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 JosĂ© 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!

Monday 17 October 2011

Stepping Stone

It's been another week of forward progress, despite a reduction in miles to gather my strength for this coming weekend's 50 mile event in Spain.

On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday I run for an hour at the altitude centre.  I've notched up the altitude to 3000M now and running at a steady pace for 8 minutes, then at sea level for 2 mins recovery walk, then back up to 3000M and 8 more mins.  It's interval training but made a whole lot harder by oxygen being in short supply.  I did some strength work at the gym and my usual weekly 3 mile speed session where I managed another improvement of 15 seconds over last week which I'm very happy with.

I did an extra unplanned 10k on Friday, at medium pace, just under 8 minute mile and had a rest day on Saturday.  Well, I say rest, it was in fact taking my son to Chester Zoo, so a pleasant 5 hour stroll in the sunshine.  On Sunday I felt the urge to do a quicker mid distance session to make up for not doing a long run.  I set out and just chose my route as I ran, starting with a climb up to a local monument. The first mile is uphill on the road with a 200ft elevation gain.  I held around 7:30 minute miles and decided that I might as well see how quickly I could run the whole route.  It's was a trail route with plenty of stiles to negotiate, and some rough terrain mixed in with good paths and the odd short section of road.  At half way I was still on 7:37 average, but knew the way home was an overall elevation gain with some sharp hills so I'd have my work cut out to try and maintain it.  However, much to my surprise I did manage it, finishing 10 miles in 1:16:17, average 7:37 minute miles.  I'd have been happy enough with that time if it was a flattish road run, but the route was rough, had a lot of stiles to climb and also had 1000 ft of elevation gain.
I was surprised at how comfortable I was running at pace on the flat sections.  My breathing seemed easier than normal, and everything just flowed very well.  My fitness is very good, even if my repaired groin injury is untested over multi-day distances.  I just need to maintain this level until I get to Nepal.

So, this coming weekend is the last big stepping stone.  I always like to do an event that is equal in distance and as close in difficulty as I can guess an upcoming events' 'long stage'.  In Nepal the long stage is 47 miles and will include around 2500M of elevation if I remember rightly.  I was originally going to take part in the Round Rotherham 50 before I saw the Nepal course notes.  Then I realised that the RRR50 was too easy.  The course doesn't have any hills and has quite a lot of road and hard footpath.  So, just a few weeks ago I signed up to do the 80km race in the Ultima Frontera .  The distance and altitude, as well as the temperature should be almost identical to Nepal.  Ok, the terrain will vary, but it's a close match I think.  I'm not going to be treating it like a race, just as a Nepal training event.  I'm going to be carrying a full weight race backpack, which will include sleeping bag and sleeping mat, as well as all the required kit, waterproofs and food etc.  So, I may very well be bringing up the rear end of the field but I'm doing it for a Nepal confidence booster.

I fly out to Malaga on Friday morning, then it's a bus ride to Loja in Andalucia.  An overnight stay in the sports hall and a morning start with a 16 hour cutoff.  2700M of ascent is quite considerable, so I'm expecting this event to be a very stern challenge indeed.  You can see the elevation profile below, and see the climbs up to 1100M.
I'm going to try and enjoy it and not flog myself to death!  I've only got one more event after this one, a 26 mile run in the Peak District; the 6 Dales Circuit, which barely even registers as an event after this.  I am doing it 3 days before I fly to Nepal, which is a little risky, but I don't feel the need to taper to be honest.

I'll report back next week after my trip to Spain.  Have a good week.

Sunday 9 October 2011

Talybont Trial

This week I’ve continued my training for Nepal. I ran twice on Tuesday, a very slow 25 minute 3 miler with some guys at work at lunchtime as a recovery run from the last weekends effort, then followed it up with an hour on the Hypoxia machine at the altitude centre after work (about 6 miles). On Wednesday I did a core strength session in the gym and on Wednesday night went on the Hypoxia machine again. On Thursday I did a fast 3 mile run at lunch and again on the Hypoxia machine in the evening. I hope to get some altitude acclimation by the time I get to Nepal (we are running up to 3500M altitude there), but I’m using the Hypoxia as much to try and jump-start my fitness a little. I’m nowhere near as fit as I was 18 months ago, so I’m trying more or less everything to try and improve that as much as I am able in the next 6 weeks.

Got up very early on Saturday morning, around 5:15, and travelled down to Talybont-on-Usk near Brecon in Wales to take part in the 20 mile Talybont Trial. The route has 1500M of ascent and some very challenging terrain it transpired. I arrived with another Nepal competitor Tiffany, who was using the session to get some hill training in too. We arrived shortly after 8am, and most competitors were already en- route. There was a very thorough kit check by the Brecon Mountain Rescue Team. The event is a fundraiser for them, and they did an excellent job of manning the checkpoints in some pretty cold conditions up on the tops of the hills all day, as well as providing food and drink and the start/finish and around the half way mark. I carried around 4-5Kg in my pack, not all of it required, but simply to get used to running with weight for Nepal.

We set off about 8:20 and joined the TT20 route which this year was run in a clockwise direction.

After half a K of running we slowed to walk on a road which wound its way around to the bottom of the first big climb of the day up to Tor Y Foel (551M), a gain of 400M. 

It was a good climb to get the calves burning and warm up. That said, at the top everyone was fairly hastily adding their windproof/waterproof layer as it blustery and very cold. Aside from that though, the weather all day was much better than I anticipated, with no rain and largely cloud-free summits. There was an easy descent on a good path, and then my first opportunity to brush up on my nav skills. I couldn’t for the life of me find my GPS the night before, so I was doing it the old fashioned way with map and compass. I’m really sharp with my navigation anyway, so it doesn’t faze me, I just generally use GPS because it’s faster. I picked out the right bearing and we headed down across fields and ultimately down to a road and then another stiff climb up to 510M.  Here's the view down and accross to that next climb.

It lead onto bleak moorland where I took a bearing for the Chartists Cave and CP1. The visibility was all of a sudden really excellent with sun shine and blue skies for 10 mins, but I can imagine in poor conditions the CP would be a challenge to find if the bearing just off just slightly. It was 2K over very rough ground, which we opted to walk for the sake of risking twisted ankles this close to the event.

We got to CP1, and took a quick look at the Chartists Cave before taking a bearing for CP2.
We picked up a wide easy path and ran down to a road where 95% of the people we could see ahead had turned sharp right and were walking up the road, instead of bearing straight for CP2 over moorland. A nearby walker told us that the we’d definitely be better taking the longer road option, and cutting onto moorland later as the terrain was very rough the direct route. I was more than happy to take local advice and we did just that, running on the steady incline road for 2k. A picture of the surrounding views as I ran below.

 We left the tarmac road on initially wide off-road path, and then a ‘no-path’ slow ‘yomp’ through rough moor up towards the next trig point CP2. The cloud dropped at this point and we lost site of the trig, but it wasn’t that hard to find just very slow going walking on the moor which was littered which shake holes of varying depths which we meandered around. So it was very much a wandering path, rather than a straight bearing. It seemed to take a long time to cover what was little more than 1K, locate the mist covered CP, and then take another bearing roughly north towards some old mine workings, and a quarry. Again, it was dodge the sink holes and pick your line to try and avoid losing altitude just to gain it again before we emerged on a road on the side of the quarry. It was quite sudden actually, and in mist you’d have to be cautious not to drop straight off a 30M sheer drop (it is marked on newer versions of the OS map, but not older ones!) On that path we were able to run again, down into the quarry, through the other side and then continued the run on reasonable ground up towards Pant Y Creigau (565M), where CP3 was located. Apart from the last half k which was steeper, we had strung together as much running as we’d managed all day in that section.

We ran down about 1.5K to the car park where there was a refreshment van. We had some biscuits and a couple of cups of juice and were ready to head out, when out of kindness I made what turned out to be a poor decision. Another participant, who was ‘running’ the event, asked if he could tag along with us so he didn’t get lost getting towards the next CP. I told him that there was only 1 path to it, and no mist so there practically no chance he could miss it anyway. He said that he’d already missed 1 checkpoint (though I suspect he’d actually missed at least 2 of the previous checkpoints) as he was unable to find them. He said he’d started 10 minutes after us, and we hadn’t seen him all day, and later, seeing the speed he moved at there was no way he’d followed much of the correct route so far and arrived at the refreshment point at the time he did. At this point the alarm bells were ringing. He was mid 60’s, very poorly equipped, wearing very old extensively repaired road shoes, he had no back pack, so I have no idea where his safety kit was or how he passed the kit check). More concerning was that he clearly couldn’t navigate any near well enough to be doing this event. I suggested we wait for the couple of people that were walking but he starting moaning (I don’t use that phrase lightly) about us making a promise to him. I said ok we could follow but as soon as the path to the CP became unmissable then we’d leave him. He kicked up a huge moaning fuss again, interrupting me, and being very obstinate and to be honest, very cantankerous. We set off, and me and Tiffany were already realising we’d made a bad decision as he was expecting his hand held all the way to the next CP about 3 miles away.  There were lots of wild fell ponies around all day, pictured below.

There was a tough climb up to Craig Y Fan Ddu (683M). View from the top below.
At the top there was a fantastic ridge run, just one path and asking to be run at, except it transpired that he couldn’t run. We weren’t very happy, and I said that I’d walk as far as the end of the ridge, then as soon as we turned right onto Craig Pwfla (762M) we’d head off. He starting moaning and winging like you wouldn’t believe, and I was cursing my decision to agree to head out of the previous CP with him. I tried to get him to wait for a group of people that were about 1k behind, but no joy. The visibility was near perfect so there was no chance of getting lost up there. So, we had to walk for about 2 miles when we should have been enjoying a great ridge run. Here is the view looking back the way we came.

Then the right turn came, and I pointed out to him to glaringly obvious path to initially take, and he the moaning began, he said he wouldn’t find the next CP. I told him that all he had to do was to head along the path initially and then head upwards to find the trig which was by definition the highest part of the hill. Also, we’d still be in sight for the whole way as it was less than 1.5K anyway. How could you go wrong? He starting interrupting and being very rude, at which point I’d had enough and told him that if he continued to give me earache, I’d set off at a fast run and it’d be the last time he saw me. At this point he started just saying “leave me, you don’t care what happens to me etc”. It was like a “leave me to die here” speech! Talk about melodramatics.

If it was bad weather, he was injured, or there was any possibility he couldn’t literally fall into the next CP I’d have been happy to hold his hand, but as it was, none of those things applied. However I was sufficiently cross to put a good 100M distance between me and him and continue to head up the hill. Tiffany, was more sympathetic/concerned and wanted to phone the organisers to let them know where he was. She asked him his name, and he refused to give it to her, saying “go on leave me here etc”. You can’t help some people can you? Besides, I said it wasn’t necessary and he’d be in sight of us constantly as we weren’t running up the hill anyway. Without dragging the story out anymore we reached the CP with this guy 1 minute behind us. I warned the very nice Mountain Rescue guys at the CP that he was a liability and couldn’t navigate, and that I was absolving myself of any further responsibility since we’d delivered him as promised to that CP; we’d be running on from that point. He arrived at this point and starting making gestures of apology to me, but I told him that he shouldn’t be up there if he didn’t have the necessary skills to navigate. I shook his hand and we shot off, very happy to leave him behind.

We ran on the next bearing, on what was a wide motorway of a path all the way off the mountain. There was great running all the way down to Twyn Du (533M) and then further down to the corner of the Talybont Reservoir and then 2K on the road back to Talybont-on-Usk. It took us a little over 6 hours. So a very slow pace, but we lost at least half an hour guiding the nameless guy on the one straight path. I’m sure I’ve seen the guys face at LDWA events before, and I don’t imagine for one second I’m the first person to find him disagreeable. He can count his cards marked for future events; I’ll be avoiding him.
A big thank you to all the organisers, and again thanks to the guys from the Brecon MRT who were huddled behind trig points in their big jackets, or sheltering in their tents on some very cold mountain tops. It was a big change from last weekend’s Indian summer in Wales.
This coming week it’ll be more of the same training during the week. I don’t have an event next weekend, but I’ll doubtless get a few miles in at some point. The week after it’s the 50 miler (2700M +/0) in AndalucĂ­a, Spain.

Have a good week.

Sunday 2 October 2011

Black Mountains 30 (ish)

That was how the organisers described it.  For good reason, as it was in fact 32.5 miles long (according to Memory Map, and the GPS I carried).  They also very accurately described the event as 30 miles, barely qualifying as an ultra, but not to underestimate the tough course.  Right on both counts, the course was tough.  You can see the rough course and hill profile below, which included 2150M of ascent.

I got up at 4:40am and drove down to Cwmdu, near Crickhowell.  I arrived half an hour before the event started, and registered.  We had a course briefing and roll call.  A little over 100 starters if memory serves.  We were told to watch hydration as it was a hot day.  It transpired it’s been the hottest October day since records began, with temperatures reaching 29.9C in some parts of the UK.  It’s more likely to have been around 23 or 24C for us, but it was hot enough.  I decided to pack around 4kg of weight, which will be around half the fully loaded race weight for Nepal.  I wasn’t looking to set any personal records, just put a lot of hills in my legs and get used to carrying a weighed pack on a longer event again for the first time in 18 months.
The race started at 7:30am in the cool shade of the surrounding mountains.  The first 2.5 miles were mostly  on an undulating tarmac road before a sharp right turn off road and start of the first climb. 

It was a slow march up the hill, gaining 400M of elevation and into the sunlight before a welcome descent along an easy gradient and wide path down the other side for several miles

Then a run along a road into CP1 at around 7 miles. I topped up with water and headed out.  There was no food provided as the event was self sufficient.  I’d started eating early, around mile 3.  It always helps if I warm my stomach up for food early.  Shortly after CP1 was another long climb up, 

Over the other side was a poor payoff as the descent was rubble strewn with deep ruts in the ground.  At times as I was pleased that I had my fell shoes on, such as times like that, but for the parts of the course on tarmac, or the concrete slabs over moorland, I felt every step.  At the base of that second major hill was a road crossing then another long slow climb through a forest and then up onto moorland.  3 or 4 guys came running past a few of us walking up the hill.  I was pretty surprised to see anyone running up that gradient to be honest.  It transpired they had been in the top 5 and got lost (doing an extra 3 miles I think), and were now playing catch up.  Running up those hills must have really been punishing; I imagine almost no one ran those gradients. 
The run down the other side was down another narrow rubble strewn track for half a mile before a stile, and mile gradient through fields and down to CP2 at LLanthony abbey, at 14 miles. 

 I refilled both bottles of water, knowing full well that the toughest climb of the day was the one that was looming directly overhead, the climb up onto Offas Dyke.  

The initial pull is over 300M in around 1.5km, before another 100M+over the next few K.  The climb was really punishing.  Everyone around me was feeling it just as much as me.  At the top of the initial climb, view below

I picked up the running again, trotting out a slow steady pace across the concrete slabs that cover the moorland, and sometime just easy running trail paths.

This section was a very steady gradient uphill for 10km.  Some of it I ran, other parts on the loose more rubble strewn ground I walk.  I was feeling pretty tired already, testament to the lack of hills I’ve climbed this year.  I wasn’t running nearly as much as I wanted to, but looking around, the people in the part of the field I was in looked to be in the same boat.  We were all running everything flat, and walking everything that even resembled a hill.  I’d gone from a 5mph average at CP1, to a 4.6MPH by CP2.  Then just 1km later, up to Offas Dyke it had dropped to just 4mph average overall.  That climb had totally killed my pace.  The Offas Dyke part of the race was seemingly endless; that 6 mile pull over the moorland in the hottest part of the day was pretty tough.  A couple of miles before CP3 I’d drank the last of my water, but I was well hydrated.  I was feeling a little rough, and knew I needed to take stock at CP3. Took this just before the descent to CP3, and that hill in the distance was the one immediately after the CP.

I ran down off the hill to CP3 at 22.4 miles and the next water stop.  I took 5 minutes to sit down, refill my bottles, eat a couple of fast sugar energy sweets to whip me into action and cracked open a packet of Marmite cashew nuts.  I’d already eaten 3 granola bars and 2 packs of crisps, so I was ripping through my calories.  I set off from CP3 up yet another climb, though much less steep, whilst eating half the pack of cashews.  Even as the gradient eased off to give way to steady open moorland I wasn't feeling that great.

Those nuts would take a little longer to hit me, that the sweets, but the energy would also last longer; well that’s the theory.  The next 5k was still overall ascent, and it was only as I was half a mile off the highest point when I got my second wind, around 25 miles.  

I suddenly felt pretty good again, and hoped I could pull back some time on the last 7 miles to bring the current 3.9mph average back up.  I caught up to one of the guys who had ran past me, who had been in the top 5.  Clearly a very good runner, but the effort to try and pull back the race had eventually hit him.  

We ran down to the last CP at 28 miles together.  There were a few snacks to eat here, but I was feeling well fed at this stage, and headed out fairly quickly up the last short but stiff climb of the day.  The other guy descended much quicker than my aching quads were willing to allow, and after hearing he was in around 53rd place, he wanted to see if he could get into the top 50.  You know I think he may well have managed it, since I passed a couple more people a mile or so later with about 2.5 miles left to go. 

The last few miles were a combination of muddy trail and then the last 2.5 mile on tarmac.  I ran the vast majority of it, but still walked up the steeper gradients.  I was feeling pretty tired, and was suffering some pretty horrible indigestion/acid, making me feel very uncomfortable.  I was happy enough to see the finish, and crossed the line in about 7hrs and 52 I think, about 4.1mpg.  I’d pulled back the average a little, but it still felt fairly slow.  I’d walked a lot more than I usually do in an ultra.  The hills of course were the killer, and it’s what I asked for after all!  I only consoled myself with the thought that I was about 50% of the way down the field, and there was another 50% still struggling.  I may not be as fit as I was before the groin surgery, but I should be happy with the finish, when I factor in the hills and the half Nepal race-weight rucksack.
The finish was nice, with everyone clapping others runners in.  The organisers were welcoming, and provided a souvenir mug and medal.  I hadn’t needed to use the supplied map all day, the route marking was so good.  The CP volunteers were all very encouraging, and the event went off without a hitch as far as I could tell, so well done to the organisers.  I couldn’t hang around for the prize giving, as I had a long drive home.  I think I finished around 50th, but the results aren’t up yet.  I’m not sure what the general consensus of the difficulty was or how many people dropped out, but I thought it was pretty tough. 

Next weeks event, is a 20 mile event in the same area.  The Talybont Trial has 1500M of ascent in 20 miles.  It should be a walk in the park by comparison, but given that navigation skills will be required and it’s highly likely the weather will be the total opposite, I fully expect it to be almost as tough.