6th Nov The Lancaster Half Marathon

This was my third successive year of doing the Lancaster Half Marathon. It is hard to turn this race down, as it one of the few races that I can walk to the start of from home. Despite my lack of specific training I decided I was probably fit enough from my UTMB and RRR training to achieve a PB. So I lined up with just over 700 other runners to try and beat last years’ time of 1 hour 28 m 40 s, which is also my Half Marathon PB.

I set off well doing 6 min 35 s miles in perfect sunny cool weather, on the usual course which is pretty much an out and back to Glasson Dock from Salt Ayre athletics track, with a loop at the turn onto a road and then back on the same outward cycle path. Just after half way there is the only hill on the course, I decided to take it easy on the ascent, as it was here that my race unravelled a bit last year. This strategy worked and I managed to maintain my speed all the way to the end, overtaking those that were slowing in the last 3 miles by the river Lune. I had to push in the final mile when I felt the lack of training kicking in, but manage to push through and get a PB of 1 hour 26 m 4. I was pleased with this new bench mark and with the way I finished. I was 46th out of 706 which is also pretty pleasing.

20th Oct Cumbian Traverse atempt

It was a while back now and only 5 days after the RRR 50; but true to form I am slow to report on failure; this time it was Bill and I having an attempt on the Cumbrian Traverse. It is a South to North crossing of the Lakeland hills it includes 21 tops of and 35 miles and 12,000 feet. Starting from Broughton mills and ending at Keswicks Moot Hall.
To summarise we set off fast in cold weather, it clouded over and got cold at Dow Crag, Gene missed us at our planned rendezvous at 3 shires stone. We carried on without enough food, in mist we got lost and cold just after Crinkle crags. Got back on track and slowed down until reaching Honister, still no Gene and we had no mobile phone. So now very hungry and worried we stopped at the quarry and contacted her. She was in Keswick, don’t really know why, but we decided to call it a day only 9 miles and about 2,000 feet from the end.
It was a bit disappointing to finish that way, but it leaves me with more desire to do it next year, either with someone or on my own, and maybe try for a quick one in ideal conditions.

15th Oct Rowbothams Round Rotherham 50 Mile Race

Waking up on a Gym floor at 4:15 am is a novel way to prepare for a 50 mile Ultra race. But it is one of the nice quirks of the Rowbotham’s Round Rotherham 50 mile Race. After slowly waking due to the growing noise of the registration of the walkers just yards away for there earlier start of 06:00, I managed to have my breakfast of lukewarm coffee and 3 Alpen cereal bars. It was a very cold morning and I started to turn my attention to the clothes I would start in; I decided on compression shorts, a lightweight Pertex Montane jacket over a t-shirt, and a light hat with a cap over it. This proved to be just about right.
So at 06:50 I reluctantly left the warmth and bright lights of the gym, for the cold and dark of the car park outside. After a short race briefing we were off in the first of glimmers of daylight. I ran with Ross, who I know from the UTMB for the first 2 miles, then settled into a slightly faster pace and went away from him. Unexpectedly I did not see him again until after the finish. I did not know the route, and with no proper route markings I had to hold strip maps in my hand to make sure I was on the correct route. At the start with so many other runners around this wasn’t as necessary as later on, but I still did it just to try and relate the pictorial style maps to what was on the ground, so that I could do it easier when it was more vital later on.
Up to the first checkpoint I was with a large group of runners. But as we neared CP2 I headed off to try and catch a guy that clearly new the route. I never made a great effort but it was enough to drop a group of about 5 runners that I had been with for a while. Once I had earned this break I didn’t want to slow down to make the navigation easier so I followed the red vested runner for about 3 miles, never getting nearer than about 200 meters, which is not quite near enough to mean I could just follow. I continued like this, losing a bit of ground to him as he went through checkpoints slightly quicker than me. After the halfway CP I thought I was closing in on him across the open fields so I took off my jacket and hat. Whilst faffing about I lost more ground to him and decided that I would make an effort to catch him.
I was still enjoying the beautiful day, the mist hanging in the valley, as we moved through countryside to urban areas along canals and through fields. It was a really mixed terrain route, but mainly flat. But the strain of having to read these maps and not being able to close this gap was getting too me. My nice even pace had now been upped to more of a pushed effort. I made a few errors across roads onto new fields, and frustratingly still couldn’t get nearer than 200 meters. It was a bit of a blinkered effort, my whole race had narrowed down to catching this guy in front. Silly really but at the time it seemed to make perfect sense. At this point I was still running at about 7 hour pace. But this was about to change.
I caught him whilst feeling that I had myself slowed and was now feeling too tired for this point in the race. Just before Langold Lake at the 31 mile point, and after actively chasing him for about 10 miles I finally said Hi. I could tell he was going through a bad spell at the same time as me. The 30 mile point must be a tough time in a runnable ultra-race like this. We were both now in “survival mode” still running, as we had the whole way, but at a slower pace. We did walk some of the stiffer climbs. But we ran most of it. At times I felt that I could run faster, but I was worried that the pains in my side from earlier would return ( a lactic acid build up in the abs I think ). So we carried on like this with him navigating effortlessly most of the time apart from one point where I corrected us.
About 2 miles from the end Andy James ran past with some relay runners. It took me a bit too long to think of doing the same as Andy, but eventually I did make a push for the end. I left my running guide behind and made for the finish. I was now moving well and managed a good running rhythm to the finish, which rather quirkily is back in the gym at a desk. The marshal recorded my time of 7 hours 34 mins, and informed me that I was 10 th out of 264 runners and walkers. I am pleased with that. But couldn’t help thinking that if I had, had a good day and not pushed too much at the halfway point I may have been a lot nearer 7 hours. Never mind that’s for next time.
I welcomed my running partner, Ian from Scotland in, he was about 2 minutes behind, then I had a chat with Ian Symmington (a friend of Ross) and found that he had won in 6 hours 43. He overtook the leader Ian Bishop at the 2nd to last CP and Ian Bishop never knew so was surprised at the final CP to find he was 5 minutes behind the leader. It was a very crafty move by Ian Symmington, great stuff. 

Top : About 10 miles in and its still a bit cold.

Bottom left : The strip maps fanned out                          Bottom right : the proof i did it.

2nd October The Ian Hodgson Relay

It is always great to compete in relays. Running, in the main is a very individual sport, but the relays give us a chance to compete as a Bowland Fell Runners team. I particularly like the Ian Hodgson Relay as it is a true Fell relay run, on proper fell terrain. I last competed in this in 2007 for an injury / illness hit Bowland A team, and I loved it. So when asked to compete again for a mixed team I was really pleased.
After a less than useful midweek recce of the final leg, I waited with Ali Welsh in squally showers at Hartsop for the leg 3 runners to come in. It was cold and there was mist on the tops so after a discussion with Ali we decided on a low risk strategy of, cutting up off the track early and onto the ridge leading to Hart crag. We also decided to follow the high line around the top of Cofa Pike as the faster line could cost us time in poor visibility.
Soon enough Rowena and Emma were racing towards us with the dibber, and Ali and I were off down the farm track to start the climb of Hart Crag. I was still in a hat jacket and gloves, which would all come off within 10 minutes of running. Over the bridge and then we finally decided to definitely cut up onto the ridge early. This was a tough steep climb, but it did gain us height fast. The jury is still out on whether this is faster than the route straight up the valley. Most teams seemed to think this to be the case as they chose that route. Only 2 other teams near us chose the same line. As we neared Hart Crag we entered the mist, which we would be in until the descent of St Sunday Crag, making the top difficult to spot; but after this Ali found some good lines around to and over Fairfield.
We were both running strong at times battling the wind and mist to spot the lines. But we made it to St Sundays crag in good enough nick to run the ascent and catch a few teams, and one at the very top. Ali picked a great descent line, allowing them to go first and choose a bad line, and we overtook that team without seeing them again. It was good to see the finish fields below and after checking over our shoulders we knew that our position was safe. So we ran relaxed into the finish field; which unexpectedly evoked memories of foot races at junior school; to finish the Bowland mixed relay team’s effort. It was a good effort too as we came 5th Mixed team, 30TH overall in 4 hours 52, and collected some prizes for it too. So that capped off a great day, the slate coaster is always a good memento of the day too
Most of the happy mixed team at the finsh in Patterdale. Sarah, Rowena, Me, Ali and Emma

24th September The Sca Fell Pike Race

It had taken me 3 years to get back to having a go at the Sca Fell Pike race. Encouraged by my friend Bill Williamsons invite to join him in having a few beers and camping after the race. To do one of the best fell races and to catch up with a friend was too good an opportunity to miss.

So on Saturday at 1 pm I found myself lined up with about 70 others ready to race up to the highest point in England and back. Bill and I mused over why this race is nowhere near as popular as the Ben and Snowdon race. They attract 500 (limited) and 350 runners respectively every year. My thought on it was that it is a very awkward place to reach; it takes me an hour longer than most other places in the lake district to drive to. This means most people have to make a long journey to it. The other problem, or benefit depending on your view, is that there is no village or town nearby, Wasdale only has a campsite and a pub. I think this adds to the atmosphere of the race but it does not lend itself to a large field of runners. Soon enough we were off racing through the bottom fields to start the climb up Lingmel. The lower section of Lingmel is initially climbed before traversing across Lingmel col and then up the top section of Sca Fell pike.

I set off quite strong and was soon over the style part way up then I slowed as I hit the steep rocky section, in order to get my breathing back under control. I could still see the leader about 50 meters ahead of the field, I was about 100 meters behind the leader. Over the brow and onto the flatter section, I was now glad to be running but not long after starting running I was faced with a dilemma. Just as we entered into the mist half the field infront of me (about 20 runners) went straight on and half went right. I decided to follow right, thinking at the time it didn’t feel correct, and wrong it proved to be. The ground I had left was firm and nice to run on, the ground I was now on was uneven with tussocks. It was hard graft. After about 400 meters of this I was gassed and when we finally joined the proper path again I felt like giving up. I felt like I had made a serious error.

I joined the path just behind Bill and he told me I had only lost 50 meters. I decided that wasn’t too bad and carried on. But my race head was now gone. I was more just keeping a steady pace going, not really racing. I followed Bill to the summit and then down to the bottom of the slippery rocks. When we hit Lingmel col I decided to race to the bottom and picked up a few places. But my heart wasn’t in it. I could have overtook a runner right near the finish, but just couldn’t be bothered with the extra effort knowing I had stuffed up so badly.

Although the course was slightly shorter than 2008, my finishing time was of 1 hour 12 was still fairly good, and my position of 20th was the same with a similar sized field. So not a bad run, but if it wasn’t for the silly error it could have been much better.

13th September : Run for fun : The up and down relay

After the seriousness of the UTMB it was nice to have a go at a purely fun event. A driving force behind Bowland Fell runners club events is Andy Walmsley, who inspired by other similar events decided to organise an up and down relay. It is a beautifully simple idea for a relay race; one runner runs to the top of the hill (in the case the Big End on Pendle) and the other runner runs down.  The most difficult part of this was the necessity to choose a team name. I came up with “the big 3 boys” as both Will and I formed a very unlikely team in that we had both done the big 3 rounds (Bob Graham, Charlie Ramsey’s, and Paddy Buckley rounds).

On a cold showery Tuesday evening 12 teams amassed at Downham car park ready for the race. We walked a mile from the car park to the start line and I waited along with the uphill runners, for the downhill runners to get to the top. I must have clocked up 2 miles of running trying to keep warm whilst waiting the 30 minutes to start. But soon enough we were off. On the lower easier gradient I ran slightly conservative and slotted in behind front runner Clive Davis and 2nd place Declan O’Duffy. After about 400 meters Declan ushered me on as a steeper ramp appeared. I pushed on to close the 50 meter gap that Clive had pulled out. I climbed well and when the course flattened out again at about half way I caught Clive up. Trying to steady myself, and not being sure of the route, I held onto the back of Clive as the course steepened. I started power walking so as not to overtake, and Clive eventually did the same. We then came to the left traverse that I thought was the line. As Clive turned left I started running first and got In front. Christ I was leading a race, fair enough it wasn’t a top level fell race but I will take it, I was still leading some good runners and I vowed to not let it slip. So digging in I ran the reasonably steep traverse and never looked back. There was no point in doing so as I was working as hard as I could anyway. If I got caught well so be it. After about 200 meters the course flattened out and eventually I saw the changeover point a further 200 meters away. A throng of downhill runners were waiting in full waterproofs getting buffeted by the strong wind. But where was Will. I pushed hard into the side wind to reach the gate for the changeover.
I had managed to pull out a 21 (19.02) second lead on the 1.7 mile 1,250 feet ascent, but all this was lost as my partner Will Houghton wasn’t ready. He never expected me to be first to the changeover (neither did I) and was sheltering in a hollow 50 meters to the left. So by the time he came over and took his winter gear off Clive had made the time up and Will and Lee Dowthwaite set off together. Unfortunately Lee better at descending and he proved this eventually beating us into 2nd by 47 seconds. In truth I would have needed about a 45 second lead for Will to stand a chance of victory. But it was a really fun event and everyone enjoyed it and 2nd  in 28.54 is far from a bad result. A drink and chat in the Calf’s head rounded off a great club event. Roll on next year. Remember Will I am the downhill runner!

The UTMB 2011 a few after thoughts and photos

Having had a break from running over the last week, I have had time to mull over the race and also my last ultra-race, the Highland Fling back in April. Yes I did do the Highland Fling. I had to look through my Blog to see if I had posted on it. It wasn’t a shock to discover that I hadn’t. I meant this Blog to be about the highs and lows of running, so I was a little disappointed in myself for not reporting this disappointing performance. The main reason for the poor run was a chest infection which lasted about 3 months, spanning Christmas and continuing up to late February. I could not train at all through this period and lost most of my base fitness. I didn’t have enough time to gain any fitness other than my base level.  This resulted in a finishing time of 10 hours 23 and 79th place, my personal worst by 54 minutes to a point where I nearly missed my bus back to Milngavie!

Ultra running is all about the preparation both physical and mental. They are both trained at the same time. So without the long runs to facilitate this physical and mental training it is very hard to get the best out of yourself. It wasn’t that I didn’t try, at the end of the Fling I was shattered, but this was at a much slower pace than I knew I was capable of running. In essence I was running much less efficiently and had a depleted cardio system to deal with it.

It was good to get back to a good performance at the UTMB. I had had a good uninterrupted stint of training leading up to it. This gave me confidence to perform and get the best out of myself. I even coped well with the uncertainties that surrounded the event. Firstly the start time being delayed 5 hours and the course shortened, and secondly finding out the course had been re-routed, and extended to miss out Bovine, and whilst at the point in the run where it had changed.

The delayed start ruined my race plan. Which was to try to finish in 28 hours (or better) thus meaning that I would have only 1 long period of night and then finish just as it would be getting dark (22:30). I would maybe have had about 9 hours of dark on this proper UTMB course and correct start time. But with the delay and the extra Matigny section it meant I would have two long periods of darkness totalling about 13 hours. The 5 extra hours definitely cost me some time, maybe 40 minutes couple this with an extra 5 km and 200m ascent and I think that I would have made that 28 hours target.

So taking all this into account I can only be pleased with my effort. I think I will have another go in 2013 but I will hopefully drag some support over there with me to try and compete with the sharp end of the field. I think I spent about 1 hour 40 minutes in CPs. With support I think I could get this down to 20 minutes. This combined with a bit more specific training and more confidence in my ability should equal a faster time.

I had my first run today. It was only 7 miles but I managed it reasonably comfortably. My legs ached a little around the quads and my right big toe was a bit sore but generally I was o.k. Things are looking good for a quick recovery so I will have to think of another race later in the year.

Below are a few pictures from Chamonix, highlighting the tendency for the weather to be nice in the day then stormy into the evening, also showing the start of the long PTL kind of race. Lastly my damaged right toe nail, the left looked much the same. This was taken straight after the run. I’ll have to practice at not kicking rocks for next time!

26th-28th August The UTMB 2011

The definition of adventure is “the undertaking of a task with an uncertain outcome” this describes perfectly my experience of this year’s Ultra Trail Tour Du Mont Blanc race…

At 11.30 am on race day I was congratulating Ross on his magnificent sub 20 hours run and 30th place in the TDS race, whilst cheering Catherine (Ross’s wife) home to a 306th place finish in 25 hours 49. Catherine had to walk the last 10 miles showing how well she was going in the early part of the run, so it was a good result for both. Whilst chatting to a very tired Catherine about her run, one of their friends received a Facebook alert on his laptop stating that the start time of the UTMB had been delayed due to a storm from 18:30 to 23:30 hours, this news was a little unsettling. Also in the message was the fact that the end of the run would now be “straight down the valley” instead of the normal Tete au Vent and La Flagere route back to Chamonix. Well I thought; trying to find the positives; at least the route would be a little easier to make up for the tougher start time. However it didn’t turn out that way.

So I killed off the extra time with an attempt at a nap, that didn’t work too well it was more of a lie down in a darkened room. So after watching some TV and noting the rain start to come down outside, I started to think about what clothes would be best to start in. I decided cycling length tights with a t-shirt and Haglofs jacket would suit the conditions best, combined with a thin X-termite’s hat to keep my head warm. I delayed going to the start line until as late as possible to avoid standing around too long in what was now steady rain. The only problem with this was that I was stuck at the back with no gaps at all to move towards the front. I didn’t want to be lined up alongside Killian and co, but I thought that I deserved not to be almost at the back. But it was one of those irking things I just had to block out.

So the traditional UTMB music of Vangelis - Conquest of Paradise was played, a lot of French instruction voiced, whilst I chat offering words of wisdom to 2 of Rosses friends and take no notice of any of the former, then all of a sudden we are off….walking, argh. Look for the positive I told myself; well at least I wouldn’t be setting off too fast. It was a bit frustrating walking in a crush down Chamonix high street, but after about 5 minutes (yes I timed it) finally the road widens and I could run at roughly my own pace. I felt nice and controlled to Les Houches where it was like the Tour De France, as the crowds narrowed the street, what amazing support and at 1am and in the rain. The climb over Col de Voza was good. But on the descent it poured down heavily, and even with my jacket hood pulled on I was a bit cold.  This was the only time during the run when I considered putting on my full length tights. What made me consider it was a bit of an oversight on my behalf. My rucksack had grabbed my jacket and raised it above my midriff so the water falling off my jacket was going straight to my nether region. That always makes us blokes feel cold. So I pulled the jacket down and never got cold there again.

 After sliding down the slippery track to St Gervais, the welcome was as amazing as ever, the rain was lighter but still it was about 02:00 am, and there was a huge crowd of supporters out to cheer us on. A quick water refill and I was off. On the way to Contamines I got chatting to a really nice Australian Lady called Margaretha. We had a nice chat and I tried to share a bit of knowledge of the route. After about 10 minutes, I reminded myself not to, literally and physically, talk myself into someone else’s pace. So I wished her luck and pushed on (she finished in 34 hours 15 mins well done Margaretha) for Contamines. The rain stopped and a starlit sky was revealed, but in the far distance there were still some flashes of lightning now and again; moving away I hoped.

The climbs of Bonhomme, Col de la Seinne and Mont Favre all went well. I even managed to time the necessity for a comfort break with my arrival in Le Chapieux, which is always a bonus on these long races. The daylight coming on the ascent of Bonhomme was special as 1) this is normally traversed in the night and 2) there was a pretty dusting of snow on the hills. I rounded the top of Col De La Seinne feeling good and also the weather was looking set fair for the rest of the day, I was now feeling really positive. On the lower half of the descent it was quite warm but I decided not to waste time taking my jacket off and just rolled the sleeves up. There was lots of cheering and “Bravos” on arrival in Courmayeur. I got my kit bag and decided that although my feet were pretty good I would take the precaution of putting a Compede on the ball of each foot. It was worth it as I was changing socks anyway. I also had a nice plate of pasta, bodyglided up and that was 25 minutes gone.

The climb up to Bertone is always a tough one. But I led another guy up and we kind of pushed each other which made it easier.  Bertone to Bonnatti is a beautiful trail to run. Nice and undulating with amazing views of the cliffs towering up to Mont Blanc on the other side of the valley, it is truly spectacular. It was at this point that I realised I must have been doing well. In previous races I have been running with lots of others here but this time apart from overtaking a few, I was mainly on my own. For much of the time to the end this was the case as well, just overtaking 1 or 2 here and there, although I was more racing the clock than the runners.

I also really enjoyed the descent to Arnjuva, where I steeled myself for the ascent of Grand Col Ferret. This ascent was when I felt at my most tired, it was as if the altitude just took the edge off me a little and so I eased off a touch. But on the descent I was back and enjoying the comfortable running that I kept at all the way to the end. La Fouly is still a long way after Grand Col Ferret and I was starting to run out of water. So I was really displeased when I was overtook (a rare event) by a guy on a small climb through a cow crowded field. He had a guy supporting him with a large bottle of lemonade. That should have been a 1hour penalty. He didn’t even try to buy me off with a swig, cheeky bugger. It made it all the more satisfying to speed past him on the descent towards La Fouly CP.

Through La Fouly and on the way to Champex I noted someone running strong just behind me. I was walking the uphill’s so let him past, only to discover it was Ritchie Cunningham. He is a runner that should be well ahead of me, despite the fact that I was having a good run. He told me that he spent 1 hour 20 mins in La Fouly and nearly quit as he was having a bad day. His support team convinced him to carry on. So we ran together most of the way to Champex.

On entering Champex CP an MC announced my arrival over the Tannoy and cheers go up. It feels a bit weird entering a marquee to a load of cheers, you kind of stand there wondering what to do. Senses quickly come back and it’s the usual routine of, water bottles filled nuun tablet dropped in 1 bottle, grab some food to run with, but here it is great pasta so a large plate of beautiful Bolognese is a must. After 15 minutes I am off, leaving Ritchie talking on his mobile to his support. I descended towards Bovine thinking just 2 big climbs left. But 20 minutes out of Champex and the reflective tape, which you follow on the UTMB, guides me to the right. I was sure Bovine was straight on and to the left. Confused but confident that the markers must be correct I carry on, on a lonely long rough descent in the dark. It was here that I started to notice that the cumulative effect of kicking rocks was damaging both my big toes. I carried on following a group of three through a large town and up a climb, being careful, but not succeeding, to kick less rocks. I had to ask them if I was still on the course. They said yes, did you not get the text? We are now going to Martigny instead of Bovine. This was because of the destruction of the drinks station and CP near the top of Bovine by a storm. I had packed my mobile too early and never saw the text message.

Ritchie caught me up on the climb and we discussed what the course is now. We didn’t realise it but we were just climbing up and over a shoulder before dropping into Matigny. Here we asked the CP staff how big the climb is to take us up and over to Trient (and back on the course) he says “1,000”. We ask what feet, knowing that France use metric, we knew the answer, it was 1,000M. I told Ritchie I was going to get a move on, and set off on the long climb. Some of the locals were out with tables and chairs offering biscuits, tea, coffee, pizzas, that really sums up what is so good about this race. The local Swiss had realised the race had been rerouted at the last minute and thought they would help out, again amazing support. The climb went on and on crossing roads then into trees for what seemed like forever. I was glad to make the top knowing after the descent the only significant obstacle is Catogne. I made the descent well and again had the nice, but strange feeling of cheers in the CP. Probably mainly from other runners support teams in a separate part of the marquee. Ritchie came in (sorry if I’m wrong Ritchie) looking a bit spaced out and bewildered. It was the last time I saw Ritchie, I fully expected him to catch me up, but he never did. I made the ascent of Catogne well and was descending pretty well too; even the temptation to warm up next to the fire near the CP didn’t stop me. But towards the bottom a chap told me I was in 48th place. I wasn’t racing until I heard that, it was like by saying that he flicked on my race button. All I could think off from now until the end, was don’t finish outside the top 50. Silly in a way, but it motivated me to push on. But before I could do that I had to sort out my big toes, which on the very rough descent were now very painful and I had to stop to inspect the most painful one. The nail was badly bruised and blistered but not ready to come off with a little wiggle. So to stop them lifting up in my shoe I had to push the nail back in from its elevated position. It was painful and some puss popped out, but it did the trick. So with my shoe back on I didn’t bother to take the other one off, I simply pressed down on the nail through my shoes, again painful, but better than a lengthy stop in the first aid tent at the CP.

I pushed on and went over Col De Montets paranoid of getting caught up. So tried to spot any headtorches behind, I couldn’t so just kept the pace as high as I could. The ”straight down the valley” route was all that was left. One of the CP staff at Valorcine said it was flat. Boy was I cursing him on that last section. It wasn’t flat but a very undulating Forrest track. In fact it was the same end that I did in the 2005 race. But doing it at night was tough. After what seemed like forever I caught two runners up as the route widened and became familiar. We were almost in Chamonix. When they heard me they responded by running quicker, I could tell they didn’t want to be passed as I took a while to close the last 100 meters on them. As I caught them I was thinking I may chat to them for a bit, safe in the knowledge of a top 50 placing. On the last bit of descent I ran alongside and said hi, no response. That said to me race on. So I ran hard and they never even made it interesting. I pulled out nearly 2 minutes on them in the 1 KM around Chamonix and ran across the line at 4.57 am. Doing that allowed me to finish under the half hour, so I was pleased with my adventurous 29 hours and 29 minutes of the UTMB 2011. It was a truly unique course, but probably even tougher than the normal route. The stats suggest it too, 170KM and 9,700M! Finishing in 44th place and 3rd Brit was a real bonus. I knew that if I had a good run I could make the top 100, but didn’t think the top 50 likely. I am really pleased with the run, and it only cost me two big toe nails, what a bargain.

28th August UTMB update

Just a quick post to say I had a good run at the TMB. The course was changed quiet significantly at the end of the route, due to landslips caused by storms,  making for a slightly longer and rougher route. In my opinion this route is tougher than the standard TMB course. So it makes me even more pleased with my finishing time of 29 hours 29 mins and in 44th place. I dreamed of a top 50 place so it is a real bonus to get it. The weather was rough at the start, and combined with rough ground I think will have caused one of the biggest drop out rates ever. We will know when the 21:00 hrs cut off is reached tonight.
I will do a full report when I have had more than 3 hours sleep in 3 days.

25th August 1 day to go to the UTMB

Well I am sat here in my hotel in Chamonix trying to think my way through this race. I have thought through a lot of scenario’s, heat, blisters, strains, what happens if I start to suffer fatigue etc. But now after that last few days of heat followed by an afternoon storm, I am forced to start thinking about the cold. Yes the forecasts suggest it could be a wet and cold UTMB this year. I just hope that the forecast is a bit overstated. But it looks certain that we will get wet at some point. Never mind it’s all part of the challenge. I feel well rested and ready for it, whatever the weather.

I did intend watching the first finishers of the TDS race tonight but the overly optimistic first finisher’s time on the website looks to be a bit out. Tracking the race online it appears the winner will finish at about 01:30am not the forecast 11:30pm, a bit past my bed time. So I think I will scrap that idea and just have a stroll over to see if they have any video footage of the start.

14th August TMB training

Well after a bit of a rest from my tour Blogging I am refreshed and ready to Blog again. So here goes….

To catch up, I have been in hard training for the TMB. I have over the past couple of weeks almost run myself into the ground. In the past week I have: run a half marathon on Monday (1:45) followed by a 2 hour bike ride on Tuesday then a hard interval session on Wednesday, then on Thursday another half Marathon (1:50 hard work), Saturday was a repeat of 2009s 3 times up Skiddaw and Sunday was a 10 mile run that felt really tough. I truly am ready for a taper and some rest.

The Skiddaw run seemed to work for the 2009 TMB so I decided to repeat it for this year’s race. I did it on Saturday 13th August, but this time it was mentally a bit easier as Will Houghton accompanied me for 2 of the reps and did ¾ of a final rep on his own. We split up after the 2nd ascent because Will was suffering from cramp. Understandable as he has not been doing the long tough runs that I have over the last 3 months. I completed the run in 5 hours 22 minutes, 18 minutes faster than 2009, but this time only with a bum bag, not the 3 kilo pack I will have with me for the TMB. The final rep was the fastest at 1 hour 6 mins up and 36 mins down, so that was pleasing. I have broken all my training times and I feel in good shape for the TMB so I am positive about having a good run in at the TMB. If all goes well I feel that a realistic target is for a sub 30 hour round. If not a fall back of a new PB (under 32h 52m) will do.

28 th July Journneys end, and reflection on the Journey

I came home via a 2 day stop at Jason’s house in Welwyn Garden City. It was good to have a few beers with my good friend Jason at his flat for the first time on the Friday night, followed by a night out with a couple of Jason’s friends and an Indian with a few beers. All in all it was a good weekend. On the Sunday I travelled home via Rode heath, in order to drop in on Nick and Sue and Brian I also met Gina; all good friends of mine. It made the journey home more interesting, and was good to catch up with some friends that I don’t often get to meet.
Having been home for a couple of weeks now, I have had time to enlighten / bore a few friends with my stories, and reflect on my trip. I look back on it with fondness. It is always easy to forget the tough times, but on balance I really enjoyed the adventure. I don’t think I will become a full time traveller anytime soon, but I will always keep life interesting with challenges and adventures whether it is running, other physical activities or travelling in the same style; which brings about its own adventures.
My next adventure is one that I have had on the horizon since the turn of 2011. It will take me back to Chamonix as it is the North Face Ultra Trail Tour Du Mont Blanc, a race as long as its title. This is a race I have had a go at on 3 previous occasions (2005,2008,2009) and finished twice (2005,2009). So I have a good idea of the race and what it entails. This slightly diminishes the adventure, but to keep it interesting I have given myself the “A” target of  beating 28 hours, a “B” target of beating 30 hours and a fall back “C” target of setting a new PB so less than 32 hours 52 minutes. The course is 105 miles and about 32,000 feet of ascent and descent. So having arrived home a stone lighter than I left I was keen to find out how much endurance fitness I had gained, or lost, on my trip.  So on Sunday 24th July I set off on a route I did last year before the Lakeland 100. I ran from home over Clougha Pike and Grit Fell and back on a longer loop than normal, it is about 20 miles and takes about 3 hours.  I remember finding it very tough for the last 3 miles last year, but this year I was still feeling good and running strong. Living above 1000 meters for most of the trip and dropping about a stone in weight has had a very positive effect on my endurance fitness. So I now know I have a very good base to build on in the next 2 weeks in the lead up to the TMB.

14th July Thursday Heading for home

I decided that an overnight stop near Reims would be a good idea to break up the journey home. This would mean a 390 mile journey from Chamonix to Reims followed by a 200 mile from Reims to Calais. Then one of my good friends from my University days, Jason, Is kindly having me stay over at his place in Wellwyn Garden City. All this breaks up the journey into manageable chunks. I was keen to avoid another 520 mile journey (Potes to Mataro).
So after taking down my big tent for the last time I left a damp Chamonix behind. It was a bad start as my sat nav took me on a scenic route through Les Houches and over a mountain pass. I cursed it but then though it may have been my fault. I think that whilst reviewing the route with the rubbish touch screen (apple it definitely isn’t) I may have altered the course then saved it. Ah well it was a nice route, well it would have been had I not had another 370 miles to go.
I went to the first choice site near Reims but found nothing. I wasn’t so sure about the translation in Google, I think it may have meant Champagne, not camping, because there was a nice champagne chateaux. So I put in the next choice which meant another 65 miles, a total of 460 miles. I am glad though as I am at one of the best campsites of the whole trip, and only 12 euros per night. Maybe I will come back and stay longer another time. I’ll have to figure out exactly where I am first though! I know I only have 120 miles tomorrow to Calais then a further 100 miles to Jason’s gaff. I also have a very easy camp to pack into the car, even if it does look like I should be at Glastonbury! Life is good.
I won’t post until I get home now on Saturday or Sunday. But safe to say I have been doing a lot of reminiscing over the last two days. My last post on this trip will be about my gathered thoughts on the whole experience.

13th July Wednesday Climbing competition day 2

The day was a wash-out. It rained for most of the day, stopping only in the late afternoon; it then drizzled whilst I joined a good crowd to watch the technical climbing competition. They had to get as high as they could on the wall. Two of the women managed it. But prior to me leaving having had enough of the standing in the drizzle, no man had made it beyond the final overhang.
I spent the rest of the day organising my kit ready for packing up to head home.

12th July Tuesday A long TMB training run

  Nothing much to report from Monday, not even worth a post just a hot day resting for a long run on Tuesday.

I decided that instead of doing a climb from Les Houches to the Gouter hut and back, I would be better off doing a long training run that was more like the TMB course. So I got the bus to Col De Montets; again; and did the TMB route to La Flagere; again; but this time I climbed over the Col De la Gliere then descended down to Plan Praz, then ascend to Le Brevent before descending back to Chamonix via Bell Lachat. It was a hot day and by 9am I could feel the heat. Never the less it was an enjoyable 5 hour run even though the trails were a little busy for someone running.
I have tried to estimate the distance and ascent but it is tricky as I don’t have a map that goes beyond Le Brevent. But I think that it was about 1,900 meters and 13 miles in 5 hours 5 mins.


In the evening I watched the speed climbing section of the world cup series. It was good to see these pros climbing at a sprint. The final was between a Czech and a Russian climber. The Russian won it in a world record time of 6.37 seconds, incredible. A Polish lady won the women’s race in 8.5 seconds. Tomorrow night it is the problem wall.

10th July Mont Buet

I got the early (free) train from Chamonix to Le Buet to have a go at climbing Mont Buet (3,096m). The town of Le Buet is at 1,350m making the ascent a fairly tough 1,746 meters. I decided on an early start as the weather forecast predicted thunder storms anytime in the afternoon. Again I believed the forecast because on Friday night it looked like aliens where trying to blow up Mont Blanc with white lasers. The sky in that area was cloudy but flashes of bright white were to be observed around the Mont Blanc summit area for about 2 hours constantly. It didn’t rain much but there was a lot of lightning.
So at 08:20 I set off for Mont Buet from Le buet train station using the very good mountain signs, and noting the first one saying 6 hours to the summit. I was not intending taking that long and I didn’t. Doing it as kind of a training run and speed being the order of the day, I was surprised that I met a French guy who asked me if I was doing a TMB training run as he was doing the same but on a different route. Maybe there are quite a lot of local people training at the moment as the race nears. I carried on with no navigational issues through a valley and up a rocky section, then a steep rounded ridge to the summit. Or at least I thought it was. It was actually a relay point for the emergency services. The summit was a little further across a small ridge. After 2 hours 35 minutes I was on it and asking a guy to take a photo to mark my first time above 10,000 feet (10,157 feet); without cheating with a cable car anyway (Bellevue to the bottom of the Grand Couloir). I descended in about 1 hour 30 minutes and made the 12:31 train back to Chamonix.
I watched the Grand Prix. Then later went to have a drink with Ali Welsh and a nice family whom he is guiding up Mont Blanc via the 3 Monts route. I enjoyed a couple of drinks and a chat, whished them luck and headed off to meet Vince for a Pizza and a chat. It would be hard to top that day on this holiday. A 10,000 foot summit and great company, if only Lewis Hamilton could have won at Silverstone. Ah well you can’t have everything.

9th July Gaz problems again

Most of my Saturday was taken up, again, by problems with my Camping gaz. After cooking breakfast I started my daily routine of gathering heat sensitive items of food, and also the Butane Camping Gaz cylinder together to put in the shade under the car. The gas cylinder felt very light. I shook it and there was very little liquid in it. Not good after just 2 days use. Thinking at the time that I didn’t switch the gas off properly and let it leak away, I spent the rest of the day tracking a new cylinder down. I eventually found some in a shop in Le Praz, but only after resorting to asking where there is a camping shop at the tourist information centre. I am typing this on a sunny Monday morning after discovering that my stove has been very slowly leaking. I affected a fix on the pressure vessel and it seems o.k. now. Either the screws had worked loose, or the seal is worn and the olive oil I put on it is only going to buy me a bit of time. I will just have to keep a close eye on it, and if it leaks again I will stop using it.

It makes me think that on that Saturday morning it was leaking whilst I was cleaning my cool bag after discovering some rancid milk in the bottom of it (overpowering any gas smell!). I think whilst I was doing this for 2 hours after breakfast it was slowly discharging 200 grams of gas into my tent. It’s a good job the front was open. But even so later that day I struggled to remember what I had done for the earlier part of the it and where I had been, now I know why. I think I did partly gas myself. Oops.

8th July Friday a trail run to Aiguillette Des Houches and Le Brevent

As the forecast was for showers in the afternoon I decided to go for a trail run rather than for a planned ascent of Buet (3,070m). I believed the forecsast would be accurate as the dawn was misty, and we had had a violent thunder storm in the middle of the night. I had promised Vince a trip to a shop near St Gervais, as he wanted some energy bars that he said were the best he had ever had, and I needed some Camping gaz, again. That last one can’t have been full. So at the shop I instantly recognised the gas. It was a real stroke of luck as we expected to have to find a large supermarket to buy it. Vince got a vast amount of Quechua energy bars, I did too, thought I might as well try them.

After returning Vince set off for a hike up the side of the Bossons glacier, and at 11 am I set off on the long trail to Aiguillete Des Houches. After 2 hours of traversing the hillside I finally arrived on its summit. It is a new summit for me which is always good, even though I am not really a peak bagger. The clouds looked threatening as they clung to the Mont Blanc Massif so I had a bite to eat and got a move on, this was a TMB training run anyway so “Vite” was the order of the day. I quickly descended to Bell Lachete then re ascended to Le Brevent. A place I have visited many times now, but it is still a nice high spot to appreciate the much higher peaks on the Mont Blanc side of the valley. After a quick break it was time for the descent with rain threatening. I had to go a longer way around as the trail was closed on my usual line back to Chamonix, so it took longer than usual; about 66 minutes; still not bad for a 1,500m ascent. I also saw a 2 foot long black and white snake on the diversion route, and it was a very nice, if overly winding descent track.

I finished in Place du Triangle just as it poured down with rain. But it was only a sharp shower and I was soon off back to the campsite, buying a can of Orangina on the way. This seems to be tradition now, even though they are 1.50 Euro. A small treat for a good run I suppose.