Thursday, 23 March 2017

High Peak Marathon


There is no "I" in team, and a team we would be. 

After a 6 month hiatus from racing (and running to some extent) my return to the fold would be the High Peak Marathon. A 42 mile bogfest in the Peak District that attracts some of the best fell/ultra runners in the UK. In teams of 4 you must navigate overnight, over bleak and often featureless moorland, in the final throes of winter no less. A great challenge, and as my first team event a new dynamic on running and working together to achieve a common goal. I'm not going to lie, the prospect of compromising my usual reckless race style (go out fast, slow a little before a strong finish) to run at others pace was going to take some getting used to.

My team (Has anyone seen Tigger?) comprised Simon Mills; the other half of ultra trail, fell running phenom, Sally Fawcett. A strong runner in his own right, on 2 occasions he's finished a couple of minutes or so in front of me at the Highland Fling, and a fantastic orienteer that comfortably steered the team through the night. Next up is Charlie Elliot, currently running under the tutelage of Marcus Scotney with some great results at the Tour de Helvellyn. Finally we had Kristian Groom, a last minute entry who I'm reliably informed is the fastest of all of us - with the caveat that he'd never run an ultra so was untested over that distance. With him currently training for a BG attempt, I wasn't overly concerned about his strengths though. Our team name came about because our team Captain, Ian Winterburn was absent due to illness and injury.

Talking about concern, my biggest doubt was around my own ability to run the distance. 6 months out with over training syndrome has left me full of anxiety about my capacity to run for many hours without my energy systems giving out. Only time would tell.

Kit wise I opted for Salomon Sense Soft Grounds for the incredibly slippy terrain. And for warmth I went with a Salomon insulated long sleeve top and running tights with the Salomon Bonatti water proof. This proved a winning combination with it keeping me warm enough yet breathable as to prevent me from getting too wet through the effort.

Catching up with friends old and new

The hour or so prior to the race was probably my highlight of the weekend. Seeing lots of familiar faces from the running community and some superstars of the sport (Scotney, Paris, Spinks, Pascall etc). Simon spent the time eating far too much and I was photographed, embarrassingly eating constantly by Jen Scotney.

The team getting some pre-race nutrition

The format of the race was a staggered start to enhance the navigation aspect of the challenge. The idea being the fastest teams set off last to theoretically cause all teams to see each other throughout the night. In my humble opinion we were seeded far to high, in 5th place. Not one to moan, I was happy to run in amongst some truly elite teams for a (short) while.

Setting off at 23:40, it was nice to emerge out into the night and find the rain had abated. In fact it was quite warm once we started moving. The initial road section allowed me to start moving easily and feel the comfort found in a movement practiced for hour upon hour. I already felt we were moving well as a team, my biggest anxiety being myself or someone else might be wanting to travel at such a different pace it would be uncomfortable. Not the case. It was good to drop into an easy rhythm before we hit the first climb up towards Hollins Cross. Just before we hit the top of the slippy ascent, the team comprising Nicky and Beth came cruising by on steady jog. However as we hit the summit they had to wait for one of their team so we leaped the stile and moved on with a purpose. The trail along here was an absolute mudfest, giving me the early indication we were in for a fun filled night of bog hopping. Soon after we overtook Jasmin Paris's team, who had a member with some kind of issue. But onwards we ran, easily climbing the final slope towards Lose Hill. In doing so we were overtaking lots of other teams, filling us with confidence.

The descent off Lose Hill was something to behold. A frantic, impossibly slippy, muddy, vertical drop. Most logical thinking human beings would take their time to pick a good footing and a safe line off such a steep, borderline 90 degree death trap - not so with fell runners. All I can say is I was firmly out of my comfort zone, as regards to staying upright. Every step of the suicidal sprinting plummet was both terrifying and pure exhilaration. I thought on occasion we must be close to cracking Usain Bolts 100 metre record time - of course with a massive gravity advantage!! A sniper must have been nestled in the hillside somewhere, for every few seconds a runner smashed to the ground on the slick surface as if shot.

We reached the base, and after a deep breath and a quick pray to God (choose your relevant deity you would like to thank accordingly) for sparing us - we moved on with a purpose. The easy climb along the road to the base of Win Hill felt great. I was really pleased to be back racing!

The next ascent up Win Hill was a mixture of anxiety and enjoyment. The mostly vertical climb can only be power hiked, a skill I know I lack the conviction to train to a truly competent level. However it was on this climb that I started to be concerned my OTS was returning. a feeling of weakness deep inside that usually precipitates total body failure. However this wasn't to be, as we hit the top and we started running again I felt alright and only got stronger as the night progressed.

The next steep descent was again a mad capped slip sliding sprint of insanity - which on the whole I enjoyed profusely. The recent storm had left many trees across the path meaning we had to divert to find an optimal line. We kept the pace brisk to prevent the teams behind us trying to copy our route & soon enough we were running across Ladybower Dam wall.

The metaphorical carrot was dangled on the next climb towards Stanage as we caught several glimpses of another team ahead. This helped on the never ending road into the darkness as we chased up the hill.  The solid footing was quite welcome to up the pace a little, while still trying to be disciplined with our timings.

As we hit the check point at Stanage we were firmly back in slippy, muddy territory. It was here I really started to settle into the effort and the enjoyment factor increased tenfold. A short time later we hit the road at the top of Moscar. The aid ( only one of two in this race) had been moved from Moscar down to the lay-by near to Cutthroat Bridge. As we descended the road we upped the pace and started overtaking even more teams. The aid was a hive of activity, with loads of teams stood around frantically grabbing food and water. I quickly grabbed a sandwich and corralled the team to move on. No point hanging around when there's work/running to be done. I've never been one to hang about in aids, it just seems wasted time. I'd much rather grab some food and eat it while moving slowly from an aid.

We were soon back onto the rough stuff climbing the steep ascent towards Back Tor. The mist really came in and combined with the darkness it was hard to even see the rocky uneven ground at our feet. Me and Simon found this situation almost comical as we stumbled along the trail. When we hit the flagstones, that run out to the next check point at Cartledge Rocks, we were really able to pick up the pace again. And once again we found we were over taking others. It was always a lift to overtake other teams, showing that while the effort felt steady, we were moving at a decent pace.

We easily found the turn off the flags and I quickly resigned myself to spending the next 20 miles or so in anything up to knee and waist deep bogs. Having never raced an ultra in these sorts of conditions before it surprised me just how energy sapping it could be. I'm used to rocky trails and the like on the usual races I enter. But this was a different kettle of fish. I'm just glad Simon ably took up most of the navigational responsibilities, I had enough on trying to stay upright...

The next couple of hours saw us steadily move over the increasingly boggy terrain up towards Cutgate and beyond. The whole time, despite the clag and general darkness, Simon kept us on a good line, using a mixture of compass bearings and knowledge gleaned from recce's. On the run up and after Cutgate we overtook several teams to our right that seemed to be on inferior lines across the open moorland. Straight after Cutgate one of these teams dropped in behind us. They turned out to be the Polish quartet of 'Above 2000'. It very quickly became clear they were using our nav to follow on a good line. Despite trying to up the pace a little, they doggedly followed our line. We concluded we needed to stall with a comedy, fake shoelace tying incident. They took the hint and pressed on...on the wrong line...

After getting slightly left of the line on the steady run past the 1894 Stone, we got back on track and past and gapped a couple more teams. All this when I felt we were moving a little slow, which again was a good sign I was firmly back in the ultra running game.

Kristian and Charlie enjoying the snowy delights of Bleaklow

Most of the night had ended up being mostly rain free despite the biblical, stormy run up to the race. It was even a little warm in the early sections of the race. However as the sun began to break into a beautiful dawn, we hit Bleaklow, which for most is the trickiest section of navigation. Luckily for us, we'd had multiple trial runs prior to the race and pretty much nailed it perfectly. The only issue for me was melting snow, that had left large sections of ice cold water. It didn't take long for my feet to start getting cold and numb. The descent down onto the Pennine Way couldn't come soon enough. With the warmth returning to my feet I was much happier. I'd been steadily sipping Mountain Fuel and nibbling on Jelly Babies and it was doing the trick. My energy was high and spirits in a good place - it felt so good to be enjoying a long race with like minded friends.

Kinder Summit with Charlie and Simon

We chased a team down into Snake Summit, wrongly believing it might be Tom Saville, Stuart Walker etc (they were much further on running a cracking time). The sweet tea at Snake Summit aid was a godsend, but once again after the briefest of sit downs/squats (to ease my slightly tight hips) I was keen to get moving.

The following section I'd not reccied, which in itself allowed me an interesting journey of discovery for the last 10 miles or so. The first section up Mill Hill, I'd been pre-warned was highly runnable. This suited me just fine, the typical chossy, muddy and invariably soft and off camber running of this race didn't suit my more metronomic strengths. So off we went up the steadily ascending flag paving with another team behind us. The first signs of Kristian's maiden ultra started to show a little as he dropped off the pace slightly and was clearly digging deep. We held off to pull the team back together, only for the next, much steeper climb to see Kristian charge ahead with gusto on a fast power hike. His Bob Graham training clearly prevalent!

If I'm brutally honest the speed we travelled around Kinder seemed a little pedestrian, but with me getting tired, I was more than content to cruise along at this lacksidaisical pace. I suppose this was very much like my unplanned Lakeland 100 group race - it's always easy to resign to a lighter pace when travelling as a team. Still I was just soaking up the journey and enjoying the new day as it warmed significantly. The ground around Kinder was my perfect terrain with technical rocky trails making things even rosier. Soon glad to feel like I'm back!

Traversing around Kinder

The steady charge over Brown Knoll saw us catch up with our notional team manager and missing race leader Ian Winterburn. It was good to see him and seemed to invigorate the team into a final push. Skirting around Mam Tor towards the finish I was reminded why I love these long races so much. The adventure on such extended periods in the hills bring a euphoria near the finish that's difficult to replicate.

The start and the end of the race at Hollins Cross

The final descent once again showed a renewed Kristian who charged the downhill to the last short section of road. If he decides to enter ultras regularly he'll be a force to be reckoned with!

The final descent

We ran line astern to the finish along the road and soaked up the moment, laughing about our experiences. It was great to see Emma and Ava ringing the cow bells at the finish in Edale to top off the whole event.


Literally the second we finished

In the end we achieved 9th place, which amongst the talent competing and my return to ultras, I'm more than happy with. It was a fantastic team that gelled immediately; Krisitian grinding out an amazing first ultra, Charlie maturely reining us in early when we might have overcooked it, and Simon's nav and late pushing of the pace - I just turned up as a set of legs. The beer at the end, courtesy of Ian W was greatly received and earnt.


On reflection this was the best way to reintroduce myself to ultras and confirmation my body is well on the way to full recovery. With the Highland Fling just 2 months off, it's time to consolidate and start to push the training accordingly.



Thanks as always for the support from Salomon, Suunto and Mountain Fuel.



Most of the photo's in this report were courtesy of Jen Scotney, who kindly allowed me to use them, so a huge thanks to her.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Balance





Life is indisputably the pursuit of happiness, but our individual interpretation of that state is always subjective. My personal take is grounded in a simple 'work equals reward' ethic. My belief is that if one doggedly works towards any ambition, the rewards should eventually come to fruition. If only life could be that simple, where it’s often a paradigm.  It’s only through honest personal reflection and hard lessons learnt I’ve come to see some difficult realities. Life is a great balancing act – the Ying and the Yang if you like. And despite ambition, drive and determination the metaphorical wheels can very much come off at any time;

I began running about 5 years ago now, and within twelve months I’d run a half, a marathon and my first ultra. A year later, I was running 50 and 60 milers as hard as I could. I didn’t understand running easy, it just didn’t seem right to train hard and not honour that with anything less than my best effort. Of course, I was regularly struck with niggling injuries. However, I managed through these and soldiered on regardless. Others around me seemed to be able to churn out higher mileage training weeks without the same problems though. I questioned whether my training intensity, mostly in the hills of the Peak District, was too high on a day-to-day basis. The most likely causation factor was my relative infancy in the sport and a lack of strength in my body. Suffice to say I always pushed, believing that the rewards and gains would keep coming.


2015 saw me run my first hundred miler in the summer at the Lakeland 100. I was pleased with a finish there in 26 hours, but suffering a big slow down near the end I saw definite room for improvement. After a second place in a 50 miler in September (on already tired legs) I upgraded my White Rose Ultra entry to a hundred miler in November. This went surprisingly well coming 1st male  in under 19 hours despite a developing virus and heavy fatigue from the years racing. On retrospect, although the results were pretty good for me, the underlying issues were largely ignored.

Over the winter I suffered with a lingering virus for over 6 months, but ambitions were still high with 3 more hundred milers lined up for 2016. Clearly this would become my undoing as the year unfolded with unsatisfactory performances and my first DNF back at the Lakeland.  Initially I reeled from the disappointed, but slowly became more pragmatic about my plight. After a final futile, and very slow, push round the Hardmoors 60, it was time to wake up to the reality of my situation and get some quality rest.

I frantically researched my condition, looking into the signs and symptoms of the dreaded over-training syndrome. At first the enforced rest made things worse, I was restless and hyperactive but also exhausted at the same time. Even ascending a flight of stairs saw me tired and breathless.

My experience with this ‘illness’ over a three month period has brought me to a series of conclusions about how I got here. I’ve clearly run too many 100 milers in a 12 month period, especially being new to the distance. Such strength in the body is not only a matter of will, it’s built with time and patience. Although I’d started a foundation, I’ve just piled too much on top causing everything to collapse. I’ve also never taken any significant time out in the last 5 years. I now firmly believe it’s healthy to have a good 2 to 4 week break once a year if you’re racing and training hard. It’s widely known that most training adaptions occur when resting. So in hindsight, to underestimate the value of time out now seems absurd.

It’s only now I see that running had become my identity. Without it I felt useless, crest fallen, with nothing to occupy my day and tire my ambitious character. Only time would serve to alleviate my symptoms and mentality. The support from family, friends and encouragement from the kind folks at Salomon would prove to be invaluable to my sanity during my recovery. As time passed, I tried to expand my repertoire without further straining my already crushed nervous system. Only now can I see the true value of cross-training to open my mind to the benefits of other activities. I’d forgotten the excitement of partaking in a new sport and seeing the initial steep learning curve and the satisfaction it brings. Revisiting climbing was like meeting an old friend, but trying skiing an exciting new adventure I can share with my family. Cycling is proving to be a great low-impact alternative to running while maintaining a level of fitness during my ‘rest’. All these new activities helped my mood and gave me a fresh perspective.


One of the most valuable aspects of my recovery has come from diet. I’ve learnt that a heavily fatigued adrenal system can only truly recover with quality nutrition. This means a combination of unprocessed foods such as fruits and vegetables. This gives a rested body the right vitamins and minerals to rebuild in strength. I also took the time to step away from running much of my long runs in a fasted state. While I believe this has allowed me to become well fat adapted, it wouldn’t be wise to strain my systems any further. In my search for answers I also discovered the role of the autonomic nervous system regarding my medical plight. It seemed my sympathetic nervous system (responsible for the flight or fight response) had become over active. In contrast I needed to kick start the parasympathetic nervous system back into play which enables rest and recovery. To assist in recovering from an overactive sympathetic nervous system I needed to cut stimulants from my daily intake. That meant no more caffeine of any sort and a reduction in sugars, which although that sounds like drastic measures the results speak for themselves. Despite cutting back certain food types, I was cognisant of the fact that at the same time failing to fuel my body properly could easily be a backwards step. With this in mind, as well as fuelling on the run with mountainfuel.co.uk, I also used their recovery fuel to help me bounce back after training.


Over the last three months for every 3 steps forward in recovery, I’ve taken the odd slip back when I’ve over exerted myself, or when night shifts have just exhausted me further. However I’ve been monitoring my recovery using the sleep test on my Suunto that measures heart rate variability overnight. I’ve also run a regular 'fitness' test which involves running a flat 3 mile route at a specific heart rate – the results being that my pace increased at that same HR shows my health and fitness returning to normal.

The rejuvenation from trying new activities has proven ultimately healing physically and mentally. It's also meant more time available to connect and share new experiences with my family. While I’m well on the road to recovery now, it’s not without some hard lessons learnt. I’m excited moving forward armed with a new repertoire of knowledge and activities to enhance my fitness and performances going into 2017.

#TimeToPlay







Huge thanks to Salomon, Suunto and Mountainfuel for their ongoing support, especially through my testing times.


Friday, 25 November 2016

Suunto Spartan Ultra








Every step, every mile, every heartbeat, every foot of ascent, all with the relentless goal of improvement. However in order to improve we need results and feedback to assess our efforts. And this is where modern technology steps in to assist us. It can serve to free our minds and bodies to concentrate on the unfettered action of running, all the while meticulously recording our every step. We are fortunate to have access to devices such as GPS watches. Our predecessors had to settle for measured distances, stopwatches and paper records to capture the necessary data to seek progress. Used correctly the feedback we receive can be deciphered to benefit us in a number of ways;

Visible improvements, be it in time or effort (through heartrate measurement) confirms our training is heading in the right direction

Recovery is still an underrated aspect of training and with assistance can be optimised to enhance the effects of training.

To some, the online community aspect of logging and sharing our achievements is reason enough to record their efforts.

But as with all technology, especially in the modern age, it’s a fluid entity, never static and always evolving. This is where Suunto, as one of the major players in the GPS watch market step in. Their much-lauded Ambit range of watches are revered by a large section of the running community. How they were going to progress such a great product was always going to be the conundrum. The answer is the Suunto Spartan Ultra featuring some key improvements over the Ambit range to make it a relevant and worthwhile purchase.



My first impressions out of the box were positive. It actually looks an attractive watch, one that I’m proud to wear every day as a 'dress watch'. Ironically now, it was the look of the very first Ambit that drew me to the Suunto brand, with the only exception being the placing of the large GPS antenna on the watch strap. For me with my narrow wrists it just looked a little too bulky. I appreciate the result was a very accurate and reliable GPS track, which to this day keeps drawing customers to the Suunto range. The Spartan however, does away with the large strap mounted GPS antenna though and somehow they have snuggled it comfortably into the watch itself. The profile of the watch seems slimmer too making it appear much more sleek on your arm.




Of course the biggest change in this new range of Suunto is the inclusion of touch screen technology. I’ll be the first to hold my hand up and say I was a little dubious, particularly on a device that would be used in the elements. I’m pleased to say having used the Spartan for the last month in a variety of conditions its performed admirably. However when the rain gets very heavy it can become a little problematic - and as expected unusable underwater. Menu screens are negotiated with an intuitive swipe and other selections confirmed with a satisfying vibration which creates the satisfying illusion of pressing a mechanical button. All the functions can be operated by using the three physical buttons on the right side of the watch, but I always find myself reverting to the touch screen. Maybe it’s just the novelty, which could wear thin – only time will tell I guess. In the meantime, I very much enjoy the technology.



One of my favourite functions is the customisable watch face. You select a variety of both analogue and digital time displays which can be as simple or detailed as you like. They can include other information such as altitude and number of steps (more on this later). Finally once you’ve chosen the display you can then choose from a number of colours to further personalise to suit your taste.

(photo courtesy of Suunto)


Battery life is another positive with the Spartan. With GPS set to ‘best’ it’ll reportedly manage 18 hours, with 26 hrs in ‘good’ GPS accuracy, which handily puts it as the 100 mile watch choice. Equally it’ll comfortably run for 15 days on standby. Of course this can be customised to suit your needs, suffice to say this is another great step forward for Suunto’s range. Clearly some thought has gone into improving the charging cable. Rather than the old clasp design, which while sufficient was sometimes a little fiddly, the new cable has a strong magnet connector which is a marked improvement.


A nice new feature is the ‘Step’ recording that I initially thought was a gimmick to replicate the devices that exclusively track a person’s daily movement. However my snobbery was soon overcome when I became obsessed with checking my daily totals to see if I could beat the previous days numbers. The only complaint I had here is that they only recorded or tracked beyond the day you’re on. However the latest firmware update (which are almost weekly at the moment) includes a handy seven day summary to check ongoing movement trends beyond just your usual sports tracking. If anything it's an interesting insight into how active we can be from day to day, which I now factor into my recovery and training plans.




Navigation is back, and those familiar with Suunto Ambit navigation will pretty much know what to expect. However the inclusion of the high resolution OLED screen means more detail and an easier format. You can actually see your track overlaid where you should be in relation to the route. This is much easier to follow than the all too familiar Ambit arrow and line format. This is a personal favourite of mine so I'm pleased to see this feature is definitely improved with the Spartan.



The Multisport selection is currently awaiting an update to allow customisation. Don't let this put you off though, this will be rectified in the near future. That aside there's a vast array of sports to choose from with preset displays. And again, another advantage of the new high res screen is having 5 easy-to-see metrics displayed at the same time. This plus also rolls over into the bluetooth notifications, where now more of your texts can be viewed. This really sells the advantages of the improved display for me, which in all fairness is the biggest step forward here at this stage.

As regards the actual application of using the watch for sports it has some key improvements. The actual search for a GPS signal appears to be instantaneous which is very promising for the hardware. The Spartan also differs from the Ambits in that it now uses GLONASS as well. This essentially means it'll have more satellite options resulting in better accuracy. Prior to starting the sport on the watch you can access an options menu where you can alter GPS accuracy (affecting battery life), toggle auto pause on or off and even select a route to navigate. Some of these options were only previously accessed by connecting the watch to a computer.  Post run you're presented with a summary screen with instant access to mile/kilometre splits. This all points to some well thought out improvements which make the day to day use of the Spartan Ultra a pleasure.




Heart rate functionality is present and correct with a bluetooth enabled chest strap. As well as allowing training in relevant heart rate zones, it'll also serve to complement the recovery features due in December. I'm still an advocate of chest mounted heart rate monitors, with their reported improved accuracy.

It would be untrue to say there haven’t been teething issues with the Suunto Spartan. Missing functionality that was standard on the Ambits has been a common complaint. But you only have to look at the release schedule set out by Suunto to see they are rapidly moving forward with this product. Not only this but they are also listening to feedback from their customer base and acting on it accordingly. The product itself is a fantastic leap forward in the wearable GPS tech market, and the software is rapidly catching up – keep the faith.

In summary it might have been nice if the release of this product was held off to iron out those software kinks in advance. But this aside, Suunto has once again produced a great product that is both functional and stunningly attractive. I’d say it's a must for your Christmas list.



Monday, 3 October 2016

Hardmoors 60 - Redemption





The void left in both my race calendar and self-esteem following a DNF at the Lakeland 100 required filling. I desperately needed some redemption after coming up short at Lakeland. The ‘mere’ act of finishing an ultra, any ultra, had become a prerequisite for my ongoing sanity. It was rapidly becoming a primary outcome goal after my Achilles tendonitis seemed to degrade even further over the last month. So with all this in mind I dropped on an entry to the Hardmoors 60 (100k and a reported near 10,000ft ascent) which seemed to fit the bill somewhere nicely between the 100 mile distance, but also not too short that my diminished leg speed would be a concern.

So following what felt a rapid enough recovery from Lakeland 100, I took a 9 day holiday in Chamonix to take in the madness that is UTMB race week. With the tendonitis niggling I didn’t hammer the miles over there but managed some quality ascent and a little altitude adaption. Love that place and genuinely can’t wait to hopefully race there next year!

On my return I booked in with my physio, who promptly attacked my Achilles with the needles combined with some excruciating massage. Suffice to say it freed things up a little and following a revelation in rolling my calves, things started looking much rosier! Despite no real long runs after Lakeland (about 6 weeks) I felt my fitness should carry through and I could actually run well at Hardmoors. Of course this presented the danger of diverting my outcome goals well off target. There again, having a good crack at the race shouldn’t really affect whether I finished or not. Circumstances this year seem to be conspiring against me, so when about 10 days out I acquired an evil chest infection, I was neither surprised nor overly concerned. I’m not sure if this was down to my resignation of the lack of quality running I’d performed this year, or just an acceptance of the situation and how I couldn’t really control it anyway.

The Race

Race morning arrived, and probably a first for me but I managed a pretty good night’s sleep. This put me in a good mood and although cool, the weather looked reasonably favourable as we drove to Guisborough, near Middlesborough. The aid station was rammed with familiar faces and it was great to see Jason Millward, essentially my wingman for a long stint on the Hardmoors 110, he was crewing at High Cliff Nab. I also got chance to catch up with fellow Mountain Fuellers’, Ste Lord, Matty Brennan and the ever gentlemanly Dave Troman.

Me and Dave both discussed our shared primary outcome goals to enjoy, finish and bury some demons. He’d also suffered an unfortunate DNF, his in Chamonix at the TDF. So with the start looming large I awaited the countdown, stripped down to just my S-Lab vest and shorts and readied myself. I felt much calmer than I normally do which was probably a by-product of the ‘enjoyment first’ outcome goal.



At the go we ran quietly (to respect the residents of Guisborough) onto the road and started heading up hill. I was initially about 10-15 back of the front and more than content to warm up nice and slow and settle into the long day ahead. As we hit the trails and the incline steepened somewhat some of the front runners really eased off the pace. I still felt very relaxed at this point so I cruised past into somewhere around the top 5 runners. Ste Lord had charged off at the front and I had no intentions of following just yet. 

I ended up dropping into a little group with Matty Brennan, Lee Firman and Jerry McCulla. We chatted the amiably as we hit the top of High Cliff Nab (the high point of the race). Jason Millward was up there marshalling and kindly took some photos as we passed. It’s fair to say at that point I felt pretty good, the climb had felt a breeze and the pace wasn’t overly taxing. If anything I was maybe sweating a little too much, but my perceived effort still felt in control so I put it down to the remnants of the virus. As we progressed through Guisborough woods, Jerry pushed ahead a bit and Matty kept stopping to take pictures, such was his chill factor in this race! I concentrated on sipping my Mountain Fuel and threw some occasional solid food down my neck. Suffice to say my stomach felt rock solid and it would be nice to mix things up with real food and Mountain Fuel through the day.



As we descended out of the woods towards the Park at Saltburn, Gerry and Lee pushed slightly ahead and I wanted to keep my pace in check so kept the effort breezy. It was on the descent into the park that my calf started to feel like it was torn - an injury I’d sustained after the HM110. It was on the same leg where my Achilles tendonitis was so I guessed it was just the remnants of that injury. I relaxed my running style to accommodate and lo-and-behold it eased off and would never return throughout the race. Bizarre how these niggles creep into races and quickly vanish???

As I ran through the park I could tell even the easy pace was a little harder than it should have been. I was content this was down to my virus and chastised myself for caring about race position, particularly so early on. We hit the aid station and it was great to see Emma and the kids. I noticed as Matty caught up he grabbed some melon, while I hit up some crisps and jaffa cakes. Not the healthiest option but I find I let myself eat whatever I fancy in ultra-races trusting the body to want what it needs. 


I ran out of the park towards Saltburn in company with Matty, Gary Thwaites and another guy called Chris (I think). Moving as a group we hit the first of many steep stepped ascents on the seafront. The pace felt good and overlooking the sea I was enjoying the view. Unfortunately, my energy levels were still lagging and even at a steady tempo it was just more of an effort than it should have been. And so it was further down the sea front as we ran along the cliff tops I just eased off the throttle to try and get myself together. The group of 3 steadily pulled away while I resigned myself to a tough day at the office.


Several miles later as I came into Runswick Bay Dave Troman caught me, some 15 miles in. It was great to see a familiar face as every mile was becoming a trial. He was with another 2 guys and all together we rolled into the Runswick Bay aid station. Although I was lucky to have my ever-reliable crew of Em and the kids, this was the first drop bag so everyone got busy sorting themselves out. I told Emma I was struggling with energy and pretty much moved straight onto the beach eating a banana. Dave came flying by like the Terminator, relentlessly eating up the terrain. At the end of the beach I climbed up the steep gulley to get back onto the cliff tops, and back to the monotonous grassy miles.



I was still perplexed by what was happening to me. Was this just a virus or something more sinister? Once again this year I just couldn’t perform how I wanted to and knew I was capable of.  I just had it in my head that I wouldn’t quit, my salvation lied in finishing this race at all costs. I figured that the four 100 milers I’d run in the last 12 months were taking their toll. My body was telling me I had to have some much needed rest. And so it was while out on this run I resolved to ensure I took some time out over winter to really get back on track.

With my resolution in place, the only thing left was to put this race to bed and get finished! With this single focus in mind, I was full circle to my outcome goal of finishing. This had the joyous release of getting my head back into a space where I could enjoy the process.

Back in the race – I found the slog along the front at Sandends a bit of a drag, but turning the next bend to see Whitby really lightened my mood. The run through the town was problematic in that the crowds hadn’t taken into account a sugar deprived ultra-runner weaving through their day trip. I kept my patience and said ‘excuse me’ numerous times with varying effectiveness. Hitting the 199 steps up to the Abbey I finally got some room to get moving properly again. It was nice to get a bit of a rhythm going and feel like I was ticking some miles off again.


The run from here took me eventually to the ever beautiful Robin Hoods Bay, a stunning little village tucked into a small cutting in the coastline. I knew when I reached the aid there I had to try something in respect of food, although on retrospect, I don't think food was the problem. Suffice to say, and in vain, I tried to eat everything! Emma had kindly bought me some salty chips to try and perk me up. In isolation this may have been fine, but washing them down with some melon, other assorted sugary goods and a cup of coke was probably not so wise. This resulted in the inevitable and slightly embarrassing ejection of my stomachs contents all over the grass at the side of the aid station. I'm sure this was most unpleasant for the aid volunteers and the droves of passing tourists - Sorry!



Not wanting to dwell on my plight I ran on, gravity assisted by the steep decent into Robin Hoods Bay centre. The climb out although short and steep, was crowned with the gift of a beautiful tunnel of trees, before pushing onto the grassy tops over looking the ocean. Although a far cry from the mountains, my preferred habitat, the views throughout the day were in stark contrast, and almost refreshing because of it. Whenever I wanted to start feeling sorry for myself, I took the time to take in the vistas and listen to the sounds of the waves crashing against the cliffside.





Next up, and probably the only other climb that might be considered substantial, was a longish drag up towards Ravenscar. I tried to run every step but my body wouldn't allow it as the gradient steepened. And so I was reduced to fast hike; a skill I seem to be improving in year on year. When I finally left the trail and got onto the road leading to the aid station I got back into a jog to tick of the milestone I had in my head of 40 something miles. I figured most of my long training runs were in the 20 mile sort of distance, and so with this left to the finish, mentally it was a mental stepping stone of sorts. I knew, arrogantly or otherwise, I would most certainly finish now, no matter the pain or cost.

I think I spent around 15-20 minutes in the aid station at Ravenscar, just zapped of energy. To try and freshen up I changed into a fresh Salomon vest and had some more food. I didn't feel the need to change my footwear as the Salomon S-Lab Sense had been super comfy all day long. Once up and out the door it was business as usual - vomiting up the side of the road as I stumbled up the road to the trail. Comical how we call this pastime a hobby, but the enjoyment come from overcoming adversity in the long run...

With just over 20 miles to go the run into the finish would prove to be a slow, steady slog. That's not to say I wasn't enjoying the adventure. As many people had passed me at the aid station delays, I steadily overtook before the next. I had no idea of my position, but in all honesty it was truly only the finish that interested me now. I would get this race done and reassess how to get a return to form.




At the risk of this report becoming a write up of misery (probably too late now), the next 14 or so miles passed with little incident. The highlight being a run along the otherwise grim Scarborough seafront. Today this experience would be much more interesting with huge waves crashing against the sea walls, raining cool sea water onto me as I passed the droves of tourists. A short run with my son along the seafront; Cameron keeping pace and cheering his Dad on was likely the highlight of my day (picture at the header).


The next aid at Scarborough Spa and the runners were diverted off course due to the danger presented by the rough seas smashing onto the seafront. This meant some extra ascent, but it was dealt with quickly enough. Ironically I even started feeling a little better with the finish line getting ever closer. With just 6 miles to go I was getting news from some spectators that I was catching some runners up front. Sure enough, two runners who'd come through while I toiled at Scarborough Spa came into view with their head torches now illuminated. After a pretty rough day all round, it was only fair I tried to push it in to the finish now. After catching and overtaking the two runners on a steep grassy descent, I accelerated towards the end. With the rough grassy trail I really needed to concentrate to avoid rolling an ankle as the darkness descended fully. When some more runners lights came into view up ahead I took the decision to ease back while I donned my own head torch. Once the world was lit sufficiently again I pushed past the next two runners. The lighthouse at Filey came into view signifying the end. However in a final kick to the face, the lighthouse merely taunted me and must have still been a couple of miles down the trail, as it wouldn't get any closer!

When the lighthouse came and went on the Filey Brigg, I ran onto a section of the course leading to the town centre I'd never seen before so I fired up the nav feature on my Suunto watch. With this back stop I easily found the right route in towards the finish and a last short climb up the road from the seafront. With the family waiting with cowbells ringing, I ensured to enjoy the last moments of a tough day.




In the end it took me about 2 hours or more longer to finish than I'd anticipated. Another substandard performance, but I'm more than happy to get a finish under my belt. It was great to see Ste Lord had bagged a win for the HM Grand slam and Matty Brennan had cruised to a well place podium position. Despite my personal performance woes, I still relish every opportunity to engage with the ultra community made up of such nice folk.

Reflection

I think it's now glaringly obvious whats happened to me after a tough year of racing. I've consulted with some well informed and experienced people and they've confirmed I'm clearly suffering over training syndrome. I guess in my case it's less 'over training' and more 'over raced'. Having run the 4 hundred milers in the last 12 months, it's been far too much, especially as I'm new to that distance. It's a rookie mistake, but in my defence the hunt for UTMB points has certainly contributed to my over racing. A day without learning is a day wasted...

Moving forward with some valuable lessons learnt, my first priority is to get some rest to get my body back to normal. I'm currently in the throes of a full month off running, and while it's driving me mad, I'm feeling the relief in my body already. Next I'll be looking to get some speed back into my legs. The 100 milers have meant plenty of slow, steady state running meaning I've lost some of my top speed. With some rest and quality speed training I'm looking forward to running some faster 50 milers. I'm also in the lottery for the next years UTMB so fingers crossed that could be the highlight of 2017. 

Huge thanks to Salomon, Suunto and Mountain Fuel for their ongoing support and faith in my abilities.

Onwards and upwards