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…
Yes the moment has arrived. I know everyone has been glued to their phones awaiting the promised recipe after my post yesterday. See below for pure and utter tastyness.
200ml peanut butter
100ml maple syrup
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
200ml gluten free rolled oats
50 gram chopped dark chocolate
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon sea salt.
Preheat oven to 220 degrees.
Mix peanut butter, maple syrup, eggs and vanilla.
In a separate bowl, mix the baking powder, oats and salt.
Add dry mixture to wet and beat until combined.
Add the chocolate.
Roll bits of dough into golf ball sized balls and place them on a cooking paper.
Bake at 220 degrees for 8-10 minutes or until centre is cooked through.
Enjoy the results.
They are a welcome treat after a tough training or even as a snack along the way. When a little moist they really work with a coffee or if your a tea person I’d recommend a nice cup of Barry’s tea! My favourite about 30 minutes after a session. There are plenty options to vary things of course, adding a little protein powder for the post run hit or another addition of your choice. They beat those extra sugary foods we might crave after exercise.
The Brecon Beacon National Park was our destination last weekend and in 28 degrees of heat it was sure to be a testing weekend for running but a perfect one for camping.
Pen y Fan is the highest peak in south Wales, situated in the Brecon Beacons National Park. At 886 metres above sea-level, it is a fine mountain and spans along a group of mountains all with unique long spurs reaching out for miles. I hope to get a chance to head up there next time. To the mountain runner the area is a dream with vast expanses of running ground down off the peaks on one side and good hard climbs on the other. You can also travel along from peak to peak along cliff like edges. The trails are technical but grassy and fun to run in parts as well.
The second furthest peak in the video above, of Fan Y Llia peak was our destination on day two. After a few steep climbs and long running in between we completed a 21km out and back run. The climbs were short and steep with over 1300 metres in total. This all on tired legs from a similar long hot run on Saturday in another section of the Brecon range. Training on tired legs is important at times, being aware to be careful of injury but at the same time simulating the racing feeling.
Saturdays run was possibly hotter with the sun never hiding from us in the vast open countryside you can see above. With over 1000 metres of vertical we were nicely wrecked by the end but some good Swedish coffee (with lots of double cream) and homemade cookies we replenished quickly! Recipe to follow tomorrow…
The Brecon Beacons are only an hour and a half away from Bristol and with endless opportunities to train here I will be back a lot. This back to back training on similar ground to Snowdonia should stand to me on Sunday week as I take on the Scott Snowdonia Marathon for the second year in a row. Last year I finished a happy 14th overall, so lets hope I can have a similarly good and even improved performance this time around. I have trained early morning, knocked out some good hill repeats and even managed a few trips out on the bike over the last few weeks, all in the heat, so it should stand to me.
The weekend was greatly enhanced with more camping in “The Mueller” and in finding some secluded spots with our own private waterfall for a post race cool down, you couldn’t ask for much more, except maybe a little more water in the waterfall. It has been pretty much dry since April!
It is quite the name for a race and a mouthful at times so I will just refer to it as the Maverick as I describe last Saturday’s race to you. This mountainous or hilly coastal marathon would start from Caffyns Farm, near Lynton in the Exmoor national park and meander its way along a very hilly coastal route, veering back along some river and farmland valleys before finishing at the farm where our campsite was located. An absolutely brilliant thought on arrival to think that you would camp at the start line and finish at the camper the next afternoon.
We arrived on Friday night and camped within 100 metres of the start line and registration which would take place first thing in the morning. The numbers were small enough for the first outing of this particular race. Looking at the course I knew it was going to be a gruelling race with hills throughout. The ascent at about 1880 metres and the same in descent. Emma was taking part in a 15km route and there was a 21km route as well, all starting at the same time and place with the others heading off the marathon route to head for home earlier. This would be a little confusing for the first hour of the race with half marathon and 15km speed runners running with the front marathoners. As I mentioned in previous posts I intended to use this and Snowdonia in July as build up races towards CCC. They are a lot shorter but if I push that bit faster and not to the complete limit they should stand to me well come the end of August.
A little extra motivation at the start was knowing that I would build up another 2 UTMB points if I finished this one, maybe not significant now, but you never know when they might be handy. I hoped it would attract a few good runners to the race as well. Race briefing was nice and brief, of all things, and at 9.05am we were off. The run took off fast as always with one dude, there is bound to be one, taking off at 90mph. We took a left out of the farm aiming towards the coast and the next few kilometres was fast and downhill. Grassy fields and downhill are fun but these quickly led to trickier trails of hard mud through some forestry. A nasty little climb early on started to spread the field a bit and I sat a bit behind the leaders to get myself warmed up. It didn’t take long before I passed that speedy front runner from the start-line. There were a few ahead of me as we came over the first hill and descended to Lynmouth, a lovely town by the sea, at about 7km. The 15km route went straight on while the rest took a left along the coast and up a steep trail with some nice little switchbacks. There were about 6 or 7 runners ahead of me but I knew a few of these would be shorter course runners. The next few kilometres were fabulous as we climbed a little and then ran along the edge of the rolling hills, massive views of the sea below but concentration was key on some narrow trails, running at a decent speed for the marathon distance.
Another 4km in and the half marathoner’s took a right towards home and the rest of us took a left continuing to hug the coast. The trail turned tricky with some fast downhill and bumpy ground underfoot. Basically holes all over the place in the grass. A little bit like a field that the cows were let into while wet and then it dries up leaving holes everywhere. So after holding my breadth running these downhills, we were led along the coast and into a really technical rocky section along the cliff edge, certain death on the left and hopeful falling ground on the right. The trail meandered along before heading inland a bit and into a big long uphill on a side road. I started to catch the guy on front of me on the uphill and as I fast hiked he was trying to run. We reached the top of the road section and returned onto the trail once more. The guy ahead was running most of the hills and I knew there was a chance this would catch him. I continued to hike the majority of the hills and within 15 minutes I passed him on a downhill. Long distance experience and patience starting to pay off maybe. What I didn’t yet realise was that the two guys I could see rounding a headland about 1km ahead were 1st and 2nd and I had just popped into 3rd place.
At about 15km after a quick water stop the trail joined a section of the Coastal path we had trained on a few weeks ago. Knowing the route is massive and locals always have an advantage. This short section was the only place in the race where I was comfortable to speed up and slow down knowing what was around the next bend. A few short up hills, a few speedy short down hills and ducking my way along the trail under some low lying branches followed until the blue race markers told me to take a right. The next 15 minutes was a constant steep climb up the side of a grassy hill. I knew if I stuck to my solid hiking pace up this hill it would leave a good few behind me with work to do and hoped maybe one of the two ahead might tire as the race went into it’s second half. I was happy with my hike up that hill but when I started running on the flat at the top I could feel it’s effects.
The terrain turned into farmland and long flat fields for a short period before descending along a fence on a narrow trail towards the next checkpoint, as the rain started to come down. A lovely sight for a melting Irish lad. The light mist cooled me down and as I thought how lovely it was I forgot all about the fact that rain wets the ground and ended up on my ass in the ditch laughing at myself. The checkpoint at 26km came along soon. I didn’t stop at all as I had a good stash of water and a few gels if needed. I had filled my bottle with Tailwind at the last water station so knew I was good for grub for the time being. I confidently ran past the guy with the water and of up the trail only to realise I probably should of taken the left trail. I quickly shouted to the guy who said , “yes left, left, and wipe that sweat from you brow”. Well said I thought, can’t beat something amusing on a day where you end up racing some quiet countryside alone. The gaps turned out so big between runners that I never saw another runner between 12km and the finish.
The next 11km of the course were spectacular as the hard mud trail wound it’s way along the side of the hills, throwing in a few lumps to slow me down as well as a good strong wind. The wind, however, was mostly a tailwind and I felt lucky once or twice as it pushed me up and over the hills. The trail descended at around 28km towards a river and I followed the river for what seemed a good distance. The ground here was flat and runnable at a good pace. I wasn’t beating speed records but I was running at around 4.40 minutes per kilometre most of the time. The river was crystal clear and I almost stopped to chat to a fisherman, keen to know what he might be after in a nice fishing spot below a waterfall. I thought, for once I better keep moving, I had second place to catch.
It is always a huge motivator if you’re in a good position in a race. You have something to fight for as well as an even better prize up ahead. I realised I hadn’t seen my competitors up ahead on the long open sections and most likely wouldn’t catch them. My friend at the last checkpoint had told me I was in third, as did a cameraman soon after, so I had something strong to hold on to for the last 16km. This would prove so important as the final 10km of the race turned into a real uphill struggle. I don’t mean that I was completely out on my feet but I mean, literally it was all hills. There were three biggish climbs and in between lots of small ones. This was all perfect for my style of race, but as you know, a marathon is a marathon and when you throw in 1800 metres of up into it you are going to tire towards the end, especially if a good portion of the climbs are in the final quarter of the race. This is how it feels when the legs are tired of course. I managed to hike (at a slower pace than previously) up the rest of these hills and continued to run downhill quite fast, Transvulcania paying off here I reckon. The final long uphill was on a paved road, not something a trail runner enjoys at the end of a race, but in fairness it did make the course a real cracker in terms of variation. With 3km to go the kilometre markers started saying only 3km until you are a Maverick. I wasn’t sure what to make of this, but sure it was something to take my mind off the pain. I never laid eyes on 2nd place but finished the race pretty strongly in 4 hours and 1 minute to be met by Emma at the line. She had completed the 15km and looks forward to giving the Snowdonia half a go once again next month.
The rain started again so we quickly returned to ‘The Mueller’ and set up camp for the night.
You can’t beat some downtime after a long run. I was thrilled to get a podium place of course and hope to push on from here and try to improve on last years place in Snowdonia, enjoying what is a classic race at the same time. Thanks to the Maverick Race crew for a brilliantly laid out course with good water stops. The event was a bit dampened by the wind and rain at the finish line but with such a good location I hope to be back again some day.
The sun continues to shine with only a few grey days since the 1st of May. It really seems like an eternity ago that we ran the Transvulcania Ultra and I can safely say that I am only fully recovering in the last few days. I have been able to run and train, apart from a bit of a quad niggle that was annoying my knee and my usual big toe pain. I was never at full tilt since the event and still feel I need to hold off just a little before a big training load. In saying that I’m heading to Exmoor again on Saturday for a trail marathon. Ah sure why not, it’s really just a long run on the weekend, right? It will give me an idea where I am at in the lead up to the Snowdonia Trail Marathon in July.
The last two weeks have been busy with a trip to Donegal for the annual Arranmore football tournament thrown in. Yesterday was a great day out on a local trail here in Bristol for a 15km jaunt. Myself and Emma are enjoying exploring these national trails and it was great to find a gorgeous and hilly trail loop only 30 minutes drive from the house. The trail was hilly in parts with nice long fast sections as you can see in the photos above. The trail can be found in Somerset in a place called Rowberrow. A tiny little village with a nice pub, parking and easy trail access. what more does anyone need! We met hikers, bikers and a huge number of horses en-route. It is real horse and rabbit countryside with woodlands mixed in. Some really nice old forests were welcome shade after sweltering out in the open for long periods of the trot!
I’m pretty sure it was “The Mueller’s” first time on a beach yesterday. After our run we were both mad for a swim so off to the coast to Brean where the beach can be seen for miles. Apparently the longest set of Sand dunes in this part of the world. The beach allows cars, which I’m not totally sure I agree with, but luckily it is so long they get gobbled up pretty quick. We went for a nice swim, after a strong coffee, and chilled out in the sunshine for a while before hitting back to the big smoke. A nice training day in the lead up to a longer day out next Saturday. We hope to camp pretty much at the start line of the race and spend a few nights there over the weekend.
I hope to chat soon about plans for possible UTMB 2019 draw options, the thoughts of maybe taking on ‘The Race’ in 2019 and any other ideas people might have. It is the number one goal to remain motivated and hopefully seek to improve.
The Coastal path took us to a gorgeous fishing village called Porlock, 1.5 hours South of Bristol and just inside Exmoor national park. We based ourselves here for Sunday night and went for a few warm and hilly trail runs. Considering the coastal trail takes in 630 miles of the South Western coast of the UK it still remains somewhat a hidden gem to many. Anyone interested in running the lot some day!!?
As you can see above the trail varies from fabulous, quite mysterious deciduous forests, to open rolling hills and coastal views which you will see in the video below. I have to say, not only the fact that the weather has been top class during my time here so far, but the trails are well marked and endless. I’m feeling a bit spoilt with the vast areas to explore. I even had the excitement of a deer crossing the path only a few feet away from me on Sunday. She bolted across my course and straight up an almost vertical hill, disappearing into the vast wilderness. These are the reasons I am addicted to the trails. You become part of their world as well as being completely split from your own. As I’m sure you have already guessed, the camera was in my pocket and I was too slow to grab it as she ran up the hill. Sorry folks but this one is for my memory bank only!
Varying light on the Trail
The excitement of Transvulcania soon passed and almost seems a distant event by now. To be honest my legs are still a little heavy, really feeling the effects of the long runs in the hills over the last few days. In saying that we stuck to around 20km on Sunday and 14km yesterday. No major distance but it is very much up and down running. Perfect training for a little event I am throwing in the bag for mid June, as a lead up to Scott Snowdonia trail marathon in mid July. The Maverick x series trail marathon in Exmoor on the 16th of June will be my race of the month. I hope to be back to full racing mode by then and actually give it a good bash. The hills are everywhere here in Bristol so I have no excuses any more. As you can check out in the link the Exmoor trail marathon takes in about 1800 metres of vertical gain, meaning I will need to stick to the hills in training and try improve at them all the time. It’s all about the goals!
Recovery has been good since La Palma and I feel as if the distance is in the legs. Some good training in the next few weeks, along with maybe getting on the Coastal Path again before race day would be great. The Exmoor marathon takes in a good piece of the Coastal Path so the more time spent out there the better.
I just wanted to take this chance to thank the crew at Tailwind for the support pre races of late and also the great Tailwinds products. They even sent me their buff for free which they do with all good customers! For those of you that think it looks like wearing colourful underwear on you head, I suggest you try out a buff on your next run. I wear it to keep wind out, to keep head warm and even in the heat to keep sweat off my face. Handiest thing a trail runner can ever have in my opinion!
For those of you that run you understand the great feeling post run, both of success of what you have achieved that day but the immense feeling you get when you begin to relax. Here I am below in the sun by the seaside, having left all my energy on the trail, while having fun, and now I can relax and enjoy the evening. I’m not saying you need to run to enjoy a relaxing evening, but for me I always relax that bit more having spent my energy on the run. Everything tastes better and no doubt we feel a little less guilty about that treat of a beer or a big icecream, or if your me, probably both!
I took this photo on the journey to La Palma and the Transvulcania Ultra. Thursday last saw me leave Bristol at 4am for a flight to Tenerife, a taxi with a great bunch of Irish from the South airport to the North airport and a flight from there to La Palma island. We rented a car from here and drove to our destination of Los Llanos. To cut a long story short it was a long days travel and boy was I glad I had a days recovery in between before the race on Saturday. Shaun and I had accomadation just outside Los LLanos where we would eventually finish, all going well, on Saturday afternoon.
Friday was a chilled out day, with coffee, croissants and plenty sunshine. We did a few last minute bits of shopping for some things for the race and registered along with 1,680 other people. Owen Boyhan joined myself and Shaun for some grub and we soaked up all he had to say about the race, having finished it last year. He is great for remembering all the minor details and alot of his knowledge would stand to me on race day. An early night, a few hours sleep and up at 2.30am to get on the road to the start line. This epic journey of finding the start line of Transvulcania almost complete!
We parked the car just outside town so we had an easy route home after the race and started to walk to catch the bus. I realised after a few minutes walk that I still had my glasses on. A quick dash back to the car and then back to Shaun had the heart rate flying and it was only 3.15am. The race would kick off at 6am from the Lighthouse at Faro de Fuencaliente, right on the most Southern tip of La Palma. Our bus was quiet with some tension but as always the ultra running community tend to be a pretty chilled out bunch. One thing that stood out to me was the incredible style of these european runners, looking so fit and no doubt the standard of runners was extremely high, way above anything I have ever experienced.
Before I really kick off this story I would like you to see the route that lay ahead. Here is a link. Zoom in on the map for an idea of the terrain and the distance covered.
So the real story starts from about 5.15am. Myself and Shaun decided to start together and hopefully get a little ahead of the big crowds. We had heard there can be bottlenecks on the narrow trails if you get caught at the back and thought it better avoid these. We hung around at the lighthouse in the dark, with a gale blowing dust around the 1700 competitors waiting to make their way down to the corral near the cliffs below. As we sat and ate a little we noticed a woman coming up from the cliffs covered in blood. It turns out she had fallen off the cliff to a area of rocks below, breaking an arm and some ribs as well as other bad bruising. The volcanic rocks had taken their first runner, before things had even kicked off. A harsh reminder of the type of terrain we faced ahead.
We made our way into the starting arena at about 5.25, a kit check on the way (very strict that we had our phone, foil blanket and both from and back lights). Once in the starting area we realised we were 600 athletes from the front of the line. It doesn’t seem like far but when you have the thoughts of being stopped for a time as the trail narrows we wanted to move forward. It was so tight this wasn’t gonna happen. The race had a Space Running theme this year and our man above was dancing at the start line (to thunderstuck) as the announcer interviewed the pros and asked their thoughts on things. Mr. Cody Reed, one of the favourites was asked. “are you a favourite today?”, his answer, “Yes”. You have to love this honesty, confidence and also the fact that the guy didn’t beat about the bush.
All of a sudden it was countdown and we were off. Shaun sprinted on ahead and I tucked in behind him. We weaved in and out of the crowd before finding some clearance along the right had side. I’m not sure what sort of numbers we passed to get to where we wanted to be but before long we were running alongside people of the same speed and started to settle into a rhythm. Let me also explain here that this was all winding uphill. The first few kilometres was incredible with crowds of people out cheering and fireworks on both sides of the course. Within a kilometre or two we turned right onto a steep sandy climb which took us straight up at a right angle until we hit more road.
This was like a forestry road, minus the trees, and it felt like running on mars. Little did I know this was the nicest terrain of the entire race, underfoot that is. According to the trackers we found ourselves in the top 50 by the time we reached Los Canarios. It was about 6.45 in the morning and the place was alive. There were hundreds of supporters out and I must say I think it was the best buzz of the day. A phenominal atmosphere to say the least. We were only 700metres into a massive climb and only 7km into a 74km race but it felt amazing to have this many people cheer you on.
As you can see above the next 10km would be a relentless climb. The headtorches were soon off and the sun began to rise, along with the mountain. The trail was very sandy and soft in sections, as well as rocky and it was beginning to get more technical. Shaun soon began to peel away from me around the 12km mark and I knew I had to race my own race. It is easy to get taken into someone elses race. I had said to Shaun before the race to race his race. Your own plans are the ones to stick to in a race this long. We had both come to La Palma to give it our all but this meant sticking to our own plans and mine was to go by how my body felt. In saying this I felt really good early on and decided to fast hike all the hills and run anything in between.
Anyone that climbs mountains understands the term false peak. Coming to where you think is the top and realising the top is still far away. This would happen a lot today, however I had semi memorised the distances to each summit as well as the elevation so most of the time I knew exactly where I was. The sun was just up at Las Daseadas summit and the views just amazing, looking back down on the cloud in the hills below.
The next checkpoint was at the finish of the half marathon route at El Pilar. This came after a fast descent from Las Daseadas through the foreast and some good runnable trail. I ran into the checkpoint in just over 3 hours and felt considering the mammoth climb we had already put behind us that I was moving well. I stocked up on food and water, the aid stations being pretty fantastic by the way, and off I went. The crowds here were electric as the half marathon would finish here soon after I went through. The next 10km was mostly along a flat muddy road across the peak to El Reventon. This is one of the only flat sections all day. My legs were not moving like I wished on the flat and I started to lose a few places on this section. I wasn’t in any way worried about losing a few places as I knew I was well ahead of where I thought I would be. “Race your race”.
A quick pit stop in the woods for a toilet break and back on the trail feeling a lot better, to say the least. The last 10km had been wet and almost cold with a strong wind as I was down in the cloud line. The course soon began to climb again and we would climb small peaks, descend off them into forests before climbing again into the sun and the heat. I was drinking more water than ever in a race but knew this was the key to trying to finish. I fueled almost entirely on Tailwind. This product is incredible when it comes to long distance. I had a few jellies, a few bits of fruit and two gels as food all day. Apart from that I fueled solely on Tailwind in my bottles all day. Thank you Tailwind.
The next checkpoint, that I can remember at least was at Pico De La Cruz, at 2294metres elevation. The 10km before Pico was tough, winding through very technical trail, fast descents. sluggish climbs and the heat was starting to ramp up. I jogged into the checkpoint. I noticed I was starting to tire a bit as I couldn’t fill my bottles too easily and I needed a minute or two to gather myself. A woman poured two jugs of water over me which was amazing and I would make sure to get this at every opportunity as the day went on. My little Irish body was at melting point and the watch was reading 25 degrees. I left Pico and the climb began instantly as we crawled up the side of a steep hill. It was about 4km from Roque de los Muchachos, one of the famous checkpoints and highest point on the route. At the top of this steep climb I could see Muchachos in the distance but this 4k would be the toughest section of up and down running all day. I had been passed by quite a few but had reeled one or two of them back in again. It really was amazing racing. The scenery was just incredible. Imagine racing but also seeing views like these.
I summitted peak after peak, dropping two or three hundred metres and then back up again, the heat sweltering my bones as I watched the ground for any rogue rocks that might appear. The terrain was totally unforgiving. Sharp rocks, loose rocks, oh and did I mention, ROCKS everywhere. I had one or two hairy moments as I tripped but I never actually fell. It was more like stumbles and oh crap that could of been a disaster sort of feeling! At one stage, just after one of the pros had bombed by (Kelly Wolf, who would take third lady, finishing the last quarter of the race in emphatic style), I stumbled and was catapulted forward coming into a bend. I barely kept my balance and took the bend without falling. Thankfully so as there was a huge drop off the edge of the trail on that corner. It all goes to show how careful you have to be on these trails.
I eventually arrived at Roque de la Muchachos in serious need of more water and food but not wishing to hang around either. I knew there was basically 20km of downhill ahead and the downhill at this stage of a race is extremely tough. I stood under some nice cold water as some guys showered me down and after a bite to eat, some jellies stashed in the pack, I was off and moving again.
The downhill was relentless. It went on and on, rolling down the valley. The terrain became harder to navigate with so much rock and loose ground. A few athletes bombed past me, clearly having more left in the legs, plus I’m sure the heat was starting to impact my performance. The last 7km of the descent was the same 7km as the Vertical Km race which took place on Thursday from Tazacorte, the town you can see below me in the photo above. This 7km was steep, with small sections of road and sections of slab rock as well as loose rock. My legs were slowing down more on this section. I actually felt great on the first 10k or so after Muchachos and had ran some of the downhill pretty fast. It was the Vertical Km course that smashed me up. I zig zagged down the cliff face and eventually came to the bottom in Tazacorte. This was the finishing point for the marathon, some of which had passed us in the last few hours. More water and coke top ups here, a quick stop for a dance with some kids in the water shower and away once more. I met a nice spanish guy with good English who said it was only 5km to the finish and only just up and over that hill. He pointed to this massive cliff too the right hand side of the dry river bed we were running up.
I managed to run most of the river bed (which was entirely composed of loose gravel and shale), but by the time I stepped off it my legs were dead and my body overheating. Once again some locals stood on the side of the trail and they gave me cold water and a glass of ice which I threw down my back. I stopped, leaning on my poles and told my body to cop on, I’m only 2.5km away now and I want to finish, maybe even in under 10 hours. One foot onfront of the other and move your ass. I climbed so slowly but I climbed. I met two medics with a guy who wasn’t going to make it at the halfway point of the climb. I told myself that I have legs and they can move and that I’m so lucky to be where I am, don’t blow this now. At the top of the hill I was met by a woman with her garden hose which she was cooling people down with. I got a full shower and turned the corner to see the finishing straight. An almost 2km of a straight but it was the finish and I was going to make it. I ran along past cafes and pubs with people cheering and kids running alongside. Animo, Animo, Animo, was the shout of the day, meaning go for it or come on. As I passed one of the Cafes a guy held out a small glass of beer. My eyes opened wide and I laughed as I grabbed the beer and chugged almost all of it before pouring the rest on my head. The cafe erupted into cheers of laughter. No doubt they saw the flag on my bib and realised I was only doing it for my country!!
The finish was incredible with lots of people still cheering us on, even though the winners were in over an hour and a half before. I met Shaun, who looked just like I felt. He had finished 20 minutes before me in a time of 9.28, in 62nd position and had definately left every ounce of energy out there. He mentioned very similar feelings to mine, with the last quarter of the race really hurting. In fairness we did go out hard, but I still think that downhill in the heat would zap anyone. Try running downhill in the heat on a training day, you will sleep that night.
So I had finished 93rd position overall, a top 100 for my first big international race. I couldn’t be much happier with that. The journey had come to an end in Los Llanos and considering a few toe cramps I actually started to recover pretty well after food and a nice cold beer. An epic race and one I will remember forever. We had done ourselves proud and all the training and hard work was paying off. I hope to be back some day, for now I’m not sure when that will be but I would recommend to all trail ultra runners to take on the mighty Transvulcania Ultramarathon.
It’s the day before the trip begins and I write to you from Bristol. My first blog from my new home. It has been a busy few weeks moving and getting settled in. I look forward to the race on Saturday with great excitement and some nerves as always.
Transvulcania is one of the most popular trail races in Europe and will attract a pro and elite field from around the world. Experiencing the event and giving it my all is my goal for Saturday and you can follow me here. I’m lucky enough to know Shaun Stewart, Owen Boyhan and Paul Tierney also taking part. There is a big Irish contingent heading over so local rivalries will be evident even on the island of La Palma.
The lead up to this race has seen my training and racing take me all over Ireland since 2018 began and the last few weeks have really been about maintenance and staying in good shape rather than killing myself training. I threw in some speed session with the club and even managed a PB in a 5k near Galway last week to give me some confidence that I’m still doing things right! It might not seem like race specific training but speed and strength are just as important once you have the endurance in the legs heading into a race of this magnitude. The basic breakdown is 74km with 4500 metres of elevation gain and loss. This will be a tough day out before you stop to think about possible hot conditions and unknown terrain. These are the factors that increase the challenge and the reason I love it.
I have tried using poles, training with my pack, different shoe choice etc over the last few weeks of training. I am going with my salomon s-lab ultra sense shoes, salomon pack and carbon poles and hopefully just shorts, tshirt and a small amount of mandatory kit. I hope to fuel off Tailwind throughout and see little need to have much more than a few jellies to add to my nutritional plans on the day. This has been my strategy on long runs all year and I have had little or no stomach problems so far. Hydration, hydration, hydration is key throughout. Fingers and toes crossed there. I continue to have toe pains, most likely linked to arch or ankle issues but I will run through this and continue to do the strength work needed on the toe post race.
I have been lucky the last week to run in a few new places and this will continue on my new adventure in Bristol. There seem to be endless areas to explore and I look forward to training all summer leading up to the CCC. For now I will concentrate on Saturday. I am not going to look at times too much or start predicting how I will do. This is a learning experience and I will chat to you post race. The start line is my first goal and from there I will have lots of mini targets before crossing the finish.
I took this one on a recent run in Derroura, soaking up that West of Ireland air before I came east, to the South West of England! If your not from this part of the world that last sentence is gonna be a little tricky to understand. I will miss these fantastic training grounds but I will make new ones here and can look forward to returning home to play in the hills once more.