Saturday, 2 May 2015

AofA 2015 review.

So after the highs and lows of 2014 (more lows than highs!) here I was standing on the start of the first running of AofA 100 mile coastal foot race. Being my first winter 100 mile race I was feeling a little bit apprehensive about the unknown. The weather forecast was looking pretty good for the weekend considering it was early Feb. It was going to be clear and dry but quite cold through the early hours of the morning.

Just weeks before the race the local running community was hit hard by the tragic passing of Dave Rowe, a super talented ultra runner who was meant to be taking part in the race. We gathered at the starting point and had a two minutes silence for Dave, it was a really fitting start to this great race (R.I.P Dave Rowe). The air horn sounded and off we all went into the darkness of this epic adventure. It didn't take long for the field to thin out, off went Duncan Oakes and Steve Wyatt and they would stay together for the whole 100 miles to take joint first place in under 23hrs!

I found myself running in a group of about six runners, one of which was Charlie Ramsdale, a member of Mudcrews Ultra team. We had raced together a few times before and spent long periods of races together so it was nice to have her along for company.
We rattled along at a good pace and it seemed like no time at all when we reached the first check point at Porthleven. It was a great feeling stepping through the door of the Pub into the warm lounge where we were welcomed by a round of applause from all the supporters and support crews. I've never been treated so well in a race before, Mudcrew races are always pretty special but this was exceptional! Everyone bent over backwards for us! We got some warm food inside us and topped up our bottles and we were back out into the cold nights air, I didn't want to spend too long in the warmth of the pub because I was scared I might not want to leave!

By this time myself and Charlie had been joined by Richard Keefe, another talented local runner and also a member of Mudcrews Ultra team. We headed out of Porthleven and on to the next check point at Sennen cove. Still running strong and feeling nice and relaxed we reached Marazion where we would have to leave the trail and hit the dreaded road section through Penzance and Newlyn. It didn't take long for the feet and body to start hurting from the high impact of road running. At one stage we were all wishing for a hill so we could walk for a bit. We finally made it back to the coast path after some pretty tough road miles, it was good to be back on the soft stuff! We were all still running strong and feeling good but ultra running is a strange beast, when you are running strong in the back of your mind you are wondering when the low points are going to hit. Pushing on towards Lands End we battled through some hard sections of coast path, Lamorna and Porthcurno. At this point I must say a massive THANK YOU! to Richard Keefe's wife, she was waiting at the top of the steep steps at the Minack theatre with a cup of hot chocolate. I can only describe this as the best dam cup of hot chocolate I have ever consumed!

The temperature was dropping quick and by the time we had made it into Sennen (a few little detours on route!) it was pretty cold. Again the Angels came to our rescue. I haven't gone mad - the Angels was the name give to anyone on the Mudcrews support crew :) We stepped into the warmth of another cosy check point and it wasn't long before I had a lovely hot cup of coffee in my hands (Shaking Hands!) Charlie was having some blister issues by this time and I really couldn't stop my hands from shaking so we decided to stay in the warm for 15-20 mins so I could stop shaking and Charlie could sort her feet out. Warmed up and strapped up (Thanks, Angels) we made our way back outside, as we left the sun was starting to show its face for the first time it really lifted our spirits as we made our way back on to the coast path. Feeling the warmth of the sun was great after a cold nights running and a really cold early morning with the temperature hit -5 degrees at some points.
Even with the sunrise giving us a boast of energy we weren't getting carried away because we knew we were just about to hit the toughest section of the whole 100 miles!

I had spent many an hour training on the next section running from St Ives to Sennen so I knew the area really well, maybe a bit too well! Charlie was suffering quite a bit by now, not that you would know because she's one tough cookie and keeps her suffering to herself. First it was her feet and now it was her back being rubbed by her pack and it was getting pretty uncomfortable! The race director had organised the medical team to meet us at Cape Cornwall so they could take a good look at Charlies back and try to make it a bit more bearable. We arrived at Cape Cornwall and were greeted by Andy Jukes who had been doing an amazing job supporting myself and Steve Wyatt and everyone else in the race through the long cold night. Charlie jumped into the back of the medics van so they could look at her back and believe me it wasn't in great shape. Tom Sutton and Nicky Taylor were at Cape Cornwall helping out with race support so I went over to have a chat while Charlie got her back strapped up. It was quite exposed at the Cape so it wasn't long before I started to feel cold. Nicky and Tom got me a blanket and told me to jump in the back of their van so I didn't get to cold while I waited (Thanks, guys, it was a massive help!)

The medical team had done a super job on Charlies back so we were up on our feet again and ready to make the push to St Ives, my home town and the next check point. Cape Cornwall to St Ives was by far the toughest section of the whole race. If you combine really tired legs and minds with slippery technical coast path running it's a pretty dangerous combination. We were join by Martyn Lewis, a good friend of mine, between Zennor and St Ives, it was great to see a friendly face. We took our time through this super technical section, we didn't want any accidents this far into the race. It was an awesome sight as we rounded the head land to see the welcoming view of St Ives harbour. Arriving at the far end of the Harbour front in St Ives we were joined by a guy wearing a Mudcrew hi viz vest. He started running along the front with us so I turned to him and said hi, his reply was "what would you like to eat!" Yep, he was taking our food order so when we got to the control point at the Lifeboat pub our food would be waiting for us! I have never experienced this in a race before, Mudcrew really are great at organising running events and as you can see their attention to detail is truly amazing :)

As we got closer to the pub I could see Liga waiting for me with a big smile on her face, it was a great moment in the race, her smile really lifted me and I knew that the hardest sections where done and it was pretty good running all the way to the finish. I was quietly confident but you never want to get too carried away in a 100 mile race because things can change at a drop of a hat!
As we walked away from St Ives I could see Charlie was starting to suffer a bit. It was at a similar point in her two other attempts at 100 miles that Charlie had to pull out due to injury. I thought I would strike up a conversation to try and take her mind off the suffering and the fact we still had around 22 miles still to run with a long, brutal section of tarmac to come :(
As we arrived at Lelant church and left the soft coastal trail and hit the hard, repetitive tarmac it didn't take long before things started to hurt and tighten up! Once we had made it round to Hayle town centre, our bodies were pretty battered and sore. We started to run a lamp post, walk a lamp post to try and relieve our aching limbs from some of the impact. It really seemed to help and we were soon at Godrevy and heading back on to the lovely, more forgiving Cornish coast path. We both got a real lift when we got back on the soft stuff and with only 8'ish miles to the finish we pushed on.
I say we pushed on but we did a lot more than that. I think Charlie had got a massive second wind because she took off and was flying, it was a struggle just to keep up! We were up on the North cliffs in no time and even though darkness had descended upon us it didn't slow us down and for large sections of the North cliffs our pace was 8.30m/m! I can assure you I have never hit pace like that this far into a 100 mile race before :)

Having run the last 5-6 miles of the race so many times in training I knew there was a bit of a sting in the tail! Knowing Charlie was suffering with her feet and back, I decided to keep this to myself and be as positive as I could be in this situation. We crossed bassetts car park still at a good pace and on towards the sets of big steps that would lead us to Portreath. With three sets of steps to conquer before we reached Portreath it was head down and keep pushing. We over came the first three sets with only a few choice swear words! and I thought Charlie was a lady :) Dropping down to the bright lights of Portreath we could see our welcome party at the bottom waiting to cheer us on. We had a quick chat, filled up our bottles and with a few words of encouragement from our support crew we were off to tackle the horrible tarmac hill out of Portreath (I hate this HILL!) With Kay and Katie cheering us on all the way up the hill we made it to the top and were turning back on to the coast path. A few more big dips with more BIG steps and we would be at the the end of our epic Cornish journey! I kept saying to Charlie "one last push" "one last push" but I think at this point she had stopped believing me :)

We stood at the bottom of the last big climb, I had a great feeling at this moment in time. I knew this was it, the last big effort and boy was it an effort. It felt like I was on my hands and knees crawling up that last dam hill! Summiting the last flight of big steps and getting back on the flat we realised we had done it, with just flat running and then down hill all the way to the finish. We ran over the rise and what a glorious sight, the lights coming from the Blue bar at the finish in Porthtowan.
The guys at the finish line must have seen our head torches because we could hear them all cheering us to the finish. It's so hard to describe the feeling you get at the end of such a long race where you have had so many highs and lows! I think it's a feeling everybody should experience at least once in their life time. We dropped down the hill and turned the corner to the finishing straight. We had run 100 miles on tough challenging Cornish coast path, in winter conditions (well, kind of!) and I can honestly say I had loved every single step. It's not very often you can say that when you're racing long distances but this was definitely one of them times to savour.

It was awesome to see Charlie get to the finish line and put the 100 mile distance well and truly to bed! I must take this opportunity to thank everyone who gave up their time to help and support us on our amazing adventure because without you these things wouldn't be possible. Lastly I'd like to thank Mudcrew events for all their hard work in putting on such an EPIC well organised race. THANK YOU ALL VERY MUCH!

Monday, 2 June 2014

Transvulcania report

I thought it was time to put pen to paper, well fingers to keys in today's modern times! A lot has happened since my last blog but the biggest event has been a trip to this little Island called La Palma. The trip was due to a not so little race called Transvulcania! It had been almost a year in the planning. We entered the race back in July 2013 and we booked the hotel in Nov 2013. So with nearly a year to get ready for it you would expect me to have been prepared but that really wasn't the case. The last two days before the trip were a little bit hectic to say the least. With all the kit packed off we went to the airport to catch our flight, the adventure had begun! As we flew nearer to the Island we started to get the first stunning views of the Island but what the view also did was show us how crazy high and how super steep the Island really is.

After a heavy landing (and I mean a really heavy landing!) we boarded the coach and made our way to the hotel. As we drove away from the airport all we could see was this road winding its way up to the top of this very steep hill and it wasn't too long before we were right in the cloud line. Having made it to the hotel on a pretty epic road, we checked into our rooms and went for a look round the hotel. As we walked through the hotel and into the reception area I couldn't believe my eyes, sitting there have a chat were two of trail running's biggest super stars (Anna Frost & Timothy Olsen). Being to good an opportunity to miss I passed my phone to Liga and got her to take a picture of me with two of my trail running heroes.

I know I can waffle on in some of my blogs so this time I'm going to get straight to the good stuff! The alarm went off at 02:45am and up we jumped, the hotel had been amazing and they had opened the restaurant at 02:30am for anyone staying there doing the race that wanted some breakfast. Last minute kit check and off we went to get something to eat before the bus turned up to take us to the iconic start. Myself and Liga were pretty nervous but we still managed to eat a small breakfast before we left. We went and joined all the other nervous looking people in reception and then boarded the bus for a short trip to the start. The nerves were ok as we sat on the bus, it was more excitement than nerves. All I wanted to do was get started and get running. The bus crested the hill and there it was the famous lighthouse (Faro De Fuencalente), the start of Transvulcania! I had been warned by people who had done the race before that the start can get a bit crazy, what they didn't mention was that you get dropped off by the buses at the top of the hill and you have to make your own way down. So there we all were trying to make our way down to the starting area without falling over and injuring ourselves. The wind was really howling and all the volcanic sand was being blown up in our faces. So walking down a steep hill of soft sand and sharp rock, with hundreds of people all over the place, sand getting blown in your eyes and this was just to get to the starting line. That's what I call a TOUGH race!

With the wind getting stronger we thought we would try and find some shelter so we made our way down to the toilets (all 7 of them!) yes 7 toilets for 2300 people!! I'll leave the condition of the toilets to your imagination :( The holding area was filling up quickly and race time was fast approaching. Liga's race, the Half marathon (well 14.5miles!) started half an hour after the ultra so I waited with her till there was 10 mins till the start and then made my way into the masses. Pushing my way through I managed to get about 5 rows from the front. Having run the first 7km of the route a week before I knew the race route went really narrow quite soon after the start and I didn't want to get stuck behind slower runners! Time was flying and we only had a few minutes to go, a couple of Mexican waves later and it was 3,2,1 GO! we were off.

What followed next can only be described as total and utter chaos - no room to run, runners pushing, running poles hitting you in the shins, trying not to trip and then we got to the narrower path! It seemed like so many of the slower runners had made their way to the front of the start line for some strange reason, so when we got to the narrow path the whole race just slowed to a walk. I know we were going up hill but my legs where fresh and the hill wasn't that bad. It was just too slow so I came off the path and decided to run up the side to try and get some space and get away from all the hordes of runners. The plan was working and I was flying past hundreds of runners and just trying not to trip on the odd random rock as I went. Once up on the wider path I grabbed a chance to have a look behind and the view was mind blowing, just one massive long snake of head torch lights winding its way towards me. The path got wider as you went up and the field had really thinned out by then so running was much easier by now. Knowing that there was a super steep hill coming up at about 6km, I decided to push on because I would get a bit of recovery walking the steep hill.

I was fast approaching the first aid station at Los Canarios at 7.5km and 705m. I could hear people clapping and cheering, but when I got there I couldn't believe the amount of support in this small village. There were people lining the street the whole way through the village, everyone was cheering and giving you high fives and for some reason all the amazing support made me really emotional and I was fitting back the tears! I stopped at the aid station and filled both my bottles up and gave my face a good wash to get all the dust off my face from when the sand was blowing up at the start. A quick stop and I was off running again, from here on wards was uncharted territory so I was a little bit apprehensive. As I push up to 1922m on really soft volcanic sand the sun started to show its face. I was feeling great and fast marching the steep bits and running the rest, trying to get as high up before the sun got hot. Reaching the top of the first big climb at Las Desadas (sea level to 1922m) I started to see the totally stunning views that everyone had been telling me about, I was up high looking down on a big blanket of fluffy white cloud, it really did give you the feel of sky running! And even though I was racing I just had to stop and have a good look and take it all in.

Still in good spirits and feeling strong I started to make the descent down to the half Marathon point and the next aid station at Del Pilar. The descent was about 5km and quite steep and technical, the terrain had changed from soft volcanic sand to hard compact trail with big rocky step downs. It was great to get off the sand but the big step downs were pretty tough on the quads! Once again like when I was coming into the last aid station I could hear the massive crowd that had gathered to cheer every runner on. The aid station at Del Pilar is quite simply one of the most amazing aid stations I have ever been through and probably ever will! It was like a little village, lots of tents with all kinds of goodies for us to drink and eat, lots and lots of tasty fresh water melon! My race plan was to go through the aid stations quite quickly so I didn't waste too much time. I got my two bottles filled up and mixed another bottle of electrolyte and shoved several juicy wedges of water melon in my mouth and I was off, full speed ahead! I was bang on race schedule and past through Del Pilar at 3hrs 25mins which I was really happy with, the legs still felt good and it was onwards and upwards, or so I thought?

Del Pilar was at 1400m so as I left the aid station I thought I would start to climb steadily back up to the highest point at Roque De Los Muchachos 2426m but this was definitely not the case! Leaving Del Pilar I started to drop down and I couldn't stop thinking that the further we drop, the further we will have to climb back up. Having just climbed 1900m, dropping down to give us more to climb wasn't really what I wanted :) Having dropped down another 200m from Del Pilar it was time to climb again and climb we did. The climbs were different than before, no volcanic soft sand but lots of rocks and lots of very high step ups. Up and up we went, hands on knees just trying to grind it out to the top. The sun was quite high by this point and the higher we went, the less shade there was so the temperature was starting to go up quite quickly. Sticking with the race plan I kept pushing hard to make it to the highest point as fast as I could. 1000m of climb later I had made back up to 2200m and the first of the summits that lead us around the crater to the highest point. The view was very deceptive from this peak because you could see the highest point and you could also see the town of Tazacorte which was only 4.85km from the finish! Unfortunately I wasn't 4.85km from the finish and there was still a long way to go and I had just started to feel the first twinges of cramp coming on! Telling myself to stay calm I pulled out my bottle of electrolyte and had a really good drink hoping that this would settle down the twinges and stop the onset of cramp.

As the twinges got worse I couldn't help thinking how stupid it was to forget my salt tablets! Oh yeah, I've forgotten to mention that, the one race that I would really, really need salt tablets I left them at home, what a MUPPET! As we dropped down and climbed up, dropped down and climbed up, the cramp just got worse and worse to the point where I was having to stop every 5-10 mins to stretch it out, never mind, only another 25 miles to go! Every runner who has suffered with cramps will know it's not the most pleasurable experience in the world but there was no way I was stopping because of a bit of cramp. Pushing on to Los Muchachos the cramps got stronger and I got slower - run, stretch, run, stretch and so on, very frustrating because apart from the cramps I felt quite good, plenty of energy in the tank but my bloody muscles wouldn't let me use it!

With my last big push I had made it to the top, Roque De Los Muchachos at 2426m, the heat was pretty intense by now so I made my way to the big tent to seek some shade. Once again this race amazed me, I was at 2426m and the aid station was awesome. Lots of drinks and food, even a big bowl of pasta if you wanted it! The guys at the aid station couldn't have been more helpful, running around helping to fill your bottles, getting you food, but the best bit was when they came over and tipped a liter jug of nice cold water over your head. Who would've thought that something so simple could feel so good :) It was at this point that I remembered I had put a small bag of salted peanuts in my bag just in case I need something savory and salty. Two handfuls of peanuts later I was up and back into the heat of the mid day sun! After having a bit of a rest at the aid station I realized how stunning and strange this place was. Even though you're high up and the sun is really hot, the top of the mountain is really green with vegetation and wild flowers. It's also dotted with some of the biggest observatories in the world!

The sky is so clear in La Palma because of the low levels of light pollution, so a lot of countries have built observatories at the highest point on the Island. It wasn't long before I stopped taking in my stunning surroundings because I noticed I was about to come of the trail and hit a nasty ROAD SECTION! You would think that after all that tough steep trail I would look forward to a nice smooth road section :) That's not the case, anyone who has run trail ultras knows that if you hit a section of road well into the race, it's not that pleasant and pretty hard on your body! What made this section even worse was it was super steep and there was lots of people cheering you on. I'm not being negative about people supporting us while we were running and I really appreciated their support but when you hit a steep road section it's very, very painful to run down when your legs are battered. With all the support you feel you need to run, so as the crowd cheered  "ANIMAL, ANIMAL!" ( I'm not sure what it meant but I think it was encouraging) I gritted my teeth and ran down the road trying to smile at the same time and show no pain.

The road section wasn't too long and we were soon back on the trail and it was all down hill from here, the only problem was it was all down, very steep, technical hill from here! Soon realizing that it wasn't going to be the lovely, soft, smooth, flowing descent I had imaged, I settled in for a bumpy ride! The best way I can describe it is, if you take the most technical parts of the Cornish coast path and make them a 1/10 descent for 20km then you are somewhere close! As I tried to make my way down with a combination of running, walking and hobbling, the pain in my quads just got worse and worse and it was becoming hard just to walk down the descent. All the way through this race I had re-valuated my race plan, to start with it was push hard to the top and then enjoy the long descent and finish in sub 10 hrs. Then once the cramps kicked in it was to keep pushing up the best I could and when I get to the descent make the most of it and run hard all the way to the finish and break 11hrs. At this point of the descent it changed again, it was now just hang on and try to get to the finish in one piece!

One painful step after another I made my way down to Tazacorte. The sun was really starting to heat up now and it was the first time I had felt a little bit too HOT! Once again the Island and its supporters came to our aid. Every now and again there would be some old farmers or a family outside their house with buckets of water, either to fill up empty bottles or just pour it over our very hot heads to cool you down :) This was a massive help to me and if they weren't there it would have felt a lot longer coming down! Finally reaching the last steep part of the descent to Tazacorte, lots of short switch backs down a near vertical rock face. As I started the descent, all I could hear was the party atmosphere coming from the bottom in Tazacorte which gave me a very much needed boost of energy. The volume was getting louder with every foot step and as I rounded the corner at the bottom of the descent the party was in full swing. The music was at full volume and there were hundreds of people clapping and cheering you on, a pretty special moment in the race! As I ran into the aid station tent the sign hanging above said 4.85km to go, it was a very welcomed sight. Not sure I was that impressed with the positioning of the aid station right next to the stage and its loud speakers! With the music banging in my ears and only 4.85km to go I filled up my bottles and grabbed a couple of  bits of watermelon and off I went on the final push.

As I ran off down the sea front I couldn't help but think how nice it was to have some flat running :) However, that thought didn't last long because it wasn't long before we were directed on to the beach and then on to a dry rocky river bed! The river bed was awful to run on, it was made up of big pebbles which weren't big enough to run on but small enough to smash your feet to pieces. I hobbled my way along the river bed with each step feeling like my feet were being hit with hammers. Finally we were off that terrible river bed, but the elation was short lived as I climbed the steps to start the 320m climb to the finish! My legs and energy levels were both in a bad way by this point and it was taking all my efforts just to walk up the climb. It looked like I wasn't the only one really suffering at this stage because everybody around me was moving very slow. With my hands on my knees all I could do was try to summon up the energy to put one foot in front of the other. After several good talking's to myself I made it to the top of the 320m climb and it was one of the best feelings I have had since I started ultra running. From this point it was only 3/4 kilometer to go and no more bloody hills to climb! Turning on to the long high street that lead to the finish I was amazed at the support that was still there waiting for the runners to finish, I thought they might have all left after all the super stars had finished :) All the way down the street there was people cheering and clapping, I lost count of how many 'high fives' I did. All the little kids where holding their hands out and I think I 'high fived' all of them. With each meter I got closer to the finish the crowds just got bigger and bigger and by the time I made it on to the red carpet the support was unbelievable. As I slowly moved down the red carpet I was fighting back the emotions, every runner reading this blog will relate to this. When you have had a hard race and really dug deep to get to the finish, emotions can go sky high! I had seen the amazing finish of Transvulcania on the TV many times and it wasn't a let down. It looked awesome on TV but to be there in person was breathtaking. I had DONE IT! 73.3km, 4,400m of elevation, 13hrs 12mins of running (well sort of running!) and temperatures of 30+, it was over and the medal was round my neck and no one could take it away from me.

I must finish this blog on a positive note, well lots of positive notes actually. I know I had some really low moments in this race and the cramps that I suffered where the worst to date. I had to dig super deep just to make it to the end and I was a bit (a lot!) disappointed with the time that I did. All this aside, I had had one of the most amazing race experiences of my life so far! The Island, the people, the race, the views, the support, everything about this trip was brilliant. If you are involved in the ultra running scene and you are looking for a really special race then look no further, Transvulcania is a one off! It should be on every aspiring ultra runner's bucket list, so put this date in your diaries 6th June 2014 (11am) that's when registration opens for next year! Thanks for the memories, La Palma! :)

Watch my short film from Transvulcania 2014

Saturday, 11 January 2014

At-Your-Pace North Coast Challenge

Hi everyone,
So where do I start with this one? I think I'll start at the end? Over the course of the weekend of the 29th Nov 2013 I witnessed one of the most amazing feats of human endurance I have ever seen - my close friend and training partner, Steve Wyatt, smashing the At-Your-Pace North Coast Challenge. The Challenge consists of 142.2 miles of stunning Cornish coast path, 25'000ft of brutal ascent and 41hrs of continuous running (no sleep stops!).

What started as a crazy idea because we didn't get in the 'Piece of string' race, had quickly evolved into the 'At-Your-Pace North Coast Challenge'! The first plan was to run the whole of the North coast unsupported! Once Andy Jukes came on-board as Challenge manager, we soon realized that it was a ridiculous idea. Andy had just spent 10 days running the entire Cornish coast path (310 miles) for charity, so he was the perfect man for the job. After several meetings we had hatched a plan together, we would start on Fri 29th Nov at 22:00hrs at the Cornish/Devon border. As we made our way down the county, we would be followed by two support crews, this would allow us to have CP's (check points) every 7-8 miles during the daylight hours and every 5-6 miles when darkness came. Andy's organizing skills took over (thanks very much, mate!) He soon had support crews sorted, spread sheets for everything and I mean EVERYTHING!

Off we go to the border!

The Challenge machine was full steam ahead and D-day was fast approaching. The 29th Nov arrived, I collected the bus, sorry, the 'BUS' is my good friend Martyn's camper van. The bus has been on many adventures, or should I say got us through many adventures! Martyn had taken 2 days off work to help out with our support (forever thankful:)) and would be with us for the whole of the challenge (all 41hrs!!) The bus was loaded with all the kit and supplies, Steve Wyatt finally stopped working (yes, he did a full days work before the Challenge) and off we went to the Cornish/Devon border. The spirits were high and the adrenerline was pumping, all we wanted to do was get running and start this amazing Challenge. Stepping out of the car at the begining of the foot path that led to the border, we soon realized that the wind was blowing a lot harder than it was meant to be. Also, this is going to sound stupid, but it was really, really DARK! So a quick check we had everything we needed for the first section and off down the path we went. Andy led us down to the foot bridge where the Cornish coast path starts. It was quite a long way down so I was really glad Andy was there because it wouldn't have looked good if we had got lost trying to find the start! A check of the watches and 3, 2, l we're off! That 'OFF!' didn't last long, we went straight into one of the many big climbs that we had to tackle in the first 40 miles.

Running on the coast path at night is a strange beast, the hills seem to be a lot easier to run because you can't see what's coming. All you can do is focus on the 5-6 meters in-front of you that's lit by your head torch. It wasn't long before we could see the lights from the bus at our first CP, the first 6.5 miles had gone by really quick and we were soon making our way down the steep steps to Martyn. Stepping out of the wind and into the shelter of the bus was a great feeling, Martyn had put the heating on so it was nice and cosy. From that moment on, the bus was known as the 'luxury CP!', no offense, Mr Jukes, your stops were just as nice! A quick top up of water and we were off again, we didn't want to stay too long at the CP's because it was all time wasted. The first night section went by pretty well, we kept a good pace going through the night making sure we quick marched the hills so we saved some energy for when the sun came up. Even though we are grown men, it was still a spooky place to be in the middle of a windy night. There are still quite a few sounds and movements that can't be explained from that first night and I'm pretty sure that there was a couple of times when we speeded up because we were a little bit scared!

Ticking off the CP's through the night was a great feeling, because we both knew that when the sun showed its face, our spirits would go through the roof and we weren't disappointed either. The sun started to show on the horizon and it looked like it was going to be a stunning day. We took it quite steady over the next hour as running in the dawn light on the coast path can be dangerous and we didn't want any accidents now. With the sun fully up now, jackets and head torches started to come off and it was time to up the tempo in the glorious Cornish sunshine! It was going to be a lovely day's running with lots of blue sky and fluffy white clouds, we couldn't have asked for better conditions. With some good mileage in the bag and still feeling strong, we pushed on thinking that most of the tough climbs were behind us. Having both raced on this section of coast path before, we were trying to work out if there were any more hilly sections to come. I think we must have been suffering with sleep deprivation, because we came to the conclusion that we had run all the really hard stuff!! Through Boscastle, through Tintagel, "that wasn't too bad" we said. We thought we must have run the hard hills by now.
So we were through Tintagel and on to Trebarwith strand, it starts to flatten out from here, we thought! Then we hit the section from hell, I remembered it well once we hit it. I raced this section in the UTSW 100 earlier in the year. It's a section with 5 or 6 really steep, rocky ascents and decents with only a very short section of flat coast path between each up and down, it's pretty EPIC! We pushed on to Trebarwith Strand, with just a few muttered swear words along the way. It wasn't all bad, we had Jayne Angilley and Deb Grills waiting to join us at Trebarwith for some very much needed support. Seeing the girls waiting at the support vehicle was a great boost for me and Steve, it's always good to be joined by fresh minds and fresh legs to push you along the way. The next 20 miles went really well, the girls had lifted our spirits and we were running strong.

Jayne Angilley and Deb Grills waiting to join us at Trebarwith Strand

That was until a little voice sprung up in my head! There comes a point in most ultras when you have to "Man Up" and push through the tough times and it's never been a problem before. The voices come and go and I normally just keep telling them to "Shut Up" and keep running, but this time it felt very different! Darkness started to come and my negative thoughts got stronger and stronger, my body was starting to tighten up, hips and lower back. The nearer I got to halfway (Watergate Bay) and the CP that Duncan Oakes was joining us, the worse it got. Having never felt like this I didn't really know what was happening! On reaching the CP, there was only one option, my mental strength just wasn't there. All the voices in my head where so negative, there was no positive thoughts to fight them. It was OVER! Myself, Steve and Martyn went into the bus for one last effort to get some positive thoughts in my head, but it really wasn't working. All the motivational speeches in the world wouldn't have made any difference (thanks for trying, guys!). I could see that my decision had come as quite a big shock to Steve and I didn't want it to effect his positive mind-set. He was looking really strong and still running well, I knew he could make it to Lands End. A quick chat with myself, Steve and Duncan and they were getting ready to run again. Steve couldn't have asked for a better guy to pair up with for the second half of the Challenge; Steve and Duncan had run together before in the UTSW 100, 2012. Duncan is the kind of runner who takes everything in his stride (if you'll excuse the PUN!), nothing seems to faze him, always smiling and always positive! Just what Steve needed.

My intentions changed once the decision was made to pull out, I was staying to support Steve and Duncan to the end and help them in any way possible. Dealing with the disappointment was really hard at first. Martyn drove me to the next CP at Porth where Liga and Scott were waiting to take over the support duties till Andy came back out for his second night. Seeing Liga at Porth was tough and emotions were high, to be honest, I was just trying not to break down. It was Martyn's turn to get some rest so myself, Martyn and Liga left the support duties in Scott's capable hands and headed off to Trevaunance Cove. Scott had been a massive help, giving up his time over the weekend to cover for Andy during the day sections when he had to go home. As soon as we got settled and Martyn started driving, I was out like a light, I must have been a lot more tired than I realized. After an hours deep sleep I felt much better. This was also hard to deal with because now I thought that I had given up too easily and should have just pushed through! It's amazing what just an hour of sleep can do in these situations! I was feeling better, my knee pain had all but gone and I was much more positive about the whole thing. Duncan had made a big difference to Steve's running, believe it or not, Steve had speeded up and was setting an amazing pace! We saw them through a couple more CP's (Porthtowan and North cliffs) and then we were off to Hayle so Martyn could catch up with some sleep.
Andy was keeping us all updated on Facebook with pictures and messages. After 100 tough coast path miles and two long nights of running, Steve was starting to look really tired (surprise, surprise!) but still running strong and in good spirits. We got the kettle on and waited for their arrival in Hayle. Steve is quite partial to a nice warm cup of tea when he's doing his long runs so we wanted to make sure there was one ready for him and Duncan when they arrived. A few minutes later two head torches came bobbing round the corner. We quickly got Steve into the bus for a warm up. The next section was going to be super tough on Steve's tired legs, with long sections of tarmac running through Hayle to Lelant. You would think the guys would love some flat miles after all that tough, hilly coast path but it's actually the worst thing possible. Your legs and mind are so used to that type of terrain that when you get to the flat stuff it's really hard to handle, physically and mentally.

Looking pretty good after 112 miles!

As they left the warmth of the bus and hobbled off into the distance chatting as they went, we were all so in awe of what we were witnessing, a truly amazing spectacle. The plan now was to get over to St Ives for a quick sleep to recharge the batteries and get ready for the guys to have a bit of a longer stop. By the time they get to St Ives around 7am it would be getting a bit brighter so we wanted Steve to have a change of top and take on some porridge and a warm cup of tea! The section of coast path from St Ives to Lands End is some of the most technical running on the whole of the Challenge so we knew that this would be the most dangerous part of the run for Steve, specially with the condition he was in. Lots of wet rocks to slip and trip on and the added bonus of several sections of exposed path where a trip would mean game over. So it really was the fitting end to this EPIC challenge, shall we say it put the "CHALLENGE" into challenge!

The guys arrived at the St Ives CP, Steve RUNNING up the hill to the bus! They had been joined by Andrew Brenham in Lelant (thanks for your support, mate!), he was going to run with them for a few miles and then turn around and run back to his car. It was great to have him along for the next technical section, a fresh pair of legs and eyes was a big help. We got Steve and Duncan into the bus for their porridge and tea. I was a little bit worried at this point when Duncan started telling me stories about Steve hallucinating at the last check point. He said at one point Steve was bent over pointing at the ground, saying "there's a snake, Duncan!". I had heard many people who run ultras talk about similar things but because I have never gone through that experience it was pretty scary to hear. About twenty minutes had past and the guys were fed and ready to run again. Just before they left, I gave Steve the safety lecture "be really careful through this section, lots of walking and lots of concentration, GO STEADY!" I think he listened?? It was still dark when they left the bus so real care was to be taken over the first few miles till the sun came up.

The shop's ('At-Your-Pace') owner Kay had turned up to join the support crew at St Ives, she couldn't sleep and wanted to know how the challenge was going, so she got up at 3.30am and came over to meet us at St Ives. It was great to have her on-board. I was still feeling pretty rubbish about dropping out and her positive words were a big help to me. With Andy covering the next CP at Zennor, we made our way to Pendeen Watch to wait for them there. My legs and head had recovered quite a bit by now, so I was wondering whether I should run with Steve again. Scott Abraham had come back out and was waiting at Zennor head to run with Steve and Duncan to the finish. It was quite a long wait at Pendeen, with the section from St Ives to Pendeen being super technical and Steve's body really starting to suffer, it was slow going. We were joined by Steve's wife and kids, and Kay was going to run with the guys from Pendeen. It was a great feeling when we saw the guys come over the head land as it had been some time since we saw them last. I ran down to the corner to meet them but as Steve made his way down the step rocky descent, I could see he was struggling with his foot! It turned out that he had got his foot wet and this made a big blister on the ball of his foot split. However this didn't stop him running up the hill to the support bus. With Steve's family being at the CP to see him, emotions were sky high. I think it was at this point that Steve let his defences down. With only 11.5 miles to go to Lands End, he knew he had made it, he could crawl on his hands and knees to the finish from here! We got Steve into the bus so we could have a good look at the damage to his foot, believe me it wasn't very pleasant! I don't mean the blister, I mean the SMELL!!! I know he had run 131 miles in the same socks and shoes but they did stink, sorry, Steve :)

With the foot cleaned and taped and a nice fresh pair of socks he was raring to go. At Cape Cornwall I was going to lace up my running shoes and join Steve to the finish, I thought it was the least I could do after pulling out at halfway. Watching Steve push though so many mental barriers along the way and keep smiling was truly inspirational! With my trail shoes back on, it was great to be back out on the coast path with Steve. I could soon see that he was having to dig deeper, way deeper than he had ever dug before. When you are this close to the end after running 130 odd miles you would think it would get easier but the nearer you get to the finish, the harder it gets. You start to relax and your focus drops, so everything starts to really hurt and mentally you are very weak. The sight of Lands End as we approached Sennen was one of pure delight and with only 2 miles to go to the finish, Steve started to realize what he had achieved. He had run the whole of the north coast path of Cornwall in one go, covering 142.2 miles, 25'000ft elevation, NO SLEEP and 41.5hrs of running! As we got closer and closer to Lands End, I was desperately trying to keep my emotions under control, I was so proud of Steve and what he was achieving. Having run the first 72 miles with him and then staying on to support him in the second half of the challenge, I probably knew better than anyone there how hard this had been on Steve. It was truly, truly EPIC! One final push up the steps out of Sennen was needed and we could see the bright white walls of the Lands End Hotel shining in the sunshine, this was a wicked sight for Steve and his battered body and shattered mind.

I must be honest, I was still gutted that I had pulled out at halfway and wished I could turn back the clock, but it wasn't meant to be, it wasn't my time! What started out as a bit of a mad idea had turned into this incredible journey for myself and Steve. We had both massively underestimated the scale of the challenge but this didn't stop Steve from reaching the end of the At-Your-Pace North Coast Challenge. As we ran up the slope to the iconic Lands End sign we were greeted with rapturous applause from the support runners and support crews, but in true Steve Wyatt style, no fuss, no drama, he had FINISHED! I know the challenge had evolved into the At-Your-Pace North Coast Challenge but Steve would have turned up at the Devon/Cornwall boarder and run the 142.2 miles to Lands End and then gone home and not told anyone. He runs because he loves to run, not because he wants to impress anyone, but what he had just achieved needed to be talked about and people needed to know! Steve had definitely set a super tough challenge but it has been SET! The At-Your-Pace North Coast Challenge is open to any other runners crazy enough to take it on but don't take it on lightly! This challenge will push you to your limits in so many ways.

I must finish this long blog, REALLY LONG BLOG, by saying thank you, thanks to all the people, friends and family who supported us in our challenge because without your help none of this would've been possible. So many people gave up their time to help us along the way and we are both very thankful. My final words must be, that I will be back to tame the beast. I will not let the At-Your-Pace North Coast Challenge beat me! Watch this space! :)
If anyone is interested in taking on the At-Your-Pace North Coast Challenge, please get in touch. We are currently putting together a Challenge pack, it will include all the information you need to have an official attempt at the North Coast Challenge. Contact by emailing me at

Steve Wyatt (first official finisher of the At-Your-Pace North Coast Challenge)
29th Nov - 1st Dec 2013
142.2 miles
25,000ft elevation
41hrs 30mins and always smiling!

Watch Steve become the first official challenge finisher:

A massive thank you to Liga Lacekle for putting together this amazing film!

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Runners and their SHOES!!!

Hi there,
Don't worry I'm still alive! It's been sooooooooo long since my last blog. I've had a lot of changes in my life recently but all for the better :). The biggest change being in my working life, I've gone from doing a job that was all consuming and I was really starting to dislike (well actually I hated it!!) to doing a job that I love and have a real passion for, so all's good now. The job is working in the specialist running shop that supports me in my running 'At-Your-Pace' in Helston.

Anyway that's enough of that, the topic of the blog is a topic all you runners will know well, really well! Since taking to the trails, shoe choice has become more and more important to me. When I was road running, shoes were important but as long as they were comfortable that's all that really mattered. When running on trail and coast path there's a lot more things to think about - fit, grip, protection and the list goes on! It's been a long process to find what I call 'the perfect shoe', about three years I think? After trying several different shoes over the years, some being ok (but not perfect!) and some being total rubbish :(, I came across the Salomon S-Lab Ultra. I kept hearing people talking about this shoe and seeing reviews online and everybody was saying great things about it. As soon as the shoe was available at 'At-Your-Pace' I was there knocking on the door so I could see what all the fuss was about! I know it's a bit sad but I was so excited about these new shoes and as soon as I had them on my feet, I knew I had found the perfect shoe for me. It was like running in really well fitting slippers. The shoe just got better and better, the first time I got to run in the shoe outside on the coast path I couldn't believe the grip and how comfortable these shoes were. It was so responsive but still had lots of protection for your foot and all you wanted to do in this shoe was run and run fast. Now for the negatives, the shoe is so good that you can't run in anything else once you've run in it, no other shoe comes close! Also the price, it's not cheep and a shoe this good comes at a price £140!!!
That's the shoe review over with you'll be glad to hear. I raced all year in this shoe and even did quite a few long training runs in it, not one blister or hot spot which is pretty amazing. I became so attached to the shoe that I tried to make it last as long as I could, even stitching the upper up when it started to break down. I ended up pushing the shoe to far, using the shoe in my last race of the year ACC (Atlantic Coast Challenge) when it was on its last legs. You will read in the race report that follows that it was the wrong move and I ended up in a right mess. As you can probably tell, I'm totally obsessed with this shoe and already have a pair lined up for next year. Any trail runners reading this blog will understand but if there are any non-runners reading then I'm not mental, well maybe a little un-hinged!! But that's all :).

Race Report
Atlantic Coast Challenge 2013 (last day Sun 6th Oct)

With the last day of the ACC being from Lelant to Lands End, it was a race I just had to do! Being based in St Ives, Cornwall, I have spent many training hours out on this route. The route has some super technical running and if you don't know the route well it really slows you down. Taking all this into consideration I thought it gave me a really good chance of a win at the end of my race season. The race start is broken down into three different start times depending on how long you think it's going to take you to complete the course 07.30/08.30/09.30am. I was only racing the last day but most people had done two long days already so I thought it was only fair that I went for the 09.30am start time. Arriving at the start I had 4 others runners for company because most of the competitors had opted for an earlier start. With three of the top four being in my group, I knew it was going to be fast. We dipped in our timers and off we went. The start of the route is a nice flat sandy trail that runs along side a golf course. Knowing that in a few miles time the course gets very technical and I would have to slow down, I thought I would push really hard and try to gap the others. The plan seemed to be working pretty well because by the time I got to St Ives, the guy in second place was about 400m behind and I couldn't even see the guys in 3rd and 4th!

Through St Ives and back on to the coast path, this was the section I knew I could run a lot quicker than anyone else in the race. This section of coast path is only 200m from my front door (I know I'm very, very lucky!) I have trained on this section 100's of times and know it like the back of my hand so off I went full steam ahead. It's really rocky and technical but I took a big risk and ran the section as quick as my feet would let me. The first 10 miles to the first check point flew by and when I looked back at the timings after the race, I took 10 mins out of the guy in second place over that section! I raced through CP 1 just stopping to fill up with water and off I went. Starting in the last group I was catching up the runners who started in the earlier waves, it was a really good way to race because you always had someone to chase down! By the time I made it to CP 2 a lot of the really technical stuff was behind me and I was making good time. Bottles filled, no time to waste!

Legs were feeling strong so I pushed on towards Cape Cornwall. It was at this point that I noticed my shoes weren't feeling right! Having a good look down while I was running, trying not to fall over while I did it :) My S-Lab's were breaking down and breaking down quick. With my fingers crossed I kept the pace going. The terrain changes on the approach to the Cape, it goes from a firm muddy trail with lots of big rocks to a hard track with lots and lots of small rocks. This section can be really hard on your feet and quite hard to run quick, so that was perfect timing for my shoes to fall apart!! The fabric on my left shoe had split on the inside of the forefoot and the ball of my foot was hanging out the shoe. Sharp small rocks + bare foot = PAIN!!! With every step I took, the pain got worse and worse, I couldn't wait for this section to end. Reaching the last check point I gave my shoes a quick once over, it was going to be close but I think they will just about make it to the end. As you come over the Cape you get the stunning few of Sennen Beach to boast your spirits, knowing that when you hit that beach it's only a couple of miles to the finish! It was a great feeling to be back on some softer ground and off those nasty painful rocks, but the damage had been done. My feet were so sore from the last section that I was finding it hard to run at pace, it felt like the soles of my feet had been beaten with hammers (not a very nice feeling!) Pushing the pain to the back of my mind I focused on the finish line and trying to keep first place.

Hitting the beach at Sennen, I thought I would have a quick look behind just to make sure I was in the clear. SHOCK, HORROR! The guy in second place was catching fast. I knew I had slowed in the rocky section through Cape Cornwall but I didn't realize I had slowed that much. I tried to summon up one final effort to stay in the lead but it wasn't to be, with only 1.5 miles to go to the finish, the guy in second place went past and took the lead. To be fair to him he deserved to win, he had raced the previous two days! And was still running like a machine. I was still pretty happy with second place in 5hrs 4mins (29 miles of very technical coast path) but if I learned one important lesson in that race, it was no matter how attached you get to a pair of shoes, make sure they are in a better condition than mine were. Sore feet are unhappy feet!!

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Relationship between runners and navigation.

Hi everyone,

I've finally found some time in my busy summer to post a new Blog!! With my hours at work going through the roof this time of year with the school holidays it's been hard to find the time. Training has been going great which has reflected in recent race results :-

St Ives Bay 10k (beach & dunes off road 10k) 4th/ 38mins 24sec.
Indian Queens Half Marathon (road & trail) 20th/1hr 22mins.
(included my quickest 10k/10miler/half marathon times)
The Plague (64 mile coastal run) 3rd/13hrs 17mins. (race report to follow)

So as you can see training and racing is going well and I'm feeling super confident in my running at the moment which is always a great place to be :). If you have been following my blogs, there is a pattern that runs through most of them, it involves going the WRONG way!! If my running is going well with some good results, my navigation isn't!! It has always been something I have struggled with, coming from a road running & Triathlon background, navigation was something I didn't really have to think about with plenty of marshals and direction arrows to follow. Once I made the transition to Trail & Ultra running, I soon realized that the marshals and arrows can be far and few between! It was my first Ultra trail race of the year when I knew I had to put in some work to try and up my navigation skills, finishing in 6th overall, which I was happy with, but it could have been so much better if I hadn't run 42.5 miles in a 40 mile race and crossing the finish line the wrong way was a little bit embarrassing!!!!

Obviously you are taking part in a running race so your running ability is very important but the more I race the more I realize that navigation is just as important! You can be the best runner in the world, but if you keep running the wrong way you're never going to win anything! Having spent a lot of time this year thinking about race preparation & navigation, I've worked out that when I run long distances I like to 'zone out' and get in a trance like state! I find that this helps me deal with the distance and the pain that you suffer running a long way. The only problem with this method is if you're zoned out, you're not paying much attention to where you're going!! To try and avoid this problem I now try to 'zone out' when I can in a race but when I come to a tricky navigation section I make sure I'm switched on and I'm paying full attention to what I'm doing. I also think it's really important to double, triple check all the difficult sections. By checking the way you are going a few times might cost you 10-20 secs, going the wrong way can cost you 10-20 mins and a lot of wasted energy (see 'The Plague' race report!!).
Also race preparation plays a big part in going the right way, if you can get out and run some of the course before race day, I would advise you to do so. Just running parts of the course before hand is always a massive help and gives you lots of confidence for race day, but with races being all over the country, it's not always that simple! If I can't get out and run on the course, I will try and study maps and course details supplied by the event organizer. By putting all of these methods in place, I feel that my navigation is improving, but I need to make sure that I use them coming in to a race and not just chance it and hope for the best like I did going into 'The Plague'!!

Race Report - The plague 2013
With training and racing going really well in the build up to 'The Plague' I was feeling super confident going into it. I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to finish in the top three and get on the podium for the first time this year. Having a lot of 4th place finishes this year, I was beginning to think I had a 4th place curse!!! On the way to the race I got another big boost in the form of a text message from Kay telling me that I had become an ambassador for her running shop and she had sorted me out with sponsorship from , I cant thank you enough Kay for your support!! Having done quite a lot of the training for 'The Plague' with fellow Hayle Runner, Steve Wyatt, we decided to run the race as a team. I thought it would be nice to have some company on the night section of the race and two pairs of eyes are better than one, well that's what I thought anyway!! Steve is a naturally strong runner and loves running off road on tough courses so I knew he would push me really hard on race day, which is what I needed to get that podium finish.

We arrived at race H.Q on Friday at 4.30pm after a busy morning at work running around like a headless chicken, not the ideal race preparation!! With camping on site and a lot of Hayle Runners taking part over the four distances: 11 miles, 20 miles, 32 miles and 64 miles, it should make for a great after race atmosphere. Tents all set up, we made our way to registration, registered and got our kit checked for the race. Having a busy morning, I wanted to get something to eat and try to get some sleep before the start of the race. After eating, sleep was proving difficult, so I got out of my tent and went to join the other Hayle runners who were setting around taking about there races that started the following morning. Once the sun went down, myself and Steve thought we would give it another go and try to get a little bit of sleep before the race, alarms were set and off we went. I spent the next hour lying there trying to sleep, but it didn't matter what I tried, I couldn't sleep. With my alarm due to go off at any minute I thought I might as well get up and start to get ready for the race start at 00.05, I know its a crazy start time!!! Half an hour before the start I was all kitted up and ready to go but I still hadn't seen Steve so I walked back to the tents to try to find out were he was, as I got closer to the tents the door opened to Steve's tent and out came this sleepy figure having set his alarm for the wrong day!! Yes, the WRONG DAY!!! He had only just woken up (typical Steve!). He quickly got his kit on and we got over to the race safety briefing just in time.

Race briefing over, we made our way to the start where there was a surprise waiting, starting the race was ultra running legend 'Mimi Anderson'. So after an motivating speech from Mimi the air horn sounded and off we went on our night time adventure. The first part of the course was straight down hill in some long and soaking wet grass, which was great - soaking wet feet in the first 100 yards!! After 500 yards across the long grass we made it to the coast path we would be spending the rest of the race on.
The first mile on the coast path was the most dangerous with quite a few badger sets to avoid along the way. Currently myself and Steve were running in 1st & 2nd place and feeling good but that was all to change with one wrong turn! Yep, all that preparation I spoke about earlier I hadn't done! I hadn't run any of the course before hand, I hadn't looked at maps and course directions and I wasn't paying any attention to where I was going! Hence why we went the wrong way :) After about 3-4 minutes going the wrong way, we realized and turned round and made our way back to the race pack. When we made it back, we had lost around 8-10 places, so we were really pissed off! Making sure we didn't lose too much time, we quickly got round the first few runners and made our way back to 5th & 6th place. Steve was not happy with going the wrong way and wanted to get back to the front as quickly as possible, I spent the next 15 miles trying to slow him down so that we didn't use up too much energy early on chasing them down. Unfortunately I think it was falling on deaf ears and we made it back to 2nd & 3rd within 16 miles, but I had given too much to catch up in such short time in a 64 mile race and I was pretty sure it would come back to bite me in the ASS!

It wasn't long after catching them up that I started to feel low on energy and a little bit hot too, it was a hot, humid night and I think I started with too many layers on. By the time we got to the next check point I was burning up and had to get some layers off and take on some fluids. Once you get too hot, its such a hard thing to regulate while your still running, by this time in the race we were lying in 3rd & 4th, the guy in 2nd was looking strong and ran away from us but the girl and guy in 5th and 6th looked to be struggling so we pushed on. By the time the sun started to come up, we had covered a lot of the tricky, tough sections and were on the relatively flat run-in to the turning point. At this point I had got over the low points and was feeling quite good, so we were both making good time clocking sub 8 min miles at some points. We hit the turning point in good time and making sure we didn't spend too much time there we filled up with water, Steve had a cup of tea (he gets upset if doesn't get his tea!) and off we went again heading for home :). The turning point would give us a great idea of how far we were ahead of 4th and 5th. We knew we were too far behind 2nd to catch him, so we wanted to make sure we held on to 3rd. We were surprised when we saw 4th and 5th were only 8 mins behind, so we decided there and then to go for it on the 4-5 miles from the turning point, being the only real flat section on the course, we had to make the most of it and make the most of it we did with some really strong running clocking 7.30 min miles for most of the 4-5miles!!

Once we got back on the hilly sections, my energy levels were starting to drop again and I was feeling pretty weak by this stage, never mind only another 24 tough miles to go!! From this point on going got really, really tough for me, I started to cramp up pretty bad in my calves and quads, which is not ideal for hard coast path running. It showed how tough this race was, because I have never seen Steve suffer so much either. I think we were both paying for the fast pace we set at the beginning of the race trying to catch the leaders. All we could do at this point was try to keep moving forward walking the hills and running (kind of!!) the flats. This was my first time I had ever suffered from cramp in any race, so I knew I was having a really bad day, but there was no way I was stopping, I just kept telling myself that I was finishing the race no matter what so just get on with it! Steve was brilliant at motivating me to keep the pace up and keep pushing up the hills. As we arrived at the penultimate check point we knew we only had about 10 miles to go till the finish and it couldn't get here quick enough for me. We had another quick stop at the check point and off we went, but to our surprise, about 30sec after we left the check point we heard some clapping, turning to have a look we could see a women in 5th place catching us up. We must have slowed down a lot more than we thought and she must have been running strong. Once I saw her my heart sank, I turn to Steve and said: "She can have it, I've got nothing to give!!". At that point I'm pretty sure Steve felt the same way. We kept going expecting her to catch us at any minute, but after about 5 mins she still hadn't passed us. It was at this moment that Steve changed his mind and said: "Lets keep pushing, you don't want another 4th place". So that's what we did, I still don't know how we did it, but we pushed and pushed even running some of the hills!! By the time we got to the last check point with only 4ish miles to go we had lost sight of the women in 5th place, we had pretty much stopped talking to each other and just kept our heads down and pushed on to the end. Arriving back at the field with the long wet grass was a great feeling, seeing the big 'Redbull' tents at the finish put a massive smile on our faces. We had both been on a super tough journey, battling the highs and lows of Ultra running and had both come out the other side finishing in joint 3rd!

 I learnt more from this race than any other: firstly, Steve is a great guy to run with (even if a little un-hinged!) - so strong physically and mentally, I don't know if I would have come away with 3rd without him! Secondly, I'm a lot stronger than I thought I was, suffering from serious dehydration, terrible cramp's from 35miles I still had it in me to push hard when I needed to. I have never had to dig so, so deep in any race before and I'm super happy with the result of 3rd overall. Looking back at the times at the finish, we realized how hard we had pushed over the last 10 miles, the woman in 4th place was over 16 mins behind us and we had even managed to take 10 mins out of 1st & 2nd!! I would like to thank the race organizers for putting on an amazing, tough event, the support was amazing all the way though the race and lastly I would like to thank Steve for pushing me on when I though I had nothing else to give and dispelling that 4th place curse!! Cheers Steve :)

P.S - I would also like to thank my lovely girlfriend for her support over the weekend because without her being there for me after the race I would have struggled, being in such a bad way after the race with cramp, she was a massive help. Sorry for being so useless, Liga!!!! :)

Sunday, 30 June 2013

Runners relationship with PHANTOM aches and pains!

Hi again,

It's been a long time since my last blog, as all you runners know with work commitments, running a home, family and of course training!! It doesn't leave you with a lot of time! Well, that's not true... I have the time, just not much energy :). Once you have read this blog I would love some feedback just so I can put my mind at rest and know I'm not going mental!!

I have spoken to other runners and sportsmen about this subject and I'm pretty sure it's not just me. I call it Phantom injury! The way it works is like this: I plan out my races at the beginning of the year and structure my training around them as I'm pretty sure you all do. Sorry to completely change the subject, I just watched Mo Farah win the 5000m in Birmingham. How does he run that QUICK!!!! Crazy, crazy, crazy!!!!!!!! Anyway, sorry about that, back to the blog :) So like I was saying I plan my year and then start training. This year training has gone really well. I have managed lots of quality miles in the mountains and on the coast paths around Cornwall, and on the back of this the results have been quite good with a 7th, 6th (would have been 4th if I hadn't got lost!!) and a 4th in my last race which I will let you know all about later in the blog. When I say training has gone well, it has until about two weeks before each race!! And then it strikes "PHANTOM INJURY". I go from super strong hill rep sessions, powerful strength workouts on the beach and long flowing weekend runs across the beautiful Cornish countryside to being struck down by a sudden injury :(.

The perfect example of this has just happened before my last race. Everything was going really well, I had completed some tough weeks of training, running anything from 60 miles to 85 miles with no problems at all. I had just run my longest training run of 36 miles across Cornwall getting me ready for UTSW 100 2013. The run went great (apart from getting lost again, do you see a pattern forming!). I will cover the relationship between runners and navigation in another blog later on :). So the run went well, I had no pain on the run or after and felt super confident about the race ahead. One week on from that run I started to get a bit of discomfort in my right ankle. I didn't think too much about it because it didn't actually hurt when I was running and you know what us runners are like, we are all pretty good at dealing with a bit of discomfort!! As the days and miles went on the discomfort started to become a pain and the pain started to creep to different parts of my ankle and foot. With about 3 weeks to go to my A race of the season the pain had got so bad that I had to take a week off from running and get some sports massage on my lower right leg to try and get rid of the pain before my big race. The week off from running seemed to help with the pain and it was back to be just a discomfort. The one thing I had going for me was I was just starting my taper for the race so my millage had gone down so I could get a bit of rest for my ankle. To say my confidence had been knocked was an understatement!!

So with the pain gone I spent the next two weeks of my taper doing short, steady runs still running with some discomfort and still worried if I had an injury or not?? But my main concern was could I get through the race at all!!! The week before the race involved lots of rest, lots of sports massage and even more ICE. Race day was here! The race started at 5.30pm so I spent most of the morning and early afternoon getting organized for the race and of course getting worked up with worry and doubt if my ankle was going to hold up for 100 miles!! Anyway, to cut a long story short, I think you have all worked out the ending? Once again I started the race and all the discomfort and the pain I had been suffering from just faded away, I managed to run 100 miles on coast path, tarmac and moor land with no pain in my ankle or heel what so ever!! I really can not explain this phenomenon that I suffer from but I have learnt a lot from my last race. If I can go into a 100 mile race with a injury (or what I think is an injury)  and not suffer, it must all be in my head! With two months to go till my next race and my next PHANTOM INJURY I have to make sure that when it comes, I stay positive and try to blank it from my mind :)  Thanks for reading and if you suffer from the same condition please leave me some feedback!

Race report - UTSW 100, 2013.

Race day was here, Yippppeeeeee!!! The last few weeks had been tough (see above!) and I just wanted to get on with the race. I got to Watergate Bay Hotel at 2pm for kit check and registration and then had to catch the bus to the start at Fowey. Unfortunately the bus had "broke down", that's what the organizers said anyway. This meant more waiting around which gave me more time to worry about my ankle! Eventually the bus arrived and we were on our way. Once at the start we all dibbed our timing chips and were ready for the off, "3, 2, 1" was the cry and we were off and running on our amazing 100 mile journey across Cornwall :)

I had learnt a lot last year from my fist 100 mile race so I was feeling confident as long as my ankle held up!! The first few miles went by quite quick and the scenery was stunning. My race plan was to pair up with a runner or runners of the same kind of ability to run with through the night till we got back on the other coast path. My thinking was two pairs of eyes were better than one and the most important thing to me was not getting lost at night in the middle of Bodmin Moor!! Within 5 miles I had found the perfect match, a guy called Matt from Australia currently living in London. He had never ran 100 miles before but he was a strong runner and he was having a good year having won a few ultra races this year.

 The sun was setting so the head torches went on when we arrived at the first check point (11 miles in). At this point the race left the coast path and went in land on to beautiful wooded trails. The sun had set and darkness was upon us, at about 15-16 miles myself and Matt were joined by Charlie, a runner that I had met at the TORQ assessment day. We ran strong together through the night, navigating the woods and the Moors and on to the other coast path. We reached Boscastle in good time and the sun was just starting to show its face :). When I say the sun was showing its face, what I really mean was it was getting brighter!! It had been pissing down all night and didn't look like stopping. Once back on the coast path the running or walking! got really, really tough, some of the toughest coastal running I have ever done. The weather didn't let up, it got worse and worse as the day went on.


 We were still running strong on the parts of the coast path where we could but at some point Charlie slipped going down one of the many steep descents and pulled something in her groin!! She wasn't going to let that stop her so off we went again battling the tough terrain and strong winds. Myself and Matt were still going strong but Charlie had started to suffer due to the groin injury, she was digging deep (she is super tough!!) but at 70ish miles it got to much for her and see had to pull out, that was a really sad moment because we had been through a lot over the 70ish miles and had really supported each other along the way. Myself and Matt pushed on for the finish. I still wanted to try and break the 24hr mark even though the weather was so shocking and getting worse! We were looking forward to running the flatter sections from Wadebridge to Padstow but once we got there we soon realized that running back on the flat, hard roads and paths was pretty painful :) Well it was pretty painful by now running on anything!! We hit the last check point at 90 miles still in high spirits. Matt had gone through some pretty low periods in the race and was still pushing hard. I knew there was no way he was pulling out. I was still feeling good and running, walking strong, but once we got to the last 8 miles it started to get really tough, the headwind was at gale force by now and on tired legs it wasn't helping :) The last few miles seemed to take forever and I really mean forever but we got there in the end. There it was the finish line! After 100 miles and 25hrs 06mins myself and Matt had made it, we had ran together for 95miles and hadn't fallen out once and he's an Aussie, Ha Ha :) We crossed the line, dibbed our timing chips and then walked into the Beach Hut restaurant to rapturous applause from all the dinners eating in there, it really was quite emotional :). I had run 100 miles across Cornwall and I felt good the whole way, no low points, no stomach problems, a few aches and pains along the way but that's all!!! It had been an amazing journey across Cornwall, one that I will never forget! Thanks to Matt and Charlie for the company and thanks to Martyn for the support on the day and for hooking us up with the most amazing bacon sandwich at 77miles :) Thanks also to my girlfriend Liga for putting up with me through all the training and worry! I also forgot the most important bit, I didn't break 24hrs but I did finish 4th overall and 1st in my age group. Not bad for someone with an ankle injury :) Ha Ha!!!

Monday, 20 May 2013

Love-hate relationship with hills and mountains!

Hi everyone,

It's been a while since my first blog but I've been a very busy boy training for the UTSW 100 coming up on 21st June (that's only 1 month away!!!). As you can see the topic of this blog is the Love-Hate relationship between a trail runner and hills and mountains. I have used the phrase "trail runner" because I spent many years pounding the streets and racing on the road and I never had a Love-Hate relationship with hills, it was definitely just a HATE-HATE relationship!! This changed very quickly when I started to run off road. Whether I'm running on the beautiful Cornish coast path or the rugged sand dunes of the Towans, I find myself seeking out the toughest, meanest, steepest hills I can find and then run them twice!!

I know I'm not the only trail runner that feels this way, I'm pretty sure that every trail or fell runner I have met feels and trains the same way. So the question is why do we do it? Is it because we're all masochists and love to inflict pain and suffering on ourselfs or is it that we have to push as hard as we can, challenging our bodies and minds every step of the way, is there a better feeling in the world(well there's probably one!) than when you're pushing really hard up a hill or mountain, your lungs bursting, your quads burning like someone has set them on fire and your calf muscles feeling like they're going to explode at any minute, but when you get to the top and your legs finally start to work again the overwhelming sense of satisfaction is amazing!

My desire to run big hills and mountains is getting bigger and bigger by the day, in fact I think it's getting out of control. It's time I came out the closet (not that closet!!) "Hi, my name's Loyd and I'm addicted to running big hills and mountains!" My addiction has got so bad that the other week I packed the car up at 4am and in barked on a painstaking 8.5hr drive to sunny North Wales, arriving at the campsite at 1pm and quickly throwing up the tents, on went the trainers and off I went straight up the Rangers path to the summit of Mount Snowdon. The temperature drop from base to summit was about 15 degrees and I had lost all feeling in my hands by the time I got up there (even with gloves!) but I loved every second, the tough running and the stunning views make running in the mountains so so so inspirational. I spent 30 sec at the top and then straight back down and back to the campsite for some well deserved soup. After an early night to try and catch up on some very much needed sleep I was off again, trainers on and straight to the top of Snowdon again but this time I went up the Rangers path and down the P.Y.G. track and then back up the P.Y.G. track and down the Rangers path. The conditions were a lot worse on Sunday and visibility was down to 10 metres, this just made it even more of a challenge and we all know how much we love a challenge! So after 2 summits I was staight back to the campsite, tents down, car packed and back on the open road for another 8.5hrs of suffering behind the wheel! I arrived back home at 3am and had to be back into work at 6am!! Even with all the driving, the lack of sleep and the fact it took me all week to get over it, it was sooooooooooooo worth it!

I've come to the conclusion that I need mountain running in my life and plan on doing lots more in the near future. I gave this blog the title Love-Hate relationship but that's wrong because in my case it's definitely a LOVE-LOVE relationship between me and the mountains!!