Wednesday 7 December 2011

Racing The Planet - Nepal - Pre-race

I’ll post the full  race review soon, but the pre-amble is a fair read in itself, so I’ll post now to get the ball rolling!

I flew out from Heathrow on the Tuesday morning before the race, which started Sunday.  It’s unusual for me to go out to a race that many days in advance but given the reliability of transport in Nepal, I’d read it was wise.  Travel guides recommend allowing 3 days to journey between Kathmandu and Pokhara, which is a mere 200km, because of delays in air or road travel.  Turns out they were quite right.  My first challenge however was leaving the UK.  I had booked separate tickets; a BA flight to Delhi and a Kingfisher (Indian airline) flight to Kathmandu.  I got to Heathrow and the BA check-in assistant wanted to see my Indian VISA.  I explained I wasn’t staying in India, as I’d be in transit to Nepal.  I showed them my e-ticket for Kingfisher, and so began a 40 minute wait with various conference calls and managers all turning up to decide if they were even going to let me fly, and subsequently how they could “con” the check-in system to bypass something on screen which was blocking it.  Eventually someone came along, and just said “do it, and put me down as responsible”.  They said they couldn’t issue me with a boarding pass for the second leg, but could check my bags through to Kathmandu.  I’d have to contact the ground staff in Delhi when I got there.  I thanked the guy for sorting it out.  I don’t think he was entirely convinced I’d be alright when I got to Delhi, but at least I was a problem solved at his end.

I took off about 4pm, and arrived in Delhi about 6am local time.  I had a 7 hour stopover before the next flight.  If I would have needed a fast connection I’d have been in trouble as the situation in Delhi was an utter shambles.  I got off the plane and went with a member of the ground staff to the international connections “lounge”.  This is an old area of the airport, straight out of the 1970s with brown and orange carpets and nasty seats all of which were occupied with tired and annoyed looking international visitors.  The girl told me that I needed to wait for the Kingfisher representative, who would come along “shortly” to issue my boarding pass.  In the 2 hours that crawled by afterwards I observed a series of angry outbursts by pretty much everyone as they were fobbed off with excuses as to why they had been there for anything from 1-7 hours.  There were kids crying, kids asleep on the floor, people asleep on the floor.  An utter mess.  The Kingfisher rep eventually decided to make the 5 minute walk from the main check-in desk to the international connections and issued my ticket.  It was a relief in the end.  I’d decided already that getting angry about it wasn’t going to make me feel any better and I was lucky I had time to spare.  I fared better than a fellow competitor Angus, who was refused passage at Heathrow for the same reason; 2 separate tickets  He had an onward flight with Air India, and the BA rep who dealt with it clearly wasn’t prepared to make an executive decision that day.  He got delayed 3 days and had to book an alternative flight, with Kingfisher as it transpired.  I found this out when we were both stuck in the same transit purgatory in Delhi on the return flight.  Angus had a wife and 2 kids with him as well, poor guy. 

By booking 2 separate tickets I’d saved over £100 on the airfare, but suffered a stack of hassle as a result.  Delhi is not a place you want to be getting a connection, take it from me.  I understand that BA are only partnered with Jet airlines in India (Kingfisher may be in the club next year).  So, if you want a hassle free flight then that may (and I use the word cautiously) be the way to go.

So, issued with my boarding pass I came into the international terminal 3.  Unlike the 1970s hell, this was a shiny new-build terminal with modern seating, shops and restaurants; actually very impressive, a glimpse at how far India has come in the last 10 years and, it transpired, how far ahead when compared to its poverty stricken neighbour, Nepal.

I’d done a lot of research into the airlines (looking up accidents etc), and Kingfisher has an excellent record.  The flight was excellent.  It was a new Airbus jet with courteous, attentive staff, and all announcements given in English as well.  No sooner had I sat down on my seat and they were offering around cans of beer; I smiled to myself at the cultural differences.  The safety video starts with a speech by the airline chairman where he says he’s handpicked every member of staff and told them to treat you like a guest in his own home.  Maybe a few more airlines should take this approach.  I’d certainly fly with Kingfisher again, especially since they bumped me up to business class free of charge, without request, on the way back!

I landed in Kathmandu about 4:30 in the afternoon.  I’d glimpsed the Himalayas above the clouds, but Kathmandu and the entire valley for 100’s of miles in every direction was shrouded in fog, and would remain so for several days.  This prevented virtually all internal flights from departing, meaning that all competitors would have to suffer the same 6-12 hour bus trip that I had already decided to take.  I’d looked up the Nepal aviation safety records; they are appalling.  Lots of tourist flights just crashing into the sides of mountains in bad weather, poorly maintained aircraft whose undercarriage didn’t open when landing (a story I read in the paper while I was on the bus!).  In short a lot of unnecessary deaths; I wouldn’t be flying anywhere in Nepal.  I’d rather suffer a 7 hour bus journey in some discomfort, than risk a 40 minute flight into the side of a mountain.  The roads are statistically a lot worse of course, narrow winding roads on cliff edges with daily fatalities, but, if you pick one of the large tourist coaches (not the riskier mini vans or cabs) then I figure in a crash you’re likely to come off better.  I witnessed a number of road accidents while I was there, one involving a large tourist bus like mine just 2 vehicles ahead.  A lorry brakes failed and it slammed into the back of the tourist bus.  No one was seriously hurt, but both vehicles were badly damaged, and everyone (including me) was delayed for an hour while the local population milled around deciding how they’d deal with the road block.  If that lorry had hit a small car or mini-van there would have been several dead tourists.  I’d picked the right mode of transport I decided.

Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself.  I landed in Kathmandu and then had to queue for 1.5 hours to get a 15 days VISA, which had to be paid in pretty much any currency apart from Nepalese rupees!  They have a nice sting running at the airport.  They don’t take their own currency, but helpfully have a cash machine which dispenses Rupees (which charges commission), and then a currency exchange desk right next to it which charges to exchange those rupees back into Dollars or Euros etc, also for a healthy commission as well.  Nice way of picking up some extra cash from the incoming tourists eh.  No you’re right, it’s not, and it’s a nasty scam.  Not taking your own currency, whose every heard of that?  I had read that US Dollars were still the king of currency over there, and had enough to pay my way through without falling victim to scam number 1.
I fell victim to scam number 2 though.  Outside the airport was a barrage of locals asking if you wanted a taxi?  I had arranged to be picked up by a rep from a hostel I would be staying at, so found a guy who was holding my name on a card.  I indicated I was the person and he welcomed me and said the taxi was nearby.  A guy who I assumed was the taxi driver immediately took my suitcase and we started walking over to the car, but another guy was walking over too, and he was the driver.  So, we walked about 100M to the car, and the guy with my case put it in the boot and held out his hand you “for tips”.  I was pretty pissed off, but effectively back into a corner.  Essentially there are a bunch of parasites who mill around the exit pretending to be taxi drivers, but all they do is snatch away your bags and want tips.  Of course you probably have no low value notes as you’ve just arrived.  I had nothing smaller than a $5 note, the parasite was cheeky enough to ask for a $20.  I gave him the $5 begrudgingly.  So, watch out for that scam.  Nepal is full of this kind of thing, and awash with fake goods.  The observed the airport police happily accepting bribes to bump people up the queue in departures etc.  The country has some way to go, but all this is a result of the abject poverty which is evident everywhere. 

Arriving in Kathmandu from a western country is a culture shock.  It’s how you know (or have seen on Tv) many cities of India to be, overcrowded with motorbikes, mopeds, tuc-tucs, cars, buses, lorries and non-stop honking horns.  Horns are widely used everywhere in the East of course, about 10 times a minute per car (literally), and are necessary to avoid an even higher road death rate than the current horror figures.  Most of the city is essentially a slum.  There is waste and rubbish lying in the streets and rivers, open defecation by residents, everywhere is dirty, disgusting and of course horrible pollution hangs in the air all the time.  A lot of people wear pollution masks, including the police directing traffic all day.  I have no idea how effective they are, but I can tell you, your throat and lungs hurt after a few hours walking around the city.  I’d like to tell you that there was something nice about Kathmandu, but there isn’t.  If you’re thinking of going, my advice is Kathmandon’t.  Fly in and get straight out.  I spent 3 days in total there, either side of the race and I saw nothing worthy of a visit.  All the big “cities” are essentially the same too.  You need to stay out of them and go to what Nepal is famous for, the mountains, to finally draw a (clean) breath, stare in awe and understand why you’re there.

Sadly, I wasn’t there yet.  It took about 30 minutes frightening driving through the streets of Kathmandu, to travel just a few miles to the hostel.  There are no road rules and every car is banged up and repaired.  I had been recommended to stay in a hostel by a past visitor who had it was off the main streets and a bit quieter.  Unusual for me to stay in a hostel and not a hotel, and it was a decision I regretted upon seeing the accommodation.  I’d been told to book a place called the Elbrus Home, and not to be put in it’s “sister hostel” if it was full.  I’d been insistent on this in my email, but yet was told it was full and got dumped in this 3rd floor dump which would have been shut down by environmental health in every civilized country in the world.  The room was just too bad to describe.  The toilet had rusty taps and the toilet was leaking from the bottom all over the floor.  I’m not sure when the bed sheets on the nasty bed were last cleaned, but it wasn’t recently.  Sadly, I had no time to arrange an alternative and I was leaving at 7am the next morning, so I figured I’d just put up with it.  I slept in my sleeping bag liner that night, badly, due to the car horns and singing from nearby bars until about 1am.  I’d had a quick wander around the streets first, sufficient to see why the place was called North Fake central.  Every other shop sells fake clothes, mostly North Face.  Some of it isn’t bad quality, but some of it’s pretty bad.  I’ve heard stories of clothes found filled with newspaper rather than down, though I find that a little hard to believe!  Nevertheless the whole city is awash with trinket stalls, selling singing bowls, Gurkhar weapons, gemstones and fake outdoor clothes.  There are literally 2 or 3 shops selling the real clothes, and they are fixed price, unlike the small shops where you can barter then down to under 50% of their asking price.  I bought a few real  and a few fake items on the way home, so honed my haggling skills.

I ate in an Italian restaurant (I ate Nepalese at every other opportunity in the subsequent time there though).  The restaurant was actually really nice, a complete surprise and totally out of place in the city.  It’s a calm oasis, a shelter from the chaos outside the walls.  It’s called Fire and Ice, if you ever visit.  Shortly after I went to bed, and as mentioned slept badly, in my sleeping bag liner, in a room that looked like it belonged to the Mother Superior out of Train Spotting.

I got up at about 6am and went down to “breakfast”.  Breakfast was, it appeared, a piece of toast cooked on a small portable stove.  The bread tasted of meths, which was probably what fuelled the stove.  I ate it out of politeness and declined the kind offer of a second piece.  I paid the bill, which was a princely $12, which was about $11 more than it was worth.  They asked me if I needed a room on the way back home?  I said I didn’t.  Actually I did, but there wasn’t a cat in hell’s chance I’d be staying there again.  I made a mental note to find a better place to stay.  I took some advice from other competitors when the time came and I stayed in the Malla hotel on the way back.  It cost me about £80 but I got a two room suite, breakfast and it was a decent 4 star standard I’d say.  Really nice place, highly recommended if you have to spend a night in Kathmandu anytime.  

Anyway, I finished off the meths flavoured toast, paid the bill and one of the guys who worked at the place (he was a nice guy actually) took me over to the bus station a few hundred metres away.  The bus station was just a rough ground courtyard with a bunch of coaches that had seen better days.  I had paid $20 the most expensive “Greenline” coach with air conditioning, and a lunch stop included.  The air conditioning turned out to be a bunch of 6 inch fans in various states of disrepair, bolted to the chassis above the seats. Turns out there isn’t actually any air conditioning on any of the coaches, just fans.  The temperature wasn’t that warm, as the fog and cool weather was very much in control.  It took an hour for the bus to reach the outskirts of Kathmandu, crawling through the chaotic traffic.  Then there was a holdup as part of the road had collapsed into the valley 400M below, so all traffic was taking it in turns to drive on one side of the road around the “pothole”.  I leaned over in a vain effort to keep the bus on the road and out of the pothole.  I winced a few times as lorries came hurtling towards us, overtaking other traffic.  After a few of those, I stopped looking at the road ahead, was thankful to be seated at the back, and just trusted my life to an alarmingly young looking bus driver.

The bus made a few stops along the way for toilet breaks and one for lunch at quite a nice Riverside hotel, where I got my first sample of Nepalese food.  Dhal Bhat seems to be the local favourite.  A platter of rice, dhal, spinach, curried vegetables and a few other items too.  I quite got the taste for it during the course of my stay there.  After the lunch stop it was another 3 hours to Pokhara, the last 2 hours were really very bumpy, a nasty piece of road than shook you to the bone.  Everywhere was till shrouded in a light fog, with visibility restricted to about ½ a mile.  Then we came upon a sign which said “Welcome to beautiful Pokhara”, as we entered the city.  The site that greeted me wasn’t one a beauty.  It looked just like Kathmandu, houses with rubbish all around them, essentially slums everywhere.  It wasn’t until several days later that I discovered why Pokhara was beautiful.  When the fog eventually lifted there is a stunning view of the whole Annapurna mountain range in the distance ‘behind’ Pokhara.  Pokhara isn’t beautiful at all, but it’s backdrop is stunning.
Once again a guy had my name on a card at the bus station.  I carried my own luggage this time,  to his tiny cab.  Every taxi is a 800cc Suzuki Martino; a tiny car.  Not one of them could get my suitcase in the boot.  It always ended up on the back seat.  The cab took me to an area called Lakeside, the reason for which I’ll let you figure out for yourself!  He dropped me at the Sacred Valley Inn, another hostel.  However, unlike the recommendation I’d been given for the dump I stayed in whilst in Kathmandu, I’d done my own homework on Pokhara on TripAdvisor and picked the no 1 place to stay.  It was very cheap, about $15 a night, lovely and clean rooms, really nice helpful owners and very secure.  I had a few nice Nepalese meals and some great Cheesecake there; loading up on calories before the race.

I had one night in the hostel which was situated right on the main tourist shopping street.  The shops were the same as Kathmandu; selling fake outdoor clothes and trinkets mostly.  I discovered while unpacking some things that both my GPS watch and my camera had both mysteriously stopped working during the travel.  The hostel owner sent me with a taxi driver into the main town but both items were checked and not worth fixing, or unable to repair.  Back in the UK I had the same confirmed.  Very odd.  So, I then ended up spending £80 on another compact camera, after all may only ever visit Nepal just once, so a camera was essential.  You can see why there have been no photos up until now can’t you?  Don’t worry there are plenty to come in the main race report.  Next I ended up buying a cheap digital watch for about £3.  It had a stopwatch and that was it.  I would not be using my GPS on the event it seemed.  Ah well, that would save me 50g carrying spare batteries at least; every cloud eh?  I bought a few other bits of pieces of shopping; souvenirs mostly, wasting a few hours wandering around the town before going back to the hostel to sleep.  It got dark soon after 5:30pm in the evenings, so I was in bed not long after that to try into the right sleep pattern for the race.  I woke about 7am (it gets light about 6am), had some breakfast and then got a taxi to the main race hotel, the Fulbari Resort and Spa.  The grounds are immaculate, as you can see below with the first picture from the new camera.  

From a distance the place has the look of a 5 star hotel, but up close you realise something went wrong along the way.  I think maybe they ran out of money? Rooms are unfinished; plug sockets didn’t work, wires were hanging off the plugs/wall (in all the rooms I saw!).  Both rooms they put me in were not made up from the previous guest (unmade beds, no towels, and bathroom in a bit of a state!).  The front desk and staff customer service left a lot to be desired too.  All the competitors made the same observations, but no one was particularly bothered as we were not spending much time there.  The hotel had its charm and with some more money spent on the place, it might reach a 4 star standard.  However, as an aside, we had absolutely no grounds for complaint; compared to the conditions that 99% of the population live in, the hotel was a palace.
No sooner had I checked in then I got a lift back into town with Eric La Haie and some of the other Racing The Planet staff.  James Love a friend from the MDS 2008 and Atacama Crossing 2010 had texted me from Lakeside to say he was eating and shopping.  So, I luckily dropped on a lift into town, which was about 15 minutes drive away due to the state of the roads.  It was good to meet up with James, and we had something to eat, and did a little bit of haggling for some shopping for him before returning to the hotel for the pre-race welcome.  

Around 215 competitors from all over the World crowded into the main dining room and were addressed by Mary Gadams (RTP CEO), Samantha (Race Director), and also the medical staff too.  The race briefing was excellent; very thorough, and we were warned that anyone who was pulled out of the race would not be allowed to start any subsequent stages in a non-competitive capacity because of the low standard of Nepal hospital medical care, and medivac extraction difficulties.  They quoted up to 10 hours to extract someone with Sherpa’s from some parts of the course, and even longer to fly out of the country to somewhere that had a decent standard of medical care.  That was fairly sobering!  The weather had been very poor, quite cold and it had been raining, but was due to pick up.  In fact the next day it did, and it was stunning blue skies and perfect visibility, not to mention quite hot for the rest of the week.  There was a very high quality field of competitors; lots of previous Racing The Planet veterans, many 4-desert completists, and previous champions too.  The event had attracted Ryan Sandes, South Africa’s superstar trail runner; he had to be hot favourite I thought.  I’d been in the Atacama 2010 race with him when he’d torn the race to pieces and finished all 6 stages in a record breaking time under 24 hours.  Also there was Marshall Ulrich, the veteran American ultra running legend.  I was looking forward to meeting him, having recently read his Running on Empty book.  Marshall is now 60 years old, and was there in a 3 man team with two friends called the Stray Dogs.  It would transpire that in my hour of need Marshall would offer me some “beyond the call of duty” help, and I’d end up with the best ultra running souvenir ever.  More about that in the main post!

Race briefing over, we all had a buffet dinner in the hotel.  After that I spent the evening catching up with old friends and familiar faces from all four corners of the globe.  It’s amazing how many people you get to know from all over the World, when you do these events.  Me and James met up with Jack from South Africa again; Jack had also been in the same tent as me and James in the Atacama Crossing 2010.  Jack is an absolutely rock solid competitor, you always know he’s going to finish a race.  The three of us had requested to be in the same tent, but we didn’t know who the other four people allocated to Tent 23 were.  We’d meet them the following day.  We had a fairly early night to rest up.  I ended up with a room to myself after a competitor pulled out of the race the day before departing for Nepal.  The next morning, after breakfast, I packed my rucksack.  It would be slightly heavier than usual, on account of advice to take a sleeping bag liner, a waterproof jacket, and I had increased my calories to more than 18,000; way beyond the requirement to carry 14,000.  I wasn’t going to run out of food like I did in the Atacama Crossing 2010!  I was also carrying a few “Beet It” beetroot endurance shots, which I have been drinking for a few weeks.  Some research over the last two years shows some interesting performance gains, and the shots are being used by members of the UK Olympics squad, some premiership football teams and rugby teams too.  So my pack would weigh in officially at 7.5kilos, though it was a little lighter than that (about 7.3kg) but they were only roughly measuring them in half kilo splits.

The admin day was very efficient. We queued up, got our race passports stamped at the various tables when our medical history was checked, our packs weighed, kit and calories confirmed etc.  

The kit check was easy, and I had my spreadsheet showing all my calories as my food was vacuum sealed, as usual, into daily bricks of food.  Instead of a race T-shirt we were given a really good quality Marmot light waterproof jacket.  In the end I opted to use my own as it was lighter, but I’m sure the race jacket will see some action back in the UK winter.   An American guy getting kit-checked at the same time as me had forgotten his 20 safety pins.  I popped back to my room and supplied a girl he was friends with my spares.  I’d brought a lot of spare kit  spread between my hand and hold luggage in case one of them had gotten lost in the travel to Nepal.  I didn’t realise it until later that day but I’d just met two of my tent-mates, Steve and Martina.  After the admin check we all loaded onto one of about 8 coaches for the hour long drive to camp 1.

We drove through Pokhara and towards the Annapurna mountain range, the skyline dominated by Machuparre, Fishtail mountain.  It’s 6993M and has a peak shaped like a fish’s tail.  It’s sacred to the God Shiva and has never been summitted.  A British team got within 50M of the summit in the 1950’s I think, but had agreed not to stand on the summit out of respect to local custom.  After that no permits have ever been issued to climb it anyway.  The bus then drove onto a very bumpy and vertiginous mountain track with a sheer 300M drop to death just a couple of feet away from the right hand side wheels.  I was actually quite scared as the bus slowly bounced and rocked its way at walking pace along the track.  I actually wanted to get off and walk, I hate heights.  I eyed the door nervously, wondering how in how much of a split second I could leap over the seats and dive through the door in the event that the bus toppled over the edge.  A few people took photos, I’ll have to get one from someone I know and post it.  I was far too worried about dying than taking photos at that point in time! After a torturous couple of miles, the buses descended to the valley floor, much to my relief and we exited onto some agricultural land where camp 1 was waiting for us.

Lots of local people greeted us with garlands of flowers and marked our heads with the Hindu spot (The Tilaka I think it’s called).  See the photo of me below.

There were lots of local school children, and some musicians. 
  It was a really nice greeting and made that first night a little bit more special.  Of course then standing and looking up and 6 and 7000M peaks for the first time in my life was breathtaking.  
Eventually, I made my way over to Tent 23 and met the other tent mates.  There was me, James and Jack  of course, then Martina from San Francisco, but originally from Germany, Steve – a friend of Martina’s boyfriend, also from San Francisco, Roger from New Zealand and xxx from Australia.  We all commented that the tent looked a little small for 7 people, let alone the 8 people they were designed for.  They were not the usual high quality canvass tents that RTP use, that can comfortably sleep 10.  They were narrow, single-skin waterproof tents with one opening and only enough room to lie right next to each other with just about enough room to store your rucksack by your head or feet.  The space wasn’t the worst surprise the tents had in store for us, we’d get that in the middle of the night onwards!  It rained!  It didn’t rain outside the tent, it rained inside.  7 people all exhaling in a single skin waterproof tent means, roughly 7 litres of water condensing on the tent ceiling, and then dripping and then raining on us all, all night.  Ewwwwwww!  Sadly we had to put up with that all week too.  The body sweat/breath rain on everyone else in the tent could well have helped spread the plague that swept through the camp during the week; a bacterial infection that had more than 25% of the competitors in the medical tent, after vomiting and with diarrhea.  We would have to be really on top of our hygiene and alcohol gel use, and even then it was in the lap of the God’s as to if we got sick.  We spent the evening getting to know each other before settling down to sleep.  Despite the rain, I got a reasonable night’s sleep.  Just before I dropped off I wondered how the race would play out.  I was nervous of course, but looking forward to the sights and terrain.  We’d seen the roadbook and knew we’d be covering over 9000M of ascent on the course.  We also knew that there was a final 5:30pm cut off (as well as earlier cutoff’s at earlier CPs) each day.  That coincided with sunset, so clearly RTP didn’t want people on the course after dark.  Could the terrain really be that challenging?  The short answer was yes, though I was blissfully unaware of that as I drifted off to sleep.

Have a good week, I’ll get the main race report up soon!

Sunday 27 November 2011

Stage 6 and the finish

Stage six began with an unexpected and quite mystical trip across the lake by the camp in 4 man canoes. The mist was heavy on the water so it looked very cool. The stage was just 13k with little over 100m elevation but crossed rice fields and bogs so not a pushover ! I decided I was going to do it as fast as my sore legs would allow. I set off quickly in the morning mist though it was very humid and the sun broke through. I was cursing as we went through bogs and town side gutter streams (sewers) as I had an open wound on my toes(infection risk). I ran well at a pace I felt I could maintain and finished in 25th for the stage, and 35th overall. 215 starters roughly so top 15%. I'm very pleased to get a huge hard won medal. I ignored the finish line food and cleaned my open wounds straight away with alcohol. I'm changing dressing and dousing in iodine every few hours until I get home where I can get it looked at. Thanks for the support. Full report when I get home!

Sent from my iPhone

Friday 25 November 2011

stage 5 - when a plan comes together

We slept in a tea house after stage 4.  I ate well, slept well and ate a large, if not unusual, breakfast of Spaghetti Bolognese.  I’d been looking at the course info for stage 5 all week. 45 miles, 2900M of ascent.  Most of the ascent in 3 vicious climbs (1-2 hours each)in the first half of the race.  After that the terrain looked better.  I told myself to take it easy until I got to the top of the 3rd climb, save it all, and then see how I felt.  So we set off on what was the most unbelievably difficult 45 miles I have ever encountered.  We went up and down steep and slippy uneven stone steps and boulders, through primary jungle areas complete with leeches, and up burning hot farming terraces.  The slippy stones and climbing meant a painfully slow pace for everyone; as you will see from the wide range of result times.  I was better hydrated that anyone, I sank 4 litres in the night, and drank all day, no repeat of day 4 misery.  I ate often, a small amount every 30 mins, so was well fuelled.  So, I struggled through the first 3 climbs and 25 miles and felt good.  At CP5 the top of the 3rd climb, I got more water and passed straight through the CP in a minutes, just like I had all day and would do for the rest. I fuelled up on a handful of food, tightened my race pack and opened up.  I ran at a great pace straight through CP6 (8.5k later), it was then dark, so headlight on, I ran on the next 9.1K to CP7, all without stopping or pausing, passing a lot of people who had given it all a little too early in the race.  I saw no one shortly before CP7 until the end of the race, everyone was strung out so far. The last 10k included a horribly difficult final sting of slippy stairs and route finding was difficult as the local kids stole all the glow sticks.    Eventually I emerged onto a road and Ultra Running legend Marshall Ulrich (pulled on day 2 with sickness) was on his own directing people.  Great guy incidentally, I owe him for helping me on day 4. I lost my hat in my confusion, and well, I have the best souvenir, I have Marshall Ulrich’s cap!  Maybe some of his talent rubbed off a little as I had a good day.  In the last 2k, my body let go, with left knee pain, left Achilles pain (id ruptured the blood blister hours before incidentally, on a descent).  Still I ran through to the end and finished in 13 hours 17 mins.  I’d been Running on Empty for 10 miles and had low blood sugar.  I ate quickly while the docs advised me on the toe, and gave me some voltarol for my knee and heel.  All the skin on my little toe has gone.  I’m dousing it in alcohol every few hours(ouch) and trying to stop it being infected.  I feel good today.  Tomorrow just 13k to the finish.  I may be limping, but I’ll make it.  Thanks for the support, it’s been great. Thanks to Mike for the last min treatment, Ive had no big issues.  Feels good to get this race done.  It’s been so tough.  Looking forward to finish line pizza tomorrow.  See you at home.



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Wednesday 23 November 2011

Stage 4 - had better days

Ill spare you the detail until I get home to save worrying you anymore than reading this will.  I finished in 6 hours in 59th place but that doesnt tell the story of how close I came to not finishing.  Ive ended the stage and Im in one piece but had an awful time with severe dehydration and ive smashed up one toe and got a large blood blister that I cant burst and will struggle to run on.  If it bursts I could get cellultits again, so I have to pad it and be careful. With 1000s of up and down steps its impossible.  Dont know why my other blog updates didnt work, shame but it all went ok until today.
Tonight we sleep in tea houses (local indioor accommodation).  Tomorrow its 45 miles and 2900M of elevation.  All day and into the night and maybe beyond.  By the time you read this Ill be already started so dont worry about emailing now.  I know youre all wishing me well and I hope I can get through tomorrow. Its a huge challenge when youre in the condition I am in now.  Ill do my best.  Thanks for all the messages, both email and on the ipod from Wendy and Alex.

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Tuesday 22 November 2011

stage 3 - steady day

I decided to back off the gas today and take it easier today.  The stage was all uphill. gradual for the first 3 checkpoints, and then a brutal 650M climb up terrace steps in the hottest past of the day.  I got my gastro problems out of the way before CP1, had more immodium, its like a routine.  Still managed not to throw up yet, keeping my fingers crossed for that not happening now; stomach a bit dicey now so I hope its not on its way.  Today I did much of the stage with tent buddy James Love, until the last 5k.  I had saved plenty of energy for the hill, so arrived at the foot feeling good.  As a result I got up the hill in 1 hour 20 minutes.  It was steep, and hot, but managed to keep a good pace and then the finish came earlier than I was expecting all of a sudden, it was a nice surprise, everyone from the local village had turned up to cheer us.  The camp is at 1800M surrounded by terraced hills and white capped mountains; amazing.  They put a flower garland on everyone as they finished, it was very nice.  Despite easing off I finished in about 6:20 in 47th place, so I cant  really complain about that.  Tomorrow starts with a 1200M climb to CP1 (very hard!), and then an immediate descent of 3500 uneven steps which will be just as hard.  Trying to avoid a fall is hard.  A guy broke 2 fingers yesterday, when he fell, then re-set them, taped them up and carried on.  The photos are grim; he took some.  So I need to avoid a fall, and arrive at camp 5 safe and in good condition for the big day on day 5.  Groin did start to play up today, but on the flatter sections more than the hills.  Lucky there isnt much fllat here.  Ive stretched and exericised to keep it at bay.  Thanks for the support from everyone!

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Sunday 20 November 2011

Stage 1

Today was very tough first stage.  The weather has been hot and its very humid.  It started well with an undulating 5k, followed by 9 miles of elevation up switch-backs and steep uneven stone steps and narrow paths.  We got lost half way through due to some bad course marking.  A lot of people got lost.  We realised our mistake and backtracked addinhg a lot more elevation on.  We would have been better staying wrong I think, as those that did had an easier route.  Then about half way into the stage I had some pretty horrible gastro issues (ill spare you the details) , and had to sit down for 10 minutes after to try and eat and rehydrate.  Quite a lot of people are suffering from it, some have already pulled out.  By the time I got 3 miles from the finish I felt a lot better, and managed to come down a very steep and slippery stone steps section fairly quickly.  The last few k were on the road, so I chase down a few people and finished strong.  Not sure how many people started; maybe 230 -240.  I placed 47th in 5 hours 11, or thereabouts.  Tomorrow is longer and a lot tougher, and day 3 is ALL uphill from start to finish, no let-up.  All the ascent each day is going to be very punishing.  I hope I can stay healthy and not get more gastro issues.  All this aside, the scenary is breathtaking.  Google for Fishtail mountain, and thats what weve been running in the company of all day.  Spectacular mountain covered peaks from the Annapurna range are all around.  Its worth coming for thisd scenary along.  Thanks for the messages everyone.  Back to tent to eat and rest now.

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Please do NOT reply to this email.  Please visit the event website at to send a message to any competitor, volunteer or staff.

Wednesday 16 November 2011

Landed in Nepal

Haven't had time to post again. Been crazy busy getting ready. Got to Kathmandu an hour ago. Big culture shock, crazy busy streets much like India. 6 hour bus trip to Pokhara tomorrow. Race starts on Sunday.  Hopefully links below work to send me a message. If not just go to
And follow he Nepal links to email a competitor

We've been told to expect weather from -5 and below up to 30c, chance of rain and even snow as well as hot temperatures. Just depends what the mountain weather has in store that day. The highest camp is 3200M. Race stages are 4 x marathons then a 47 miler day, then a short last day 10 or 15k fun run basically. 

My pack without water is about 7.3 kilos. 3000kcal per day. I should have plenty of food this time!  I had physio and even accupuncture on my groin injury this week. Hope it holds up. Might post again before race starts. 

Sent from my iPhone

Friday 4 November 2011

Snowdonia and the accidental 1/3 marathon

I travelled to Snowdonia last Friday night.  My girlfriend and a friend from her running club were doing the Snowdonia Mararthon, which is a particularly tough route as marathons go, with 975M of elevation as well as some trail sections.  One of their friends had pulled out of the event so I was offered his spot in the Snowdon Ranger youth Hostel.  I thought I'd just use Snowdonia as a base  for some hill training over the weekend and let everyone else get on with the marathon.

I arrived late on Friday and had a room to myself. The manager of the place, was a fairly surly chap, not the happiest guy I've ever been greeted by to be honest.  Maybe it was the full house and the stress was getting to him!  The next morning I got up at 7:30 and was out by 8am.  My girlfriend had given me 2kg worth of clothes and food to hang onto during the day, to give to her on the finish line when she completed it. I added a couple more kilo of clothes and water, so had about 5-6kg to carry.  It was her first 'road' marathon, so it was a big day for her.  She knew the course was tough and has hoping to get in under 4 hours 20.  So, I was instructed I had to be waiting on the finish line with the drop bag, on pain of death.  So, no tripping around on the hills for 10 hours and forgetting the time then.  I did however say that as an extra bonus I'd also run over the pass and meet them in Llanberis for the start.  As soon as they were off, I'd hot tail it and run up the Llanberis path to climb up to Snowdon summit (1050m), then run back down the Snowdon Ranger path back to the youth hostel, as the marathon route passed it at 18 miles, then after I saw her I'd run back over the pass to Llanberis again before she got to the finish.  This was a fairly tall order;17 miles and about 1600M of ascent, with the added pressure of being 'on the clock'. 

Turns out the weather wasn't going to allow all of that anyway, however I managed to make up for it.  So, I headed out of the Youth Hostel just about 8:15am.  Pictures from the train line just above the hostel.

It was already raining lightlywith a strong wind down at the youth hostel (150M) and the cloud was down about 3-400M.  There is a stiff climb on the Snowdon Ranger Path initially before a fork in the path heads up still to the pass which sits at about 500M.  I was wearing waterproofs, jacket and trousers, and some non-waterproof gloves  By the time I got up to the highest point I was lost in cloud, with visibility less than 15M and heavy rain.  The winds were gale force and the rain was driving horizontal and stinging.  The only saving grace was that going North to Llanberis, the wind was blowing from behind me, pushing me up and along.  I hopped over a couple of stiles at the top of the pass and started to run down the path to Llanberis about 3 miles away.  It was an easy run downhill, just very windy and very wet!  It was also very cold with the rain/wind combo.

I got to Llanberis about 9:30, so it had only taken me 1 hour and 15 mins to get there.  I was however like a drowned rat.  I went into the cafe opposite the electric station and paid a hideously expensive price of £7.90 for a fairly poor (both in quality and quantity) breakfast and mug of tea.  I should have gone to Pete's Eats like everyone else apparently does on marathon day.  I stripped off my 'waterproof's' to find that my clothes underneath were wet.  My OMM Kamlieka waterproof jacket had needed re-proofing so I didn't have much sympathy for myself.  My gloves were ringing wet, and the OMM waterproof trousers were also suitably sodden but probably would take another another hour before they gave in.  I realised I wasn't going to get up to the summit of Snowdon.  I didn't have any more waterproofs and well, the winds were gale force.  It wouldn't be an enjoyable trip.  So, I would have to settle for running back over the pass to the Youth Hostel, but even that prospect I wasn't looking forward to.

My girlfriend had only a pertex jacket.  I broke out an emergency poncho from my backpack and gave it to her, for all the good it would do.  The rain was set in for the day, so all the marathon runners were going to get very wet!  Here's the start of the race. Nice weather for ducks eh?

I saw one loon running the marathon totally barefoot.  26 miles all on tarmac, with slate and rocks in a few places.  Bravado I assume; nothing to be gained but sore feet. Barefoot running on soft ground I can just about 'get' (though I'm still not tempted), but a road marathon, why?

I saw her off at the start and then went back into the town and bought a "Mac in a pack" waterproof jacket, which I was assured was quite good and had taped seams.  I also bought myself a pair of waterproof mitts, as they were in the sale and I figured I'd get some use out of them over winter, even if they were a bit overkill for today.  So, freshly kitted out I headed back up the path and over the hill.  This time I was running (before giving up) straight into the gale force wind.  I slowed to a walk and leant in to the wind and heavy rain which drove straight into me.  I was fairly quickly back into low visibility and wasn't enjoying it one little bit.  I had a big run in with bad weather in a storm in Tenerife a few years ago, and I've never quite got over it.  I hate being in poor visibility, driving rain and wind when in an unfamiliar location. 

I had been using a map and compass but pulled out my PDA/GPS which was in a new Aquapac waterproof bag to check my navigation.  The Aquapac had saved my life in Tenerife.  All my other electronics were destroyed in the storm, but my GPS in the aquapac survived and enabled me to navigate to safety.  My girlfriend had recently bought me a new type of Stormproof aquapac, which has a roll top (like a dry bag you put in a rucksack).  I didn't realise but you had to roll over the top 3 times, but my PDA was a little too large and I could only roll it over twice.  Anyway, water got in and killed my PDA, right at the point where I came to a fork in the path with no visibility.  I emailed Aquapac when I got home and they were quickly replied, and I sent back mine for investigation although it's pretty much certain that it must have been not making the seal with 3 rolls that was the cause.  They also very kindly sent me the original aquapac model as a replacement, free of charge.  This one has twist clips and is fully submersible in water to 5M.  It's basically fool (me) proof. Awesome customer care from Aquapac, thank you very much!

Anyway, back to the fork in the path.  I was a little worries and also getting cold.  The mac in a pack had proved itself to be not very waterproof, as my quilted Nike windproof top underneath was wet through.  The mac in a pack hadn't even stood up to an hour of the weather.  If I would have been out there for another hour or two, I'd probably have gotten very cold and gotten myself into trouble.  My waterproof gloves had performed admirably, but were now starting to succumb to the weather too.  My hands were toasty and I wasn't likely to get frostbite after all was I!  I got out the map, leant into the gale and decided which path I needed to take.  I passed a coupe of guys who had not long set off from the Youth Hostel.  I tried to ask them if I was on the right path, but we just couldn't hear each other.  We went our separate ways but I saw them not long after, as they wisely decided to return to sea level due to the weather.  I started to run downhill now, and the path started to look familiar.  I breathed a sigh of relief as I exited the cloud and as I run further the wind dropped.  I got back to the youth hostel level, where the weather at sea-level was just a very wet and fairly blustery day.  I saw the lead runners come past as I headed into the warm and dry of the youth hostel.  There was no way I was going back up over that pass to the finish line again, which as pack mule carrying my girlfriends finish line supplies, was a problem.

Still on the clock, I stripped off everything I had one.  It was all soaked to the core.  The waterproof trousers had also given up as well as the mac in a pack.  I put on a new pair of running tights, new socks, fleece jumper and left my Kamlieka jacket to dry in the drying room.  I had one more dry jacket, but I was saving it in case my girlfriend needed it when she came past.  I put on another pair of waterproof trousers, and then cast aside my sodden fell shoes and put on my road running trainers.  I realised the only was I was going to be able to be there at the finish was to join the marathon route, stay low in the relatively mild foul weather, and stick to the road. 

I waited outside the YHA for about 30 mins until she came past.  She was soaked to the bone, but didn't want the waterproof jacket I held out as she was warm enough from the running.  So, I hastily stuffed it into the backpack, which was still about 5kg and gave chase, caught up with her, and settled into her 9 minute mile marathon target pace, just before mile 18.  I think I got a few surprised looks as we passed people and some lunatic in full waterproofs and a large backpack was running past them.  I felt a bit guilty and hope they didn't think I had run the whole race, and demoralise anyone.  Still, I had already done about 12 miles and climbed about 700M.  I probably wasn't too far off in energy spent!

The rain persisted but still there were lots of people out supporting the runners.  There is a cruel hill from about mile 22 to mile 24, a long gradient which some walk and some run depending on how much they have left.  The course really is a tough one.  I had some quite severe adductor pain, which has not healed after the 80km race a did last weekend.  I was pretty hot wearing all the gear that I did, as well as the pack but just about managed to keep up as she ran up the hill.  We slowed up to a walk about half a mile from the top, which gave me chance for a breather before she carried on running all the way down the slippy and treacherous trail section into Llanberis.  I've snuck into the official race photography, oops.  See the picture below.  You can see even in waterproofs, which are by then shiny and useless, I was wet through again.

A few people fell over, and I just about managed to stay on my feet; road shoes giving me no grip at all.  We ran down the hill and into Llanberis where I ducked off the road and onto the pavement and let her carry on through the finish line.  She finished in just a few minutes over 4 hours,so she was very happy indeed.  Well done!  I was on hand to perform my main duty as pack mule, and got out her bag of clean clothes and sorted out some tea and refreshments (in the Electric Station cafe this time).  So, apart from a very sore adductor all was well.  It may not have been quite the day I was expecting but I had done about 20 miles and over 1000M of ascent, with some excitement and several changed of clothes to boot!

The following morning, the weather was much improved at sea-level and the cloud was up to about 600M.

Looking towards Snowdon

I set off alone on the Snowdon Range Path with the aim to climb Snowdon again.  I did do some running but my adductor was sore, and really concerning me.  The path gets much steeper on loose rocks and slate.

I got up into the cloud where the winds were touching gale force again, low vis and fairly miserable.  I climbed up to 850 metres, about 1.5k from the summit, but at that point considered my options.  I'd done most of the climbing and was worried that I could be doing more damage to the adductor if I did a big day out again.  It was also miserably cold and windy where I was, and no visibility, so no reward for reaching the summit anyway.  So, decision made a run and walked back down to the YHA.  I took a few pictures once I got back under the cloud.

A ray of light...

This week I've had several massage treatments to try and settle the adductor.  I've not done any running.  I've walked into work with my pack a couple of times and done some passive sessions on the altitude machine.  This means I sit still but breath in air at 6500M.  It makes you very sleepy as the oxygen sats plummet towards 70%.  I've been advised not to run this weekend either.  It's very frustrating as I should be peaking my training, but I'm wise enough to know when to back off.  Next weekend's 26 miles  Six Dales Circuit is very much in jeopardy too, as that's just 3 days before I fly to Nepal.  The adductor issue is worryingly the opposite side to my other groin problem, which is also problematic at the moment too.

I've just got to hope that 10 days rest is going to sort things out.  This weekend I'll have to do my packing for Nepal, so I'll update about that next week.  Have a good week! 

Sunday 30 October 2011

Ultima Frontera 80km

After a good weeks training including some solid speed work I got an 8am flight out with Ryanair.  I’ve somehow managed to avoid flying with them before, and won’t be rushing to repeat the experience for more reasons that I can list.  I met up with Charlie Sharpe at Liverpool airport and we flew out to Malaga  for the Ultimate Frontera race.  At Malaga we met up with Annie Garcia.  Team Axaraport had kindly laid on a shuttle for the three of us, to take us the hour long ride to Loja.

Loja is a good sized rural town in Andalucia, not an obvious tourist destination as such.  It has a few hotels and plenty of restaurants.  We got dropped off at a hotel and ate (a hearty) meal.  I’d love to tell you it was an organic feast of wholesome food, but in fact we ordered two main meals each, consisting of large hamburgers and chicken burgers with Mojo sauce, each with a side order of fries, and an extra plate of fries for the three of us to share.  We did a very good job of demolishing it.  Even the petite Annie, did an admirable job.  There were some other runners from the UK at a nearby table; two other Richards, Paul, Ross and a few others from the EU.  We chatted to them, and they were all fast guys with impressive races behind them.  All 2:45 marathoners, and had just completed the UTMB, and Paul had a few ago completed Spartathlon; as I say, very impressive.  Charlie had just won the Ultrarace Nottingham 50k in a record time, and him, Annie all of these other guys were doing the 160km (2 laps of the 80km race).  Realtive youngster Charlie ended beating all of these guys by quite a margin, coming in 5th overall in 18:15 mins for 160km. Very impressive.

I sat and had a good laugh with everyone for a few hours, then went and got some dinner with them in the town after registering for the race; picking up our numbers, tshirts and tming chips etc. The waiter at the restaurant we all went to managed to convince me I really didn’t want a 'family size' pizza that I tried to order, demonstrating the bin-lid sized dish it would come served on.  I agreed it was a touch excessive, and downsized to what still was a huge pizza.  I managed to sink it all, though to be fair I did remove 90% of the cheese.  I may be after calories but I wasn’t too keen on a full-scale cholesterol fest.  We ate over a few hours and got back to the hotel about 10pm.  I shared a room with one of the Richard’s, and we both got a fairly intermittent sleep until we got up at 6:45.  There was a hotel full of evangelists (I’m told) singing their way through the whole weekend.  I wasn’t wholly impressed with them singing outside at 4am, and they were almost on the receiving end of a carefully aimed running shoe.

Speaking of running shoes, I decided that I was going to wear the Hoka Mafate shoes, as I expected hard packed trails and road, and figured the cushioning would be just right.  It turned out to be a great choice I think.  I ran in CWX compression leggings, and my usual Railriders long sleeve ecomesh shirt and OR Sahara cap.  This event was to be a dress rehearsal for Nepal’s long day for me, rather than a race in its own right.  I packed a 5kg pack, laden with unnecessary clothes and supplies, which would emulate very closely the weight I should carry on day 5 in Nepal.  So I was sporting a ridiculously large backpack in comparison to 90% of the field who were there to race, carrying waist belts or small hydration packs.  They must have looked at me and thought “he has no idea what he’s doing with a backpack like that!”

At 8am 7 or 8 of us crammed into a small car/van, 2 of us in the boot.  Amusingly a police car pulled up behind as we were all climbing in the boot, they stopped, then just drove on.  Needless to say, if you did that in the UK you’d be on the end of a stern talking to!We drove a couple of miles down to the local sports stadium for the pre race briefing.
You can get a close up, or download the full route into Google Earth from this link on the Beyond Marathon website.

Afterwards eventually walked half a mile into the town centre.  We were told that it would be a “soft” start from the town centre, to allow the mayor to start the race and for pretty photos, then the official start would be from the Stadium. 

A lot of us took that to mean that we would have to run half a mile and then stop for another start. 
So, bang off goes the gun and I barely break into a slow jog, saving my strength.  So, I saunter down to the stadium pretty much at the back of the pack and see everyone disappearing into the distance.  Damnnit, soft start confusion!
After a few hundred metres the town ends and gives way to the first climb, a winding trail that leads up and around the closest mountain. 

 The weather was clear, sunny and warm, and it looked like it was going to be a warm day around mid 20’s degrees C.  That first climb was broken up my some flatter sections that allowed running, before steeper sections where I decided to save my strength and walk, as did most people I could see.  After about 40 mins we crested the hill and there came a long welcome descent.  There were small finca’s and homes all around, and the entire area was filled with olive trees, that I was told take a lot of tending.  They were all planted in immaculately straight lines.  Soon the descent ended and there was another long climb up to around the 8 mile mark before we turned onto a 1k of road, then more trail, and finally the last couple of k on road into the pretty town of Zagra. 

In Zagra there was a stiff climb up the hill into the town itself, then headed out along a winding road and steady climb to the next town Ventorros de San José at CP1 (20km).  I’d been struggling with a rough stomach and had to use the loo fairly urgently; it was fortunate that the CP was adjoined to a bar!

So, I had to spend about 5 mins sorting that out.  I put on my waterproof jacket as we were now at a higher elevation and I was feeling a little cold now the sun was covered with heavy cloud.  The humidity was high but the wind was quite sharp at times.  I’m fairly slim at the moment due to all the recent training so I’m really feeling the cold.  I headed out of the CP and high fived lots of kids on the way out of the town.  The next section was all downhill on the road for about 5 miles and it wasn’t long before the coat came off again. 

 I was very pleased I was wearing the Hoka shoes for the luxury cushioning, and bounced down the road happily.  It had taken about 2.5 hours to cover that first 20k so I wanted to pull back the average speed to something respectable.  At the bottom of the valley there was a brief un-surfaced section where some local joker had moved the route marking.  Sadly some people before us had gone the wrong way for a couple of miles.  Lucky I was thumbing the map, and knew the turning was here.  A member of the organisation came riding up on his bike and moved the marker back and went chasing after those who were misdirected.  It was very annoying for the organisers as well, but there’s not much you can do to prevent it.  The route markings were generally plentiful and excellent.
I ran with a guy called Mike for a few miles towards CP2. He was doing the 50k race and ultimately came 3rd I think.  It was mostly road up to 30k and then a sharp left turn onto track.  I asked Mike for the average pace so far and it was over 5mph, so the long road stretch I much have been running a good pace for pull the average up so far.  My tummy was telling me I was hungry, so I slowed to a walk and ate a Powerbar Ride, which is my bar of choice at the moment.  You can just see Annie Garcia in Front, she came 2nd in the womens 160km race.

One consumed I picked up the pace for the last 5k up to CP2 (at 35km). Just before the CP, Ross from Scotland came running up behind.  He’d been one of the people who was misdirected and was running hard to catch up.  I filled up bottles at CP2, added some electrolyte and headed out just behind Ross.  It had been raining for about half an hour, just gently, but I was wet and after soon slowing to a walk for many sections of the next very long climb of 550M over about 5 miles.  I put my waterproof jacket on as the rain got heavier, had the hood up and trudged up the hill.  I was surprised at all the road, but the organisers told me after that section was not surfaced when they set the course, and a group of olive farmers had got together and decided to pay to have it surfaced.  See new shiny tarmac below, where once was trail.
So there was a lot more road on the course than anyone expected.  Ross’s long legs meant he shot up the hill ahead of me and out of sight, but 2k before CP3 I caught him back up.  The terrain had levelled out, I was running at a good pace again.  Ross was hobbling.  He explained he’d ripped his calf, an old injury apparently.  He had to pull out at CP3. Get well soon Ross!

The last 2k were mostly downhill on a trail into the very pretty town of Montefrio at 48Km.  It was a very pretty town, I should have taken a better photo really.

 So, that was more or less 30 miles down.  I had eaten a couple of bars but was very hungry, and my waterproof jacket had ceased to be waterproof anymore after 3 hours of rain.  The CP was excellent in a hotel courtyard with a patio heater running.  I stripped off my wet jacket and left it to try, and took off my ringing wet shirt and replaced it with a long sleeve windproof top from my dropbag, which was at this CP.  I also made a decision to make an extended stop and eat an freeze dried meal.  It would give me chance to get a large amount of calories down, and avoid any fuelling issues.  I had caused the serious groin injury the last time I ran 50 miles (in the Atacama Crossing) and didn’t want a repeat.  So, I ended spending probably 30 mins or more at that CP, but managed to eat an 800 calorie meal, washed down with 2 chocolate milk energy drinks I had picked up from a supermarket the day before.  I left my wet shirt in the drop bag, but added my waterproof trousers into my rucksack as well as another dry Tshirt.  I didn’t need either but it was comforting to know I had more clothes.
My waterproof jacket hadn’t really dried out but it had stopped raining finally.  I tied the coat around my waist to try and dry it out then set off up the hill out of Montefrio.  It was a climb on a narrow trail for 1.5k, then headed into a valley for a long downhill section of about 5 miles. I’d taken in about 1100 calories at Montefrio and it sat fairly heavily on me for a while but I knew it would pass .   It was a really nice, rough narrow trail which I really enjoyed; probably my favourite part of the route.

  I had to make an enforced toilet stop with some urgency again, but felt a lot better afterwards.  I had no Imodium meds, but I was getting by ok and staying well hydrated.  .  Another guy came running up quick behind me as I rapidly redressed and shot past. 

A  few miles later when we were on a flat section he eased back up to a walk and he was doing the 180k and so probably wisely saving his strength.  As I passed he took a photo for me.

..and I took one for him. After that I wished him well and headed off for the last 7 miles which was a mixture of road and trail through Villanueva Mesia. 

Strangely I quite like the long flat road sections.

As I crossed a main road, a bunch of teenage kids tried to misdirect me, but I was keeping a close eye on the map and just ignored them.  The next section went through these very pretty trees and then crossed a small river. 

 There were some stepping stoned but at some wired angles which I managed to slip off, dunk, one wet foot!  Just after that was a tarmac trail around the 65k mark where I caught up with these 3 lovelies. 
They are clearly a lot faster than they look, as it had taken me 65k to catch them up! The tarmac trail lead into the town of Huetor-Tajar where pretty much all of the route markings had been ripped down.  Again I was thumbing the map so I knew where I was, but I understand a few other people got a but lost in the town.  Paul, from Team Axarsport was pretty annoyed about it when I got to CP4 where he was.  I had been running very happily so far, and wasn’t needing to stop for any walking breaks.  I’d lost a lot of time at CP3 deliberately, but that was a strategic decision which I was happy with as I hadn’t felt hungry again, and in fact didn’t eat anything else at all.  They said I looked strong as CP3 (67k) and I certainly felt good.  There was only 13k left.

The first 2k were on the road before crossing a railway bridge and then turning right onto trail.  Paul came driving up and parked in front and took a couple of photos of me, then headed on to the finish.  The trail was initially very runnable despite a slight incline, but I then walked the slightly steeper sections as it wound its way among the farms and up to the road.  I’d caught up with a couple of other 160k runners quite quickly by the time I got to the road which gradually climbed still. 

 It was the last major climb.  The people in front did run some of it, I think maybe they thought I was doing the same distance as them.  I took it easy until I got to the top of the hill, leaving 5k left, pretty much all downhill or flat.   Spot the rainbow?
At that point I opened up and headed past them, telling them the distance left and they realised I was doing 80k and I think were happy to let me go. There was a short 1k trail section which people said was muddy but to be honest I didn’t think it was compared to what I run on in the UK and ran down it at a good pace.  I crested another small hill and got these great views of sunset over Loja. 

It was great to see the finish just before sunset and know I would finish in the fading light and not need a headtorch.  The muddy trail gave way to the outskirts of town and I saw another competitor walking about 1k ahead.  I thought he might be an 80k runner, so increased my pace further.  He saw me when I was about 400M behind and started to run, but I managed to catch up to him pretty quickly.  He was also doing the 160k, so I slowed up and jogged alongside him through the streets of Loja for the last couple of K to the finish.  I finished just as the last light of the day was fading.

It was great to finish and know I wasn't going back out for another 80km lap in the darkness. I felt ok, but I was there for 80km as prep for Nepal and everything had gone well. It had taken me 10:32 mins, about 4.75 mph and 2500M of elevation. Not bad I thought.

My left Adductor Magnus muscle was sore, hopefully just strain but I’m stuggling to shake it. The area where my surgical scar is (right side groin) was very sore, and still is a week later. I had some food at the finish, included in the cost and supplied by the adjoining bar, then got a lift up to my hotel and had a great nights sleep. The journey back was a bit of a disaster. Me and another competitor had no idea you had to phone up and confirm return trips on the local bus service, and so the bus turned up full and we got stung for 130 Euros taxi trip to the airport. Ouch. Hurt almost as much as my groin did.

Thanks very much to Paul and Team Axarsport for a well organised event, really enjoyed it and hope the event goes from strength to strength.

In the last few days I've done some altitude training, but the adductor hurt so I pulled up and walked the last 10 minutes of the hour session Tuesday. So I just sat down and had a passive altitude session on Wednesday and just walked for an hour on Thursday. So I took it easy generally, hoping the aches and pains would go away. For the weekend I had planned a 2 day Snowdonia extravaganza. My girlfriend was running in the Snowdonia Marathon, so I was going along to get some hills in my legs on the higher stuff, as well as provide some support and encouragement at points along the way.

I'll post what happened next in a day or two. Let's just say it involves, all day driving ran, gale force winds (on the tops), getting a bit scared, getting through 3 sets of waterproofs and clothes and still getting wet (all within 4 hours), and accidentally running the last 8 miles of the marathon to boot, complete with rucksack!