I made it to Ireland and Foxford in Co. Mayo since my last post. Starting the new job, a lack of time and wifi has curtailed my blogging of late, but for the rest of the year I hope to get back in the groove! Another new start and one we hope will be a good one. The Race is only 12 days away and my training has been a mixed bag with little time and less mileage than originally planned. In saying that I am mostly injury free, have trained most days and all in all am looking forward to what is a super event and one to challenge anyone.
My new abode is set between the hills of the Ox mountains and the tallest stand alone mountain in Ireland of Nephin. I went for a brisk hike up and run down Nephin 2 weeks ago and no doubt with a big training year ahead it will be one for my vertically challenging plans!
Somy lack of bike miles, miles on the legs and little time in the mountains leaves me where exactly for the big day?!
A question I am finding it hard to get my head around but as always the only way forward is positivity. I look at the distances I raced in the last 2 years since I took on and raced The Race really well. At that time I had never ran further than 30km’s at once, I had never raced for anything like 15 hours on my own at once and I was coming off the back of an injury that meant I only really trained for 2 months pre race. So with this all in mind I should be, even though untrained to an extent in the last few months, in a better place, certainly mentally than two years ago. That is what I am telling myself and I will also use this event as a slingshot for the year ahead where all roads lead back to Chamonix and the 145km in the Alps of the TDS. That is my ultimate 2019 goal and everything else race and training wise in 2019 is linked to the TDS.
So have I answered the above question? Possibly not perfectly, but my mindset will be good, i’ve learnt a lot in two years, and I hope the weather will be kind. It has been one storm after the next the last week here and in March this kind of weather is hard to shake in Ireland. Fingers and toes crossed there folks as the weather can be the difference in this one!
2019 has gotten off to a pretty hectic start. I have been up and down to Dorset with work and in the last week I have been offered a new post back in Ireland with Inland Fisheries Ireland in Ballina. This means another pack up and I move back to Ireland next Thursday. This has all been unexpected but in the long run I hope the right decision!
‘The Race‘, is just around the corner and I’ve been all over the place with training. I haven’t managed the mileage at all and am battling a sore hip again, this time the bike causing the issue. Another bike fit may be needed. I must be growing!!
I know my blogging has been abysmal of late and apologies for this. Especially to those at Tailwind and Uglowsport that I wish to plug more in 2019. I have managed a few cycles around the 60km mark and some runs at weekends, but all in all it has been a one or two hour smash and grab in the gym between work, sleep and travel. It is important when tired and stressed over life not to overtrain and I think at this point it is more important to me to make the start line of The Race, than make it overtrained or injured. I know I have the endurance and my fitness is good. I may not have the miles, especially on the bike but I will dig deep on the day.
I ran in all sorts of conditions in my training of late with snow, ice, rain and even sunshine and 13 degrees last weekend. All good prep for the next event, even if I only managed short sessions.
So with 34 days to go to The Race, I realise I have to move countries, start a new job and somehow keep up a decent level of fitness in between. This said I will ramp up my miles on the trails in the next three weeks and do some hard bike sessions as well. A lot can be achieved in three weeks if you put your mind to it.
All this said The Race is just a starter and a body check for 2019. Once I sit down post race I will weigh up my options for 2019 back in Ireland. I am really looking forward to meeting all the other participants before the event, some first timers and others returning like myself. There are some like Andrew Wallace and Couch to 250km that have put massive effort into the event both in their training and for charities. Ye will smash it no doubt.
It wasn’t until I started to look back at my blog that I realised how busy a year it was in 2018. I raced in adventure races and ultras, did an incredible amount in training and managed to move countries, find a new job and move house three times, ending up living in my camper in Dorset in the South of England. It was one of the busiest years of my life, even though I only worked 5 months of the year!
The year started with a lovely camper trip around a few parts of Ireland and between hill runs and dips in freezing water we started the year in style. Little did I know the mileage the van would do in 2018 as well as the mileage my own legs would end up covering. I won’t go into the stats in a big way but I ran 5 Ultras from 50km to 100km, 3 marathons and an adventure race. My average training for the year was 10 hours a week both on the bike and running, with running winning out by a massive margin this year.
My first ultra of the year in Donadea, a flat but fast 50km on the forset trail, finishing in 3 hours and 50 minutes. I was happy with my first ever looped and predominantly flat ultra. This was a great leveller and a super way to see where I was fitness wise after the winter. My plan in 2018 was to try to enjoy every race and training and smile whenever I had the energy on those trails. I think my photos tell their own story.
The lads after Gaelforce Dublin. My first time doing this race and it was the week after Donadea. Maybe not the greatest race planning but I was happy with 4th place and again a good fitness session. I was starting to ramp things up.
The Maurice mullins 51km ultra over the Wicklow hills was a super out and back race. The weather was really kind on the day and I finished a very respectable 7th overall. I paced myself well throughout and used this as a training race. It was good to train in race scenarios and get used to my normal pace over these massive distances.
The first of 2 huge races this year was the Transvulcania Ultra, an absolutely epic race,. It was technical under foot, hot, with relentless climbs and a mixed bag of weather to put you in the pain cave. We had rain, wind and baking heat over the course of a 9 hour and 50 minute race where I hit the wall 5 km from home only to pick myself up, just in time to knock back a beer on the home straight thanks to some supporters. I finished well inside the top 100 in my first really big international ultra. The highs and lows of ultrarunning really came to the fore in this race.
From La Palma and the heat to the Exmoor trail marathon and my first podium of 2018. I cruised around this course and felt really good throughout finishing third in 4 hours and 1 minute. A very respectable marathon time with 2500 metres of ascent in the race.
In July it was back to Snowdonia for the marathon and another tough day. It might of been a little reminder that I needed to take things easy with the CCC around the corner. I suffered at times during this tough marathon over some really hard terrain. I managed to knock 2 minutes off my 2017 time but realised my body was in need of rest if I was to give the CCC a decent effort in just over a months time. A great holiday in Sweden in early August really helped get the body ready for what lay ahead.
Smiling at 55km into the CCC, the most amazing race of the year. I had highs and lows but the good times were certainly worth the wait. I will never forget running into Chamonix with Emma by my side on the camera and my folks at the finish line. Without Emma, my family, and friends such as Sinead Keogh, the race would of been much harder and lonelier and from there you don’t know how things will go. My finishing time of 16.01 was good enough for top 100 men in the race and really an incredible placing out of 1600 runners. I managed to make up close to 40 positions in the second half of the race. What a day and night it was.
Back to Ireland in the Autumn for a cross country and running with Castlegar is always a proud moment. We managed county medals again and every chance I get I like to run with the club. A PB of 17.10 in the 5km and a good 36.40 in a 10km were other highlights. Nice to keep up some speed considering I don’t train on the road often or do enough interval training .
To finish the monster of a year of ultra running a 10th place finish in the Dorset Ultra plus was a super result, one hampered by an extra 30 minutes on the trail with a wrong turn, but then maybe after a year with such mileage and effort on the trail this was inevitable! Mistakes happen both with tiredness and complacency. I finished this ultra really strong averaging 4 to 5 minutes per kilometre over the last 20km. Thanks to Adam Gamble for making it a super way to finish the year.
2019 looks interesting with a massive result in the UTMB draw this week. I was pulled from the hat for the TDS and will take on the new mammoth 145km course on the 28th of August all going well. Between that and the Lavaredo Ultra 125km, on the 28th of June, I will plan my year.
I am lucky enough to be a Trailblazer for 2019 with Tailwind nutrition and you will see me promote them even more this year. Without Tailwind the likes of the CCC would of been trickier both logistically and from a nutritional direction.
I will also spend 2019 as an ambassador for Uglowsport and look forward to trying out their gear during the year. I apologise in advance for the constant tagging of both them and Tailwind in all posts!
The return to the Jurassic coast for the second outing in the Dorset Endurance Life Ultra race would be a different experience to last year. We knew this before the race even started, with a wet week and a very wet day forecast, this was going to be one of those outings. I knew that I have always been good racing in the rain, not suffering from the cold and actually I think I enjoy it more than most. I decided pre race that I would once again have a reasonably relaxed week in the lead up to the event and on the day a top 10 finish or even a push for the podium would be possible. Myself and Emma travelled down and met the Irish gang in Dorset. Nine of us would race from 10k to 74k races the following morning and an air of excitement as well as some nerves was evident as we sat around for a cuppa on Friday night.
I woke up around 6am Saturday and as forecasted the weather was horrendous. Wind and rain battered the house as we cooked the scrambled eggs. Bring it on!!
Myself, Sinead, Owen and Pol, all part of the Chamonix gang from August would give the ultraplus a rattle, with Emma, Noreen and Paschal ripping up the half marathon, Aoife giving the marathon a rattle and Sharon would run the 10km in a pair of walking boots. All serious feats in different ways. The main thing I hoped was that everyone would have fun and cross the line in one piece. It was going to be slippy and treacherous out there.
After registration the race would kick off some time just after 8. We huddled behind a tent and almost missed the start as they moved it from last year’s location to near the registration tent. Of course in our relaxed state we were almost late on the morning and missed almost all the race briefing. We did get the idea in passing that the course would be altered due to the conditions. Not what I wanted to hear. It actually turned out that it was altered in a huge way and led to a very different race that expected. More of this later.
We were off. I have to say I had looked forward to this race ever since the CCC and with my training going well I expected I could perform and dig deep for a decent time. I decided to bunker in somewhere in the top 20 and take on the first few climbs with a cool head, stay out of the red for as long as possible and feel my way into the race. This is becoming a theme in my ultra running! Only 5km into the race I began to realise that the course alterations were massive. We took on two early climbs but then the trail led to farmers fields, mud and puddles and worst of all, FLAT. I had basically spent the entire last two months doing hill repeats for these short sharp hills. Now I would have to run at least 55km’s of this 75km race on almost flat ground. A completely different turnover of the legs, a different style of running and not to mention the conditions underfoot. One thought came into my head, ‘forget it, you are here now, you are strong and racing’. I soon found myself running with a guy of very similar speed and we started up some great conversations. Adam Gamble was his name and a super runner he was. It turned out we ended up running the entire race together. Adam, like myself had expected more hills, he was a 17 minute 5k runner and around 36 minute 10k runner, had completed the CCC and had plenty notches in his ultra running belt. All similar levels to myself so we decided to work with each other, encouraging the other when things were low and see how the day went.
At around 15km the lead ladies in the ultra caught us. They were doing the 55km course and were motoring. Becky and Bonnie were there names and Becky would stay with myself and Adam for a good chunk of the race. Both of them bit by bit catching my accent and wondering if they would go home sounding a bit Irish!
We completed the first 20km in about 2 hours and realised we would do that loop later on as well as half of it again to finish the race. That was after tackling which looked like a much hillier 24km ahead. We descended into Lulworth, grabbed some water, filled bottles with Tailwind and away we went to start the next section. This 24km was much hillier, following a decent amount of the course from 2017. WE skipped the beach section and one section of the coastal path but would run a few of the big hills on the coast as well. I was dying for hills at this stage and it wasn’t until nearly 25km that we started to hit a few. Of course I felt myself here and powered up the hills, barely breaking a sweat on one or two of them. Adam and Becky were going well too and we started to get a nice pace between the three of us. We descended one of the final hills and took a left away from the coast and across some farmers fields. The mud was relentless. Sticky mud, caking to the bottom of your runners, making your feet as heavy as led but we continued to have fun and a good laugh in seeing who could gather the most mud on their runners! The ploughed field went on and on and up a nice incline before we hit a ridge trail and took a left to start the 10km or so back to Lulworth, most of which was on the cliff ridges with one long climb on the road mixed in. This is where it all went PEAR shaped!
As the 3 of us followed the markers along the ridge, joining the trail we had come up on we realised the trail was following the fence. This would be our downfall. We kept going and began to meet lots of the ultra plus, ultra, marathon and half marathon runners coming in the opposite direction. We hopped a stile and began to descend a long descent that we had come up earlier on. As I ran I was delighted to see Owen and Sinead and flew by as they said, ‘you sure your not gone wrong’. In my haste I thought they were joking and we continued to run. Almost at the bottom of the hill now and I started to wonder and look around, looking for arrow markers. We decided we had gone wrong. I let out an incredible amount of disgust, at myself, in the most gracious of language before gathering my thoughts a little. We could descend to the bottom of the hill and try rejoin the trail inland but we felt we should do the course properly and go back to find where we went wrong. After ascending the hill we eventually found the point where we went off route. There was a gate 30 metres to the right of the trail and an arrow further back on the trail we had missed due to following the fence. There was no X on the stile we had hopped and therefore we had kept on going. Definitely our own fault but the arrows on the course were poor and I have better proof of this a little later.
As you can see from the photo the conditions didn’t help our chances of seeing the small signs, no excuse for going wrong, but at the same time the strong winds led to moments where we all dropped the heads. The rain had eased at this stage and as you can see I had my jacket off and was enjoying the cooling effect that had.
So after rejoining the actual route we knew that for Becky her chance of top 3 ladies in the ultra was probably over and we knew that myself and Adam had been very much pushing the top 5 if not already in the top 5 before things went arie. As you can see from the next photo, we continued to have fun, this taken only 10 minutes after we rejoined the trail. We had met a group of little kids along the trail and all high fived us. Some of them so tiny we barely reached down to high five as we passed.
This photo was taken on the final climb before a roughly 6 kilometre run back to Lulworth. A quick refuel, grab some dry buffs from the drop bag and on we went. Becky was just ahead and stayed there until she turned for home on the ultra as myself and Adam continued to slide our way back around the 20km section of mostly flat but undulating course. The trails were now very wet and the mud was slippier and thicker than before with hundreds of athletes running in the different events all day. Both myself and Adam hit lows during this 20km, but as promised earlier on we talked each other through these lows. How incredible is a sport where you can meet someone for the first time and end up helping them through hard times and making a friendship all in an 8 hour period.
There was little to report on this section as we were a bit slow on the way out to the 10km turning point. It took us close to an hour and a half and the following 10k around an hour. This was of course still good running with 60km in the legs, including our 4.5km detour earlier on! The second 10km was particularly fast in parts (helped by my religious can of coke on ultra race day!) and we began to feel really strong again. During this particular section of the race there is a trail through the forest. At one point you come to a T junction and turn right. The sign here was telling us to turn left and head to the beach. I touched the sign and it spun around. The staples had come loose and a person or the wind had hit the sign. This just goes to show how easy it is to go wrong when you rely on course markers. I am not blaming the organisers as in these races the conditions/weather are the biggest issue and they did have to change the course at the last minute as well. My biggest worry in the long term is that these races lose popularity due to cutting corners on food, medals, tshirts and the likes. A lot of people come to enjoy the finish line banter, the soup or cake, together in celebration. There was little of this to be seen in Lulworth I’m afraid (rant over, now back to the race).
We arrived back to Lulworth for the penultimate time at about 3.45pm and decided we would really try to smash out the last 10km. Back up the steep hill out of the cove for the last time we went, knowing the route like the back of our hands at this stage. We really began to move. The ground seemed to be drying in the wind and the mud began to harden a little. Let’s finish this in style. My legs started to come back to life and I was flying the downhill sections again.
An hour later we were descending once again to the finish line. We crossed the line in unison and let a couple of goat like roars out while doing so! Emma was there, having finished the half and as always it was amazing to see her. That incredible finish line moment is always worth it, even if there was very little to see or do at this particular finish line. A protein bar and a photo and we were sent on our way.
On crossing the line we had no idea where we were placed. The computer print out soon saw us in 10th and 11th place, on the same time of course, but we were delighted. We added 30 minutes to the course with our route but still managed a top 10 time in 8 hours and 53 minutes. Taking our mistake out of the equation, we were very much in the mix for top 5. This was definitely a good example of a type of teamwork. It would of been a really really long day on this course alone. The views were limited to gaps in the mist and the ground was poor underfoot. The banter and craic made the day fun and I thank both Adam and Becky for this. Becky ended up fourth lady which was super considering the detour.
Lastly well done to the gang, everyone giving it their all on a day to remember. I’ll probably be back next year! Why not, I now work just up the road.
Thanks again to Tailwind for their amazing fuel for the day and here are the results.
I recently travelled back to Ireland in ‘The Mueller’ for a few days and between this and a few weeks of constant interviewing and job applications, I haven’t mustered up the time to blog. This said, my training has been reasonably good in the lead up to Dorset UltraPlus, next Saturday week!
I spent time doing hill repeats around the Bristol trails and we spent a weekend trail running in the South of Wales along the coastal path in Gower. Another fabulous UK running destination. A 50km running weekend in Gower was the highlight of the past few weeks with some nice photos to tell the story.
So my training ramped up in the few busy weeks and I found myself a good job, starting in December, but more on this later.
I decided to really mix things up over the last few months. After a race like the CCC we have no idea how the body will react. Rest, good food and rehab seemed to bring me back pretty quickly and I decided to keep 2018 rolling. I don’t really believe in long breaks from training. We all need a week or a few weeks sometimes but as I said before, winter is for becoming stronger and focusing for the year ahead.
A cross country race, a 10k on the road, long hilly trail runs (a few up to 30km), hill repeat after hill repeat and then some turbo sessions thrown in the mix, kept me busy of late. With all this in the bag I am feeling good in preparation for Dorset. I was a little down on both my 10 kilometre and cross country times, but I put this down to maybe some season fatigue as well as holding back just a little for the bigger race. The only issue here is that in the past, when feeling good, I have been less successful. Therefore, I have decided to take Dorset in my stride, enjoy it as I did last year and hopefully make the finish of what is a gruelling 74 kilometres of hilly coastal trails. Sure if there is a podium place up for grabs I might give it a go as well! The massive boost this year is that a huge group are travelling from Ireland, pretty much all on the word from us second timers that this race is amazing! Fingers crossed for the weather.
I had some training plans for the last 12 weeks since the CCC all ready for off. As per usual I veered away pretty quickly from these as life wasn’t playing ball. So instead I trained when I could and I have logged everything in a spreadsheet which will be produced after Dorset. I will be able to explain whether it worked or not at this stage. The lack of mileage, increase in hill work and variety of training will confuse many, but it is my way of keeping things interesting. I have been using Tailwind in most of my training session, keeping the body used to a regular racing fuel. Lets hope it continues to serve me well. Check out Shaun Stewart’s seasonal report here on his amazing year and how Tailwind helped him in the final burst to the finish. My fond memories of Sea to Summit came flooding back as I watched the footage of him crossing the line in 1st place. The end of what was a phenomenal year. Lets hope I get to race with and against Shaun in 2019. Exciting times ahead.
Both myself and Shaun were lucky enough to recently get involved with Uglowsports as Ambassadors for 2019. Plenty to follow on this but for now check out their site here. There is something here for everyone running for the winter. Hopefully I will be kitted out by Uglowsport for races in 2019.
With only one race left in 2018 (Dorset Ultraplus, 74km, on the 1st of December), I see this winter as a great chance, not only to get fitter and stronger on the bike, but also a chance to correct some injury issues still hanging on from 2018. The main issue was my knee pain during the recent CCC, relating to IT band syndrome.
I have started a few different strength and stability routines such as this IT band Rehab.
There are days where rehab is boring and seems pointless when you don’t feel injured. Like so many of you I just want to go out and take on a good run or gym session, whatever gives you the buzz. A 20 minute session with a resistance band, a few weights or just a body weight session will stand to you in the long run. Figure out or let your physio figure out the issue and then focus on it. This is not to say that you let other things slip, it is just a matter of gaining from the winter ahead. Lots of people start their program in January. To me every month is as important. Why start something new in the darkest, wettest month, when you can start it right now.
I have been sticking, roughly to my training plan, while racing a really tough 8km Cross Country back home. It was a great feeling to be involved in a team silver medal at county level.
The next few weeks will be busy with interviews coming thick and fast. Given this schedule, I will train when I can, play some football and get a run or two in with the club. However, winter rehab and strength will be number.
Check out my little piece in Kayathlon.ie. (Page 48-61). A big thank you for the inclusion goes to Greg Dillon of Kayathlon. It is great to see an adventure magazine growing in strength.
Check out my latest workout music with Kastane on Spotify by Alan Walsh. I found it great for watt bike, cross trainer or threadmill sessions. Have a listen HERE.
I’m sitting here thinking about the winter ahead, as the sun shines, not a cloud in the sky and it is 17 degrees in the shade. I’m in Bristol 5 months already and I have only seen a few bad days of weather, but I’m sure there is plenty ahead. With plenty training to contemplate and a few goal races already lining up, it has been a nice few weeks since the CCC. I have met new people both at my new football club, The Retainer’s and also at my new running club Great Western Runners. I think it is so important to keep a social side to your training as well as a training plan to meet your own goals.
So what is happening this winter? A few cross country races, a little 74km ultra in Dorset and then a massive push to get my training in full swing for, well yes, for The Race 2019. Luckily this year it isn’t until the 23rd of March, meaning heaps of training time and maybe even an early season 50km somewhere to warm the blood. Oh and in the middle of all this I have to find a job.
I’m currently cycling around Bristol, feeding cats, looking for dogs to walk and will soon spend some of my time delivering food. Job applications, interviews etc are the most important thing this winter, but I won’t bore blog readers with these parts of life. Let’s stick to the fun bits!
I have been exploring Bristol on the bike a bit and started to bring my mileage up, slowly, in the last few weeks. The roads are busy so I am trying to find quieter routes. As for the hills, well it’s like as if they dropped Bristol on top of Donegal. Need I say anymore there!
I hope to join a gym and get back into some proper wattbike training soon, but for now I’ll stick to the roads and getting to know what lies in the Bristol countryside. I went for a trail run, only 20 minutes from the city with Emma, in Rowberrow, last Sunday, a gorgeous route along very technical trail and some hills thrown in. It was great to get the legs going on the trail, three weeks after the CCC. I went for a shorter mid week run on a trail near Bridgwater the week before. This was in the Quantock Hills. Again, some typical South West English farmland with rolling green hills and forestry here and there. Exploring the area little by little but it really has great running potential. My legs were still tired on this run but it was nice to get moving properly again.
So as the winter roles in and the temperatures start to drop, we have to drag ourselves out training at times. The body naturally feels more lethargic, with shorter days and needing more energy in the cold weather. However, as I mentioned before, I really see the winter as an excellent time to train, become stronger and if needed, a great time to work on injury or niggles. Treat it as a rehab, re-strengthen, learning period and come out the other side, fitter and stronger, mentally as well as physically. It is too easy drop all and blame the weather or the darkness. Stick on the headtorch, the hi-vis or scrape a few quid for the gym, whatever works for you and make the winter count.
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 ultramarathons on the planet, The CCC, (Courmayeur- Champex 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 marathons 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.