Learning to Run Again.

I felt like I had recovered quite quickly from the Trail du Gypaete and was out running a few Samoensdays later. This whole experience is like a lifetime ambition for me. A lot of my life before running was spent road cycling and I was lucky enough to be able to bring my road bike. I have only been out on it a few times, and my cycling fitness is shocking but my childhood fantasy of riding up and down Alpine mountains on my doorstep is still alive. It’s just incredible that it has actually been sidelined by running! It is fantastic to slave away on a climb where there are hardly any other vehicles and the views are second to none!

I came to a realisation a little while after Gypaete. It was a very obvious fact, but as seems to be rather typical of me, I couldn’t see it initially. The realisation was this : The Alps are harder to run in than the UK. Yes of course I knew this before, but I hadn’t changed the way I ran at all. Two key factors had to change : my pacing and the way I ascended. Since I’ve been here I have exploded quite a few times when out on longer runs. I have a real low spot with no energy and a little queeziness. This is not normal for me. I rarely get stomach issues, and my pacing has been one of the strengths back in the UK, but out here I realised, things had to change if I wanted to progress. I had to have more faith in walking on the hills. It can be more efficient and as fast or even faster. This must be practised! My pacing though had to be completely reprogrammed. I just went too fast for my ability and the terrain. I am used to getting my pacing quite even and having something left near the end for a final push, but out here, I basically am fighting for the end. It breaks me.

I got messaged from Rorie McIntosh one day asking if I was entered into the Samoens Trail Tour race. I had noticed this race and thought it looked pretty hardcore and being fairly local made it quite attractive, but I just hadn’t got round to entering. Rorie had moved out to Samoens earlier in the year so he was definitely entering. How could I refuse!

Since moving to the alps I have begun choosing races like I used to choose wine. Strength and price for wine, whereas all the info I need for race selection is ascent in metres and distance. The Samoens Trail Tour race is 55km long with a punchy ascent of 4200m. Those stats would ensure that I would be walking plenty!

Since moving out here, I have been getting a little carried away with my running and have been neglecting my usual relatively high levels of rest. The week preceding the race I didn’t run once. My feet and muscles were happy to get a decent break, but it certainly is harder for me to rest when I am surrounded with these incredibly beautiful mountains and their endless trails.

I had to be up at 0330 to have a quick breakfast of greek yogurt with a healthy dose of Udo’s oil stirred in before dashing out the door. The drive took around an hour and a half which included 10 minutes of driving in circles in much confusion and building panic. Fortunately I realised my error and arrived at the start area. with around 20 minutes to go. A little rushing around speaking terrible French and hopeful English gained me my dossard (number). While pinning it on, I noticed Rorie with Kate. I walked over and said hi. We were soon interrupted by the race brief in French and before I knew what was being said we were off!Gypaete fog

Conditions were good for the start, being dry but there was some cloud looming over the higher ground so it could be chilly up on top. We begun with a swift flat run around the lake before following a winding road steadily upwards. Then we were on the single track in the trees. Rorie and I were chatting a little but I was too out of breath to speak much. Rorie seemed to be running effortlessly. We were now in single file through the narrow trails and I was occasionally putting in a little burst to get past someone. Once the path widened out and steepened, we were free to find our own place and not be stuck behind people. I now, without realising had created a small gap between myself and Rorie. I pushed on up the hill. The humidity was very high and everything I was wearing was soaked through already. This would not be great if it was chilly at the high points. The climb continued for 18km with a few hundred metres of level ground. It just kept on going up and up! Soon there was snow and finally I was in my own bubble in the cloud. I saw no-one in front or behind. Occasionally a volunteer would appear pointing me in the right direction with the encouraging “allez, allez”. As in my previous race, the marking was impeccable. Even with the snow cover and the very low visibility, it was easy to follow the route, with arrows sprayed on the snow and rocks and marker tape everywhere.

I was starting to cool down. my hands were feeling it and as I was working so hard I was still sweating quite a bit. My arms were also starting to chill. Were is the top? I knew that as soon as I started to descend the temperature would rise again. There was just no visibility so I couldn’t see the top. I reached a small col and headed left still climbing. Soon I gratefully spotted a happy French man signifying I was at the top and happy to be finally doing something other than climbing. It took a while before my legs regained some strength from the 18km monster climb, but I sure was enjoying it. Occasionally I would hear cow bells being rang too frantically for them to be around a cows neck. It would soon be revealed that it was some more super enthusiastic volunteers “Allex, allez”.

I was now back out of the clouds but it wasn’t too long before the trail headed back up again. Conditions were soft in places but were good really. In comparison to my experience at the Trail du Gypaete things were perfect! I knew there were a few more decent climbs left, so tried to hold back a little something to save myself from blowing again. I had been climbing for a little while when I realised that I was on the next big ascent. I carefully passed along a short ridge that was watched over by a member of the local mountain rescue. Sadly I was back in the clouds again so was missing out on what I can only imagine was a special view. The ridge seemed to carry on forever and it also got steeper and steeper. As I fought my way through the cloud with my heart feeling like it was going to pop out of my chest at any moment, I heard a voice behind. I stopped and turned. It was good to stop for a second and let my body recover a little. I saw nothing except the cloud so turned and kept climbing. My movements were slow and unsteady. I again needed the top soon before I blew. I stopped a couple more times for a few seconds to catch my breath on the climb, before at last completing it.

The descent was quite technical at points but I slowly gained a little strength after having almost everything sapped from me on the ferocious climb. There now was some lumpy terrain where I was temporarily reduced to a slow walk as I fed myself and waited for a little boost of energy to help me get to the finish. Two ladies shot past me at this point clearly in the race for first place female. I had to let them go as I focused on my own race which was slowly failing me. I tried to remain positive and have faith in the return of my energy. There was not too much further remaining, but I was hurting. Each little upward slope was really tough, but I pushed on. I stopped for a little while longer than normal at the next cp as I took on plenty of food and fluid, topping up my bladder also. Fuel was the only answer to this.

Soon enough I was happy to begin the long descent that would return me to Samoens. I was still exhausted, but my movements became more and more fluid as the downhill progressed. I overtook two runners and then a runner came flying past me. I knew that at one point that I was in 5th place but had lost track now. Maybe 8th? Who cares, as long as I finish ok I will be happy. I started to pass more and more chalets and was soon back in the town. I could see no-one ahead or behind so was  not pressured and just pushed as much as my tired body could take. I crossed the line and was informed I was 7th! Superb!

After an attempted interview on the pa system in French, which I of course couldn’t participate in, I was free to eat and drink. I was exhausted but felt my race was, although lacking in decent pacing, an improvement over my previous effort, so was happy. Rorie also had a good race coming in just 30 minutes behind. A good day for the Brits in the hills!

A week later I had a phone call to inform me that I had bagged third in my category so there would be a trophy in the post! Cool. My little trophy collection I had begun at home in England had all been put into storage so I was starting fresh.

Next on the agenda is a week later in my home town of Chamonix. I had entered the Vertical km and two days later the marathon, both of which are Skyrunning events meaning that there would be some of the greatest mountain runners there. No trophies there I think! This means a full week of no running again. A little frustrating, but it will be worth it I’m sure.

Happy running.

 

 

At home in the Alps.

I have been here in Argentiere for over two weeks now and already a poster in a sports shop had caught my eye. It was advertising the Trail de Gypaete. There are three distances, 28km, 42km and 72km with an extra category of relay 72km (teams of two). I had to try out the 72km as it had a beefy 4200m of ascent so would be a big test for me being the first race since the Likeys Beacons ultra back in November, but I don’t really count that as I was still in a real mess from Trans-Europe. I was quite nervous about it as I knew that it would be a painful affair, especially as my endurance is still pretty poor. I believe that the suffering is far easier to deal with if you have experienced any recently which I hadn’t!. I have pushed myself in the mountains recently, but nothing compares to the pain that is created in the race situation.

As you can imagine, I have been out running a few times since our arrival here. I can’t help but just want to run straight up the nearest mountain and then bomb back down. This is all incredibly exciting, but I was aware that I needed to go out for some longer stints to up the endurance a little, and because, well, going long is more my thing to be honest. I am sure that the occasional slog up the local mountain won’t be doing any harm though! I went out for a 5.5hr run one day with around 2000 metres of ascent and went around 30km. The distance covered here is roughly half what I’m used to covering back in the UK over the same time period. This is of course partly down to the amount of ascent, but at the moment, the snow is slowing me down lots because it is difficult to run in, but also because one minute you will be on the trail and the next the trail has disappeared. This followed by plenty of head scratching and back-tracking. Thankfully, this doesn’t irritate me in the slightest. In fact, I am finding it quite a lot of fun! Maybe it’s the novelty of it all. Either way, as much as I enjoy travelling fast on foot, it doesn’t seem to be a necessity for me to have fun. I just want to have the beauty and the excitement and there is plenty of that here.

So, as much as I am feeling quite fit and strong, my endurance, as previously mentioned, is a little to be desired. Things can only improve, especially as I am now exclusively running in the mountains. No flat, and barely any tarmac (none if I can help it). As the race got closer, so the weather forecast became more and more British. Plenty of rain was coming and it was supposed to be raining for the whole day. The course was also slightly modified as the trail was still impassable due to snow! So, not only was this going to be a tough day because of the hilly nature of it, but the conditions were looking to be epic. The photos on the race website looked incredible with large mountain views. I think I will not be getting this.

I drove down to Cluses the night before the race to register and decided to stay the night in town as the start was at 0500. It had been moved 30 minutes forward to give people a better chance of finishing due to the worsening conditions. It was raining when I awoke, and as I stood around in the sportshall I could hear it beating against the roof. I wasn’t bothered though. It was only a bit of rain. The briefing was in French, so I had no idea what was said, then shuffled out into the rain in the dark where we stood around waiting for the start. I had on my Petzl Nao headtorch, a cap to keep the rain out of my eyes, shorts, t-shirt with arm warmers and a windproof gilet. On my feet I had on my feet my now trusty Salomon Mantras. I didn’t think these would be ideal for the muddy conditions, but unbelievably I had nothing better! Blimey, I need more shoes.Gypaete

We were off. The first three km were along the river. The pace was pretty sharp as to be expected, but I was not biting. I was not here to race anyone other than myself. That would be challenge enough. I soon was running beside Anna Frost who was running the first 40 km as she was in the relay. Somewhere up ahead Kilian Jornet was running too. As soon as we were done with the flat section, we were immediately directed into the trees. Even at the bottom of the mountain the visibility was bad. There wouldn’t be any panoramic views today. Immediately things went from fast and flat to slow and very slippery. My shoes were struggling with this amount of thick mud. The trail was already a mess, so I felt for the guys at the back. The climb was beautiful as it wound its way up through the trees. It didn’t take too much time for me to resort to sticking my fingers into the gloopy mud to give me a little extra purchase on the steeper sections. There was going to be no staying clean today.

The initial climb was over 900 metres in ascent. This coupled with the mud equated to me being very tired as a downhill began. As much as I generally thrive with bad conditions, I heard a little voice in my head pleading for less mud. Soon I was cruising a slippery downhill, and suddenly burst out from the trees and into a field. The footing was off camber and it was still raining. I knew what was going to happen but was going too fast to avert it. My feet slid away from me and I hit the deck quite hard. It didn’t hurt me, but knocked the wind out of me a bit and I fell on my plastic cup (you have to carry one in most European trail races), shattering it. Bummer, I liked that cup for some reason. I got it when I did the vertical km in Morzine a couple of years ago. I was up and running again straight away. I had already forgotten the cup as I concentrated on staying upright.

I soon was off the trails and passing through a small village to the first cp. I stopped briefly and ate some dried fruit, grabbing a second handful as I lurched off. I was aware of how exhausted I was already. My pacing was going to be the deciding factor for the day. Also, I wanted to make sure that if I was going to have a bad section, that it was not caused by under-eating. There is nothing more irritating.

The rain continued to fall, and the underfoot conditions remained terrible. There was some improvement as we climbed higher again and were soon in the snow. As you will probably know though, snow isn’t exactly the easiest of things to run through either. The climbs were long and numerous and I was sliding around so much that I was red-lining almost all the time. I was also falling a lot. In-fact, I had kind of accepted the fact that I would probably be back on the deck within ten minutes of the previous fall. Although the day was turning into a total grind for me, and a little voice was begging for smooth, dry trail, the rather twisted side of me was revelling in the incredibly tough conditions. What a reintroduction to trail racing! As I fell in the mud again and again, I struggled to find a clean part of clothing to wipe my perpetually running nose on and was quite aware that I was probably just smearing mud all over my face in the process. I no longer cared. I now embraced the mud.

I was soon running through a small town towards what I knew was the next cp at 42 km. This was a major cp as the relay teams changed over here, plus the two shorter races began from here. I had beaten the start of the other races so there were lots of runners running up and down the road looking very bouncy and clean compared to my tired and bedraggled self. I pushed my way through the crowd of runners to get to the table to get some food. More fruit and some sausage was had, along with a nice sweet cup of French tea (weak with no milk). I ran off down the road, and soon I was alone again in the glorious mud. I had no idea how long it would be till the shorter races would start so kept looking behind for the clean lead runners to catch me up.

I was on a technical climb with some cables that were permanently fitted to aid climbing the harder sections, when I heard the first of the clean runners quickly approaching from behind. I was not even attempting to run up this section, but this chap managed to run past with relative ease. There was a short gap before two more guys sped past, and then a few more. One chap slid on some snow directly in front of me and his plastic cup popped out. I shouted out to him and pointed to it, but he looked at it, waved to me and continued. I had gained a nice new unshattered cup. Yes!

After the initial rush of 10 or so runners, it slowed down a bit. I was feeling pretty low on energy, but my moral was still high. I was surprised by the mud situation, but I wasn’t too surprised with my bad spell. I just need a few more big days in my legs and this will hopefully not happen so easily. It will pass though. I held onto that point and pushed on. On one descent I saw a photographer ahead. As I reached him, I realised that I was being directed off the trail down the side of the mountain. It was open with no trees and was super slippery. I could see why the photographer had positioned himself here. I probably spent more time on my backside on this 200-300 metre descent than on my feet. It was sort of fun, but I was glad to reach the bottom.

I have been to the Glastonbury festival a fair few times, and I have been there during some very muddy times wading around in what I thought was every mud you could possibly get, but this was something else! There was the wet stuff, the thick gloopy stuff that threatens to suck your shoe off with every stride, the stuff that makes ice look grippy and every variation in-between.

After trudging up a long hill into the cloud again, I stopped briefly at a cp for another sweet tea, Then it was back into the climb. The cloud around me got colder and colder and soon I was running through snow. My hands were cold as my gloves were soaked from the rain and constantly falling. I knew that I wouldn’t be up this high for too long though so it was fine. Within half an hour I was descending through the lush green countryside, warming up again quickly.

As I got closer to the finish, so my energy levels grew. I was now overtaking some of the runners in the shortest (28km?) event which certainly helped. I remembered that the finish was a massive descent down from the mountains back into Cluses. I descended as fast as my weary body and the mud allowed. It was great fun pushing myself here. I could see the town appear below me, and I watched as it quickly got closer and closer. I now was running strong on those reserves that always seem to be there no matter what happens. I overtook a few runners as I made my way through town and was soon directed into the finish area. My time was just below 10hrs 50mins. I had managed to finish in 18th place which I was actually quite chuffed with. There were 109 finishers all together. A fantastically tough but enjoyable day in the hills. The event was really well organised. I could shower at the end and have a meal which was better than what you’d get in some restaurants! The entire course was heavily marked making it impossible to get lost, and the amount of helpers was just incredible. All very Centurion Running like. Saying that, I think if they are all like this, which I get the impression they are, I may miss the races with navigation and less support, but I suppose I can still get that kick from doing big non-race runs.

My next race is the vertical km at the end of the month which should be a great experience. I also entered a race called the Ice Trail Tarentaise which is at Val D’Isere a couple of hours away. It is a short 65km but squeezes in over 5000 metres of ascent so should be a killer.

It has really warmed up here in the last couple of weeks, and the summer has certainly arrived with the river being very swollen because of the rapid melt that is taking place. It is an incredible thing to witness. Seeing the difference from day to day, as the rivers swell, the snow disappears and the new green shoots spring up everywhere is one of the most beautiful things I have ever been lucky enough to see.

I feel like I belong in the mountains. The feeling is stronger now that I am here too. I am so happy I had the courage to actually make the move. I just need to make it work now.

Happy running

 

 

Life changes

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Well, how things have changed since my last post. I am sat here in my apartment in Argentiere in the Chamonix valley. If the cloud cover would raise a bit then Mont Blanc would come into view. This morning I woke to the view of snowfall. My morning run straight up for 500 metres was at times in waist deep snow. Ok not really running, but fun non-the-less.

Lou was given the opportunity for a weeks work over the Easter period here in Argentiere, so of course jumped at it. While she was out here she decided to view a few apartments. One of them looked pretty good for the price. She sent me a few pictures of it and before we had much chance to think about it, we decided to take it. I had to hand in my notice at work and then there was the house and belongings to deal with. The plan was to drive over and stuff the car with everything we thought we needed to survive. Then the madness commenced!

Our place in Bristol was not massive, but was certainly not small, and being a bit of a hoarder, there was a lot of stuff to deal with. We had some storage available with the family, but there was an awful lot left. Much was sold, taken to a charity shop or sadly taken to the dump. It was emotionally quite difficult but strangely liberating. It was made easier with the knowledge that I was soon going to be living in a valley surrounded by the most dramatic mountains in Western Europe. I would never have to run on the flat again!

Finally we were ready, well, sort of, for the off. The car was as stuffed as could be with two bikes hanging off the back. The journey went smoothly with us turning up only thirty minutes late for our appointment with the lady from the estate agent, who was giving us the keys. The weather was overcast and wet so even though the views were good, I was not seeing the mountain tops. The grand unveiling was delayed.

My first morning I woke after a very deep sleep to a cloudy view out of the window again. I had already looked at the maps back in Bristol to get an idea of which way to head on arrival for the trails. I headed towards the out of use Grand Montets ski lifts and headed up the slope. After some amazing running through the trees,P1020645 I came out onto the ski slope so just decided to head up it. There were enough breaks in the clouds to give me some stupendous views of the surrounding mountains and gorges. Wow! Although the slope wasn’t super steep, the going was pretty hard. The higher I got the rain turned into snowflakes and the icy snow was getting more powder like. Soon the snow was reaching up to my knees as my feet squeaked through the new layer. I had said that I would be an hour, so at 38 minutes, I turned and begun the exhilarating descent back down, sliding in the soft snow. I arrived back at the apartment buzzing.This is what I came for.

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marmot tracks

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Snowdrifts still over my head at the end of May!

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My ibex at the top of the vertical km

I have been out all except today for a run as I want to be careful and not overdo things which would be so easy. The trails are everything I could dream of and I have barely scratched the surface. There is so much exploring to be done. We have also had some nicer weather which had Monty in full view looking as spectacular as ever. The next morning we woke to the contrast of an inch or so of snow in the valley and still snowing. That mornings run was more a trek through knee deep snow once I had climbed 200 metres or so. Just amazing. This to me is what trail running is all about. I have entered the Chamonix vertical km at the end of June. For those who are not familiar with this race format, it is a race that has 1000 metres of ascent and usually all squeezed into a very short distance. The Chamonix race is 3.5km short, so as you can calculate is a very steep race I managed to give it a go a few days ago. It is an incredible climb that zig zags its way up under the chair lift. It was completed in 36 minutes last year which defies belief when you are on it and have resorted to a walk as running has become either impossible or pointless as it is slower than a good walk. At the top there is some simple scrambling which breaks up the max effort a little. When I arrived at the top, puffing and panting, it was snowing and I was stepping into a few fresh inches. There was some old drifts that were over head height and as I stopped and gazed around I spotted a Ibex on the rocks nearby staring at me. I whipped my camera out and slowly walked towards it. It didn’t seem bothered at all with my presence and let me get within 20 metres where I could get a picture. I turned and dashed back down the km. On the subject of nature, I have also been really happy to spot some marmots. The first time was when I reached a chairlift at 1800m and all that could be heard was the piercing warning cry from one. I quickly spotted one, the two and then realised there were around 5 looking at me from around 150 metres away. As I approached them they soon dived into there burrow. The next time I seemed to catch one unawares as I got within about 5-10 metres of it.

While nosing around in a shop I picked up a flyer for a race called the Trail Du Gypaete which is quite close by. It has a 71km category with nearly 5000 metres of ascent and descent. I may have to enter! So other than the lifetimes worth of trails to run, there are plenty of races to keep me busy. I suppose I had better get myself a job soon to pay for this new life!P1020674

Staying Positive in the Snow

If I am honest, I have to admit that I am getting a little frustrated with the length of time that it is taking to be back running properly. By properly, I mean being able to go out numerous times a week and being able to run at least 20 miles with not too much bother. Maybe I am asking too much of my body after Trans-Europe, maybe I am being too cautious with the ramping up of training? Either way, it is taking a long time! I have been very patient and determined not to get carried away and injure myself, but I am really missing not being able to run 80km without a second thought. Maybe I took it all for granted? Either way I now certainly appreciate the level of fitness I had over most of last year.

I keep telling myself just how much good this forced rest has done me and how I will just grow from it physically and spiritually. It’s not been all boring rest for me this year so far though. At the start of the year we popped out to stay with friends in Argentiere near Chamonix. I have been here twice before, but that was many years ago for a family holiday during the summer, camping. I have very fond memories of these holidays and will always remember when we first started passing the mountains (Dad drove from home all the way down) and being completely in awe of the majesty, beauty and incredible scale. I would say that this is where my love of the mountains first sprouted. I loved the fact that wherever you were in Chamonix you could look up and there would be a mind-blowing mountain vista. I then knew that I wanted to travel through and over these beasts.

Our stay was for a week and there was a few things I wanted to do. We went snowboarding which was fun. We also did two days of Nordic Skiing which was fantastic. I had never skied before so to step into a pair of these skinny little skies without your heel attached and with pretty poor edges made for some, let’s say, exciting downhill sections! I learnt how to snowplow very quickly! I was slow due to fitness and lack of technique, but I loved it. I much preferred to be away from the masses on the pistes cuing up to get on a lift! I also couldn’t go too hard because of my recovering body. While we were there it just so happened that Kilian Jornet was attending a premier of his new film at the cinema and answered some interesting questions after! An awesome week. I need to try downhill skiing now!

A few weeks later we were off to stay with friends in Oslo. I must add, that this amount of holidays is far from normal for me, and I can’t really afford it, but opportunities arose and the heavens aligned! Oslo is a beautiful city, which is as I’m sure you all are aware, very expensive. It is also around half an hour from the slopes and hundreds of miles of Nordic Skiing tracks! I of course had to try downhill, and thankfully after my experience on Nordic Skis, the masses of added control made my first go, ok. It was awesome and already I was a little sad that after Oslo, I wouldn’t have the opportunity to ski again till the next winter. What I really want to do is to have the experience and skill to be able to have a go at ski touring. To travel through the mountains.

Back to running. Well, I am managing to get out now, and everything feels great, except for the usual starting back up calf pain. They will get used to it! I will pop out tonight, but it won’t be for long. I mean around one hour.

I do have one other holiday booked up, well a course actually. In a couple of weeks I will be in Scotland attending a Winter Mountaineering course! I am really buzzing about this. Ever since the family holidays in Chamonix, and being spellbound by the mountains, I have dreamt of mountaineering. For some reason, I have subconsciously told myself that this is inaccessible for me and I haven’t really considered trying it out. Revisiting Chamonix relit this ambition of mine and soon I found myself booking myself onto a five day course. With good conditions this will include some simple ice climbing! There is the possibility that I won’t enjoy it, but I have to give it a go. It just feels like the right thing to do.

Everything I am doing lately seems to be inadvertently geared towards travelling through the mountains safely and efficiently during all seasons. All sparked from my childhood. A beautiful realisation for me. I’m not sure why it has taken over 20 years to get here, but at least it wasn’t 50!

On the future racing front I have some news. Firstly, the bad. I recently discovered that I wasn’t successful in the draw for the race I was most excited about this year, the Tor des Geant. This is a real bummer, but fortunately I was successful in the Ultra Trail Mont Blanc so that kind of balanced that out nicely! I have already mentioned the fact that I will be participating in the incredibly exciting Frostskade 500 in Northern Scandinavia at the beginning of next year. Well, I have also got a place in the 3rd, and already seen as epic, Spine Race held just two weeks previous. That is 268 winter miles followed shortly by 500 Arctic miles! I am not sure if this can be classed as sensible, but it will certainly be  an adventure!.

Happy running.

The quiet before the storm…

It’s been a little while since my last post. Running-wise not a lot has happened really. In fact, I believe I said I was going to do a 50 mile run on the Green Man course around Bristol. I did make it out as planned, leaving the house a few hours before dawn. When I arrived at Ashton Court at the stone Green Man it was still dark. It had rained plenty over the previous week and the temperature wasn’t too bad. Knowing the route pretty well, I knew that there would be a few points that would be very muddy. More tests for the ankle I thought.

As soon as my Ambit had found the satellites, I slid off into the dark towards the deer enclosure. Once out of Ashton Court I begun to climb Dundry. So far, I have got a little confused at this section every single time and this was no exception. What an idiot I thought. I kept my calm and soon enough I was back on familiar ground. I made a mental note to return one day to this section to recce it in the daylight seeing as I had only ever run it in the dark!

The climb up to Dundry is the longest of the whole route and is also very wet and muddy in sections so had me walking. Already things were rather laboured, but I persisted believing that I just needed to warm up some more.

Usually I am gifted the most wonderful sunrise as I come to the top of Dundry. In fact, part of the reason for my stupidly early start is to catch the sunrise at this excellent highpoint. Today was just a grey day. No inspiring colours changing as you watch, just a dramatic stormy looking sky looming over the city scape below me.

Things were not improving, and my feet were way too painful for this early stage of the run. Was I being sensible here? The beauty of this route is that it circles Bristol, and I live roughly in the centre of it, so I’m never more than 10 miles from home. Easy to bale!

I pushed on and pushed the pain and lack of energy to the back of my mind. It was good to be out on the trails and I was really enjoying myself, despite the poor performance. After about four hours I was getting the idea of stopping early. I hate to do this, but I must be sensible. This is just a run for fun, not a target or a particular challenge. There was no need to bury myself and hurt myself? Once the thoughts had entered my mind, I decided that once I got through Bradley Stoke and reach the A38, instead of crossing over and continuing the Green Man, I would take advantage of the main road and follow it in a fairly direct route home.

Reaching that point became harder and harder. My body was broken. It all seemed very familiar? Then I remembered. When I first started running, I had overtrained and put myself completely out of training for two months. I didn’t like the conclusion, but it was definitely the answer as far as I was concerned. Trans-Europe had just been a major exercise in overtraining. I had worked very hard every day for anything between 3 and 9 hours for 64 days. I am not a stage runner, so my body is not really prepared for such abuse. I needed more rest.

The rest of the run was a death march home with the not great thought that I had to rest fully for an indefinite period. It still ended up being 70km though!

I haven’t run since. I have been riding my bike to work as normal, but not really done anything else, other than try to eat well, sleep well and not enter too many races or buy hundreds of pairs of trainers!

So how has it been not being able to do the thing I love? I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t frustrating, but overall things have been fine. Because of my past experience, and knowledge that the rest would definitely fix it if not rushed, I’ve felt very calm. I have big plans in the future, and to have any chance of achieving these goals, I need to really look after myself. I could have easily kept running through it. It would have hurt, and really been quite negative, and by now, I would have been so deep in that it would more than likely wipe the year out. So really, I am grateful for the fact that I spotted this early enough and acted on it. In a previous life, I know I would have pushed through. My running has matured maybe?

Just before Christmas, I decided that with this quiet spell I should get my feet looked at to see if someone can work out why they hurt so much. I looked around a bit and decided on Profeet in London. I had an appointment with Richard Felton who is @ukrunrambles on Twitter. He is an ultrarunner and an expert in running biomechanics so a good choice I thought. The service was excellent and really fascinating. I found the pressure mat analysis particularly interesting. I learnt that both of my first metatarsals have ‘dropped’, putting extra pressure on them and possibly causing the pain. Richard then kitted me out with some custom insoles which were ready to use by the time I had popped out for lunch. I couldn’t wait to run in them!

So at the moment I am very excited about the future. There are so many things I want to do. Each year that comes seems to bring very different challenges than the previous years. I am not sure where all this is heading, but I am definitely moving more towards the adventure side of things. I would love to get involved in some sort of expedition.

Booked races :

Ultra Trail South West

The Ring

UTMB

Races I plan to enter (though may not if it’s a lottery) :

Tor Des Geants

Frostskade 500

A secret?????

So, nothing under 100 miles. All single stage, even if they are up to 500 miles! And yes, the inclusion of an arctic race. The Arctic has always fascinated with it’s harsh beauty.Previously I have shunned it because of my hands that suffer in the cold. I believe with the correct equipment and good drills, then all will be fine. This is a dream challenge as far as races go and I know that it is multi dimensional compared to Trans-Europe. The cold, the snow, darkness, dragging a pulk, and generally being right out there in the wild, will make it possibly a bigger scarier challenge. Perfect!

So after all this time off, I have slowly felt pains and niggles I have had for years slowly fade away. Even the Achilles feel good. Smooth with no lumps what-so-ever! Yesterday, I decided that I was ready to try things out. I went out for a 20 minute run. It was very leisurely indeed, but things felt ok. I felt ok today to and wanted to run again tonight but felt that I have waited this long, so I should really get it right. No rush. So tomorrow I will go again. I was ridiculously excited about it and as I ran down my road yesterday I had the biggest most insane looking grin across my face. It’s good to be running again and I am really excited with the prospect of starting from fresh again. Hopefully the experience I have picked up over the previous seven years will aid me to getting some decent level of fitness in a relatively short amount of time without getting injuries. The challenge excites me.

Well that’s me for now. I just thought I should let you know what’s been happening in my non-running life.

Happy running (or resting)

A Painful Re-introduction to Ultrarunning!

Since my last post, I have run in two very different races. The first of these you know about, the Beacons Ultra. I was a little nervous about this one as it would be my first bit of proper off-roading since I wrecked my ankle during the UTSW. I remember from last year when I ran it that the footing is pretty technical for a few miles which I really enjoyed. This time I would be very cautious. I couldn’t afford to be trashing my ankle again. This was a test for it and some all important exercise. I’m sure that most therapists would not approve of my strengthening techniques, and I understood the risks, but it felt like the best method to me.

The Beacons Ultra is an end of season race and is a bit of a social including the infamous pub quiz late in the evening after the last runner has finished. I couldn’t make the quiz last year as I travelled back straight after the race. This time I was getting a lift with Sam Robson on the Friday after work. He picked me up from Gloucester train station. The weather was mild and dry, but during the journey it began to rain, and by the time we arrived in Talybont to register it was torrential. There was a huge amount of surface water on the roads so the going would be pretty boggy the next day. Now, I would normally thrive in such conditions, but I was a little concerned with the slipping and sliding around that would be happening the next day. My ankle really would be getting tested in extreme conditions. Was I making a wise decision to run? I decided to have faith in my thought out reasoning and not listen to this panicy reaction.

We checked into the youth hostel up the road with a third runner, Richard who was running his first ultra and was sharing the room with us. Then it was back into the village to eat in the pub. We met up with Jules here too while I ate loads and had a pint of ale while we talked about all things running. It was then back to the youth hostel to prep and sleep.

It rained a lot during the night but when we awoke, it had stopped. There was a bit of a chill but I decided to wear just my X-Bionic Fennec shirt with arm warmers and shorts. I remembered from the previous year that a few of the runners who had achieved some fantastic things over the year got a mention from Martin Like during the race brief. I knew that Martin and Sue had been following my journey across Europe and had sent some very positive messages while I was doing it, so was expecting a mention. Martin did mention it, and I got a round of applause from the rest of the runners which was very nice. It’s really rewarding when people show their appreciation for your efforts, especially when they are all ultra runners.

I pulled on my thin gloves as we walked to the canal where the start was, though didn’t expect them to stay on long once we began. I would normally go near to the front at the start, but wasn’t too sure what to do today. I wasn’t here to race and with my general weakness, post TE and my dodgy ankle I decided to place myself in the centre of the pack.

We were off! There was 5km down the canal before we turned off and started to climb. The pace at the front was predictably fast, which for a minute or two was difficult to watch, but sense took charge and I slid into a comfortable pace as the front runners disappeared out of sight. The canal was long but I was grateful for the easy start for my ankle before the more challenging terrain. Finally though I was directed off and straight into the rather long climb. I was really happy to be back out on the trails and the fact that is was wet and muddy just added to the fun. My fitness and strength felt very low though and I was soon puffing and panting and feeling the strain. I still had the mindset pre UTSW. The problem was that the body had been broken down slowly over the 64 days of TE. Today was a day where I would have fun, not take any risks, and hopefully make it through the without suffering any further damage to my ankle. I caught up with Jules as I power walked up the hill. We chatted a bit before I continued ahead. I said I’d see him again on the descent. Sure enough he caught me up on the downhill as he was getting irritated with the poor grip on his shoes. We stayed together for 10 minutes or so and once onto the fire track through the woods, which seems to last forever, a few runners ended up clumping together till there were around 6 of us. I felt as though the pace was a little out of my comfort zone so let the peloton continue without me. Today was not going to be easy by anyones standards.

I eventually made it out of the woods and after the little bit of road was back on the trail. Then it was the long but easily runnable climb up to the gap which is the highest point of the route. I found a nice steady pace and slowly made my way up. As I got to the top I realised that the next section was a fairly long and technical, rocky descent. Last year I enjoyed this part, but this year was going to be a different story with my ankle. As I went over the top I felt myself go rigid. I focused on staying loose and making very careful foot placements. My speed was stupidly slow, but as many runners glided smoothly past I told myself that this was not a race for me. I was here for the fun and the testing and exercise of the ankle… oh, and the social that night.

I awkwardly made my way down the everlasting and awkward descent. I must admit that I didn’t enjoy it too much and I was happy to finish with it. Well for the first lap anyway! There was a huge amount of relief too. I was very happy that my ankle could take such testing terrain though. I wouldn’t celebrate just yet though as I still had around 30 miles left! That is if I decide to do the second lap. Another reason why I wanted to do this race was that I could easily drop out at the half way point should my ankle be bad.

After the worst/best of the downhill, the weather was ideal for running and we even saw a little sun. I kept on plodding around. Unless something happened along the remaining relatively non-technical part of the first lap I would continue for a second. After a struggle on the road for a couple of miles it was back onto the canal for 8km. This was really testing. I felt exhausted and my quads were really sore. I was going to pay for this for at least a week! The good news was that my knees were absolutely fine. My feet on the other hand were very sore. I wish I could improve this issue.  I passed the half way point cp, topped up a bottle and grabbed a couple gels before continuing. I felt good with the fact I was beginning a second lap.

The second lap was a fairly solitary affair which was nice as it let me slip into a slow and manageable pace that would get me to the end. I was looking forward to finishing a hopefully uneventful race, getting showered and putting on some warm clothes but I wouldn’t be happy till I crossed that line. It was a real struggle the second lap, but there was something different about it. The first lap was confusing to pace. My normal pace was non-sustainable due to my state so after much hard work, by the time I was on the second lap, I was confident that I had found the ‘correct’ pace for the day. It was slow, but I had no doubt that it would carry me to the end. I had a 30 second walk on the woodland trail and also on the steady climb up to the gap and probably a few more I have forgotten about. The downhill was really tough on the second lap as my feet were really sore. I again watched people seemingly effortlessly glide past me.

I had a few slight twists of both ankles, but they were both fine. I finally got to the bottom of all the technical stuff and let myself begin to feel some relief that the ankle had held up ok. The remaining section was pretty much all fields and road finishing off on the canal of course. I now fought off the urge to walk and kept up the pace as consistently as possible. I was guessing my position to be in the thirties. When I finished for the day I was exhausted but elated to still be in one piece.

During the prize-giving which I was of course well out of (I was told I had come 17th which I was chuffed about!), Martin called me up and presented me with a very generous gift token to his shop. I was gob-smacked. I so love the friendliness and the camaraderie of the ultra scene. Everyone wants everyone to succeed and will help them do that if possible. There is a huge mutual respect amongst us all. We know how much you have to go through to achieve in this sport.

The rest of the day was spent eating and drinking ale in the pub. The quiz finally began at around 11 and was great fun even though I was half asleep. I don’t like to repeat races unless there is a reason, but I can see myself doing this for a third time as it is just such a good laugh and a finish for the season (if such a thing really exists!)

The days after this were like the old days when I started this game. I was as stiff as a board! My legs were incredibly tender and my feet were agony. Trans-Europe seems to have built my fitness up to a point before my body seems to have deteriorated damaging my muscles as I couldn’t take on enough energy. It stripped me raw mentally and physically.

The following weekend was the first gathering of the 9Bar athletes. We all stayed at a hotel on the Saturday night and had a really nice evening having a slap up meal before returning to the bar to have a few more ales. The next morning we were all booked into a race called the mucky races. It is basically a 10km cross country route. The difference being that you are directed through some very deep puddles/pools and mud. I was still a little stiff form the Beacons but couldn’t resist it once I was there. I really enjoyed the race getting ridiculously muddy but somehow managing to come 8th out of over 400 (I think). Robbie Britton showed us his raw speed by coming 2nd by a fraction of time. A great weekend!

It is now 8 days later. I haven’t run since as my foot has been sore. I will probably rest it all this week as well though I am considering a Green Man at the end of the week!

I have also got a few possible opportunities that have arisen over the last month or so. I can’t divulge what they are yet, but if they do happen I will let you know. It’s very exciting though!

Happy running!

 

Scott Jurek book competition

I have recently been sent Scott Jureks book, Eat & Run to review which you can find here. Scott is sponsored by Udo’s Oil as am I. I was contacted by them the other day asking if I wanted three signed copies of the book to give away on my site. How awesome is that! Udo’s weren’t even aware that Bloomsbury had sent me a copy to review! Beautiful.

Just for a bit of fun I’ve decided that I will ask one simple question and I will draw the three lucky ones out of a hat.

So here it is :

What year did Scott first win the Western States?

Email your answer to neil@ultrarunninglife.com

I will do the draw on the 3rd December 2012

Good luck!

Post Trans-Europe thoughts and plans for next year.

Well, it has been over three weeks since I arrived in Gibraltar and a couple days ago it was my Birthday, so I couldn’t resist going out for my first run. I just popped down to the local park and did a couple laps. It all felt a little rusty at first, but soon things begun to loosen up and I was having fun. It was only 5.5km, and I wanted to carry on, but was aware that I would be sore the next few days. I am a little nervous about taking my injured ankle off road, though feel that it needs it a bit to strengthen it up. I will pop out again tomorrow after work and maybe go a little further. Martin Like from Likeys, the ace running/outdoor shop has offered me a place in the equally ace Beacons Ultra this weekend. I ran this last year and thoroughly enjoyed it. I really want to go but money is very tight. It would be a fun race to gauge what state I’m in. It is also two laps so if things aren’t great I could always bale half way. It is a beautiful course which would be a pleasure to run again, especially as I wouldn’t be racing at all. I will check out transport prices tonight.

So how has it been adjusting back to ‘real life’? Well, I won’t mention work, but everything else seems to be fine really. The longer the experience is left to bake in my mind, the bigger it becomes. It is without a doubt, the most incredible experience in my life. The length of it means that there are a huge amount of memories that regularly pop into my mind and make me smile. There is no forgetting this one! I have still to read through my blog too which I really look forward to. I am also honoured that I am in a poll for the Ultra Running Performance of the Year in the UK. There are some great performances in the poll which makes me doubt my place as I just feel like all I have done is wake up and run for 64 days, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t chuffed.

Everyone I have spoken to about TE asks “what next?”. Well to be honest, I’m not sure. What seems like a natural next step to me is to do a self-organised ‘long’ run. Maybe you could call it an expedition? There are countless trails around the world that I would love to do. Note the key word, trail. I’m sure I have probably said this before, but I will say it again – I belong on the trail, not the road. The only reason I will run on the road is for something special, i.e. JOGLE, Spartathlon and TE. If I do plan my own ‘expedition’, then it will be off-road.

So other than the next big thing, what races am I planning/considering? I have entered the Thames Ring. This is the third time it’s been held and I am really happy that I have finally got around to it. It is a single stage 250 mile race encircling London. You have 100 hours to complete it. This interests me as it is beyond the grasp of a single run with no sleeps. I will be forced to sleep at some point during the event, probably on the floor next to the trail with my alarm set for 20 minutes or so. When will I take this break? As usual, I will try to listen to my body and rest when I can no longer stay upright and am concerned that I may fall into the canal.

I have also entered the Endurancelife Ultra Trail South West again after my disaster attempt this year. The route will be different, not sticking to the coast path for its entirety, which will break it up nicely, making it easier mentally. I like the idea of the route being different, but am a little sad that I won’t be racing the original route. I did say immediately after the disaster that I would plan to run the route alone as a big day out. I will have to see if I can find a suitable gap for it.

Possibly the main race for me next year is the Tor Des Geants in the Alps. It doesn’t open for entries till around Easter time and the problem is that the website is apparently a bit clunky, so it is difficult to get entered, so fingers crossed! It is a 200 mile monster with 24,000 metres of ascent. This will be more of a trek I think! It certainly seems to be at the top of my ‘must do’ list though seeing as it is a good length and is in the high mountains. All the ingredients of a great adventure I think!

That is all the definite things I have planned, but I am thinking of getting up to the Lakes a few times to at least do some recceing of the Bob Graham Round. This is a set challenge that can be done anytime, but you need a witness to see you around so cannot be done solo if you want to be in the ‘club’, which I do. There are a few ways to do this. At one end you have the ‘armchair ride’, meaning that you have a team that can guide you around the whole route and carry your kit so you can travel faster. The other end of the scale is to learn the route as best as possible by doing numerous recces, so that on the day, you will do all your own navigation and you carry all your own kit. I am swaying towards the latter though it would be fun to do the armchair ride one day too. I feel like I should ‘earn’ my armchair ride though.

So, in the time it has taken me to write this, I have managed to scrounge a lift with someone to the Brecons this weekend. I popped out for a forty minute run last night and things weren’t too bad. My ankle makes a loud clicking noise which is a little disconcerting, but I’m sure I will get used to it! My aim for the race is to be safe and nothing more. I have just run across a continent so my ankle is obviously not too bad, but I need to get it off road to hopefully toughen it up. I remember the route from last year and there are some technical sections which I may have to walk on. There will be a fair few people I know there too so will be a bit of a social. I will also be attending the infamous pub quiz after to embarrass my self.

Here’s hoping that my ankle behaves itself and lets me enjoy the Welsh countryside.

The Finish – San Pablo de Buceite to La Linea 48km

I will always remember the great feeling of the excitement bubbling away last night. Everyone was in a great mood. Dinner was actually pretty good, and no-one complained about the long walk to get to the restaurant. No-one cared that the service was slow. Who cares if we didn’t get much sleep tonight? One little day.

It was very cold in the gym last night. I slept till around 1130 then needed the loo. After that I didn’t really sleep. My mind was active (unusual). As we left in the morning, People were singing and whooping. We were done. This was a day to appreciate our achievement. My body was in its now normal battered state but things were different. This alone is proof of the positive mind being the most powerful physical tool. I felt strong. I felt I could push hard, but not today.

Yesterday, we lost sight of Gibraltar as we came down off the mountains and lost height. I was very excited to see it again and was eagerly scanning the skyline as we ran. Fred and I ran together again. We should finish this thing together. We have become quite close over the many hours on the road together. We are also the two youngest in the race.

Gibraltar doesn’t come into view until we are at the final cp with only 6.6km left. It is a glorious sight. Maybe one of the most incredibly beautiful sights of my life, not so much for its looks, but because of the many hours spent toiling, the many times that I was convinced that this was not possible for me and the much doubt about myself. We are now running along the seafront and I am buzzing. Fred and I have caught up with Fabrice. Fabrice had to pull out of the 2009 TE on day 56 because he badly cut his finger lifting his case, so I know this is seriously big for him too.

We then hear a whistle. There is the rickety old finish that has served us well for the last 63 days. I get handed a Union flag and my good friend Yoshi is there offering me his pointy hat which is apparently called a kaso. I take my cap off and proudly put it on and with the flag flying behind me, the three of us finish together. I go immediately to Lou and we hug. I cry like a baby with happiness. I have finished.

I have showered and had the pleasure of not having to handwash my running kit for the first time in 64 days. Tonight we have a dinner in the hotel where awards get dished out. This will be nice as everyone will be so happy and relaxed with nothing to do tomorrow. I am looking forward to having an explore of the rock as it looks amazing, and I really hope to see the cheeky monkeys.

I will sign off now. Maybe I will write again with some afterthoughts once it’s all had a chance to settle in.

Before I forget, I must thank everyone of you that messaged me somehow or another with your lovely positive comments. I drew so much from them that certainly helped a great deal during the harder times (all?). I would check my phone obsessively in the evenings. You all helped me get to this spot right now, so a sincere thank you to you all.