Sunday, 21 December 2008

Fuego y Agua 100k - Race Report

This year my running has taken me to some strange and exotic places, and not all of them in my head.

The Fuego y Agua 100k was going to be one step further.

I've ran in some varied environments; freezing cold temperatures in the mountains, mud and bogs, athletics tracks, hard packed stony trails, the aggressive heat and altitude of Mont Blanc (which I didn't fare well in) but none like I was about to encounter.

Fuego y Agua translates to Fire and Water. The fire of the active Concepcion volcano and the water of the dormant Maderas volcano, with it's amazing crater lake at the top and the muddy, boggy cloud-forest which covers its slopes. The course can be summarised as a 30k ish undulating trail, then a 1500 metre climb and descent, another 30k on trails then a 1000 metre climb and 10k or so to the finish. Add to this the temperatures and humidity of a tropical climate, some snakes and frogs armed with lethal venom, no such thing as an OS map and a volcano which has erupted with quite some regularity every 50 years, last time 1957.....!

I couldn't wait to get going.

I'd been in Nicaragua for about 3 weeks by race day, travelled around a bit seeing the sights and also recce-ing the two volcanoes. I hadn't ran for more than about an hour at a time since it was so hot but I had made sure I put in some good hard sessions to try to help me adapt to the heat, this was going to be the most important thing. The mileage wasn't a priority since it was only 7 weeks before this race that I had clocked 127 miles at the 24 hour so I couldn't really put in any distance in that short space of time.

The other thing to prepare was my race gear. I decided to go minimalist and run with a bumbag, 2 x 500ml bottles, a couple of packs of biscuits, a few gels and a bag of boiled sweets. I also had 3 drop bags at aid stations with drinks, gels, food and importantly a more cushioned pair of trail shoes for after Maderas when my feet would be sore from wearing my fell shoes. There are also lots of places to buy drinks and food along the trail sections so I made sure I had money too.

As far as tactics go, I felt the best approach for me was to make use of the cool 4am start and push the pace hard to the bottom of Maderas then I should avoid the hot temperatures as I climb higher and therefore not start to feel the heat until about the 40k mark where I would just have to tough it out from there.

The tension was high when the runners started to gather at the start around 3.30am with not much talking going on as we eyed each other to see who might be the ones to watch. There was a local Nica guy there who looked particularly handy, the Columbian guy looked like he knew his stuff too and the two tall Texans, Pete and T.J looked like big strong guys as did the two Italian guys. This was going to be an interesting race.

So with lots of honking of horns from the motorbikes the race was underway and immediately the Nica guy took off like he was in a 10k not seeming to be concerned about having a torch as we headed onto the pitch black trail. I just settled into a good pace and tried to be careful not to turn an ankle as we made our way along the rough dirt trail and soon I had caught up with Nica. We leap-frogged each other all the way until we hit the paved road section then ran shoulder to shoulder at a pretty fast pace for a 100k pushing each other on to see who would drop first. It wasn't until about 5k before the Maderas ascent that I moved ahead and I never saw Nica again although I spent the whole of the race looking back expecting to see him anytime!

Approaching El Porvenir (pic courtesy of Josue Stephens)

When I reached the El Porvenir aid station it was just being set up, so I inhaled a banana, downed a gel, refilled my bottles and since my drop bag food no-longer looked appealing I left it and made for the big climb.

Refueling at El Porvenir (pic courtesy of Josue Stephens)
Keeping my pace up I ran a good bit of the climb until it got so steep and technical that it was hands on knees and hike hard time. The sound of howler monkeys seemed to be getting really loud too, their calls sounding really quite fierce and intimidating. I had a good rhythm going and made short work of the climbing, passing two of the guys who were going up to help set up the aid station in the summit crater. I said hello and carried on as the climb turned more muddy and slippy with each step, the path eroded under the tree roots so much now that I was having to use my hands more and more to climb over and sometimes under them.

The route starts to get tricky

It was absorbing stuff (literally!). I ate all my biscuits now (along with some mud which I was now covered in) since the pace had been slowed by the terrain and I could digest them a bit better. I felt pretty good as I negotiated the treacherously slippy descent into the crater my mind fixed on a good drink of water and a nuun tablet to help me rehydrate at the aid station. As I emerged from the bushes like a madman I realised straight away that the two guys I had passed WERE the aid station, I had mis-heard, there was no-one else here! Ok, nothing for it but to get on and get down to the next one as quick as possible. I carved my initial in the mud in case there was any doubt I had been here, although I don't think I could have gone anywhere else, and started to follow the tagging which marked out the trail. The bushes got really dense as I made my way up out of the crater then opened out onto a neat path on some smooth rock which climbed so steeply I was soon using hand-holds to pull myself upwards. I stopped a few times to look back at the view of the crater with its lake below, I smiled to myself as I realised what an amazing place this was to be racing and tried to take in as much as possible before I pushed on and up.
Maderas crater lake (pic by Amy Sproston)

This was new territory for me, I had been up the previous section but returned the same way on my recce, and it was also starting to become really technical with my arms working constantly now as I was almost climbing through the trees following route markers around the rim of the crater. The wind was blowing quite strongly now and every now and then I would get a view down through the trees and bushes just to remind me that I was on a very narrow ridge and a slip here would be very dangerous. Eventually the descent started and I found my rhythm as the terrain became more runnable, changing as I descended to banana trees and coffee plants as I got lower down. I was also becoming aware of the heat and how much I needed a drink so I started to run really hard thinking if I give a big push here I can refuel at the aid station. I was now back on the flat and had passed a few unlikely looking buildings as I looked around for the aid station, surely it must be near I thought. I passed some locals on the trail and shouted "Merida", the name of the aid station, and they pointed back up the trail. I had missed it and my drop bag with food, drinks and shoe change. Should I turn back? No way! I'll just have to survive in the fell shoes and find somewhere to buy some supplies. I carried on for about 20 mins and as the sun burnt down I could feel I was getting really dehydrated and starting to feel like if I didn't get a drink soon I'd be reduced to a walk. Just then I saw a small shop manned by a couple of kids, maybe about 8 years old. I ran over and shouted "agua y cola!" at the startled wee boy as I stood dripping sweat everywhere fumbling for my money. I also bought a homebaked biscuit and managed to eat it by chewing it along with mouthfulls of water and swallowing the mixture back, the kids were enjoying the display of terrible table manners from the muddy, sweaty, smelly gringo! "Muchos gracias!" I shouted as I fled back to the trail feeling brand new again.

The trail

The next miles were spent running from one side of the trail to the other trying to catch all the shade I could, shouting "buenos dias" and "hola" as I passed bemused locals. One guy on a motor-bike even stopped and offered to go and get water and bring it back to me, I wished I'd seen him earlier! After another few miles Abi, one of the race organisers, passed in a pick-up and stopped to give me some water and gels what a lifesaver that was. Soon after that I hit the paved road and was flying again and kept the pace going all the way to Altagracia (68k) where the next aid station was, I wasn't going to miss this one! By the time I got there the faster pace meant I didn't feel like eating anything and had to concentrate not to throw up. I managed a gel and some energy drink (which to my amusement is called Heed, you have to be Scottish to understand!) but there was nothing funny about the way my stomach felt as I left the aid stop.

After Altagracia the route followed trails which deteriorated more and more until it looked more like a river bed I was running on. It was at this point that I needed to go to the toilet... and quick! I looked around and there was a big banana plantation on my right so I negotiated the barbed wire and got on with, er, business... it's not every race you stop for a dump under a banana tree! I also managed to drop my watch somewhere at this point because it had been clipped to my bag strap and fallen off when I removed it, I wasn't going without it because it had all my splits on it and I'm sad that way, so I hunted about everywhere wasting a good bit of time in the process before I found it.

It wasn't long before I'd passed through the next aid station and was on my way up Concepcion. I still felt strong as I passed locals on horses moving some cattle along the trail and soon I was into the full climb through a real jungle-like environment I even saw a White Faced monkey only a few feet away in the trees, I heard something hit the ground near me and wasn't sure if it was throwing things at me or just knocking bits of the tree off as it moved, I wasn't hanging about to check! I emerged out of the trees at the 1000 metre point, which was as far up as was deemed safe to go on an active volcano, to see the lone aid station guy who, to my relief had water and gels. Since I had no Spanish and he no English he drew a very good map of the route back in the dirt and with that we shook hands and I started the run back down. This is where the route doubles back on itself and I passed Amy, Arturo and Pete on their way up (no Nica!?). It was starting to feel like I was heading for home now, so with a gel in my bag and full bottles I confidently gave it all I had as I hit the flat sandy trails heading for Moyogalpa and the finish. At one point I thought I'd made a mistake emptying all but a couple of mouthfuls of water as the trail just went on and on but eventually I arrived in the town and sprinted as hard as I could to the finish.

It was a strange feeling sitting at the finish line after 11 hours 40 minutes, elated to have come first but sad to be at the end of my adventure.

Josue, the race organiser greeted me with a hug, and I thanked him for the race.

This event has got to be one of the most exciting and unique races I've ever had the pleasure of taking part in, and the work it must have taken to organise I can't begin to imagine. Josue really stuck his neck out putting this event on and it's people like him who keep this sport very much alive so I just want to take this opportunity to say thanks to him and all the volunteers who made this happen. Well done to you all.

P.s I later found out the Nica guy was doing the 50k... so THAT'S why he went out so fast!!
** Update ** Here it is, folks... the musical slideshow!!

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Fuego y Agua Update

Just got back home, had an amazing time in Nicaragua, the 100k was an incredible experience with a route like nothing I have ever experienced before.

I had the honour of coming in first place in a time of 11 hours 40 mins. I will post a race report shortly.

At the finish line of Fuego y Agua.
(Photo by Josue Stephens)

Friday, 21 November 2008

Yeehaa... Every Day's a Sunday...

... Well for the next three and a half weeks anyway!

I'm off to Nicaragua tomorrow for the
100k, checked the local weather it's in the mid 80's at the moment so will be a shock to the system. I'm also missing the Round Rotherham 50... but I'm trying not to think about that.

I've had a stinker of a cold all week so haven't managed much running apart from a 20 miler on the roads last night and a 10 miler in the hills tonight so I'm feeling a bit under-trained! But this one is more for the adventure than the competitive side of things so I'm not going worry too much.

So... I'm off, if you don't hear from me I'm probably jogging up a volcano somewhere... (not Arthurs Seat).

Monday, 17 November 2008

Bog Eating, Cross-Dressing and Christiano Ronaldo

I'm finding it increasingly difficult to call my running training anymore. It's becoming more like maintaining fitness or maybe even surviving! The 24 hour has hit me hard, I could probably have done with an extra weeks rest but too late now there's a 100k to do in less than 4 weeks time!

So, I rested for 8 days after Tooting then got in an easy 40 mile/7000' week (hills again yeehaa!) with no long run. Followed that with a 67 mile 9500' week including a 3 mile time trial (18 mins, exactly the same as the one 3 weeks prior to 24hr!), Tinto Hill race (39:02, 35th) and a 21 mile long run. Then last week ended up at 44 miles 7800' only managing to run on 4 days for one reason or another.

There have been some adventures though.

Tinto was the usual fast and furious, lung bursting quad bursting affair only this year I decided to throw in some bog eating too with a spectacular bog dive on the descent.

Then, this weekend was the Vasque Ultra Series awards in the Lakes. So, Lucy and I headed down to Ambleside for the fun event at the Lakes Runner shop. It was a 90 minute score event in which there was also a prize for the best wig! So running through the town centre complete with my long blond wig was worth it in the end as I picked up the prestigous award for my Dave Lee Roth/Bon Jovi look! Then after meeting all the Kryptons we headed off to the "barn" we had hired for the weekend with an hours tour of Kendal and quite a few dead end streets beforehand (it's amazing the difference one letter of a postcode can make to a sat-nav!!). A freezing/boiling shower, some wine, a toast to all things Krypton then it was off to Wilfs to party! It was a really enjoyable night swapping race tales and discussing next years plans with people I don't normally have time or am too knackered to talk to after races, oh and a few beers were also consumed.

Dancing Krypton style

Next morning the good weather had held out so Andy (our new Krypton recruit!), Lucy and I decided to do the Kentmere Horseshoe route. It took the first climb to get myself in gear but after that the running was excellent, really getting into the descents and stopping occasionally to admire the fantastic views. It was one of those days when it was a privilege to be up there enjoying it. I also got to wear my new shoes unfortunately that is the only colour they come in so I felt like the Christiano Ronaldo of the fells until I could give them a good dook in the nearest bog to cut out the glare.

Always remember the camera... great excuse to stop on the climb and get your breath back!

Maggs Howe camping barn with the Kentmere Horseshoe behind.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Vasque Ultra-running Series Races 2009

You heard it here first! The race series for 2009 is a cracker!


1/3/9 Wye Ultra

22/3 Wuthering Hike

5/8 Dark & White Peak (tbc)

?/9 Pumlumon


18/4?? Calderdale


5/7 Osmotherly Pheonix

20/9 High Peak 40


25/4 Highland Fling

9/5 Fellsman

1/8 Lakeland 100 & 50 milers

3/10 Long Mynd

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Hills, Trails and Typhoid

What a cracker of a weekend it's been! A world away from the stormy weather of the OMM weekend previous.

On Saturday Oscar came up and we headed off for an easy run over Benarty Hill and out to the Lomonds. They've just finished a new path around Loch Leven which means it's possible to run this route without going onto the road. Much better since most drivers would take the opportunity to try and run you into the ditch and on the way back with a load of miles in the legs it used to get a bit hairy. What a difference now! We climbed Benarty and down into Vane Farm nature place (I'm not sure we should run through here, but there was people running here before they turned it into a twitchers place, that's my theory) then along the new path for about 4 miles before coming into Scotlandwell and climbing Bishops Hill. The views were great at the top, you could see loads of snow covered tops in the distance. I sat for a few minutes just enjoying the silence and the views while Oscar disappeared down the hill a bit mumbling something about needing a dump!
We took a slightly different route back making it a bit shorter but a bit rougher going through knee deep heather for a bit. All in all it was about 17.5 miles and 3500 feet which I was happy to have survived only two weeks after the 24 hour.

That made it about 40 miles and 6000 feet for the week, so I'm pretty much back into the regular training routine again and just need to up the miles for a couple of weeks before going to Nicaragua for the 100k.

There was a bit of a spanner thrown in the works yesterday though. I was due at the doctors for some pre- trip vaccinations so cycled the couple of miles to the surgery not realising I was late. When I got there the crabbit nurse wasn't too keen to give me my jags since I was a whopping 5 mins late! Standing there with my (remaining) hair sticking up, red face and windswept look I decided just to stand in silence and hope she would think I was another mental person and best not to mess... it worked! She told me to hurry along to the chemist next door, pick up the bag of diseases and get my butt into her room asap. So now 24 hours or so after having tropical diseases ( hep A + E I kept calling it... and she thought I was a mental person??!) injected into me I'm feeling a bit out of sorts. My arms feel like lead and after an easy 7 miler tonight my legs feel like they've done an OMM in the rain!

Back to hard training....

If I can't get over this wee dose of typhoid and hep A+E soon then the bigger mileage week I've got planned isn't going to happen.

Monday, 27 October 2008

A week on from Tooting

It's been a week or so now since the 24 hour and my recovery has been pretty good, no lasting niggles or injuries to report.

I have been going over the race a lot in my head and have got the full splits now, which make interesting reading (if you're an anorak like me!)

My 100 mile time was 17:58:08, 100K 9:45:50 and 200K was 22:41:07.

When I look at the second placed runners splits I was ahead of him until 120K at 12 hours+ then he carried on with his consistent pace while I slowed down so maybe my pacing was a bit out, plenty to think about for next time. Talking of next-time I'm looking for another 24 hour event in the early part of next year not sure what there is but I think I might have to go to Europe to find one.

While plotting and planning various races for next year I've realized my hill races are becoming very few and far between. I plan to do Tinto in a couple of weeks time, then next year the only one I really want to do is Stuc a Chroin because it was my first ever hill race (I think it was my first ever race of any kind in fact) back in 1998, what an introduction to racing! I remember I went home afterwards and had to go straight to bed! I'm sure I'll fit a few others in as well, though.

So the focus is going to be on ultras again next year with the excellent Vasque series making up the bulk of the races and hopefully I can get into the High Peak Marathon again (deceptively named since it's 40 miles and I remember more peat(bogs) than peaks!) another race I said I would NEVER do again, it was pure hell all the way... but if I can just do a bit more of this and a bit less of that I could maybe shave a few minutes off here..... yes, when that "but" leaves my mindset I'll know it's time to hang up the racing shoes and get a good pair off plodding shoes instead! Until then I'll still be weighing my Go Bars and cutting the bottoms off my trousers to save a few grams.... I'm waffling now, time to get back to some running!

P.S Thanks to everyone for the comments and the emails I recieved about the race.

Friday, 24 October 2008

24 Hour Party People

For someone who usually seeks out fresh air and solitude in the hills and mountains, who relishes the challenges of tough terrain, who loves the pre-race course recce and then the challenge of getting around on that knife edge of minimal food, drink and kit, the Sri Chinmoy 24 Hour Race at Tooting Bec athletics track seems a strange choice for an adventure

Photo courtesy of

The challenge is simple, to run as many circuits of the 400 metre track as possible in 24 hours starting 12 noon on Saturday. No climbs, no rough terrain, no navigating, no kit to carry, no coos, support every 400 metres, floodlights at night... easy!? That's what I thought when I ran this race in 2006 after a dream West Highland Way race and boy was I proved wrong. I suffered a lot. My preparations were poor, in terms of race specific training and also nutrition and I really just didn't know what it was all about.

I entered this time because I wanted to see if I could meet the very different challenges of 24 hour running. I felt I was too much in my comfort zone on the hills and trails, I'm by no-means a master but it was becoming a bit routine and my coo whispering skills are now well honed. A 24 hour isn't like a "normal" race, when the going gets tough you can't tell yourself to push harder and get to the finish quicker. There are no hills to climb to change the pace and give you a chance to eat, it is much more of a blank canvas where you have to wrestle with the voice in your head giving you reasons to stop all the time..

The start line of a 24 hour race is a strange place, everyone with their own thoughts of what lies ahead, I just kind of mingled in and then we were off. After about 150 metres I passed my support team for the first of 500 and odd times and gave them the thumbs up, which became my signal for each time I passed unless I needed something then instructions were shouted and I was duly serviced as required. I had originally planned to run unsupported since I felt I had asked so many people to help me out this year that I couldn't ask anyone to give up four days and sit at the side of a track for fun! So when I was asked by Lynne if I would like her, Russell and Lesley to come with me I was delighted. Lynne had ran at Perth 24 hour a few weeks before so she knew exactly what I was going to be feeling and Lesley and Russell were very experienced at race support so I knew I was in good hands.

In preparing for this I had to decide on how I would pace it. My problem was that because all my races previously had involved hills so had my training, so, after UTMB I had two weeks rest then started clocking up miles on the roads and tracks locally trying to run on as flat and consistent terrain as possible. This was much harder than I had thought, give me 2 1/2 hours on the hills every day no problem, but an hour and a half on the roads I was finding really tough. I realized that I didn't have enough time to turn myself into a flat runner churning out the same pace hour upon hour so had to work out another strategy. I decided I would have to replicate my pacing in a race like the WHW where I would go out fast then slow down for a bit when it got to Conic Hill then speed up again till past Rowardennen and then hopefully I would find my natural pace after that.

The first few hours of the race were hard, I felt sore and just couldn't get comfortable but eventually I seemed to settle into it and after twelve hours I had covered I think about 75 miles. This was when it started to get tough. Between about midnight and 6am I got slower and slower, Adrian gave me a pep talk at one point telling me to adjust my posture and basically stand up straight! I was really struggling. Then at about 5.45 am I passed 100 miles. This gave me a huge lift and I had a moment similar to this years WHW race when I just relaxed and started to pick up the pace until I was running 400 metre splits of about 2 mins to 2:10 and hammering around. I was reborn! The more I kept this going the more I started to believe I could do it and I was flying round for a good couple of hours before I inevitably slowed again. This burst had given me belief though, that even when I felt like I was finished with nothing left it was only a temporary feeling and I could overcome it if I willed my mind to will my body to will my legs just a bit further...

The one part of my body I couldn't exercise my will over was my stomach. I had found it difficult to eat solids from about 8 hours and was existing on Complan, soup, coke and the odd biscuit. I had also started to get really bad stomach cramps at times and felt really sick too, this was worrying because I've never been sick before in a race and knew it would be hard to get energy back into me if I puked. What kept me going, though, was the 200k that I needed to achieve as the qualifying standard to run for Scotland at the Commonwealth Championships next year. It was amazing the amount of people who were willing me on from the sidelines to achieve it, I knew I could do it and there was no way I wasn't going to get that 200k!
I think it was about 10:45am when with tears in my eyes I punched the air as I ran through 200k, the marquee full of lap counters giving me a huge cheer as I passed, could I ride on this crest for another 10k or so and get over 130 miles? I kept up the intensity but I was slowing down again and starting to really feel sick. Then at about 11:15am my stomach said no more and I started to wretch and throw up in a big way. All the liquid in my stomach came up until there was nothing left and I felt a little better so carried on around the circuit for about another 3 laps then I slowed to a walk then a stagger then I knew my race was over. I stumbled the 200 metres like a Saturday night drunk back to my support and sat down and hoped I could manage a small piece of food to get me going again but there was no way, I just felt so nausea's that there was no chance I could stomach anything so I sat in my chair on the track and waited for the finish.

Starting to look like an old wifie at the tatties!

127 miles 1119 yards was the total in the end. I'm absolutely delighted with it and have learnt so much from this race.

Thanks to my support Lynne, Russell and Lesley if it wasn't for you guys I couldn't have done it. Also big thanks to Adrian and Alan you guys kept me going with encouragement and banter all the way, also everyone from Sri Chinmoy who put so much effort into organising a fabulous race with a great atmosphere and those lap counters... they think we're mad??!!

Monday, 20 October 2008

Self Transcendence 24 Hour race - Quick Update

I broke the 200k mark at Tooting Bec track yesterday clocking a final total of 127 miles 1119 yards. I'm very pleased and very tired... report to follow!

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Ultramaraton Fuego Y Agua

I've now had my entry confirmed and booked the flights for this wee adventure, Fuego y Agua 100K in Nicaragua on the 13th of December.

It's a 100K race around Omotepe Island, a volcanic island on Lake Nicaragua. The course is a mixture of dirt tracks, jungle and sandy beaches... then there's the climbs...!

The first volcano, reached after 30k, is the dormant Volcan Maderas which is 1394 metres and the second, reached after 80k is the, still active, Volcan Concepcion at 1610 metres (it last showed some movement in 2005, throwing out ash but never erupted). The climbs don't go right up to the craters for safety reasons but the total ascent is about 2900 metres.

Volcan Maderas (Top) and Volcan Concepcion

Anyone know where I can get heat proof soles for my Inov8's??!

Monday, 29 September 2008

Wan Can Dan, High Peak Mystery Tour and Other Stories...

Lots to catch up on since last time, I've been out watching other peoples adventures and having some of my own too.

The week after Mont Blanc I went up to Fort William to watch the Ben Nevis race. It was a bit different this year because there was a load of entries from abroad since it was included in this years Buff Skyrunning World Championship. There seemed to be a larger than usual contingent of local girlys watching the race, apparently disappointed there was no-one running in the buff. You could spot the foreign boys a mile off though in their long socks and fancy lycra gear, it seemed to do the job too since there was about 11 of them in the top 20. As a result I went and bought a pair of these Skins shorts, they make no difference whatsoever but I look like I know what I'm doing now and my arse doesn't wobble about anymore. Afterwards we went to Morrisons and picked up some bargains for tea which we cooked up on the wee stove in the campsite, thus filling our bellies so we could cope with a beer or two. Unfortunately I had my " wan-can-Dan" head on so didn't feel too good the next day and also managed to get us lost on the way back from the pub with my "short-cut" on the Great Glen Way.

Oscar in the pub with his race number on!
NB. This photo is actual size

The Perth Ultra Festival was on the following weekend so I went along to watch some of it. I arrived about 5pm on the Saturday and everyone was going along quite steadily after 7 hours of running. The 100k had been going for 5 hours and was starting to hot up but I had to leave for a wedding reception so missed the end. On Sunday I was up at Perth again about 7am (no wan-can-Dan, it was mineral water for me... never again!) what a difference, most were walking for large parts of the laps and only a few were running steadily. It was amazing to watch everyone fighting their individual battles and some fantastic runs from the Carnegie Lassies with Gail taking ladies 100k champion, Pauline breaking the Scottish 24 hour record again and Lynn and Fiona posting brilliant 24hr debuts of 125 and 116 miles respectively. After the prizegiving I left feeling really inspired, I think it's got to be one of the best events I've ever spectated at, amazing!

So, suitably inspired and only a bit rested after UTMB I headed down to run the High Peak 40 so as to complete the Vasque Ultra series.

It's a great race, 40 miles of hills, roads and trails. I've done it twice before so knew what to expect. Pity I hadn't remembered the route though! After about 7 miles me and two other runners took a wrong turn, dropped a hundred feet or so in height and headed up through a field which we thought was the right way until we saw all the runners away in the distance on the other hill. So, we ran back up and after losing about 20 places got back on track. I made the mistake of hammering on too hard to try to catch my place back up and after about 30 minutes I was feeling pretty rough. At the 20 mile mark I was ready to chuck it, I had slowed right down and felt terrible. I knew, though, that if I chucked it I'd have to drive to Wales the next week to do the only other race to qualify me for the series so that kept me going. I was caught by a few runners before Flyin' Brian Mc came passed and we chatted for a bit which took my mind off matters of the screaming quad variety. I got into a bit of a rythmn after that and was going fine until I took yet another wrong turn! I won't forget that one in a hurry, believe me!

I finished the race in 6:58 and 12th place so it turned out ok in the end, but I was quite pleased with the way I was able to dig in when it got tough which is a good thing considering my up and coming adventures.

I've been trying to get the training upped a bit since UTMB, with all my running on the road to prepare for the Tooting 24 hour. I find it hard to get motivated though because I'm a slow road runner and I find it quite boring too. Also all the kids take the piss out of me when I wear my Skins, I thought I looked pretty cool! A plus point, though, is the coos can't get me. During the High Peak 40 I had to negotiate a few of the grumpy cud munchers, there was a big one which I'm sure growled at me. I suppose I was running through its dinner though. I ran a 3 mile time trial on Thursday with the Carnegies, which I thought was ok at 18 minutes, since I'd only had 4 days rest after HP40. On Sunday I went to the Ceres 8 road race, a hilly 8 miler (well hilly for a road race) I managed just over 52 mins, feeling pretty stretched to say the least. I got a 10 miler in last night then had a phone call from Tommy asking if I wanted to do a recce of the Pentland Skyline race. He didn't have to ask twice! Any excuse to get up the hills again! So, today we had a really enjoyable run in the sunshine and got some quality hills into the bargain... not good 24 hour training however!

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Ultra Tour Du Mont Blanc - Race Report

**Warning** This report contains scenes of extreme suffering!

Chamonix was buzzing. Sitting in a street cafe watching the world go by it seemed every second person had a race shirt from some far-flung ultra adorning a lean and highly trained looking physique. I was getting nervous. The race was due to start at 6:30 pm so the day would be spent relaxing, eating(a very expensive pastime here!) and trying to keep out of the hot sun as much as possible. We had lunch then headed to the park for a while. I got chatting to a guy who was running, Fabrice, a Frenchman who lived and worked in London. He was doing the race for the first time and was quite nervous as he hadn't done any training on the hills at all although he was an experienced ultra-runner. We wished each other luck, went off for more lunch, handed in my two drop bags, then it was back to the apartment/shoebox to get changed into race kit.

It was great to be in my kit and looking like all the other half starved trail dogs, I didn't feel so intimidated now. I'd arranged to meet up with another couple of Brits and we'd start the race together, you know, just in case Johnnie Foreigner started any trouble. We hung about the main street for a while trying to keep out of the sun and then with about half an hour to go we headed for the main square where the race starts. The atmosphere was electric! There was classical music blasting from huge speakers so loud it was painful, speeches were going on in French and every now and then the crowd would cheer and raise their poles in the air. It was rousing stuff. We pushed into the crowd a bit and then we were off. Going over the start line at walking pace then running for a bit until it slowed to a walk again then after a bit we were off and running.

I had been a bit worried about an ankle injury which had been niggling for a while and sure enough it started aching almost straight away. I was getting into my stride now and pushing through the crowds, dodging trekking poles as I went, with Iain, one of the Brits pushing on too. The first aid station, Les Houches, was like a scrum, I quickly grabbed a drink and carried on as the road started to climb and climb up to the top at La Charme and then a fast descent to Saint Gervais. Running down the hill the sound of cow bells ringing and crowds cheering signalled that there was a party in full swing and what a party! They were three deep at the roadside barriers checking out the names on the runners numbers and shouts of "allez, allez Richard!" and "bravo, bravo!" had me upping the pace to the food tables. A few biscuits and it was sadly time to leave the party and head off into the dark. This was repeated at Les Contamines with huge,cheering crowds lining the streets again then it was into the night and the climb up to Croix du Bonhomme.

Something struck me fairly early in the race, which was how well the course is marked. Every 50 metres or so there is a luminous marker to lead the way, not just on the tricky parts but on the whole course, all 100+ miles of it! Meaning you can concentrate on the running and the route finding is easy.

I was starting to concentrate on the pain from my ankle. It was getting pretty sore so I took a couple of Brufens and hoped this would do the trick. Iain was out of sight now and I felt like I was going quite slow although I was pushing hard and sweating buckets as it was still warm. The route climbed and climbed more (this was a recurring feature!) and my stomach started to ache now too. I hadn't eaten much so far and I knew this wasn't a good idea but I didn't want to force myself this early on as I thought my stomach might settle on its own. Looking behind and down the hill into the distance was an amazing sight, a huge long headtorch snake stretching out into the night and bobbing around as it chased me up the hill (no I wasn't hallucinating... yet!)

I made a big mistake in preparing for this race, a big amateur mistake. I had a brainstorm one day and decided to change my energy drink from the tried and tested formula which I've used for years now with no problems. The only difference was this one came in sachets which made it easier to carry and mix. I stupidly hadn't tested it on the run and after about 2 bottles of it I was gagging at the taste, not good, don't try this at home kids (or on the trail!) So as a result my only source of energy was the few energy bars I had on me and the aid stations.

The first night was a bit of a blur as I'm not familiar with the course but I do remember the descent from Bonhomme being pretty rocky and steep, which took its toll on the quads, the climb up to Col de la Seigne being pretty brutal and Courmayeur just never seeming to get any closer. I was also noticing the difference not having a support team hand feeding me mashed tatties and telling me I looked brilliant, it was quite lonely not being able to speak French but the soup was good and I was doing ok putting bits of bread in it and eating the resulting mush.

The sun started to come up as I descended to Courmayeur, I still hadn't seen Iain and I wondered how he was doing, he must be having a storming race unless I'd passed him in the dark without knowing. The descent was on another ski slope, steep and quite rough in parts, the pain in my ankle was now lost amongst the bigger sea of pain washing over my lower limbs but my stomach was killing me. I reached the checkpoint at 6:30am, 12 hours gone and I felt ok considering. I got my drop bag and had a complete change of kit, then was just going to run on when I noticed everyone else seemed to be sitting down for a big plate of pasta so I thought I'd better try and eat something substantial and decided to join them. I managed to eat quite a lot before heading off and felt quite good, so I resolved to run as hard as possible out of Courmayeur and keep pushing on until the heat of the day forced me to slow. Ha! the climb out of Courmayeur soon put paid to that! It was brutal, about 3000 feet in 4k so I just slogged it out. I remembered Hugh Kerr telling me that after the climb there was a section of about 12k of good runnable trail so once getting to the top I decided to go for it and ran hard all the way into Arnuva. When I got to the checkpoint I was trashed, I ate some soup and bread and drank loads of coke to fend of the dehydration which was a whisker away. At most of the aid stations I had met the French guy Fabrice who I'd chatted to before the race and we had a moan about how hard this was then headed off together for the monster climb to Grand Col Ferret at 2537 metres, the highest point on the course. The sun was beating down by this point and after about 50 metres of climb I was in a bad way. Fabrice was going much better than me up the hill so I decided it was time to admit defeat. My quads were in agony, calfs screaming and I was hardly moving up the way at all. No... I wasn't giving up... it was time to get the poles out! I started up the hill again with the poles and immediately noticed the difference, it took so much weight off the legs it was unbelievable. We made good time up to the top and I felt much better now, as we passed the tents at the top I saw Iain lying in the shade behind one of them. He said he was finished and was going to pack it in at the next check point so I tried to encourage him to keep going, to get down and maybe sit for a few hours and eat some food and rest then try and get going again. We all started the big descent to La Fouly together, I felt good again so hit the pace but I saw Iain behind struggling and feared he wasn't going to finish. La Fouly took ages to come and I was really in need of water when I got there. Fabrice arrived shortly after and I asked him if it was hot or was it just me, he reckoned it was 30+ degrees, it was hard to tell which shows how disorientated I was getting.
The aid station stops were getting longer now, I had my head in my hands as we looked at the map, another 60k still to go and about 9000 feet of ascent, I said to Fabrice we should concentrate on getting to Champex and forget about the rest, it was only 15k away so if we made good time we'd be doing well. I managed to eat some soup and a few bits of banana and some raisins, washed down with about a gallon of coke and off we went.

It took three hours to get to Champex. The climb went on forever and as usual the checkpoint was at the far side of town just to drag out the suffering a bit more. I was really hungry as I approached the aid tent, almost to the point of collapse, I needed a drink of coke very badly too. The party was in full swing here though, and as I entered the tent a guy shot over to me, said something in French and stuck a microphone in my face! Everyone looked at me and I looked at the guy confused and said grumpily " I don't speak French" he replied, "Ah! English! How do you enjoy the Mont Blanc?" "Scottish, and it's too hot and I'm starving" was my reply. He then realised I wasn't up for much of an interview and left me to my suffering.

I got some pasta and sat down at a table trying to eat when James, another Brit came over and chatted. He was in a bad way too, and told me how hard it was going to get! Then Fabrice came in and joined us and we just tried to eat as much as we could stomach. After about 20 minutes we got up to go and Fabrice ran off to a bin and threw up. As I asked him if he was ok, a doctor came over and told him he must lie down for a bit before he would let him leave the tent so I headed off on my own.

I soon caught up with James and we climbed to Bovine together, the views were fantastic as the sun went down, it gave me a real lift. As we started to descend James was staggering all over the place and told me to go on ahead. I felt ok and held onto a couple of guys running down so made quite good time. I think I must have passed about three runners lying at the side of the trail sleeping it was quite bizarre.

It was pitch dark by the time I got to Trient. I was feeling really down. I sat for ages with my head on the table then drank some coke and had some soup. Trient was mental, there was a party in full swing with a bar on one side of the tent and on the other there was runners lying all over the place, sleeping, puking and looking thoroughly miserable! I was thinking Fabrice must have pulled out when just then he came into the tent, my spirits lifted right away and we discussed how we "only" had two climbs to go and if we stuck together we could finish this race!

Off we went into the darkness again, there was no messing about here as we went straight into a really steep climb. I was getting really tired now and the shadows were playing crazy tricks on me. I kept thinking I saw sheep at the side of the track, I'd see writing on the ground and at one point I'd convinced myself I was walking on snow and I was trying not to slip! Fabrice was pushing hard though, so I kept with him and soon we were onto the descent into Vallorcine.

Vallorcine was very quiet, I suppose it was 1:20am, but they had a patio heater on and it was nice and cozy. There was another couple of British guys there who looked as bad as us, we chatted briefly ate some soup and then left for the final climb.

As we left Vallorcine I was really struggling to stay awake. It felt like my vision was crossing over and I was getting really confused. I said this to Fabrice and he said he was the same, thoughts would come into my head and take on a life of their own until the chatter got so crazy and confusing I thought I was going to explode! Meanwhile Fabrice was in a bad way. When I spoke to him he didn't seem to hear me, and he was stopping a lot to puke as well. We just kept moving forward though, as long as we kept moving we'd get there.

The climb up to Tete aux Vents was torture. It was really steep with high steps to negotiate and it looked like there was a long way to fall if I wobbled the wrong way. This focussed our minds and we made good progress following the bobbing headtorches away above us. Fabrice was still puking but he was keeping up the pace, so I hoped we could get to the aid station soon and get some food to keep us going to Chamonix. After a bit the ground levelled out a bit and there were massive boulders to negotiate over the top, this was hard going because I couldn't seem to co-ordinate my footing in my state of confusion, I just followed the group in front and hung on. Eventually we got to the aid station, I sat down had some soup and next thing I remember was being wakened up by Fabrice saying "come on, lets go" I'd fallen asleep for a couple of minutes.

It was getting light as we descended down the ski slope towards Chamonix, I was enjoying picking lines to follow and it passed the time. It then turned into much better forest trails and people were coming up from Chamonix looking for their friends and shouts of encouragement "bravo", "courage" and "allez, allez" had us breaking into a jog as we sensed the end getting near. I remember looking up at Mont Blanc, this massive mountain dominating the skyline, and realising I had almost completed this crazy journey all the way around it. It was quite some feeling!

As we passed some people they shouted to us it was 1.5k to the finish, our jog became a proper run, and soon we were on the main street, people shouting encouragement, around a few bends and there it was, the finish line at last!

What an incredible journey!

What amazing people and places I'd seen in the last 36 hours 53 minutes and 37 seconds. Thanks to everyone who helped and encouraged me, you know who you are.

Will I be there next year? Try and stop me!!

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

UTMB Update

36 hours 53 minutes 37 seconds

It was tough!

Here's the pictures, report to follow...............

Monday, 25 August 2008

Bonjour mon petit filous!!

Hey dudes pour le trail!
This will be my last post before heading off to Chamonix to tackle the Ultra Tour du Mont Blanc. This is LE GRANDE one!

Sh***ing it??...not me!!.......much.........

The last couple of days have been spent weighing all my gear piece by piece and trying to save a few grams here and there, I even cut a foot off the bottom of my trouser legs to save about 50 grams (that's almost a whole Go-bar) also some very complex calculations to ascertain if the highly technical Go-Bars are a better fuel than the teuchter performance enhancer and national dish, Shortbread. After much frothing over a calculator the sassenach Go-bars won out by a narrow margin. Its a real dillema though, because this will be my first long race without a wee tootie o' shortie to look forward to mid race, I'm gambling with a tried and tested formula here! It sounds like most of the aid stations are well stocked with goodies though, so I'm going to take the chance. Hope it's not all Fromage Frais and Petit Filous!!

I had another practice with the poles too which drew some funny looks as I ran up the street the other day. Just running in these parts is strange behaviour, unless you have a Polis van in hot pursuit, and usually if you're on foot it's only because your wee mini scooter has broken down. Anyway, I headed up Benarty Hill and gave them a good work-out and came to the conclusion that, in the race, I'll fold them up and keep them in my rucksack until I'm in such a state that I need them to keep me upright.

I was going through the compulsory kit list, stuff which must be carried or else, and was surprised to see "tight fitting pants" listed, I hope the locals are ready for this!
So, eight months training is in the bank, I'm tapered to the stage of insanity (chewing the door-frames stage) I can speak some more of La Francais (Je suis bloody knackered, comment beaucoup plus loin??!! Avez-vous des shortbread?? Sont mes pantalons serrés!!) and my tight pants weigh 37 grams, I hope they don't get any heavier.......!
My race number is 3266 you can follow my progress live here from 1730 hrs BST Friday 29th.
Only five dinners to go.......
Wish me luck mes amis!
Ooh la la!

Saturday, 23 August 2008

Want to be my best pal.....?

These guys can have honorary "Best Pal" status in the Sunday Adventure Club for this stunt. "Best Pal" status means full use of the SAC Grifter and the secret code for the Ganghut.

The Grifter.
For security reasons this picture was not taken in the Ganghut .

Monday, 11 August 2008

A Devil Of A Morning!

Devil O' the Highlands 43 mile race

I was glad to get the climb out of Kinlochleven behind me, lots of walkers to negotiate on the narrow path, the rain hammering down and my empty stomach threatening revolt at any minute. As the long winding track came into view ahead I started to think about times and it dawned on me for the first time that I could do sub 6 hours. I couldn't quite believe it at first, I checked to make sure my watch wasn't broken, went over the numbers a few times... if I got to Lundavra in 5 hours I knew I could run to the Fort in an hour but I had to shift some!

Rewind just over 4 1/2 hours to Tyndrum where I'd given my support my splits for a 6:50 (which I secretly hoped to make a 6:40!). A few minutes at the start line then we were off, straight away a group formed at the front of 5 runners so I hung back in 6th with the intention of easing into this one. Not to be! The pace was quick and I had to match it or lose places but I felt ok so went with it. Through Bridge of Orchy and over the hill to Inveroran then onto the stretch of road where I stepped on the gas and caught up a bit on the group by the stile at Forest Lodge. Now onto Rannoch Moor, always my worst section, and today was going to be no different. Last week at Borrowdale I had clattered my ankle a few times on the rocks and after Sunday in the hills it was quite swollen and sore but had eased by mid-week so I hadn't given it another thought. Unfortunately it had started to get really painful with all the impact and it was causing me to slow down a bit. Then George Cairns passed me and I tried to hang on but he was too fast for me, so it was dig-in till Glencoe and hope a brufen could kill the pain. It worked a treat, by the time I got to the Staircase I was upping the pace again, running and walking a nice rythmn up the climb. I looked down below and saw John Kennedy maybe about 5 minutes behind and looking strong so I had to push it on the descent or he was going to catch me. A mouthful of raisins at the top then I let go and ran as hard as I could enjoying the rock-hopping and technical bits as I got nearer to the building at the top of the Kinlochleven descent, then I really let go, getting from there to the checkpoint in 17 minutes which I was pretty chuffed with. I forced myself to eat a finger of shortbread (aka Teuchter Rocketfuel!) and I was off. I caught up with the runner in front just before Lundavra after seeing Murdo MacEwan and his words of encouragement (!!) then caught the next guy just after Lundavra. Only problem was being so far ahead of schedule my support weren't there yet but I wasn't for stopping anyway so it was ok (Val and Fiona you were fantastic! I won't tell Tommy, I promise!).
5 hours exactly at Lundavra. My WHW split from there to the finish was 1:14 so I knew with 50 miles less in the legs sub 6 was definitely achievable but there was no room to ease off at all so the plan was to keep it nice and solid until the descent on the forest track where I would give it everything to the finish. I reached the Braveheart car park with 10 minutes to spare and as I sprinted round the corner and saw the finish I felt really emotional, NEVER would I have believed I could have ran sub 6!

5:55:34 to be exact and 5th place, all in a mornings work! It was an amazing set of results with seven of us inside the previous course record, I think we all just forced each other to run out of our skins. I'm paying for it today though, my body aches all over and I'm walking like a real cowboy!

Thanks to Fiona Rennie for the photos

Gail, me, Lynn and Stephen

Finishing Straight


Sunday, 3 August 2008

Cairngorms, Ullapool, Borrowdale and Ben Lui

W/c 28/7 Totals

74 miles

24460' ascent

18:35 hrs

Have been around and about this week.

Tuesday I ran up Glen Squaib to the col below Ben dearg, nr Ullapool, and back.

Wednesday I met Victor and went up from the ski car park over to Ben Macdui where we met a mad German family at the summit all wearing jeans and trainers, Dad with can of lager in hand! The clag had come in and we were trying to explain to them how to get back and how easy it was to get lost, after about 10 minutes we felt they got the message and off we went and promptly got lost! Eventually we got back on track and went over Cairn Lochan and the other wee tops back to Cairngorm then had a competitive descent back down to the car park and jumped in the burn for the Cairngorm sauna effect.

Saturday was the Borrowdale Fell Race(pics by Rob Stephens HERE). My first time and what a cracker of a race! Loads in it; rugged scrambly bits, bog, scree running, some pretty hairy descents and some quad burning climbs. I had a good start, going well until Scafell then it all went badly wrong. Not sure what line to take off the summit, I followed a group who looked like they knew what they were doing. They did. They promptly shot off into the mist leaving me scrabbling over big, wet, slippy rocks and wondering where to go next. I chose the wrong way and watched as about 30 people shot passed below and by the time I got back on track I'd lost loads of places. So, down the scree run I plunged... well, ponced, like a girly as all the real men disengaged their brains and hurtled down at speed, another dozen places disappeared into the mist! I decided I would just take my time on the tricky bits and hammer the climbs. It was going ok as I picked up some places and felt pretty strong, then after Great Gable a "helpful" chap pointed me and a couple of guys in the best direction of travel and 10 minutes later we descended out of the mist to see lots of runners on the hill above us heading in the other direction. Back on track again, a steep descent then a massive climb up Dale Head, some knee crunching descending and over the finish line in 3:57, great fun!!
I sat about in the sun at the finish and then Oscar came in and we watched the highly amusing prizegiving. It was starting to look like some serious beer-drinking was going to take place so Oscar and I, being lads of a sensible nature, decided to hit the road with a pit-stop for fish suppers in Longtown.

Sunday I met up with Lucy and Matt and headed up to run the Ben Lui group of munros. We left the shelter of the van and headed off into the pouring rain feeling none too enthusiastic. It cleared pretty soon though and we knocked of Ben Dubhcraig, Ben Oss, Ben Lui, Beinn a' Chlieb and Ben Lui again to round off an 18 mile and 6600' day, then it was into Tyndrum for more heart-attack food!

Monday, 28 July 2008

Latest Adventures

Stats out the way first...

W/c 21/7/8 totals

60 miles
19200' ascent
12:03 hrs of running

Ben Rinnes 5 Tops Hill Race 15 miles 4900'


I was looking forward to this race all week, it's a great course with a good mix of rough heather bashing and then a good trail to the summit of Ben Rinnes, which you then return on making a really fast, bone-shaking descent.

It was scorching hot at the start-line in the Dufftown highland games field, a big crowd this year for all the events with loads of tourists no doubt wondering what it was all about. The announcer held back a bit this year, not quite calling us "the worlds top hillrunners" but gave us a big send off all the same!

The pace was quite quick to start and I felt pretty knackered straight away, I knew it was going to be hard because I've done so little running in any real sort of heat I'm just not used to it so just dug in and found a rythmn. Also the course was devilishly marked with flags leading into all the boggy stuff, one really nasty bit had me in up to my knee and Victor lost his shoe and a few minutes trying to extract it. I never felt like I got going until the last couple of miles when I took a few places and ran in quite strong, having to dodge the pipe band on the way round the track was a novelty too! Then as I staggered around trying to keep my legs moving at the finish I heard loads of shouting and looked up to see that I had wandered out right in line with the hammer thrower who had to make an emergency stop mid "swing"! He didn't look to chuffed and I swiftly merged into the crowd ... I was surprised to see in the results I came in 10th too, so quite pleased with that.

Sundays adventures were of a different kind, doing a bit of marshalling at the Donkey Brae race in Aberdour. Well not quite marshalling, I was given the job of going in front of the runners on my bike to lead them around the course, sounds easy but these guys run fast! My quads were already thrashed from Ben Rinnes and the leading runner almost caught up with me a couple of times!

Then a change of scenery at the Big Tent Festival in Falkland with some great music and some time spent eating tasty cherries off the trees in the grounds of Falkland estate... I just can't resist the berries!

Today work had brought me up to the Teuchters, so an evening in the Cairngorms running in the sunshine went down a treat. Parked at the ski car park, went up Cairngorm then over Ben Macdui and down the other side to the col with Carn a' Mhaim and then climbed back up Macdui and returned the same way. I then sat in the burn for a bit to cool the legs off and as I was going back to my car I bumped into a fellow whw competitor and ultra runner on his holidays, small world!



14.8 miles

5200' ascent


Friday, 25 July 2008

Today I Am Normal

Today I was like a normal person; No running so I can have a good run at Ben Rinnes tomorrow. Instead I ate a lot of crisps and broccoli. Superfoods, well maybe not the crisps but its all about balance, the ying and the yang n' all that.
Here's a link to todays top news story, don't miss this!

Yesterdays training:-

3.2 miles
730' ascent

A short dash up Benarty hill and back via some trail.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

An Evenings Cattle Rustling

23/7 15 miles, 2630' ascent, 2:21

Headed over Benarty Hill and decided to go Coo dodging again on the way up to Blairadam Forest. It was an out and back job with some battling through nettles and bramble bushes and a few stops to eat blaeberries which are covering the hill now, I must remember my tupperware dish next-time. I have to cross a field to get into the forest and the last-time I was charged by about 40 massive beasts who started chasing me and as they picked up speed I realised I was going to be mowed down, so I stopped and waved my hands at them and made those kind of YAARRR noises John Wayne makes in the films. This did the trick. I wasn't going to get caught-out this time though so I scampered very lightly past and the dafties didn't even notice me this time, too busy chewing that cud stuff. Anyway, the return was a different story. Daisy and her mates, bored brewing milk and whacked-up on cud stuff, had spotted me as soon as I entered the field and broke into a jog alongside me, then the rest of the dozy beasties sprang to life gathering speed just behind. I decided the only safe option was to jump the fence into the next field but this meant running through the stingiest nettles in Fife for about 400 metres, OUCH! I played it cool though for the audience in a nearby garden, trying to look like it was all part of the training running through six foot tall nettles. Why do they always pick on me??!

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Some training

Oops I forgot the boring stuff...

Monday 21/7

19.3 miles 5850' ascent 4:19 mins

Lomond Hills good rough run in bits with a mix of trails too (and some coo dodging), much more like a July day too!

Tuesday 22/7

9 miles 5470' ascent 2:21

Hill reps on Falkland Hill, passing walkers look at me like I'm a loony and children point at the "sweaty man"... why?!

West Highland Way Barbie like, ken...

Sundays outing was of the non sporting variety, a barbie for all the Carnegie Harriers WHW runners and supporters. It was good to see everybody again and talk WHW for a whole afternoon!
The highlight was Tommy's video footage, what a laugh. I was a bit embarrassed about my mid race interview at Auchtertyre though. I look and sound like a total Fifer jakey! How I didn't get pulled out of the race I'll never know! I was slurring all my words in my best Ballingry accent whilst ramming massive spoonfuls of tattie mush into my gob. "So how have you enjoyed the race so far?" "ach, no bad, I wuz pish up Loach Lomund, ma quadz wur burst n a couldnae stuy awake likes" then I proceeded to shake hands with my early shift support crew "cheers boayz, that wuz brulliant, a couldnae done it wi' oot yiz likes"..... no wonder when I asked Jens earlier in the race... "wot d ye think aboot yaezin powulls fur Moont Blonk, then neebz??" he looked at me blankly and carried on running! It takes a lang spoon indeed!
If I can get a hold of it and work out the technology then I'll post it here (not the lang spoon, the video ya nut!), but nae laughin ya bass...

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Glenmore Lodge to Devil's Point and back

19/7 28.5 miles 5700'

This was supposed to be another round of the Cairngorm 4000's but bad weather meant a change of plan.
Instead I met up with Lucy, Matt and Victor (aka Colin/Bunter etc!) at Glenmore Lodge in the pouring rain and we decided to head for the Lairig Gru and see how the weather progressed. Matt headed off solo for Bynack More and Victor shot off on his own saying something about us catching him up.
We ran through the Chalamain Gap and out to Corour bothy where we finally saw Victor again as he shot back in the other direction saying something about it being too cold to hang about and he was off again. Lucy and I decided to climb the Devil's Point as the weather had improved a bit. After a swift climb we hid in the summit shelter from the icy wind and sleaty showers (yes it is July!) quickly ate some food and then hammered it back down to the bothy.
We decided that was enough for one day and ran back to Glenmore Lodge this time via Loch Morlich, made a mega quick change because of the midgies and dashed down the road to Aviemore for the shelter of the Mountain cafe for a plate of soup!

The West Highland Way Race 21st June 2008

95 miles, 14 725 ft


I need another goblet. I've got three but that doesn't look right on the table. Four will be just right, then I can move on to another challenge, put this one to bed for good. That is the plan!

Chapter 1 - First We Take Milngavie

Everything was planned to the last detail, I had trained like a madman for six months solid, raced over 300 miles in the last three months... i felt ready for it this year. So off to Milngavie we went in Mark's big white van, I jibbered non-stop all the way, a combination of nerves and too much coffee, then as we were still a fair bit from Milngavie we realised we had slightly misjudged the travelling time. It was about 12.20am when I jumped out of the van and almost ran into the town hall to register, the plan was in bits already, my brain was frazzled with coffee and I had too much to remember! I said a few quick hello's then felt bad as I ignored people in my rush to get ready. Everyone else seemed so relaxed, Kate Jenkins was chatting away, Colin "Bunter" Hutt was chillin' (takes more than a 95 mile run to faze him!) and all the Carnegie's looked so organised!

Chapter 2 - Come In Number 6, Your Time Is Up!

The race started and off we went. The plan was to get near to the front to avoid getting caught in the crowds so I shot off quite fast chatting to Kate, then a few shouts from behind and we realized we had taken the wrong track, damn. A quick detour, a sprint and we were back on the trail. Two minutes later, more shouts, lost again! It's great to be organised!It didn't take long to get into a rhythm, I went through Drymen feeling good, I must have been about 7th or 8th, and pushed up into the forest no longer needing the torch. On towards Conic Hill, this was a section I had been looking forward to, but I didn't feel too good. My quads were hurting a lot more than they should have been, I thought it was because of the cold morning air and so pushed a bit harder to try and get the blood flowing through them. As I came into the Balmaha car park I felt wrecked, only 20 miles down, I shouldn't feel this bad. I had some food then headed on for Rowardennen. This section went by quite quickly, I was running with Kate and Jens and felt quite comfortable, maybe I was through the worst. A bite to eat and a big drink of coke at Rowardennon and it was off up the loch for one of my favourite sections. The rough terrain as you go up Loch Lomond means you have to concentrate quite hard on your footing but this also means it seems to pass quite quickly so I had been looking forward to it. I had lost sight of Kate and Jens when George Cairns passed me going like a rocket, I tried to follow but it just wasn't happening. As the trail was getting rougher I was getting more and more tired and my energy levels had dropped way down, then I started to feel sick. It took all my concentration not to throw up, I felt terrible, had slowed down almost to walking pace and was tripping and kicking stones all the time as I struggled to keep my eyes open. How was I going to deal with this? I started to look around me, maybe I could lie down and get 10 minutes sleep then I'd be ok. I stopped for a second but the midges were so bad that wasn't going to be an option. Inversnaid was coming up soon, I could ask the mountain rescue guys if I could have a sleep in the back of their van! Perfect! I stumbled up the track a bit more until I realised running was out of the question, I was gone. I'd had a bit of a stomach bug the week before and had been in denial as to the fact that it might affect my race but now I was beginning to think my number was up. When I got to Inversnaid I would get the guys to give me a lift to Beinglas, I was completely done, game over. Whw 08 Dnf.
I shuffled over the bridge to the Inversnaid hotel, lowered myself down the steps and staggered over to the search and rescue guys. "Well done, you're looking great" "fantastic, dig in, your catching them up" loads of encouragement from the guys, I couldn't say what I so wanted to... "please take me home, mister..." so off I shuffled until I was out of sight then I walked again, only about 7 miles to Beinglas to meet Simon and Mark then they could take me home. I'll phone Tommy and Ryan who were due to take over support at Auchtertyre and tell them not to bother, damn, no phone signal! Next thing I heard voices behind, more runners. I was being caught-up now, a few went past then someone I recognised, it was Murdo McEwan. "What's wrong?" he said. I mumbled something about being finished and dnf ing at Beinglas before they disappeared into the distance. A few more passed then I started to think, maybe I should jog a bit because it was going to be hours to Beinglas at this rate. So I slowly jogged on until I heard more voices behind, a group of about 7 or 8 was gaining fast, I'm going to lose all those places! No chance! Quickly a jog became a trot then a real, proper run and soon I was flying (well, almost!) I caught all the people who had passed me and got to Beinglas feeling better than I had most of the race. I filled my mouth with potatoes, gulped down coke, got another bottle of juice and shot off in pursuit of the next runner. I caught another couple before reaching Auchtertyre on a mission! Game on!

Chapter 3 - The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner

I felt super-charged as I munched down more mashed tatties and ketchup, a few gulps of coke, full bottle of juice and I was off again. I was even back on schedule as I left the checkpoint! I ran through Tyndrum and up the hill then I caught sight of Kate in front. I seemed to be catching her so I pushed on, company would be nice for a bit. As I approached it was obvious she was in trouble, I gave her a few words of encouragement but I was having a good patch so was going to make the most of it while it lasted. Pushing on towards Bridge of Orchy I could see the 3rd place runner, Alan Reid, in the distance. I was starting to feel a bit "thin" with the faster pace but thought if I run out my last bits of energy and catch him up, I can get a good feed of tatties and ketchup at the checkpoint and I'll be brand new for the climb out of Bridge of Orchy. I caught him just as the trail met the road and ran hard down the hill to get my tatties. As I got in to the checkpoint I looked around for the guys... nowhere to be seen! I saw Stewart, Kate's support who said he hadn't seen them so I quickly phoned Tommy's mobile. "where are you?" I said desperately. "Er, we'll be there shortly..." was the reply. "Ok, I'm going on, meet me at the hotel further on". They had missed the turning off the road and were heading up Glencoe... oops! The great thing about this race is the camaraderie of the runners and support crews, as soon as people saw I was in trouble I was being offered all sorts of food and drink from everyone, I could have stayed and had a feast! Instead I took a bag of crisps and a bottle of water and headed on meeting Tommy and Ryan a few miles on with more much needed tatties and juice, no harm done.

Chapter 4 - Dancing on Ice

Crunch! Crunch! Crunch! Crunch! It sounded like a bunch of squaddies marching along right behind me all the way across Rannoch Moor! It was driving me loopy! I was having a hard time, the rocket fuel had run dry and the rough, stoney track was hard going. My schedule was slipping away and that bloody crunching aggghhh! Seemed like a good idea at the time to fill my camelbak with ice cubes but I should have picked up a set of ear plugs too! I was sure someone was catching me from behind too, I thought I could see a figure in the distance moving fast but I wasn't able to pick up the pace. My mood wasn't good and the going was rough again, "I'm never doing this again" I said to myself, "this is the last and I mean it this time" it was all getting rather black in the positive thinking department! Luckily I had arranged to meet Tommy and Ryan at Blackrock Cottage which is about 3/4 of a mile before Kingshouse, the official checkpoint, so help was close by. As I sat stuffing my face with more tatties and ketchup Tommy tried to rub some of the pain out of my legs and I headed off feeling a lot better. I had lost a place though and was back in 4th but I could catch up if I got things going again.I pushed hard after Kingshouse, trying to make the most of the road section because it was rough going from here to the finish. After meeting the guys at the bottom of the Devils staircase I climbed hard and felt totally gone at the top. My legs were really stiff and I could hardly descend at all so I was moving very slowly, trying to build up a rhythm and get going again. By the time I got to the top of the smooth track into Kinlochleven I knew I had to run fast here, it was easy terrain so if I could get some pace here it would get me going again. I got to the bottom in quick time and felt really energised with the faster pace but I was glad to get a seat and scoff down some more tatties and ketchup, mixed with milk this time to help them go down, Tommy, you're a genius! I was weighed here too and was amazed to see I had lost about 5 kilos!

Chapter 5 - Keep the Faith

I had had a good feed at Kinlochleven because I knew what was ahead. In previous years I had crashed badly on this section. There's a steep climb out of Kinlochleven then the track seems to wind on endlessly into the distance and it's rough too, with lots of lose stones to trip on and keep it interesting. You start to feel like you're getting there too, which keeps you going, but I find I have to force myself to eat and drink as I get nearer to the finish because my instinct is to think that I don't need to because I'll be finished soon but the calories are getting burnt at such a rate that if you're not constantly munching then you're going to be in trouble quickly.I made short work of the climb, having done it in training so many times this year I was on personal terms with every stone. When I got to the top and saw the track stretching out ahead I could see the runner in front about a mile. I stepped on the gas but I think he saw me because so did he, would we burn each other out? I just kept the rhythm going trying not to look up from the tricky terrain too much but when I did I could see that Alan had slowed down and I was going to catch him. As I passed I could see he was having a hard time, I shouted that if he kept going he'd get in under 19 hours, he just nodded and I ploughed on. A niggling thought in the back of my head was would Tommy and Ryan find the Lundavra support point ok. It is quite tricky to find from Kinlochleven if you're not familiar with it, so I kept enough juice and some fruit pastilles back just in case. No need to worry though the guys were ready and waiting as I came through, a swap for a full bottle of juice and it was off up the track for the final 6 miles.

Chapter 6 - Between a Rock and a Hard Place

As I went through Lundavra I checked my watch, 6.12pm. I could get inside 18 and a half hours if I work hard, a pb was in sight. I hit the climb hard but there's a few stiles to get over which are agony and ruin the rhythm but I kept it going as much as I could, always thinking about the big rock in the woods which, once you see it means it's all downhill to the finish... I love that rock! What a feeling when it comes into view, you can't buy that! I came through the woods looking desperately, then saw the stile before the descent, "Where's my rock?" I thought! Surely they hadn't moved it! Then I looked behind me and a sign warning of works on the track had been leaned against it obscuring it from view, phew! As I climbed the stile I looked down at Fort William below and just savoured that sight for a moment, nearly done! Then another surprise. The track had been diverted and there was another wee climb, That's why they hid the "rock of the final climb" it all made sense! I ran hard now towards the Braveheart car park, Tommy and Ryan came up the track a bit then I hit the tarmac for the last mile alone, passing pedestrians who must have wondered what this strange smelling runner with a funny look in his eye was about. I didn't care though as I had enough energy to sprint past the West Highland Way finishing post and along into the leisure centre and finished! 3rd place, 18 hours 27 minutes exactly, a new pb by 22 minutes.
Race organiser Dario greeted me with a quaich full of Glengoyne malt whisky which I promptly downed, not a good idea as I discovered when it made its reappearance 20 minutes later!

Chapter 7 - Goblet of Fire!

After regaining control of my stomach, getting showered and having some food, we saw Lyn come in then went down to the Braveheart car park to watch Pauline and Gail coming in, stayed to see them at the end and then went back to the B&B for a good nights sleep. I was starving again so made myself a pot noodle, the next thing I knew it was 5am and I hadn't even made it into bed before falling asleep. The pot noodle was excellent cold though!The next day it was down to the prize giving to see all the survivors. 5 out of 5 Carnegies! What a result! Then off down the road and back to the real world.Thanks to everyone who supported me, it was a team effort and greatly appreciated, I couldn't have done it without you. By the way, keep the 20th of June 2009 free, 3rd place prize was two lovely whisky tumblers... I'm still short of a goblet!

Richie Cunningham '08

The End

You Have Been Watching...

Simon Templeman & Mark Sadler......................................... First half support and midge warriors.

Tommy "theres been a change of plan..." Lawrence & Ryan MacKenzie.................................2nd half support and chief navigators.

The West Highland Way Race family and all its support teams, helpers, marshalls etc...................... Prime source for inspiration, motivation and encouragement