Andalucia & Future Plans

Nothing much to report recently.  Training in terms of running has been scaled back a little with no major races on the horizon, I’ve been mixing things up in the gym a little by incorporating some yoga and having bought a new CX cycle, I’ve been trying to fit in a few weekend rides.

A highlight has also been a week’s guided trekking in Andalusia.  It wasn’t particularly hard core but it got wifey and I out in the fresh mountain air, topping up our vitamin D levels and incorporated plenty of good food and drink, with free-flowing red wine every evening, preceded by a refreshing dip in the pool each afternoon after returning from the day’s walk.  A very restorative week.

It’s also been a time for race planning.  I have a little local half-marathon coming up on local trails but I’m not training for that; more treating it as part of my training.  Next year my main focus race will be the Tenerife Bluetrail in June, where I’ll be running the 66km event, running up to Mount Teide and down the other side to the coast, while wifey tackles the 22km event.  I’ve also signed up for a season ticket to Rat Race’s event, as I did in 2015 – but this time I will target different events and also volunteer at one or two of them I’ve done before.  Targeted races in the series are:

  • Ultra Tour of Arran – two days, 50km each day, with two circular routes of the north and the south of the island.
  • Dirty Weekend 32km obstacle race – having done it twice before, I’ll be volunteering this time.
  • Man Versus Coast – a 32km race across Cornwall and around the northern tip, finishing at Lands End.
  • Man versus Lakes – a 42km marathon, starting across the 10km sands on the coast and running into the heart of the Lake District, with a few obstacles thrown in across the lakes at the end.
  • Man versus Mountain – a 36km race from Caernafon Castle on the coast, to the summit of Snowdon and back down again to Llanberis, via an abseil, a few obstacles and a lake swim.

Who knows, I may try and fit in a few others but it’s going to be a busy 2018.

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Race to the King; Toughest Oslo; and the Great North Run

I’ve been remiss in reporting so time to do a bit of a catch up.  Nothing can match The Coastal Challenge that I ran in February in Costa Rica, so I’ve not been so motivated to write up my races since.

Race to the King is part of the Threshold Series of events, with the Race to the Stones being my first ever ultra that I did back in 2014.  For this race, rather than splitting it over two days, I decided to do it in one.  It was a good race and with more enjoyable scenery than its sister event. The check points were well spaced and reasonably well stocked (if you like heavy/junk food) but there was some good stuff there too. The water melon at CP3 and the tea at CP 4 were very welcome. Also the signage was excellent – no chance of making a wrong turn.

What wasn’t so good was the start strategy. We were allocated wave times with staggered starts but the event is open to walkers and these were allowed to go in the earlier waves – only to totally get in the way of the following runners from later waves on the narrow single track at the start of the race. That was a poor idea.  A good idea was the hot meal at the end – except it was well hidden away, there were no signs (or staff) directing you to it and I and many others only found out about it by reading the forums the next day.

The race though had an enjoyable mix of trail, my favourite being the (shortish) woodland trails and the off-road hills. The most tedious was the monotonous road hill that seemed to go forever round about 63k. The finish is also a grand setting, with the walls of Winchester cathedral letting you know when to commence your sprint finish.

My own race had a bad start with stomach issues and portal visits (many) even before the race start and at checkpoints one and two, after which I was fine.  The 87.3km race from Arundel to Winchester, along the South Downs Way had 1,742m of elevation gain and my time was 10 hours 29 minutes 12 seconds, finishing 86th of 581 finishers, with lots of DNFs.   I did pick up several places with my sprint finish.  A better placing was that I was 6th out of 67 finishers in the over 50 category; and 3rd out of 46 finishers in the male over 50 category.  A good run, if not a great one.

 

The Toughest Oslo was a fun obstacle race event that a group of 8 friends did together as part of an extended weekend away in what appears tone Europe’s most expensive city!  The motivation to do it was the density of obstacles crammed into a relatively short 8km course and most especially it’s iconic finish – a run up the Holmenkollen ski jump.  No race can top a finish like that.

We enjoyed beautifully sunny and warm weather that helped make the icy cold swim sections bearable and a succession of upper-body strength biased obstacles that were challenging enough to be interesting, without being impossible.  Some harder but faster options were also available too, such as the salmon ladder instead of a rope climb, and the flying monkey bard instead of the bog-standard ones.  The race also attracted star obstacle racer and recently very competitive Sky Runner Jonathan Albon, who duly won for the 4th consecutive year.  Our group of 8 naturally split into two groups of four and being in the faster group, after the finish it allowed me the opportunity to wander back up course to meet the others and then run the ski jump with them for a second time.  It had to be done.

After the race we enjoyed the delights of Oslo and some very expensive beers.  It’s a really interesting place to visit and somewhere I’d like to return to.

 

The Great North Run on 10 September was something I only entered because my daughter wanted to do it – and then she didn’t get in and I did!  As a road race, it’s not really my cup of tea but it’s world famous and I had a place, so I took my place amongst the other 57,000 runners at the start line in Newcastle-upon-Tyne after enduring a packed Metro journey from Sunderland where we’d stayed overnight.  I left it to wifey to drive to the finish at South Shields to meet me – and it took her almost as long as my journey to the race start and to run the race too, there was that much traffic chaos.

The race though had far too many runners; a huge number vastly exaggerated their ability and so started too high up and this meant I was weaving in and out to overtake people the whole race.  My elbows got as much action as my feet!

In the end I picked up PBs for the half marathon distance as well as a 10k PB, so I guess I ran well.  The crowds definitely got in my way and slowed me but maybe there was an element of them giving me a succession of targets to pass that spurred me on too?  Who knows.  My time of 1 hour 35 minutes 53 seconds placed me 1,809th of the 43,064 finishers and I was 89th male and 95th overall of the 3,761 finishers in the 50-54 category.  It’s too short for me and I prefer longer and especially off-road races, no doubt about it.  It made a change to race full out throughout though.

D-day -2

Two days to go until my Race to the King Ultramarathon, this year’s long-distance single day event.  It will be 86 km long and today the 5-day 30+C heatwave broke, so it should be cooler for race day.  With the thunderstorms now forecast though, I think I’d prefer the heat… I’d definitely prefer the heat; maybe try and feel a bit of the Costa Rica vibe.

Next year’s challenge is already planned and booked, with myself and Wifey competing in the Tenerife Bluetrail race.  Wifey has opted for the half marathon, which still has over 1,200m of vertical ascent and nearly 1,500m of descent.  I’ll be running the 66km Trail race, (3,252m going up; another 4,634 coming down).  I would have gone for the 97km Ultra but as with many longer races these days this requires a compulsory doctor’s medical report (whereas the shorter distances do not), which is both expensive and difficult to get here, with most UK doctor’s unwilling to give the reassurances race directors want.  Why they cannot just accept an individual’s waiver, I don’t know.  I may be limited to UK long distance races in the future!

The Ultra is coast to coast, south to north, so it would have been the most satisfying option but I’m still expecting the 66km Trail to be a great and very worthwhile and challenging day.  Starting in Vilaflor, we will run almost to the top of Mount Teide, the highest mountain in Spain (I believe the Ultra reaches the top), before winding down, up, down up etc to the coast and finishing on the seafront at Puerto de la Cruz… which just happens to be where our hotel will be for a couple of days before the race and a week after.  I’m looking forward to both the race and the holiday – what a perfect way to combine the two and save costs (really!).  This could be a future blueprint for running.

Spring 2017

I’ve been a little remiss in updating this site recently, so I’ve been giving it some thought and added a ‘Gear’ page, which I’ll try and keep updated as I find anything new worth recommending.

Training-wise, since Costa Rica I’ve been trying to follow a training plan for my off road double marathon race at the end of June and hitting the gym.  I’ve also mixed things up recently with a 78k mountain bike race.  I say race, it was more of an event, where though I pushed a little – on the ups certainly – I also took time out at the feed station to refuel without any sense of urgency.  I’m also still not too hot on the technical steep downhills.  How some of these guys don’t die I just don’t know!  A good challenge though.

The Coastal Challenge 2017

My favourite race ever.  My return after running – and winning – the shorter Adventure category in 2015; this time to do the full Expedition category.  It was 236km of fantastic hot, humid mountains, jungle, trails, beaches and running up rivers and waterfalls – what could be better?

Naturally I couldn’t even consider a high placing this time but I think I did as well as I could have expected.  I finished 31st of the 77 starters, 23rd of the 56 male starters.  I was also (I’m fairly sure) second in the over-50 age group.  Nevertheless, I could have done better.

I ran day 1 far too cautiously and was comically inept at the final rocky river crossing.  Day 2 was much better but I lost a lot of time on the first big climb of the day, stuck behind a train of slower runners on a very narrow, very long and very steep single track.  On day 3 we had to run 10k upriver, where it was mainly knee to chest deep, sometimes deeper and strewn with ankle-wrecking rocks.  Again my ineptitude at this lost me a lot of time, as did my lack of speed on some of the later steep climbs on fire tracks with no shade cover.  I managed to pull some time back on the final beach and short road section but by then it was too late. Day 4 could also have been better. I was surprised by there being another unexpected river run and I also went slightly off course in a deep grass descent coming off the ridgeline, losing the markers.  I finally picked one up in the distance but couldn’t see how to get to it and had to freestyle/slide very slowly to get back on course.  I also chose the wrong shoes, picking out some older ones full of holes, not expecting any river crossings and so constantly filling with grit on the day’s river run.  The next day, day 5 was the longest stage and I think I ran it better but at the mandatory boat crossing for the last river (no swimming allowed due to the possibility of crocodiles in the water), I just a full (5 person) boat leaving to cross and had to wait impatiently in the scorching sunshine for its return, to ferry me across, losing time.  Finally, on day 6, it all seemed to come right and I had my best day position of the race, finishing with a fast sprint along the final beach section.  I know where I have to improve if I ever do this race again – I so hope that I do.

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Gear-wise, useful lessons were learned.  My Salomon race vest was perfectly light, though carrying more water – and therefore weight – than usual, I suffered chafing rashes on my neck from early on day 1.  The solution would have been to wear higher neck t-shirts or vests.  I did this on day 2 and didn’t suffer – on the other days, with scantier vests, scars were gradually burned into my neck area at three points of contact, scabbing up and re-breaking each day before numbness set in and I didn’t notice in each day’s run.  The race vest itself had more than adequate storage despite being the lightest in the range.

I used two 500ml and one 250 ml soft flask, before losing one of the 500ml bottles on day 4 and never ran out of liquid between checkpoints.  I even had enough spare to tip on to my head to cool myself at times rather than drinking.  Each day I filled the flasks with Tailwind and as each bottle ran out I replaced it with checkpoint-supplied water in one of the larger flasks and Gatorade in the other two.  This meant I didn’t have to carry any food, though I availed myself of the pineapple and water melon at the aid stations, occasionally taking a salted potato or a small handful of peanuts too.  It was plenty.

My Injinji socks worked perfectly and I suffered no foot problems and no blisters at all.  The evening queues to see the foot doctors, the variety of bandaged toes and feet I saw and speaking with those who had to drop out, or drop down to the shorter race due to blisters proved the worth of my choice.  The Inov-8 shoes I wore also performed well.  My Trailroc 245s were my choice for the longer days and were perfectly comfortable with adequate grip.  The soles of my X-Talon 200s were better for the steep descents but these were an old battered pair full of holes in the uppers, so I only used them on day 4, before binning them.   The best learn though was that offered by my Terraclaw 220s. These were my newest shoes and with little experience in them, I used them only on the two shorter days, 1 and 6.  They were again though perfectly comfortable and on the last day, which incorporate a river run, several sandy, gritty road fords, a couple of estuary wades and some soft beach running, I didn’t have to stop and empty them of sand and grit once.  Teamed with my lightweight gaiters, though not entirely stopping the sand getting in, they kept enough out for me to be able to carry on running without wasting time stopping to empty them.  None of my other shoes managed that.

The race itself and the entire week was paradise.  The trails and scenery were green and lush and bathes in sunshine.  The birds, butterflies, iguanas and monkeys were truly exotic for someone from the UK like me and the campsites, though basic, were wonderfully situated.  The race director had secured trails that no-one used from year to year other than this race and in parts there was no trail other than that cut the day before by the race staff.  The mountain-tops afforded panoramic and lush views, the jungle reminded you that you were in true wilderness (with lethal tree spikes and hazardous jungle vines ready to trip you at every step providing prompts, if needed) and the long sandy beaches fringed by palm trees and jungle were in many parts almost deserted for that tropical ‘desert-island’ feel.

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Wifey also ran this year, participating in the shorter race and the first day was almost a disaster.  As with several others, the later start, consequent higher temperatures and lack of acclimatisation made day 1 a lot tougher than it looks on paper, this also being the longest day for the shorter race.  A little way before the final checkpoint a severe cramp immobilised the whole of one of her legs, probably caused by a lack of electrolyte consumption.  She tried to struggle on but the leg was rigid.  Fortunately one of the race staff was spotting from up on high through his binoculars and it was observed she was in trouble.  Naoko was determined to try and carry on, knowing losing her medal was at stake but it was impossible and dizziness also set in.  An attempted ‘piggy-back’ carry made the leg worse and as her location was inaccessible by car, a stretcher eventually had to be called four.  The staff that struggled with her down a steep hill to the nearest road were magnificent.  There a race ambulance treated her with an intravenous drip, with gradually brought her back to normal.

Meanwhile, I was waiting at the finish line in absolute ignorance of what had happened until I later found her in the medical tent.  Worry and guilt (for persuading her to do the race) prevailed and Naoko’s air of disappointment with what had happened was palpable.  I feared that was it and her race was over but she agreed to see how she felt the next day.  Fortunately day 2 in the shorter race was mostly downhill followed by a flat beach section. Naoko ran and completed it and did the same for days, 3, 4, 5 and 6, getting stronger each day and finishing the race with a strong run to the finish line.  She was even telling me every day how she was really enjoying each day’s run and so many people were saying they were amazed by her strength and bravery. Her perseverance and determination were recognised at the final awards ceremony when she was awarded the ‘Endurance under adversity’ prize and took her place for the prizewinner’s photo-shoot, along with all the elite athlete podium finishers.  She was delighted; I was so proud.

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It would be unfair to finish without mentioning the race staff, who all did a fantastic job.  From the medical staff who looked after and treated Naoko so well, to those at the checkpoints dispensing nutrition and encouragement and then sweeping up behind to collect every single race marker, they ensured everything ran smoothly.  The camp staff as well, who transported our bags and tents each day, built, dismantled and built again the portable kitchen and dining areas and the wonderful chefs that provided breakfast lunch and dinner to everyone of high quality and plentiful proportions, were amazing.  They had to get up before 3.00am each day to start cooking and were still cleaning up at gone 10.00pm every night.  All these people are paid volunteers and many have done it for each of the 13 years the race has been running.  Many are runners themselves, who truly understand the needs of the racers.  They help to make a great event perfect.

I wonder if I can return again…

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One Week To Go – TCC 2017

OK, it’s just one week until registration and race number pick-up for The Coastal Challenge 2017, with the race starting the day after.  I’m well into my taper now.  My bags are half-packed already.

So why the hell have I just been out with Alistair for a training run and ended up setting a PB for a half-marathon?  Not sure that’s necessarily an effective taper.

On the plus side, I feel good; the usual aches and pains are subsiding somewhat.  Maybe I’m ready.

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Wildest Peaks Trail Race

This was the race postponed from November due to heavy snow and rescheduled for January.  Well there was no snow but there was fog to begin with and frost at higher levels.  There was also a bitingly icy wind along the top ridges that wasn’t properly realised until changing direction after the first few kilometres had (temporarily) warmed us up.

Otherwise this was a really nice course that I’m sure would be spectacularly beautiful in summer.  Set in the northern Peak District at the lower end of the Pennines just outside Sheffield, it was an approximately 27k loop encompassing at times stony, gravelly, sandy or muddy single tracks, woodland trails, steep rock climbs – and descents – and quite a bit of boggy marshland.  Plenty of variety to keep you interested.  My Garmin measured 500m of ascent and 467 of descent, which was plenty to give the thighs a workout.

My plan was to treat it as a training run with Costa Rica just around the corner but as ever, in a competitive environment, I found myself pushing to not be overtook or to overtake.  By the second half of the race though the gaps had grown sufficiently for there to be not too much of this.  Also the race was more of a time trail, with people setting off when they wanted at anytime between 8.30-9.30 am, starting with their dibber being ‘dibbed’ at the start and at two points mid-course, as well as at the finish, of course.  It meant you never really knew what position you were in, even at the end of your race as others who started later could still finish quicker.

I was pleased with my eventual placing of 5th out of 16 in the male over 50 category and 22nd out of 103 overall.  ironically my time would also have been good enough for 5th in the male under 40 category too, such is the strength of the older generation in trail races these days, the 40-49 category being particularly speedy.  Wifey competed too and I’m proud to say she did the long 27k course, rather than the short 10k option that was on offer. I can tell from her Garmin stats she gave it her all, walking only on the steepest climbs and boggiest moors where a wrong step threatened to suck your running shoe off.  All in all an excellent final race practice ahead of The Coastal Challenge in a few weeks’ time.  Of course the weather and extreme lack of warmth could not compare but otherwise this was as close to simulating the sort of run we’d be doing as it was really possible to do locally and at this time of year.

We are both really looking forward to jetting off to sunnier climes now.

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