Trail World Championships 2018

Trail World Championships
Penygolosa Trails, Spain, 12th May 2018

TWC TeamGB
Team GB: Kim Collison, Casey Morgan, Jon Albon, Holly Page, Tom Owens, Rob Sinclair, Tom Evans, Sarah Morwood, Sam Ayres, Katies Kaars Sijpesteijn, Ryan Smith, Beth Pascall, Adrian Stott, Sally Fawcett, Rachael Campbell.

 

The Trail World Championship was an amazing experience, such a privilege to run with an amazing bunch of athlete’s. The whole event was fantastic, a super friendly and laid back British team, mixing with all the other nations in the hotel, the acrobatics at the opening ceremony, the super lazy day the day before, the type you never allow yourself at home, all brilliant experiences!
If I briefly rewind to 9 weeks before the TWC we were having yet another dump of snow in a pretty dire winter. I wanted to get a decent run in so wore micro spikes. The next day, I knew the damage was done, I was limping heavily and unable to push off through my right forefoot. This was a familiar problem, last flaring up in the final couple of miles of the OCC in Chamonix in August. That had settled with several weeks off running and biking instead. I was worried I wouldn’t even make the start line for the TWC, it was after all 85km+ in the mountains I was expecting the foot to cover. An X-ray confirmed avascular necrosis of the 2nd metatarsal head. The consultant noted it was the earliest he had seen it being symptomatic but he doesn’t usually see ultra runners. He was convinced it would settle in time for the race though, but my training would be affected. Whilst I couldn’t run, I was fine walking, hiking up the steepest hills in the Peaks. I kept myself motivated by challenging myself to 100 Win Hill reps, covering different routes and eventually the walks became runs. My training was different to what I was used to, down from 100- 130 km per week to between 65 and 80km, but I was getting in incredible amounts of ascent. I averaged 5000-7000m a week over the next 8 weeks! By the time I got to the start line, my foot was no longer painful but there was always a doubt it would hold up all the way to the finish, and also if my training was enough.
The race it’s self was tough, the heat at 6am only got worse until we finally hit some shade at around 60km’s, for me that was soon after 2pm! The start on an athletics track encouraged a fast start and that’s what we got, a sub 7 min first mile wasn’t the wisest, but I’d like to think it made the most of the flat bit of the course! I settled into a nice rhythm on the first climb, settling into a more sensible pace. It wasn’t until an hour or so later when I momentarily took my cap of I realised it was soaking wet. I hadn’t dipped it in water, it was sweat yet my skin was dry, it was evaporating off me so quickly. The first water station at Borriol came early, I had plenty of fluid so just grabbed a cup of water but didn’t need to fill my bottles. By the time I reached the first of the supported checkpoints at 31km after 3hrs 28mins I was starting to struggle, not through lack of fluids just the heat but so were plenty of other’s.
Sarah arrived at the aid station a couple of minutes later in a similar state. After taking time to douse ourselves in water, drink plenty of water and apple juice, grab a few crisps then restock bottles and food we decided to keep each other company for a few kms. This helped both our races massively, it was motivating to have someone alongside you and good banter provided a welcome distraction. Sarah even managed to teach the Bosnian runners some choice English words! When we passed one of the Australian team, she noted the heat despite coming from a good summer over there. What chance did we stand after our winter! That 10km passed quickly but when we reached the aid station I was aware of my hamstrings tightening, particularly the left. I laid on the floor and Kim, part of the GB management stretched it out which helped hugely. We followed the same water and food routine and left the aid station together, but it was soon clear Sarah was running much stronger than me, so she set off ahead.

TWC Prozis 1
Sunrise on the first climb from Borriol, around 6.50am!

I spent the next couple of hours swaying between dropping when I got to the next aid station and thinking maybe I could plough on to the finish, albeit slowly. I had picked up poles at the last aid station and these were helping on the climbs, maybe just getting into a different rhythm but I was soon using them even on the flat sections. Things were starting to improve though, I wasn’t eating a lot but felt I was eating and drinking just enough. I got to Vistabella, the last supported checkpoint at 62km at around 14:20, and after faffing about finding my space blanket for a kit check I made my way to the British table to Sam. To be honest, when I mentioned wanting to drop I don’t think I ever really considered it. I did a bit of maths, I had set myself a vague target of 11-12 hours, it was now 8 and a half hours into the race and with 25km to go, if I covered this in 4 hours I wouldn’t be far outside my goal despite not having a great race.
I’m so glad I continued as the next section was by far my favourite part of the day. I started overtaking people, I found out afterwards I took 24 people in this section, not bad considering the field had thinned out at this late stage of the race. We hit shade and woodland sections and I was able to get into a nice rhythm, still slower than I’d like but when Mel from New Zealand stuck to my heals we seemed to get into a really good, metronome like pattern, an Indian chap tagged along for a bit and commented ‘strong women’, not in a patronising, just motivating way. They both dropped back but it had been nice having company again for a few kms. There was a Latvian women who I’d too’d and fro’d with a lot of the day, she had her head phones on but as we came into sight of Penygolosa for the first time I’d already decided I was taking her before the finish!
The climbs kept on coming but eventually we reached a water station, 4km to go, all downhill we were told. The Latvian runner took off but as we reached the last couple of km I was reigning her back in, the race was back on. We rounded the last corner, round the trees and onto the red carpet. Spurred on by the crowds at the finish I somehow mustered a sprint finish and edged past her. We both saw the funny side of a pointless sprint finish after 86km as our team counters were back anyway (the top 3 of 6 runners count for each nation count) and laughed as we crossed the line. It really was pointless as she must have started further back on the start line from me so her chip time was 1 second faster than me and 1 place ahead! Never mind, I was incredibly relieved my foot had held up, relieved to have finished, relieved to be out of the heat and relieved to finally sit in some shade!

TWC Vistabella
Around 75km into the race!

The GB team did amazing, the men were silver medallists and women 4th, when you consider how many professional athletes there are in the teams ahead of us we can be very proud of our results.
So, what now? It’s time for a change, I love running but I’m not prepared to keep pushing, only to flare up my foot and need to take another 6-8 weeks out and get into a constant cycle of flare ups and rehab. I want to be running for several years to come, it would be such a shame to stubbornly continue running and do more damage to the toe joint so I can’t run at all. To reduce the risk of aggravating my foot I need to move to softer ground. I’ll be moving away from trail running and sticking with the fells. In the next few weeks I’m doing Buttermere Horseshoe, Saunders Mountain Marathon, Lakes Skyrace and Glenshee 9 Munros. I see this as only positive, time to embrace change (and get better at navigation!)

 

TWCGB women’s team

Yorkshire TWC
Team Yorkshire at the finish!

Nutrition
I’m amazed I needed so little but I honestly felt fine with hydration and fuelling, I felt this was plenty to keep me going on race day. The fact it is so little shows how well I ate in the days beforehand. Four days after the race I’m also still waiting for the appetite to kick back in, normally I have a few days of eating everything in sight post race but this hasn’t been the case, yet (edit: a week later and I’m now catching up well)!

Breakfast:
Porridge with Mountain Fuel Morning Fuel,
Small banana,
Small croissant,
Mountain Fuel Xtreme,

During:
Mountain Fuel Xtreme x 2,
Mountain Fuel Raw x 2,
GU gel x 3 – salted watermelon, gingerade, cucumber mint,
Fruit shoot bar x 3,
Decathlon marzipan bars x 3,

At checkpoints:
Apple juice x 3-4 cups,
Coke x 3-4 cups and 500ml bottle filled at last intermediate checkpoint,
Couple of hands full of crisps,
Bit of a lemon muffin.

 

Many thanks to my sponsors who have helped me out so much over the last few years, especially Montane who I started with at the start of my GB Trail Running journey in 2015. Despite running in all weather and terrain in several different countries from the British fells, to the European mountains, to the Moroccan dust trails, the kit has always been perfect. La Sportiva provided shoes for the year, and when in doubt as to my foot, the options and advice from the guys at Lyon Equipment was invaluable, the Bushido were the perfect shoe for me. They offered spot on protection for the forefoot, and despite not racing in them before the TWC there were no blisters/ hot spots or issues at all. The Petzl headtorch was not needed on the day, but it will be soon, it’s Bob Graham supporting season after all! The Beta Running team are such a good fun team to be part of, in fact when my foot last flared up and it was the weekend of a team get together in Castleton, the time Malc spent with me in teaching me how to correctly use poles saved my Sud De France and TWC races. Using the Guidetti poles the Beta guys provided for the second half of the race was part of the reason I could finish that last 25km so strong. The Injinji socks have been my go to for several years, I won’t run in anything else, the bonus is my foot taping is Injinji toe sock friendly too! I’ve also made great mates through being part of the Mountain Fuel Team and look forward to more Lake District challenges with those guys.

Foot Injinji toe taping!

 

Trail World Championships 2018

A lot’s gone on since my Bob Graham!

It’s been a while since my last blog, it’s difficult to top what still remains my favorite night and day out on the fells on my BG round, but I have had lots of fun days out since including some good results in a couple more ultras.

I got my first ever outright win in the Dig Deep 30 race, well joint win alongside Simon, then I finished 11th in the OCC. This was my first experience of the running festival that is the UTMB weekend in Chamonix. After that I took a step too far, only 5 weeks later I raced my longest race to date, the Grande Traversee from the mountains of the Pyrenees to the Mediterranean sea. The reason that was a step too far happened quite literally in the last mile of the OCC where I got a sudden, sharp pain in the top of my foot. I was able to run the last mile, but had to give up on the race I was having with the Spanish girl only a few meters in front of me. Immediately at the finish, all I wanted to do was get my shoe off and for the next few days I was walking with a heavy limp. I didn’t run a step for the next 4 weeks, then returned to gentle jogging a week prior to the Grande Traversee. It turned out that pain was a stress reaction/ fracture of my 2nd metatarsal.

Looking back on my data from the year, I have been very luck on the injury front. I tend not to get the overuse type injuries many runners suffer from, more trauma related injuries from falls! I attribute this to the strength and conditioning exercises I regularly do alongside the running. So far in 2017 I have covered 2504 miles (221 hiking) which has involved 442, 454 ft of ascent. Over the 41 weeks of the year that averages out at 61 miles per week, but if you take into account the 6 non-running weeks, that average increases to 71 mpw. These weeks have been consistently maintained, some as easy weeks but the fact that I have got all those miles in may have contributed to the foot injury, but with it coming as late as 34 miles into the race I don’t think the training was the problem. It was more a combination of not wearing supportive enough shoes, racing hard on the top rocky part of the final descent and a stone embedded in the sole of my shoe. So, my training in the weeks between the OCC and Grande Traversee was less than conventional! I cycled (a lot), walked a bit then discovered Nordic walking for the 2 weeks before the race. Having never used poles in a race before I decided this would be the ideal opportunity to get used to using them. I hadn’t bothered before as the hassle of taking them in and out of the pack, also eating and drinking when using them had put me off. As the Grande Traversee was 112 km with 5800m ascent but also 6500m descent, now seemed the perfect time to perfect the skill of running and walking with poles.

I had done a few test runs, the longest being 5 miles in the days prior to the race, and although slow my foot felt ok. As a lot of a long ultra race involves walking rather than running, I decided I’d start but was by no means confident I’d finish. This did take the pressure off and so I was able to enjoy it as an experience rather than a flat out race. The race started at 5.30pm in Vernet les Bains giving a couple of hours of daylight before hitting the highest point of the race, just over 2000m at dusk. I have never done this in a race before, but having stopped to enjoy a bit too much cheese and ham at the first aid station I took some pictures on my phone.

It took until the first life base at 36km for the first lady to overtake me, this was a relief as I wasn’t expecting to be first and wasn’t supposed to be pushing the pace in this race! This meant I could again get back to enjoying the trails, even turning the torches off to run a small road section by moonlight with owls hooting in the woods around us.

GT4

This was all going great, I was really feeling the benefit of the poles, enjoying my run but then I started getting passed by a couple of female runners and the competitive instinct in me took over. I got to the life base at 75 km and was in and out, nibbling on some marzipan from my drop bag but was no more than a minute there. The next aid station was in 8 km and I had plenty of fluid so passed on the opportunity to top up. Now, had I known they were actually in the relay and not my race I might have had a few minutes at the life base, sat down and let my quads have a bit of a break. But I didn’t, instead ploughing on, feeling good on the climbs and soon overtook one of the women. I then had to remind myself to look up at the views, I shouldn’t be pushing today. Fortunately, I did this just in time to see the sunrise over the mountains, that burnt orange was a magical sight.

GT5

Things started to unravel around 88 km, this was to be my first ever experience of what hitting the wall feels like! It wasn’t nutrition or hydration, this had been good throughout, I simply think the lack of running in the previous 5 weeks had caught up with me. The cycling miles had been great in maintaining my aerobic fitness but my quads were not prepared for the damage being done on the descents. It was equally as bad in both legs so I know it wasn’t through a compensatory gait due to my foot. It was a shame to be forced into a walk for what should have been the fun descents in the last 25 km, and running the flat final 4 km was a non-starter. Looking back it wasn’t as bad as it felt at the time, I thought I had been walking much more than 25 km. Taking the positives from the race though, my foot was feeling fine and I had that experience and benefit of getting to grips with using poles properly during a race. When I crossed the finish line I was surprised and delighted to be told I finished 2nd female, 20th overall out of 203 starters. I had been aiming for around the 18 hour mark, but given the non-running build up the sense of achievement was in getting to the finish, even if it did take just short of 21 hours!

The deckchairs in the finish tent, along with watermelon and pistachio nuts went down a treat, and after 45 mins or so of sitting my quads started to feel a little better. I had DOMS for the next couple of days, but not as bad as I had been expecting, maybe aided by the recovery ice bath in the sea the following day!

GT7GT6GT8

What can I take from the race:

  • It’s good to not be as competitive at times and appreciate the views of the stunning locations,
  • There’s a knack to using poles, but with practice they are a real aid for mountain races,
  • It’s possible to recover from a stress reaction in 5 weeks, but running races require run specific training!
  • Don’t overdose on cheese at the first aid station!

 

What’s next? There’s the Trail World Championships in Spain in May, whilst I have represented GB 3 times it would be nice to try for selection for 1 more GB vest. Aside from that I’m looking forward to getting some muddy, long fell races in, perhaps even a few Lakeland Classics.

A lot’s gone on since my Bob Graham!

Bob Graham Round

Start 2am Jo
Start 2am, Credit: Jo Zakrzewski

To me, I wouldn’t class myself as a proper fell runner until I had done the classic Lake District challenge of the Bob Graham Round, 66 miles, 42 peaks and 27000ft of ascent. I have been planning my BGR for a long time, several years really if you count all those times supporting friends as my first recces. This summer I knew I could take my fitness from the Trail World Championships and recent holiday running in Morocco on to the Lake District hills. I had recovered enough from other long races and was still feeling the benefits of staying at 1800m and climbing up to 4200m, two weeks ago in Morocco.

The date was set, the support, at least 3 on each leg plus road support were all in place to go at 2am, now the only thing to do was check the weather. Mmm, 45mph winds with 50+mph gusts on Skiddaw, only the first of 42 summits, was not what I wanted to see. Neither was frequent heavy showers, thunder storms and although dropping to 20mph, winds for most of the next 24 hours. Others scheduled to go this weekend had already cancelled their attempts. I spoke to some of my support team, we wondered about postponing for a couple of hours until the wind at least had died down but then, everything was in place, I was all set, we decided to ignore the forecast and go for it, but also aware I needed to wrap up and eat plenty as it would be harder than anticipated in these conditions. I’m so glad that decision was collectively made, by the time leg 2 supporters met us at 5am the forecast had improved, the predicted thunder storms were no more and the wind had further dropped. Okay, we were still getting heavy rain, but I was well equipped for that with my Montane Further Faster Neo jacket.

Rewind to Friday evening, I was suprised to get a few hours sleep but then when the 1am alarm came I was keen to get started, it was my turn and I was more than ready for my BGR. There was another round starting at 2am, Andy Swift from Calder Valley had also decided to go for it, all be it on a slightly quicker schedule than me. We wanted to shelter as long as possible so arrived at Moot Hall with 1 min to spare, we did miss the watch passing from 1:59 to 2am so decided to go for 2.01 to make it on the minute – those seconds might matter later on!

Leg 1, with my support team of Andy, Jo, John and Rupert started well as the anticipated wind up Skiddaw was actually a tailwind! That changed though for the last mile or so, visability and heavy rain made the top section particularly hard going. We were having to keep an eye on not losing height, despite being blown to the West. Skiddaw was ticked off bang on schedule but the poor visability was making what would usually be obvious trods difficult to spot. Dropping down towards the next summit brought a nice relief from the winds. Although still raining and the ground being very wet underfoot I enjoyed the grassy descent and then subsequent climb to Great Calva, this boggy section is after all what most fell runs in the Peaks are made off! A little time was lost in the bogs but then the climb to Blencathra was not too bad, head torches went off somewhere around here, but with the clag down there wasn’t that much daylight. I enjoyed the long climbs throughout the day but this was the only one I lost time on, that can be accounted for by the wind and rain though. We did stop for a brief photo on Blencathra but it wasn’t the weather to be hanging around, especially when there were no views to be seen. The safest option off Blencathra in this is Doddick and I was glad we took it. Doddick was so much nicer than Hall’s Fell had been in the wet when I had supported a round earlier in the year, and even in better conditions I think it makes a good option down as it’s all an easy run rather than the scrambling sections on Hall’s. I arrived at Thelkeld, the end of leg 1 in 3 hrs 29 mins, that was only 3 mins down on my schedule which given the conditions I was more than happy with. Looking back I think the harsh weather on leg 1 actually helped me as I do like a fast start on races and might otherwise have gone off too quickly.

Skiddaw! Jo
Leg 1: Skiddaw Credit: Jo Zakrzewski
Blencathra! Jo
Leg 1: Blencathra credit: Jo Zakrzewski

My plan all along was to be quick at change overs, just grabbing a smoothie I had made with Mountain Fuel Morning Fuel, but then eat something substantial at the top of the first climb of each leg. It didn’t make sense to me to eat lots at the change over then have the blood flow diverted to the stomach in digesting the food. Instead I wanted the large muscle groups to work optimally on the steep climbs at the start of each leg. This meant  the first changeover was just over 1 minute, no messing about.

I was joined on leg 2 by Kim and Richard, Andy also carried on from leg 1. They had been checking the weather and we were very pleased to find the thunder was no longer predicted, there would still be large parts of the day in heavy rain but the wind was dropping and we would at least finish the day in sunshine. I was so glad I had gone ahead with the planned start, as they say, the forecasts for the Lake’s are so often wrong!

The first climb up Clough Head is a favourite of mine, steady to start with then getting progressively steeper! It was early enough in the day to be feeling fresh so I powered up, gaining 7 mins and then there’s a lot of nice soft, but still very wet grassy running over Helvellyn and the Dodds. The mist was clearing and there were even times when we were getting views, several times the cloud lifted just as we reached a summit to reveal a whole load more hills to cover! There we 4 other groups out, all on different schedules and different start times but at some point on the out and back to Fairfield we all bumped into each other and had a brief chat in passing. Leg 2 came and went without incident, the descent from Seat Sandle to Dunmail was incredibly slippy, but I had gained enough time on this leg to take it steady and still arrive at Dunmail 25 mins up on schedule, done in 3 hrs 39 mins. A quick stop here, just over 2 mins and it was onto leg 3.

BG L2
Leg 2 Credit: Richard Baxter
L2
Leg 2: Credit Richard Baxter

Mary and Clare set off on Steel Fell with me, Paul had already gone ahead and did an amazing job on this leg of navigating in horrendous conditions, very limited visibility and often with persistent heavy showers. He stayed just far ahead most of the leg to have already scouted the best lines and we could just follow. This was the leg I was most looking forward to getting done, the wet rocks around Bowfell would not be fun, but the 25 minutes gained took a lot of pressure off. When I have supported on this leg before we have made sure we hit the spring on Bowfell to fill up water bottles, no need to worry today as there were several very fast flowing water sources throughout the leg. What would normally be good running on the grassy sections along Grasmere Common was more akin to Outer Edge in the Peaks, deep bogs! Visability was not good, the only person we saw for a few hours on this leg was a shepherd and his dog rounding up sheep, it felt like we had the hills to ourselves. So much so, that we didn’t bother finding rocks for a quick toilet stop, you couldn’t see more than a few meters ahead and couldn’t hear anyone, so Paul continued on ahead and the rest of us had a quick stop. This wasn’t the best timing as the clag lifted at just the wrong time for us to collectively pull a moonie to the BG group following only a few hundred meters behind! Bowfell wasn’t as slippy as I had been expecting, helped by the rain being no more than a bit of light drizzle now. Then on one of the next tops, I think it was Great End, I put my hand down to save a stumble, my thumb hyper-extended and a sudden wave of nausea overcame me. I could move my thumb but it swelled quickly and my grip was not what I wanted for the scramble coming up between Scafell Pike and Scafell. Doing some physio mobilisations and massage to the joint eased my thumb a little and provided a distraction up to the most technical part of the BGR. Not being a climber I opted for Lords Rake and the West Traverse to get to Scafell, the heavy rain over the previous few hours had actually helped us here, a lot of the loose scree seemed to have been washed down so it was much more compact and seemed much easier than previous times. I was relieved to get up here and then onto the picnic spot that is Scafell. With a bit of bum sliding down the wet grass, scree skiing and then the stream crossing with freezing water up over my knees I really enjoyed the last half hour of the leg, it was one of my favorite bits of the day. We got into Wasdale after 5hrs 39mins on that leg and I planned a sit down for the first time. I had soup, tea and a shoe change waiting for me but couldn’t manage my laces with my thumb. Luckily there was plenty of people on hand to get the scree filled shoes off, there’s a knack to getting Injinji socks on quickly so I took over this bit but then I needed lacing assistance again! The longest stop had been just over 4 minutes and I was ready to go, this time into the sunshine.

Leg 3 West Traverse Mary
Leg 3: West Traverse Credit: Mary Gillie
Leg 3 views Mary
Leg 3: Scafell Credit: Mary Gillie
Leg 3 Scafell Mary
Leg 3: Scafell Pike Credit: Mary Gillie
Scree down to Wasdale! Mary
Leg 3: Scree chute Credit: Mary Gillie

Simon and Jude made up the leg 4 dream team, we have been the same leg 4 team for all three of our rounds now. I sipped at some ginger beer on the climb and again climbed strongly, covering Yewbarrow in 37 minutes, it was turning into perfect weather for a BGR, about time! Andy had been struggling on leg 3 of his BGR and needed a longer stop at Wasdale, this meant we left at the same time and covered most of leg 4 together. This was nice to do as a big group, the comedians in his support team provided the entertainment! Zoe met us on Kirk Fell and took some stunning photos, fantastic memories to look back on. Food was going down okay but much less frequent now, I had brought some Peanut M&M’s as we had all enjoyed them on Jude’s BGR last year, I’m afraid I wasn’t very good at sharing though, only allowing Jude and Simon 1 each! I was still feeling surprisingly good, enjoying the climbs in particular but the descents were beginning to hurt the knees a little, my quads were definitely showing signs of fatigue! We got to Honister in 4 hrs 10 mins and after a couple of minutes break I was well up on schedule.

Leg 4 Dream Team
Leg 4 Dream Team Credit: Zoe Proctor
Leg 4
Leg 4 Credit: Zoe Proctor

Katie joined Simon and Zoe on Leg 5, and for the first time in the whole round I started to not enjoy it, I was getting stomach cramps and not managing to get food on board, needing to frequently stop. I had been reminded a bad patch is bound to happen so to get to the last climb before it hit wasn’t too bad really. I was fine to walk but running was a problem so it became a run/ walk, but I think I may have missed a calling as a race walker as my support had to jog to keep up with my march! The last descent from Robinson was painful, I didn’t enjoy that at all, but with only the road section to go I was looking forward to getting this done. I was doubting if I could make sub 20 but Katie was adamant I was not only finishing but well inside 20 hours! I shouldn’t have doubted myself, as with the speed I was walking with the occasional jog, it was clear there was time in hand. Not enough time to dodge puddles though, forgetting the people walking on the trail from Portinscale to Keswick hadn’t been on the hill all day so had clean, dry clothes on. Apologies to the old lady I landed very heavily in a puddle right as I passed her!

Leg 5 Katie
Leg 5: I’m just walking now! Credit Katie Kaars Sijpesteijn
Leg 5 40 down! Katie
Leg 5 Credit: Katie Kaars Sijpesteijn

I touched the door at Moot Hall in 19 hours and 37 minutes, with a huge feeling of relief, relief to finally have a proper sit down and relief I have ticked off the BGR. Despite the horrendous weather, I had such a brilliant day, up to 15 hours that is, so I have realised my fun threshold for Ultra Marathons is 15 hours and I intend to only race up to a max of this now!

Finished!
Finished! Credit: Katie Kaars Sijpesteijn

A few things that worked well were:

  • The heavy weight Montane gortex jacket from the start,
  • VIA Bite 1 bumbag to have a few bits of food to nibble at when at regular intervals,
  • The shoe and sock change at Wasdale – I changed to my favourite shoes, La Sportiva Helios which despite being low drop had really good grip and cushioning,
  • Injinji socks – no grit between the toes on the scree sections,
  • Food strategies of eating at the top of the climb instead of sitting at changeovers, my rest time was only 10 minutes over the whole round.
  • Some of the food I enjoyed was Mountain Fuel, including home made sweet potato pancakes, dried fruit from Morocco, Prozis marzipan bars from the TWC in Tuscany, Double Decker, Peanut M&M’s, Hula Hoops, soup, Mountain Fuel Xtreme, ginger beer, flat coke. Given how my appetite has been since finishing I have a huge deficit to make up, but I ate enough to get me round without over eating and I think this helped in not getting any stomach issues until so late in the day.

The unique part of the BGR is the reliance of your support crew, good friends who know you, know the route and are experienced in these challenges was key to my success.

Huge thanks to:

  • Leg 1: Andy Horrobin, John Davies, Jo Zakrzewski, Rupert Bonnington
  • Leg 2: Andy Horrobin, Kim Baxter, Richard Baxter
  • Leg 3: Clare Oliffe, Paul Nelson, Mary Gillie
  • Leg 4: Judith Jepson, Simon Mills, Zoe Proctor
  • Leg 5: Katie Kaars Sijpesteijn, Simon Mills, Zoe Proctor
  • Road support: Leg 1-3 Simon Mills, Legs 4-5 Clare Oliffe

Also, thanks to my sponsors Montane, Injinji, Beta Running, Better You and Mountain Fuel.

Bob Graham Round

Haworth Hobble

It’s been a while since I’ve done a blog but I have been doing some interesting fell races, all gearing up to the Haworth Hobble 31.5 mile race which served as the qualifying race for the GB team for this years Trail World Championships in Tuscany.

I had a great (and very wet) start to the year coming 2nd in the Marsden to Edale Trigger race in January. This is a 24 mile race involving what would normally be several stream crossings. These were raging torrents on race day, a real team effort was required to cross them, linking with those around you.

Triger 2017
Credit: Mossie Net Photography
Trigger 2017 2
Credit: Stephan Townrow

Conditions were much better for the Tigger Tor 10 mile fell race, where I was chased hard by Hazel Tant but managed to hold her off for the win.

 

Tigger Tor 2017
Credit: Jen Scotney

I had another good run at the Mickledon Straddle, 14 miles to come 2nd to Caitlin Rice.

Mickledon Straddle
Credit: Mossie Net Photography

The final tune up race last weekend was a relatively short race for me, the 6 mile Hope Winter Fell Race, which lived up to it’s name with snow showers on Win Hill, again coming 2nd to Caitlin, there’s a bit of a theme developing here!

So to the Haworth Hobble, the aim here was to come top 3 to be considered for selection for the GB team for the Trail World Championships in June. At just over 31 miles it is the shorter end of the ultra scale, and although it involved 5200ft of ascent this was going to be a quick race. Looking at the start list there were several very quick women entered from mountain running, road marathons and road ultras as well as the trail ultra contingency. With this in mind, I should have learned by now not to get carried away at the start, but I did! I stuck with Julie Briscoe until around 6 miles in, when I realised the pace was far too quick for me so I dropped back. I was still sitting in 2nd though and navigation was going ok. That was until around Todmorden when a Tesco delivery van blocked one narrow path so I missed it! I doubled back to find myself running with Sarah Ridegway and Katie Kaars Sijpesteijn. Sarah dropped back and it was only afterwards we found out she dropped from the race, but Katie and myself continued to work hard, pushing each other as being in 2nd and 3rd place we were sure there would be other women not too far behind. It was great to have Katie alongside me as I’m sure I would have eased off the pace had she not been there. We went through marathon distance in 3hrs 52mins, not bad considering how wet the ground was and the ascent. The last 5-6 miles were tough though and I was so relieved to come into Haworth, just a few seconds ahead of Katie, in 2nd in 4hrs 38 mins. Julie ran a really strong race to win in 4hrs 31mins. I’ve done my bit now, hopefully, that’s good enough for selection for Tuscany.

Haworth Hobble 2
Credit: Woodentops Photography
Haworth Hobble
Steps at 31miles! Credit: Christine Armitage
Haworth Hobble 3
 Credit: Woodentops photography. Me, Julie, Katie

Thanks to Montane, Injinji, Beta Running, Mountain Fuel and BetterYou for their support.

 

 

 

 

Haworth Hobble

Trail World Championships 2016

From the recce I knew this was going to be a tough course, technical and requiring a lot of concentration. A lapse in that concentration at mile 17 put paid to my top 20, sub 12 hour  ambitions. I had 37 miles of not being able to descend at the pace I knew my training would have allowed me to push. Although only superficial, the wounds to the knees didn’t allow me to push any speed. That said, I can only take the positives from what was a fantastic experience. I am incredibly proud of my result, 4th British female and 44th in the world, and to top it off we came away with a team bronze medal. The scars on my knees will be a reminder of the fun in Portugal for years to come!

The temperature at the 5 am start was 22 degrees and incredibly humid. This was not expected and it was set to get hotter, up to 27 degrees in the heat of the day. With that in mind, I tried to keep on top of my hydration from the outset. That was my downfall, quite literally! As I approached the Checkpoint at Vila do Geres I was finishing off my drink so I knew I had drank 1 litre and could set off with 2 x 500ml full bottles. In putting my soft flask back into my pack I tripped. It was a fairly steep downhill, chalky track and the slide onto my knees made for some impressive wounds. The photographer I fell in front off very kindly didn’t take pictures of me in my shocked state, instead helped me up! I had a few minutes of walking to compose myself, realised it was not game over, there was very little pain in the knees so I was fortunate not to have damaged the ligaments/ cartilage/ bones which would have ended my race. As I was now less than a mile to the checkpoint, I got into a run, trying to increase the pace just to make sure everything was okay. Other than being aware my shins were getting wet with blood I made the decision I could and would finish, all be it, slower than I wanted.

Sitting down at the checkpoint, I looked at the cuts for the first time, I’m surprised I managed to keep calm as the deep cut on the right knee was gaping open. The race medics were fantastic, cleaning and dressing the wounds. At one point I had 6 of them, 3 working on each knee!

The race took on a different twist from here. I could still climb well and the flatter sections, although few and far between were fine, so I just eased back on the descents but instead of having the race face on and being quite as focused as I usually would in a race, I chatted and worked with those around me. It became a game of trying not to let Polish mountain running champion, Edyta Lewandowska, get too far ahead on the climbs before I caught her on the descents, then using my fell running skills to pick the best lines for us both through the tough terrain. Regularly, myself and Fiona Hayvice, running for New Zealand, crossed paths, having a few motivating words each time. I also chatted with runners from Australia, Germany, Czech Republic and Spain, the sense of camaraderie on the trail was fantastic. If I had been racing flat out I would have missed out on that. I would also have no doubt suffered in the heat, I was fine but that’s probably only because of the lower intensity running.

As the top 3 counted in the team competition, still being in 4th for the British women, I knew it was important to keep going, just in case something happened to one of the three in front. Other than burning in my knees, I wasn’t in pain and wasn’t aware of any swelling. I’m amazed 8 hours after the fall, approaching the finish line, the bandages were still in tact. As I hit the red carpet, I jogged it in, I didn’t accelerate, just continued with the plod I had enjoyed for the vast majority of the day!

It was only as I stopped the knees seized up, and the pain started. I got them cleaned up and had planned to celebrate with a couple of beers but I couldn’t bare sitting at the table with the table cloth brushing against them. Instead, I went to lay down with my legs up. I’ve made up for it since though, the next day, after a very slow but beneficial walk with some of the team, it was all about pizza, ice cream and hydrating with some beers! This week has followed a similar pattern, enjoying a well overdue off season.

The main positive I can take from the event is my training had set me up perfectly for the race. I was strong on the climbs throughout the race and my quad strength was there despite not being able to use it to descend. I didn’t ache at all post race, not even the 2 day delay in muscle soreness you’d normally expect. This is encouraging for the next mountain race I do, fingers crossed there’ll be the opportunity to test myself fully in a GB vest again.

Despite the fall, and the result, I will look back on the whole experience fondly. The GB team are a great bunch of people. The hospitality, race organisation, unexpected sunshine and heat all made for an amazing weekend. Thanks to Carlos Sa and his team for all their efforts, all the GB team management and runners and my to sponsors, Montane, Injinji, Mountain Fuel and BetterYou.

Trail World Championships 2016

Trail World Championships: 4 weeks to go!

With only a few weeks to go until the Trail World Championships (TWC) in Geres, Portugal I have been focusing my training on fell miles in preparation for the technical course.  I ran the Totley Exterminator, 16 mile race with 4232 ft ascent, coming 3rd female and 20th overall, 3 weeks ago. Then the Three Shires, 12.4 miles with 4003 ft ascent, coming 6th female and 60th overall, last weekend, which I was very pleased with for a Lakeland Classic race. The aim of these was to race on the back of high mileage training weeks, at moderate/ high intensity to mimic the later stages of the TWC.

My aim for the last 10 weeks training has been to average 55-65 miles with 9-12 000 ft ascent. This has gone really well, with some good quality mid-week sessions such as 3 x Win Hill reps, 2800 ft ascent over 5 miles, once a week before work. I have then done 1-2 long days out of 4-8 hours on a weekend.

Last weekend myself, Sophie and Jo from the GB team took the opportunity to recce the course in Portugal over 2 days. We could not have done this without Sophie’s husband George who was an absolute legend, driving us to points and picking us up on the linear route, not to mention shopping in between, and even cooking for us!

First impressions on starting the course in Rio Caldo was how runnable the route was, for a few miles anyway, as we were on road then good tracks. That all changed after about 3 miles as we then started the woodland trails. At this stage on clear distinct paths, up to the first high point at Pedra Bela, nothing too steep despite a height gain of 2300 ft. Then the thicker undergrowth and bracken trails started as we descended down to some lovely waterfalls, before following the rocky waters edge. We got a little carried away here, loosing the trail so scrambled up part of the waterfall and a bank, nipping over a barbed wire fence to get back on route! The next climbs were on good paths before a good long rolling descent on Land Rover tracks through a quarry, eventually to Geres. Over the next few miles we got our first insight into the harsh vegetation this course has to offer, the gorse ripped our legs to shreds as we followed firstly paths, then thick undergrowth, then gritstone trails to around 3200 ft. We arrived with bloodied legs, having covered 26 miles and 8757 ft ascent on day 1, at Campo de Geres.

Day 2 started with the longest climb the course has to offer, rising up to 4390ft over 4.4 miles. This was a fantastic climb, initially through bracken but then opening up to open fell, which could easily have been in the Lakes. The descent was on a good trail for a mile before having to follow our GPS tracks, there were no paths as we went through shoulder high bracken. As we hit the woods there was no respite, the trail was difficult to follow and weaved around a lot of fallen trees. After 2 miles or so of slow descending we reached much better tracks, crossing the path of loads of very placid cattle, not at all intimidating despite their horns! After our first coffee stop of the day we follow the trails through roman roads, past derelict huts and barns, past vineyards, often having to check the map as we seemed to be weaving around peoples gardens. Eventually we got to Soajo, which will be around 38 miles into the race, stopping for a refuel 16 miles into our run. From Soajo we came to my favourite section of the course, climbing up rocky hill side for 4 or so miles, no path and just occasional cairns. Again, the terrain was very  similar to the Lake District. There had been wild fires here in August, this devastated the area, but very selfishly, we were relieved a lot of sharp gorse on the climb had been burned away. A lovely grassy descent soon turned into more woodland small trails, needing to keep wits about you to keep on the route. We weaved around villages before the final sting in the tail, a short, sharp climb up to a trig point. The finish was in sight, or so we thought. Typical of this route, instead of following the good track to the town, the route diverts through more shoulder high bracken, hawthorns and gorse! We finished the day with 30 miles, 7667 ft ascent and 9301 ft descent, all done at low intensity resulting in my legs feeling great for it, no muscle soreness at all!

Altogether last week was my biggest ever training week, 91 miles and 19218 ft  ascent, and I feel really strong on the back of it. This bodes well for the TWC as I realised from the recce how much the course suits the fell runner in me. I wouldn’t expect a trail race to include so much bracken and indistinct paths, not to mention the gorse. There’s a lot of trail runners who will hate this course!

I have a couple of relays over the next 2 weeks, firstly the Hodgson Brother’s Mountain Relay, then the FRA Relays. Both of which I’m doing a longer leg of 8-10 miles, but paired with someone faster than me so it will be a hard run out. I’ll have a couple more 55-65 mile weeks before starting to taper for the TWC.

 

Trail World Championships: 4 weeks to go!

Dig Deep Ultra Tour of the Peak District

Sometimes you learn the most when things don’t go to plan. I had planned on doing the Lakeland 50 as a hard effort in the build up to the Trail World Championships in Portugal in October, but a cold in the 10 days prior to it put paid to my race. I ran to half way but was so glad I decided to drop here. Instead of being stubborn and running the immune system down further, I was able to come away, recover quickly and start to re-evaluate. It just so happened my local ultra was in 3 weeks time, the Dig Deep UTPD. This is 60 miles with over 10,000ft of ascent and would give me the perfect opportunity to get my confidence back, trail nutrition and get some good time on feet training for the TWC.

So to race morning, here’s where it didn’t quite go to plan. I was loving the olympics and as previous hockey player, I couldn’t resist watching Team GB in the gold medal match. I watched the first half, then as the race was due to start at 6am I set my alarm for 4am and went to bed listening to the 2nd half on the radio alarm clock. In a dazed state, I switched both the radio and alarm off! Maybe fate played a part, but something woke me at 5.34am, 26 mins before the start, which was about 20 minutes away! Fortunately, I had all my kit ready, so changed, grabbed my pack, my drop bags and a Mountain Fuel Xtreme drink and left the house at 5.40am. No traffic on the road allowed me a clear run to get to Whirlow Farm at 5.53am, phew, 7 minutes to spare. Quick toilet stop, ditch the drop bags and I was on the start ready to go!

I’m a big fan of breakfast, and for an ultra I would usually have a big bowl of porridge, maybe some toast or maybe a banana as well. I don’t normally drink a lot of coffee, but always have one on race morning, except this time, no time for that! As I had missed out on my breakfast, I started eating right from the start and sipped a Xtreme drink. I like a fast start, and usually don’t need to eat until 2 hours or so into a race. This time, conscious of eating and digesting food early on, I started at a much more conservative pace. The weather was windy, but the gusts hadn’t picked up early on and it was dry so I was happy running to the first aid station in my t-shirt. However, I looked over towards Back Tor and could see the mist and rain coming in. We were in for a wet and windy time over the tops. Maybe because of my more relaxed start attitude with not pushing hard, I was willing to also take time at the aid station to get the arm warmers on and dig out my Minimus from my pack. I’m normally in and out of aid stations in seconds. That was a great move as over the next 10 minutes the weather changed for the worst. I was in third place here, I could see the other guys in front but as they ran I walked sections of the gradual climb onto Derwent Edge, eating a Cliff bar.

Over the next few miles, I noted how good I was feeling. In pretty much every other ultra I have done I get a bit of a dip at 25-35 miles and start to flag. These next few miles passed by without that lag. Even approaching Win Hill, the 2nd aid station at 32 miles, I was feeling great. I grabbed my marzipan bar here and noted the time I was starting my climb. Win Hill is a regular climb I do, 0.75 miles with around 1000ft of climbing. My fastest time is 13 minutes but my reps are usually around 16 minutes. I went from the finger post to just below the trig point in 17:36, fantastic! My waterproof had briefly come off, but looking ahead, I could see we were in for more weather as I looked up to Crookstone Knoll so again made the early call to put my jacket on. It never came off after this point.

The long descents, firstly from below Ringing Rodger, down The Nab to Edale, then from Hollins Cross to Castleton, were areas I had highlighted as important sections for Portugal training. With that in mind, I took off down the Nab, and not being a confident descender, I think I can probably say for the first time ever, I was loving descending! I put this down to the steadier start, I hadn’t trashed my quads early on so I was able to make the most of the descents.

I carried on nibbling food, drinking Xtreme, and still no lag. I was forced to walk all of the Cavedale climb due to the wind, it was like being in a wind tunnel. There were some good running tracks after this though so I was able to get to the third aid station at Bradwell feeling good for 46 miles. Getting here just inside 8 hours was the first time I thought about time. I had previously finished in 10hrs 43mins, 2 years ago, but that was in perfect conditions. Here, I was on for a better time despite the weather so that gave me the impetus to climb strong up Bradwell Moor and run as hard as I could in the flat miles along the river to Hathersage. The final climb over Burbage was tough, it was my only low of the day. I’m putting that down to the weather, I saw on the local news that evening there had been reports of 48mph gusts in Sheffield. It felt every bit as strong as this, and I was drenched to the core. I ploughed on for the next 3-4 miles, willing them on and it was only as I hit Limb Valley for the final undulating couple of miles my mood changed, I realised I was going to be well inside 10:30. In fact, it was a female course record, despite the weather!

I finished in second place overall, 10 hours 21 minutes, 13 minutes behind fellow Dark Peak runner John Bottomley who ran a brilliant first ultra. It was a 22 minute PB for me too.

So what did I learn from this race:

  • Always prepare you race kit fully the night before,
  • Sensible pacing from the off, there’s no need for the fast start,
  • Have only a small breakfast but instead eat from the first half hour,
  • Caffine is not necessary for me and perhaps contributes to the lag in energy after 25-35 miles,
  • Take time at the aid stations if needed, making those early judgement calls on clothing etc.

All in all, I ate: 4 sweet potato Mountain Fuel mini pancakes, 4 banana Mountain Fuel mini pancakes, 1 Cliff bar, 1 pack of Shot Blocs, 1 chocolate covered marzipan bar and drank 4.5 Xtreme drinks. That was ample despite no breakfast!

Photo credit: Jez Malins and Dig Deep Races.

Huge thanks to Dig Deep for organising a great race weekend, especially the marshals out for several hours in those conditions, Montane for the kit, Beta Climbing and Injinji for the socks and Mountain Fuel.

Dig Deep Ultra Tour of the Peak District

Pyrenees Running Holiday

The opportunity to explore the Pyrenees mountains on foot, whereas previously we had cycled in the area, provided a great opportunity to get some time on feet training, but also to experience running at altitudes over 2000m for the first time. We based ourselves at the Pyrenees Haven B&B in Perles, just outside Ax Les Thermes (www.pyrenees-haven.com). Here’s a snippet of the training we covered through the week:

Day 1: Kilian Classik 25k Race
Actual distance 28k, 1059m ascent, 23rd overall, 4th female in 2hrs 46mins, 4mins behind 1st female.

We only found out about this race, starting from Font Romeu, 1hr from where we were staying, the week before. It seemed too good an opportunity to miss, and a chance to test myself at altitude as previously the highest I’d raced to is 1800m. This race starts at around 1750 then hit a max of 2400m. It’s where the likes of Mo Farrah do their altitude training so was going to be an interesting test. As it was far higher than I’d raced at, and day 1 of the holiday, I didn’t want to push too much and suffer with DOMS for the rest of the holiday!
With that in mind I started about 5 rows back, but it was evident there were a lot of potentially quick women around, including the Salomon juniors. Emilie Fosberg was also there, she was coming back from an ACL injury so I was surprised to see her racing.
The race started on the road, straight into a gentle climb out of Font Romeu. Despite running steadily, I was sitting around 5/6th female. We hit the trail, through the woods and one of the women who shot off at the start dropped right back. I was running comfortably and saw Emilie ahead, I took this opportunity to catch her and have a chat! We were out of the woods and gradually climbing through grassy fields. Emilie told me I was taking it too easy, she was only running the hills and out for a controlled training run as her knee wasn’t yet up to the steep descents. She said I was now 3rd and the first 2 were only a minute ahead. This was around 8k in and we were only at 2000m so I was happy to sit back and not push. Emilie stopped at this point to take photos, she wasn’t even out of breath on any of the climb!

P1020109

Next came my favorite bit, climbing a black ski slope, for the first time in the race we were reduced to a hands on knees walk! I must have looked ok, my breathing rate wasn’t any higher than I would expect for a hill of the gradient so the altitude test was very encouraging. The photographer even gave me a high 5 at the top! We descended the red ski slope, then hit some fantastic single tracks along and through streams, and nicely technical climbing up to 2134m. At the top I missed a red flag marking the left turn . It was covered by a walker standing aside to let us runners pass, it added at least half a km onto my race, but I didn’t mind as I was far too distracted by the amazing scenery. The plateau revealed fantastic blue lakes surrounded by lush green vegetation. By the time I back tracked 2 women were just ahead, dropping me to 5th. One fell back but with the other runner a pattern developed, I moved ahead on the climbs, she moved ahead on the descents. We were together at the start of the final 3k into Font Romeu, but it was through dense woodland, and when she moved ahead it wasn’t long before she was out of sight. I lost the yellow tape among the many paths several times, having to stop and wait for the chap behind to catch on a couple of occasions to confirm the route. He’d run it before, but still wasn’t entirely sure of the correct route. I made it down into Font in 4th place having lost 1min to 3rd place and 4mins behind the winner. It seems I wasn’t the only one to lose the route in that final section though.

So, as my first proper altitude test, it was surprisingly comfortable running at 2400m and to finish 23/500 overall in an international race, that goes down as job well done.

Day 2: 11.75miles, 5:52, 2064m ascent
Proper altitude test: Marc at 1094m to Pica D’Estats at 3143m
Out and back.

This was unsurprisingly mainly done as a walk, starting on lovely woodland paths up to around 1500m then heather and stoney trails up to Refuge de l’Etang du Pinet at 2242m. This had already taken 1hr 43mins and on a hot and humid day we were glad of the opportunity to refill our bottles and get some Orangina. After that the fun started, first we hit small pockets of snow, then above ~2600m large sections of wet, slushy snow. Hard going due to the terrain but I managed a bit of a jog at 3000m on the approach, just to see I could! The last 200m ascent fortunately didn’t have snow, instead Lake District esq rocky scrambling. Amazing, but hard going in the snow, reaching the top in 3hrs 22mins, only 5.94miles! As much as I enjoyed the climb, the descent was horrible, I wish I’d taken my Khatula spikes to grip in the slush. Several bum slides later, we were back at the refuge. We had a well earned beer and some chicken stew, before the only runnable section, back down to Marc. That made for a very unimpressive 2mph avg pace!

Day 3: 16.34miles, 5:02, 1556m ascent
Orlu 836m to Refuge d’en Beys 1954
Loop.

Straight into climbing today, but switchbacks through the woods made several parts runnable. It was however, a Vertical Kilometer, with the first 5k involving just over 1000m ascent to the dam wall. This would be an amazing place for a VK race! We hit Etang de Naguille, a vast lake surrounded by 2000m+ peaks and had a brief stop for our pizza pack up! Distracted by the amazing views, we lost the trail and extended around a couple of lakes, again only adding bonus miles in stunning scenery! We realised our error and back tracked, reaching Refuge d’en Beys at 1954m, having covered just under 9 miles to be greated by chickens wandering around the tables of the refuge. They made the most amazing omelettes which fueled us up nicely for the final 7.5 miles back to Orlu. The last 2 miles were on the road, I took the chance to stretch the legs on the steep descent, even clocking a 5:26mile!

Day 4: 13.89miles, 3:49, 1284m ascent
Soldeu, Andorra to Refuge du Ruhle, France
Out and back.

So, the original plan was to get dropped off in Andorra and do the 6hr run back to the B&B. However, the clag was down and we were feeling the effects of the last few days, so decided on an easier option. That said, the first 4 miles involved climbing from 1762m to the boarder at 2262m, Port de Fontargenta. The cloud cover and cooler temperatures were a welcome change to blazing sun and most of the run was done in my Minimus jacket. We reached the boarder to be met by wild horses, amazingly placid despite their remote location. The fast descent then final climb to the refuge was one of my favorite parts, mostly runnable despite the weeks mileage. Again, free range hens, along with friendly staff and a couple of collies welcomed us to the refuge where we had omelettes, plus a local draught beer (we were on holiday after all!) Due to the cloud cover and changeable weather, we decided to go back the same way. All in all, a great day of training at a slightly more acceptable pace of 3.6mph!

Day 5: 7.75miles, 2hrs 30mins, 1183m ascent,

Appy to Col de l’Etang d’Appy,

Out & back

Aiming for one last 3hr ish Pyrenean adventure we set out from Appy, the first 2.6 miles all up hill with the odd flatter section to break into a jog, before getting to the lake that we had already earmarked for a swim on the way back down. We climbed on past the lake into a final mile which involved steeper switchbacks, then a bit of rocky scrambling, past Col de l’Etang d’Appy to a viewing point. We could see the track dropping, then climbing again to the high point at around 2500m but had decided we’d done enough over the last few days to take it easy today, so stopped at the viewing point. The views to the south over the Pyrenees were again spectacular, we had expected to see to the flatlands towards Carcassonne to the north but they were covered in cloud. After a few jelly snakes we headed down the technical descent for a paddle in the lake. Over the next few descending miles we saw wild strawberries, raspberries and mint growing at the side of the trail, guarded by the many lizards popping out to meet us!

All in all, we covered 137km/ 85.3 miles, climbed 7536m/ 24725ft ascent over 21 and a half hours, not bad over 5 fantastic runs/ walks!

I would thoroughly recommended the location for an active holiday and especially the Pyrenees Haven B&B. The food, hot tub, routes, lifts back from the restaurant in pouring rain were superb, so much so, we’re already planning our next trip back!

Pyrenees Running Holiday

Annecy 2016 – Vertical Race & Marathon

Race Stats:

Vertical Race

  • 4km, 850m
  • 87 finishers (9F)
  • Position 33rd, 1st F
  • Time: 46:51

Marathon Race (Bad weather course)

  • 39km, 2080m
  • 1302 finishers (214F)
  • Position 45th, 3rd F
  • Time: 4:36:22

This was our 3rd trip to Annecy and second time racing after last years Trail World Championships. The 86k ultra was too much to do so soon after the Highland Fling so I opted for the marathon, but in case that wasn’t enough, fancied the short vertical race 2 days earlier! The VR was the reverse of the final descent from the ultra and the marathon was due to be run on the last half of the ultra course, so we knew what spectacular trails and views to expect. I was really looking forward to getting back into the mountains with the several mile long climbs!

Vertical Race:

We were set off in 10 second intervals, determined by your race number. As I had raced last year, I’m assuming they went by that result when I was 6th to start, that put pressure on right from the get go. I felt I had to justify being at the front, but also didn’t want too many guys overtaking me! I set off running what would have been a walk in a UK fell race, but at only 4k you can push it, right? I didn’t really think about how long it would take, and pushing it for 40 plus minutes wasn’t feasible! I let a few over take me, and did the sensible thing and walked the switch backs through the woods. Before long the temperature had dropped to a more comfortable running level and there were runable sections, interspersed with rocky climbs. I was loving the variety of terrain, but willing the top to come, still not in sight. There was a great final scramble then I was told only 400m to go, phew, this had been a tough 43 mins. The last 400m were rolling through the woods, then finally, that view, all worth it for the view over Lake Annecy and for miles around.

Annecy VR 1

Last climb on the VR.

Annecy VR

Myself and Sophie at the top of the Vertical Race.

Marathon:

With the forecast thunder, lightening and torrential rain for Sunday lunchtime the organisers had to make the difficult decision, the most exposed parts of the marathon course were avoided. Instead the lower level route was all marked out, we were now set for just under marathon distance but there was still over 2000m ascent.

The start at Doussard was familiar as the second checkpoint from last years Maxi race, we were sticking with the original route up to Col de la Forclaz. We had been given elite numbers so started in the first pen. I was happy with this, close enough to the front to avoid congestion with over 1300 in the race, I was less happy when the photographer asked myself and 2 other ladies to come to the front row for photos. So there we were, unable to hide, right on the front row as the 3 favorite women next to the predicted top 3 guys. This was a little unnerving as I knew the start would be fast as the approach to the first climb was the only flat part of the race. So, the countdown started and we were off, and it was fast and frantic, but luckily wide enough so we didn’t get caught in a stampede! I was a little surprised to to clock just over 6 mins for the first mile, especially given the twists and turns through the houses before hitting the trail. After a 7.38 second mile, the tone was then set for the race though, the climbs got going and the next couple of miles were 15+ mins. I was in 3rd position in the women’s race but had already noted how strong and powerful the two women ahead looked, they soon climbed out of sight and the next time I saw them was at the finish. The top of the climb is what European races are all about, the atmosphere was fantastic with cow bells being rung by very enthusiastic supporters lining either side of the narrow trail. You couldn’t help but look up and smile.

The next section surprised me, I’m not known for my descending but on these wide long descents I was able to hold my own. From the top of the climb we dropped for a mile, firstly on road then through wide grassy fields, even crossing a couple of streams, and not one person over took me! The next two miles were lovely scenic rolling hills crossing streams up to the highest point of the course at 1400m at Chalet De L’Aulp. This is where we split, going left on the bad weather course instead of continuing to climb. The descent was getting muddier by the minute, through the woods but there were some nice switchbacks to break the momentum. Next we had 3 or 4 boring miles along Land Rover tracks but they at least passed quickly as I was hitting 7 min miles!

As I came into the check point at Menthon St Bernard the drizzle started, not enough to bother with my jacket though. I filled up my bottles and made a quick exit, still in 3rd place. Soon after leaving here, the bad weather course was justified as the heavens opened, I’m glad I soon stopped to put my jacket on as the rain for the next hour or so was pretty relentless. This made for good fun conditions over the next few miles, slipping and sliding through the woody trails, I was jealous of those with poles using them to stay upright! We were back on the original course now and this section had been the best part of my race last year as well. I enjoyed these 4 miles climbing up to Col des Contrabandiers and overtook about 8 people, relishing the Peak District, Brown Knoll like conditions! The last descent wasn’t so good, but everyone was struggling with their footing. Never mind the rain, the mud had been churned up by Friday’s VR and Saturday’s Maxi Race, making for a slow, careful last downhill, still only 1 person overtook me so I wasn’t doing too bad. As I hit the road crossing for the last mile along the lake side I still had some running left in me, just about running a sub 10 min last mile. If we hadn’t run enough hills already, there was a final ramp to run up to the finish line! The rain had eased, but I was drenched and cold, a dip in Lake Annecy wasn’t appealing, the food tent, however was, with selections of  pasta, bread, cheese, meats, nuts, dried fruits, dark chocolate and crisps!

Annecy marathon finish

So, not as sunny and picturesque as the Maxi Race last year, or the Vertical Race on Friday, but my 45th place finish rates as one of my best yet, and the Patisseries selling the almond croissants were as good as ever!

Many thanks to Montane for the gear, Beta Climbing for the Injinji socks and BetterYou.

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Annecy 2016 – Vertical Race & Marathon

Highland Fling

After a brilliant year in 2015, where I was fortunate to race for Great Britain at the Trail World Championships in Annecy, I was looking forward to 2016 to back up that selection, and put into practice what I had learned through some great recent ultra and fell races.

I had run the Fling in 2014 so knew when it was announced as the British Ultra Trail Championships for 2016, the course suited me but there were areas from 2 years ago I had to work on. Even though, in 2014, I finished 2nd female in 8 hours 38 mins, the 6th fastest time over the course at that time, tactically I hadn’t run a very good race. I set off far too quick and the last 10 miles were a real slog due to my quads seizing up! I don’t tend to work to a 12 week or whatever plan, instead, planning at the beginning of the week depending on available time, the key sessions for that week. However, I will usually have a rough idea as to the next few weekend plans so as not to overdo the long runs. In order to improve on my 2014 time I planned the odd 10-12 mile hard effort sessions to mimic the first fast section, mainly done with my club, Dark Peak on a Wednesday night, but I also put in some flat 10 mile tempo runs. I hadn’t done those since turning my back on road running in favor of more scenic and sociable fell running in 2013, and they weren’t my favorite sessions! I knew the importance of quad muscle strength, specifically eccentrically when descending the roller coaster section from around miles 46-50. To do justice on this section I had long, hilly days out in the Peak District, the Kinder Dozen with 21 miles and over 9000ft of ascent and more importantly steep descent, done in just over 7 hours was a particular favorite day out! I complemented this with body weight strength and conditioning exercises such as lunges, squats, single leg dead lifts and plyometric circuits 3 times a week.

So to the Fling, I had a plan:

  • Aim for 7min 20sec mile pace for the first 12 miles to Drymen.
  • Don’t be tempted to run Conic Hill, fast hike to save the quads for later.
  • Carry enough nutrition from the start to get me to Rowardennan.
  • From Rowardennan onward use the uphills to make sure I’m taking on board enough fuel.
  • Enjoy the technical Loch section between Inversnaid and Beinglas, no silly mistakes here through not concentrating on tree roots!
  • Steady from Beinglas to the Roller Coaster section, then put the fell legs into action and climb/ descend strongly, pushing those miles before the final 3 mile flat run in.
  • Publicly I told people the aim was 8 hours 30 mins, privately I was aiming for 8 hours 20 mins.
  • Finally, to finish in the top 3 females, as this race was the British selection race for the Trail World Championships in Portugal in October.

To race day:

It was cold standing around for the start but I was glad I had gone with shorts instead of 3/4’s as, predictably we got off to a frantic start. I had started near the front but expected more congestion, in reality there wasn’t any. The first couple of miles I ran with Andy and Neil but did the sensible thing and dropped back from them as I knew they were aiming for sub 8 hours. I was surprised I was leading the women’s race and there didn’t appear to be more women around me, I had expected some of the women with faster marathon times than me to be much quicker on these first few miles. I tried not to pay too much attention to my watch, running at comfortable conversation pace, thanks to Ewan for the company in these early miles. I had told him 7:20’s was the aim and he reminded me it was too quick on a few occasions but it seemed to be very comfortable. Matt and Ellie appeared with the cameras and I even put a spurt on to see if Matt could keep up running alongside with his camera, so all was going along nicely at a relaxed, if a little too quick pace. If I had felt I was working hard at this stage I would have slowed, but it felt easy to do those first 12 miles at an average of 7:04. By now I had warmed up and was looking forward to some hillier miles, with a chance of a walking break – I knew it was a long day out! So to Conic Hill, I walked the vast majority, all be it a fast walk but I knew my quads would thank me for this later! This was a lovely section, with the snow capped peaks to the sides and Loch Lommond coming into view in front. At Balmaha, I topped up my water and was soon caught by Beth. This was quite reassuring, as I was worried I had gone off too quick by the fact there wasn’t any women around me. We ran together for a good few miles, this was the first time I had met Beth but these miles passed quickly as we chatted about fell running and the High Peak Marathon we had both been due to do in March which had been cancelled due to snow. The early morning start caught up with me as I needed a comfort break at around 25 miles, I thought if I quickly go to the loo I can catch back up with Beth. This was silly, as a mile later I needed the loo again! That was the last I saw of Beth, but I was able to run my own race, and felt better for having stopped.

At Rowardennan, I picked up my first drop bag, the marzipan was great here as I had only had a couple of gels and shot blocs up to now and welcomed something more substantial. We were into the stage now where walking uphill became the norm, I caught up with Jayson on one of these hills. He wasn’t having a good day but was nice to run and chat with him for a bit as I had been running alone for a while. The mixture of beaches, woodland trails and faster compact trails made this a lovely, varied section. At Inversnaid I topped up my bottles with Tailwind, caught up with Ewan who had moved ahead of me on Conic Hill, for a quick chat and pushed on to the technical bit. I was looking forward to this section as I have been doing more rugged fell running of late so the scrambling was going to make a nice change to the less technical trails. Halfway along here I was taken by surprise when Sophie came past me, I wasn’t struggling or running badly here, I just think I switched off and relaxed, enjoying the opportunity to use different muscles clambering up the rocks and tree roots. Sophie was running very strong as she was soon out of sight, that put me in 3rd place but I wasn’t worried as there was still a long way to go. As we left the Loch and climbed upwards Lizzie also caught up with me. I had been expecting this as it was a similar stage in Annecy where she caught me and ran a few miles together there. Even though I was running with Lizzie, with us in 3rd and 4th place into the Beinglas check point I tried not to worry as I had a plan and my quads were feeling good, a bit achy but good for 41 miles!

The section after Beinglas has a few ups and downs, I was walking all the hills but was surprised Lizzie was able to keep running them. “Keep the roller coaster in mind” I was telling myself as I let Lizzie move ahead. By the time we got to the drier than expected cow poo alley we were back together, not saying much but by running alongside each other for the next 3 or so miles, we certainly upped the effort and were pushing each other towards the finish. I did start the count down here, commenting to Lizzie “only 7 and a half miles to a cup of tea”, this continued in my head, ticking off every half mile to the finish! As we neared the end of the flatter trail, before the final steep climb before the roller coaster, I had started to move ahead a little, and then as we hit the woods I put my plan into action. I’m not a good descender by fell runner standards, but at 46 miles into an ultra I knew I had some good descending in me and my quads were up for the challenge, so I went for it. I looked back a couple of times and couldn’t see Lizzie but didn’t dare to ease up at all. When I hit the road crossing I was amazed to be told Sophie was only 30 seconds in front. This was as I was waiting for traffic to pass, only probably 20 seconds but it felt like minutes! As I hit the track, I saw Sophie in front, I was still concerned Lizzie would catch me so pushed on, taking a long time to gain on Sophie but definitely getting closer. As we did the little stream crossings in the last 2 miles I was less than 10 seconds behind, Sharon who I’d met 2 years ago at a recce weekend, was running out to cheer people in and gave me the final push I needed, telling me I could do it and I was looking fresh (a lie I’m sure!) Mile 52 and I finally got myself back into 2nd place! I had overtaken Sophie and pushed for the finish, hearing the pipers and turning for the red carpet, I still hadn’t dared to look back. As I crossed the finish I stopped my watch, I had been so focused on firstly staying ahead of Lizzie, then catching Sophie I hadn’t looked at my watch since the start of the roller coaster. A 24 min pb in 8 hours 14 mins, I couldn’t believe it, and so nice when a plan comes together! Congratulations to Beth on a fantastic run and new course record, I’m sure that record will stand for a long time.

Two days later and it still hasn’t sunk in, the DOMS is beginning to let me know I ran as well as I could though! The Highland Fling is an absolutely fantastic race. Johnny Fling and his team do an amazing job as the whole event runs like clockwork. Thank you all for the hard work, it’s very much appreciated.

Finally, a big thank you to Montane, Injinji and BetterYou for their support.

Highland Fling