Thank you so much to everyone for the amazing response to the race report post. I wasn’t sure if I was getting the real race feel across properly but it seems you have all understood. It means the world to hear such positive responses from friends and blog followers.
Just before I start, I have added to my training plan section with an ultra and a half marathon, or thereabouts, race plan. You can go through the link above or just click on “Training” link on my home page on the site. Remember these are only rough guides, it isn’t about sticking exactly to these plans. You can tweak them in a way that suits you and your lifestyle. I hope to post a few more and some multisport plans soon.
So this time two weeks ago I had just registered in chamonix for the CCC. There have been many questions asked about the race and my race report, but it is still so hard to explain what UTMB races are like. I have been recovering well and apart from an issue with my left leg, which I spoke about mid race, I think I’m doing ok. There is no doubt that I will need more time and the proper rehab to come back fully fit from this one. I have been doing lots of glute work, balance work and taking every piece of advice I can find on stretching, balance and strength work for IT band syndrome. I know it is in my quad and IT band that the issues are so it is about focusing on them and feeling my way back.
I’m still on a bit of a buzz after France, it really fires you up knowing there are so many other challenges you can go back to over there. But what is next?
I will, no doubt throw my name in the hat for a race over there net year. At the moment I am swaying towards the CCC again or possibly the TDS. The UTMB requires 15 points over 3 races, meaning I would need to complete another 100km plus race before christmas. That is not going to happen this year! I have plenty of time to decide. At the moment life is about finding work here in Bristol and once I have that I will know if I can race at all next year. I hope to be back running enough over the next few months to do one more ultra before Christmas, just to keep the distance in the bag!
The winter is a great time for training. A focus throughout the darker months is important and I have some ideas in mind this year. First of all I’m getting back on the bike, which I have already started since CCC. Secondly I have started playing a bit of football again, crazy I know risking injury a bit, but I am new to Bristol and it is about making friends. Thirdly I will run a few times a week and hopefully at least once on the trails at the weekends. This all building up to a little event next March? I won’t mention the name just yet as I haven’t decided 100%. For those of you back home I think you have a fair idea where I hope to be on the 23rd of March 2019!
My only other plan for 2019, at the moment, is to enter the draw for the Laveredo Trail Ultra in the Dolomites in Italy. No doubt it is one for the bucket list. This tends to be an easier draw to get through so fingers crossed. I will also throw my name in the massive and almost impossible hat for The Western States draw in November. This is one of the most iconic races in the world but the draw can take years before you have a chance. I have a chance to enter as a finisher of the CCC in under 25 hours, so why not!
As running has become such a big part of my life these goals are essential. Many ultrarunners burn out after a big race or take alot of time off. I think it is important to get back on the trails as soon as the body is ready and have these goals to fire you on.
There are times in your life that you realise how much we all change as life goes on. Only two years ago I swore I would never do a marathon and that adventure racing was the only thing for me. Now here I was, standing on the start line of one of the most iconic ultramarathon’s on the planet, The CCC (Courmayeur- Campex lac- Chamonix), Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc, only a few rows back from the pros and the thoughts running through my head were incredible. This would be my 4th ultra of the year as well as two trail marathon’s on top of that. The most important thing I was telling myself was to ease into it, remember all my experience and enjoy the day.
The best thing about this race was the fact that I would have crew support in the latter stages and I had the chance to race with fantastic runners, like Owen above. Such a gentleman and all round just loves the sport. He is fully fanatical and it helps so much bouncing things off other runners before the race starts. Emma would be my tent crew and Sinead and Kieron would be the word in my ear as I entered and left. Little did I know how important a crew really is. I have heard all these mushy stories about how a familiar face can really pull you through the hard times in Ultras. Being honest I thought it might help but never as much as it actually turned out. My parents would be at the finish line and there was no way I was going to leave them hanging out there all night!
For anyone that has 5 minutes and less time to read my report there is a video summarising my day if you scroll to the bottom of the post, or a link here.
The UTMB race series is the biggest trail running event in the world. Over 10,000 athletes arrive with another 20,000 supporters and crew to the little alpine town of Chamonix for a week of running, good food and fun. Myself and Emma arrived on Tuesday night, I spent Wednesday crewing for Shaun Stewart as he completed the TDS, a mere 123km and over 7000 metres of ascent. Thursday was spent in Chamonix, registration along with 2147 other athletes and some time eating and chilling before an early night in preparation for the race Friday. Before I launch into the race report I want to mention something that was said to me by a few supporters and non runners. They said that no matter what you tell people, there are no words to explain what these races are really like, what they do to the competitors and what the feeling of finishing is like. You have to see the race or experience it to really get the idea. I will try to put in words what my day was like on the 31st of August 2018.
We hopped on the first bus at 6am to arrive in Courmayeur Switzerland at 6.45am. The race wouldn’t start until 9 but being my first time I had decided to air on the side of caution for everything. The morning was calm, about 12 degrees and dry. The mountains loomed on every side of this beautiful alpine town and the buzz was gradually building. What better time for a quick nap!
I have to say I was pretty relaxed, excited and the body was feeling very much like a run. I hadn’t ran all week, bloody crazy I know, but you can’t beat the feeling of hunger to run before an event.
The mandatory kit, water and some food added up to almost 3kg on my back and I kept my phone and Black Diamond carbon poles on my Arch max belt around my waist. I would run in shorts and socks with Salomon S-lab ultra runners and a cycling jersey on top with my foldable mug/bowl tucked in the pocket. It was a “no plastic bottle” race so we had to carry a cup/bowl for the aid stations. A super idea in my book.
It was 8am, a last queue for the bathroom and on to the start line. I soon noticed that I would be in the first wave/pen alongside the elites and the pros. I hadn’t expected it to be easy to try and start in the top 300 but it turned out I was standing somewhere in the 200-300 group as we lined up (This is decided by your ITRA points from qualification races. Basically to do with where you finished in these races, therefore it tends to be accurate in terms of where you stand). The crowd gathered quickly and the anthems of Switzerland, France and Italy were played around 8.40 as the tension really started to build. The race of course passing through all three countries over the route. To give you an idea of how much it means to people and their families, there were numerous people crying and the emotions were running very high. It may of taken years of preparation or be a life goal for many to stand here on this line. The level of athlete was clearly high with streamlined people all around me, buzzing to get on the move. TV helicopters and drones hovered above as an Irish guy gave the introduction to the race. Weird to here an Irish accent announcing the race here in the middle of the Alps. Before I knew it the count down was on and the gun went off. This was really happening and now all I had to do was put one foot on front of the other for somewhere between 14 and 27 hours. No problemo!
Goals, times, places and pretty much all that side of things quickly went out of my head as I decided to race the first half of the race steadily, not go into the red at any stage in this period and hopefully be in a position to improve on my placing as the race progressed. Whether this would unfold or not was a mystery.
From the outset my nutritional plan was to stay away from gels, eat and drink almost only Tailwind and hopefully be hungry enough in aid stations later in the race, to eat some real food. The Tailwind has been tested for nearly two years now and I have to say it is the best thing I have ever found. From the off I sipped away on my bottles, drinking lots, ingesting the Tailwind in my water and therefore taking in calaries (200 per sachet) as well as lots of electrolytes.
The first 10km of the race are basically uphill with a few little runnable narrow trails. From the start we wound are way around the streets of Courmayeur and up along a winding road before stepping onto the single trail in a conga line of runners. The crowds along the road in Courmayeur and pretty much in every town all day were incredible. As we arrived at the single trail, I quickly took out my poles and would use them for every climb all day. We gradually climbed from 1000 metres all the way to 2500 metres, fast hiking the uphills and jogging the downhills and flats. If I felt an increase in heart rate, which I generally didn’t, I would ease off a little. I didn’t wear my heart rate monitor as it is only another distraction and also drains the battery on my watch a bit faster. Listen to your body is the name of the game. Up and up and up we went, above the treeline, checking out the town of Courmayeur below, now in the distance. This was amazing. As we started the final 500 metres of the climb, the live camera helicopter hovered over us throwing dust all over the mountainside and creating an amazing atmosphere. I felt really comfortable on the climb and after about two hours I was on the top of Tete de la Tronche and through the first marker. From here we descended on a really runnable open trail all the way to Refuge Bertone at the 15km mark. The downhill was class and easy but I did hold back as I didn’t want to burn the legs too early. What I didn’t realise was that this was one of a few really nice descents and that the majority of descents later in the race were steeper and far more technical. I stopped in Bertone for some nice orange slices, some watermelon, a baby snickers and topped up all my water with Tailwind. Goal one over, now lets go find the next checkpoint!
The next 7 km was all along nice rolling terrain, technical in parts but I ran most of it and the field was starting to spread out into little groups. I could see I was generally in the same group that I had started in and took comfort from this. The views as we arrived at Refuge Bonati were spectacular with a vast line of massive steep mountains to the left of the trail on the other side of a valley below. Unfortunately my go pro camera was acting up a bit at this stage and I could only take videos. These are in the clip below. The trail was still very open and nice to run at this point. Small climbs meant slowing down and hiking and then rolling off the top of them and onto the winding trails again. I topped up on water in Bonati and realised the next stop was at Arnouvaz at the bottom of the valley. This would involve a big descent. I was half way down when I went to suck some water and found that one of my soft flasks was gone. Would I be running another 75km with only one water bottle. Slight panic set in for about a minute until I calmed myself and told myself that I could drink more at the checkpoints and then fill up in streams when needed. All would be fine. I cruised down to Arnouvaz at 27km and felt I was doing ok. I came across a big heard of alpine cattle on the trail and took a slight detour around them, not knowing how pleased they were with all these mad people carrying poles on their territory. I had just had my first pee and realised I would need to keep topping up on water and drinking as much as I could. Running at over 2000 metres for the first time ever with climbs like these was causing me to lose fluids the instant I consumed them. The really interesting thing was that when I drank, within minutes I was pouring sweat again. Logical you would think, but it made me decide that I wanted to be sweating all day. If I was sweating I was hydrated, if not I was running out of fluids. Simple but I’ve seen it go wrong before! Just before arriving at the checkpoint I spotted a soft flask on the side of the trail. Karma you might say but I was back to two bottles, nice one!
After Arnouvaz I ran along the river and at a crossing there were dozens of kids out cheering us on. As I approached the far side of the river, beside the kids, the guy on front of me fell and I landed on his back on the ground. Hilarious for the kids. I picked him up and on we went. It just goes to show how easily a fall could end your race. It wasn’t long before the second big climb of the day. I locked into gear and started to fast hike as best I could. It turned out that my hiking uphill was really steady and would continue this way all day. I felt strong, as I was holding back a bit on uphills. All the hill repeat training was paying off. The top of this second climb, called Grand Col Ferret at around 2500 metres is on the border of Italy and Switzerland. After about 2200 metres the weather had changed and I had thrown the jacket on. The mist made it a little cold and my hands were cold on the poles so I grabbed my gloves. I passed a good few people on this climb, enjoying it a lot. It was after summitting Col Ferret and starting the decent towards La Fouly that I started to feel the downhill legs burning (mostly my quads). The descent was full of switch backs, running on hard mud and then much more technical towards the bottom. I passed through a scanning checkpoint half way down and from this point on the trail got steeper and it started to takes it’s toll. Towards the bottom of this descent of about 11km I came across a gravel fire road and then onto a paved road, running in a group, but this group soon left me behind. I was slowing on the road (as usual), the downhill on pavement beginning to hurt the legs. I let the group go, knowing I would see the majority of them again and there was no point burning too hard just now. The rain was now pouring down but with my Salomon jacket I was comfortable. La Fouly, at the end of the first marathon of the day, was busy. Some people were changing clothes but I decided it was only 17km until my first assistance checkpoint at Champex lac and if I kept moving I would be warm enough. We were also descending a lot over that 17km with one climb up to Champex so I didn’t expect to be cold in this section. It was like a soft Irish day after all, nothing out of the ordinary. I had a drink of coke, some oranges, another snickers and filled my bottles. My thoughts were, don’t stop when you feel a bit low, get going and run it off.
The marathon had taken me almost 6 hours but on this terrain that was ok and it also meant I was bang on where I wanted to be. I had no idea at the time but I was around 204th position overall. I had decided pretty early in the race, on seeing the type of climbing and the terrain involved that today was about finishing, maintaining as good a pace as my body would let and learning for the future. After that everything was a bonus. From La Fouly to Champex was a long downhill slog. My old pain behind my left knee, floating down my leg, almost into the top of my calf muscle was flaring up. I stopped to stretch it out a bit, do some leg swings and on I went, descending down on paved roads, fire roads and then more paved road through tiny little farm villages. I began to lose some places but then picked up a few as well. As I ran a fellow Irish runner, passed me. I picked up the pace to say hello. Stephen told me he was from Dublin but leaving in Hong Kong for years. Another runner travelling a long way for this race! After about 12km of downhill I could see Champex up on the hill and realised that a 500 metre climb would bring me to food and the company of my crew. Bring it on.
I was delighted to see Sinead and Kieron outside and Sinead told me she would see me at the exit again. I entered the tent and Emma was there with all my kit ready. It was great to see her and she informed me I was looking fresh and in great shape compared to others that were passing through. I ate a small bowl of meat and pasta, a bar and some sweets for dessert and drank some water. I changed my wet top and the dry t-shirt felt great. A few minutes later I emerged from the tent, a new man. It had been a fairly low 17km before Champex. I gained 8 places in leaving the checkpoint in good time. I ran along the amazing lake beside Champex and Sinead kept me company. She told me ” your race starts here, this is when you come into your own, you have it in the legs and we will see you again in 18km”. These words were hard to believe as I really wasn’t sure I had it in me like that, but I took them in and decided if Sinead, an accomplished runner, had this faith in me, it must be true. Right, let the race begin!!
After a kilometre or two on the road I was back on the trail and it wound its way along for a good few kilometres, some of this on a fire road before the next 1000 metre climb started. I was in the middle of a few strong climbers and I decided to stick with them. I could see two of the guys were particularily strong and I called this right as the three of us soon dropped another three as we ascended. Relentless is a handy word for this climb. It was incredibly steep and technical. The inside of my elbows started to cramp but soon stopped. All the work my arms were doing was new to them. I had told myself that once at the top I had more than half the days climbing in the bag and almost 4 Carrauntoohils (Irelands highest peak). Only two more of those to go until the finish. This climb and the next few were all in the forest. The summits were just above the tree line at around 2000 metres. I climbed watching the altitude rise on my watch. I was counting it down 100 metres at a time, still feeling strong on the up and hoping the downhill leg pain might ease with the break.
At La Giete, the top of the climb, I had gained 11 places, not that I really knew this, but I did know I was moving well on these climbs. I was drinking a huge amount, with Tailwind, and stopped to top up both bottles. The volunteers here were dancing around to music and having fun. They had been amazing at every stop all day and this was a lift to people. They told us there was a 5 km descent over 600 metres to Trient. My next chance to see Emma, change, eat and get ready for darkness.
My leg was fine on the descent until the last 200 metres on the fire road. The light was fading but I knew I was timing it nicely before it died completely. I arrived in Trient, filling my water up on the way in with Sinead running alongside me. She was told to head into the spectator tent, which she did by jumping over a barrier at the last second. Nicely done Sinead! Emma was set up and ready in the tent and I told her I was feeling well and felt I had smashed that last section. She got me some tea with sugar, hot soup with rice and I changed into my thermal top and headlight for the night ahead. I ran out of Trient as the light was starting to fade. A long straight path followed and then into a 700 metre climb, similar to the last one, awaited. It took me about an hour and ten minutes to reach the top and I was passing people constantly throughout. Almost 5000 metres climbing under the belt, I arrived at Tseppes at 8.40pm, 11 hours and 40 minutes of racing under the belt and 76km. I started to realise that I only had just over a half marathon left and my second marathon was almost complete. Who would of thought the second one was almost more comfortable than the first. You may be thinking I’m making this sound kinda easy, but that is what we do when we are going well. The reality was that I was just about staying out of the red and had to push harder and harder on the climbs to keep pace, before concentrating on the descents. It was taking it’s toll and I was really feeling the brunt of all the downhill. 7km of downhill followed from Tseppes to Vallorcine. My leg was now screaming, but just about manageable. I wasn’t able to descend fast but I could run most of it which felt good. Lots of zig zagging, running under bridges and along footpaths followed before Sinead met me at the entrance to the checkpoint at Vallorcine. My headlight had been poor since I switched it on near the top of the climb and my plan was to switch to my other headlight before leaving on my final push to the finish. Emma was waiting and explained that they had barely made it on time to meet me. I had expected this as they explained it might be the case. The fact that they had made it was a big boost and made things alot less stressful for me. Once again being fed and watered, as we say in Ireland, helped a great deal, not to mention the fact that I only had 18km to the finish line in Chamonix!
I left Vallorcine and switched on my headlight to be delighted with my new found light. The previous descent had been so tough, not only with pain in leg but with the technical trail that I could barely see. I was psyched up now, the finish line in sight. The trail wound up a gradual slope on a farm road from Vallorcine, onto a long stretch of main road and then on crossing the road I started the climb from Tre Le Champ to La Flegere. Of course having not studied the course in detail I was unaware that this was split into two big climbs. The climbs were extremely steep, the first going up to about 1700, descending to 1400 and then back up to 1950metres. Mighty craic when your legs have very little left. The really fun part here was the descent after the first climb. It was actually a detour last minute as a climber was killed in a rockfall here a few weeks ago. This descent was incredible tough, jumping over boulders and massive roots, loose rock and the odd trail runner slowing to a stop! I spotted some lights just off the trail at this point and realised a huge group of hikers were lying under a massive rockface in their sleeping bags. The second climb ended up following a ski field all the way up to La Flegere. It was midnight and the stars were out. My whole body wanted to stop and have a rest but I knew I just needed to throw myself 900 metres and 8km’s down the mountain to Chamonix. I had been semi-hallucinating for the last hour with my headlight making the grass move and things were a little weird to look at at times but with a cup of tea and a swig of coke I was off again. A lady passed me in the tent and literally sprinted down the mountain on front of me. Incredible!
With 6082 metres of climbing under your belt you would think a little 8km to a finish line would be a piece of cake. Well, not so much. Pretty much every step hurt like hell. I was ok on the winding trails but the steep fire road sections were pure pain. I was, however, still running. The trail passed through a restaurant, literally through the outdoor seating area, closed at 12.30am of course and on down the mountain I went. I finally came to the town and bridge number one of two crossings of the road and river. Climbing up those steps was something else this close to home. I fell twice on the first bridge! These were my first slips in 100 kilometres, thankfully. I ran along the river, passing two and being passed by one before reaching the centre of town and there was Emma to run the final 500 metres home. The relief was amazing. I was almost there. Sinead and Kieron were out and following me, somehow scooting from the 500 metre to the 100 metre marks in seconds! I saw the line and lights and then my parents on the side. Holding back the emotions, really being too tired to cry I crossed the line 16 hours and one minute since leaving Courmayeur. I was in 163rd position making up 40 places in the second half. Holy crap that was pure madness, but one hell of an experience.
As I stood at the line all the last energy drained and I became weak and cold instantly. A shuffle home to bed was needed. I didn’t sleep as my body was completely beaten up as well as excited. I was able to make the finish again to see Owen arrive in the morning. A job well done.
It had worked, my pacing was a success, my training got me around and I felt as if I might even get better. It is such a fragile thing running 100km or really running anything further than a marathon. You really don’t know what is coming next. Bit by bit I am learning that experience is the key but you can never be over confident. The body will shut you up in a heart beat. The mind will continue to do somersaults.
What do I do training wise, taper wise now? Will I risk injury by training more? Have I lost some fitness on holidays? Have I raced too much this year already? Am I perfectly ready for it? These are the questions to be answered carrying on from my post the other day.
The key with any race, but particularly one you have had to qualify for and be lucky enough to be successful in a draw for, is to make the start line in one piece. I could try putting pressure on my training for a few days, as it is still 10 days away but I have decided to try and be a bit smarter. I ran on Sunday with an hour of hill repeats,(mainly to practice with my poles. I was lucky I did as one of the poles was stiff and needs attention). On Monday we went for a little kayak on the River Avon, yesterday I did a bike and core session and today I will go for a short run in the evening. This still leaves me 10 days short of race day. My general plan is to keep things as normal as possible, eating properly, training daily (but a lot less than normal) and from Sunday on, race prep and more rest.
Of course at this stage I won’t get any fitter or stronger but the key is to stay loose and feel strong. I feel that since Snowdonia in mid July I have trained very carefully and am more rested than I was prior to that race. At least that should be the case, fingers crossed.
So what are my goals for next week?
As discussed the number one goal is to stand on the line, two is to enjoy the race and three is to finish. On top of this I would like to push myself for the top 100 and I will only really know mid race if I will be capable of this or better. I am not putting big pressure on myself. After all there is over 6000 metres of ascent and only once in my life have I ran further than 100km. Sure it is only 2 and a half marathons in the Alps! This said I am gaining experience in every race and feel mentally ready for this one. There will be major up and down periods in the race but as I always say, if you focus on the good times, you will battle through the bad, knowing there are more good ones to come. Might sound a bit on the silly side but in ultramarathon running positivity can be the difference.
I don’t really intend to set split times along the course. This might put too much pressure on and I would rather pace myself according to feel. The one thing I intend to do is start with a good climb in the first 5km and get a reasonably nice position early on. I have been informed that if you go out very slowly the bottlenecks on the narrow trails will increase and this can cause you to slacken off your own pace. I have also experienced getting considerably cold in these situations in the past.
The most exciting part of this event is the fact that this will be my first ever race in the Alps, not to mention a pretty prestigious one at that. I will see lots of the pro runners and will have the opportunity to follow all the races, including supporting Shaun Stewart on his TDS 120km race on Wednesday and watching the UTMB 170km race on Saturday, the day after the CCC. To make matters even more exciting Emma will be there as well as Sinead and Kieron (my well known running buddies) and a chance of my folks showing up in their campervan too I’ve heard. I must race in amazing places in Europe more often!
So I hope to check in here again later in the week or early next week for a final pre race post. In the meantime it is back to the Bristol job hunt and time to start gathering race kit from all corners of the house.
The last few weeks were spent travelling to the US for a wedding and from there straight to Sweden for a few weeks holiday. The picture above probably says it all. It was no doubt one of the most amazing sunsets I have ever seen and apparently nothing like those in the few weeks before we arrived. This was out at, Hallan, a little seaside summer house on an island. We went fishing, swimming, spent lots time in the sauna and during the day hit the mainland for a run or two. We even made our own yoga/gym in the woods near the house, just to stay moving while eating more than usual, which was nice. We ate perch, caught fresh during the day and enjoyed all the usual Swedish dishes as well as the all important Fika once a day. Coffee, but coffee Swedish style. They really make the best coffee in the world. I have been turned! A massive thanks to Emma’s folks, Runar and Lotta, for being the greatest hosts and we really enjoy spending time with them. We had some fun picking blueberries and finding mushrooms while on a cloudberry hunt. All part of the Swedish adventure.
The weather was excellent the first few days and it wasn’t until my return from a nice 24km run on the mainland that the rain arrived. I got a nice soaking but it was good getting a few miles in after a week or two of very low mileage. This being said I needed the break and I worked on strength most days making sure I am strong and healthy with the big one just around the corner.
It is hard to stop me fishing in Sweden. The views, the crystal clear waters and the prospect of some great fish make it a unique place to spend time.
Our next stop was a 4 hour drive north to a little cabin by the Vindel River, more commonly known as Vindelalven in Swedish. I won’t go into detail but in order to make River status in Sweden you have to be pretty bloody big. This river is a tributary of the Ume River and the Vindel itself is 445km long. There are so many Swedish rivers of this length and longer it is hard to get your head around the amount of water and then the vast mountains where these rivers find their source. Many of the rivers originate in the mountains in Northern Norway winding their way all the way to the sea along the Swedish coast.
I would stick to fishing the area just on front of the cabin and had some great fun catching lots of grayling and one trout over the few days. After a few days by the river the mountains were calling so off to the Kungsleden we went to recci some of this famous trail for a bigger trip hopefully in the next year or two.
We drove North to a little town called Ammarnas, famous for trout and grayling fishing as well as being a stop off for skiers and hikers on the Kungsleden. Here we parked up and started our hike towards Servestugan.
This section of the Kungsleden is the last section if travelling North to South and is called the Ammarnas-Hemavan section. You could start in Hemavan and hike the entire trail, south to north as well, 450km north to Abisko. In general the times given to hike on the Kungsleden are generous as most people hike with 15kg plus on their backs. We only had about 7kg so we were able to power hike and make the 26km in 6 hours which was good going. The elevation turned out a lot easier than I expected, the Irish and English, not to mention the recent hills on La Palma being huge mountains compared to this hike. We topped out at around 1100 metres and would spend the night at around 600metres. There are of course massive mountains in this range but our hike was one of the more forgiving in terms of elevation. The panoramic views were incredible, vast wilderness as far as the eye could see, once the rain lifted that was.
On our final descent towards our stay for the night we met a heard of reindeer, coming closer than usual according to Emma. They made a U shaped journey around us as we stood and admired these fabulous animals. The vastness of these mountain ranges means you rarely get this close to the animals so we felt lucky with our encounter. We didn’t manage to spot a moose or meet a bear on this occasion! There is a short clip including our reindeer encounter in the video at the end of this post.
Our return hike was less interesting with long sections of boardwalk in the woods. The woods were quiet and beautiful for the first hour but after a while I wished for a little change in the view. Finally I was rewarded with this.
And this was the view looking back up along the lake we had hiked along coming from Servestugan back to Ammarnas. Emma looking fresh as could be after hiking over 11 hours in the two days. We arrived back to the car in the early afternoon giving us most of the day to make our way back to Umea. It was sad to say goodbye to the Swedish mountains for possibly a year again. Some day we will spend more time up there in the vast clean landscape of the North.
So after three weeks of fun it’s back to job searching and then there is the small matter of the CCC in exactly two weeks to the day. What do I do training wise, taper wise now? Will I risk injury by training more? Have I lost some fitness on holidays? Have I raced too much this year already? Am I perfectly ready for it? These are the questions to be answered in my next post early next week. I’ve some thinking to do on the matter!!
It was back to Snowdonia last weekend for a repeat of 2017 and the hope of another great race on an amazing course. We travelled up on Saturday early in time to get a nice spot by the lake in Llanberis for a swim and a long barbeque. The day was a long one with an early start in Bristol as well as a short nights sleep. Not the greatest race prep but I really enjoyed the day, met up with some local friends and some Irish buddies over to take part in the race. We enjoyed the chill time either side of the hard work.
As already posted last week, I explained how hard this race is, but also how I had enjoyed my 2017 experience and was really chuffed to finish in 14th overall. This year would be much drier on the course and a bit hotter, around 21 degrees but all in all I had a race plan to try and beat my 2017 time and see where I was. So here goes!!
The course is basically made up of a decent hill to start and an incredibly decent hill to finish, that being Snowdon Mountain. With this in mind I decided to try to take on the first hill without quite going into the red and then maintain a steady pace for the flatter sections before giving Snowdon a good lash. Smash, bang, wollop, this all went a bit pear-shaped to say the least!
I can remember one of the first checks of my watch was at the 10km mark and I realised I had gone up over and down the first hill in 50 minutes. Too fast? Well maybe too fast but time would tell. I felt strong but had I gone off my original track of not going too hard. I was in 10th position or thereabouts, far too high up, in hindsight, at this stage as my strength would come in the latter stages if I raced smart. I was running with my usual Tailwind in my water bottles and had decided to carry enough water and jellies to last me until the mountain. I think my nutrition was working but something started to go wrong around the 17km mark when my whole body became more tired than it should be. The terrain early on is reasonably technical with a slog to the top of the first hill and then a fast descent as far as the first checkpoint. At this point you hit a gravel trail and follow it around a lake, through forestry trail until arriving in a little village and the next checkpoint. It was towards the end of this section I started to think I had gone a bit hard early on. Now it totally remains to be seen whether this was the case, did I just have a bad day, or have I raced and trained too much in the last 6 months? Who really knows, maybe I wasn’t enjoying the race as much as I should and when you stop enjoying yourself it really can go very wrong. I met a fellow runner and we discussed briefly how we felt pretty crap. We both decided that the next time we felt good we would enjoy that moment, as long as it lasted!
Outside of this developing tiredness and realising this was going to be one of those really tough days, when it just wasn’t all in my tank, I did take in some of the amazing views. The countryside all around me was just buzzing, not to mention those vast mountains looking over us all day. The earth was totally scorched from the dry spell, in comparison to a wet, lush green course in 2017. It is an incredible route and one to savour, no matter how sore you are. Around the 21km mark we started to meet the ultra runners, on the 61km course and I thought to myself how I have become an ultrarunner in the last year. What I have accomplished in the last year and the mileage I have put in, sure I am bound to have a bad mountain marathon every now and then. “Stop feeling sorry for yourself and just get on with it. It is all preparation for France in August and you are a lucky person to be in the position to run in the top 20 of any marathon”. This was me talking to myself throughout. Anyone that runs long distance has these constant conversations with themselves. It is all about coming out on top in a positive way. It is way too easy to get bogged down and think negatively when things go wrong.
I arrived at the base of Snowdon climb in 2 hours and 45 minutes, 32km into the race and 8 minutes ahead of last years time. This was a boost to my morale considering I had been passed by up to 10 runners and was feeling spent. I would lose some of this time before the finish, mainly because the first half of Snowdon was awful. I couldn’t get my legs going on the climb, sometimes almost stopping. The second half improved as I chewed on some jellies, barely able to swallow, but gradually the legs began to move. I finished the climb in a stronger fashion and began to descend out of the mist in what was a long 8km decent on tired legs. I admired the train tracks on my left, thinking a train ride down wouldn’t be the worst thing right now.
It may seem funny to people who have read my race reports, that this post is such a downer, after some really good races this year, especially that it was a mere 44km race. The thing about the shorter distances, when you get into long distance running, is that you go harder and the body takes a different type of beating. I was clever in recent races such as Transvulcania and the Maurice Mullins ultra in my race strategies. This time around I got things a little wrong, maybe not on the day, but definitely a mixture of race prep and my actually attack on the day. I truly believe that it is never until you are out there that you have an idea how your day will go. If prepared to the last it can still unwind with the drop of a hat. The body and even more so the mind have their own ideas planned for you and sometimes you just need to go with the flow.
As you can see my spirits were lifted as I came off Snowdon, briefly halted by some awful stomach cramps, random but they came and went. I managed to gain a place or two on the way down and finished the 43.7km in 4.27.40, about a minute and a half faster than 2017 and in 18th place. I was actually 3rd in the over 35 category but we won’t dwell on that one. In my book it was one of the worst performances this year but in saying that, when you race badly and still finish in a good position, in one piece and ahead of a previous time things must be going pretty well. I often thought when coaching football that if we could play badly and still scrape a good result it was the sign of a really good team, so lets hope the same applies to my running!
I met Emma soon after crossing the line and she had taken time off her previous half marathon from last year as well, so all in all a good day. The rest of the gang all finished the race, not a scratch to be seen and we enjoyed a swim and a nice feast with a few pints in Caernarfon in the evening. All I can say is bring on next year. Maybe throw my name in for the Ultra?!
Below is a brief clip from my very average go pro footage during the race. This gives you an idea how I felt, not sounding the most positive at times but these are the days that count in the long term. Get through the tough ones and the rest is a piece of cake!
And last but not least, the course overview thanks to Suunto.
I decided to write down some thoughts on my training and share with you. You can place the following headings in any order. Mine are probably in this order but it varies. All these headings are combined with a goal at the end to keep the motivation levels high.
Hydration and Nutrition
Strength, Cross Training and Bike
These are my 6 main headings for any weeks training. I vary my training and listen to my body and mind as best I can. Looking at my training over the past few years I would say things have gone well, I have been relatively injury free, have finished every race I have started and I train roughly 10 hours a week. This time may go up to 20 or down to 5 on certain weeks between racing but in general I use about 10-15 as my baseline. I reckon quality training rather than quantity of training works best for me. Some people prefer big mileage but in my experience you will gain most of this in races. This is not saying that you only do a long run of 10km a week when preparing for an ultramarathon but you can run a strong half marathon distance in training on the weekend meaning you can train again on Monday. Is there any point running 50 or 60km on the weekend and not being able to move until Wednesday the next week? There is little benefit in the long term in training that way. 1.Enjoyment
Yes this has to be number one. All runners, whether pro or recreational, have days when they don’t enjoy their training. In my experience if I have a day like this I will take two days off, hop on the bike, go to the gym,do some yoga or do very little training at all. The benefits are amazing because when you go back running you realise this is what I love and you’re usually revived to go again. Sometimes the best thing in the world is a break if you are someone that trains on a regular basis. I get that feeling of why am I not training or I haven’t trained in two whole days, am I getting unfit? This is a normal feeling and usually when I head back out on a run I suddenly have that passion for it again and I have no fatigue in the legs.
On your long runs knock back the speed, run comfortably and slowly and take in the surroundings, run the trails, forests, hills and mountains. Make this sport a lifestyle where you can get fit through having fun. Then during the week do a half hour speed session and another on your local hill and break yourself in half to get fitter and faster. This may not sound like enjoyment but you will enjoy the longer slower runs and the rest of life too if you are fit and healthy. 2. Hills
Yes hills are my number two! I love hills, you go up and up and can hardly breath and then you sprint down like a goat with a jaguar on it’s ass. Can’t beat them. Some have steps, some are long and undulating, some are stony and some grassy like ice. Most people hate them but once I train on hills, I see benefits. I have raced before on mountains on untrained legs when it came to the uphill and downhill and paid the price. You have to do hills to run races in the hills. It may sound simple but people think if they can run a marathon on the flat they will be fine in the mountains. The other angle to this is that those that want to run a marathon on the flat or the road can benefit from gaining strength and speed by running the hills.
On my usual week I hope to get two hill repeat session in during the week and then a long hilly trail run on the weekend. This is all life really gives in terms of time anyhow. Aside from this I will run a speed session and a tempo run on the road or trail midweek as well. Hill Session 1
Pick a hill nearby, maybe about 2-4km from the house as a warmup jog. A short steep hill of no more than 200 metres in length. Start by running the hill as fast as you can, even if only walking pace. Then gradually add in a rep or two a week plus more speed and before long you will see results. I tend to run my short hill repeat workout early in the week, doing 5 to 10 repeats on the hill with 90 secs off between reps. You need to run up so that at the top you cannot breath or speak and after 90 seconds you run back down the hill as fast and controlled as you can. At the bottom take about 30 seconds break and then repeat. It’s mighty !! Hill Session 2
Find a different hill to your early week session. This may be on a Thursday giving yourself a little bit of a break before the weekend, depending on how you feel.
This should be a longer more gradual hill and you will repeat the same session as above except that you will run a more controlled, race pace up and down the hill. If you use heart rate I would say about 80% is perfect. I have recently stopped using heartrate as I feel I can listen to my body more without it. It is very beneficial but not to me in my current training. Hill Session 3
This is your day out on race like terrain. As a mountain, fell or ultrarunner you need to spend time in the mountains. Drive their and head out on the trails or up the side of your local mountain and have the craic ( as we say in Ireland) Make it a long one, a reasonably slow one and practice hiking uphill as well as running the more technical ground.
I won’t dwell on this but you do need to put mileage in the legs. Whether it is for a 5km or 200km event you need to know your abilities and strengths. I am a low enough mileage runner, only running 50km or thereabouts most weeks with exceptions to that rule but in general I vary my training too much to run any further. It works for me. It is about being confident in your own training and what I write here might be a guide to someone at some stage. 4. Sleep
Possibly the most important of all in my opinion. You have to recover. If you don’t get the recovery the training is fruitless. Your muscles need this time to rebuild and it is an injury prevention method. Many people overlook sleep and in my view it is massive. I like to try sleep 8 hours a night and if you can get those few hours before midnight in all the better. I have started running more in the mornings of late but this means an early night. Otherwise I am running on tired legs and tired mind which is a recipe for disaster. 5. Hydration and Nutrition
Once again I repeat- “what works for you is best” However, I will throw in a few of my tips from experience over the last few years.
These ideas for training are pretty much the same as when racing. You need to use hydration and food in your training the same as you will on race day. It improves your systems ability to ingest what feels best.
Ask yourself- What do you normally eat?
Pre race nutrition and hydration for me is a daily life routine of good food. It is not about what you eat the day or the week before a race. Carb loading to me is complete waffle. I don’t want to throw a pile of pasta into my belly the night before a race after not touching pasta for a month. Don’t shock the system. Maybe eat a little bit more than you usually do, but of the same foods. Stick to as much protein and fat as you can and eat vegetables forever more.
I wont go into the types of foods here but will in a post in the upcoming days. During Race
We are all going to be racing different distances at our own paces, however I have a few ideas that have worked well for me in recent times.
An example of this can be seen in my Transvulcania race post. The key to it all has been Tailwind. This fantastic product with some sugar, electrolytes and containing 200 calories can be both your food and drink for almost any distance. I will take two to three bottles containing Tailwind, as well as maybe 3 gels and then eat some fruit and jellies at aid stations as I feel I need them. The number one is Hydration during a race, with more sugar as you get towards the pointy end of the race for that last push. After Race
Post training or racing it is mostly about protein and rehydration. Make sure to take on as much fluids as you can and get a protein shake or a good portion of protein in you food in as soon as you can. Remember the muscles need this to recover and you will be a lot sorer the following day if you are lazy with food and water post race. 6. Strength, cross training and the bike.
As runners these are all for injury prevention. I do some multisport racing so I like to get out on the bike a few times a week, however I think it is so beneficial to everyone to throw in a strength class or two or just spend a few hours in your week exercising in a different way to running. You will get stronger and the legs are getting a welcome break.
Your running form improves with a strong core and you can run faster for longer once all the muscle, especially in the hips, glutes and back are solid and flexible.
Scott Snowdonia Trail Marathon is on next Sunday week, the 15th of July. I thought a quick re hash of the race would be nice both for myself and others interested in my take on last years race. a super event.
I have had a week to reflect on my first race abroad. Hopefully I can get across in these few words, the magic of the Snowdonia mountain range. I might even persuade a few of my running mates to come along next year. I reckon it is time to start racing abroad. It seems even in North Wales there is more sunshine than in the West of Ireland.
We arrived in Llanberis, North Wales on Saturday evening, registered and had a nice evening with Emma’s friends who kindly made dinner and put us up for the night. I thought about my first proper mountain marathon which lay ahead in the morning, not really knowing how I would fair out. I was running on reasonably tired legs after the year behind me as well as the race last weekend and I would be running on unknown terrain as well. The main…