also changed to trail shoes to avoid any more slipping during the more technical night section. The gent I sat next to mentioned that the first half had taken more out of him than expected, and had decide to slow down. Not great foreboding.
Whilst eating, I rang my sister, Tanya, who was going to pace me later and let her know my progress. Tanya also mentioned Sam had got a lift to the half-way point, but after a quick look around and not seeing him I decided to press on.
As I pulled out of the half-way point I joined up with a group of other runners and we ran together for the next 16 km section - thanks to Karl, Paul, Johnathan and the other runners who made the run that much more enjoyable - if you are ever in London feel free to drop by for a pint or two!
My mind was a bit foggy and I misread the length of this section, thinking 10 km rather than 10 miles, damn! As a result, I ran out of water with about 4 km to go - which equated to about 25 minutes at current pace, really shouldn't have sprayed water on my neck earlier... As a rule, I struggle without a constant sip of water every few minutes, I began asking a few other runners if they had any spare, turns out they were in a similar position! Karl had a few drops to donate and I felt much better.
Shortly after this we ran past an unwell runner, we offered our assistance, Karl gave her some supplies and mentioned that it was not far until the Holly Hill check-point. As there were a large amount of runners around and she motioned for us to continue we pushed on, I'm pretty certain I saw her photo in the list of finishers, hurrah! After cresting the un-Holly Hill I refilled my water and pushed on quickly!
CP8 → CP11 (96.2 to 131.5kms)
Aid stations: Holly Hill, Bluebell Hill, Detling
As I pulled into aid station 8 there was a nice surprise, my crew were sauntering in at the same time! For some reason I thought I was meeting them at the following aid-station, so was very glad to see them. After the low points of the previous section and the nearly 100 kms already done, it was going to be refreshing having new legs to motivate me!
Before the race I had warned the crew that I would be in-and-out of aid stations in a minute - they were ready and rearing to go. Much to their amusement, I needed a good 5 minutes to compose myself at CP8, the pace had been pretty high and running out of water had taken a toll. I proceeded to drink 1 cup of water and 2 cups of coke and then ate half an orange, a handful of grapes, and 1 sandwich! I was FINALLY ready to go. Tanya and I waved farewell to the NDW100-Crew, and we were back on the trail.
Having run for 11ish hours at this point I was perhaps a little less chatty than Tanya expected but she did a fantastic job running with me. When she joined it was still quite warm, as the sun slowly set and we had to turn our head-torches on. This section of the course was very runnable and we kept the pace high. Apart from a run-in with a tree and Tanya taking a couple of tumbles there were no major mishaps to report. Tanya got to experience her first transition from sunshine to night-time running.
After Tanya's stint I was joined by a very energetic Martin, fresh from his Copenhagen Marathon, he helped me ascend Bluebell Hill - unfortunately for Martin he joined me at a pretty low point of the race. Some confusion over check-points and the high-pace of the previous section had sapped some of my mental strength. I was fighting to keep the pace up and push myself, I had also been running for around 16 hours at this point, I was very quiet and inside my own world for most of the section. Everyone talks about Box Hill and Detling when discussing the NDW100, I am going to add Bluebell Hill onto that list. It's long, annoying and not much fun. Furthermore, you know this is just a prelude to Detling. I didn't like that hill one bit - good riddance!
As we arrived at the Bluebell Hill aid station at 11pm I was surprised to see that Sam had returned to cheer me on! After that horrendous hill it helped raise my spirits to see my usual partner in running crime. He also pointed out that I only had one marathon to go, and 7 hours to get under 24 hours. This was 30 minutes less than the pacing chart had budgeted for, and as such I was under no illusions that a 7-hour marathon, with the hardest hills still to come, was going to be touch-and-go.
Karl, my adopted NDW running buddy, was chilling out in one of the aid station chairs. We mumbled a few words of good luck and both set off at roughly the same time. Helen was joining me for the next 20 km before handing over to my final pacer. Immediately after setting off I felt very chilled and opted to put my running jacket on - this turned out to be a great idea as the clear skies caused the weather to be quite frigid.
Helen was unlucky for 2 reasons:
- Not 5 minutes out of the CP and we both walked into a very deep puddle and got rather wet shoes, argh!
- The Hills.
Box Hill may be more famous, but the hills in Detling are unrelenting. False horizons and steep steps chipped away at our confidence. As with the ONER the downhills and uphills are not easily runnable, just too steep and slippery for anyone to seriously tackle with speed at 1am. So we ground it out, running where we could, stomping where we had to.
Etched in my memory is a section where Helen and I emerged from a steep incline, the path opened up and we surged ahead, enjoying 20 minutes of pure fast pace running. Race experiences like this remind me of how surreal and beautiful ultra-distance trail running can be.
As we pulled into Detling Village Hall I felt great, we had managed to keep the pace about right - the whole team was there to see how Helen and I were doing. I ate a bowl of much needed soup and drank Dr. Pepper, thanks again to the Centurion team for brining food over to my table! A few of the runners I had been chatting to earlier were sitting down and munching on some soup too, I had a brief chat with them and decided that there was no time like the present - Helen and I were off!
What can I say about the next section? The hills got steeper and my shins began to hurt on the downhills.
As we got into Hollingbourne crew station, the highs of the previous aid station were gone. My legs ached, my mind felt broken and I felt spent. I sat in the back of the car, sipped on a drink and talked to the team about what needed to be done. We needed to complete 35 km in five and a half hours. After 131 kms it had come to this. For a brief moment I gave up on the dream - let's just grind out the finish - 24, 25, 26 hours - who cares?
I had intended to do a video with Martin, Helen and Dan but we were so focused it slipped my mind. Next time, I promise!
CP11 → FIN (131.5 to 166kms)
Aid stations: Lenham, Dunn Street, Ashford
Dan, my last pacer, and I pulled out of the crew point and hit the first of a few demoralizing hills. I tried my best to run but I just couldn't get moving. We surged, only to be met by another steep incline. Dan glanced down at his phone, the crew had been tracking our progress and relayed that we were way off pace - 24 hours was blown.
As if by magic, my mind clicked into place - I told Dan, get in-front and run. You set the pace and I will follow. Boy did we run! I felt great, we dropped into a pace of around 6 to 5.30 minutes a km. Dan kept the motivation up, and my brain going by calling out pacing in miles, 10 minute miles, I never do miles! We could do this...
We managed to catch up with a number of runners, which provided an extra little bit of motivation to keep the pace going - can't overtake someone and then let them re-overtake you, right?! Not only did we run the flats and downs but we also pushed up the hills. Dan kept calling off the pace and the distance as we reeled in the finish. Apart from having to re-trace a minor 100m detour we didn't deviate from the path. Though I ran with Dan for 5 hours, I struggle to recall any particular part of the run apart from the constant push - so forgive the lightness of this section.
As I pulled into Ashford and did a lap of the stadium emotion swept over me. The day had not gone according to plan but we had made it. Sam, Tanya, Martin and Helen cheered as Dan and I crossed the finish line in 23 hours and 40 minutes!
After a week most of the aches and pains subsided, though a lingering shin splint took some time to go away, which is weird as I never have shin splints.
My feet were super super swollen this time - I think I must have over-tightened the trail shoe.
Remember to loosen shoes as the race goes on.
Two weeks on, I am able to run again and need to kick into gear for York Marathon which is on the 8th of October. Followed by re-running the Brecon Beacons Ultra in November.
Thanks to my amazing pacing team and the fantastic Centurion team for a memorable race.
Strava Run (some bits missing)
The ONER Ultra Trail Run - 2017
Date : April 8th - 9th 2017 Distance : 82 miles or 132 km Cutoff : 24 hours Elevation : +7308 ft / -7771 ft +2227 m / -2368 m Result : Finished in 23:32:59 hours 35th place 39 finishers 63 starters 1 Toenails lost
Having finished the 46 mile (75 km) Brecon Beacons Ultra 2016 in just under 10 hours, I was feeling more confident with the step-up from marathon distance. My first attempt at ultra distances - a self-supported 60km run - still left me with painful memories of bleeding inner thighs and exhaustion for the final 10km. Lessons were learned, mitigations were deployed, and 46 miles through the Brecon Beacons was both successful and pretty fun.
TLDR: Eat more, drink more, use electrolytes and smother yourself in bodyglide.
Pain is quickly forgotten, and it wasn't long before I dropped a somewhat (very) drunken text to my friend Sam inquiring if he would be interested in running two ultra races in 2017, the ONER being a qualifier for the other. Sam replied with maybe and I forwarded him my completed sign up email as encouragement. A few weeks later he came to his senses (got equally drunk) and signed-up for both runs too.
Fast forward a few months and it was time to put on our running shoes and trek out to my old rock climbing haunting ground, Swanage, and do battle with some slightly less vertical pitches.
After a hectic few weeks of work and an extremely spotty training schedule it dawned on Sam and I that we were perhaps out of our depth with the step-up in distance. It was nearly double the furthest distance we had done before and neither of us had ever run through the night.
After reading a large amount of race reports our concerns were confirmed; this was not going to be as easy as 26 back-to-back Park Runs. Our first attempt to come up with a game plan involved analyzing previous race results, theoretical run performance and elevation change. The result was the below monstrosity that only an accountant could love:
After thinking outside of the cell we came up with a solution. Split the run into approximately three marathons:
- Bank some time in Marathon one as it is a bit flat
- Waste some time in Marathon 2 due to HQ/Food but catch it up with some nice flats
- Siege the hills and end with our well fought for banked time.
BAM! A 21 hour finish time.
The net result was the below race-plan completed the night before the run:
The Brutal team put together a very well oiled machine, kit-check, pre-race-brief and all that jazz that was as efficient and as painless as could be. A few nervous laughs and the 63 ONER runners and 6 Half-ONER runners crowded into provided mini-vans for the journey from Race-HQ/Half-way to the start. The long-drive ride was intimidating; nearly an hour drive to the start! In our bus it became very apparent that Sam and I were less experienced at 100km+ runs than our fellow passengers - joy.
Start → CP4 (0 to 47.8kms)
Race start was pushed back by 15mins due to a delayed mini-van, but before we knew it we were off.
Our strategy revolved around banking a bit of time in the first couple of marathons so we set off at a fair clip. The start was also a downhill section, so why not? As we hit the first proper hill we enjoyed a walk with views, and spirits were high.
The rest of the first ~10k to CP1 was relatively uneventful and we made good time. After hitting the well-stocked aid station and grabbing some snacks we cracked on to tackle the next ~12kms. All of a sudden we ground to a halt. We had hit West Bay and the path was a tad unclear. Luckily a local runner picked us up and we were soon back on our way. This was an early reminder that navigation was important and keeping a bearing would save time in the future, not to mention this was supposed to be a simple section of the course.
Before and after CP2 there is a mixed pebble and sand section. The temptation is to run it, given the earliness in the race, but this is very challenging and tiring in this terrain. The harder you push the deeper you slide into the sand, so simpler to tread lightly and walk. We hadn't really practiced running on this surface so found the technique a bit cumbersome. It was at this point that we ran with a few other runners through some hard packed sand and dirt. The other runners slowly pulled away looking super strong. It turned out that we had just been schooled by the eventual female winner, Raquel Alfonso and friends.
We gladly left the beach and started on a long section of gradual rolling hills and flat sections, a welcome respite from the sand. Unfortunately at the same time the sun finally took its toll. After stomping up a grassy hill we hit 2nd gear to make up some time on flats. Almost immediately I felt a searing pain in my right quad muscle and I was stopped dead in my tracks. Walking - let alone running - was impossible. I thought that this was the end of my run, only 30km in. We both stopped and I massaged the muscle for a couple minutes whilst we were passed by a few other runners. I downed a GU gel and decided to slowly walk. The pain slowly diminished but I decided to give it another couple minutes. I stopped again and drank a sip of water. A few minutes later we started again, the pain was manageable and we decided to push on. After a little while the pain faded away and we just had to contend with the sun.
Note to self: get a running hat
At this point we slowed the pace a little as we were both suffering a little bit from the sun and the earlier pace. We decided to stick religiously to our planned pace, which was give-or-take on target. A few people overtook us at this point but we stuck to our game plan, we also had a sprightly conversation with Victoria Miller before she pulled away to finish as second female.
We uneventfully pushed through CP3 and looked forward to finishing the first marathon. There was a good amount of shade and a slight breeze which aided our running and we caught up with a few runners at the marathon pit stop. The course medic warned the group about the dangers of not consuming enough salt and too much water. A few moments later we pushed on to cross the land bridge between Weymouth and Portland, and hit CP4.
Side note: before the run Sam and I had discussed aid station strategy. I am very pro the briefest of stops and avoid the temptation to linger. Sam preferred a slightly more measured approach. With 11 aid stations, 3min stops equate to over half an hour. In the end we came to some middle ground which worked well. We were also careful not to forgo water in this heat.
CP4 → CP6 (47.8 to 57.2km)
After a light bite of pasta and some flapjacks we hit the trail to do the island loop. The race stewards indicated we could get around in daylight/dusk and as it was a lot cooler we decided to see what we could do. Not 10 minutes out of HQ Sam dropped a bombshell. He would most likely drop out at CP6, he'd been feeling sick for the past 10-15km and he didn't think he'd be able to finish. I just told him to see how he felt and make up his mind when we get back to CP6 (Note from Sam: what Ian actually said was "Hahahah no expletive way are you dropping out", end of discussion). After another 10 minutes Sam dropped off to visit Mother Nature, I pressed on and he caught up with me a few minutes later. He mentioned he had a little vomit and felt a bit better - too much sugar and other junk. From that point forward Sam switched to water, he wasn't used to running with electrolytes. We hit CP5, grabbed a cheese and pickle sandwich (delicious) and he started to feel better.
Now that we had got over that little challenge we decided to crank the pace up a bit. We really hit our stride and caught up with one of the runners we raced with before the end of the first marathon, Jeff. We decided to run together for a little bit and Jeff was telling us this was his second ONER attempt having been timed out at CP8 last year. Midnight would also mark his birthday! As we ran past a few crags I had climbed in the past I mentioned the routes I did, we were really hitting our stride and making fantastic progress. We had slipped 15 minutes behind our original check point target, but we were catching up rapidly.
As we admired the high cliffs on our left we began to look for the sharp left turn that cuts back past the old prison and back into town. At this point I will mention we were using a mobile phone with the ONER GPX path loaded up. A mixture of GPS and the path allowed us to pretty much stay on track, but we also had the oner maps and a compass for emergencies. We hit the location of the turn, according to the GPS, but no turn was in sight. We ran on for a bit, thinking the GPS might be inaccurate, but no obvious turn materialised. We must have missed the left turning, but where was it? All we had seen for the last km or so was high cliffs. We started making our way back to the left turn and we collected 3 other lost runners. Though using GPS and the GPX file to navigate we hadn't bothered downloading the actual terrain or satellite maps. In a moment of clarity (we were about 8 hours into this thing), I flipped the phone to satellite mode. Everything became clear. The path we had been running along had been wrong for over a km, the correct path was atop the cliffs! The line from the GPX file was not fine enough as to distinguish the 15m difference in paths which effectively ran side-by-side. Two of the other runners made an attempt to scale the bush and find a direct path up the cliff but this didn't feel right. Tracing back a km or so, right next to the crags I had climbed, was the proper route up to the top. A snap decision was made - we would run the km or so back. I was very annoyed with myself for this massive diversion and waste of energy. We were now having to wear head torches and some of our enthusiasm had been dashed. The rest of this leg back to HQ was uneventful, we made one other error - not stopping at a chippy to pick up a burger or pizza - but we got back to HQ well within cut-off.
Over 40 minutes and an extra 2.2km had been run. Things were going to get tight. The only good news was Sam was feeling good. A quick pit stop, some soup, a change of shoes, 20mins or so and we were back on the road!
CP6 → CP7 (57.2 to 77km)
The next section was a pretty long 18km. I feel like this section is designed for a few reasons:
- Allow runners to bank some time before the hills. It's pretty flat
- Weed out those who would not make the night (it was already dark when we left CP6)
- Get through the city as quickly as possible
It was interesting to see some native English wildlife, the clubs and bars were busy but other than not super interesting. So far we had been using our running watch to do a total aggregate time and distance for the run and then work out our progress on each check point relative to the start of that check point. This started to break down for two reasons. The first is that the distances were all amuck with minor detours here and there and as such the course distance and the run distance were not quite the same. Secondly we were getting tired and calculating distances and average speeds became too much effort. This came to a head as CP7 took forever to arrive. From this point on we reset the watch between check points, allowing us to easily monitor our pace against our plan and the distances too.
CP7 → CP9 (77 to 98.2km)
It's 30 minutes past midnight and little do we know it, but the race is just about to begin. The following two checkpoints melded into a long arduous siege against mother nature. The rolling hills were too steep to run up and were too dangerous and steep to attempt to run down. This meant picking our way carefully up and down each unrelenting hill. As soon as we hit a flat we would hit the gas and start jogging, but as soon as you got going you hit another steep section. Highlights of this section included:
- Stopping at Durdle Door, turning our lights off and enjoying the epic view provided by the moon
- Hitting a long windy downhill and racing two other runners for ages
It was whilst racing the other two runners that we made a minor error and ran about 100m in the wrong direction. Running back and seeing them far-off in the distance (400m now) was quite disheartening. Due to tiredness of both parties Sam lost a little faith in my route finding skills so I made an extra effort to not error on the next up-and-down section. We were only a couple of km from the next aid station and not feeling too terrible. Whilst concentrating on the map I managed to put my left leg into a hole and twisted my ankle, ouch! Sam asked if I was okay, I replied; "I'm fine, this hill is not going to walk itself". I worried that I wouldn't be able to keep the pace up to meet the various CP cut-offs. As we neared the checkpoint I decided to keep this to myself and just see what happens.
As we pulled up to the check-point, we saw two other runners.
CP9 → CP10 (98.2 to 107.9kms)
The first thing that happened when we pulled up to the checkpoint was that my left ankle clicked back in position. Pain instantly gone, absolute relief.
The second thing was that we had a quick chat with the other two runners we had been leapfrogging for the last 2 checkpoints. The first was sitting on a chair at the checkpoint and looked like he wasn't having a great time. The checkpoint stewards were giving him a little pep talk, though we didn't catch the exchange. After chatting with the second runner about our little misadventure and him mentioning that he had run the course before, we decided to join up and run together. We were assured that the final two checkpoints and finish were flatter. In retrospect, less hilly may have been the right term, it was by no means flat.
The four of us set off on a mission to finish this thing. We hadn't come this far to not finish. The second runner, who introduced himself as Rory, warned us that there was a painful steep staircase straight off the bat. The first runner, Dave, kept mum and had his poles at the ready. We started up the stairs, each runner battling his own demons to make the climb. Dave was battling and his legs did not want to ascend the hills. After we reached the top of the staircase we looked back and Dave was no longer in view. Rory shouted down the hill but we heard no reply. We decided to press on. Sadly our expectation was that Dave's race was over, the cut-off times were now quite tight and would require a massive mental commitment to finish. We all hoped that we would see him at the finish, but acknowledged this was highly unlikely.
We had never met Rory before but he regaled us with his previous ONER attempt where a mistimed snooze cost him the finish, a reminder of how keeping up a good consistent time was imperative. The three of us worked like a machine pushing through the check-point. Rory had a slightly different running style to Sam and I but we made it work for 90% of the CP, he pulled away towards the end as we couldn't quite keep up, but met him again at CP10 for a bite to eat.
The ONER always has something up it's sleeve and is quite relentless with giving and then taking away. For example, we had got used to each check-point being about 12kms, after Rory pulled away we checked our time sheet and discovered this checkpoint to only be 9.6km long! We were only 500m away, the lighthouse! A few minutes later, after turning a corner, we found that between us and the end was a massive descent and then a painful staircase. A minute's silence and we begrudgingly made our way down-and-up.
CP10 → Finish (107.9 to 131.9km)
As we pulled away from the second to last check-point we started making a few calculations about getting to the end. After our detour earlier in the race, and the hills being a touch tougher than expected, our 21 hour time was blown. We had some confidence in finishing, but wanted a good buffer for the last check-point. We felt like we had pulled some time back from CP9 → CP10 but still needed a bit more time.
What followed was some of the most intense mental control where we pushed harder than ever before to crush this 11.1km section. We managed to catch-up and overtake around 10 runners and really upped the ante to make sure we would finish. The net result was hitting CP11 with over a 2.5 hour buffer to do 12.6km. After running for 21 hours non-stop, this seemed like enough to bring this home.
The last part of the run was a mix of strolling, running, and avoiding naked men on the beach. Given we had given ourselves around a 50% chance of finishing we were pretty chuffed. Running the bridge with everyone clapping and being handed the ONER medal a large relief swept over me.