Saturday, 7 May 2016

Rock The Ridge 2016

This race was never on the schedule but first Ken then Ben contacted me to see if I would run. I’d never heard of the race until I joined MPF RNR but was really interested in a fast 50 mile ‘trail’ race. I use the inverted comma’s as it is generally a very fast course on the carriage roads of the Mohonk Preserve; however whilst fast it also contains a significant amount of elevation change, albeit very gradually. It certainly appealed but fell at a busy time of year.

However with an upcoming move and increased Daddy day care duties fast approaching, I’m racing far more than I typically do in the early part of 2016. With Ocean Drive Marathon, Naked Bavarian, Springle Track, Breakneck and now Rock the Ridge 50 this is my busiest start to a year for a long time.

Ben kindly invited Gwen, Meredith and I to stay at Steph’s mums house the night before the race so the logistics were all pretty much taken care of. All I had to do was run a solid 50 miler, hopefully stay close to Ben. Having been soundly dropped by Ben and the lead pack at Breakneck only two weeks previously I was far from confident I’d even make half way with Ben and I also haven’t run a runnable 50 miler since Cayuga back in 2014. I was disappointed with my Breakneck run, whilst I didn't expect to compete with Ben there this year I wasn’t happy to be almost 30 minutes behind him, after being with him 10 miles in. Injury issues affected winter training but since the new year I’ve been happy with my training, luckily my inherent selfishness (which my wife will testify to..) has meant having a new born hasn’t overly affected training so I feel fitness is starting to return as we enter the main season.

My plan for the race was pretty simple.. hold on to Ben. We set off and I expected it to be just us but we had a relay runner and then another runner joined us who we thought was in the 50 miler too. Steadily we pulled away and I sat in behind Ben on the long first climb and Ben seemed strong, whilst the pace was a tad hard for me, I felt I wasn’t dipping into the red so just followed along, soon we dropped the other runner and it was just the relay runner and us on the long 3-4 mile climb to the first fluids station. Ben was obviously stronger early on but seemed happy to keep me along for company. Looking at recent results Ben has ran most of his previous 150 miles on this route solo. 

This race is just the perfect hybrid of road and trail, just miles and miles of slowly undulating crushed gravel wide trails, occasional sections of stony and slightly technical ground but it just winds around stunning vistas of the Mohonk Preserve. Having ran at Sprinkle Track and the Ellenville Mountain Running Festival I’d seen small sections of the Mohonk Preserve but this was my first time really seeing all the carriage roads.

Start (credit RockhillHayes)

Ben was powering through the early miles and I just held on. The unspoken idea for me was we’d push to break his old record but with the recent fires in the area I’d expected a changed route and we then found out it was a slightly longer route. With not knowing the course I was happy to just sit in behind Ben. To be honest I was just wondering how far I could follow Ben for.. ‘Make the first aid station’.. then ‘Make 10’.. It wasn’t like a flat race where you can watch pace, so at the start I switched my watch data fields so I couldn’t see time, all I could see was average pace, lap pace and distance. Average pace would give me a rough idea but without knowing the course ahead I couldn’t predict anything. For the whole race I never once looked at my time nor asked Ben how we were going against his previous times.  

Ascending Skytop (credit Stephanie Tenuto Nephew)

We climbed over skycap and enjoyed the views but as we approached 20 miles Ben was struggling with his stomach and didn’t seem as keen to push the pace. Still my view was 45 miles. Keep together if we could, just having someone to pace off, even the occasional words would help time pass but from miles 25 onwards I felt I was actually feeling better. Ben warned me there was a long 6 miles of climbing between miles 24 and 30 up to Castle point, which I doubted. How can they fit 6 miles of climbing? As we climbed past Awosting Falls, steeply but never steep enough to walk, the climb just went on and on, past the lake and then around and over point after point until we finally reached Castle Point. I was definitely feeling my hip flexors by now but Ben said he just felt empty. I did considering making a break around then but I had no real desire to run the last 20-25 miles in unless Ben’s pace really dropped. From there its actually almost all down hill so I was keen to get the pace down into the 7’s which we did and Ben just sat behind me as we started the long run to the finish. On the way back in we were passing the runners heading out so received support from many which helped keep us going. I don’t think either of us said much in return as we were both feeling pretty bashed as we approached the last 10 milers. The consistent running in this race really destroys your legs and I was thankful to have Ben alongside to help keep the pace solid.

I’ve seen Ben produce some impressive runs but this probably ranked as one of the most impressive runs I’ve seen from him, he just sat next to or behind me, from being empty at 25 miles he just kept on going. I was keen to keep the pace high but never red line and see where that took us as we approached 45 miles, with a good few miles of flat running where we managed to hold our pace in the mid 7’s. The sun was well up in the sky now but it was probably only mid 60’s so about ideal temperatures for a long run.

Descending with Ben (credit Stephanie Tenuto Nephew)

The climbs over the last section are all small, rarely that steep until the climb at 45 miles but we still kept on a run going and climbed well before we started the long final descent. I decided with probably no climbs to go I’d attack the last 3-4 miles back to the tower. The descents are smooth and gradual so holding mid- low 6 minute miles over the last section wasn’t too hard, a quick glance back revealed Ben was still hanging on which worried me I’d gone too soon, but I managed to keep the pace up and hoped I’d managed to open up a few minutes gap. There was one worrying section on a long grassy traverse that was quite out of place with the previous well maintained crushed dirt roads which had me worried I’d missed a turn but thankfully I spotted the barn Ben had pointed out on the way and it was just a final retracing on my steps. There is one sting in the tail, a short climb on the road but then a lovely run in down the tree lined grove to the tower. I finished in 6:12, Ben just two minutes back in 6:14. The last 3.5 miles I’d averaged under 6:30 minute miles which was pretty pleasing. Still a good chunk outside of Ben’s record of 5:56 but with the course being slightly longer a respectable enough first effort.

Finish line photo (credit RockhillHayes)

Overall a great final long training run for Cayuga Trails 50 and a bit of a confidence booster after not having a great run at Breakneck. Still work to do for the year ahead but the main thing was my body held up OK and I’m pretty running fit at the moment, but worry I will struggle on the steeper terrain at Cayuga. After two days off I was back running which is always a good sign that I’m finally getting some robustness back.

Gear wise I used the new Ultimate Direction Access 20 waist pack with its very accessible 20 oz water bottle and small pouch which meant I could carry the GU gels that I almost exclusively used, and on my feet I opted for the Hoka Clifton’s due to the hard packed nature of the course. These were perfect, I could feel the occasional stony section, but the cushioning seemed to protect the legs on the long descents.  

The course is very picturesque, very fast, undulating but still fast and it would be great to see it get a stronger field from runners. There are not many more scenic fast 50 milers. Thanks to Ben, Ken and Todd for the encouragement to enter and providing a great race and company. Next up is Cayuga Trails 50 miler, the USA Track and Field 50 mile trail championships. 

Strava link:

Monday, 4 April 2016

Winter Great Range Traverse - Adirondacks

Back in February I had attempted a solo Great Range Traverse in the Adirondacks, reversing the typical route and starting with Marcy. The GRT is one of the classic FKT's of the North East and does not get too many winter traverses. Details of the FKT are here. The lack of snow and frequent freeze/thaw cycles left the exposed rocks on the summits covered in thick ice so after a scary few hours I gave in and returned to the Garden Lot in Keene Valley determined for one more go. Reading various reports online I had worries about 3 or 4 of the more serious technical sections and a few of the ladders which can be covered in ice in winter. Since moving to the US this has been on my list of must dos. 

A few weeks later I got to spend some time with Jan Welford, an MPF/RNR teammate, at the Welts’s and Jan invited  us to stay with him and his family in Keene and get a big day out later in the winter. Jan lives in Keene NY, in the heart for the Adirondacks and is one of the most experienced mountain runners in the area, coming from a hiking and climbing background he's totally at home on the serious conditions high up in the ADK High Peaks. A few weeks later and I was back up in the Adirondacks with the Wellford’s. Jan was guiding Saturday so I went for a steady day out but the weather was glorious. Strong cold winds but almost no cloud, the first time I had experienced such conditions in the Adirondacks. The first day I just didn’t want to come off the hill so ended up with a fairly big day going over Wright, Algonquin, Boundary and out to Iroquois and after descending to the Interior Post just couldn’t resist going up to Mount Colden for one more summit, making it a 16 mile with 6000ft of ascent day.

With the forecast suggesting Sunday would be even better with light winds Jan suggested a GRT; a tough 24 mile day with just under 10k of ascent. With little snow and unseasonably warm temperatures we set off very light weight and decided we’d just play it by ear and see how things went. Soon after leaving the car we realized we didn’t even have torches so were pretty much limited to day light hours. We climbed steadily summiting Rooster Comb and then Hedgehog before starting the Wolf Jaws. There was little snow up to around 3000ft but the ice was pretty thick and exposed making it pretty treacherous in places. We were both wearing our waterproof Merrell All Out Terra Ice which allowed us to climb to almost 3000ft without microspikes due to their tungsten tipped studs. Climbing over the Wolf Jaws we hit a few ice covered ledges which were tough to climb. Jan seemed to skip up but I was pretty scared and was dragging myself through trees to try to get up, a fall would have certainly had nasty consequences. Early on I was not at all confident we’d get the route finished as I’d heard the Gothics and Saddleback had exposed steep rock which I worried would be ice covered. The line we took generally runs from the North East to the South West so the faces we were ascending were generally more ice-ridden and ice covered than the faces we were descending, which hopefully meant those harder sections would be snow and ice free.

Pic above: Jan Climbing the final ridge of Gothics

We still moved steadily through and took few breaks, Jan was chatting away and I was just grunting replies already struggling from the day before hoping to finally get some legs later in the day. After the Wolf Jaws we were soon climbing Armstrong and hit the Armstrong Ladder, another section I’d read about on line. That was fairly free of ice apart from the last few rungs which required an unsecured step on to steep ice at the top. Jan confidently made the step but again I bottled it and swung out to a tree to gain that step. The summits were glorious, dream conditions and as we climbed the Gothics the summit ridge was just glorious, its hard to describe how perfect conditions were. We were each in single layer tops and it was comfortable to stand and enjoy the view at over 4000ft in the middle of March.

Pic above: Jan enjoying the view

Next came the major section that was giving me the heebie jeebies all day leading up to them – the Gothic Slabs. Luckily the slabs were all but ice free and the cables were replaced quite recently and pretty reliable leading to a stress free descent – Well for Jan, I was being the road running city boy and using the cables as he walked down nonchalantly. The rock was so bare we removed our microspikes for a section as we descended the exposed slabs. We weren’t too quick up to this point so we started to doubt if we had the day light so we set a target time to be on the summit of Marcy to make sure we could get off in day light. Although Marcy is the last the peak and you only have a final descent, it’s a good 8-9 miles off so can take a good 2 hours, if not more on tired legs. You can drop off before Marcy saving a good chunk at the end of the day, meaning you miss out on a pretty mundane section of the ridge, except for the views of Marcy, but also meaning you haven’t completed the GRT. Jan has completed this route numerous times but for me I was pretty keen to get the full ridge completed and I was finally starting to feel stronger as the day progressed.

Pic above: Descending the Gothics Slabs

Soon after the Gothics slabs we were ascending what was for me the last big obstacle, bar a few ledges on Basin, the south west rock face of Saddleback. For me this was the last big obstacle, I was pretty sure Haystack would be largely free of Snow and Ice and Marcy is technically pretty easy. But reading online comments the rock face on the SW face of Saddleback has a fearsome reputation and again I feared ice would cover vital holds. It was so ice free that yet again we removed our microspikes and descended easily.

Next was Basin which I knew had some serious ledges on but I thought they would go as did previous ledges and they did. At at each hard ice section there was always a handy exposed root or tree to grab onto and soon enough we had descended the last steep section and started the long section out to Haystack.

Pic above: Descending Saddleback

Pic above: Descending Saddleback

By now we’d certainly broken the back of the day. After Basin it is a pretty long descent to a col where we got water before a long climb out to Haystack. The last two peaks have a fair gap between but its mainly just trails apart from the exposed summit rocks of Haystack, which apart from a short step on Little Haystack is pretty untechnical. We moved well through this section, being in pretty good spirits that the full route would be completed and we chatting away about various FKT’s and races etc. The summit of Haystack provides a great panorama of the Western High Peaks so we stood there for a while soaking in the views before trotting off.

Pic above: Looking across to Marcy, our final peak, from Haystack, our penultimate peak

Pic above: Looking back along the GRT from Haystack Summit

Pic above: Jan on Haystack Summit

Despite only having 1 peak to go we actually had almost half the distance to go, but with only 1500 ft of climbing. We descended off Haystack and had one last steep tricky descent down to the junction with the Phelps Trail before the long climb to Marcy. This isn’t too steep so we soon emerged from the trees to see Marcy and were on the summit long before our self imposed deadline. Again we had a sit down and just enjoyed the views. It was pretty late in the afternoon but again it was not too cold, almost no wind at all with stunning views over all the ADK’s, with the full view of the days traverse laid out behind us.

Pic above: The final slopes of Marcy

With just the final descent to go and plenty of daylight we ran down pretty quick. The only potential issue was Jan’s microspike snapping just on the summit rocks of Marcy, but wearing our studded shoes fortunately made that a non-issue – but we discussed the benefits of carrying a spare microspike on future runs for such occasions.  In the soft snow we  comfortably descended what would be a technical descent in the summer and were soon down at the JBL, the last 5 k from there to the Garden Lot is always pretty tedious and despite my rapidly tiring hip flexors we made it out comfortably enough, finishing in about 8:40, a solid time for a winter traverse. Conditions were pretty good but the exposed ice sections higher up made some sections much slower than in summer conditions so care had to be taken. The final descent taking about 1:45, which is a solid time even in summer conditions.

Pic above: Enjoying our final summit

What a great day to complete a winter GRT. Without Jan for moral support I’d have definitely bottled out of a few sections but the day passed quickly as we chatted away about our families and various mountain experiences. It was great to get a few spend a few days with Jan, his wife, Megan, and Finn and Tilly. Thanks for the guiding and hospitality - Jan knows the route like the back of his hand and removed any route finding difficulties. With a 4 month old daughter it’s a great peek into the future when you get to spend time with a family with kids a few years older.. it wasn’t too terrifying :-).  And thanks to my wife for being tolerant of my frequent weekend’s away in the mountains, now that we have a little person in our lives.

Thanks to MPF/RNR for putting the team together and making it so easy to get together with like minded people for great mountain experiences. Thanks to Merrell for the All Out Terra Ice, the ideal shoe for long winter days out with mixed rock and Ice conditions and Ultimate Direction for the PB Adventure Vest. Slightly larger than a  race pack it allowed me to carry enough water food, microspikes and extra clothing to have a comfortable day out, being compact enough to allow me to easily climb steep terrain and struggle between trees and branches.

Just a superb day which will live long in the memory. It’s a stunning action packed route with many fairly serious technical sections which in the wrong conditions will provide a really serious challenge with very serious consequences should things go wrong, but it’s a superb logical traverse and I can’t wait for a summer attempt.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

IAU World Champs 2015 - Annecy Maxi Race

 This was a late inclusion in the calendar.

Obviously I was disappointed with my run but it was fantastic. The team always bond and I just loved my time with them. I discuss a few issues I have with the race and issues around it in this blog post bit don't let it detract from how much I loved my time in this race and with my team mates and management. Tom, Kim, Lee, Paul, Paul were just class to be around and it was great fun. I think some imagine more egos but it has always been super relaxed and just a good laugh. Add to those guys and Tracy, Bonnie, Lizzie, Sally and Sarah and it was great. Our management team just could not be flustered; they ooze confidence but also that they care about the person, not just the team. Their treatment of Lee back in 2013 when he was injured, and his rewarding their treatment now was a great testament to how we are treated as people. 

Following the withdrawal of a teammate I was promoted from ‘Non-Traveling Reserve’ into the full squad for the Great Britain and Northern Ireland ultra-distance trail running team. I’d represented GB & NI back in 2013 in this same competition where I finished 4th, helping the team to the Gold medal on a controversial 5 lap 48 mile course with 2400m of ascent. This time around the course was 53 miles and 5300m of ascent over much more technical terrain surrounding Lake Annecy in the French Alps. This time with the race getting enhanced status and the iconic Maxi-Race route the field was far stronger with around 40 countries represented.

Following my call up I had basically 6 weeks to get mountain fit. Every weekend from then I’d been away in the mountains and had averaged a good 10,000 feet of ascent a week so felt I could handle the climbing. I had hoped to make the GB team outright but to be honest could understand not making the 1st VI, I also felt I’d had the rub of the green making the team in 2013, but the UK ultra scene is now incredibly competitive. Add to that my base in the US and my lack of top class racing in Alpine settings and I couldn’t really find fault with the selections especially with the class of runner selected, and who also missed out.

The course was spectacular; I went out the week before and checked out a good 80% of the course. It didn’t suit me, I knew that, despite my 4th place in 2013, I’ve never excelled at ultra-distance mountain trail running. Even my top 50 UTMB finish of 2009 was really just a solid run than anything special. The races I do well at are quicker undulating technical trails with spells of fast running like in Wales, and at the JFK. An Irunfar preview described my 4th place of 2013 as an ‘outlier’ but I think my 4th place and sub 6-hour at JFK (at the time that performance put me on the top 20 all time performers at the US’s oldest 50 mile race) demonstrated that it’s those races I can do well at. However I was hoping to put that right at Annecy and perform well in an Alpine setting.

Training went OK, I had the ascent in but was feeling too beaten up cramming the ascent into the weekend’s or multiple reps of Mts Misery and Joy at Valley Forge. Those runs crammed 2500-3000 feet of ascent and descent in 12-14 miles of hill reps but lacked the long quad pounding descents needed for conditioning. Had I been called up earlier I’d have planned more races in preparation and invested more in weekend visits to the Southern snow-free areas. Whilst snow-shoeing in the NE provided me with the ascent I didn’t feel ‘Fell-fit’ as Asquith put it in ‘Feet in the clouds’.

Anyway after a few days rest I met up with the team on the Thursday before the race and as usual with the GB set up everything was spot on. We have a hugely experienced management team in Elenor, Adrian and Walter. These guys just exude calmness, are well organized and go out of the way to remove any stress from the runners. Thursday night we had the opening ceremony and it was a tad chaotic, prolonged and the food not great.. that worried me.

A late change had seen the GB team amongst others (notably not the French) moved further away from Annecy meaning a longer bus journey in for the 3:30 am start on Saturday morning. Friday was pretty relaxing, we sorted out kit, ate and went to bed early. I was sharing with Paul Giblin, with Tom Owens, Kim Collinson, Paul Raithstick and Lee Kemp also in the team. Most of us knew each other so from the off it was just a great laugh.

My concerns proved true on the race morning.. the 2:15 am bus was now, according to the driver, a 2:30 am bus, which eventually left at 2:45 am… after getting to the race and watching the French Athletes warm up we then do a U-turn further on and disembark the coach gone 3:05 am.. less than 25 minutes to get to the actual start, sort our bags out, warm up, stretch etc… it was a shambles. Add to that I could see every shitting gear advert or store in the trail running world but not a toilet. We had 4!! Portaloos for 300 runners. The next race starting at 5:00 am had almost 2000 runners. That is simply appalling and money pinching.

So after not getting my required 3 pre-race number 2’s in, I knew I was in trouble. Sprinting back to the start line at 3:28 and I’m also without water as I forgot to fill up my bottle in the rush and I’ve also done no stretching. With recurrent core/groin/hip issues I know I need a good 1 hour at the start area running, drills and stretches…  then all the toilet and organizing..

The weather had been good all week, bar a Monday storm, but we had unforecasted rain Friday night resulting in wet slippy limestone and muddy trails.

We set off bang on 3:30 am and went off down the road, I really put in a burst to get towards the front and ran hard through the town, up the first hill and then when the race went straight I jumped right into a campsite to fill up water. I knew we had a hard 10-11 miles of ascending before the first water stop so could not risk carrying on. I quickly rejoined and was in an OK position and climbed but didn’t feel great. The race route climbs fairly steeply until about 850 m and then climbs in steps over the next 10 k or so with plenty of technical flatter sections. Early on maybe I slipped on a white piece of limestone, a route or mud I didn’t go down but straight away my groin tightened and from that moment things just got worse. One by one my muscles just ached in that whole right hip region. Climbing I was Ok, but I just couldn’t open my stride on the descents. I hit the summit of Semnoz, the highest point on the course at over 1600m elevation, just ahead of Paul R but he soon passed and sped away on the descent. 10’s of people seemed to pass on the upper ascent and descent on Semnoz.

I tried not to panic and slowly pushed on, now joined by Barry an Irish runner and soon Cassie from the US team. Cassie and I climbed well through the surprisingly muddy trails, it must have really rained up this end of the lake, and I stated to feel better so pushed on but again couldn’t descend as we dropped down to Doussard at the half way point on the course. Even on the final few k’s on the road into Doussard I just was not running freely and was constantly dropping places.

The course had three aid stations and in 85 km’s of tough running this puts a lot of importance on each aid station. The first was at the summit of Semnoz after 11 miles, the 2nd at Doussard after 27 miles and the 3rd at Menthon St Bernard after 45 miles. This meant the next aid station was crucial. With calm crew assisting at aid station there was no rushing through so I grabbed my poles, had some smoothie and filled up supplies and set off. The next leg was the toughest. It had a gradual climb up to Col Du Forclaz then a long gradual climb up anther col, before a stunning section up the highest point on this side of the leg at ???, up here I was passing many and feeling better but on the descent I again lost a few places but this time at a less rapid rate. Using the Poles on the ascent I had a nice rhythm and moved through the field well. 

At the final aid station I quickly grabbed one last smoothie and took off past a stunning chateaux and climbed upwards Col du Bluffy to begin the last leg over Mt Veyrier. Here I saw Yassine up ahead who runs for the US. I soon caught him and it turned out he was with Henrik and the three of us had been chatting at the opening ceremony so we had a good few miles together before I pushed on when we entered the forest. The temperatures really climbed later in the day but in the trees it was at least manageable and every time I caught someone, another person enticingly appeared ahead so pushed me on. With just one final descent and with most on very tired legs this was the only descent where I actually held my position and gained a few places. I hit the road just outside of Annecy and swore when I swore the 1km to go sign, I was hoping to nick under the 10:30 time but with this to go I had little chance but seeing a runner ahead gave me a kick, then in the distance one more and he seemed finished so I quickly caught him and finished in 10:30:19. My aim before the race was sub 10, sub 10:30 as the B time. I’d love to go back again, without the groin issue I’m sure sub 10 is feasible, add in the wet muddy trails and heat and a quicker time is certainly plausible.

I was disappointed somewhat in my time but do think with a longer build up I could have been more competitive. In the 6 weeks I’d managed to get strong enough to climb well but just did not have the descending skills nor did I feel ‘fell fit’; when you are ‘fell-fit’ your body can tolerate slips, falls and tiredness, little injuries don’t happen like they did to me here. Maybe for this I actually got my training wrong, I came into it with a strong aerobic base from the Boston marathon training but I think the consecutive weekends of 20-45 mile hilly training runs probably hurt me more than I admitted at the time, such long weekend runs also impacted on my midweek training. I was certainly strong on the ascents and felt I could have kept going but I was too poor descending, especially with the injury and need to race more in future. I’m not going to comment on my personal issues with the late call up. butI broke my golden rule of never running long 16+ trail runs on consecutive weekends and felt too beaten up. I got it wrong, my training was wrong and I need to work on that but, again, late call up, you take risks. I showed in 2013 at the IAU and JFK50 that give me 3-4 months and I can compete… give me 6 weeks and it will be hit and miss.

I’m not going to comment on my personal issues with the late call up. I Well I wasn’t until others had their say, I think it was forgotten that although I was given a great opportunity through an athletes withdrawal, it need not have been so late, I need not have spent so many $100’s on other races. Needless to say I totally disagree with the Solomon stance and their issues with this World Championships being about trail running unity and a single start… it was, I believe, about them wanting their runners to represent their brand at a world championship and not their runners’ countries. They basically wanted to insert a Barcelona into the Soccer World Cup depriving nations of their best runners, then claim to be the trail Running World Champions. The toilet issue was bad enough, add in another 2000 runners and it would have been chaos at the start and subsequent feeding stations.  Regardless of their issues this is one race every two years, keep some perspective, not some huge threat to what we know as trail running. This is a race between runners and their countries, not brands. 99% of trail races are Solomon against some other brand; is one race every two years not being brand centered really the end of the world? If anyone is threatening trail running as we know it, it is those who have somehow caused lapped and out and back trail races to not technically be trail running according to the ITRA (International Trail Running Association), just because such races are not needed in France. Without such races, trail running doesn’t exist for thousands of US runners. Iconic races like IceAge50, TNF 50 San Fran and the new classic of Cayuga Trails 50 are now no longer trail races according to these organisations! So remind me again who is threatening the sport and unity of trail running again?

Regarding all this bullshit about the lapped Welsh race and out and backs? What was the Irish race in 2011? Where were the French complaints then when they were world champs....

Anyway, back to GB & NI success if we add Ricky Lightfoot and Andrew Symonds to this team can be at the forefront for a good few years yet and there are more in the wings to get involved, guys like Paul Navesy, Adam Perry to name a few.. . I’d urge any runners who want to be involved to search for competition, not race wins, not top 3’s, go and search the strongest fields, race in the alps, target the biggest races, be prepared to have your arse handed to you. I still think the UK lacks a true championship race or like TNF 50 SF, provide that top quality race and field in one well advertised official championship race. Before the race I thought we honestly stood little chance of a podium as I expected the Alpine countries to absolutely dominate, those who could train and race in this terrain on a weekly basis. Huge credit must also go to the USA men’s team. Too often USA runners have failed to show their true talent abroad due to a myriad of factors including injury, flights, tiredness, terrain etc (obviously with a few notable exceptions: Sage, Alex and Krissy to name a few), so personally I was pleased to see them excel at this level. I know some have doubted the ability of US runners and have seen it was excessive media hype and this answered those questions and no doubt more US success will come.

Lastly Talk Ultra listed this as a weak field "But the recent Transvulcania Ultramarathon, particularly in the men’s race had a far greater quality of field than what will be assembled in Annecy".. that just was not true. This was one of the strongest 80-100km fields you will see so lets build on this. Look at the times from the winner in the top 20/top 40 in both races.. which is stronger...

The IAU hold the future as one sport.. 

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Appalachian Trail Four State Challenge FK

Total Distance: 43 miles
Total Ascent:  7000 feet
Total Time: 7:29:51
Average Pace: 10:28 minute miles

My wife loves a romantic weekend away so when I offered her the chance to spend the night camping on the banks of the Potomac River, roasting marshmallows on an open fire she jumped at it, I then introduced the: ‘well you have to wait for me here, here and here’ concept…

This was to be my first attempt at an Fastest Known Time (FKT) after moving to the US last year. In the North East racing in the main mountainous areas and National Parks is fraught with conservation and erosion issues compared to other areas and so FKT’s have arisen in place of races in many areas. I was pleasantly suprised how keyed in I was in the morning and was basically treating in like a race, even being quite nervous on the drive out because I wanted to set a solid time and get a good hard training run in for the World Trail Running Championships later this month in Annecy, France.

We left South Jersey shortly after 6 am and drove out to Pen Mar Country Park, luckily getting there just as the caretaker opening up the facilities. The forecast was good, almost too good; with temperatures pushing towards 80F by the afternoon.

At the car park I quickly found the AT (Appalachian Trail), used the rest room, and then walked out past the rail tracks to the first state boundary at the Mason Dixon Line, marking the PA/MD state boundary.

After a quick photo I set off, passed the rail tracks and steadily plodded along a good trail feeling pretty happy. I was actually really looking forwards to just a long day on the trail. The first few miles were fairly quick then there was a fairly rough boulder climb but the route from there to the first road crossing at Foxville road was pretty nice and I arrived there already 10 minutes up on the previous FKT schedule. The early miles were all pretty steady but already I was sweating heavily and after approaching the 10 mile point on the second major climb I started to get concerned about water. Again the trail improved and I was back steadily running at 8-9-10 minute miles and was soon at Pogo’s Memorial Campsite. Here I grabbed some water but then realized I was at a campground so poured it away and refilled from a stream a few hundred yards away but again questioned its quality so thought that may mean I’d have to reach the 21-22 mile re-supply point with just the 1 liter of water I was carrying in my Ultimate Direction running vest.. Thankfully at the I-70 crossing I hit a support station for the ‘Hike Across America’ (HAM) challenge hike and after much confusion that I wasn’t showing my number they allowed me to fill up.

The profile does not show that there is actually a fairly steep climb up to Washington Monument but that went quick enough and soon enough I could see Gwen parked in Washington Monument State Park and grabbed food and re-supplies.

This was almost the half way point and I was already 40 minutes up on the previous FKT and knew they slowed a lot over the second half so was pretty confident I’d get close to the 7:30 I was aiming at. During the first half I ate 1 gel, 2 bananas, 2 kind bars and a block of cliff shots and at the car I had a smoothie, 2 sandwiches and drunk some coke. 

The plan was now to meet Gwen somewhere in Harpers Ferry in another 20 miles. This gave me a good chance to get used to running for 3+ hours unsupported which I may have to do at Annecy as re-supply points are much less frequent than at other ultra’s.

Setting off again I felt good but Gwen came sprinting after me with her GPS watch as I was concerned mine would run flat so we had planned that I would take hers from half way. The next stage went through to turners gap and then joined the JFK section of the trail through to Weaverton and then down to Harpers Ferry.  Having ran JFK I was therefore confident I’d take a chunk of time ove the next few miles but what I didn’t realize was the JFK route takes minor roads to avoid the roughest climbs on the AT section here. Although the climbs are only 800 feet at a time the trail is exceptionally rough here and very slow going. Pushing 26 miles in and it now getting to the hottest part of the day I was really chugging through the water.

But soon enough the trail improved and I was back making good time as I descended down to Crampton Gap and again was offered water supply by the HAM group, but again they couldn’t seem to grasp that I was just someone out for a run and not part of their challenge hike.

Mentally I’d broken the run into sections, run the first 21 miles to Gwen, then to the 31 mile point at the Gap, then to 37 mile point after Weaverton, then to mile 40 in Harpers Ferry then the last section up to Loudoun Heights. Getting to the Gap and feeling good on the penultimate climb of the day I felt I’d broken the back of the challenge now and made good time to the long descent from the top of Weaverton cliffs and down to the rail crossing.

From here it’s a quick flat 2-3 miles to the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers, over the Godwin Byron Memorial footbridge and into Harpers Ferry where the fun began.

The HAM group called me their way so I went over and they just could not understand that I was not in their challenge, so eventually they pointed me on my way but not on the AT, a cut through to save time, so realizing that I then backtracked into the center of Harpers Ferry and picked up the trail along the cliffs to wards the next bridge where I met Gwen on the trail again.

With just 2-3 miles to go I grabbed some Gatorade, water and a few bars and set off for the final climb but was delayed by being chased by 2 big pit bull/boxer things that were off the lead and chasing me. Obviously just being playful but I was running towards a major road and had to double back to return these dogs and gave the owner a few words about having his dogs under control. I don’t mind dogs but those who aren’t so keen would not have been happy with 2 big dogs chasing them and nipping at them, playful or not.

The final 800 foot climb is short, a tad rough and I broke into a walk in places but soon touched the border post after 7:29:51 of being on the go.  There is a fair bit of debate about where the challenge actually ends. The previous FKT stopped at the signpost at the top of the climb with a sharpie ‘WV/VA’ border sign marked on. Others say it continues another kilometer to the remains of an old post where you can see down left into Virginia proper. After finishing I continued on to see if I could find that point and went up the next day to check. On hiking up the next day we found a National Park Warden erecting a ‘Virginia/West Virginia State Line’ sign on to the post which I originally stopped the watch on so that makes a nice obvious finish location to this FKT. So for now I think that is where the FKT should officially end.

I think sub 7 is possible on knowing the route and better conditions. The AT is fairly well sign posted but before and through Harpers Ferry the sign posts get infrequent and especially in Harpers Ferry itself it is easy to go astray. I think 7:30 is a nice solid time and hopefully it encourages a few more to try to better this time and create more of an FKT scene in the mid-Atlantic States more similar to those in the Catskills, Adirondacks and North East where many FKT’s have now been established.

My watch made it 41.4 miles but all the way through I was coming up short on my GPS mileage against posted mileage in various guidebooks so I think the challenge is nearer 43 miles.

Kit worn:
Ultimate Direction Scott Jurek Vest with 2 x 500ml water bottles
Scott T2 Kinabalu trail shoes

Food eaten:
5 bananas
1 peach
1 strawberry and banana 500ml smoothy
750ml coke
3 x 500 ml Gatorade
2 x ham and cheese sandwiches
2 x GU gels
3 x Kind bars
1 set of cliff Shots

Four state Challenge information page:

At the PA/MD border and Mason Dixon Line marking the start of the challenge

At the final border post marking the border between VA and WV

The old border sign marked by a sharpie now replaced with an official sign.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Breakneck Marathon

The target all winter was Boston, so 90-100 mile weeks  and key sessions and bi-weekly long runs with one week per week 15-20 miles. All went well-ish.

Come Late March I was feeling OK and starting to knock out longer runs at a decent pace but the winter was harsh. Even in the Mid-Atlantic States we had a bad winter, not lots of snow, just bad sequences. Snow, thaw, freeze; or freezing rain.

Randomly I was asked to join a new trail running team Mountain Peak Fitness (MPF)/ Red Newt Racing (RNR). I knew of RNR through Ian Golden who had organized the USAT&F 50 mile trail champs last year but had only heard of MPF via Ben Nephew’s various race/FKT reports.

Whilst still focused on Boston I was suddenly incorporated into a world of weekends away, snow-shoeing, mountain races and other distractions…

Cut to early April and I’m teaching in a school and hid behind desks in a lock down with some kid pissing in a bottle in the corner… $80 a day to deal with that shit, suddenly I get an email that I’m in the GB team for the world trail champs (55 mile 16,000ft ascent) in 7 weeks.  So whilst getting the kids to just sit whilst police charge around corridors I’m planning..

The first thing is Boston is out, Breakneck is in. I email Ian and within minutes Ian offers me a spot.

Next the kid passes me the piss filled bottle.. I’m sure Beckham and Rooney had similar issues when called up for cap No. 2….

I felt I was fit but Breakneck would be a step up from anything I’d experienced recently. Advertised as Breakneck Marathon it was actually going to be the best part of 50k with 10,000 feet of climbing on technical trails. I looked at the entry list and it looked like it would be a hard day with fellow MPF/RNR teammates Ben Nephew, Ryan Welts, Carlo Agostinetto and also Dennis Mikhaylove.

By chance I was in Boston the week before the race so caught up wit Ben for a 3 hour run, which turned into a 2:45 run with a strong finish and Ben seemed strong. As a multiple time US international, winner of many big races and holder of many FKT’s I knew he’d be the main competition but having hiked with Ryan in the whites he seemed as strong as an oxe on the hills and I thought the steep ascents and descents of Breakneck would suit him, then there was Carlo who I didn’t really know but he’d just ran a 1:13 half so I knew he was in good shape. I’d never met Dennis but he’d just attempted a 12-hour world record on a treadmill and has a strong reputation but also a reputation for going out hard.

Gwen and I drove up the night before and camped at the race start which meant the pre-race was pretty much stress free. Ian Golden is an experienced RD and everything was going smoothly. We started at 7 am and the pace was steady as we climbed the initial slopes. I’d had a cold 3 weeks ago and although I feel fine I’m still hacking up and early on I felt terrible and my breathing was labored. I sat in with Ben and then a guy Mike pushed on ahead and soon Dennis, Carlo and Ryan were behind me. I backed off and relaxed and tried to let the early miles pass. I was reluctant to get involved at the front so early on and was hoping a few would duel it out and take their legs out but it all seemed pretty sensible. Mike dropped away after one of the descents and the five of us all seemed in good shape… a Russian, a Brit, an Italian (an actual proper one… and to be fair he looks the part) and 2 American’s battling it out..

With the winter being like it has I don’t think anyone knew quite how fit they were; Ryan had spent all winter snow-shoeing, Ben had been trying to survive the Boston snows and Carlo and I had been on the roads. My aim was just to save the legs, keep it easy and have a steady solid effort. Normally I’d have been more confident putting in a hard push to try and break the group but after so little time in the hills I was just trying to save the legs and stay with them as long as I could. My worry was my core/hip flexors, running on the roads you just don’t work your core like you do in the mountains so I had concerns about how I would hold up after 3+ hours of racing.

The first 10k was pretty uneventful and we hit the first aid station around 6-5 miles in as one group and climbed Breakneck. This is a steep scrambling climb with great views down the Hudson. I got chatting to Ryan here, and the pace was pretty steady which suited me as it was the steep walking climbs that are alien to me where I live now. At the summit as we started to descend Ian Golden met us to get some feed back on the route. It really is a stunning route, easily the most scenic interesting race I have done in the US so far. The descent was finally fast running and we started to pick up the pace and I just stuck behind Ryan and Ben as Dennis strode on just ahead. At the base we started a long climb and whilst not aiming to push I opened up a bit of a lead as we climbed and felt great so I was getting confident this was going to be a good race. The sun was now starting to get up and I generally cope OK in heat so I was pretty happy.

As we descended to the next food station Dennis and Ryan got back at me and Ben and Carlo were still close. The race was going well, on gradual climbs I was coping well, on the steep ascents and descents I was at least holding my own so pushing 20k in all was good.

Soon enough we all hit the 25k point back at the start and grabbed food. Carlo and Dennis set off quick, Ryan and Ben now seemed to be struggling and I took while to get sorted but felt increasingly confident of having a good day. As I climbed back out I caught Ben pretty quick and passed him and he didn’t seem too good, soon enough Dennis was next and then finally I caught Carlo and moved into the lead as we scrambled steeply up Beacon. Pushing 20 miles in I slowly seemed to open up a lead but on this 7+ mile section of no aid stations I’d finished my 500mls of water before the top of the scramble and soon enough I was starting to struggle. I kept glancing back and Carlo was close so I kept it steady and soon enough seemed to be truly on my own and I felt like I may have the race sown up. It was a false dawn almost 4 hours in and I hear foot steps and to be honest I was surprised it was Ben, and more surprised that he looked good.

For a good 90 minutes we were never more than 10m apart. I thought Ben may shoot past as we kept descending but he seemed happy just sat behind me which I was thankful for, as I wasn’t sure I had much of a response in me if he wanted to up the pace, and as I was desperate for water I kept the pace steadily hard but the aid station never came, we’d descend, climb, descend, climb.. finally we saw Joe Azze and Scottie from MPF/RNR taking pictures and they said the aid station was close.

We both spent a few minutes here pouring fluids in and Ian gave us some ice to try to cool down with. Having ran a solid pace I was pretty confident it was just a two way battle from now on in but within a few hundred meters there’s Carlo and barely 100m back there is Ryan and both look good. At most we had a 5 minute gap with a good 5 hilly miles to go and with our bodies starting to cramp all could yet change. As we climbed Beacon again Ben seemed stronger and was able to run where I could walk and seemed to pull away but suddenly he slowed and I was able to get back to him. The trails now improved and the running was better, which meant a quicker pace. Already I was out of water again but tried unsuccessfully to open up a gap on Ben. I wasn’t sure how much to push as I didn’t know if we had another climb or how this race finished so just kept it comfortably hard and try to keep in touch with Ben. As we hit the summit I took a wrong line and Ben called me back but got back in the lead. We now descended the steep scramble down Beacon passing runners who were coming up it. I was trying to hold on to Ben but had constant twinges of cramp. I was trying to keep close to Ben, so close I was almost jumping on to his hands as we bounded down Beacon. As the terrain got more runnable Ben started to up the pace and I sat in behind.

We were now well under 2 miles to go of mainly good running with a few minor climbs so could start to push. I was trying to just sit behind Ben as I was still feeling the cramps but also, despite the fairly runnable terrain we were running on loose rocks covered in leaves and I was trying to remind myself this was a training race and the aim was just a hard run and shouldn’t risk injury.

The pace remained fairly hard but not uncomfortable as we made the final curve and left the woods, we were now in the final mile and the surface improved and with it Ben picked up the pace. We both struggled up two minor hills, Ben was hurting but so was I, I kept trying to draw level but he seemed to always find another yard. As we left the jeep track for the last time Ben made it clear that he meant business.. the Bumbag was cast into the trees and he again picked up the pace. We were now inside the last 0.2 miles and in an all out spring after 5 plus hours of hard running, leaping fallen branches, Ben was shouting out to a 25k runner to stand aside, thankfully he finally heard and stepped clear as we bounded by and I tried one last kick and felt I may have a yard but Ben went again and as we descended the grassy slopes I knew he had me and he finished 2 seconds ahead in 5:12:22. Footage here:

It was a bitter sweet feeling at the end. My aim had been achieved, I’d had a steady hard run and felt good. I’d not suffered as much as I thought I would. Could I have pushed more early on? Possibly, but I think we were all in a similar spot with not knowing quite how ready we were for such a hard race. I can’t think of many races that I have found so enjoyable and I’d enjoyed the competition with Ben, Carlo, Ryan and Dennis. The rest of the day was spent hanging around the finish area with new teammates and getting to know more people.

It was a good day for the new team, with Ben, myself, Carlo and Ryan filling the top 4 spots with less than 15 minutes between us. And Ryan’s wife Kristina taking the women’s win. It was quite surprising that despite our vastly different training over the winter we were all so close on the day. Carlo is pretty new to trail running and will certainly be one to watch in the future..

A few days on and I’m pretty happy. The next day I felt fine so had a 4 hour hike to see some of the route at an enjoyable pace and then had a light run, Monday was less good but slowly I’m back to decent mileage so feel I recovered well which is a sign I’m in decent shape with the Worlds now 6 weeks off.

I’m really looking forwards to a good summer racing and getting to know the team more.

Thanks to Ian Golden, Joe and Elizabeth Azze for putting together the team, its a great mix of experience, abilities and personalities and we all seem to naturally hit it off; and Ian and all those involved with the race. This was the inaugural year, it's a great course and will be is a classic addition showcasing what the area has to offer.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

TNF San Fran Marathon

I’d been looking for a season finale and had picked out TNF50 as a good option. The TNF50 out in San Francisco is probably the highest quality field in US ultra running, normally stacked 20-30 deep in quality runners.

After Chicago Marathon I had a few easy weeks and built back but issues that arose before continued. During the fall season I’d been coaching XC over in Pennsylvania, supply teaching around South Jersey and lecturing at Rowan University so I’d been spending 2-3 hours per day sat in a car, which for me means Piriformis/psoas issues.. Even during Chicago I could feel the usual nerval pains and since then it had got worse with pretty severe groin and stomach pains whenever I picked the pace up. I’d raced Philly half two weeks prior to the 50 miler as a final test and ran an uncomfortable painful 1:17 when I’m sure I’m comfortably sub 1:1 5 at least (my PR is 1:13:36), during that run whenever I tried to pick it up my core just felt inflamed. As I was to fly into SFO the night before the race, 6 hour non-stop flight across the US, 2-3 hours sleep, then race a 50 miler, I knew I was risking further issues so then emailed the RO’s asking to switch to the 50k.. I’m almost back fit but I know after long periods sitting I need proper recovery and stretching, mobilization work to not get further issues at the moment; so the 50 miler wasn’t going to happen; it’s just too big a race to pull off like that.

Through seeing a local physio and lots of psoas/hip flexor/hip adductor stretches I actually trained well in the final 10 days and ran 7.5 miles on the Wednesday before at 6:20 min mile pace and felt comfortable so knew I was coming back to fitness.

However storms had hit San Francisco over the past week and as we arrived at Philly airport we were told the flight was already delayed. I went to chat to the airline and asked what chance did the flight have of leaving on their new predicted time and explained why I needed to know ‘Zero chance”, we aren’t expected to take off until 9:15pm.. This meant a 3-hour delay and us landing in SFO after midnight needing a good hour to get to our accommodation. So I emailed TNF50 organisers and asked could I drop further and just run the marathon because that started at 9 am allowing a 4-5 hour sleep after the flight before getting the shuttle over to the Marin Headlands.

Gwen had seen an IHOP nearby so at 6:30 am, probably due to the jet lag, and pretty awake we headed for pancakes before I got the 7 am bus out to the starting zone. At 3 am I was woken by a group of girls coming back to the hotel who had enjoyed a night of some sort of chemical stimulation and wanted to shout about it… at that moment my back was sore, my groin ached I thought no chance but strangely at 6 am I felt pretty good but also knew I couldn’t come all this way and not run in such stunning terrain. I knew I could get through a marathon regardless as I’d done lots of 13-17 mile runs over the past 2-3 weeks.

We headed out over the Golden Gate Bridge and the cloud was already set in but it was now pretty light and slowly made our way deep into the Marin Headlands until we came out the other side at a scene which resembled the Highlands, but with the pacific Ocean looming in the background. The start area had fires going and was pretty easy to get around with few toilet issues.
At any unfamiliar race I always want to know the start/finish situation.. get that first mile done no issue.. come back in knowing the set up.. when do you need to kick? Any stings in the tail? Best line in? So I walked, jogged and did strides for first k or so out when I could view the first but of the course. Coming back I felt good and knowing the marathon here would lack much depth actually felt pretty confident of getting a win.

At the Start line Dean Karnazes gave a few words but I was off stretching and basically just stood as close to the actual start line as I could and was looking at who would be threats, you always get a bit intimidated but I’ve learnt never judge a book by it’s cover when you get there and you see so many skinny fit looking runners... during the handshake I tried to get some info on who every one… size people up.. I’m  pretty confident by now that I’m not getting the win. Soon we all moved to the start line and we set off bang on 9 am. I surged to the front and a guy joined me, then another guy popped in. I think maybe I opened up dialogue first, just who knew where they were going? Where they were from… it turned out we had a Brit, an American and two French guys at the front early on.. the pace early on was really comfortable.. may be low 6’s on slight down hill road, so I slowly squeezed the pace and we moved on to trails and went through mile 1 at 5:50.. with a trail marathon I always think just run on effort you would for a road marathon, but work harder on the hills and try to conserve energy on descents.

My main threat I guessed was the French guy.. they run in the mountains.. climb and descend well, so at the first ascent I just thought I may as well try to see what the situation was and hit it hard and pushed up the hill, opening up a gap. I heard nothing and had that hopeful thought that maybe it was the dream move and the race was over.. but even within 100m of cresting the summit the route had a minor switch back which allowed me to glance back and I could see 2-3 runners pretty close.. and looking good. As a mountain runner I always fancied dropping people on descents so hit it pretty hard but soon the French runner was on my shoulder.. soon after I’m staring at the soles of his sense ultra trainers.. I’m now thinking “shit!” I’m wearing adidas boston boosts, a road shoe. He’s in a nice trail shoe on wet muddy trails.

We descend pretty quick but I cover him and feel OK and then we start to climb back and I re-pass him. At this moment I’m now all but convinced this race is won as by now all I could see was him but we were in cloud.. but generally I think if you ascend quicker than them and they descend quicker, generally their legs give in before yours do due to them hammering descents..

So I climb away, crest the summit and here he is again.. so he pushes on, I follow, he picks up the pace, I glance at my watch.. 5:25 pace.. the pace keeps building.. 5:20… 5:15.. at the mile lap my watch shows 5:13 for mile 9 in a marathon when my pr s 5:59 the base we hit flatter trails and both run upper 5:50’s and I still feel OK but worryingly he looks good. We get to the next aid station and he’s wearing a soloman vest so has his food and pushes on.. I’m carrying nothing so have to pause for food and water and then chase him down. After two sharp turns I see him climbing away and push on, slowly bringing him back but suddenly I realize he’s pulling away. Every switch back I lose him, then see him again and he’s definitely pulling away. I take of my shirt as by now the sweat is pouring off me but it makes no difference… I talk myself through it, it’s mile 10.. 16 to go.. it all changes 16-18 miles in.. ease off recover.. get back on track.. I was paying for racing him down that hill my quads felt dead. So we descend and at switch-backs I keep getting the odd glance of him and he’s clearly going well. We descend down and enter the aid station just before mile 12 and I get a ‘go Iain’.. it’s no less than Frosty who I know from living in Wales, so that’s a much needed lift.. its now a gradual down hill and I settle into low 6’s pace.. no one behind.. no one ahead.. my plan was just run comfortably and see what happens as I had no idea on the route ahead, the sight says ‘coastal path’ but paradoxically it instantly climbs.. looking up I see the French lad still running well but seems closer.. every time I see him he’s closer.. suddenly the win is on again so rejuvenated I try to push on but more measured this time.. Suddenly he’s there.. 100m away.. I can see him turn to look and I can’t work out why he’s so close but turning the next corner I hit what he faced.. slushy, clayey mud.. just no grip at all and he’s in trail shoes, I’m in road shoes..

I back off and slowly follow but randomly glance back and realize I’m not alone.. the rest of the field is suddenly in view, this two horse race now has more horses.. so I’m mindful not to look back again and just think ‘you’ve caught him, he’s closer than 3rd is to you.. focus on him’ .

We then start the long descent to the turn around past ascending 50k and 50 miler runners and its clearly a hard return but pleasingly the gap is rapidly narrowing.. so at mile 15 I know I’ve caught him and as we turn around I open a gap but immediately I’m faced by a few runners coming in behind me so know I’m far from safe.. and one looks great.. better than I feel. Knowing the climb is very visible I don’t glance back as I know there is nothing I can do and all I’ll do is let him know I’m tiring. So I climb away and try to keep it ‘comfortably hard’. The climb just keeps going and I try to chase down 50k/50 mile runners and latterly 50 mile runners as the 50kers head off and then start the descent, looking at my watch I’m back running in the 5’s again so I’m getting confident.

After the long descent, maybe 21 miles in we hit the last food station and I pour coke and energy drink in and climb away. Again at the same aid station Frosty is there and she joins me for a few paces and I have that worrying moment she’s going to try to hug me.. I’m covered in sweat, spit and coke.. it was great to see her and she’s always so positive.. but I am literally dripping in spilt fluids, drool and perspiration..

By now I have no idea of my gap, I generally don’t give up places late on in races and know as long as I run close to MP should be OK… every descent I’m back down at low 6’s, high 5’s pace so grow increasingly confident.

The route now retraces the first loop so I know the route and know that the last 4 is quick, and was fairly confident that as long as I crest the last major summit in the lead I was OK, and I was, this time I descend well sub 6 min mile but was still comfortable that despite the lack of 5:14’s I was OK. the route then suddenly appears and I forget there is a sting.. one last climb.. I ask the guy which way? In now broken Manc…  he looks vague then says “I’m just a spectator”.. so I run the last hill hard as it’s only a few hundred meters and then push and push. My toe is now cutting up as I could feel the grit rubbing but I push on knowing that if I hit the 5:30’s I’ve won.. I kept looking back and saw no one and pushed fairly hard trying to encourage others and getting encouragement off them and then hit the final road climb. I love races when you can cruise in and enjoy it.. so I cruise around the bend and listen to the announcer… nothing.. I see the finishing chute.. nothing..  OK 50 milers, 50 k’s are out there but I’m about to win the marathon.. so I cruise in and nothing. Just silence. I walk up to the girls for my medal.. they look confused.. eventually they give me a 50 mile medal..

So, hungry I walk off in search of my kit bag and food. The food was great, bag was no issue. so I’m sat enjoying some pasta, bowl of soup and suddenly there’s all this commotion as the marathon winner finishes..

I didn’t want the accolades, I just wanted the prizes.. running is expensive, I’m a poorly paid immigrant. So I head over and ask to speak to someone and just say, whilst eating my pasta, “I finished a while back?’ It reminded me of finishing 4th in the world champs and Steve Edwards asking me how it felt to lose bronze, my reply was ‘eh? I’ve never been higher than 4th?’ Steve looked panicked, here the guy looks at me and just seems to say WTF? But they were great and checked my number and all was OK, I won a nice TNF jacket. It was on all on my GPS watch so no questions could be asked.

Anyway it all worked out, the shorter distance races are full runs

Great race and event. Very fast trails.. Where else could you run a marathon with 5300 ft of ascent sub 3:20? Less distance, maybe 3 miles more and similar ascent to the Yorkshire 3 peaks to put it in perspective to the UK runners, which is on good trails.

Looking at the results I was pleased with the caliber of runners I beat, the guy who lead early on was a 2:38 marathoner so to eventually finish a good distance ahead was pleasing.. and the rest all seemed to have solid pedigrees.. It was a strange race as it felt the ‘fun run’ being the shortest race on the day but it was still a marathon with 5000+ feet of ascent so a nice work out and finish to the season..

We then had a nice afternoon in San Francisco, seeing the Sealions, nice breakfast at a cafe sat outside on the side walk and flew back to Philly and the cold...

A few days off and build back for 2015 and hope for more PR’s..