Sky Run - Peak District

With trail and ultra running ever growing in the UK it was only a question of time before the sky running series made its way to our shores. Big in the Alps the race formats are normally marathon plus distances in the mountains with the aim of taking in peaks and ridges along the way. At one extreme you have the Salomon sky run along the Aeonach ridge, a grade 3 scramble to others which are much less technical. This weekend was much less technical in comparison but with 29 miles and 2000m of ascent it wasn't to be sniffed at. Especially when this height gain to distance ratio puts it in a slightly more aggressive category than UTMB or the Lakeland 100. Admittedly despite that fact being floated about, those races are a much more incredible feat of human determination and endurance.

A short recce the day before took me to the top of the first climb, Solomons Temple near Buxton with great views over the course of the following day. A final bit of race preparation was enjoying an incredible meal at the Samuel Fox inn, potentially a tad much for a pre-race meal but with this being my first outing back into ultra racing for a couple of years my aim was to enjoy the day and start getting back into it.

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Wondering amongst the competitors it was great to chat and hear stories of competitions completed and planned for the coming year. From quick dash fell runs to the rather more brutal races such as King Offas Dyke 185 mile race or the 268 mile Spine race in January along the pennine way.

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The race commenced and we made our way quickly up to Solomons Temple with short pauses as we were funnelled onto single track. Despite the forecast being of overcast conditions I was glad I had packed some sunglasses for the day with the sun beaming down on us. As we rounded the temple with a bagpiper playing up top we began to spread out as we started our decent already. This was going to set the stage for the day with every ascent marked soon afterwards by a descent and slightly demoralisingly loosing all the height just gained.

The route took a course along ridges, through moorland, bogs and of course up a number of hills.

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With a well marked course we could concentrate on the running and getting our feet in the right spot. With plenty of opportunities for twisted ankles amongst the rocky tracks being light on our feet and an emphasis on twinkle toes was the name of the game.

The only slight mistake came when chatting to another competitor about his up coming race in Oman. Taking the wrong turn we led out towards a farm building only to realise we had gone half a mile in the wrong direction. Slightly devastating as was the sight of maybe 20 odd runners who had followed on behind us. Quickly making up the ground we had lost we all made our way back into the course and meandered back down the hill side.

Running through one boggy area I came across a pair of Oakley sunglasses that had clearly dropped off one of the runners in front and were gently perched on some long grass. Picking them up I handed them into a later checkpoint. You never know when you might be in a similar situation. I didn't have to wait long!

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About 10 mins later the course was incredibly beautiful and one I would have certainly wanted to capture more of it wasn't for the fact I dropped my phone. Fortunately it was picked up by one of the other competitors not far behind me. A quick snap and with it firmly packed away for the remainder of the race after learning my lesson and not fancying a repeat before heading on.

The course meandered on and my pace ebbed and flowed as the terrain and distance took its toll. The three food and drink checkpoints on the route hit the spot every time. With the opportunity to refuel on chunks of banana, succulent orange slices, flapjack, soreen and of course a wide array of other goodies. I try to make these as quick as possible and continue to eat as I walk along out of the checkpoint. Partly this is to not get too comfortable and I would much prefer to finish sooner.

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Chatting with some of the fell runners it was great to see them descend in front of me. I still don't understand how they did it so quickly other than through a bit of experience and raw tenacity to descend quickly! I envisaged face planting a rock face first if I tired the same so clearly an area I can improve on.

The route went past quiet a few climbing and bouldering spots with chalk marks on some and people clambering about in the sunshine on others. Unfortunately it would have to be  for another time.

As the day wore on I went over on my ankle. With my run going well this was pretty disappointing but deciding to walk it off for a bit I soon managed to break into a trot again. Some of the rocky ground though became much trickier to negotiate as my ankle seemed to get twisted on even the smallest of stones.

Finally the town of buxton came back into sight. I was delighted despite not being able to increase my pace a huge amount. One guy asked if we were to have a sprint finish. As much as I wanted to my legs and ankles had run out of juice. I was happy to finish the race at a plod.

Within moments of crossing the finish line I was welcome by a flat coke, my trainers coming off and my wife looking at me in a slightly sorry and apparently "grey" looking state.

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Despite the ankle it was awesome getting back into the running again having been out of ultra running for a couple of years. I was remembering all the elements i had learnt about through training runs, competitions and chats with numerous runners and trainers. I finished middle of the pack which may not have been my best result ever but it was one I will certainly remember. I would certainly recommend checking out the sky running series with a greta mix of terrain and distances.

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Running the Chilterns

Myself, Si (tent mate from Marathon des Sables and a few other adventures) and his friend Chris finally got round to running a section of the Chilterns earlier in the year. Despite the horrific conditions that had been devastating the country and flooding parts of it we had managed to choose a weekend with a break in the weather, as sunshine was the forecast for the day. Bridgewater Monument I was a little apprehensive as my running training had not been ideal over the previous months but the prospect of getting out and kicking starting my trail running again was very exciting. The route for the day was due to finish at Ashridge estate visible from miles around by Bridgewater monument, after sorting out the logistics for the day we headed to the start. Packs at the ready I had definitely too much stuff and my pack was more suitable for a few days rather than a quick marathon ish distance.

The wet conditions soon revealed themselves as we found ourselves with wet feet, skating and sliding through the mud and that was within meters of starting.

We were soon eating up the miles along sections of the Chilterns way through woodlands across fields and along some of the other paths that crisis cross it which did result in a few unexpected deviations from the route. Although some of the trails were so slippy it was hard keeping a decent pace whilst running and so our pace slowed to a quick walk in places.

Checking our deviations

With the sun out we were meeting all sorts of people enjoying the outdoors from mountain bikers to Duke of Edinburgh groups all dressed in the standard green or black waterproofs with tents, sleeping mats and all sorts of other items spewing from their rucksacks. It was great to see them all out and about. The Chilterns Some large sections of the trail were flooded still which we tried to avoid as well as one section where it looked like a mudslide had occurred before setting solid which we had to cross. It turned it was not set as my foot sank into it ankle deep thick, gluppy mud. The most interesting of all was passing through a field full horses which in the conditions had opted to stand on the hay they were due to eat, looking slightly sorry for themselves. As we crossed the same field I think we all had similar looks on our faces too.

The remainder of the run was a lot drier and we managed to pick the speed up as the patches of blue sky and sunshine seemed to be diminishing and rain began to look more likely. The Bridgewater monument came into view high up on a ridge that we were due to finish at. Despite being a bit of a distance away still, it was a welcome sight. There was the final short and steep section just to kick us into gear at the end before arriving at the top to a welcome cup of hot chocolate.

The biggest relief being my legs felt surprisingly good, even after the drive back which can be a slightly uncomfortable experience. Now that the summer is getting into full swing have you got any routes your running, walking and exploring?

An Atlantic Rowers thank you

About this time last year I was arriving a head of my Atlantic row. The festive period had been an incredibly exciting period, in some respects quite a tense one with final preparations and certainly a time to gorge on those extra calories. I thought the timing was right to thank my sponsors, friends, family and work colleagues for all their support as I opted to spend my time training, eating and sleeping on top of my day job impacted on you. The Team Has Landed

When you make a serious choice in your life I don't think you can ever comprehend the effects it has on those around you. I think what really brought it home was first seeing my Dad in Barbados, then Mum and brother who were unable to make it out to the finish and the relief that they had for our safe crossing.

So thanks goes to Binn Skips who have supported me on a couple of challenges now. Skye Skyns who provide the softest and most comfortable sheep skins I have ever felt, we sat on them and it made the journey all the more comfortable. Cameras underwater who provide an amazing camera case that allowed me to take my camera underwater and take some incredible pictures! Patra kindly gave me some silk underwear which despite the harsh conditions held up very well and were very comfortable.

A sunny Dover coastal rowing experience

Numerous people helped me train and prepare for the event Fulontri with their numerous quality training sessions. Rin Cobb from Pnd Comsulting on my nutrition and managed to help me gain the necessary weight in time. Phil Barratt from Physique Body works for regular holistic sports massages. Simon James and Heal physios of Dundee also seriously helped with both my pre-race preparation and post race recovery. Roger Gould from extreme rowing challenges for his advice and enabling me to get some rowing practise including rowing behind the Olympic torch. Dover rowing club enabled me to gain some valuable coastal rowing experience as well as rowing from Gravesend to Richmond with them.

Rowing with the Olympic Torch

River views on our row from Gravesend to Richmond

Finally the Ocean Row Events support team and most importantly Leven, Livar, Tim, Calum, Pete, James and Jan who made for a thoroughly memorable adventure. If you are interested in and ocean row I would highly recommend checking out Ocean Row Events!

Arrived safe and sound

There are many others who inspired, helped and kept me going whilst out there. Maybe if the book deals ever comes about then they can be additions to that...

The main thing is I may have been out there in the middle of the ocean but to reach that point there was a much longer journey that involved far more people than just myself. Regardless of what they are exactly without you all life's challenges and adventures are not possible. So whatever your next challenge remember those who help with the journey in whatever way that might be.

Inspiring Others With Adventurer Dave Cornthwaite

Continuing a theme from the New Year (I know it is now some time ago) of finding out about the stories of some inspiring people I finally got round to sorting out the next person. Recently I have been following the progress of a couple of expeditions and journeys including one by Adventurer Dave Cornthwaite. I first heard about him a while back partly due to his different take on travel and expeditions with the “1000mile Project” which is to complete 25 separate journeys on different non-motorised forms of transport.  To find out more check his website out:

http://davecornthwaite.com/

He recently completed his 6th journey cycling Paul Everitts bike car called Priscilla from Vicksburg Mississippi to Miami. He has had to overcome adversity along the way but as he will describe this one was to bring its own unique challenges including a car crash. So I thought it would be great to get a few quick thoughts on it and adventuring.

How would you describe yourself in one sentence?

I do things. It's that simple!

How did you decide to take on this life changing route and why 25 challenges?

Once upon a time I had a well-paid job as a graphic designer, my own house, cat, long-term partner, and depression! I decided at the age of 25 that I had to start making a living doing something I was passionate about, so decided to travel with a purpose. Expedition1000 and its 25 journeys give me a long-term focus that keeps my motivation on track and ensures I have enough variety and scope to keep doing what I love without getting bored or trapped.

You have recently finished your 6th 1000 mile journey what was the most challenging part of the trip?

Without doubt peddling a 2 metre-wide 4-wheeled Bikecar at the same time as sharing the road with other vehicles made this the most challenging and dangerous expedition I've done to date. More than ever I'm in touch with my own mortality now.

What will you always remember from it?

In between the craziness of keeping moving and dodging cars, now and then there were beautifully peaceful moments, like riding a 40-mile bicycle path and chilling out with this tortoise or swimming with Manatees in Crystal River.

Whats the next challenge on the Horizon?

In August and September I'm swimming 1000 miles down the Lower Missouri River, USA.

Can people get involved?

I have now selected a team to join me on this adventure, and I'll have a documentary crew following along. We'll be creating an interactive, fun and informative social media campaign around the journey so people can follow on Twitter (@DaveCorn), Facebook (Expedition1000) or Youtube (davecornthwaite)

What or who inspires you to keep going?

I do what I love day in day out. Beat that for motivation. Work and life are intertwined...

Any advice for the wannabe adventurer?

Stop talking, stop making excuses, just do it. The next one will be easier to start. And then the next. And so on.

What do you do when you have rest time?

I honestly don't rest much at all. I'll go and spend time with friends, have a meal, have a drink, but somewhere in there my mind is still whirring with things I need to work on and new projects to go for.

Favourite food?

Passion Fruit. Eggs. Meat. Nutella. Not all on the same plate.

Favourite music?

I have a super eclectic taste. From Counting Crows to Shawn Mullins to Jessie J, I need about 10,000 songs on my iPod to combat 1000's of miles!

Check out what Dave is up to below:

www.davecornthwaite.com

www.twitter.com/davecorn

www.facebook.com/expedition1000

The Manchester Marathon

A couple of weekends ago I made the journey up to Manchester to visit my brother and for the two of us to compete in the Manchester marathon. For both of us it was our first road marathon. The idea started around the beginning of the year where during a conversation with my brother he dropped into it that he thought we should do a marathon and more to the point the Manchester one. We checked it out and entered that evening. A few months later and no specific training other than my usual training of a bit of everything and his rugby training as a hooker, in the forwards, and we were standing in the queue waiting to pick our race numbers up. This in itself turned out a bit of a challenge as we joked about forgetting our running numbers having only just looking at them before realising that neither of us could remember them. Back to the start of registration all over again. We managed to make it out of there with all our documents and freebies which included everything from a liquid iron supplement, a razor and the all important finishers t-shirt (despite the fact that we hadn’t actually done it yet).

The following morning saw us being woken to the alarm, far too early for a Sunday morning. A quick check out the window confirmed to both of us that as usual when the two of us do an event together the weather is guaranteed to be awful. Raining and windy. Trudging out the house the rain changed to hail forcing us to pull our hoodies tight over our heads. After a quick tram ride packed with other runners we arrived at the finisher area to drop kit off, supposedly join in with a warm up before heading to the start line. This plan quickly changed to huddling in one of the tents with a number of other competitors trying to stay warm. The start time loomed and it was time for the dreaded strip off into running kit time. It was certainly a day for hats, gloves, waterproofs and any other apparel you wished to have to stay warm. And certainly not the sort of weather for the shorts and t-shirt that my brother and I were kitted out in. Trundling to the start line was a cold and bitter experience. Reaching the start area we were surrounded by the other 8000 participants, minus those who on the day thought better of it, waiting for the gun to go. It was an amazing experience being surrounded by so many people certainly creates an atmosphere. Very different to the races that I have mainly done with maybe 100 to 150 people in them. There was a real sense of anticipation and as the gun went gloves, jumpers and space blankets were thrown off in all directions as the race got under way.

The route consisted of 2 loops a small one that went right by where my brother is living before heading almost back to where we started before heading out of Manchester on a much larger loop.

We got into a good easy rhyme right from the off and had a good chat while we were jogging whilst taking in the sights of Manchester that neither of us had seen before, mainly the industrial estate near old trafford and smells which neither of us had smelt before such as outside the Kelloggs factory. I’m still not sure whether it was a good or bad one. The crowds were still out in their masses even though the conditions had begun to deteriorate; clapping, drumming, passing on messages and shouting out words of support. It was a fantastic atmosphere that continued to surprise my brother and I on our way round.

After passing so close to the start it was time for the larger loop, the first 10 miles had gone well and we were doing well time wise too. But conditions had really start to deteriorate the wind had picked up and the rain set in. We looked like drenched rats.

The course is one of the flattest I have done but with a couple of lumps thrown in there just to keep your legs and mind guessing. However the route was to take us out towards Dunham Park where we had learnt to roller blade years ago and out into the sticks. It was at this stage that the weather felt like it was really deteriorating and conversation slowed as we shut down everything with the only aim of moving to stay warm. It felt like gale force winds, fine with it behind you but incredibly unhelpful if it is blowing in your face, coupled that with the driving rain and our teeth were soon chattering. I’m sure in the sunshine the course would have been very beautiful and the country paths a joy to run down with miles of traffic less asphalt. But instead they were a mine field of mud and puddles to keep you on your toes.

We continued on and at the checkpoints, which they had every few miles, we began to stop for the goodies they had. I have to say though the chocolate energy gel was pretty horrible but some stuff that looked and tasted just like jelly from the packet was a real pick me up. Think they are called shot bloks.

The route started making its way back into town and with this came more cars, clearly irritated by the congestion caused by the runners, which were driving all over the course. It was also here that the mile markers really didn’t help motivate you to the end. I can understand why there is “The wall” in marathons because you can see exactly how far you have left and you end up mile counting. I’m more used to the finish coming as a welcome surprise round the corner where you just have to continue till you cross it but instead you start thinking only 8 miles left, 7, 6 …. It just makes it seem to go on forever.

The last few miles began to feel like they were going quicker, and each large gathering of people brought on a momentary burst in pace. The weather had finally turned and it was dry. We began to dry out in the brisk breeze and certainly felt warmer already.

All that was left was the final “sprint” to the finish, with crowds, photographers, cameramen and runners wrapped in space blankets it was a great atmosphere to finish in and certainly help spur us on. We crossed the finish line together with smiles all round, before getting the all important finishers medal.

Overall despite the weather it was a great experience and one which I am sure my brother will always remember too. If you are not sure which marathon to do next or fancy a challenge I would definitely recommend it.

Running 55 miles and 2700m Ascent Non-Stop

A few weekends ago I headed up to the Yorkshire moors as I had entered an event called the Hardmoor 55. It is a 55 mile running race over 1 day along part of the Cleveland way and unbeknown to me the hilliest course I have done. It started with an epic drive on a Friday night where I joined thousands of others getting out of London before flying up the motorway. This was done whilst chomping on some tortellini that I had cooked up the previous night. I hadn’t really spent much time looking at exactly where the event was but was slightly surprised when I saw my usual turn off on my route home to Scotland.

I arrived at the B&B/ pub full of people and asked about my room. My mind quickly turned to the much more importantly issue of breakfast. It turned out the cooks had gone home which meant I couldn’t even get some bread or cereal for the morning. Not the most helpful answer. Going upstairs I quickly laid all my kit out, there was a rather excessive food pile for the race and certainly far too much to eat over the space of 1 day. But in it all went split equally for the 2 bag drops allowed in the race.

I was anxious and excited about what the next day would involve as it was much longer than I had run for a while, in fact the longest had been 10 miles plus a bit of cycling and swimming. I wasn’t too concerned though as I knew that my only target was to enjoy the day, get some miles done and finish. This didn’t exactly help for a restful night sleep as I twist and turned with an over active imagination. It wasn’t of winning the event...

5.40 am came round quickly.

I wanted to ensure I arrived early after strict instructions from the race organisers (I was to find that everyone took them seriously) that we had to be bang on time otherwise no lift to the start line. I turned up to the waiting point with all the racers already clad in lycra and I was still munching my breakfast of hummus and pitta bread. However the organiser was late. Everyone one  had one thought only “Could have had longer in bed”.

Chatting with some of the racers on the drive over there was a good mix of newbies and experienced ultra runners, some of whom I had met briefly at previous events. I spoke to one individual who claimed although he hadn’t done the whole course the Yorkshire moors aren’t really that hilly. I was pretty happy with this, although he did point out he was from the peak district, the alarm bells should have started, as not that hilly for a fell runner is certainly different to running round London.

Exiting the bus we were quickly ushered in for a kit check and handed the finishers t-shirt at the start. The race seemed to come round incredibly quickly and my plans of looking at the route quickly vanished with last minute bits and pieces, including the usual huge queue for the bathroom. We were soon off trudging along at a brisk pace up the first few inclines, experience told me that this pace would soon drop off. Or at least that is what I hoped for. The day had started much warmer than expected and within a short time I was dripping. Plus my rucksack which was far too large for a one day event, (being the same that I would use for 7 days) wasn’t setup rightly and the pouches on the front were slapping into my sides.

It was a beautiful day, slightly overcast but running through fields, forests and passing confused looking walkers was a great feeling. On the way to the first check point I foolishly followed a couple of guys in front of me, not knowing the way myself only to realise very quickly that it was the wrong way and had to turn back. Although going slightly off track seems a common theme in these longer runs its still frustrating as all the people you had passed trudge past in a slow version of the tortoise and the hare.

Chatting to some of the competitors passed the time including a guy who was in the middle of his 75th marathon a fantastic achievement in 2 years.

I found out that the first check point we had to go back on ourselves but the views were spectacular as we made our way out onto a plateau with patches of mist rolling in and views across the valley opening up as we got closer to the edge. We dropped down to the 1st checkpoint where I found us standing in front of the Yorkshire moors Kilburn white horse. A top up on some water and a quick bite of flapjack. The race was on.

It is amazing especially with hindsight how quickly the miles get eaten up but it went surprisingly quickly up to the next checkpoint. I ended up running by myself for a large portion of this section as my pace settled into a rhythm that I could maintain. It still felt a bit too fast. We continued a long rolling hills dropping down, before climbing and continuing a long ridges. The 2nd checkpoint was down a long decline which helped with passing a few runners. I also found out that this section of 22 miles was the quick section as what was to come would certainly slow everyone down. Not exactly what I wanted to hear as the hills we had already passed seemed quite large.

We came into the small wee village of Osmotherley where our first bag of goodies had been dropped off. I reached the checkpoint had my card stamped to say I had arrived and then started rummaging around for my 1st bag of goodies. It was missing. There was other food on offer but I was looking forward to my nuts and soreen. There was however homemade sausage rolls and after speaking to one of the organisers I managed to get hold of some soreen too. Definitely a positive point.

The race quickly slowed. Exiting the village we worked our way back up onto a long plateau where we could already make out the penultimate checkpoint. Unfortunately it was a lot closer than the route we had selected which took the form of a long sweeping curve. We could also make out most of this path too. Slightly depressing when you can see the whole route practically laid out in front of you for the next 5 or so hours. Regardless of this a group of us trudged on chatting about a whole host of things, as one man described it “anything to take his mind away from the agony”. I’m not sure he was having such I great race as the others all seemed in good form. We covered some spectacular scenery traversing stoned paved paths, up steep side hills, through rocky out crops and the odd sheep or fellow competitor. This was interspersed with periods of cramp an affect from the morning heat. I unfortunately hadn’t managed my electrolytes resulting in these random but uncomfortable twinges as cramp set in.

Fortunately I had packed a few packs of dioralyte which I have found great for rehydrating on long races, though the one major drawback is it doesn’t taste great but it is cheap and works for me. This started getting me back on the road to recovery. I ended up running with 2 others for what was to be the rest of the race. For a few miles we had been constantly playing cat and mouse as I caught up on the up hills before they passed me on the down. That was until the hail started. What had been a blue skied day suddenly turned very cold and dark. The hail bounced off our hands, faces and hoods of our waterproofs. It was certainly a motivator to keep moving forward as we shuffled in silence with nothing but the pitta patta of the hail on our heads. Reaching the second bag drop was fantastic, especially as my food was actually there this time.

We all collapsed in some chairs kindly put out by the staff and tucked into the food in our packs, on the tables and anywhere else we could find it. I also had my first and hopefully last cup of special tea. The recipe for which is 1 strong cup of milky tea, add several heaped teaspoons of sugar and 1 of salt. Pretty disgusting but I hoped this would help with the cramp which still seemed to be plaguing me.

We left the checkpoint shivering uncontrollably, the cold had caught up with us during the short break. But with full bellies we started to make our way towards the goal which we had been so close yet so far all day Roseburry Topping, a single peak that we would first have to make our way to the bottom before scaling it to the summit before going back the way we came. The plan had been to make this in daylight but it was becoming apparent that this was not to be the case as we donned head torches as dusk set in. All you could see was a small patch 3 feet in front of you, the steady stream of people making their way up to the top and back and a glimpse of people’s faces illuminated in an unusual way from their foreheads. After a slog up we made it to the top with views out across the evening landscape. It is amazing the amount of light that is created from all our street lighting and this area felt relatively rural.

The last section was made slightly trickier by the lack of light and the criss cross of paths that went their separate ways. We negotiated our way towards the final push up to a plateau before dropping down towards the finish. It felt tough as hills we weren’t expecting suddenly seemed to appear and as our legs tired what was classed as a hill at the start of a day was very different to that towards the end as each slight incline became an excuse to go that bit slower. Yet finally my legs had stopped cramping and I was still raring to go as the course dropped down towards the finish. Potentially a sprint one. We reckoned that we would have to seriously pick the pace up to beat the 12 hour mark but as it would make little difference to our finishing position we decided to just enjoy the final couple of miles. As we started to sense the finish though we realised that we could still make it and the final meters did become a sprint into the hut to ensure we beat the 12 hours. We were greeted to a round of applause by the competitors who had already finished and a welcome chair. We finished in 11 hours 53 mins joint 43rd overall. I got changed into some clean clothes and the quickest top that came to hand was the finishers t-shirt. I checked it out before putting it on it was bright blue with a bold statement “55 miles and 2700 m ascent”. No wonder my legs hurt so much. I was definitely glad I hadn’t read it before the start line that would definitely have made it more daunting.

Overall another race, a lot learnt but certainly an awesome race to be repeated.

A Close Encounter with a Tree

Having never really been into cross country at school, which is possibly an understatement as it was my least favourite activity I found myself entering the last cross country of the season for my triathlon club fulon tri. The previous one had finished with flapjack and cans of Guiness much to my delight so I thought why not give it another go. This had been from the warmth of my room, however standing on the start line with a frost on the ground it didn’t seem such a great idea. There were still blokes running in vest or singlets (depending on where you are from).

Unfortunately we had managed to find ourselves placed towards the back and before we knew it the race had started, or at least the start whistle had been blown. As unfortunately just after the start line was a narrow bridge that acted as a great bottleneck for all the runners to have a very leisurely start.

The race format was 2 laps totalling 5 miles, the benefit being that once you have done the first one you know how hard you can push and when to push. The first lap also went pretty quickly amazingly and I found myself overtaking more people than being overtaken a nice feeling compared to the previous event.

However the second lap was to be a bit more interesting as I found myself stuck behind a “man” who was not only holding me up on the narrow uphill section but who  also resembled something closer to a camel as every second gasp for air was followed by lots of spitting. I’m not really overly bothered by this kind of thing however it is slightly disconcerting as you overtake and are now in direct firing line.

Pleased with getting past this guy I wanted to decrease the gap with the man in front and bided my time for a couple of the downhill sections where I felt my slightly kamikaze style of letting my legs run would certainly close the gap. It worked on the first passing a couple more runners and was marginally slowed on the second. I was heading down and in my haste I hadn’t exactly chosen the best line. A tree was fast approaching and my ability to change direction massively reduced as I committed to the slope. With arms flailing I marginally missed the tree before promptly sliding on my arse. I somehow managed to pick myself up quickly, patted a slightly confused dog and carried on my way in what felt like less than a blink of the eye. Possibly a slight exaggeration but I was just relieved that I hadn’t hit the tree. It did bring back memories of a video I had seen...

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bQEq4sGcKBg&feature=fvsr]

All that was left was a sprint finish there was last bloke in sight who I was sure I could catch however there was also one chasing me down. I passed the man in front and was then passed with mere meters to go. Slightly disappointed at this happening I was still pleased that I had improved from my previous attempt. It was just a shame that this was the last of the season. All that was left was an afternoon of watching the rugby 6 nations.

In the Mind of a World Record Holder - Ben Rockett

Given its a new year I thought I would try to do a series of inspiring interviews with various people to kick start the year. I have purposefully kept the discussion as complete to the original as possible to show the ups and downs of a journey from cycling to and from school to cranking it up to 1000 miles a week (50+ hours) on a bike. He has also recently written a book which you can check out on the link below:

http://www.rockettrides.com/?page_id=1270

Have you always been a keen cyclist or have you been involved in other sports?

I was very much a jack-of-all-trades in the sporting sense. I enjoyed sports greatly, but I never seemed to excel at any one in particular, rather I was ‘reasonable’ at several different ones. In hindsight, the two sports that I loved the most, I never really had any involvement with. Gymnastics and rock climbing were those sports. Both of them appealed hugely, but I stuck with more mainstream pursuits (I don’t know why).

Cycling itself was more a transport method than a sport. I used to commute to school with a real cyclist, who wore lycra, worked in a bike shop and even wore a helmet! That wasn’t me – I only ever cycled to school, and the nearest I came to being a cyclist was on the final sprint to the school gates.

Have you Changed as a Cyclist?

On my 16th Birthday I was given a racing bike! I then used my bike to go further from home and enjoyed riding around the county and riding much faster than I had before. Over the next two years I commuted to school (much more quickly) and enjoyed riding my bike whenever I could.

At the end of my sixth form education I was asked by a friend of mine to ride the length of Britain – JOGLE. It seemed like an epic journey and with my baggy jumpers, badminton court shoes and reluctance to pull on a pair of lycra shorts, we agreed to the 1000 mile journey.

At the end of that journey there was a change in my attitude toward cycling, which I now understand on the basis of a ‘cycling-type’. I enjoyed cycling long distances, but I didn’t care one hoot about my heart rate, the speed I averaged, how ‘aero’ my frame and kit were, the calories I’d burned or the force of the headwind.

I cycled long distances because I loved exploring and seeing new places.

This made me a touring cyclist! I then knew what ‘sort’ I was. The panniers that I’d fashioned onto the back of my road bike should have been the give-away. I wasn’t a road cyclist; I was a touring cyclist. And for many people, particularly the road cyclists, there is a large and definite distinction.

It was through cycling for triathlons that I first ‘raced’ my bike. I recall having my pannier rack still attached on that first race that I competed in (I did unclip the bags though!). The weight saving and aerodynamics hadn’t become an issue for me at that point. Neither had cleats and shaved legs. I liked it a lot and I was actually pretty good at going fast.

I loved the wind in my hair and the ‘pain’ that I could feel from cycling really hard.

I soon became a roadie! Having sworn that I would never shave my legs and ensure that my bike and clothing matched, I was soon transformed into a colour co-ordinated, smooth legged rider who wore lycra, observed my average speeds and always talked about how hard the hills were that I’d climbed on my 100 miles that morning! I had changed!!

Since then (2007) I have continued my affair with my bike(s) in what has become a rather extended story of romance, despair, addiction and joy. I have used cycling as a way to understand myself, to meet other people, to enter social circles and now, I would say, to form my major identity. I think most people now assign ‘cyclist’ to my name, whereas a few years back that label would have been something quite different.

How did you first get into endurance sports?

Running was my entry to the endurance scene. I was a pretty handy 800m runner (1:56) until I went to Bath University where I met a running coach who talked me into training for and running marathons. It wasn’t something that appealed to me – not at all, but after a couple of weeks, Eric Anderson had managed to make the idea of running 52x my usual race distance seem attractive.

I trained hard and enjoyed the long runs where I would bound through the countryside for hours on end. It was a struggle for me to run 90 minutes at first, but very soon I was heading out for 4, 5 or six hours at a time and covering huge (relatively) distances on foot. It was incredible and the freedom of endurance activity was something I found unbelievably rewarding. It was an escape from the rest of the world.

These long runs taught me that endurance was merely a case of getting to know my body, and my mind, and to be happy with the simplest of environments for a long period of time. I cherished the peace that I found from running long hours and would spend day after day, effortlessly running through the countryside.

I was running well and although I would never become a world class marathon runner, I was achieving the target improvements that I was setting. I ran a PB of 2.41:56 for the marathon distance and loved every second (mostly in retrospect) of the agony, control and persistence involved in setting that time. I had my eyes glued on a 2.30.00 marathon, but only for personal enjoyment. Running for me was always about the feelings and emotions I derived from the activity. It is still, without doubt, my favourite past time – more so than cycling!

What was the turning Point to Cycling?

So without dwelling on my running past (and hopefully future) this is how I came into endurance cycling: I was commuting home from a volleyball training session on a cold and dank night in Southern Bath, when I was hit from the side by a car entering the roundabout at excessive speed. A very long story short – I lost the fight between my body and the underside of the car. Over the following months I had to hope that my legs would heal and that I would be able to do away with the chair that I had been confined to. In not too long, and with the help of Ian Andrews at the Team Bath clinic I was able to move my leg. Over the winter months I was advised to start ‘using the leg whenever I could’ which I took as ‘use the leg as per normal’. While this wasn’t possible, of course, I was told that if I could cycle it would help the muscles strengthen having re-attached near my knee. “The more you cycle, the stronger it will become” were the words I was told. So I didn’t look back – I cycled and cycled and sure enough, my legs grew stronger and stronger.

Once I was back on my own two feet and unsupported by chair, crutches or friends, I embarked on a long journey to cycling fitness. I missed my running and I was desperate to be back in the fields, running for hours and hours. But I had a new interest – and that was cycling. I could get a similar feeling as per running, only this time I could go much further.

What do you consider your first challenge?

My first challenge?! I have no idea. Probably JOGLE, but I didn’t see that as a challenge, more as an adventure. In 2007 I climbed Kilimanjaro as a way of proving that my leg was back in working order after the crash, so perhaps I would suggest that was my first challenge.

Although I can distinctly remember walking a 5 mile charity walk on the Quantocks when I was in the Cub-Scouts. I remember it because I found it amazingly difficult. I thought that I was going to collapse and that the end would never arrive. That was the first significant challenge that I can recall…

What is your greatest achievement and why?

At the moment when I complete something I set out to do, I feel a strong sense of pride, of achievement, and utmost joy. Particularly if it was difficult. Interestingly, in addition to these feelings, I most often experience a feeling of disappointment that the challenge is over. I readily downplay past achievements and fail to embrace the significance of the things I have done. I lack a satisfaction with the things I have done. It would perhaps be too deep a conversation for us to have now, and is perhaps something that I don’t even know the answer to just yet.

I feel compelled to undertake these challenges, to push my body and, more so, my mind in order to learn about myself. I feel somewhere in the depths of the most gruelling challenge I get an insight to the very core of who I am and what’s important to me as an individual. It is a worrying, intimidating moment and yet an equally peaceful, accepting, and warming experience to have. I have only managed to experience it three times (that I can remember), and all of them have been after the point where I feel deserted, empty and as though my body can no longer operate. Nasty places to be, perhaps, but rewarding in a very strange and bare way.

I am aware I still haven’t answered your question! Perhaps the blurb I just expressed is an indication of how difficult I find this question. I would say that one of my greatest achievements was learning to like Olives. Probably not what you were expecting, right? I say this because I know I am a stubborn individual and I had created a complete barrier to liking Olives. I refused on numerous occasions to try olives, but without really considering why. One day I managed to swallow my pride and eat an olive – and now I am a very big olive consumer. The reason I see this as a great achievement is that it taught me the lesson to be open to re-think my existing thoughts and emotions; to consider that things (including me!) change. I have used that lesson greatly for understanding the experiences I have and the people I get to meet through this ‘crazy’ world of ultra-endurance.

What did your training involve in the build up to achieving the LEJOGLE world record?

Training for the LEJOGLE ride was very much about changing my lifestyle, which in hindsight had a far greater impact than I had ever imagined. Within a matter of months I was all consumed by training, to the point where I would now describe myself as addicted to cycling. This might sound rather extreme, but I feel I developed a dependency, perhaps borne of anxiety over the demands of the attempt, that would only be calmed if I were on a bike.

I knew from the outset that training would need to be enjoyable; and indeed that is something I would like to encourage other people to always remember. It was something that I quickly forgot as I allowed the impending pressure of the ride to consume all my thought processes. It made training difficult, but I was determined to prepare both my mind and my body through what some call the ‘feel factor’; I wanted to learn about my body and respond to its developments and changes rather than by following a rigid and strict programme. I’m not one to easily follow the orders of what someone else tells me without heavy questions, so it was perhaps the best for everyone (a coach would have become highly frustrated with me!).

I will try to keep this relatively light hearted and discuss the daily routines of training. It might sound as though I now contradict myself, but the main goal was not to have a definite ‘routine’. I wanted to ‘keep my body guessing’ so that it was better prepared to deal with the demands of a task as and when it was necessary.

Bearing in mind a challenge on this scale was completely new to me, I was eager to understand what my body and mind would do, how they would operate, and how I would react when everything about me was truly exhausted. I did things which would drive a coach / nutritionist / physiotherapist to the point of locking me up! I increased my training miles, but would skip sleep for three nights so would gain an appreciation for how my body would work when I was incredibly tired. I would skip meals and see if my body could still cycle through the worst of all ‘bonks’. I tried to abuse my body in the way the event would harm my body, and then understand from the thick of the problems, how I might be able to prepare for, or indeed, prepare to avoid such problems.

In a bizarre way, I found it very reassuring to experience these troubles before undertaking the event itself. I am sure if I had felt that exhausted, that broken, that hollow and that helpless for the first time during the ride I would have been scared away from the attempt. They were truly horrible experiences, but I was grateful for the chance to understand my body a little better and to learn about my mind’s reactions to stress, fear and extreme sleep deprivation.

By the time of the ride I had ridden 18000 miles in six months, with many 1000-mile weeks on the bike. My body felt strong and I was able to maintain strong paces for hundreds of miles. It transferred to the ride itself where I averaged 23mph for the first 24 hours over the challenging terrain of the South West of England and Southern Wales. I had turned my body into a machine that very simply needed food in order to operate.

I worked my sessions very loosely: I had long rides (between 200 and 400 miles), Short rides (100-150 miles), Speed sessions (50-100 miles), Very long rides (500+ miles) and then multiple conditioning sessions, stretching (every day if off the bike) and then multiple body-weight training regimes. I didn’t use a gym or any supplements. I wanted my body to prepare for this completely naturally – to the point that the clothes and the bike were the only man-made things I was using. Everything else came from nature, and that was reflected in my diet; all natural foodstuffs, and a huge amount of fat!

The joy of riding my bike for 50+ hours a week was that I could eat anything I wanted. I really just needed the calories. I tried to eat as healthily as I possibly could, but for the large part, I was searching for fat and carbs as if they were going out of fashion. I was eating over 8000 calories a day – and losing weight! It was tough eating that much food.

A key element of the training, however, was teaching my body to be comfortable digesting food whilst I was cycling. I did this by eating my meals on the turbo trainer and balancing the meals on the handle-bars. It all appears very Heath-Robinson and amateur…but that’s exactly what I was, and in the future I wouldn’t change it at all! The innocence, the naivety and the explorative nature of my cycling development was something that I think helped me immeasurably.

Where does cycling take you now and in the future?

So I found cycling through a desire for speed. It fostered my enjoyment for going places and seeing new things, and for a child who wasn’t rolling in money it was a wonderful, free way to explore and spend my weekends. I think I will now always be a cyclist, although I am confident that I will very soon return to my touring roots, for that sense of discovery and adventure is something I now seek more of.

Who or what has been your biggest influence?

I don’t think I can pin-point this, which I know is a very boring, non-committed answer. If you were to push me on the subject, I would suggest that my biggest influence is probably my Nan, for I will always remember her matter-of-fact nature and that she never seemed shocked or worried by any plans I ever told her. She always laughed when things went wrong and she was a problem solver – she did everything she needed and enjoyed life, remaining fighting fit right through to her ripe old age.  Although I think who I am is largely a product of all the amazing things I have read about other people doing.

Do you have any tips for people out there wanting to achieve their dreams?

I don’t have any specific advice, for everyone will achieve their dreams in a different way – I don’t think it is prescriptive. However I would borrow a quote that says this:

“All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes, to make it possible.” (T.E. Lawrence).

What are you currently reading?

Right now I am reading a book called “Misadventures in a white desert” by Patrick Woodhead. I have aspirations to reach the poles…

Music of choice at the low and high points of a challenge?

I find music an incredibly powerful tool – so much so that it can make or break  the challenge simply by provoking a certain series of emotions. I tend to prefer songs that initiate memories or that remind me of certain people and events. So at times when I am jubilant I can often be heard listening to things such as Jack Johnson, Paul Simon, the Scissor Sisters (don’t judge me), Bon Jovi, or maybe some hit musicals, in between Elton John and the Eagles, perhaps some REM, too.

When I’m not feeling so great I actually like to acknowledge that and then listen to something that reminds of why I might be out doing this ‘ridiculous’ activity, or why I feel I want to continue with something. Then I tend to listen to a lot of counting crows. Music really reminds me of certain people and so I like to enter into a state of remembrance when I feel low. I like to think about people I really like and that always brings me out and back to the rock tunes, always with a smile that makes people around me think I have lost the plot or am hallucinating. I really do have bizarre musical memories from certain events – California Girls by Katy Perry is the song that reminds me of the LEJOGLE ride….

Favourite food?

Depends entirely on where I am, how I am feeling and what I am doing. Big favourites for me, however, are sweet-potato cottage pie / bacon and leek risotto / clam chowder in a bread bowl / pizza / jaffa cakes / lemon drizzle cake / baked bananas with melted chocolate / Roast beef with crispy roast potatoes.

If you would like to know more about his epic journey then check the link below and grab yourself a copy of his book which has everything on the incredible journey. Finally  please leave your thoughts on anything in this as I find bits of incredible, amazing, mad but above all inspiring.

Nirvana in the Mountains

Continuing the idea of getting more people involved in this, it would be great to hear about a moment you feel you have achieved something great. It can be in anything finishing a race, winning a match, maybe giving a speech. The greater the variety the better.  

Day 2 was the day for a lie in, so we woke at 8am, I didn’t consider myself a fan of the freeze dried breakfasts so instead opted for a morning curry. What better way to start the day. I was a bit behind in the morning somehow and as we jumped into the car to head to the start point I was still pulling on socks, brushing my teeth and trying to put sun cream on all at the same time. Amazingly I didn’t end up spreading toothpaste over myself by mistake.

 

The plan for the day was to make our way up from near the centre of Chamonix up into the mountains and the ski area of Brévent-Flégère before traversing the mountainside and up to a lake called Lac Blanc. Before running back and down to camp as fast as we could. There wasn’t as much ascent as the previous day but certainly a longer distance to run and we reckoned it would probably take about the same amount of time as the previous day.

 

After a slightly stiff start the first section was followed a mixture of road and single track paths up the mountainside continually switching backwards and forwards. On parts of the way up you could make out all of the switch backs to come. Not the most enjoyable view knowing that each switchback gained hardly any height. Luckily the majority of this 1st uphill section was in the shade of pine trees with glimpses through to the surrounding mountains. Of all the days to climb Mont Blanc that day would definitely be one of them. The sun was gleaming off the top of it, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and we guessed most teams would have set off long by now. As we made our way up I was noticing that my chest was getting quite wet, it turned out my water bottles were not particularly great and had a habit of leaking everywhere not great news when it was already getting hot in the morning sun.

 

We rounded a corner and came across a sign diverting us in another direction, but it was clear people had been ignoring it. Just as we were deciding an old French runner came over glanced at the sign before telling us it was fine and skipped under the tape blocking the way. The path was alright except for a section where there had been a large land slide taking out the path along with destroying anything that was in its way. We had to carefully balance across the debris and over the boulders, including over some random plastic pipes.

 

The first stop came at a restaurant next to where a telecabin finished. We basked in the sun briefly, tried to dry our already sweat soaked tops out on the grass and munched down food and water. It is amazing how good food tastes when you work up an appetite. We noticed there was a constant stream of paragliders gracefully gliding up and down the valley on the thermals that surround the area. Something to come back to Chamonix for! At this point I realised my camera was broken and after several failed attempts at getting it work I gave up.

 

Continuing our way up the mountain further we came across the launch site for the paragliders. It was fascinating watching as they constantly lined up across this take off area in singles and tandems, preparing themselves before launching themselves down the mountainside. We quickly left this new distraction to hit the trails we had come here for and finally a flat section that we ran down and across dancing between walkers and over stones that littered the trail floor. We ran through gaps in towering rock avalanche defences protecting the villages and towns below, across rock strewn slopes and through the grasses now covering the once snowy slopes. It was strange seeing these areas I had skied over on numerous occasions now bare in the sun. One of the sights of the day was coming round a corner and seeing the track ahead cut out of the mountainside.

 

We reached the next mountain restaurant/bar. There was no water. A bit disheartening with the distance still to cover and not knowing how much further it was to the next watering hole. Luckily Si and Kov had enough to share some out. The next section was going to involve a bit more of a traverse before starting to ascend up to the lake our final destination. On our first and only glance it looked like there was about 300m ascent, not too much really given what we had already done. We passed a steady stream of people from every walk of life. Everyone was on the mountain; guided tours, families, the keen hiker and mountaineer to couples on a retreat. I think we tended to get the same look of slight bewilderment as we ran past them or as it got steeper marching past.

 

The climb up was a bit of a challenge, it became evident fairly quickly that this guess of 300m of ascent was slightly off and as my water and energy levels began to dwindle a mental battle ensued to keep me going at a good pace. Parched mouth and with the sun reflecting off the rocky surfaces around, the muddy puddles and trickling streams became ever more inviting. One of the biggest challenges was our pace becoming more and more dictated by the steady train of people up to Lac Blanc and with few passing places our group soon became dispersed along the mountain trail. At points I did wonder why we were running, I am often asked this too about my various runs. As I came round the corner I knew why. We had arrived at the lake finally.

 

I dropped my bag by Kov and Si. I approached the crystal clear water, firstly washing my face, then a quick drink before dunking my head in it. Incredibly refreshing.

 

It was a moment of elation, all be it a small one when I considered we were only half way but still we had reached our goal for the day. The lake was crystal clear and nestled amongst the peaks with views out across the valley. It was picture perfect. Speaking to the guys it turned out that there had been about 800m of ascent.

 

We filled our bottles at the mountain hut that was beside the lake and munched on yet more food, we could finally appreciate the views that surrounded us. Noticing a guided group were about to move down the same path that we were to go down we decided to go for it and begin the traverse and descent back towards Chamonix.

 

This started with climbing down a ladder than was bolted to the rock face that looked like it was about 50 years old before flying down the mountain and enjoying the change to a descent. The only thing that slowed our pace down was huddles of tourists enjoying a trek in the mountains who were being briefly interrupted by 3 sweaty, lycra clad guys. We came to a stop after coming round a corner to a view that included a new animal and one that we later found out was an Alpine Ibex. These are awesome animals which made Kov, who had gained the nickname of mountain goat, look incredibly tame in comparison as they galloped off down the mountainside as he scrambled to get his camera out in time.

 

The final section was spent sliding down scrabbly slopes which I distinctly remembered after the numerous chunks the route had taken out on the bottom of my skis. The car park suddenly popped into view and with a mixture of sadness, relief and pleasure the days running was over after spending 6 hours on the mountains. A quick change and we nipped into town where we gorged on pizza and bee, surrounded by a buzz of tourists, mountain bikers, climbers and loads of other outdoor enthusiasts. The day finished with wine cheese and another boil in the bag curry.

A perfect end to the day.

Where is your Mecca?

I thought I would try and find out where other people make or try and make trips to, whether it’s a music festival, ski resort or an awesome holiday destination. It would be great if you could comment with your places on here, whatever or wherever it is the only rule is that you have to find it incredible. Here is an account of somewhere that I find amazing. I’m quite a bit behind with this but back in August myself and two mates from the Marathon des Sables travelled to my Mecca of the outdoor playground in Chamonix, France. It’s an amazing place during the summer it’s packed with everyone from mountain bikers to climbers then during the winter there are thousands of skiers and snowboarders and many other winter pursuits.

We were there for one thing only and that was a long weekend of hard trail running.

After catching late night flights to Geneva and after being welcomed to I think the worst, most expense and lukewarm spaghetti bolognaise I have had, we set off in a rental car up to the top end of Chamonix. We walked further up the valley to find a secluded spot to camp as all the camping sites were shut. After a great team effort the tent was up and we were tucked up in our sleeping bags before falling asleep to the sound of a gurgling river and incredibly excited about what day 1 would involve.

Day 1 – Mont Buet

We woke at 6 am.

It turned out we were camped on a mountain bike track and were greeted to incredible views of the mountains including Mont Blanc. Our plan for the 1st day was to run up Mont Buet (3,096m high) a peak not far from Chamonix near a wee village called Vallorcine. As we drove over we were trying to work out whether we could see the peak but unfortunately it was sitting just behind a bit of cloud. By 8am we were preparing physically and mentally in the car park for a hard days trail running and looking bleary eyed. The sign at the base reckoned 6 hours to the peak.

We started slowly getting used to the exposed tree roots, rocks and boulders, a bit different to potholes, uneven paths and pram or shopping laden people on the roads and paths of London. The plan was to follow a stream up into the mountains through huge pine forests where the smell of the mountain air and pine was incredibly refreshing. This slow pace didn’t last long and soon we were running at speed a long a u-shaped valley (great gcse geography knowledge) with peaks towering around us. Part the way a long we met a French group one of whom was an elder lady who mentioned that the peak had “knee deep snow”. As we reached the halfway refuge we changed into longer clothing despite not entirely believing the description from the top, she was much shorter than us after all. A quick look at the map confirmed what we were all thinking, that the next section was going to involve a lot more ascent than the first. It looked like we were to ascend 1000m in 1.5km roughly; it was going to be tough.

After the refuge the terrain became much steeper, the other two had walking poles but they became a hindrance tip toeing around, over and between large boulders. We were certainly working up a sweat as we over took all those in front of us. Coming out of the boulder field into a bit of a bowl covered in slippery small pebbles, we hit the first section of snow at 2500m. I was beginning to think my road running trainers might be inappropriate for what we were doing. However we were still flying up the mountainside and took full advantage of these flatter sections.

The sun felt very strong as it was reflecting off the snow now all around us. We could see what appeared to be a summit and as we slipped, slid and sunk in the snow up towards it we realised pretty quickly that it was still below the top on Mont Buet. Reaching the top of this dummy peak we could see the true summit in front of us. It was our very own mini Everest for the day. We carefully traversed a ridge but the drops and more importantly the bottom looked a long way down. Although not quite the drops I imagine from the top of Everest. However it wasn’t ideal when your trainers feel like they would rather do anything else than grip the terrain we were crossing. There was a final 50m push to the top.

We reached the summit in glorious weather with a cairn on top decorated in flags from over the years. Unfortunately Mont Blanc was covered in clouds. We ate and admired the views while climbers appeared equipped with crampons, ice axes and a whole arrange of other serious looking kit.

Before setting off we had hoped to do a loop but on seeing the cornices and the steep snowy ridges that lay in front of us. We decided to ask the climbers who had come up a similar route to the one we planned to descend what the route was like. They casually looked us up and down and said it was far too hazardous and very dangerous as the going was much more technical than the way we had come. Especially when they realised we were in running shoes.

It was incredibly difficult heading back down the snowfield with our feet sliding under the crusty snow surface. I had the constant thought of not knowing what was underneath the snow and how it could be a slight problem if any of us injured an ankle up here. On approaching the dummy summit we came across a French group who we had already passed on the way up.

After a quick dialogue they asked if we were Mont Blanc guides.

I am pretty sure all our heads suddenly exploded with that ego boost, we must have looked nuts or highly professional. At least I would like to think so. We did point out that we weren’t guides but were just having fun running in the mountains. I borrowed a walking pole off Si just to help balance on some of the more precarious sections as we bolted down the mountainside, only slowing slightly as we re-entered the boulder field.

Running into the halfway stage at the refuge we certainly received some slightly startled and surprised looks. Without stopping we continued on down back along the river and now hoping to have a quick dip at some point in the cool mountain water. It wasn’t to be as the thought of food, beer and camp took priority for the final sprint to the finish.

We finished in 6 hours smashing the idea of it taking 6 hours just to reach the summit.

We went and grabbed a beer from a local cafe, I bought some trail running shoes hoping they would help over the next few days and we headed off to a campsite. The campsite was further down the valley to the previous night and sitting below the Argentiere glacier with spectacular views of Mont Blanc. After stuffing our faces with food we passed out.

Out in The Scottish Wilderness

After not racing or running much for a while I decided a new aim was needed. I wanted something tough, would only take up a weekend and was in the UK. It didn’t take long before I came across The Original Mountain Marathon otherwise known as the OMM. It is a race with a reputation for being wet, cold and tough and this year’s race was staged in the highland of Scotland between Loch Tay and Loch Earn with the start and finish near Crieff which was handy being near my home. [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sjWBODfduWk]

The race is done in pairs where you carry everything you might need over the weekend such as food, sleeping equipment, clothing and most importantly food. There are no water stations or food points it is very much about self sufficiency. I was competing in class B with Kov, who was one of my tent mates from the marathon des sables.

After a late night packing and an early start to catch an 8am train including a wee jog down the platform to ensure I actually made my train, we were off on the journey up to Perth. We met my parents and organised all our kit into the stuff we actually needed from the huge pile of stuff we had taken up. My dad made an amazing and vast amount of pre-race spaghetti bolognaise which was quickly demolished before heading up to Crieff the night before the race. The camp was set in a 2nd World War POW camp and after almost getting the car stuck we pitched our tent (in typical fashion it started to rain at this point) and went in search of the beer and registration huts. They had already sold out of beer.

The next morning we woke to yet more rain.

With a coach full of lycra clad people we headed up to the start line, a short drive followed by a very dubious “1 mile” walk to the start line right at the bottom of a valley not far from Loch Earn. The format for these races is that you have no idea where you are going until a minute before the start of the race. At which point you are given a map with various checkpoints which you have to reach in order but the route is up to us. The pre-race nerves began to kick in, a mixture of nervousness and excitement.

On the sound of the horn we were off and within about 5 minutes of starting we had already gone through heather, 1 stream up a bit of a hill and my once dry, clean and white socks (bit of a mistake I admit) were soaked through and covered in mud. It was going to be a long, hard and wet day. As the day wore on the cloud level dropped making map reading up high quite a challenge. We ended up trying to follow the route as the crow flies. On the longest section this resulted in us almost scaling a Corbet (something between a hill and a munro I found out) as well as having to scramble up a fairly miserable, wet and windblown rocky section. My fingers were getting incredibly cold; it was time for gloves and hat. At this point everything was soaked and as we reached the checkpoint Kov was pretty cold too and couldn’t get his gloves on. We decided a bit more running and a bit less scrambling was needed.

We traversed round a hill side and the ground was dropping away quite steeply. It was becoming a bit more of a scramble again and resembled a hillside made up of a series of large steps but we managed to keep the speed up. This was until I came round the corner to see a map on one track and an in pain Kov a few tracks below after slipping on one of them. We made it to the finish of the 1st day knackered, elated but feeling pretty strong, despite having a bit of dip after my energy levels got a bit low. We finished the day in 28th place with a time of 6 hours 29 mins.

As we pitched our tent it started to rain the heaviest it had done all day, typical. After getting water and changing into dry kit we decided to cook and stay in the tent for the rest of the night. I found a great use for my sleeping bag, it has holes around the arms which can be unzipped to make it into a gillet (something I don’t recommend) but it was great for being able to cook whilst completely cocooned in my bag.

The night was quite restless as I couldn’t get comfortable and later on was desperate for a pee but the warmth and comfort of the tent and the rain prevented me from going. It stopped about 5 am and I decided to run for it. I came out the tent and almost fell into another which had been pitched later in the evening right next to ours. It turns out that at 5am in the dark and starting to rain again that a green tent amongst a sea of 400 or so green and the occasional red tents is pretty hard to find. I spent about 20 minutes trying to locate mine before having to revert to calling out to Kov till I found the tent. Not ideal but certainly a learning point.

As it was in Scotland they had organised a piper to play at 6 am. After cooking breakfast and trying to put off the crawling out of the sleeping bags it was time. We slipped back into our wet kit after trying to wring out as much water as possible, except a pair of dry socks the one luxury. As soon as we stepped into the morning air the wind began cooling us in the damp clothing. We trudged off to the start line slightly stiff and trying to avoid the puddles before our feet were guaranteed to get wet.

The route for day 2 was different again but took us towards the campsite from the 1st night. Although the cloud levels were higher today there were still points that were difficult to navigate particularly on a rather flat plateau. I found the day a real challenge as I ended up having a constant battle with something known as “bonking” after allowing my energy levels to drop to low. With the help of Kov and by trying to stuff as much food as I had into my mouth we managed to overcome it. My eyes and mind began coming back from the glazed over state that they had become. The day was a lot drier at least. Instead of the wet conditions though there was more up and down over some big steep sections. This really sapped the energy from our legs.

As we got closer to the end we met some others who were going a similar pace and we constantly switched positions for a while despite not knowing where each other were in the field overall. It was great to have a visual and more competitive influence for a period of time rather than just the sight of hills, heather and a point on the compass. We did go past some incredible views; one that particularly shone out was coming down a hillside to the view on the opposite side the valley of 2 huge waterfalls crashing down the hillside. We were also about to run back up that very hillside which was slightly putting off.

The final sprint to the finish was pretty sickening with even slightest of gradients feeling tough but we knew that that extra effort would pay off. As the finish line came into sight all the negative feelings went and we crossed the line together. Shuffling over to the drink station at the finish we downed a load of sweet tea, think there was about 6 heaps of sugar in mine, and some juice. As we rested it began to sink in what we had been through and achieved it was an incredible feeling and definitely something to have a big grin about. We were 13th in our class on the day, helping us to finish 20th overall.

To view the route maps

4 marathons, 24 hours -The Rampant Run

It all started the day I arrived back in the UKhaving just run 250 km through the Saharadesert. I was in Whsmiths in Euston train station on my way home and picked up a running magazine while waiting for my train. As I flicked through I noticed an article about Ed Stafford, the 1st person to walk the length of theAmazon River. It finished with an invitation to join him and other runners on a 103 mile run from a small village in Leicestershire to the coast ofNorfolk. There was a cycle race following the same course and the plan was to arrive at around the same time. It was in 6 weeks time, so I thought it was more than enough recovery time. After a couple of emails and a phone call I was in business. [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4kq0VvOFMMs]

6 weeks later and hardly any running miles under my belt since finishing in the desert I was on the train to do my first +100 mile run. It had taken longer to recover but I was more than ready, it wasn’t a competition but a challenge to see if we could do it and finish. I met the other 5 members of the team (Ed, Cho, Rich, James, Charlotte and myself) that was up for the challenge and our support crew from “Rampant Sporting”. Laura and Fred had found themselves having to crew for us for the next 24 hours. After waiting all day for it to start, the start was only 30 mins to go and we still had photos to go, I had to get changed and get my feet prepared. I had left too much too late. Between photos with the local press I was hurriedly getting ready and as the others called me to start I had my socks partly on but had to shove my trainers on regardless and start as I threw my travel clothes into the back of the van that was to be our home for the next 24 hours or so.

As we introduced ourselves to each other having never met or really spoken other than the odd email it became evident that although we were all strong runners but none of us had done anything like this before. Mentally we were in a good place however it was going to be a steep learning curve.

Having never done a road marathon my 1st one and with still 3 to go was certainly fast at around 4 hours 30mins. I also had the pleasure of visiting ever pub toilet along that section of road as my stomach was doing cartwheels. I wasn’t sure whether it was something I had eaten, drunk or just nerves but it wasn’t pleasant. Trying to rectify this problem on the run was pretty difficult. My stomach didn’t want anything else but I had to try to balance this with the food and water that I needed to keep performing in a couple of hour’s time. It was certainly a challenge that I hadn’t anticipated at such an early stage.

What I had learnt from my running in the desert was the lag between the choices, decisions and actions I make don’t usually have an immediately but do in several hours time by which stage it can be too late and the damage already done. Whether it is the sore spot on your foot or the amount of food and water I was consuming at each stop.

“Every action or more importantly inaction has a reaction.”

We slowed the pace, especially as one of the runners Cho became increasingly sore as he ran. He done incredibly well and run the furthest he had ever done at about 30 miles, but it was over for him as he jumped in the back of the van for some well deserved rest.

The sunset was incredible as we watched the sun slowly cross and then sink from the sky. We were eating up the miles. We seemed even quicker in the dark with no points of reference to go by other than what we could see with our head torches and the vans headlights cutting into the darkness. It was a crisp night and the music pumping out of the vans speakers helped pass the time as we became engrossed in our own thoughts as if our minds slept while our bodies continued.

Sun rise came at about 4am as our beanies and extra clothes that had kept us warm over night began to come off. Morning revealed the flat surroundings as we came into a small village and we were feeling strong.

We were coming up to our next stop and breakfast arrived, which charlotte had prepared consisting of banana sandwiches, wheatabix and 9bar cereal bars. Rich had a quick snooze. As we continued leaving the village behind the smell of cooking bacon was wafting from one of the nearby cottages, it smelt delicious! The day was already heating up and as the day wore on Rich unfortunately had to drop out after reaching a monstrous 70 miles. We were all disappointed.

It wasn’t long after this that we were passed by the first cyclist of the day, what was to be one of many. The day was heating up and after being up for almost 30 hours it was beginning to show. The final marathon was going to be very tough and as the breaks became longer we realised we would be pushing it to reach the 24 hour mark. The now stream of cyclist passing us helped keep our spirits high with them shouting out to us as they shot passed. We increased the pace as we made our way towards the final check point for the cyclists, after a brief chat and top up with mars bars and water we continued on. Passing through the park we tried to get in as much shade under the tall trees as possible.

The final 3 miles were the longest and hardest 3 miles I think I have ever done the heat felt like it was increasing and the final section of the course felt incredibly hilly. Getting treats off some of the support vehicles for the cyclists helped lift our spirits and the addition of charlottes family coming along for the final trundle in the last few miles down to the coast. Our pace at this point was painfully slow but all we could manage.

The finishing line marked by a pub came into view helping us jog it in at a better pace and despite the miles already done, the tiredness we felt remarkably fresh. After 26 hours we had done it, not quite as a full team but Ed, James, Charlotte and I. It had been an incredible effort. The reception by the cyclists was incredible and completely unexpected. Thoughts of a cold pint were swapped to that of a seat and a pint of lemonade in the evening sun. Hobbling round the pub chatting to the cyclists and telling the story of the last 24 or so hours it felt fantastic to be finished.

Finally a big thank you has to be given to the support provided by Rampant Sporting, check them out http://www.rampantsporting.com/

Final Ultra

Last weekend saw me complete my final ultra race before heading out to the Marathon des Sables. It was another back to back weekend covering 58.6 miles along a the grand union canal which was organised by Rory and Jen from Ultra race. The race went incredibly well especially as I had increased my pack weight (although not entirely sure how much it did weighed) and I was testing out some injinji socks which are kind of like gloves for your feet. The first day was an early start waking at 5.30 am to reach the start line on time followed by a quick drive to Colgrave. However the day passed quickly with a plentiful supply of 9bars and energy drinks. I finished the day strong partially helped by some of the very strong runners that I met along the way including a hugely inspiring cancer patient who runs marathons and longer almost every week!  In the end I finished in 18th, and quickly made my way to book a massage and order a huge plate of food. Following this I had to have my ecg as it is required byt the marathon des sables organisers, it was certainly a different experience being wired up to a machine on a couch whilst in the middle of a hotel.

The second day started much better than expected as the weather improved from a rather damp previous day and a couple of us settled into a great rhythm. However I did feel the building of a nice blister on the arch of my foot, the 1st for the race which given the state of my feet in previous races was fantastic news. In the end I finished 18th overall which has bumped my ranking in the UK championship to 16th overall.

Pictures are to come...

9Bar Ultra 90

I arrived in Northampton on friday the 21st of January and trudged my way to the Park Inn hotel, the starting point for this years Ultra 90 organised by Ultra Race. I was slightly concerned that my training in the build up to such an event with the festive period and a move to Manchester making it particularly difficult to fit in some big mileage, however I felt a positive attitude would get me through to the end. I was greeted by Rory and Jen of the Ultra Race team, this certainly helped with the confidence levels. I went to sleep ready to take on the 1st challenge of 45 miles in 1 day, which is a fair few miles more than I had previously done of 28 miles. The day kicked off with my alarm rudely awaking me at 6.30am I sorted my kit, food, hydration and then taped the soles of my feet. I had found this approach had worked preventing me getting blisters on a previous race so thought I would give it another shot.  As I entered the breakfast area I was greeted by a room full of lycra clad and fluorescent yellow people. The time went very quickly before the start time of 8am but I heard enough to find out that the youngest competitor was 19, the oldest a 77 year old man and there were competitors from Germany and Sweden.

The race started and early on it felt like a plaster was being pulled off and then put back on the base of my foot from the tape which had clearly come off already, but I was ever hopeful that the constant pounding of my feet would at least press it on. I quickly settled into a good rhythm and switched between a number of groups throughout the day. Early on I realised that the thought of the food at each check point was becoming of greater interest as I ate up the miles. The route itself was alright it was along a canal with no detours to include any hills, this made it a perfect opportunity to test out running and walking something which is crucial in training for the Marathon des Sables. Towards the end of the race was where it got interesting as I started to pass people who had possibly gone off too quickly or maybe I was starting to finish too strongly. Then I spotted up a head a wee man in yellow bobbing along who looked very comfortable after 44 miles, I thought there is still time to over take. It then occured to me that it was the 77 year old, who was currently beating me. I wasn't impressed so decided it had to be done and I had to dig deeper to make sure I got passed, simpler said than done. I am still convinced he was also picking up the pace towards the end however as I drew near we still managed some encouraging words, it all occurred just in time as the finish line appeared. I finished extremely happy with a time around 8 hours 20 mins, not bad for my first 45 miler. However on inspecting my feet my initial reaction of the tape did the trick was quickly changed to I have 2 huge blisters on each arch as a result of trying to prevent them, I hadnt felt them at all. I also realised that I was very hungry, so quickly munched down burger, chips and an extra portion of chips it was fantastic! I had a shower and a bath later on in the hope it would soothe my muscles for day 2.

Day 2 started slowly, after spraying the breakfast area with musseli and feeling slightly naseaus I reached the start line eager to get through this early feeling. Those first 9 miles to the check point were horrible with my legs feeling like they were being tightened by a screw each step, this was my IT bands starting to go! I carried on through the 1st checkpoint and grabbed some soreen malt loaf on the way which did help, I was thinking all the sweets I had eaten the previous day was now a bad idea. As the miles went by my pace was slowing drastically with my muscles tightening and small niggles beginning to crop up particularly my knees. I managed to reach the 3rd checkpoint with two other competitors who pulled out at that point, I felt that I could go on even after a brief break only meters further on. However it was not to be after passing around the 33  mile mark I had to pull out due to my legs feeling rubbish and not wanting to risk injury. I was gutted.

Druid Challenge

I completed my first ultra marathon, kind of the first stage in my build up to completing "The Worlds Toughest Footrace". It was 1 of the 3 days of the Druid Challenge organised by XNRG extreme energy covering 28 miles along the ridgeway in Oxfordshire. I manage to complete it in 4 hours 58 mins. Definitely a time which can be improved on.