Trails In Motion Film Tour

So, having looked at the dates for the Trails In Motion Film Tour, there was nothing near to Shropshire, which just so happens to be the centre of my cosmos, so I looked into hosting a screening myself.

It turns out it doesn’t actually appear that hard to do, and everything is now in place other than ‘bums on seats’.

The screening is Friday 21st August 2015 at Stop Coffee Shop, Shrewsbury Museum, and tickets and info are available here:

goo.gl/HqAhkT

See you there, amigos.

Third Time Lucky

The Longmynd Hike, October 4th 2014; a local 50 mile event that traverses most of the South Shropshire Hills has been on my radar for 3 years. Entries fill up super quick and  I missed the mark the last 2 years. This year however, I was sitting at the computer, debit card in hand well in advance of the entries opening to secure my entry.

Having trained on most of the hills over the last few years, there were only a few sections I needed to recce prior to the event, to have total knowledge of the route; it is an unmarked, navigational course with several checkpoints to hit. One of the peculiarities of the event is that when it gets dark, you get held at a checkpoint until other runners/hikers come in and you have to stay grouped through the hours of darkness. If you are pushing for a competitive finish, this means you have to push hard from the beginning, as the race is effectively over once you are grouped as long as you don’t get passed. If you are made to wait at a checkpoint, you get the waiting time back at the finish.

Having completed the CCC 5 weeks prior, I felt fairly invincible and was happy to see what would happen if I cranked it from the start. From the start of the race (a farmer shouting “Go” as we were standing in a field), the front runners belted off at 10k pace, and I wasn’t planning on getting log jammed in the first few gates and stiles, so I tagged along. Up until the summit of Caer Caradoc, the first climb, I had the lead group in sight, but they soon disappeared ahead. I calculated that I was in the top ten and wondered how long this would last. The event does have plenty of hikers, so purists can argue that it’s not a true challenge, but trust me, there are plenty of people running at a strong pace, the results reflect this.

On the second climb, a turnaround, I had a view of the lead runners who were still not too far ahead, but twisting my ankle on the summit made me swear and slow down a little. After running it off, I got passed by two people on the long climb up to Pole Bank, but I reeled one back in and passed him again. I never saw him again. The weather was clear, cool and dry, almost perfect conditions for the time of year and the summits afforded fantastic views of the glorious Shropshire Hills.

As I descended to Bridges, I caught up to the other guy who overtook me, and I flew through the checkpoint almost missing it. The other guy, Paul caught up to me on the long grind up to Stiperstones and we forged an alliance that lasted the rest of the day. Paul was the epitome of positivity and pulled me through several low points, cheers Paul!

Stiperstones from a training run a week prior to the event.

For those of you that know Stiperstones, you will know it looks like some deranged heather and rock landscape up top and is impossible to go fast over without twisting or rolling an ankle. This is where I tweaked my ankle for the second time and for a minute or two seriously considered the reality of dropping out, the pain was excruciating. Figuring I had to at least walk myself off the hill to the checkpoint, I started, and soon found I was okay to run on it. Mini crisis aborted!

Paul and I chatted and ran, I was stronger on the descents, and he was stronger on the ups, but all in all we stuck together other than a difference in route choice through Eastridge, which turned out that we popped out at the other end at the same time anyway. Destiny.

As we pushed through the Shelve checkpoint as the light started to fade, with the intention of getting to Woodgate Farm to be grouped we found ourselves climbing Corndon as darkness fell. As we rolled into Woodgate, my good friend Greg was there waiting to be grouped; for me, it was a perfect group, Paul, Mr Positive, and Greg, Mr Speedy (and first hand knowledge of the route having finished 3rd last year). Jacket, buff, gloves and headtorch donned, we trotted out back into deepest darkest Shropshire from the Welsh border.

I was consumed by the circle of light from my headtorch for the rest of the event, trying to block out the soreness, and keep up with Paul and Greg, it went by in a blur, with  notable exception of the last climb, The Ragleth. Totally brutal with 48 miles in your legs, but as we crested it, the lights of Church Stretton beckoned us forward and it wasn’t long before we cruised into the finish.

Paul and I came joint 9th with a time of 9h48m, and Greg finished 8th, having his waiting time given back to him.

Top ten? I managed to hang on, with encouragement from Paul and Greg. Now I feel satisfied that I finally scratched the itch which is the local ultra.

Bonjour Les Montagnes

I have been home nearly a week now from my trip to Chamonix and my completion of the CCC. My elation at completing the event has been wrestling with my despondency for the brutality of the course and although I know I have achieved something I will forever look back on as a valid achievement, it is the first race I have done where I have said ‘never again’ and that sentiment hasn’t faded in the following hours/days.

(If you don’t want to read my ramblings I will summarise here: Went somewhere awesome. Ran a brutal event. Finished it. Came home with blisters. Should you have a spare hour, read on).

The view from our room. Mont Blanc.

The view from our room. Mont Blanc.

Where shall I start? Chamonix. What a mesmerizingly beautiful location. Surrounded by mountains, filled with Alpine lodges and a really exciting buzz about the town as the UTMB fever had taken hold, Greg and I landed and were expertly whisked to our accommodation; The Runners Refuge, a fantastic chalet run by and for runners, and therefore was alive with the anticipation and trepidation of the forthcoming weekend. Also present were Radek, a Polish guy also running the CCC, David, a Peak District runner who was to conquer the mighty UTMB in impressive time and a Honeymooning American couple who were also here to enjoy the full UTMB. The chalet was run by Chris and Carl, a great couple and the fact that Chris was also running the CCC helped just slightly with our logistics, as she knew where and when we were to register and when to beat the queues.

Registered

Registered

Free Stuff

Free Stuff

Registration on the Thursday gave an insight into quite what a massive undertaking the whole weekend was, registering, kit checks, number collection, goody bag collection all on a well organised and slick conveyor belt of organisation.

Come race day, with maybe a beer too many the night before, a 5am alarm call seemed excessively early, with 4 hours to kick off, but breakfast wouldn’t eat itself and final kit checks satisfied the OCD freak in me. 6am heralded our hosts Chris and Carl arriving to take us to the bus point where we caught the bus from Chamonix to the start line in Courmeyeur, the other side of Mont Blanc in Italy.

The Start Line Cheesy Photo

The Pre Race Cheesy Photo

Once at Courmeyeur, we shuffled around with 2 hours to kill. The morning brightened up to become a fresh but clear morning, and as 9am approached we squeezed into our starting pens. I had obviously predicted my start time slower than the elites and speed freaks ahead, as our pen got held until 912 am before we set of, some 10 minutes after the racing snakes ahead.

The view of the start from my pen

The view of the start from my pen

As we ran through the town, I got my first experience of the tremendous support from the spectators, cowbells rang and shouts of “Allez! Allez!” deafened the streets. The town streets soon gave way to steeper roads in turn giving way to a steeper single track. With poles in hand I joined the snake of runners as we climbed and climbed and climbed and climbed up the first ascent. Steep as hell, and relentless as it kept going. Back home in Shropshire there is no way of replicating such a long climb but being stuck in traffic helped prevent me redlining my way to the top and provided a steady start of the race for me. The occasional widening of the track allowed the odd overtake but in the main I paced myself sensibly here. Once at the top of Tete De La Tronche, some 2h17m hours later (!!) my legs were happy to change pace and drop into a run. The views were unreal, it was just like the old films where they were shot in front of big matte paintings, I felt like I could reach out and touch the scenery, it was breathtaking and otherworldly.

The view back to Courmeyeur from halfway up the first climb

The view back to Courmeyeur from halfway up the first climb

No sooner had I changed pace to a run, I slipped off the trail, off a small ledge and thankfully grazed my right thigh as I fell. Had I not caught the edge I would have tumbled down a fair drop and had a much shorter race. I pulled myself back up and got back on the pace. I soon came to the first aid station, Refuge Bertone, and sailed straight through. I still had water and was feeling strong. The next section to Refuge Bonatti was glorious, and afforded such amazing views of the valley, with France over the ridgeline to the left, and Switzerland over the horizon ahead.

France over the left ridge, Switzerland over the far ridge, Italy underfoot

France over the left ridge, Switzerland over the far ridge, Italy underfoot

Towards the end of this section, I started to feel a little weary, but I pushed these thoughts to the back of my mind. I filled my water bottles up at the aid station and was out of there quickly. it seemed to me that people were stopping and socializing at the aid stations, maybe I’m ignorant but I wanted to keep moving.

The run from here to Arnuva was fairly fluid, I was moving in a group of about 5 of us and we kept the train moving silently and efficiently, as we caught sight of the next big daddy climb, the foreboding Grand Col Ferret. Flying through the aid station at Arnuva, the ground soon rose up under my feet and I was climbing again. Knowing this climb to be another grinder, I dug deep and tried to find the right gear. As the path became switchbacks, the gradient got nastier and nastier and it was all I could do to keep moving, there was no right gear! I saw a familiar face, Simon Freeman, he of Like The Wind magazine and we chatted for the rest of the ascent. I like to think we boosted each others morale and it was certainly good to speak to someone after nearly 6 hours inside my own head.

The next section, from Grand col Ferret down to La Fouly was an overdue runnable section, cruising downhill, by now I had started to lose track mentally of where I was and was half expecting to come into Champex Lac, as I knew we were in Switzerland due to the trail markings, but I had overlooked the first Swiss aid station of La Fouly. When I got to La Fouly, I looked at the profile map and realised I still had an 8 mile section to Champex Lac, but thankfully most of it was downhill.

Again, I didn’t stop long, the aid stations were starting to look more like war zones than social gatherings and I wanted to be part of neither. The route here followed a river downhill, and it was apparent that the wet and stormy August had caused a lot of plenty of rocks to be washed downhill in the floods which had long since withdrawn, but left many of the paths littered with boulders. This section was enjoyable and I managed to keep a reasonable pace as we meandered downhill. We ran through a few little villages and were greeted with the occassional “Allez! Allez!”, or at least the French runners were. It was quite apparent when some of the locals saw the Union Jack on my race bib they chose not to cheer me on. I understand that as a nation, we British don’t travel too well, but this just helped motivate me forward. The down became an up, and it got steeper, the clouds also started to darken the sky here and at 9h08m into the race I landed at Champex Lac aid station. I knew that I was now 34 miles through and had just over half the climbing behind me. I got some Pepsi and sat down. I was destroyed. I knew I needed to eat, as I hadn’t been sticking to my nutrition strategy; I just couldn’t stomach the gels I had with me, and I craved fruit. I stared despondently into my drink and summoned the energy to get some pasta. Now that I had stopped, I got cold. I wrapped up warm and prepared for the next leg, wondering how the second half of the course would pan out. I hadn’t considered quitting at this point but I wasn’t sure how I would propel myself over the rest of the course. I took the time to ring my wife back home, and just hearing her voice was enough to drive me forward. Before I knew it, my legs were taking me out of the aid station and I was moving again.

Profil-CCC-2014

I was now in the longest section of the course and the rain was here to stay, as we climbed the hill known as ‘Bovine’  (because the summit, is full of cows), the switchbacks kicked in again. Up, up, up, up, up into the dusk, time to turn the headtorch on. I soon learned that my faithful old Petzl Myo XP was not up to the task, the light from headtorches behind me were so bright, they cast my shadow in front of me, even where my torch lit the trail ahead. I had to let people pass when they got too close as I was tripping on rocks and roots in the dark. This theme continued frustratingly for the rest of the race.

The switchbacks finally ended and in pitch black, the clanging of cowbells warned not of spectators but the big docile beasts that stood in our way. It’s pretty creepy for your headtorch to just shine of hundreds of eyes when all you can hear is cowbells clanging. I was glad to hit the next checkpoint and have these beasts behind me. The combination of tired legs and my poor headtorch slowed my descent past La Giete as I cautiously picked my way down some of the more hazardous sections.

I got into the Trient aid station and was craving a hot sweet tea. I had two, I carried the second out as I preferred to be moving than sitting, but I kept missing my mouth, so I jettisoned the drink into the darkness and plugged on. I simply can’t recall any detail about the second to last climb. I remember the path that lead to the switchbacks, but it was more of the same. Digging deep in the dark, and trying not to fall over.

The aid station at Vallorcine provided more hot sweet tea and oranges. Lots of oranges. The familiar sight of sunken jowls and staring eyes littered the area and I didn’t stay long. I moved swiftly up the next approach to the climb, it was uphill, but gentle, and my rhythmic pounding saw me advance past some broken travellers. Then I saw it. The last climb, Col De Montets, up to Tete Aux Vents. Well, I saw a dark blackness against the dark black sky. But the tell-tale zig-zag of lights leading all the way to the stars reminded me that the last climb it may be, but it won’t be easy.

Without getting repetitive, all I will say about this climb is it broke me. I could not keep moving. My quads felt like they had nothing more to give and the climb was asking for too much. There was no way of quitting even if I wanted to, it was simply easier to move with the flow, rather than turn around and go back down, but I did flirt with the idea. I steeled myself that once I put the steep section behind me, and that time would come, however far off it seemed, then there was a gentle ascent to the next check point and then it was downhill. The ‘gentle ascent’ was too wet and rocky for my legs, and I slipped and stumbled like a drunk taking the long way home. By now, it was all mental, as I had no physical left to give. Others stumbled all around me and in a small group we picked our way to the check point at Tete Aux Vents. The descent to La Flegere was no picnic on shredded legs but once in, I was out again. Why were people sitting down here, it was 5 miles downhill to glory?

As I tried to pick up the pace, my legs could move, but weren’t very responsive to the hazards, and I continued my stumbling routine. So close to the finish, I slowed to make sure I finished rather than plunging downhill to my demise. I was eyeing up a 20 hour finish and knew I wouldn’t make it, but I knew I wouldn’t be far off. I vowed to buy a better headtorch as soon as possible after the race.

The singletrack became a gravelled road, which, after an eternity became a tarmac road with streetlights. Chamonix awaits. Still using my poles, I ran through the early morning, desperately searching for the bridge that we cross as I knew that from there it was a simple trot through the town to the finish. Despite it being close to 0530am, the streets were littered with spectators, family and friends of my fellow runners, and they cheered me on like lunatics. “Finish strong, no matter how hard it feels, suck it up…” that’s what I tell myself at every race, and that’s what I did.

IMG_20140831_104026

20h21m26s that was my CCC. I came 413th out of 1423 runners, and got my finishers gilet. I then seized up and shivered for the next hour as I tried to eat, but my stomach didn’t fancy it. It didn’t fancy the victory beer much either, but I drank it.

From fairly early on, there was a nagging pain around my heels and ankles. My grey socks were now red. My heels were now open wounds, it was a joy to get my flip flops on, and I wandered the 2 miles back to the chalet.

My minging and swolled ankles

My minging and swollen ankles

With no sleep, Greg and I headed back into Chamonix that afternoon to watch the winners of the UTMB come through. Francois D’Haene set a new course record in less time than I took to do a much shorter race. I tried to stay awake as I sipped my beer to watch him come in, but I can’t say I was 100% awake!

Francois D'Haene winning UTMB

Francois D’Haene winning UTMB

UTMB 2nd and 3rd (or join 2nd) Iker Carrera and Tofol Castaner coming into Chamonix

UTMB 2nd and 3rd (or join 2nd) Tofol Castaner and Iker Carrera coming into Chamonix

Stairs were an issue for a few days, but the biggest hangover from the race is my blisters. A week later they are still sore. It has been a week of flip flops and compeed plasters. It’s not all misery though, I have upgraded my headtorch for the upcoming Longmynd Hike, and am now the proud owner of a LED Lensor SEO5.

IMG_20140903_175018

A finishers gilet and a new headtorch. Lucky me.

 When these blisters have healed, there’ll be some Longmynd Hike recon missions happening before the next event on Oct 4th.

10 days to go…

In ten days time I will be somewhere between Courmeyeur and Chamonix on the Trail-Mont-Blanc finding out how brutal the course is. I would like to say that I am prepared and ready, but with what appears to be a persistent bruised left instep, my training has not peaked as I hoped due to a bit of damage limitation.

Profil-CCC-2014Having said that, I am mentally focused; I have compartmentalised the run into 9 small runs, incorporating 6 climbs, focusing on aid station to aid station, with the longest run being 10.3 miles heading out of Champex-Lac. With this mindset I am prepared to run lots of little runs back to back rather than an epic 62 miles. The foot will hurt but it won’t stop me. I am confident in my determination and focus, but I know my training has missed the mark.

After today, it’s taper time, wish me luck.

Snowdonia 7 – 12/07/14

10

It was that time of year again where I leave a lung on the side of a Welsh mountain. For those of you who don’t know, and are bothered, the Snowdonia 7 race is a 22 mile race over 7 peaks of Snowdon, taking in nearly 8000′ of ascent. All in teams of four.

Flashback to last year, we came second but in a team of three, so didn’t count. This was the driving force for us to assemble a capable team so that we could be in with a chance of a podium finish. The team comprised of Greg, Al, Rob and I; both Al and Rob were new to the race but accomplished fell runners, so we had as good a chance of really pushing for glory.

1A slower start than previous years up the Llanberis track afforded me the luxury of not maintaining maximal heart rate for the climb and although we were in about 6th place. We climbed into the cloud and were playing cat and mouse with a team from Manchester as the North Wales team and a team from Cumbria duked it out ahead of us for first place. By the time we were summitting Snowdon, the first of seven summits, we had moved up to 4th.

2We battled with the Manchester team for the bulk of the course, this photo was us both coming into Pen-Y-Pas car park, the 10 mile point with 2 summits in the bag. My nemesis was fast approaching, the next climb up to Glyder Fach is the low point of each of my last two years, and I had given it the respect it deserved this year.

3I fueled up on water and gels sensibly throughout the race, and it wasn’t long before we were at the top hunting for the checkpoint. Knowing that we had the were behind us and with my heart rate under control, I was actually enjoying myself. As a team we battled our low points, but on hearing that Cumbria had dropped to a team of three and were now, as we were last year disqualified, we were now battling for 2nd place with the Manchester team. We passed them, they passed us, we chatted, and so it went.

We ticked the summits off quicker than I had previously done, and on the last climb up to Elidir Fawr we passed the Manchester team once again. This was the last we saw of them, and later they told me that psychologically we broke them; every time they got a lead on us, we caught up to them and chatted with them. I was just being friendly, which may be a surprise for those who know me.

4 Finishing in 5:41:23 and in second place, I felt vindicated from last years unofficial second place, but ruminated on the reality that this race is pretty much in both distance and elevation only a third of the upcoming CCC. Neither Greg or I fancied turning around and doing the route again, I chose to bask in the glory of my first proper ‘podium’ finish.

7We posed for what may be the dodgiest team photo you may ever see with our winnings: Cotswold vouchers each, then ate our bodyweight in curry.

9That was Snowdon. It might not be around next year, unless a new organiser steps forward. I’d like to say I won’t miss it, but I’d be lying.