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Thursday, 18 October 2018

Peak Skyline 50k 2018

There are a few times in my life that I have got nervous. My inaugural fell run last year, my first marathon and my fist 100. This was equivalent anxiety build up. The usual....will I be last? Will I DNF? It must be natural for all runners to think like this. Sometimes it can be all-consuming, like the very first toe-on-the-line of a marathon. Often it is beneficial to have a level of apprehension, or awe and wonder of the terrain ahead.

If you want to watch as well as read, this is the Youtube stream. Every time I watch it I get that hair-on-the-back-of-the-neck feeling. I didn't win. I didn't podium. The field was littered with pro runners. I had one of the best races of my life. For me, it was epic. Realising running through places I had not visited since a bowl-cut Mancunian upbringing. I am a child of the North, trapped in a London-centric bubble and I was out to conquer the hills I walked with mum and dad for many years as a nipper.

So after an eventful evening (AirBnB patron had locked the keys in his own house - cue neighbour with a break-in strategy. Every method failed so he fetched a bloody big ladder 'from a friend' and broke in through an upstairs window. Dinner was takeaway as nothing else was open, followed by a street party of Buxton delinquents in the street below, hurling lots of glass bottles at each other, smoking weed, fighting, shouting and generally pissing off all and sundry. Not even the village policeman came to intervene. It was 3am before they departed in a pre-dawn stupor.) I had a 6am porridge, packed and walked the mile up the road to the start. Wow. Razzamatazz. Raidlight, Inov8, Buff, runners. Hardcore Northern fell runners. I race prepped in my own little world. There were a couple of the usual over-geared-and-no-idea'd London types up for an adventure over the weekend. These types make me laugh. They used to fuck me off a bit as sometimes in my formative years I'd be psyched out by their gear-banter) but now I realised they go off like a shit of a hot chrome shovel and are all over the shop at the 20 mile stage. Bless.

A walk up to the start which I reminisced as I had been there for a massive family reunion winter the year before. Last time I ran from Buxton up to Solomon's Temple there was a foot of snow on the ground and it was -6 degrees. I placed myself pretty much at the back, such was my confidence, but climbing the first hill of 450m I found it easy to move through the pack.

Then....a bagpiper at the top of Solomon's Temple. Epic.

At the start I had spotted Hakeem Okoye.  We'd run together in 2017 and he was looking lean. I'd seen him at the Fox ultra and managed to get within 50m of him after about 20k, then never saw him again. He was ahead for about 5 miles and then I caught up and we ran together for 12 miles or so. To say this event was hilly would not compute with our southern runners. 7000ft in 50k, Climbing, scrambling and brain-off-brakes-off silly downhills. No scree like the lakes, but some bloody big peaks. 9 of them.

CP1....CP2 Ramshaw Rocks. BTW, there were 3 CPs manned. plus 7 clip points. I was fine up Axe Edge Moor and down to 3 Counties, I was struggling a bit from about 2 miles before Ramshaw up to Hen Cloud and then the Roaches. Once I had traversed the back end of the Roaches, something kicked in. There was nobody about. I had dropped the group of complainers and gear-tribes. Something verging on primeval kicks in to the pre-frontal cortex. I am now on my own in the mountains. The wind is all around me, the bracken whips my legs, there is a lone kestrel in the sky, hovering. This is what it is about. Purity. Hakeem had left me to run ahead.

Off the Roaches and down into the valley, then a long ascent to Shuttlingsloe (the Derbyshire Matterhorn) which was a climb to the CP clip point at the top. Thankfully someone put water at the bottom as it was 30 degrees by now. Hakeem was at the bottom. Broken. I reached into my backpack. A gel, a Salt tab. He had it. We ran again, uplifted. We got to the base of the climb and he sat down. I had to go on. After the summit and return, he was still on  the way up. For me, the grind onwards to the Goyt and Shining Tor. The heat beat down on my shoulders through neck high bracken. Obscure paths and the thought of only 10k to go was quickly dampened by a slow summit climb past the Cat and Fiddle to what I thought was the last climb.

Straight down with tired but happy legs I headed for home. One last peak (that I had forgotten about) remained. Burbage Edge was not high but awkward in its presence as a final ascent of 1640ft. A quad mincing 3 miles of downhill into Buxton to go. With all the pomp and splendour of a big race, arms aloft I crossed the line. 2 hours after the winner. However, the sadness of the runners behind became a reality as the organisers told of their strict enforcement of the cut offs. 192 started. 73 finished. I was 43rd. Pro-runners, fell runners. Me. Happy. Probably my favourite short ultra.

I'll be back next year

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

High Weald Challenge - The 'Smugglers Marathon' and a PODIUM!!!

The Weald is a big place and I haven't explored it all yet.....Today was Goudhurst southwards and territory for me and a new route for the LDWA High Weald Challenge otherwise known as the smugglers marathon (after the legendary Hawkhurst gang)

We have just been in a sustained 3 weeks of 30 degree heat. Saturday was 33 and Sunday was 31. I started off early, as the RD said that runners starting the 10am start could go early. I thought I'd loosen up and amble into CP1, of which I did. I ran past Peter Johnson and had a quick chat. He was running with none other than running legend Ken Fancett. Fit as a fiddle 60 year old.

I got to CP1, and the nuggets that were running it stopped me and another couple of runner s for 5 mins "until the CP officially opened". Silly administration really. The RD had emailed to state runner could go early and hadn't communicated it forthwith.

Anyway, through the gorgeous countryside around Cranbrook through to Benenden, the hot weather took its toll. I was just about hydrated between CPs, but the paths were unrunnable 8 foor high with brambles at ankle level

After a slight detour, I went past the last of the early runners. I was on my own.....the next 15 miles were totally alone. Something liberating about that but also self preservation as the thermometer crept up above 30.

So how would you get through this? Its over 10ft high!

Instructions were sometimes hard to decipher....sometimes impossible

See what I mean?!

So after a gruelling 5 hrs 45 mins I crossed the line to great pride of seeing my wife, Audrey and Greta (that totally surprised me) and some very sweaty hugs before heading home.......

Amazing run. Hot hot hot.

Marathon#93 done

Footnote...... It wasn't until about 5 days later that the results were out and I was sort of shocked but I also knew that it was a very tough course through tens of miles of overgrown trail. Results stated that there were 67 finishers. I finished top of the shop - 1st place for me!! 18 minutes ahead of the second place and 1st lady Annabel Stearns. Some very very good marathoners who are genuinely quicker than me took over 7 hours......My second ever 1st place. Unexpected but you have to be in it to win it!

High Weald 50k

Its been a while since I updated my blog. 2 amazing children, a 60 hour a week job and just having moved house have taken up a lot of my time from running and I am probably now averaging 20 miles a week less that I did about a year ago. The good thing is that there are no junk miles. There is a lot of trail here, plus a lot of hills, so always a decent workout.

Anyway, last month I was fortunate to have Paul Thompson's entry to the HW50k. Charity money duly donated to his chosen, I took on his race number, which was #1 and then became #117.

Starting only 40 mins away from home was a delight not to have a 2 hour journey each way out of London...something that I love. There are loads of marathon routes round here. I bumped into Robert Cameron Wood and Dave Barker at the start. A quick catch up, a short walk to the start and we were off

David had recovered well from an injury earlier in the year. I hadn't seen him since my inaugural run at Tunbridge Wells Harriers but he was on form and went on to his 3rd top 10 finish. I ran with him for about 3k, then settled back to 'bed in' to the race. A hot day but fresh early on, I was bimbling along at a nice pace and at 10k in, not far from CP1, I was in longish grass and felt the slow motion pain of my foot disappearing into a rabbit hole. I got straight up and started running but quickly realised something was wrong.  It was a bit too late to turn around and go home. Not only that, I was mildly distracted by some inquisitive cows that wanted to get in my running line. As you well know, me and the bovine are not best friends. Why do they always go for me?

So, the next 41km was more of a hobble with a wince and a big shooting pain up the tendon across the top of my ankle and up my shin. Downhills were particularly unpleasant, so I had to walk the downhills....which was odd as everyone bundled past and I caught them up on the uphills.

I got to about 5k before the last CP. I could see others starting to tire. I was in limp home mode and the thought WTF and went for it. In the last 12k realised I was overtaking lots of people so started counting. From there on in I overtook 35 runners. All amazing folk. I had the energy but not the ankle. Crossing the line another runner about 50m ahead gave me a big hug. "I wasn't going to let you overtake me' he said. "Well done" said I. It was a disappointing time for me at 5.43 for a 50k, 1 hour and 33 mins slower than my pb, but with obvious concerns over the ankle. A lovely mug and a handshake from Stu Mills (legend) as well as a medal and a short drive home for a cider.


Monday, 14 May 2018

A few marathons and ultras later

Such has been the last few months of busy times, moving house, kids etc....... that I have not blogged

So some updates....

Winter Tanners - 6 hours 38 9th place
Unusual Suspects 4 hours 13 - 7th place
Fox ultra 61km - 6 hrs 55 - 46rh place
SDW28 - 4 hrs 55 5th place

I'll update some pics soon. 91 marathons and ultras raced now. Approaching mid 40s so slipping slightly back from the back of the very front group to slightly further back now.....but bloody enjoying every race

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

UK Ultra Trail Championships - R86 The Ridgeway

SO I trained. I trained hard. Super hard for some time, well as super hard as you can train with a 50 hour week job and 2 kids and moving house at the same time. It has been ages since I have blogged. I have moved house, work has got a little bit harder and kids are well, kids.

Leading up to the race we took a holiday in the Balkan Mountains in Bulgaria. I love going to see Graham and David and having a few beers. It was 35-ish degrees so I ran early....It is really hard to run without being chased/attacked by wild dogs. I was out for a few days and all was fine. The last day I took Audrey in the buggy and had to leg it from a wild dog. Nevertheless, lots of hills and back country. Having arrived home I had a proper taper. I don't usually but with looking after the girls and packing for the move, there was no time.

Saturday morning came and I hopped on the train, super early as they were on some bank holiday engineering works mullarkey. Anyway, after a train, tube, train and cab i was at the start, 90 mins early. Time for a relax and a feed. I also met a few fellow competitors. The nervous, the happy, the intrepid and the gung-ho. I kept any powder dry and focused on me-time. I did begin a conversation with Lauren, who was at the start with her BF, who was crewing for her. They seemed pretty cool. Aside from that, I listened to and ignored at the same time, the pre-race drivel from some blokes chatting gear and crocodile wrestling. my time would come.

There was plenty of photo shoot at the start, I put my phone away before it all started, had a moment looking out over Ivinghoe Beacon and then it was off. It was a super warm bank holiday. 26-27 degrees I recall. After 2015 and the blow-out DNF at half way, I took it steady. Mile 1-10 was at an easy pace. Up to CP1 I felt OK. Not great, but not bad. The evil demons that are runners dreads and nightmares kicked in soon after. I recall the same incline in 2015 and also 2010, felt good at the latter, the wheels were already off in the former. CP2 was welcome. Within a couple of miles I was all at sea. Images of 2 years ago were flooding my memory. This time, I knew my  mind was stronger and I would try as hard as I could to overcome the evil and vile demons. Then it came over me like a tsunami of meh....10 miles of run/hide in hedges. I succumbed to the heat once more. Ongoing diahorrea until mile 23. Totally dehydrated I gently trotted to CP3. I ran with a less hirsute Tom H (trail dragon) whom I had spent a lot of miles with in 2010. Both of us were at our ends. Mustering up energy we gained momentum and conversation towards CP3. Under the bridge and out the the CP, there lay a battle strewn line of drawn and pale faces, despite the late summer humid pallor. Sweat-ridden and salt wanting men, clearly to-hard-to-fast written over their forlorn tattooed bodies, memories of races past. This was the turning point. Looking at such pity, such sorrow, phoning wives and girlfriends, gurning, angry, sad. I had to go on.

Within 2 miles or so, a wave of hope came across me. I felt OK. Not only that, I was beginning to feel good. Slow as the first marathon was, I was picking up as the cooler evening air pricked up my skin as the sweat retreated. it was then, as the course took a turn uphill through a pair of gates and across a pasture that I met up again with Lauren, whom I had me at the start. We started up a conversation that lasted 60 miles. One of the best conversations I have had and at the time, I remembered every word and now, as the months have passed, it all blends into a happy memory of races past, places lived (Lauren has lived nearly everywhere near me!) school and crazy holidays in Africa and most of all...not getting lost at night.

We picked up some pace and CP4 came and that was  anew one as the old CP was at the top of a hill with a caravan. Sadly the old lady running this has long gone but onto the point at which I capitulated last time around. I needed to take a reference, so here it is...

Then it was onwards. Down Grimm's ditch at super speed. Despite the terrible first 26 miles, the next 18 were spot on and we were about 45 mins up on the 2010 time with Dave Hegarty, Colin Fitzjohn and Tom H. No need for a headtorch, but in need of directions from a lovely posh boy in a Morris Minor. At Streatley, the half way point it was time for a change of clothes, jacket potato and beans. Lauren delighted me in showing me her mangled feet. 3 cokes and a salt tab later, we were ready to go. I clutched a banana, maybe I would eat it later. I'm not even really a banana fan. Up up up out of Streatley and onto the Wessex Downs. A slog for the next CP but how welcome it was. Hot coffee! We were making good progress and still doing a lot of running. We are indebted to Stuart Low (winner of MV50) who has run the course a few times and when we stopped to check (we never got it wrong!) he was there behind us to reassure. The next 2 CPs weerew full of awesomeness. Watermelon and coffee and more bananas to carry. I think I held onto a banana for most of the second half of the race. Crossing the motorway from CP7 we began to realise we were overtaking quite a lot of runners. We had been picking off a few but now was our bounty. Out of the distance was terry, who stuck with us from mile 65 up until not far from the finish. He was lit up like an Xmas tree and was a 10.00am start but we had banter. He ran mainly behind us while Lauren and I put the world to rights. What a super chat. I knew Barbury Castle was the final CP. I had felt awful in 2010 so had some apprehension. Once negotiated, the hill was not as bad as I had made out. A hot dog and coffee at the top with the sunrise and we were 1.45 hours up on my 2010 time. As we were running along earlier in the evening, we were spurred on by mutterings in the CPs. Lauren was 4th lady. Lauren was 3rd lady. Lauren was.....???? Well there was a rough looking girl in front. We blasted past her. Then another. What were we achieving. Spurred on we thought that this was something big and I was going to help her smash it. After Barbury, we though we saw over the hill behind, another female runner. Never, since the days of Mr hegarty and the 'cheeky last 10k' did we have such a cheeky last 10k. We mullered the last 5 miles. The figure in the distance did catch us, but it was a bloke! Phew. That said, what a last few miles. Booooooooom. All the way past the stone circle....what stone circle Rob? Oh those......anyway it was downhill to the finish. YES!!!!

19 hours and 14 minutes. 2 hours and 16 mins faster than in 2010. Wow. the A race of my year. I never imaginged I'd do an 8 hour 50 miler and the R86 in sub20.  Never again I said. I still might do something else. Something different.

Anyway, I had an interesting bush shower in someone's driveway. Then I sank a warm can of IPA and had a doze in Lauren's car whilst we were driven up towards Stevenage, not far from where they live. I was off to a BBQ to see Susie and the kids. I had not stopped thinking about them all race. I was really looking forward to seeing them.

Looking back on the race I feel pretty good about the latter half of the day. I remember that races are not won in the first half. I also feel really lucky to have met such a good friend in Lauren. Such is the joy of our sport, you can meet kindred spirits and share such wonderful moments with. Can't wait to run with Lauren again, only to find out how she deals with poor attendance at her school!

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Midnight Marathon - SDW

So in order to prep myself for the Ridgeway R86 in a few weeks, I thought I would do some night running and have a gentle marathon at the same time. This was not one to rush, a few days before our holiday and a month before one of my 2 'A' races of the season. I did't want to go apex over triangle on Cocking Down as I did on the 2014 SDW100 and then be ruined for the summer.

So a busy day of trampolining and kids parties preceded the drive down to QECP park on the A3. As you might expect, there was an eclectic mix of runners and nutters for this night event. Rain had been forecast so I packed waterproof and a spare head torch in case the new SILVA trail runner 3 did not work out in terms of comfort. I had a chat with a new ultra runner from Poland who lived in London on the walk down to the start. Then I bumped into the cheeky chappie himself, Mr Kelvin Gower where we had a bit of banter at the start.

It then went dark. Very dark. Not like London dark which is actually daylight with the amount of light pollution. Head torch on almost within minutes. I was concerned about the boredom on a out-and-back course but it was pretty novel running the SDW in the opposite direction to the previous marathon a few weeks ago. Somehow it felt a little easier. I wasted lots of time after CP1 (5+ mins) sorting out the ever loosening strap on the new headtorch. Bummer. CPs were well stocked (and had alcohol?? - not for me though!) as I took caution over the wet chalk in my road shoes. Good choice for comfort but not the amount of mud and wet. Cocking Down, the halfway point came and I felt better and better during the race. I had started ridiculously cautiously so was surprised to see how good I was feeling at 15 miles. This is where the wheels came off a few weeks ago. At this point, off I went and started to overtake some runners, one by one, especially as the field was strung out. This was lost though as I spent 9 mins at CP4 putting new batteries in the Silva. Oh my God it was bright, but not a good idea to put Lidl batteries in. 3 hours....almost dead. It was really really hard to get the battery case open. the CP staff couldn't do it either. So time was lost here and I can reflect on equipment issues taking up 16-20 mins of my race, which is significant.

At this point I set a challenge for myself. The field was pretty strung out so if I could overtake a runner a mile from 16-26.2 then that would be good. This was like olden days with Dave Hegarty. I guess we used to chat too much at the start and then beast the last cheeky 10k. Same old for today, but it was me on my own. In the end, I overtook 22 other runners. I was pleased that all of the places in which I had walked the previous marathon, I ran this time. 30th overall which was OK for me. A lovely hot spicy bowl of chilli and an IPA at the finish with a big fat medal and t shirt. No pics on this one as Kelvin ripped me to shreds for the poor quality selfie of me and him at the start.

Marathon #86

The next one will be a super tough ultra.