The Dragon 50

Evening view from Nash Point looking west. Beth and I went to watch the sun set a few weeks back. The race runs along the cliff tops.

20 sodding 20 – No need to explain the sort of year everyone has had. This race was about salvaging some sort of running achievement from this year.

Buildup and training

Originally scheduled for early May, my training for the Dragon 50 miler started in January. For obvious reasons it was cancelled and I fell into a training slump from March until May. I lacked motivation without a specific goal, I ate poorly, gained weight and lost fitness. No surprise there.

When the race was rescheduled for mid September I saw it as an opportunity to drag myself out of the Covid funk, following the 16 week training plan I’d started back in January. Even if the race was called off (like many others), I’d be happier and fitter. I hoped it would go ahead but was mindful that there was a high probability that wouldn’t.

I used the Sage Running Advanced 50mile to 100km plan, which I chose because of the success I’d had using their marathon plan at Valencia last year. What followed was the most consistent block of training I’ve ever done. Without any races to distract me I was able to follow the plan to the letter, hitting all the sessions and weekly mileage targets and feeling myself getting fitter.

By the end of July I was feeling strong and started to think about what I could do in the race. With no hint of cancellation, I started to recce parts of the course.

Each training week had good quality speed work – something I have tended to neglect in the build up to other ultras. For the 16 week block I averaged 62miles/100km per week which included having to reduce the volume in the final few weeks due to manage a plantar fascia issue.

Confirmation

3 weeks out from the race the runners received final confirmation that it was going ahead. The organisers Run Walk Crawl had worked hard to alter the race format to adhere to Covid rules and convince 5 local authorities that the event was safe.

Another week of training, a last recce, a bit of a taper and race day finally came.

The Race

The race largely followed the Wales Coast Path from Kenfig Pool to Cardiff. There is also a 100 mile option on the same day starting at Rhossili in the Gower, picking up the 50mile route at halfway. (It’s on my list – maybe one day. I’ve been saying for years that I ought to run a ‘proper 100 miler’.)

The route from west to east takes in a decent chunk of the Wales Coast path.

Participants were asked to give an estimated finishing time and were set off in small socially-distanced groups between 6:45 and 8:30am. Runners who expected to be on the course for longest started first and the faster ones started last.

The start, the finish and all aid stations were outdoors and had social distancing measures in place. Hand sanitiser was provided at each checkpoint and all runners had to carry a ‘Covid kit’ containing a mask, gloves and sanitiser.

I got an email with my start window a few days before the race. I was in the final starting group with 6 other runners – Exciting!

I was feeling quite confident. I’d trained better than ever before. I’d recced a grand total of 38 miles of the course. I had a solid nutrition plan and pace strategy. I’d run in my full race day kit the week before. I was meticulously prepared. The other runners and the weather were the only things I needed to react to.

Six of us assembled at the start to collect our GPS trackers. One runner hadn’t turned up. One of us would likely be the winner.

The race director told us that the first part of the route had been altered to avoid “a horrible bit”. The horrible bit was an area of bog less than a mile into the course that Beth and I recced the previous weekend. I’d marvelled at the meanness of getting runners shoes soaked through right at the start of a 50mile race, so I wasn’t too upset when he said it was removed. The change of route cut a chunk of distance off so I guessed we’d be running closer to 48 miles instead.

The First Bit (Kenfig Pool to Ogmore)

At 8:17am we set off. The altered first part of the course was marked with flags and easy to follow through the dunes. After a mile I hit the coast path and turned left towards Cardiff. I’d taken the lead but someone was right on my heels. I was going quicker than planned but felt fresh so stuck at it. I couldn’t believe I was actually racing again!

The coast path is basically flat from Kenfig to Porthcawl and is a mix of gravel, grass, a bouncy plastic boardwalk and then tarmac. 3 miles in, the runner who was following and I had started chatting. A nice bloke named Sean from Pembrokeshire. We chatted about all things ultra-running and about how we were almost certainly running too fast.

The weather was overcast. Not exactly warm but definitely humid. The forecast said there’d be glorious sunshine later in the day but it was hard to imagine at that point.

We ran along Porthcawl seafront, around the back of Coney Beach fairground and past Trecco Beach caravan park towards checkpoint 1 at Newton Beach. 7 miles down in around 55 mins. I topped up my soft flasks and we headed off along the beach towards Merthyr Mawr sand dunes.

We stuck together on this section, our pace slowing to around 9mins per mile due to the sandy terrain. I tried not to work too hard running on the soft sand knowing that I’d pay for it later.

At about 11 miles we joined a country lane which felt good after the soft sand. We ran through Merthyr Mawr village to the stepping stones that cross the Ewenny River next to Ogmore Castle.

Stepping stones safely negotiated.

Beth, Mam, Dad, Bec, Matt and Zepp the hound were at the castle to cheer me on. The shortened course and quicker-than-planned pace meant that they’d missed me at Porthcawl. I wasn’t about to apologise for racing too quickly, said a brief hello and cracked on.

Surprised to see the whole family.

The next checkpoint was about 1.5miles away at Ogmore Beach. I really enjoyed the next section of rolling sandy single track and pushed the tempo a little. Sean stuck with me.

I was as efficient as possible at the aid station, topping up my soft flasks and leaving quickly. Sean said he was going to stop briefly as his wife was there, so I headed off on my own. I passed a few runners at the checkpoint but didn’t know if they were in the 100mile race or had started the 50 in an earlier wave.

The Middle Bit (Ogmore to Sully)

I was on my own and ahead of the 5 runners I’d started with. I couldn’t have asked for a better first 13miles! I mentally reset and pushed on.

I had run from Ogmore to Sully in one go some weeks earlier as a recce. Conveniently it was exactly a marathon distance and a nice way to break down the route into mentally manageable blocks. I knew exactly what was coming and wanted to build a gap to the runners behind and hopefully pass some of the ones who’d started before me.

The next 13 miles were easily the most scenic of the race.

Some photos I took on the recce run. No time for photos on race day!

The coast path mainly follows the cliff tops with the odd detour inland in a few places. It has some steep climbs and descents, some steps, a lot of gates and stiles and a couple of pebbly beach crossings. While not technically difficult, it’s not fast.

I overtook a few runners who’d started earlier and I saw my support crew again just before dropping into Dunraven Bay and got a good cheer. I was feeling really good!

Papped by my dad before running down to Dunraven Bay.

At around 17 miles there were 2 detours inland one after the other. The first one dropped through a small wooded valley with lots of steps down and up the other side. I took the steps very easily to save my legs. The second one was more open and gave me an opportunity to look back along the course to see if I was being chased. I could see one runner who might have started at the same time as me. At a guess, he was about 3 mins behind. It was hard to be sure.

I overtook a few more runners before I got to Nash Point lighthouse at around the 20 mile mark. I’d expected to see everyone there but it turned out I’d run that section too quickly. At least they were following me on the tracker and knew where I was.

As I passed the lighthouse the sun came out. I put my sunglasses on and could feel the temperature creeping up. I was running low on fluids and wasn’t exactly sure how far it was to the next aid station at Llantwit Major beach. As it happened, it was only 2.5 miles and I dropped down the steps to the the checkpoint soon after I’d run out of Tailwind and water.

I only had two choices of Tailwind flavour on me.
Colorado Cola wins! It tastes better in water though.

My cheering squad/ support crew/ family were at the checkpoint waiting. We had a quick chat and I got some info about the other runners. It seemed that I was the third 50 mile runner to come through, the first one having left the checkpoint around 20 mins earlier. I refilled my drinks and made my way up the steps out of the bay.

Checkpoint 3 at Llantwit Major beach: 22 miles down, 26 to go.

I was starting to feel the heat and decided to hike some of the uphill sections. I came over the brow of a hill and could see the Aberthaw power station ahead. An ugly part of the route but I knew there was some flat running and tarmac where I could hopefully gain some time.

I passed two runners who might have been in the 100 mile race just before the coast path came out onto a section of pebbly beach leading towards the power station. When I recced the route I overshot the exit from the beach and was careful not to do it this time. The large pebbles were impossible to move quickly over so I picked my way through them knowing there were a few faster miles to follow.

The beautiful perimeter of Aberthaw power station. Even the glorious sunshine on race day didn’t make it any less grim.

As I approached the power station I could see a runner a few hundred meters ahead. He looked to be moving well and I decided to set about catching him.

The path around the power station is flat and fast but demoralisingly ugly. It was hot running on the concrete and starting to get uncomfortable. I was definitely gaining on the other runner though.

At 28 miles he stopped and leant against a wall to stretch. I picked up my pace a tiny bit and went past and said something like “that’s the worst of the race done”, knowing full well that it wasn’t. I only realised later that this was the point where I had hit the front of the 50mile field.

The runner I’d just passed caught up to me and we briefly complained about how warm it was as we clawed our way up the steep steps to Fontygary caravan park.

I’d been using a combination of Tailwind, Maurten gels, Gu gels and Trail-butter. I took a mouthful of Trail-butter and instantly felt sick. It’s has a consistency like sloppy peanut butter with crunchy bits in, (sounds lovely) which can be very hard to swallow with a dry mouth. I used up a lot of my water trying to swallow it and really hoped I could get some more from Beth pretty soon.

I got to Rhoose Point, the southernmost tip of Wales. My watch beeped for 30miles. I looked around and couldn’t see anyone. We’d agreed that it would be a good place for support because there was a fairly large distance between aid stations. Mild panic and a bit of swearing. 3 miles to the next checkpoint and just a dribble of Tailwind left. Time to suck it up.

I was bang on target pace at this point and had 18 miles or so to go. I’d pulled ahead of the other runner but I was suffering. I made my way through Porthkerry caravan park – I figured there had to be a drinking water tap somewhere. I’d almost given up hope but but as I was leaving the park I spotted one. I doused my buff and hat in cool water and refilled a bottle. Absolute heaven! I looked behind and there was still no sign of any runners. I headed down a hill through some shady woodland feeling like a new man.

What I didn’t bargain for was that the new man I had become was prone to cramp. The steps out of Porthkerry through Cliff Wood were excruciating. Every time I lifted my right leg my hip flexor cramped and every time I lifted my left leg my quad cramped. I don’t know exactly how many steps there were but 20,000 is my confident estimate. I eventually made it to the top and broke into a jog. At least it wasn’t far and mostly downhill to the penultimate checkpoint at The Knap.

Everyone was at the aid station so I decided to take some time to reset my brain and have a chat. My plan had been to spend no more than 3 mins at any one aid station and I’d stuck to it up to that point. The main thing now was to calm down for the final push. I ate some salty snacks and drank some flat ginger beer to ease the nausea. My dad was on the phone to my brother, Tom, who asked how I was doing. My dad told him I was in the lead. It dawned on me that with less than 16 miles left I actually had a chance of winning this race!

Leaving checkpoint 4 at The Knap feeling slightly refreshed. 32.8miles done, 15.3 left.

After around 10 minutes I left the aid station and headed off through Barry. I knew it would be 10km of mostly tarmac until I’d next see my crew. I settled into a rhythm that was slow enough so my muscles wouldn’t cramp and went into auto pilot.

I got to Sully sports ground at around 39miles and met Beth and my parents. I picked up a 3rd soft flask to carry as I was sick of gels and decided to fuel the rest of the run with Tailwind. They showed me the race tracker and I could see I’d pulled a 1.5 mile lead since The Knap. I said as long as I keep pushing then maybe I could win. They laughed and said I had a big lead and of course I could win it.

Sully sports field at 38.5miles, just before I learned I’d built a decent lead.

The final checkpoint was less than a mile away and I dared to start thinking that maybe this could be my first ever race win. No. Too soon! Anything could happen. One of the runners I started with might be running a really smart race and come through in the last 10miles! I just needed to focus on putting one foot in front of the other. Relentless forward progress. There’s nothing like a good cliché at a time like that.

I ate a couple of orange segments at the final checkpoint (handed to me with tongs) and set off with my three bottles. Two full of Tailwind and one of water. My watch said I’d been running for 6 hours and 38 minutes. 9 miles to go!

The End Bit (Sully to Cardiff)

This was the only part of the route I hadn’t run in training. It didn’t matter, I’m a massive running geek so I had the route gpx file on my watch and I’d looked at all the turns on Google Streetview beforehand, obviously. Like I said, I’d prepared meticulously.

A slightly uphill country lane brought back the cramp. I massaged my muscles as I walked and got back to a jog within a minute or two. I was even getting cramp in my arms. I must have lost a lot of electrolytes.

I passed yet another caravan park. That section was a blur and the next thing I remember was seeing Penarth Pier in the distance. It must have been around 2 miles away. My next goal was to get there. I’d worry about the rest of the distance later. There were loads of people out and about enjoying the warm September sun in Penarth. The runners were few and far between and didn’t have race numbers so I probably just looked like someone who was incredibly unfit, carrying far too much kit and shuffling along miserably. (Which wasn’t wholly inaccurate.)

I passed the pier and headed uphill. There were a few steps but no cramp this time – result! Only 5 miles to go and the only other runner I’d seen was one of the 100 milers. I followed the map on my watch left and right through some residential streets and dropped down to the marina. On my way down the hill a guy who was walking up it said “you should try running uphill instead”, to which I replied “I’ve just run 44miles – but thanks.” He was lucky he didn’t get any expletives.

Only flat tarmac lay between me and the finish line. I tried another gel to see if it would improve my mood a bit. It kind of worked. I got onto the final stretch of cycle path. Less than a parkrun to go. (If anyone says that to you in a race you’re allowed to punch them). I was jogging at just under 11 mins per mile, which was as fast as I could move without cramping. Definitely not what I’d planned but still faster than walking. Or crawling.

I kept looking over my shoulder for someone coming to overtake me. Replaying other races in my mind where I’d lost 2nd or 3rd place in the last quarter – but there was no one there. “Just keep doing what you’re doing” was the mantra circling my head.

Running into the finish.
The finish.

I came around a corner off the cycle path and crossed a road. About 100 meters ahead I could see race flags. I saw my dad with his camera. I heard Beth and my mam shouting. The few people at the finish were clapping. I jogged to the finish and stopped. It was all very low key but I’d done it. I’d finally won a race.

Socially distant presentation.

Afterwards

When the results were posted I realised that second place was 71 mins behind me. So maybe I could have relaxed a smidge. My average heart rate was 165bpm for 8 hours plus. No wonder it felt difficult! At least I didn’t slacken off.

The heat didn’t help but I didn’t take my foot off the gas!

I feel like I could have paced the race better. I got excited at the start and caught up in trying to gap the field early and paid for it with cramp in the second half. I had cramp in my arms and neck as well as my legs so maybe an electrolyte problem might have been a factor. I did run out of salt capsules by 33 miles and my bag and kit were crusted with a lot of salt. I’ve been plagued by cramp in a couple of ultra races and had none in others. I’ve not been able to put my finger on the the cause as yet.

Learning points aside, I am elated to have won a race. I set it as a personal goal a number of years ago and have come close on a few occasions and fluffed it. I fully appreciate that this was a small event with only 29 finishers but I feel proud. I’m never going to win a big race and there are plenty of runners out there who could have wiped the floor with me at this race. However, I trained harder and more consistently than before. I planned and prepared in more detail than I have for any other race – and ultimately got to the finish quicker than anyone else on that particular day. You can’t ask for any more than that, can you? For my first and possibly only race win, I genuinely feel it was well earned and that is very, very satisfying.

Looks better than the 3rd place trophy I’ve got.

It was so lovely to be back racing again. I like these low key ultramarathons where everyone is friendly and supportive while they quietly go about pushing themselves to the limit physically and mentally.

I’m grateful to have been able to go out and feel alive for the first time in months. Running an ultramarathon always feels like an adventure. If you’re a runner and you haven’t tried an ultramarathon, I urge you to give one a go. It’s excellent (type 2) fun.

Valencia Marathon

PB Chasing

My running goal for 2019 was to break all my standard road distance PBs. When I started marathon training in August for the Valencia Marathon, the only one I’d beaten was my 5k time. I’d have one shot at the 10k, half marathon and marathon before the end of the year. Plenty to do then!

Training

I’d be racing the Cardiff 10k and the Cardiff Half Marathon during my marathon training block. I’d roughly decided on my marathon goal pace and thought I’d try something I’d never done before…I’d follow a training plan. Quite how I’ve managed to run and race for nearly 10 years without using one I’m not sure.

I settled on a Sage Running Boston Marathon Qualifier plan. 16 weeks running 6-7 days with the heaviest weekly distance hitting 70-80 miles. It seemed challenging but not unmanageable. I won’t go into the details of the plan but I liked the fact that I didn’t have to decide what workouts to do, I just had to do what the plan said. The way the sessions built up over the weeks gave me confidence as well as the fitness I’d need for the marathon.

It was easier than I thought to swap workouts for the occasional race and move things around to fit in around work. Through October and November there were a lot of wet, dark runs along the canal with the head torch but having confidence in the plan itself kept me motivated.

Cardiff 10k

Originally I’d planned to do a flat 10k in July but it had sold out before I’d entered it, so Cardiff was my only option. I’d not run the race since 2013 and realised that I’d run a PB both times I’d previously done it. It turns out that it was the case in 2019 too.

I set out aggressively after a decent warm up and felt strong. I went through halfway in 17:42 feeling good and hung on to finish in 35:33. Sub 36 was the goal so I was very pleased. A 78 second PB! Job done.

I put my shiny new 10k time into a pace calculator and liked what it predicted for the half and full marathon. Game on.

My dad and I celebrating our Cardiff 10k PBs

Cardiff Half Marathon

The Cardiff Half has been a permanent fixture on my calendar since I took up running back in 2010. It’s now a huge race but the course is flat, fast, well supported and ideal for a PB attempt and perfectly placed being 8 weeks before Valencia.

Beth and I spent a week in Chamonix in mid September and ran a lot of steep (and glorious) trails. I was worried I’d trashed my legs a little too much before Cardiff. I had a couple of niggles that I just managed to get under control in time for the race.

Fun on the trails in Chamonix.

My half marathon time to beat was 82mins from Newport in 2017. I’ve definitely been in shape to break 80mins on a few occasions in the past but it’s never come together on race day. Based on my recent 10k time and the pace I was aiming to run the marathon at I decided to run close to 6mins per mile and see how far I could go.

In the first few hundred metres of the race I got kicked in the calf and nearly went flying. I regained my balance but my calf was very painful. I was waiting for it to start cramping and ruin my race. It went numb around 4 miles in and fortunately didn’t bother me any more than that.

Just before 10 miles.

I got to 10 miles just before the hour mark, absolutely bang on pace. I was chuffed as I’d never run 10miles in less than an hour before! The next 2 miles were a slog, especially when I got passed by my club mate Paul, but I hung on to finish in 78:56. A hefty and long overdue PB in the bag but more importantly, right where I needed to be in terms of my marathon goal.

Valencia

When I was planning my running goals for 2019 I wanted a flat marathon late in the year. There were a couple of other options but I settled on Valencia after watching Ben Parkes’ Youtube video where he ran a huge PB there. The course was super flat and the city looked amazing, especially the finish area in the City of Arts and Sciences. Having never raced in Spain it was also an opportunity to experience racing in a different country.

View of the finish line while flying in.

The City of Arts and Sciences

16 weeks of training done. 898 miles in the legs with over 100 of those miles at faster than marathon goal pace. PBs at 10k and the half marathon along the way. Definitely the most consistent training block of my life.

I did have a slight knee problem due to a tight quad which caused me to back off the mileage a bit in the final 4 weeks or so. It seemed like that was the right thing to do as felt like it could have become a proper injury if I’d pushed my luck. By race day it felt pretty much fine.

So I’d done all the training, the predictions looked good and I felt great, more prepared than for any other race I’ve done. I’d practiced using my gels (Maurten is awesome stuff!) and I’d been training wearing extra layers just in case it was warm on race day. It was just a matter of going and doing it.

I’d set a range of goals:

A: Sub 2:50:00

B: Sub 2:52:30

C: Sub 3:00:00

D: Sub 3:17:33 (the current PB)

Knowing the race would be marked in kilometres I decided I’d have my Garmin showing elapsed time only and work out my splits from the markers. I always work in miles but realising that my goal pace would be exactly 4 mins per kilometre I decided to use that for the sake of easy maths.

The only issue I had was that the pace I was aiming for was so far removed from what I’d run in the past that I couldn’t fully visualise doing it, so I wasn’t 100% certain that I was capable of it. I’d not felt like that about a race in a long time (probably when I ran a solo 24 hour race in 2015). It was exciting but nerve wracking.

The Race

I’d picked up my race pack on the afternoon before the race. The expo was pretty busy but the process was smooth and quick. Beth and I went and had a look at the start and finish lines but I didn’t want to walk around for too long and save my legs.

The start line.

The only pre-race stress was that the hotel didn’t have a kettle for coffee and porridge on race day and I couldn’t find bagels in any of the supermarkets.

We found a cafe near the hotel that opened at 6am for pre-race espressos and I ate a banana and a soft pretzel washed down with Maurten 320 for breakfast back at the hotel room.

It was just over a mile to the start from our hotel so I jogged down with Beth about 45 mins before the race.

Nervous pre- race face.

Beth decided to run around the city to follow the race so she headed off towards the 5k point and I went to find my start pen.

I spotted a local runner from Parc Bryn Bach and had a quick chat before having a final wee, taking a caffeinated gel and getting into my start pen. I was amazed how far back I was! I was in the sub-3 hour having decided that the sub-2:50 pen might have made me go off a bit too quick. It was surprisingly warm and I was sweating.

The gun went off and we shuffled forward. It took well over a minute to cross the start line.

Course map (probably too small to see)

The first kilometre was congested and felt very slow. I passed the 1k marker in 4:12 and realised it wasn’t that terrible but I couldn’t afford to keep running at this pace so I tried a bit of weaving to get into some space. The second kilometre was closer to target pace but I was using a lot of energy trying to get around people. I decided to accept that I’d be running slower than I’d like and try to conserve energy and hope that the crowds would thin out later in the race.

A few twisty sections between 3k and 5k slowed the field further and I passed the 5k timing mat in 20:22. It was really congested so I didn’t see Beth and she didn’t see me.

By 7km where I was 27seconds behind goal pace. (This might sound ridiculous to most people but I had a plan and I wanted to stick to it for as long as possible.) I was getting a bit impatient.

After a turnaround the road widened and I took my first gel. I had space in front of me and was able to settle into a proper rhythm for the first time. It felt easier even though I was moving faster and I set about slowly bringing myself back to goal pace, passing the 3hour pacer at around 8k.

Leaving as little to chance as possible I’d set an alert on my watch to remind me to have a gel every 30minutes, alternating between normal and caffeinated ones.

Around the 10k mark I saw Beth and Rhys cheering me on and I gave them a thumbs up and a big grin. I was feeling good and getting into the swing of the race. My 10k split was 40:21 – I was clawing back some time.

Mmm…splits

It seemed like a lot of the early part of the route was in the shade which was welcomed as it was a bit warmer than I’d hoped. There were water stations every 5km or so and I went through the same routine at every one: Get a good run at the bottle I wanted, move over into the middle of the road, keep an eye out for bottles on the floor, tip some water down my back, have a few sips and then throw it in the recycle bin.

The next few kilometres were uneventful (apart from trying to re-pin my soggy race number at 6:20 per mile pace) until I saw Beth and Rhys again at 17-18km (more thumbs and grinning).

Beth papped me at about 18km

I’d increased my pace slightly and by the halfway point I was bang on pace. I congratulated myself a little and pushed on. More uneventful kilometres ticked by as I pushed slightly ahead of pace.

My calves started to feel a little sore around 24-25km which was a bit of a concern. I’m not sure if the new calf guards were quite as effective as my older ones. I moved my foot strike slightly further towards the heel to try and protect them a bit.

The route crossed over a bridge at 27-28km and Metallica was blasting through some speakers. I’d been worrying about my calves a little and a good dose of ‘Enter Sandman’ snapped me out of it.

It was definitely warming up. There were a lot of thermometers on buildings and roundabouts etc around the city and I couldn’t help notice that they were reading 19°C now. Not hot by any means but warmer than ideal for my dehydrated and fatiguing body acclimated to the British weather.

The next 10k or so was through the the old part of the city and it was a bit more shady. As we twisted through the streets I caught glimpses of the 2:50 pacer up ahead. All was going to plan. I was expecting to see Beth at the 30km marker, I caught sight of her before she saw me and I dashed to the her side of the road for a quick high 5 on the way past.

30km video grab – spotting Beth at 30km

I was 29seconds up on goal pace at this point and hoping I could hang on with 12k to go. It didn’t last long as things started to slide.

By 34km I was struggling to remember what marker was coming next and working out very simple splits became a chore. I was keeping up with taking a gel every 30mins but my energy levels were going downhill. I don’t remember much from the next part of the race other than the last time I was on goal pace was at 37km. From there it was just a battle to keep moving forward.

I felt like I was crawling along. In reality, at my very slowest I was only 45 seconds a mile below goal pace but it felt like I was losing minutes and minutes. People were passing me and I couldn’t do anything about it. I’d been passing them all race. I let my A goal go and made peace with it quickly.

The 40k mark woke me up, big time. The music was so loud and suddenly there were supporters everywhere. It dawned on me that there was only 2.2km to go. Less than a mile and a half. No distance at all! I checked my watch. I’d lost about 90seconds, that was all. My B goal of sub 2:52:30 was still very achievable!

Suddenly out of nowhere Beth was in the crowd shouting at me. I’ve no idea what she said, I just ran. A few hundred meters further on Rhys and Tina were there cheering too.

Just keep moving. Just keep running. It doesn’t have to be fast, you just have to keep momentum.

The crowds were flooding the road on both sides so the route was only about 10 feet wide in places. Suddenly the runners peeled off to the left and down a ramp towards the City of Arts and Sciences. I was just about to hit the gas knowing there was about 800m to go when my left hamstring twitched. I eased off a little then tried to push again. It spasmed a bit more. Rather than pushing my luck and cramping up just before the finish, I eased back and tried to soak up the atmosphere. I got onto the finish straight, a blue pontoon running through a water feature, and closed my eyes with the sun on my face for a few paces. Nearly there.

The finish line is in sight. Repping the Pooler vest.

Just before the line I was overcome with emotion and beat my chest and shouted. I’ve never done that before in a race. I crossed the line, stopped the watch, walked a few paces and promptly burst into tears.

2hours 51mins 19seconds on the watch. My relief was immense.

I always thought I could do it. I felt like I should be capable of it…but I didn’t know I could do it…Until then.

It’s such a relief to know that there’s no magic formula to running. You get out of it what you put in. I trained like never before and I earned a result far better than I ever had before. It’s so simple and incredibly satisfying. Yes, you can have a bad race and sometimes things don’t go to plan but you can’t run a good race by accident. There are no flukes in distance running.

Somewhat pleased.

My time was officially rounded down by a whole second. Result!

Power of 10 – satisfying to see all this year’s PBs in one place 😀

What next?

I plan on basking in that result for a few weeks, recovering and enjoying Christmas.

I’ll be entering the UTMB CCC ballot in a few weeks which will be drawn in mid January. Once I know if I’m in or not I’ll plan my 2020 races around that. In the short term I’m looking forward to the rest of the cross country season. By the spring I’ll be back to ultramarathon training and either winding up to the CCC or earning ITRA points for my guaranteed 2021 entry.

My Running Year So Far

I’ve only written race reports in the past but as none of the races I’ve run this year have been that adventurous, I haven’t felt the need to write about them. That said, the progression in my running from the start of 2019 has been a journey in itself, (feel free to throw up in your mouth), so I thought I’d share it.

Slow and Heavy

I started the 2019 at the heaviest I’d been in years. Months of ultramarathon training and racing to get the ITRA points to enter the UTMB CCC had worn me out and fatness had crept up on me.

I decided to see where I was pace-wise and ran my local Pontypool parkrun flat out between Christmas and New Year. The result was disappointing. It’s definitely not the fastest course, still, 6:36/mile pace is significantly slower than my usual half marathon pace. Plenty of work to do!

I set about a consistent 50mile per week running target and decided to see how long a running streak I could manage. I started eating with a bit more care to shed some of the extra pounds too.

The Riverbank Rollick. 9-odd miles of off-road fun. 1st race of 2019 and a surprising 10th place. On closer inspection of the results I found that at full fitness I’d likely have beaten the 3rd place runner.

Planning 2019 Goals

In mid January I found out that I was unsuccessful in the UTMB CCC ballot (never mind, I get double the chances for 2020) and felt a mixture of disappointment, relief and a little bit of excitement. The excitement came from the notion of regaining some speed. Proper road speed!

The target for the year had to be PBs for each road distance. Some of these had stood for a while and would take some beating:

    5k 17:39 – Cardiff parkrun August 2013
  • 10k 36:51 – Caerphilly 10k June 2016
  • HM 82:19 – Newport Half Marathon 2017
    Marathon- 3:17:33 Paris 2015
  • (I’m actually ashamed of my marathon time. It’s so far short of what I should be capable of and ought to be very easy to beat.)
  • Obviously, there was the slight complication that I was around 20lbs heavier than the last time I ran any sort of road PB and I couldn’t run a sub-20 5k. I knew that the road back to fitness and the transformation (hopefully) into a faster runner than I’d ever been before would take a long time. Patience and consistency would be key and I actually felt excited about the challenge.

    Me against myself. Chasing down that 31 year old who could run a 17:39 5k on half the training miles I do now…and crushing him.

    31 year-old me running 17:39 in 2013 on shoddy, sporadic training. Dying to be crushed.

    The Training

    I probably hit 2019 a bit too hard with a 34 day run streak. Luckily I remained injury free and lost around 11lbs of dead weight during this time.

    I just wanted to knuckle down, do my 50ish miles per week (including speedwork and a lot of easy runs) but January to March are months full of cross country races. As the men’s captain of my running club I felt a certain amount pressure to turn up and run as many of these races as possible. I just didn’t feel ready and didn’t want anyone to see how slow I still was. All I wanted to do was crack on quietly with my training and emerge in the spring in some reasonable form. As such, I put in some real half arsed XC performances where I resented the fact that I was even there. Not a great attitude I know, but that’s how I felt at the time.

    The first fruits of the consistent training came as a bit of a surprise in the Pontypool 10k in late February. 8th place and my second quickest time on the course was a shock to me especially as I was still carrying a good 10lb of timber.

    A nice surprise at the Pontypool 10k.

    parkrun Improvement

    Much to my relief I’d managed a sub 20 at Pontypool in late January. By late March I wanted a crack at a flat 5k. I ran 18:43 at a windy Newport Riverfront parkrun and was chuffed that all my mile splits started with a 5. Feeling like there was a little more in the tank, I ran Porthcawl parkrun the following week in 18:10, my fastest 5k since October 2017. Suddenly that PB didn’t seem like such a stretch and I really felt like the 3 months of patient training was paying off.

    Racing

    Although I’d done 6 races by the end of March, my first goal race of the year was the Kymin Dash in April. 7 hilly multi-terrain miles, passing the place Beth and I got married, a race I really enjoy. I’d run it twice before at different levels of fitness and my aim was to run a course PB. In the week leading up to the race I got a cold. Typically I’d have been I’d have been fuming at the injustice of getting mildly ill just before a race I’d been looking forward to for nearly 4 months but I just accepted that my performance would be a little under my expectations and got on with it.

    I took the start line, not feeling 100% and ran as hard as I could that day. The race starts with 1.5miles of serious climb, then a few undulating miles and a fast descent, finishing with 2.5miles on the flat. By the time I hit the final flat my body was aching all over and my pace died a little. I finished 18th place and around 20 seconds slower than my course PB. Take the snot out of the equation and it would have been a good run.

    Next up was the Newport 10k. I’d shaken off the cold and renewed my efforts to get back to a decent race weight. I still had a good few pounds to lose but I’d made some progress. The race is pan-flat which made it easy to pace. My goal was to run anywhere from 37:00 to 37:59, so I decided to aim for the nice round splits of 3:45 per km and see how I felt. I got to the start pen a bit late after my warm up and found myself stuck quite a way behind the 45 minute pacer. I wasn’t happy. The race started and I set about getting forward to the runners of a similar pace. Weaving right and left through the crowd I dropped a 5:42 first mile, which was a bit quick but I felt ok and by the first turn I’d got to where I felt I should be in the race and settled down. I felt pretty good all race and ended up running a negative split. I crossed the line and found that I’d pipped my 10k PB by 1 whole secondwhich then got rounded up in the official results.

    If only I’d know I was so close to a PB.

    It’s an odd feeling equalling a PB. Even though I didn’t think I was capable of that time and didn’t set out to run that quickly I still felt quite disappointed. Surely I could have found a few seconds somewhere on that course? After a few days I remembered how much I’d already improved since the start of the year and didn’t feel so bad. Later this year I’ll have a proper crack at my 10k PB with the knowledge that I should be able to beat it.

    SSAFA 5k

    I really wanted to do a 5k race rather than a parkrun to see how much progress I’d made. The SSAFA 5k was the Wednesday evening after one of our local club league races so I made the decision to sit the Tuesday race out to be completely fresh for 5k of pain. I felt guilty for missing the club race and went along to take photos.

    I had a range of goals:

    • Break 18 mins
      Break PB of 17:39
      Break 17:30
  • (Ultimately I want to run sub 17 but that will hopefully come later in the year).
  • The weather was almost perfect. It was a nice warm, sunny evening with a bit of a breeze. I picked up my race number and went and warmed up. I felt quite calm. I usually find 5k to be the most nerve wracking event.
  • The start was a scrum. Elbows and feet flying everywhere. The race was chip timed at the end only, so your official time was from the gun. I went out very hard. A 5:29 first mile. I needed to hang on as long as I could. Through 2k I was still up on 17:30 pace. At the 3k marker I was still up. My watch seemed to take forever to beep for 2 miles. I looked down and it said 5:58. I actually said “fuck off” out loud. There’s no way that was right. The middle part of the race was under heavy tree cover so that might have messed up the GPS. Slightly put off by my watch I was dying for the 4km marker. When I got to it I found I was still up on 17:30 pace. Relief! All I had to do was hang on to that pace for another 3-and-bit minutes and I’d run a PB! I could hardly believe it. I crossed the line in 17:15. Once the pain had stopped I was absolutely elated. I couldn’t believe I’d finally beaten that time that had stood for 5 years and 9 months. I was so glad that I’d sat out the previous night’s race.
  • That PB feeling – shaken, not stirred.
  • Too Many Races
  • Four days after the 5k was the Dorset Invader Half Marathon. A great weekend away camping with friends but a brutally tough and hilly half marathon across farmland. I was going to take it fairly easy as I’d already raced that week and had two more races coming up in the next 10 days…but that went out the window when I found myself still in 3rd place during the second half of the race. I ultimately finished 4th in a time of 1hr58mins (which shows how hard it was) but absolutely hammered myself in the process.
  • It took me almost a week for my hamstrings and glutes to recover, which they did just in time for the Rack Raid Relay – 100ish miles through the Gwent countryside split into 13 legs of varying distance. 28 teams from local running clubs took part this year and everyone always gives it their all. It’s a truly awesome event and one of the highest pressure races of the year. I felt like I had a strong run on my leg, hammering the downhill and giving it absolutely all I had, finishing 2nd behind a faster runner.
  • The mighty Rack Raid!
  • Then came the next race…two days later. The fourth race in 14 days. I knew it was a bad idea. Mentally I wasn’t up for pushing myself to the limit again. Physically I was tired. But as I’d skipped the previous league race I felt pressured to turn up and run. I was in a foul mood all day and didn’t want to do it. I went out fairly hard but soon realised I didn’t have the will. The middle 3 miles of the race were a bit of blur, just going through the motions at a cruise. I pushed harder in the last mile or so and made up some places. I was just happy to have finished without injury.
  • What Next?
  • As I write this, a few days after that race, I’m focusing on recovery and refusing to race until the Swansea Half Marathon in a few weeks. I know I need to be careful at this point as I’ve burned out from over racing in the past. This year will be different.
  • Writing this has helped me realise how far I’ve come this year already. I fully expect my rate of progress to slow over the coming months but I’m excited to see how much faster I can run.
  • Upcoming goal races:
    • Swansea Half Marathon
      Cardiff 10k
      Cardiff Half Marathon
      Valencia Marathon.
  • Peppered with some other races in between.
  • Snowdonia Marathon Eryri

    Everyone I’ve spoken to about this event has said it is incredible. It’s been on my to do list for a good few years and I finally got around to it. Beth signed up on the 1st of December last year when entries opened (selling out in 2 hours!) and was the main focus of her running year. I’d be in Llanberis supporting her anyway and thought I’d probably be able to get hold of a transferred entry, which I did from a friend in August.

    It was a bonus race for me after running ultras chasing points to enter the UTMB CCC ballot. With that goal achieved, I was really looking forward the marathon and feeling pretty relaxed about it.

    As the 5 weeks passed from the Humani’trail race in the Swiss Alps I started to think about what sort of time I’d be aiming for in Snowdonia. A last minute decision to run the Cardiff Half Marathon 3 weeks beforehand, (I realised it would be my 10th in a row and couldn’t resist), produced a comfortable and reasonably quick (for me) time of 1hr25mins with satisfying 5k splits all within 10seconds of each other. I was surprised since I’d averaged slower than 11:30min/mile pace for the past 2 months of “running” and I’ve been carrying a good 10lbs of extra timber.

    So, with all the long distance runs in the legs and the apparent retention of a decent bit of pace, I thought it wouldn’t be unrealistic to have a crack at my marathon PB of 3hrs17mins, even on the hills of Snowdonia.

    That was my dream goal decided but the main objective was to enjoy myself, run hard and soak up the atmosphere and have a cracking weekend in a stunning part of Wales with Beth and loads of our running friends.

    View of the first off-tarmac section of the race between 6-7miles, taken on the drive up.

    Beth and I drove up to Llanberis the day before the race with Andy “Andrew Price” Price and got a look at the first half of the marathon route in reverse. The hills seemed alright.

    Race numbers were collected; vast pizzas and beers were consumed; pre-race conversations between seasoned Snowdonia Marathoners and virgins were held. Then it was time for bed.

    I was far less nervous than usual and fell asleep quickly. It lasted until 3:30am. I lay awake listening to the wind, rain and hail hoping it would stop, willing the time to pass.

    Team Richardson kit shot.

    After a light breakfast of porridge and much coffee in the hotel we set off to the start line. It was cold, clear and very busy. It was only half a mile to the start line but no time for a warm up. Not ideal but not the end of the world. I gave Beth a kiss, and Andy a hug and wished them both a good race and set off to get closer to the front with Faye, Paul and Pete from club. I followed Russell Bentley, the eventual race winner through the crowds for a bit and settled in about 10 meters behind the start line.

    Race route and hill profile. It has to be one of the toughest road marathons in the UK, surely?

    We were off. It was a little congested in the first half mile with some slower runners starting too far forward. A bit of darting and zig-zagging then things settled down. I’d told myself the first 2 miles were free. Sure enough mile one was a bit tasty at 6:33 but settled into an easy rhythm over the second mile (7:00) through Nant Peris and prepared for the first climb of the day up to Pen-y-pass.

    I’d warmed up by now and felt good. I made steady progress up the pass, taking in the rugged scenery with the sun on my face. People passed me, blowing hard. I reckoned I’d be seeing them again later in the race. Still a long way to go. Around 4 miles in I turned round, running sideways, to look back down the valley. Runners in brightly coloured kit filled every twist of the road as far as I could see. It brought a big smile to my face and a spectator on a bike laughed at me as if to say “you’re meant to be racing”.

    Cruising up the last part of Llanberis Pass.

    The support and noise at Pen-y-pass was amazing as the road rolled over into the first descent. I grabbed a cup of water at the aid station as my mouth and throat were incredibly dry. (I definitely had a cold coming on, as I found out afterwards. It’s 4 days after the race as I write this and I’m still off work sick with gentleman’s influenza).

    I had planned to control my pace on the descent but that went out the window straight away. It felt amazing pushing hard down the winding road with a huge visa off to the right and the wind swirling around me. I was passing people too, which always feels good.

    A right hand turn off the tarmac onto the gravel track and was instantly glad of my shoe choice. I’d opted for a 600mile-old pair of Hoka Speedgoat 2. Still a bit of trail grip left on them, fairly responsive on the road but enough cushion to batter the downhills without wincing on every stone. A 5:54 mile 6 and a 5:52 mile 7 and a good few overtakes was the result.

    There was a short, sharp rise back onto the tarmac then a rolling, gently downhill road all the way to Beddgelert and the halfway point. Time to rein the effort in a little and settle back down after the fun descent.

    An uneventful few miles followed. I saw small groups of supporters here and there and I was running easily enough to be able to thank them on my way past.

    I went for a very simple nutrition strategy of water and Clif Shot Bloks. I must admit it was an afterthought and not what I’d trained with all summer or used during any of the ultras I’d run this year. My stomach started to protest at around 11 miles and my pace dropped by over 30 seconds. I decided to just take on water for a while, let my stomach settle and regain my composure before halfway.

    The atmosphere in Beddgelert was electric. There were so many people out on the streets cheering. I high-fived children, people shouted “da iawn Dave!”, it was a massive buzz.

    I left Beddgelert smiling and eased into the 2 mile climb to 15 miles, feeling a lot better stomach-wise and re-energised.

    A runner turned to me and said “this is where the race really begins” and shot off up the hill. Helpful words or a bit of gamesmanship? I wasn’t sure but I got a good look at him and hoped to see him further down the road.

    The climb itself wasn’t too bad. Not as steep as Llanberis pass but suddenly there was a strong headwind to contend with, shortly followed by horizontal hailstones. Ouch! The hail didn’t last too long but was enough to numb my arms from the elbow down.

    My pace dropped to almost 9mins per mile in the last part of the climb and I was glad to reach the the top. It was all gently downhill into Waunfawr at mile 22 but the headwind, varying from annoying to vicious in strength, made it feel somewhere between flat and slightly uphill.

    This was the toughest part of the race for me. The headwind slowly ground me down. My glutes and hamstrings were sore and tightening up with every mile, probably because they’re not used to trying to run quickly over longer distances. Ultras are easier in that respect. My average pace was slipping and the dream goal of an outright marathon PB was fading. I wasn’t bothered. This was a tough race, I’d not trained specifically for it and I was packing a lot of extra chub. PBs don’t come that easy. Excuses made.

    I got overtaken by a few people on this stretch and I was looking forward to the final climb and descent.

    Cool annotated elevation chart I found online.

    Arriving at Waunfawr to cheering supporters was a welcomed relief. With a right turn off the main road the climb began. It wasn’t as steep as I’d imagined but I kept my effort easy knowing that it would go on for a couple of miles.

    More people overtook me. I overtook some people walking, all the while keeping my pace and effort even and controlled. The road steepened and my glutes and hams complained. I refused to walk. Only another mile of climbing to go.

    At the top the tarmac gave way to a gravel track. I was glad I’d saved some energy on the climb and pushed on. The aid station at 24 miles was amazing. People in Hawaiian shirts and hula skirts on the top of a freezing cold welsh mountain cheering runners on is not something you see very often. I heard afterwards that they even had cups of tea there. I opted for water. Just over 2 miles to go and plenty of downhill.

    There was another little climb which stung a bit and I’d started to bonk. Wooziness and flickering lights in my peripheral vision were the telltale sign that I was out of glycogen. I got to the crest and an incredible view down into the valley opened up. I could see Llanberis below and knew I’d be finishing soon. I had this in the bag.

    I’m not an aggressive runner. I try to take a controlled approach to racing. Usually anyway. I love downhill running and I was very disappointed with how tentative I’d been in the Swiss Alps…This Race was different – Probably due to the potent combination of hypoglycaemia and wanting to prove that I wasn’t a “downhill pansy” I threw myself down that mountain track like a man possessed.

    Beast mode activated on the final descent. (I tried to buy this image along with the others but it wouldn’t let me for some reason, sorry SportpicturesCymru!).

    I hammered through the gate at the 25mile marker, wild eyed and arms windmilling. A man at the gate shouted to me “keep that up and you’ll catch them all!” I gritted my teeth and pushed even harder down the grass. I was flying past people left and right. The course reverted back to tarmac and I accelerated harder still. I was rasping and snarling like an animal and it felt f**cking amazing. I passed the guy who’d spoken to me on the hill out of Beddgelert. My eyes were watering from the cold air and my vision was blurry. My watch beeped: a 5:49mile – get in! Only 0.2miles to go.Thanks to Jenny for this photo.

    Finish in sight.

    I hurtled around a right 90 degree bend and into the finish straight. I saw a guy ahead who’d overtaken me 3 hours earlier. Eyes fixed on the finish arch I stretched out and moved past him. As I’ve come to do in the last few races I jumped over the finish line and stopped my watch. 3hrs 22mins 01second. Result: Happy with that but room for improvement.

    I looked insane crossing the line but made the Marathon Eryri Facebook post.

    I jogged back to the hotel, had a quick shower, grabbed some stuff and headed back to the finish area to watch the others come in.

    Beth came round the final bend smiling and looking strong. She bagged a marathon PB too! I felt quite emotional.

    Andy came in not far behind her and ran over the line with his daughter Hannah. A truly incredible achievement for his first ever marathon. It was very moving and had a tear in my eye when congratulating him afterwards.

    The Snowdonia Marathon Eryri surpassed my high expectations. It’s such a tough and beautiful course. The support is so welcomed in between long lonely sections and beyond anything I’ve experienced at other races. It made me feel proud to be Welsh, proud to be a runner and proud to have completed such a prestigious event.

    I will undoubtedly be back. I would love to have a proper crack at this race when I’m leaner and with dedicated marathon training.

    Well done to everyone who ran and a big thank you to all the supporters who made the weekend so special.

    Slate coaster – way better than a medal.

    Humani’trail Trail du Tigré 55km 🇨🇭

    http://www.humanitrail.com

    Humani’trail is a series of races in the Swiss Alps raising funds for education projects in Nepal. There’s a 55k ultra, a 27k and a 15k option and a 2k kids race.

    I signed up before Christmas last year and thought about it every day for more than 9 months. The distance was never a concern but the amount of climbing, the terrain and the altitude were all new experiences and genuinely scared me. 4 more UTMB points and some alpine experience were the goal.

    I knew I had the endurance to run for 12hours plus from Race to the Stones back in July and between then and September I’d been racking up a lot of elevation gain with plenty of hiking using poles. I felt like I was as ready as I could be and even tapering, (which I usually hate), was going well…until a calf strain I had back in June returned. On an easy 5 miler, 4 days before the race my calf suddenly screamed- Sharp pain, instant stiffness. Shit!!! I walked home, convinced that the months of training had been for nothing. Last time I had this strain it took 2 weeks to heal enough to run on. Gutted! I had a massage the following day, iced and stretched and hoped for the best (but expected the worst).

    I still packed all my race kit like I’d be running but mentally I was trying to deal with the fact that I’d probably wasted months hiking up and down my local mountains and wouldn’t be running. At least I’d have a nice holiday with Beth, Bec and Matt in Switzerland…looking at the mountains I was meant to be racing in.

    We arrived on the Thursday before the race and were blown away by the beauty of the place. Les Diablerets is a stunning, quiet village surrounded on all sides by peaks. I picked out the peaks that the race covers. My calf wasn’t feeling as sore and tight…I dared to hope that this could be possible.

    From 3000m, most of the course is visible in this shot.

    The course consisted of two different loops starting and finishing in Les Diablerets. The race organisers changed the route about a week before due to landslides on part of the course. The new second loop was around 1km shorter but with 300m (984ft) of extra elevation gain, and took in two extra peaks with the highest point now at 2540m (8830ft) above sea level.

    The course map. The red loop followed by the blue loop, both anticlockwise.

    My Strava elevation data. My watch did a decent job after playing up for months!

    Matt and I collected our race packs the night before. He was running the 15k version of the race and like me had never run anything as hilly or at altitude before. I felt like I was just going through the motions, I still didn’t really feel like I’d be doing the race, even when I laid all my kit out and went to bed that night.

    My alarm went at 4:45am. Coffee, breakfast, shower, toilet, Imodium, kit on and out the door. We were staying about 400m from the race start and everyone came down to see me off. The 6:15am race start meant it was fully dark. 200 or so runners waiting quietly behind the start arch with headlamps on had an unusual feel to it. The announcer had everyone to crouch down, chanting and geeing up the crowd and runners. My French is not good enough to understand what he said but it was a pretty cool moment. Then a countdown, (my French at least covers numbers ten to one), and we were off!

    The first mile or so was flattish along roads down to the village of Vers-l’Eglise where the first climb of the day began. My calf began to ache after 400m and continued to do so for around 8 hours, when it eventually went numb. I was careful to protect it through most of the race and it never really got any worse.

    The first climb was on a grassy path through woodland. It was chilly with a thick mist in the air which clung to me. Sweat was dripping off my face within minutes. I concentrated on managing my effort, keeping an eye on my heart rate and settled into a rhythm. I think I was in the middle of the column of headlamps snaking through the mist. Some people overtook me, I overtook a few others. Generally though, it sounded like the people around me were working harder than I was, which was good. The ground was quite slippery in places but my shoes gripped well while others slid. I stopped to pee around 5k in and re-joined the snake. 57mins for 5k, I was flying! Only 50k to go.

    I tried to remember to think of the hill as infinite and to manage my effort so I could keep going forever. It seemed to work and as I broke through the mist into clear air the trail began to level out. 2,500ft climbed in 2 miles. The sun was just about to rise above the peaks in the distance as I got to the first aid stop at Meilleret. It was absolutely stunning! I refilled one of my flasks with Tailwind and water, grabbed a handful of dried fruit and nuts and moved along the ridge at a jog.

    Near the first aid station at the top of the first climb.

    My legs felt good, as they should have with 30miles left to go, but I had just ascended the longest climb of my life, so I counted it as small victory. Plenty more climbing and descending to go but I was feeling amazing.

    The mist and early morning sun.

    The feeling didn’t last long. The next section was along a narrow ridge which wasn’t runable (for me at least). A lot of steep scrabbling up and down over rocks and around trees slowed me right down. I had to keep letting people pass me as I felt like I was holding them up. In hindsight I should have put my poles away but I didn’t want to stop. The drop on each side was steep and long. All I could think was that one slip and I’d probably have been severely injured or dead. Less than 10k in and I felt entirely out of my depth. I realised that it hadn’t mattered how many hill reps I’d run or how fit I was, I was entirely unprepared for the terrain. My confidence was shattered and I wanted to quit. Like a f***ing coward.

    The amazing vista before the ridge that I hated.

    After the ridge was a technical downhill section where yet more people flew past me. I’d had enough. I was mentally beaten and planning where and when I could drop. I realised it would be another 10miles at least until I got back to the village. I decided I would quit there, that I was not cut out for this terrain and that there’s no way I should enter the UTMB CCC anyway, so I didn’t need any more points. Woe was me. I’d try to enjoy the views, get to the halfway point, then throw in the towel. Sorted.

    I bet none of these runners were thinking of quitting so early on.

    I stopped at 8.7miles to take some photos, munch a Chia Charge flapjack and text Beth. I didn’t tell her I was quitting, just “f*** me, this is brutal”. Some words of encouragement and a couple of photos of cows later and I felt a bit better. I was still going to quit but my mood was less foul.

    Moo-d enhancing views

    There was short steep climb up a ridge toward another ski lift and then a fast descent down a piste between the snow cannons. I imagined how much more fun it would be on my snowboard.

    On the piste, looking ecstatic.

    At the bottom of the slope was the 2nd aid station. A kind marshal helped me refill my flasks and I ate some chocolate cake and a piece of cheese and set off.

    The next section was on a track and was very runable. We’d dropped back down into the mist and visibility was down to about 50m or so. Runners appeared ahead out of the fog and I caught them and passed them. I must have gained around 20 places over the next couple of miles. I heard some runners having a conversation in English and ran with them a while. Two guys from Scotland who had run a few alpine ultras before. I pulled away from them on a short uphill and decided to crack on at my own pace.

    There was a 5mile downhill back into the village to the end of the first lap and where I’d planned to quit…I was feeling a lot better and wondered if I should hang on and start the second loop. By the time I hit the 15mile point I’d decided not to quit at halfway. I’d carry on to 22miles, where there’d be another chance to wimp out.

    A gently undulating out and back section along either side of the Dar river was a welcomed relief from the up and downhill. I felt like I was making good time along there and enjoyed the wobbly rope bridge crossing. I arrived back into the village feeling strong. I stopped for quick chat with Beth, Bec and Matt. I was glad I got to see Matt for he set off on his race at noon. At the aid station I refilled my flasks with Tailwind and randomly ate a few pieces of banana. (Those of you who know me well will know how I feel about bananas!)

    The end of the first loop. Looking well fed.

    Before heading out on the second loop I had to run a lap of the village and found myself in the middle of the 2k kids race. I couldn’t help but laugh and was careful not to overtake any of them. I was over half way in distance, but still had more than half of the climbing and descent to come.

    Next was a steep wooded climb with lots of switchbacks. 1800ft of gain up to an undulating trail along the face of the mountain. The climb was quite pleasant. The ground was relatively dry and it was cool in the shade of the trees. I could hear the announcer for the 15k race in the village below and thought of Matt setting off.

    I reached the top feeling great. A few runners who’d passed me on the climb were resting after working hard. I carried straight on past them, feeling pleased with how I’d managed my effort.

    Les Diablerets from the wooded climb.

    The next trail was a nightmare. I hadn’t expected it to be so technical and muddy. There was one exposed section on a path around a foot wide with a massive drop into the valley. Slippery rock cambered towards the abyss really unnerved me. When I looked ahead and couldn’t work out where the trail went panic properly set in. I froze. The runners I’d overtaken at the top of the climb were backing up behind me. I can’t remember the last time I felt that scared and pathetic. They squeezed past me and carried on. The trail ahead went directly up a wall of rock into the woods. They hauled themselves up in turn using the chain fastened to the rock.

    My hands were shaking. Partly through fear and partly through the anger I had at myself for being so bloody pathetic. The other runners seemed completely unfazed by the terrain and disappeared from sight. I needed to give myself a stern talking to but this wasn’t the place. I dragged myself up the rocks holding the chain in one hand and my running poles in the other. Again, I should have put the poles away but couldn’t manage it without the fear of dropping them or falling. A lesson learned for the future.

    The rest of the section was less difficult but my confidence was in tatters. I couldn’t bring myself to run any of the rough downhill trail for fear of tripping.

    After a while I saw the cable car we’d ridden the day before. The route descended to the road at its base and it didn’t look that far away. It was quite hot by now and crossing the glacier stream gave me a chance to dunk my hat in the cold water and wash my face.

    There was a muddy descent where I stopped to pee, then a path across some grassland down to the road and across to the bottom of the cable car at Col du Pillon.

    Beth and Bec were waiting for me there. I had a good rant about the horror of the last 4 miles and felt a bit better. If they hadn’t been there I’d have been walking up the hill to the next aid station to quit. It stayed there for 10mins or so chatting and drinking the cold water from a mountain tap. I slapped on some sun cream and topped up my Tailwind and Beth walked with me a little way up the next trail. 7 hours in, 22.5miles done. 3 more climbs to go.

    Loving life at Col du Pillon.

    For the first time in my running career I had to worry about cut off times. I felt like I was pretty much at the back of the race and was a little concerned about the overall 13.5hr time cap.

    The next aid station at Lac Retaud was the last place I could feasibly drop out of the race without having to complete the entire course. That wasn’t going to happen. I was going to finish the damn thing even if it took me longer than the cutoff. 1.Col du Pillon.

    2. Lac Retaud

    3. La Palette (2170m)

    4. La Chaux (2261m)

    5. La Para (2540m)

    Photo from Glacier 3000 shows the last 3 climbs of the route.

    I grabbed a cup of Coke at the aid station and pushed on. An anti-clockwise lap of Lac Retaud and then a flattish runable section toward the ascent of La Palette. What a climb! Steep doesn’t really describe it. The course description said that the upper part of it ascended 300m in a distance of 500m, so a 60% gradient. I assumed it was a misprint…I was wrong. I didn’t stop during climb and the Strava segment data shows I averaged 72min/mile pace with an average heart rate of 150. Crazy!

    The summit of La Palette looking back towards Les Diablerets.

    There was a short descent through a drink station where I made up some more Tailwind and set off to tackle the last 2 peaks. The next climb up La Chaux was fairly gentle and not too much trouble. I glanced at my watch and saw I’d covered 26.2miles. Exactly a marathon. It had taken me 9hours 5mins. I actually laughed out loud.

    After the penultimate peak the route dropped into a small valley full of sheep, past a little hut and along a narrow path across the face of another mountain. More descent than I expected meant that there’d be even more climbing to the last peak, La Para.

    The bottom of the final climb. My best fake smile for the camera, I couldn’t wait to be done.

    A man came jogging down the hill towards me, for a moment I thought I’d finally reached the short out-and-back section of the route to the summit, but he stopped and took a photo of me. I still had around 400m (1300ft) left to climb according to my watch.

    The trail passed through a boulder field, turned left onto a very steep grass slope and then levelled out a bit. At last I could see the summit in the distance. I really started to feel the altitude.

    People were finally running towards me so I knew I’d reached the last part of the climb. I stopped for a couple of minutes to put my jacket on as it was overcast and windy by now and my hands were going numb. I rang Beth to say I’d be descending soon, ate a Chia Charge flapjack and pressed on. It wasn’t far to the top. My head started to ache a little. I don’t know if it was the altitude or just psychosomatic, but the air was noticeably thinner at 2500m.

    I reached the summit got my race chip scanned and took a few photos. I didn’t hang about as it was cold and I wanted to get it over with.

    On the summit of La Para.

    The finish line. Nearly 5000ft below.

    It was all downhill to the finish. The first mile or so was runable in parts. I passed a couple of runners still climbing who I’d spoken to earlier in the race and I wished them well. I stopped a couple of times to take my jacket off and then to pee. Not making as quick progress as I’d have liked.

    There were a few huge spots of rain but they didn’t come to anything. The trail got very steep and loose and there were ropes to use. Again, I felt pathetic as I negotiated the technical section at a snails pace. Anger rising as I was handed another reminder that I have no business being in the Alps. Another runner caught up to me and I let him pass. He scurried over the steep rocks and onto a grassy trail. I eventually got onto the trail and ran, catching him up easily. At least I can still run, I thought.

    The final aid station was at a small farmhouse. The marshals said there was only 5k to go! Music to my ears. Still 600m of descent according to my watch, but a mere parkrun nonetheless.

    I had a cup of Coke, filled one flask with just water (I figured I wouldn’t need any more Tailwind and my mouth was craving cool water). I turned to the other runners sat on a bench: a Finnish guy and a British guy, and said “Let’s get this done!”. I shouted “Merci! Au revoir!” to the marshals, pushed hard on my poles and set off at a run towards some pine trees.

    Most of the last 5k was runable, thankfully. It gave me a real boost. My quads and knees ached and my left calf was numb but my legs were still working well. There was some nice single track through the forest that was fairly smooth and I darted down the switchbacks feeling amazing. I had this in the bag.

    I passed one of the Scottish runners I’d spoken to 7-8 hours earlier. He didn’t seem to be having a good day and was walking. I knew he hadn’t passed me and must have dropped out, skipping the last peak.

    I came out of the trees and into a field. Below me I saw some people waving and realised it was Beth, Bec and Matt. They’d driven up to a farm to see me. I thundered down the slope towards them, grinning. I turned onto the farm track and stopped for a couple of seconds for a chat. Then we challenged each other to a race to the finish. They jumped in the car and I pushed on through another patch of woodland.

    Less than 2 miles to go.

    After a short uphill section, which I found I could still run, the trail came out on the edge of Les Diablerets. I could see the church just up the road from the apartment we were staying in. I wasn’t much higher than the spire. I was nearly there.

    Down a couple of flights of stairs (painful) and across a couple of roads and I was on the tarmac in the village. I floored it. My legs still worked and I ran the last half mile as hard as I could. I passed the restaurant we’d eaten at the night before and got a cheer from the people outside. “Allez! Allez!” I was beaming! Around the last right hand bend and across the river and into the finish area. I ran hard to the finish arch and jumped across the line. I look like a bellend but apparently this is how I finish ultras now.

    What a bellend, but job done.

    Beth, Bec and Matt had made it to the finish in time and I was so happy to see them. The announcer interviewed me at the finish. He must have been bored. The winner had finished nearly 6 hours previously! I said it was a hard race and that I needed a beer. Amazingly there was a beer tap in the finish funnel so I did get an awesomely refreshing paper cupful of cold beer.

    I should have prepared some French.

    I earned that little cup of beer!

    I came 134th out of 189 starters in a time of 12hrs 18mins 40secs. 29 people DNF’d. Undoubtedly my poorest race result of all time. I trained hard for this race and I just scraped a finish. It was a humbling experience. The terrain was harder than I’d expected. I am very weak at technical downhill running. I feel that using poles on the downhills hindered me. I’m not used to the altitude. I wanted to quit after 5 miles. Then again after 20. In the week before the race I’d convinced myself I’d be unable to run because of my calf l, so perhaps I wasn’t fully up for the challenge mentally.

    However, I still completed the race within the cutoff. I was strong enough to run hard and enjoy the last 5k. I didn’t quit when I felt like shit and my nutrition strategy was flawless.

    I clearly need to work on my downhill before heading to the Alps again. Which I will do. I have 8 UTMB points now. I can enter the CCC ballot. That was the goal for this year and I have achieved it. I should focus on that.

    The race itself was excellent. It’s a fundraising event but everything you need as a participant is provided. The course was impeccably marked. No need for navigation at all. The aid stations were well spaced and well stocked without being over the top. The support was fantastic and the atmosphere in Les Diablerets was very special. It’s bloody tough though!

    Narberth Nobbler Marathon

    Beth had signed up for the half marathon version of the Nobbler and suggested we camp in Narberth and make a weekend of it. I saw that there was a marathon option with lots of interesting looking trails, a decent bit of elevation change and a even river crossing – I was sold.

    Our friends from running club, Andy and Jenny, signed up too and between us we covered all 3 distances from the 10k to the marathon.

    The race starts and finishes in Narberth itself and is run on a mixture of country lanes, forestry fire road, single track and farmland. I looked at the map and decided I wasn’t going to attempt to memorise any of it. It is easily one of the most wiggly routes I’ve ever seen. In hindsight, a .gpx on my watch would have been helpful.

    The most wiggly race route of all time?

    I’d been out of sorts all week before the race. Miserable, lazy and hardly running. Maybe a bit of fatigue, maybe just fed up of work, but I got to Narberth with an apathetic attitude towards the race. It was always going to be a training run for me. I didn’t intend to race and have to recover from it. My focus is entirely on the Humani’trail 56k in the Swiss Alps in September.

    The weather forecast was for heavy rain before and throughout the race, which turned out to be entirely accurate. I have never woken up on the morning of a race and cared so little about what I was about to do. I don’t know if it was complacency or just denial, but it was strange.

    Pre race enthusiasm.

    The start area was in a tent behind the start/finish arch. There were only around 30 runners for the marathon which was set off before the half marathon, with the 10k starting a little later. Runners were quietly chatting about kit and so on and Beth, Jenny and Andy had come to see me off. After the short briefing in the tent, the race director handed over to an Elvis impersonator, who sang “Blue Suede (running) Shoes”. I couldn’t help but laugh at the surreal scene and suddenly I was looking forward to running through the rain for hours.

    The race started and I focused on settling into an easy rhythm over the first couple of miles. I’d forgotten my chest heart-rate monitor and figured I wouldn’t be able to rely on accuracy the wrist one so just ran by feel. (As it happened, the wrist monitor seemed to be fairly accurate for once).

    The first part of the race was downhill on a gravel path, then uphill on country lanes to the highest point on the course at about 3 miles. After that we were into some fun forestry single track. The organisers had said that the trails get extremely muddy when it rains and they weren’t wrong! The mud was sticky, there was loads of standing water and the the climbs and descents, of which there were many, were basically streams.

    A race pic that another runner posted on Facebook. This was by no means the only puddle we encountered.

    Shoe-wise I opted for my Hoka Speedgoat 2. They’re not the grippiest in thick mud and I’ve run over 500miles in them so the lugs aren’t what they were, but I know they don’t give me blisters when completely saturated with water and they’re really comfortable on the road too. There were definitely a few hairy sections where I’d have liked a bit more traction though!

    I stopped to pee in a bush 5 miles in and let the runner who’d been on my heels for 2 miles go past. It was a relief (on both counts), I could run on my own and manage my effort without distraction. As the marathon field was small, it was fairly strung out by then.

    I emerged from the woods onto a section of fire road the first two half marathon runners flew past. I checked my watch: 5.5miles down, 8:24mile average pace. The half was meant to start 15 mins after the marathon…so had they just been smashing out sub 6min miles through ankle deep mud? Crazy pace indeed, but none of my business – I cracked on at my easy pace.

    A little further on I saw some orange smoke at the end of the fire road, which I assumed was the way to go. As I got there I found a guy dressed head to toe in black, wearing a skull mask, a flare in one hand and menacingly brandishing a large stick in the other. I hoped it was part of the race. I thought it was a bit early in the day to be hallucinating so it must’ve been real, which is what I told him as I passed. Luckily the guy laughed and didn’t chase me with the massive stick. With a lungful of orange smoke I pressed on.

    So convoluted was the route, I’d completely lost my bearings early on and was surprised to see half marathon runners coming towards me at about 8 miles. I then realised that Beth and Andy were among them and we waved and shouted hello to one another just before I turned off down another muddy trail. I was pleased that they seemed to be in good spirits, especially as Beth, as she had recently taken some time off training after twisting her ankle a few weeks earlier.

    At 10miles the marathon and half marathon routes split. I headed off down a country road for a bit which felt quite nice after sliding around in the mud. After crossing a gushing ford the route headed up a narrow lane to Roberson Wathen which was basically a fast flowing stream.

    Around 12 miles, followed by another runner, I took a wrong turn down a muddy gully, and ran through what I realised was a sheep’s skeleton, and came to a dead end. We retraced our steps back to the road and found the right route. I’d have been kicking myself if I’d been racing as I’d wasted 3-4 minutes. As it happened, things soon became more eventful and I lost yet more time.

    After a flat grassy bit along a riverbank interspersed with boardwalks, the trail climbed into some woodland. At this point the bite valve came off one of the soft flasks on my race vest, squirting Tailwind everywhere, including into my left eye. I stopped moving to try and get the thing back on and stem the flow of precious nutrition. With wet hands I eventually got it back on, caked in mud after dropping it…another 2 mins wasted. I started running again and promptly slipped on a tree root and face planted. Much swearing ensued.

    A couple on minutes later, I found that I suddenly needed a number 2. Despite the Imodium I’d taken, this would not wait. So off the course, checked no runner had followed me, squatted, couple of fistfuls of wet grass, job done. Another 2 mins wasted. Time to crack on (pun intended).

    Next up was the river crossing. There was a steep mud bank down to the water which had to be abseiled down. I was already drenched so barely felt the water, which was up to the waistband of my shorts due to the heavy rain. I loved it! I felt like I was at Western States at the Rucky Chucky river crossing (maybe one day). I made sure I didn’t do a Jim Walmsley and let go of the rope.

    The next 4 miles or so were very quiet. Quite a climb and descent from what I remember, and the only person I saw was a lady stood in the doorway of her farmhouse who shouted something I didn’t quite catch on my way past.

    I was lucky to spot the aid station at the top of a climb at around 17 miles as it was hidden off the course. I was pretty much out of fluids by then and was glad of the top up and fistful of soggy jelly babies. The marshal said that a lot of the front runners had just headed straight on without stopping. I mentioned that it could have been that they didn’t see him, as it wasn’t obvious at all. He said he was going to move to a better spot.

    On my way down a hill back toward the river the bite valve came off again. Another stop to fix it. At least I had plenty of Tailwind that would see me until the end. Then I missed a route marker and took a needless detour around a field. With good extra km or so added and some nettle stings for my troubles, I spotted some runners going the right way, chased them down and moved past them. Although I wasn’t really racing I worked on building a gap and they were out of sight by 19miles. I just can’t help myself sometimes.

    Then a few miles of an easier mix of trail and road where I picked up the pace a bit and caught a few other runners which felt good. My legs were still nice and fresh. All the miles I’ve run this year must have paid off.

    After a slightly confusing section, I found the point where the trail rejoined the half marathon route and knew there was only 3 miles or so to go. My watch read 24.5 miles, so I I was getting my entry fee’s worth.

    A short muddy track that I’d run down on the way out was an absolute nightmare on the way back. I had to walk as I had no traction whatsoever and my shoes refilled with thick mud. After that it was all road and gravel path to the finish. More uphill than I’d remembered from the way out but after a mile or so the the finish arch was in sight…at the top of a steep grassy bank that hundreds of 10k and half marathoners had run up earlier. I pumped my arms, my legs followed. I made it up the steepest part, nearly slipped, regained my balance and spotted my cheer squad. Beth, Jenny and Andy had been joined by the Canns and my parents.

    Across the line in 4hrs37mins and 11th place. Not too bad. A great medal, a bottle of local ale and a slice of flapjack and I was happy. Then it promptly stopped raining. Typical.

    Done! And seemed to have grown a small foot out of my hip.

    The Nobbler survivors!

    Got to be one of the coolest race medals.

    I’d highly recommend the Narberth Nobbler. I loved every minute of it. As did the others. With a great route and a range of distances there’s something for everyone. Go and run it!

    I’d quite like to go back and run it in anger sometime. In drier conditions, with a better sense of direction and less stops sub 4 hours should be possible for me.

    Next up: Humani’trail 56k in Switzerland!

    Race To The Stones 100k

    Race To The Stones had been on my radar for a few years. It’s the largest ultramarathon in the UK, with over 2500 entrants this year. The route follows the Ridgeway ancient footpath in a westerly direction from just outside Lewknor in Oxfordshire, finishing at the Avebury stone circle, Wiltshire.

    Participants have the option to complete the event as 100km straight through, or as two 50km days back to back, camping overnight at halfway. You can also run either the first or second half of the route as a stand alone 50k if that’s your bag. It’s for both runners and walkers with generous cutoff times and well stocked aid stations open over the whole weekend.

    Aside from the challenge, my main motivation for running this race was to earn the 4 UTMB points up for grabs for finishing the 100km straight through.

    Skip the next section if you don’t want to read a rambling description of my UTMB obsession and just want to read the race report:


    UTMB stands for Ultra Trail de Mont Blanc, an annual series of races held in the alps surrounding Chamonix. Arguably one of the most famous ultra trail races in the world, the event attracts thousands of runners from all over the world and due to its popularity, it is necessary to earn a specified number of points from completing other ultramarathon events to enter the ballot. Currently the ballot process offers guaranteed entry if you have been unsuccessful on two consecutive previous attempts, meaning that it can take up to three years to get a place.

    There are multiple distances in the series, the flagship UTMB being around 170km, the TDS 120km, the CCC 101km, OCC 55km and the amusingly named PTL (Petite Trotte à Léon) at 300km/25,000m gain.

    More info here: http://utmbmontblanc.com/en/

    I don’t remember when I first heard about the UTMB but I set myself a long term goal that I would run one of the races before I turned 40.

    I love a challenge but the full UTMB distance is truly insane. 170km/105miles with over 9000m/30,000ft elevation gain seems like something I’d need to work up to over several years, so the 101km/62mile CCC seemed like a “sensible” option.

    CCC is short for: Courmayeur-Champex-Chamonix. The race starts in Courmayeur in Italy, you run up and down the alps into Champex in Switzerland, up and down more alps into France, finishing in the centre of Chamonix. 6000m of elevation gain and you need to carry your passport – AWESOME!

    Anyway, that’s the reason for my running Race To The Stones this year, to earn 4 of the 8 points I need to enter the ballot for the CCC.


    Anyhow, back to the matter at hand…

    I’d been struggling with a calf strain prior to the race, having to cut short my last heavy training week, then have physio and basically not run for 3 weeks beforehand.

    10 days out from race day I couldn’t run a mile without pain and was feeling very negative about the whole thing. I’d signed up for the race on the day that entries opened in September of last year and I’d been training specifically for this for months up until then without any niggles or injury. All I could do was rest, eat well, ice the crap out of my calf and hope for the best. I was going to take to the start line no mater what but I was not feeling confident.

    The morning after a brutal massage.

    Two days before the race I made a snap decision to go out and test the calf – 5.5miles around the local cricket ground on the grass, nice and easy. Miraculously there was no pain! My legs just felt a little rusty. Awesome! I’d worry about what the other 56 miles would feel like on the day.

    The night before the race Beth and I stayed a mile or two from the start. She drove me down in the morning to save my legs, getting there with 3 mins to spare before the gun went off at 7:30am.

    We cut it a bit fine but at least there was no time to get too nervous and I didn’t want to do a warm up anyway.

    There were 7 start waves setting off every 15 mins, the latest starting at 9am. Given the weather forecast of high temperatures and sunshine I was glad I’d opted for an early start.

    Just enough time for a quick start line selfie.

    Bang, and we were off! Running through a field filled with smoke in the early morning sunlight with hundreds of other people was quite surreal. A right turn onto a flattish wooded trail and I tried to settle into a gentle, efficient rhythm over the first 3 miles.

    My heart rate was far too high! I was conscious of not letting myself get sucked into other people’s pacing and let them come past, trying to calm down and take it easy. Normally at 8:30 – 9:00 min mile pace my heart rate would be down in the 130s but it was hovering around 150-160. Was it nerves? The lack of activity in the past few weeks? The amount of caffeine I’d had that morning? Was my watch playing tricks on me? (I opted to use the wrist, rather than chest HRM, for comfort) Safe to say I was quite stressed, which obviously wasn’t helping.

    I still don’t know why it was so high or if it was a gear malfunction but it definitely stayed that way for the whole day. After around 25 miles I eventually gave up looking at it and managed my effort by feel and tried not to worry about it.

    At around 4-5 miles there was a steep single track section through the woods where people sensibly started hiking. No point in expending any unnecessary energy yet! I’d planned on hiking anything steep or any prolonged incline from the outset.

    The first of the 9 aid stations appeared at just over 10k. I’d planned to skip that one and push on to the next one at around 14 miles, just to feel that I’d made more of a dent in the total distance before a stop. It felt good to cruise past it and find a bit of space as the column of runners thinned out.

    Just before aid station 1, only 90k to go!

    I was carrying 2 x 500ml soft flasks on my pack each with 2 scoops of Tailwind in. 400kcal in total. I planned on drinking all of this and eating a Chia Charge salted flapjack before my first stop at 14.2 miles. Fuelling often and early worked well for me.

    After another steep hike through more woodland I came out into the ‘field of dreams’. A spectacular field of crops with a long straight path cut through the middle. I felt like I had a good rhythm going (despite my elevated HR) so didn’t want to stop and take a photo.

    The terrain over the next 7 miles was pretty varied:

    • Straight through a golf course. Dodging bunkers and golfers.
    • Lovely mile or so of downhill, flowing, rooted single track that would have been fun to hammer through on any other day.
    • Weird couple of miles of narrow grassy path between hedgerows complete with badger hole trip hazard and a dense clouds of midges.
    • A road section through the village of North Stoke to aid station 2.

    All of the aid stations were well stocked with massive tanks of cool water, an array of food, chairs in the shade, toilets and a medic tent.

    I quickly refilled my flasks with Tailwind, topped them up with water and stuffed my face with a few orange segments. I had a few swigs of water in my collapsible cup (mandatory kit for RTTS in an effort to make the event cupless) and took an S! Cap as I was sweating buckets already. On my way out back onto the route I grabbed an chocolate coated marshmallow bar (yummy!) to munch as I ran. It went down very easily.

    The next section of the route was easy going and pan-flat along the banks of the Thames. I could really feel it staring to heat up, even though it wasn’t yet 10am.

    Route profile: Despite how it looks, the only steep sections were in the first 10 miles.

    At 15.5 miles I decided to do a Facebook live video. I felt like a bit of a cock but people had asked if I’d be posting updates during the race, so why not? A quarter of the way into the race and all was going great. Pace was slower than intended but it was hot and the terrain was actually more difficult underfoot than I’d expected. A 10 hour finish was ambitious anyway and would have relied on perfect conditions and a lot of good luck.

    Off the riverbank and onto the road, the next section took us through Goring and Streatly. There were lots of people out on the route cheering and giving words of encouragement. It seemed to spur a lot of the other runners on as I got overtaken by quite a few and those in front pulled away from me. I kept things as easy as possible – there were still 40-odd miles to go.

    A few more miles of road climbing towards the next aid station at 21 miles. I was starting to feel too hot now. There was very little breeze or shade and the heat was radiating off the tarmac.

    Before the race I’d decided to allow myself a maximum of 4 mins at each aid station. This went right out the window at my second stop and only got worse later in the day.

    I refilled my flasks, doused my hat in water, fished my buff out of my pack, soaked that too and momentarily water boarded myself pulling it over my head. After a split second of panic that I was drowning, the cold material around my neck felt amazing!

    I tried and failed to stick some blister plasters to the balls of my feet. They’d been rubbing a tad and thought I’d take care of them now rather than later. In the past, for mountain races, I’ve put them on before the start but opted not to this time. I had nothing to dry my feet so it didn’t work anyway. The one plaster I got onto my left foot was halfway to my heel by the time of got my shoe back on, so I didn’t bother with the right. As it happened the rubbing seemed to disappear and I didn’t get any blisters for the whole race.

    I picked up a peanut butter sandwich to go and hiked up the gravel road away from the aid station munching it and helping it down with a cup of water.

    22 miles in, just over a third of the way through and another Facebook live.

    Only 5 miles until the next aid station where I knew Beth would be.

    At about 24 miles my right IT band suddenly decided to hurt. I’ve not had any ITB problems for years so I was a little surprised and annoyed when it kicked in. I hoped that it might ease off after a couple more miles – it didn’t. It stayed with me until the end of the race. I found it quite difficult to ignore at the low points during the race as it throbbed with every stride. I knew it wouldn’t cause any long term damage to push through it but when it was at it’s worst I had to concentrate on keeping my gait even and my form good.

    Miles 24 to 27 we’re mentally tough. Knowing how far was left. Starting to suffer in the heat. Hurting more than I would on a training run. At least I’d see Beth soon.

    Approaching aid station 4.

    At the next aid station at 27.2 miles Beth helped me with re-filling and walked with me while I ate a cereal bar. As I started to run again the pain in my IT band was gone…great! It returned about half a mile later.

    I don’t remember much of the next section apart from a lot of rutted grassy trail that was difficult to find a rhythm on. At least the next stop was the halfway campground. About 1k from the aid station I could see the rows of green tents set up for the runners and walkers doing it over two days. It seems to take forever to reach. Once there I was directed through the finish funnel for the 50k and branched off to a small aid station on the right.

    Over the halfway timing mat.

    There was no shade so I wolfed down a couple of slices of watermelon, had a cup of flat coke and set off. It wasn’t obvious where the route went but I found a marshal to guide me back to the trail and tried to pick up the pace a little.

    I seemed to be moving a bit better despite my screaming IT band and caught a few people up over the next few miles on a fairly smooth white clay track. It was so hot though. My hat and buff had completely dried from the last time I’d soaked them and I could feel my skin starting to burn.

    The track gave way to more rutted grass trails. I caught up to two guys running together. It was hard to overtake without jumping around between the grooves in the trail so I walked for a bit and let them move away from me. I started running again and caught back up to them and found somewhere to pass. I just wanted to get to the next aid station to cool off.

    When I got there I was immediately sprayed with a cool mist of water by one of the aid station crew. It felt incredible! I quickly dipped my hat and buff in a bucket of cloudy, warm water and put them back on. I wasn’t bothered, the cooling effect was instant and I was loving it! I switched one of my drink flasks to some caffeinated green tea Tailwind for a bit of a buzz, slapped on some sun cream and sought out some food. I caught a whiff of another runner eating salt & vinegar crisps…perfect! I then realised they’d picked them up somewhere else on course and all that was on offer in the way of savoury food was some French bean, sugar snap pea and edamame “crisps”… I skulked onwards eating my bag of crunchy, green disappointment.

    On the upside:

    • The aid station I was leaving was at 36.4 miles, meaning that I only had about a marathon distance to go.
    • I felt cooler than I had done in hours.
    • Beth would be running with me in a few miles time.

    These thoughts lifted my spirits a bit and I pushed on, recording another Facebook Live whilst passing a couple of other runners (and feeling like a bellend).

    The heat was pretty relentless and my damp head and neckwear dried off fast. My pain cave was hot and bright and I wanted out of it. Such is the up and down nature of ultrarunning, at 38 miles or so I had my first thoughts of dropping. The next aid station would do fine. My pace had gone down the toilet. My right knee was slowly trying to finish me with each stride and I felt like I was melting.

    Struggling on I saw someone in the distance running toward me. There’d been plenty of people out running and hiking on the Ridgeway all day so I didn’t think too much of it until I clocked the gait. An up-on-the-toes scamper I’d recognise anywhere. It was Beth.

    I was so relieved to see her. I really needed a lift at that moment and she was it. We chatted a bit about how her day was going and what she’d been up to while since I’d set off which gave me a nice escape from my own head and reminded me that it was only a race. The pain I was feeling was my own choice, of my own making. I’d chosen to do this to myself and I needed to suck it up…because deep down, I do this because it is difficult and because I love it.

    We walked a bit, even though I didn’t really need to. I think I wanted to prolong the time we had together. My watch beeped – 40miles in the bank. I felt like I’d broken the back of it. Just a decent training run left and less hilly than I’m used to. My drive was restored.

    Beth headed off back to the car and I carried on to the next aid station, which wasn’t far. I arrived, refilled my flasks, wet my buff and hat…then I spied crisps! Proper ones made out of fried potato – not in the slightest bit green! I grabbed 2 bags, put one in my pack for later and took a seat in the shade to savour my sublime salty snack.

    Rambling, crisp-munching maniac!

    As I was eating I did another Facebook Live which may have looked like a cry for help more than a race update. Anyhow, I left that aid station feeling pretty good. A bit of a drag to the next stop which was 7.8miles away but after that, there’d only be a half marathon left. Manageable chunks. I said to a fellow runner: “this is in the bag now, time to grind it out”.

    A fairly uneventful section of the course followed. A fair bit of downhill on wide gravel tracks, then a couple of miles on the road with a climb crossing a bridge over the M4, then onto some lovely gentle uphill on grass. I hit a good patch at this point and made some decent headway. It had clouded over a little and it was cooler up on the rolling hills. I’d pulled away from a few other runners and was loving the solitude.

    The next aid station was at just shy of 50 miles. I did the usual with flasks, cap and buff and tried to eat a piece of toast with peanut butter on. Well, I think it was toast but it could well have been a piece of bread that had been sat in the sun…either way, it wasn’t going down, my mouth was too dry. Straight in the bin and onto a bag of salted pretzels. They needed lubrication with a few cups of water. I sat on the grass in the shade and took my time. I figured that finishing in under 12 hours would take a big push to the end and I wasn’t sure if it was that much of a big deal to me anyway. I peeled myself off the ground and got moving again.

    I passed the 50mile marker, checked my watch and acknowledged a handsome PW. I’d only run 50 miles twice before and this was by far the longest it’s taken me. Probably the toughest though too, so I wasn’t bothered.

    Then a steep bit of downhill on a rough trail really hammered my tired quads. It was hard to change direction quickly and pick the best line. I’m sure I didn’t look like Kilian Jornet but I survived it.

    I was then on the roads again. Into a quiet village, out the other side and started climbing. I decided to see if I could run the uphills as I no longer needed to save my legs with under 10 miles to go. They still worked! The route then went over some nice rolling grassy hills again and I just kept on running. I felt pretty good. I was catching people that I hadn’t seen for hours!

    The final aid station just before 55miles came into sight at the top of a the hill. I knew Beth would be there but had the lovely surprise of the whole Cann-clan cheering me in too. Bec, Matt, Emily and Ethan just back from their holidays. I momentarily welled up behind my shades when I spotted them but managed to pull myself together by the time I reached them. I stayed and chatted a while as I refilled with fluids for the final 7.5miles. I felt really calm. I think it was the mixture of seeing familiar faces with words of encouragement and the fact that I knew I had the race in the bag. I was going to finish it and finish it soon.

    I set off down a hill from the aid station and nearly threw up. Standing around chatting I must have drunk too much. I kept running but managed the effort until my stomach emptied a little. There was a nice undulating gravel track for about 3 miles and I was making good headway. Then came more of the rutted grassy terrain that I’d grown weary of earlier. This seemed to go on for ages. As my concentration wavered I caught my toe on a stone, started falling and managed to right myself just before my left hamstring cramped. I needed to be more careful. I watched the ground ahead of me like a hawk. Then came the ‘5k to go’ sign and I didn’t feel too bad.

    A downhill stretch on a bumpy clay path, then a flat tarmac section to the Avebury stone circle itself. This section is an out and back. I knew this but I was still confused when I saw people running towards me. I wondered to myself: “who does a cool-down straight after 100k?” That’s what 12hours of running does to you I suppose.

    When I arrived and came off the road a marshal explained that I had to follow the many, many arrows on a loop around the stones, pose for the photographer and head back up the road they way I’d come. To be honest, I just wanted to get to the finish line about a mile away so didn’t pay much attention to the stones. I might need to take a trip to Avebury to look at them properly.

    The stage-managed run round the stones.

    Despite having just run down this road in the opposite direction, it seemed twice as far on the way back. I could see the road heading down to the finish line way across a field and couldn’t wait to get there. Off the road to my left, through a gate and up a very grassy track…nearly there. A final upward slope and then a left turn onto the finish straight. It was slightly downhill and I could see the barns at the farm where the finish line was waiting for me in the distance.

    “Just keep your eyes on the ground ahead.” I told myself. It didn’t work, I kept looking up to see how far I had left. My watch beeped 62 miles…still not there. I passed the 100km marker…still not there. I ran on and looked up. There was around 100 metres to go. At last! I straightened my back, fixed my eyes on the top of the finish arch and sped up. Not a sprint, just a purposeful pace, concentrating on my form. I wanted to look good when I crossed the line. Through the arch with a little jump to finish with a flourish. How I didn’t cramp I don’t know!

    100km. 12hrs 27mins 50secs. Job done.

    That could have gone embarrassingly awry.

    Job done!

    Beth and all the Canns were there to congratulate me. The atmosphere at the finish was lovely. It was especially nice as I knew all the cheers were for me as there was no one else finishing within a minute ahead or behind.

    Reflecting on the race as I write this I have to be happy with how I performed. No, it wasn’t the time I was aiming for but the temperature was too high for me. 26°C in the middle of the day. Not a lot of shade on the route. These things take their toll. 56th place of the 895 who finished wasn’t too bad. Comparing the results with last year, 39 people finished in under 12 hours this year in contrast to 117 in 2017! Confirmation of the tougher weather conditions I believe.

    I fuelled well. No bonk at all. I didn’t get too dehydrated. Zero cramp, which has been a problem for me historically. My calf held up well. The amount of rest in the weeks before the race clearly allowed it to heal only at a slight expense to my race fitness.

    And the main thing. The reason for running the race in the first place – the UTMB points. I’ve now got 4 in the bag. Halfway to my goal for this year.

    A cracking race. Well organised. Great marshals. A fully marked, easy to follow course. A proper challenge. I’d highly recommend it to both seasoned and new ultra runners.


    Kit list:

    Salomon Trail tee and shorts

    Salomon Air cap

    Drymax ultra-thin socks

    Hoka One One Speedgoat 2

    Ultimate Direction Ultra Race Vest

    Goodr sunglasses

    Compressport V2 calf sleeves


    St. Illtyds Ultra 50k 2018 Race Report

    My first big race of the year. An out and back route through some stunning woodland, farmland and rolling hills with well stocked and frequent aid stations organised by Nath and Tori of Go Events Wales.

    Originally I was going to use it as a training run just to make sure that I hit a 30mile-plus distance in May in preparation for Race to the Stones 100k in July but training as went well through April and I felt I could afford a small taper before this event and really push myself and see what I could do.

    With a bit of research into the inaugural 2017 race I realised that it was fairly hilly with around 4000ft of total gain (good) and that a lot of people had taken wrong turns along the way (interesting). So I studied the route and downloaded the .gpx file onto my watch to follow if I had any problems with the course markings.

    Tapering went well, although I never enjoy it. I’d carb loaded a little the day before (I’ve definitely overdone the carb loading a few times in the past and arrived at the start line feeling heavy and full) and had a light breakfast of porridge, 2 espressos and electrolyte drink. Good to go!

    Beth and I were staying at my mam and dad’s for the bank holiday weekend so my dad drove the four of us (and Zepp the dog) down to the race, arriving in a chilly, misty Burry Port in plenty of time to pick up my race number and listen to the race briefing.

    The room at the Yacht Club was packed for Nath’s briefing and there seemed to be a lot more runners than I’d seen on the list of results from last year. We were reassured that it was a tough course with plenty of hills, plenty of food at the aid stations and told to watch out for a field of cows and a couple of electric fences. The fences would still be live but tied down…

    Nath also introduced a runner called Lee who had been running the course every day of the week fundraising for Bone Cancer Research Trust, with the race being his final running of the route. Seriously impressive!

    With that we all headed out to the carpark for the start. It was still misty and I was feeling pretty chilled.

    Standard pre-race pose.

    I decided to head for the front of the pack and we set off through the carpark out towards a cycle path to a few claps and cheers with the runners waving to a drone that was buzzing overhead.

    Starting off with the lead pack through the mist.

    The first (and last) 4 miles or so were dead flat on a cycle path along a canal, then branching off along the edge of Pembrey Country Park. As I settled into a rhythm I realised that my Garmin was playing up. It wouldn’t cycle through the screens properly so if I wanted to keep an eye on the route then I wouldn’t be able to see my heart rate or my pace. I had wanted to keep an eye on my heart rate to make sure I wasn’t pushing too hard but never mind, I’d have to go by feel.

    The first mile split beeped and showed 6:40 pace…that was definitely wrong as we were moving at a cruise but at least I knew where I was going.

    Around 2 miles into the race Beth’s sister Bec, husband Matt and my niece and nephew Emily and Ethan were there cheering me on. A quick hello and through a gate onto a fire road with a big smile on my face.

    At this point there were two runners ahead of me who seemed to up their pace a bit. My watch beeped and reported a 7:23 mile which seemed about right and I decided to let them go. Far too many hills to come and far too early in the day to start racing.

    The sun was out now, the mist being confined to the coast and it was warming up. After a level crossing and a main road crossing I was onto some trail. I was surprised how technical the first climb on some muddy single track. I made a mental note to take it easy on my way back through there on trashed legs. A little road climb and then a sharp right turn back into the woods. The soft track through the bluebells was absolutely gorgeous. I’d taken off my sunglasses which then steamed up in my hand so I took the opportunity while hiking up a flight of woodland steps to pop them in my pack.

    Frolicking through the bluebells.

    Over a stile at 5 miles, over an electric fence tied down to about a foot high and out into some open fields and I’d lost sight of the two runners ahead. A look back at the gates between fields and I couldn’t see anyone behind me. Awesome, just the way I like it. Free to run my own race, just what I needed at this stage with still more than a marathon distance to go.

    After a bit more up and down through more fields the route came out onto a downhill road section. The first checkpoint/ aid station was about halfway down the hill 7 miles in. I emptied out the last bit of Tailwind in my flask and dumped in a new sachet, topped up with water, grabbed a few Haribo and carried on down the road.

    I carried two 600ml soft flasks aiming to refill them with Tailwind as I went. I knew it would be a hot day so I made an effort to drink little and often. I’d been using Tailwind on my long runs recently and find it really good for hydration and as a fuel and it doesn’t seem to upset my stomach.

    From the bottom of the hill there was the longest climb of the course, first on road then cross country, gaining around 400ft over 1.5miles or so. I passed a church and then a farmhouse into some fields and a dog joined me for a bit. It gave up when I told it that we still had at least 23 miles left to go.

    It had started to get warm by then and as I passed through the long grass I took my hat off and ran it through the dew to soak it and cool me off a bit. That’s when I realised another runner had appeared behind me. It was one of the leaders who must have taken a wrong turn. He had headphones in and didn’t seem to want to chat so just followed me hoping I knew where I was going.

    At about 10 miles in there was a longish downhill stretch along an A-road with no pavement. I picked up the pace a little and ate a mini flapjack (much easier on smooth terrain) and the other runner dropped back a bit, maintaining a small gap. I This is where I saw some of the 100k runners on the return leg of their first lap. We wished each other well and they all looked pretty fresh as they ran up the road.

    Bearing right off the main road there was a short section of country lane and then down a steeper rocky section that came out at the second checkpoint at 11.5 miles. I decided before I reached it that I wouldn’t stop as I had enough supplies to take me to the turnaround checkpoint in 4.5miles.

    The rocky descent into checkpoint 2.

    As I arrived at the checkpoint I realised that my whole family were there to see me! I wasn’t expecting them and felt quite rude as I shouted “I’m not stopping!” and ran past them down the hill and out onto the main road. I was hoping the runner on my tail would stop but he had the same idea and caught up to me as I was climbing a fence off the main road to go through some more fields. The field we were meant to go through was blocked by a herd of cows so we had to climb into the next field and run around them before gingerly climbing a barbed wire fence to get back onto the route.

    I decided to hike through the uphill fields that were uneven underfoot to save a bit of energy. The other runner overtook me and I followed for a while.

    I enjoyed the next few miles and with my legs feeling good I decided to push on a bit on the downhills and pull a gap. I crossed a main road and headed off along a wooded trail that was uphill to the 15 mile mark. Having a look back down a long straight section the trail while going through a gate there was no sign of the other runner.

    All that was left before halfway was a steepish downhill road section, a flat run alongside a reservoir and a short sharp climb up to the checkpoint. I ran into the aid station to applauding marshals and all my family. Awesome!

    Then I was confused. The marshals told me that I was in first place. No other 50k runner had come to the checkpoint before me. So I assumed that the leader had got lost somewhere and I’d inherited first position. Interesting!

    I refilled my bottles with tailwind. Got out my collapsible cup and had a few glugs of water and swallowed a salt capsule as it was quite hot. Ethan showed me a ladybird he’d found and asked me to come and look for wood lice with him but had to decline as I had 16 miles left to run.

    At the halfway checkpoint.

    After 3-4 mins at the checkpoint I said goodbye to everyone and they said they’d see me at the finish. I was feeling great and ran back down the hill to the reservoir to head back the way I’d come. The runner who was behind me was heading up to the checkpoint, walking up the hill, which gave me more incentive to push on alongside the reservoir.

    At this point all of the other 50K runners were coming towards me. Lots of “well done”s and “looking good”s were exchanged and it felt great. I think I ended up pushing a bit too hard along this section back down to the main road crossing. As I headed up the other side and back up towards the fields with all the cows cramp set in. 18 miles down, 14 to go. Great.

    I often seem to get cramp in races and it absolutely sucks. I got cramp 8 miles into a mountain marathon a few years ago and had to deal with it for most of the race. That time both calves completely seized up because I’d just hammered a 1400ft climb way too hard but this time it was different. I’d not been abusing my legs to that extent and the cramp was in odd little muscles at first. My adductors and hip flexors were at it.

    By the time I got back to the field of cows I was really glad they had gone so I didn’t have to drag myself over the barbed wire fence because the cramp was now hitting my hamstrings and quads as well.

    Back along the road and up to the checkpoint I’d breezed through without stopping on my way out I knew there was only 11.5 miles to the finish. I stopped to refill my flasks, took another salt capsule and doused myself with water to try and cool off. The marshals said I was in second position, which was confusing as no one had overtaken me since the halfway point. Anyway, I set off up the rocky trail at a hiking pace that didn’t make my hamstrings cramp even though they were dying to.

    I got back onto the long road section, slightly uphill in reverse, and tried to zone out for a bit. Chugging along at around 9:45 pace on the cusp of cramping with every stride with the hot sun beating down on me I was not feeling good. Every time I reached for my drink my left arm would cramp up. That’s when I realised how dehydrated I must be. I tried to drink more Tailwind but I was staring to feel nauseous. I just kept sipping as much as I could and tried not to cramp up fully.

    The next few miles back down through the fields with the dog, onto the road past the church and down to the bottom of the hill with the last aid station on it were a bit of a blur. I managed to keep running slowly just trying to get to the final checkpoint.

    I trudged up the hot tarmac to the aid station where they told me that the leader had passed through 20 mins earlier. Still confused by this I ate about 3 nachos, took another salt capsule and refilled my Tailwind bottles and carried on up the hill to the gate that opened into a series of fields. Just over 10k to go. I thought that the cramp had miraculously disappeared but it came back with a vengeance as soon as I hit the downhill.

    It was everywhere. The next few miles were pure misery. I tried to put on a brave face as I was passed by a handful of 100k runners heading out on their 2nd lap. About 100 meters after passing through a gate I heard it clang again behind me. I hoped it was one of the 100k runners who’d passed me but it wasn’t. I was getting caught. It was Lee who’d been running the course all week! I was even more impressed. We climbed over the electric fence again which seemed twice as high as it did on the way out and he disappeared ahead of me into the bluebell wood, still running the uphills which I was now walking.

    I dragged my cramping legs over the stile 5 miles from the finish line and nearly face planted. I gave myself a bit of a stern talking to and broke into a jog through the bluebells and down the steps, along the little lane and back to the technical wooded section. I blundered through there with all the grace of a drunken three legged elephant, nearly face planting again after stubbing my toe on a tree root. Many expletives later I was out of the woods and on the flat – 4 miles to the finish. I had a look behind me and there was no sign of anybody. I was paranoid that I was moving at a glacial pace and would lose my top 3 spot.

    I crossed the busy main road without having to wait for too long for a gap in the traffic only to see the barriers coming down on the level crossing ahead. I moved as fast as my cramp-limited limbs would allow, had a quick look both ways and stumbled across the train tracks. I wasn’t in any mood for waiting.

    The next mile or so was incredibly warm and I was running out of liquids. I kept looking over my shoulder to see if I was being caught which was making my back muscles twinge with cramp but there was no one there.

    Eventually I passed the spot where I’d seen Bec, Matt and the kids all those hours earlier and I knew there were less than 2 miles to go. Back on the canal cycle path I just fixed my eyes on the ground about 10 feet ahead of me and chugged along. Afterwards I realised that I was accelerating along this section and the final mile was around 8:30 pace somehow.

    I rounded a bend and could see the carpark. I just had to run through that and the Yacht Club and finish line were just around the corner! I could stop! I wasn’t going to lose another position!

    I waved at a man in the carpark that looked like my dad from a distance. I felt a bit stupid when I ran past him and had to explain that I’d just run 31 miles and was a little worse for wear. I think he thought I was mad, which was fairly accurate by this point.

    Out of the car park and into the finish straight. People were clapping. I took off my hat and swung it round my head then thought better of it as my shoulder started cramping. Hat back on, a few more steps and across the line, absolutely spent.

    I staggered about a bit and my family all looked quite worried. Undoubtedly the hardest I’ve pushed myself in a race and that includes completing the last 30miles of my 100mile effort at Endure24 with a fractured metatarsal. Definitely worth it though. A 3rd place out of 140 finishers is not to be sniffed at!

    Crossing the line.

    I later found out that the winner didn’t find the checkpoint at halfway and ran a whole circuit of the reservoir instead. He was on the other side of the reservoir as I headed up to the checkpoint which is why I didn’t see him and why the marshals thought I was the first runner to half way.

    The top 3.

    Awesome t-shirt and medal and a hat for coming 3rd!

    All in all an awesome event. Great organisation and volunteers. Really well stocked aid stations and a well marked course. I really appreciated the effort that went in from Nath and Tori to make it such a great race.

    I’d highly recommend the race to anyone who fancies a challenging 50k. I’d quite like to come back and have another crack at it in cooler conditions.

    Next up: Race to the Stones 100k on July 14th!