Vote for me! (please)

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For the second year running (Ha!) I’ve been nominated to the shortlist for the RunUltra Blogger Awards.

I’m honoured to be nominated alongside some great writers/runners/adventurers/endurance athletes! 

I have been writing ‘26.2 & Beyond’  since 2012 and although the layout has changed and the frequency of my posts has fluctuated over the past two years, my commitment to the blog and to the process of writing, has remained. 

I love being able to write things that many of you seem to enjoy reading so thank you all for your continued readership and support! 

I would really appreciate it if you could take a couple of minutes to click the image above and vote for my blog. All you need to do is click my name, enter your own name and e-mail address and then click to submit. 

Peace & Blessings 

Lost: Yoga Mojo (reward for return: inner peace, outer strength)

I have been practicing yoga since December 2015 so it hasn’t even been a year! I took to it really quickly, and up until recently I enjoyed my regular practice often attending three classes a week and practicing at home. In June of 2016 I was enjoying learning about the spiritual, physical and historical aspects of yoga so much that I began a Hatha yoga teacher training course! I am still on that course and I am due to complete the theory side of it in April 2017, with the practical side being completed by the end of June 2017 if all goes to plan.

But it’s not all going to plan.

chakra

I feel like I’ve lost my yoga mojo and I can’t quite grasp what it is.

Maybe it’s the physical fatigue from a tough summer of ultra racing, maybe it’s the mental fatigue of planning a house move and moving into a new job? Whatever it is, I just don’t feel motivated to go into a class and when I do, I don’t feel as confident as I used to – it’s like a kind of anxiety and sometimes fear overcomes me and I either cannot relax sufficiently to smile and enjoy the flow of the class and energy or I stiffen up and even the simplest of asanas becomes painful or unduly uncomfortable.

I will be continuing to take some time away from organised yoga classes, and perhaps even from my home practice which has lapsed quite significantly over the past few months anyway. I doubt that I will get back into a two to three class per week routine as had been my habit prior to July, for quite some time. It seems that since early September I have been forcing myself to attend some classes and that adds to the anxiety, the fear and the pressure – yoga should be a peaceful practice that the mind and body lends itself to. Never, in my opinion, should it be just another workout or form of ‘exercise’ that needs to be done for a person to feel accomplished.

I think I will likely wait to see what is on offer when I move to a new area at the end of January. Maybe it is time for a change of teachers to reenergise the way I see, feel and experience yoga.

Having reflected on my recent experiences of yoga, unfortunately I currently feel a bit jaded by it all. It does seem overly commercial with each teacher pushing their ‘brand’ or ‘style’ and oftentimes it seems they don’t even realise it. It pains me to see various yogis on social media pushing quasi-spirituality in a bid to fill their classes whilst at the same time it pains me to see yet other yogis promoting their classes more like a pilates fitness workout, again in a bid to fill their classes and attract ‘customers’.

The connections I have built with my yoga teachers, when tested, do seem to be tenuous and fragile too – if I miss a few classes there is one teacher who immediately seems to forget my name but who seems to insist that we have a friendship beyond guided yoga classes. Another teacher does seem to be genuinely interested in everybody who attends their class but (maybe I’m being cynical) I can’t see how this is at all possible without becoming mentally, and at times emotionally, draining for that particular teacher, thus impacting on their own practice and indeed the quality of their life. In fact, of the three teachers I see regularly there is only really one who cuts through all of the commercialism and the desire to seem open, accessible and ‘genuine’ to those who they teach.

They show up to class and they are approachable, knowledgeable and happy to guide the class but they don’t seem to be pushing any spiritual, friendship or any other agenda beyond a decent 60 to 90 minutes session of yoga before it’s time for everybody to return to their daily business – at first I found that strange but now I find it refreshing and the classes they run seem to be the only classes that I consistently enjoy anymore! At the moment these are the only classes where my mind and my body relax. 

Unfortunately, this particular teacher isn’t around at the moment. Hopefully they will return before I move to another area in January as I would like to think I could at least attend one of their classes on a regular basis until that time!
I will continue to explore my feelings and thoughts around yoga theory and practice, and I am sure that in the near future I will return to actually practicing yoga on a regular basis. I truly hope that the near future I speak about is nearer in reality than it currently feels when I take my hour a day to reflect on it!

Om

Namaste, Peace & Blessings.

Tri-ing something new!

Back in August of 2013 I was planning to run my first marathon and hoping this would then lead into triathlon training.

This never came to pass. The marathon came and went, and that led me down a running path that I’ve been on ever since. I never did get around to buying a bike and I never did get around to entering any triathlons or open water swim races. I was severely bitten by the running bug and threw myself wholeheartedly into it, as this blog attests.

Well, with a lot of miles now registered in my legs and some decent short distance speed and long distance endurance, I feel the time has come for a newer challenge. Indeed, the time has come to become an all-rounder! It’s not that I’m bored of running; it’s just that I feel I need a break from pounding my legs and doing nothing else. I figure that triathlon, and a journey to long course racing, is just the ticket.

All being well this will lead to a faster road marathon, a stronger physique for ultra-trail running and in the process I will come to conquer one of my fears. Namely, riding a bike on the open road! In addition to these great plus points I feel that training for triathlon will extend my running life as I will be taking some of the stress from my running mechanics and redistributing it across swimming and cycling too.

I began thinking about triathlon and taking it into serious consideration the day after DNFing at TDS in August – that race shook my confidence. Going into it I felt that I had it in me to run past 50 miles and to do that confidently and with some level of success when measured against my own objectives. That night, when I returned to my apartment in the mountains, I realised that I wasn’t really ready to run over 50 miles and it made me question if I really wanted to. That night and the following day I thought about what I wanted from running, what I wanted from myself and my body and what it is that I enjoy about the endurance lifestyle.

What I wanted from running when I really thought about it was twofold – on the road I wanted to be fast, and on the trail I wanted to be free. I haven’t been able to combine speed and freedom on the trail yet but I’ll come back to it after my new adventure with triathlon, I’m sure. What I wanted from myself and from my body was to feel strong, to look good and to find a way to keep on pushing my boundaries without breaking myself. I honestly feel that if I carry on running ultras the way I run them and train for them, I’m going to break myself. Finally, I found that what I enjoy about the endurance lifestyle is the camaraderie of collective suffering, the joy of racing and the mental stability and quiet that only the daily training grind can bring to me. So, with that mapped out in my head I knew that I wasn’t going to just walk away from ultra running or endurance sports. I learned that, actually, in many ways I need endurance sport. So I started to plan. Because that’s what I do!

My plan, which I have been putting together since I was in Ibiza back in September, is to run an ultra-season from January through to July and then to switch my focus over the remaining months of 2017 to triathlon, duathlon and quite possibly open water swimming before taking on a 70.3 race at some point in September .

It has been brought to my attention on many occasions over the years that I am a pretty fast runner over short distances, up to and including the marathon, and that with some focused training I should be able to bring down my PRs from the mile up to the marathon. Although training for long course triathlon racing isn’t purely focused on running speed (it’s more about running economy) it does mean that the running training I will be doing will be more intense, the racing I will be doing will be over shorter distances and therefore my times should really improve.

It’s not just about the running though.

It’s the other two sports that have started to really intrigue me. It’s all new to me after all. It’s like when I first starting running and then started racing – I found joy in finding my limits and boundaries and then pushing them. This is exactly what I’m finding in the pool and in open water at the moment and it is also what I found when I did my first ever focused indoor bike workout last week! I was surprised to find that, in open water, I’m actually a faster swimmer than in the pool and then when I got on the bike I was surprised to find I could hold around 100rpm quite comfortably for 35 minutes and rode through the 10 mile mark in 24 minutes. I have no idea if that’s fast or not, but I do know that is a good mark to start from.

I have a confirmed ultra running season of Country to Capital 45 (January), TransGranCanaria 82k (February), North Downs Way 50 (May) and Lakeland 50 (July). The goal for this ultra running season is to finish the Lakeland 50 faster than I did this year and, consequently, higher up the field. I was very proud to finish under 11 hours this year and to take 82nd place but in 2017 I would like to finish in 10 hours or less and see where that puts me – all of the races prior to Lakeland are training and conditioning for it. It would be great to turn my focus to triathlon and leave ultra running (for a time) on a high!

I haven’t confirmed any triathlon or multisport races as yet but I would like to start doing that early in 2017, if not before. My plan for triathlon is to race a Standard distance Duathlon in May, a Sprint distance triathlon in June, a Standard distance triathlon the weekend prior to Lakeland 50 (with a very disciplined taper) and then, just for fun really, I’d like to take part in an Aquathlon in late August before taking on a Middle distance triathlon at some point around mid to late September. Depending on how that all goes, following the Middle distance triathlon I would like to try and get in a road marathon before the end of the year alongside the club Cross Country season. After that, it’ll be maintenance training through February 2018 before picking it up again in March or April with a focus on fully preparing for a Long Course triathlon at some point during the summer.

But, plans aside, preparation is underway. I have already incorporated swimming and cycling into my training regime – I hope this will prove to be a benefit when it comes to my ultra season because I am hoping to be running on fresher legs. The real triathlon focused training will begin, as I mentioned above, after Lakeland 50. From that point on I envision that my running hours/mileage will probably decrease whilst my time on the bike will likely increase as I seek to strengthen my weakest area at the expense of my strongest. As for the bike, well, I haven’t actually purchased one that is worthy of triathlon training and racing just yet – I’m going to do that in the early part of 2017 once I have moved house, settled into my new job and figured out what it is that I require.

When it comes to swimming I have started to focus more on my technique in the pool and, again in the new year, I will probably join a triathlon training group or take on a tri-specific swim coach so that I get the most out of it. I certainly won’t be rushing the transition from pure runner to multisport endurance athlete and not just because I still have my ultra season to complete first! No, it’s also because I am learning that to become a triathlete (and hopefully a competitive one at that) does not come cheap! There’s no point disrupting the mental stability and quiet I find through training and racing by pushing myself into financial hardship in the name of a new challenge.

So there it is. I am very excited to get this journey underway and I am really looking forward to learning new things about myself and about swimming, cycling and multisport racing! I hope that you, dear reader, will enjoy following the journey and reading about it here at ’26.2 & Beyond’.

I met Chrissie Wellington back in August 2013. It's taken 3 years for me to finally take the plunge into multi-sport racing!

I met Chrissie Wellington back in August 2013. It’s taken 3 years for me to finally take the plunge into multi-sport racing!

Peace & Blessings

Of lists and goals…

Some time ago I began to think about growing older and as such I began to read into the race reports, articles and blogs of other endurance and adventure aficionados in a different way. I found that a lot of people challenge themselves as they grow older and a good proportion seem to allude to a list of things they might like to do before a certain age.

In my opinion this differs greatly from the standard ‘Bucket List’. A bucket list is, by definition, merely a list. Maybe you can couch it in terms of a list of goals but they don’t tend to follow the principles of goal setting per se, obviously by their nature the things on a bucket list are specific but they tend to miss out on:

How will success be measured?

Can or has the goal been agreed upon by those involved in its development and undertaking?

Is it realistic for you at the time?

What is the timescale for achieving this goal?

What will follow is a list of things (adventures, races, achievements) I would like to achieve before reaching a certain age. I am adding things under each age grouping in the belief that I will be more likely to accomplish the goal during that time frame (due to having more experience and/or time available, i.e. it’s more realistic) and that the time frame is an appropriate one for me to undertake the event, adventure or goal (i.e. I’ll have enough time to train for, save up for and organise for the specific task).

With regard to the other two factors of successful goal setting – the measurement of success and the agreement of all who may be involved in or affected by the undertaking – these are the things that will need to be taken into consideration closer to the goal’s timeframe. For instance, if I want to achieve something before I’m 50 years old will I need to take into consideration family, mortagage payments or any other variables that tend to come into play at a later stage in life? Another thing to consider is my health and wellbeing – although I can write now that I would like to run a sub 3 hour road marathon before the age of 40 and that this is currently achievable given my health and fitness, I may decide to prioritise other goals to the detriment of this. It will be on the list, for sure, but it doesn’t mean I will reach that goal.

 

As Bryon Powell said of his Ultra Trail Gobi race in 2015:

 

“You don’t reach your goal at the end, the beauty and the rewards are along the way.

The goal is the journey.”

 

Here’s my lifetime list. It’s not just focused on racing but on seeing the world and finding out more about myself and others in the process.

 

Before I’m 35…

  • Complete the Bob Graham Round
  • ÖTILLÖ (swim/run)
  • Ice Ultra (snowshoe/run)
  • Lakeland 50
  • Lakeland 100
  • Podium at an ultra!
  • Race in America

Before I’m 40

  • Drive across the Simpson Desert
  • Crocodile Trophy (MTB)
  • Hike/Run the Zermatt trail
  • Trans Portugal (MTB)
  • TransRockies Run
  • Ultra Trail Gobi
  • Win a race!
  • Witness the Aurora Borealis
  • Witness the Aurora Australis

Before I’m 50

  • Visit every island of the Canaries
  • Live and work abroad
  • Hellespont & Dardanelles (swim)
  • Trans Rockies (MTB)
  • Hardrock 100
  • Ironman (swim/bike/run)
  • Tor des Géants (TDG)
  • Mount Rinjani Ultra

Before I’m 60

  • Swim in every ocean
  • Row an ocean
  • Arctic Circle Race (ski)
  • Comrades Marathon
  • La Petite Trotte à Léon (PTL)
  • Establish a successful and sustainable remote/rural health and wellbeing program that can be easily replicated across cultures and communities all over the world

Before I’m 70

  • Summit a mountain on every continent
  • Tokyo Marathon

After I’m 70…

  • Enjoy life as much as possible
  • Continue to travel
  • Continue to be involved in endurance and adventure sports as much as possible
  • Inspire my children and grandchildren to aspire to something greater than they think is possible

I will make additions to these lists and tick off achievements over time. To view the evolving lists click here.

An unexpected marathon.

I did something on Saturday that I’ve never done before. I went on my usual long run but that run turned out to be marathon distance! I think, prior to that the longest I’ve done for a training run is 35km – they usually range between 23km and 32km.

I’m not entirely sure what spurred me on to run so far but I am absolutely sure that there is no turning back! I loved the feeling I got after passing 35km, I loved being out for almost 4 hours and I loved the feeling I got at the end of the run having achieved a negative split marathon; I went through 21km in 2:03:55 and through 42km in 3:50:27. I think all of this is even more amazing because I had absolutely zero motivation to run at all before I set foot out the door and into the rain!

I went out with a waistpack containing 2 mini Chia Seed flapjacks, a pack of Shot Bloks, my phone and my waterproof jacket – I finished the run soaked through and smiling with the jacket still packed, 1 Chia seed flapjack eaten and 4 Shot Bloks lighter! I also took my 600ml handheld with plain old water – this was empty by 40km so I did find myself feeling pretty thirsty and dehydrated by the time I finished. It was so good to be out on the trail with the minimum of stuff. The phone came along as my intention was to go searching for new trails which I knew were not too far away – the phone would provide me with the opportunity to slow myself down, take some photos and could also help me if I got lost and/or needed to, for whatever unlikely reason, call a cab to take me back to my car!

The simple things are sometimes the best things!

The simple things are sometimes the best things!

When I finally got onto the trail I decided to continue my explorations of the Hertfordshire Way Long Distance Path system. I am still confused about sections of the HWLDP – it seems to disappear and then reappear randomly a few miles down the trail, or it drops you out onto a road or lane with no sign as to where to turn next. Sometimes you’ll pop through a gap in a hedge, or over a stile and two or three trails lead off in different directions – sometimes you end up following the HWLDP, other times, well, you don’t. Considering it’s supposed to circumnavigate my county, which is one of the smallest in the UK, it shouldn’t be too difficult to follow so my initial explorations over the past couple of months have proved to be quite frustrating. It is one of my goals to run the whole trail – be that in one push or over a couple of days!

5km into my run I crossed a road and plunged onto a trail that I’ve never been on before, and 5km after that I was thoroughly enjoying myself (even though I was bushwhacking through a very underused trail) and the first thoughts of potentially running a ‘longer than ever before’ training run were formulating in my head. I figured I was going slow enough that I could probably crank out a 2 hour 20km and potentially push on for a sub 4:00 marathon and, with that, the idea went from a notion to a reality! I ambled along taking photographs until I turned around at about 17km and then started to gradually pick up my pace, forget about my camera and focus on footfall, fuel and smiling whilst pushing on through the rain.

I’m excited to have found another trail system leading off from another that I only recently discovered in the past few months, and I can’t wait to keep on exploring.  However, I know that with this new found love for 42km+/4:00+ training runs, I am going to need to take it easy and not overdo it. It’s a new realm for me in terms of my own ultra-distance training but not something I’ll be doing every weekend – maybe 42km+/4:00+ two or three times in a ten to twelve week training block. There is no point getting injured and then not being able to race or run any distance for a time! I’ve always said I’m not a big volume kind of runner but maybe, just maybe, that will change over time. At the end of the day running has always encouraged me to expand my horizons, to try new things and to evolve my training and racing! That is part of the joy of running for me; the evolution of self, the personal growth and the seemingly endless possibilities when it comes to training structure and race distances.

Peace & Blessings

TDS, August 24th 2016

I am going to start this post with the fact that I did not finish TDS. What follows is a report of my view of the race up to the 50.7km checkpoint at Bourg Saint Maurice – to cut the story short my first 15.2km were atrocious for reasons I will make clear below, from there to 35.9km I was starting to feel quite good and moving pretty well. Then, from about 42km until I dropped my morale took a nose dive and my head and heart just were not in the race – again, I’ll try to make my reasons for this clear.

La Grattague (22nd & 23rd August)

I had arrived in the Alps on Monday afternoon, 22nd August, feeling pretty tired but very happy. I was staying about 40 minutes outside Chamonix at a place called La Grattague at 1400m. On my first evening I went out for a hike and run just before sunset and all was well – the scenery was beautiful, I was out for about 50 minutes, covering 8km (+370m) and just relaxing, taking photographs. I spent the evening preparing my race vest and drop bags for Wednesday’s race.

Before leaving La Grattague for Chamonix on Tuesday 23rd August I went out for a pre-lunch hike and run. I was out for 65 minutes, again just relaxing and taking photographs and enjoying being out in the peaceful mountains on my own! I covered 11km (+540m) and felt well-adjusted to the heat (30º+c) and the elevation (ranging from 1400m to 1700m).

Chamonix (23rd August, the night before)

Preparing to leave for Chamonix caused me quite a bit of anxiety which I really wasn’t expecting as I knew I would have to be travel down to Chamonix! The anxiety came from not being sure what to expect; I kind of knew it would be busy and I was really worried about finding an appropriate parking space and a place for dinner. In addition to this, having only passed my driving test in December, this was only my second day of driving abroad.

I had arranged to stay with a friend who was also racing TDS, at a chalet with his parents who would drive us to Courmayer at about 0430hrs the next day. Again, this caused me some anxiety as I struggle at the best of times being around unfamiliar faces in unfamiliar places but it sounded better than being cooped up in a hotel, on my own in Courmayer – this would have involved a lot more pre-race stress in terms of logistics!

I arrived in Chamonix around 1530hrs and had no trouble parking which was great! I also had zero trouble registering for the race and getting through kit check – there were no queues or crowds at the expo when I arrived there around 1615hrs. I started to feel more relaxed, less anxious and certainly ready for a beer and a snack with some friends. So that’s what I did. I headed over to Micro Brasserie de Chamonix (MBC), which was a stone’s throw from the chalet, and met up with a couple of people to talk race strategy, eat fries and drink beer (and water) for an hour.

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Day 2, August 23rd – registration and kit check.

Anxiety began to rise again when I actually arrived at the chalet and figured I’d need to go over my drop bag once again. My friend also had to sort out his drop bags and crew bags because he had the good fortune to have support out on the course! It really seemed like a monumental task and all I wanted to do was nap, eat and then sleep or at least sit in quiet contemplation before drifting off. Unfortunately that was not to be and we had to walk across town to the Big Horn restaurant. It was getting late and once more my anxiety began to rise as I realised I wouldn’t be eating (or sleeping) for quite some time, that allied with the fact I was about to enter a restaurant to meet yet more new people was not doing me wonders. To cut this long story short, dinner arrived at 2045hrs and we were on the move back to the chalet at 2130hrs.

We set our alarms for 0330hrs and while my friend prepared his crew/drop bags I spoke to my girlfriend for a while on the phone and looked at the surrounding mountains and the stars. We turned out the lights at 2245hrs…and neither of us slept at all properly. I think we both managed a grand total of around an hour, maybe 90 minutes, of broken sleep before the alarms went off. I showered, ate some fruit and drank some coffee and waited for the inevitable pre-race movement…

At 0415hrs, 15 minutes before we were due to leave for Courmayer, I was still waiting for my usual movement. It wasn’t happening and I wasn’t feeling too great about it. I figured by the time the drive was over and we arrived in Courmayer it would be time. We arrived. I went to the nearest coffee place and went straight to their toilets. And I waited. And waited some more. And still it didn’t happen. By the time I gave up it was 0520hrs and we decided we should head for the starting area. I did not feel happy, physically I felt bloated and a little sick. Mentally I felt tired and worried. Not the best start to the biggest race of my life.

Courmayer to Lac Combal (0-15.2km, +1329m)

We got into the starting pen, towards the front as per the plan – my friend was aiming for sub-22 hours and I was aiming for 24 or 25 hours. The atmosphere was tense and there was a minor verbal altercation between my friend and another runner as it was, to say the least, pretty cramped conditions.

The plan.

The plan.

I did my best to block out everything and everyone around me. I gave my friend a thumbs up, a smile and a nod and that was the last we saw of each other until Saturday evening!

I managed to apply sun lotion and Vaseline whilst being jostled around, pushed and shoved and still I felt pretty unwell. The close proximity of a couple thousand runners was also doing my anxiety absolutely no good, I felt slightly worried and wondered if this was going to be my day. I figured I would just go out, as per my plan, pretty hard out of Courmayer on the road and then settle into a fast hike and jog on the first climb up to the aid station at 6.5km.

At 0559 the countdown began and the tension in the air seemed to rise with every second that passed. I can’t remember if a hooter sounded, a gun went off or some other signal occurred but all of a sudden we were moving forwards. First at a shuffle, then at a jog, then back to a shuffle, then up to a jog, then a short standstill and then, finally a rhythm seemed to settle and we jogged through Courmayer town centre heading for the trails above. The only problem, for me anyway, was that jogging was making me feel uncomfortable and I started to feel quite sick. I knew that I would need to go to the toilet at the first aid station or I would only get worse.

I did my best to ignore the feeling of sickness and the bloated feeling in my stomach and to keep pace with those around me. I thought that I would settle into a strong climbing pace once we hit the trails but this was not to be as it was pretty tightly packed with runners all the way to the aid station at Maison Vieille-Col Checrouit. I stopped once during the first climb to see if having a pee might release some pressure but this actually just made me feel worse and, to add insult, it also meant I dropped back down the conga line by around 200 places or so – just from a two minute stop!

I arrived at Maison Vieille-Col Checrouit (+801m) with a cold sweat on my brow and, if I could have seen myself in a mirror, probably with a pallid tinge. I headed straight into the hut, straight to the toilet and found to my surprise that first of all they were of the south-east Asian squat style and, secondly, that I still couldn’t go. At this point I really did consider dropping. I couldn’t believe it – 6.5km into 119km and was I really thinking about throwing in the towel and heading back the way I’d come? Well, yes. Pardon my Italian here but: fanculo quella! I took a sip of some Tailwind and felt immediately nauseous so I decided to switch to water instead, again, nausea. Again, fanculo quella.

I emerged from the hut to find a huge conga line of runners in front of me heading out of the aid station and up the climb to Arête du Mont-Favre, 4.7km away. I was dumbstruck by the sight and realised that I had lost yet more hundreds of places whilst I tried to deal with my stomach issues! We literally stood stock still for minutes at a time, shuffling forward occasionally and being bumped and jostled by less patient people scrambling up either side of the line. To be honest, if I hadn’t have felt so rough I would have been one of those impatient runners. In my mind I figured that this may well turn out to be how the day would pan out but pushed that thought aside and kept on moving up as best I could.

I found myself getting quite annoyed with the delay – some of it was caused by congestion on the narrow trail, yes, but quite a bit was caused by people seemingly standing around chatting and taking photographs. I was around position 1277 at the point and by the time we arrived at Arête du Mont-Favre I was around position 1555. To say the least my race was going pretty badly. Even if I could have been able to run at this point I would have found it difficult as the trail was so narrow and those around me seemed to be quite happy strolling along and so, maybe unreasonably, I felt my mood begin to sour toward those people. My mood soured further when a helicopter came along and destroyed the peace and quiet for almost 30 minutes. My mind was really not in it at this point and, as I tried to run the descent into Lac Combal aid station from Arête du Mont-Favre I began to feel even more sick and tired too – I hadn’t eaten since 0400hrs and I hadn’t managed to drink more than a few sips of water since 0600hrs.

I stepped aside on the descent into Lac Combal and began to make my way slowly down, hoping that the brick in my stomach would dislodge itself sooner rather than later. As I was walking towards the aid station I took my phone from my pack and called my girlfriend – I don’t think she was expecting a tearful and ill boyfriend on the other end of the phone so early into the race. She told me that what would be would be and I should just go find a toilet and wait there for as long as necessary! I did just that. I arrived at the aid station around 0925hrs, went straight to the toilet and ten minutes later emerged feeling relieved and very hungry. I spent 4 minutes grabbing what food I could and then headed out feeling quite determined to get my race back on track.

By the time I left Lac Combal, six minutes before the cut-off, I had dropped into position 1783 over the course of 4, mostly downhill, kilometres.

Lac Combal to Col Du Petit St-Bernard (15.2km-35.9km, +2602m)

I marched out of Lac Combal aid station like a man possessed, cramming food into my mouth and taking huge draws of water from my bottles as it had been so long since I had been able. Immediately I started to climb up and catch people. I looked back after a while and could see the aid station behind closing down with a few dejected runners who had been timed out – I couldn’t believe I was so close to the cut-off and so close to the back of the race. I began to run.

TDS1

TDS, August 24th – on the move to Col du Petit St. Bernard

My run didn’t last too long as I caught up with what appeared to be everybody else on the next significant climb. Out of Lac Combal to the timing point at Col Chavannes (the highest point on the course, 2603m) I had managed to pass a measly 25 people on a section that I had been looking forward to for weeks prior – I knew it to be pretty steep in places and fancied my chances of gapping people had my race plan been going to plan at this point. As it wasn’t going to plan I once again found myself in a slow moving conga line and taking risky opportunities once in a while to step out of line and hammer upwards for a few metres at a time. Still, I could feel myself getting stronger and I was really happy when I reached the Col feeling absolutely fine and really energised – there was something about emerging from a shadowy, gravelly mountain path onto an open, windswept Col that caught my attention!

From here on to Col du Petit St-Bernard the route was largely downhill with a few climbs thrown in for good measure. I chose to pace myself conservatively, as I would have done had I been higher up the field, and ran for about 6 minutes at a time before fast hiking for 3 to 4 minutes. I cannot deny the fact that I was absolutely loving it on this section. From Lac Combal to Col due Petit St-Bernard it is 20.7km with a climb of 1273m and a descent of 1055m – perfect mountain running territory and something I relished. During my fast hike sections I took sips of Tailwind, ate a banana and ate about 4 Chia Charge flapjacks, during the running sections I kept a steely eyed focus ahead and ran as quickly and confidently as I could past other runners. I was moving up the field and I knew it, I was enjoying myself, and I knew it.

Just before reaching Lago De Verney the terrain started to head upwards and once more the queues began to appear but more sparse than before but no less slow moving. This took the shine of the previous few kilometres as I had to slow down and get my head out of racing mode for a short while – I took the opportunity here to dip into some streams, cool myself down and eat/drink more. I didn’t know it at this point but we were about to reach the border with France and I was about to accomplish something I had wanted to do for a long time; namely crossing from one country to another entirely on foot!

We reached Lago De Verney and the terrain here became runnable for quite some time, so I ran and enjoyed the view. Occasionally I slowed it down to eat and drink but mostly, I ran. I could see that at the other end of the lake awaited a steep, rooty climb and that shortly after the top of that climb the Col du Petit St-Bernard would be ready and waiting for me with open arms! This climb, it turns out, was really the last significant one of my race. It was quicker than any of the others and there was a lot of support on the slopes and at the summit which made it quite exciting and energetic!

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TDS, August 24th – climbing away from Lago du Verney and into France

However, as we got over the climb and onto the section into the aid station I began to feel a little nauseous again and as though I need the toilet – was the opposite of my earlier problem about to happen. In short, yes. I arrived at the aid station and immediately visited the toilet for about 10 minutes which is about 5 minutes longer than I had intended to stop at all. Damn. Damn you to hell stomach. And damn you to hell you slow, slow race!

I emerged feeling better and I was glad that whatever had happened had passed quickly and with little negative effect. Granted, I probably lost a fair few places but I couldn’t breeze out of the aid station and back onto the trails without first filling my bottles and eating as much as I could manage in 5 short minutes. I left Col du Petit St-Bernard having gained 190 places and sitting in position 1568. I left feeling in fairly good spirits and I left knowing the next section would be largely downhill. I figured I could maybe gain another 190 or more spots.

Col Du Petit St-Bernard to Bourg Saint-Maurice (35.9km-50.7km, +2649m)

From the Col down to Bourg is 14.8km with a total descent of 1419m. There is so little climb that it’s not even worth mentioning.

The first 6km out of Col du Petit St-Bernard I felt absolutely wonderful. I was running along a gentle downhill on some good trail surface under the hot sun and catching, matching and passing a lot of other runners. In my mind I figured my race was at a turning point and that I was about to start moving at the pace I had wanted to since starting out in Courmayer. However, as the terrain became steeper I decided to slow it down a little lest I blow my quads before the halfway point. Unfortunately for me those who were behind me had no such thoughts in their head and I was overtaken over the course of the next 6km or so by a lot of people. It wasn’t a great feeling at all but I was determined to stick to my plan of conserving my quads. But, by the time I was about 3km out from the Bourg Saint-Maurice aid station my mind had turned against my plan, against my fellow runners and against the folly of the race itself – all I could think about was the fact I was heading into the biggest climb of the race out of Bourg and I would be once more stuck behind a lot of slower people on steep, exposed terrain. The climb for those nearer the top 900 to 1000 or so should take between 5 or 6 hours, I calculated that for my position in the race that was more likely to be 6 or maybe even 7 hours.

With 3km to go before Bourg Saint-Maurice I had made my mind up. I would drop. Pardon my French, but, fuck it. On the descent I knew I would yet again be pushing the cut-off at Bourg Saint-Maurice as the aid station would close and time out at 1700hrs. I knew if I had said to hell with my quads a little more I would have made it into Bourg well before that, but, because of my mental state and a niggling fear that my stomach might go bad on the climb I decided against hammering into Bourg. I walked it in from 3km out and arrived at 1636hrs. I did my best on the way in to talk myself around and when I arrived it was with a grim mindset – I went to the food tables, ate some bread and soup, drank some Coke and then, well, then I’m not sure. I looked at the profile for the next section of the race, I looked around at the other runners in the aid station who were suffering pretty badly and then I looked inside myself and decided to sit down and mull it over. Yes, I sat down. With 20 minutes before the cut-off I sat down and began to think about whether or not I had mostly enjoyed myself or whether or not I had mostly hated being out on the course surrounded by people who had basically not said a word to me for 10 hours and 30 minutes.

As I continued to mull over my options and to take on water and more soup I quickly scanned my vitals: my heart rate was low and felt good, my stomach hurt a little but not enough to withdraw from the race or the next climb, my legs felt fantastic, my breathing wasn’t at all laboured and to all intents and purposes I looked on the outside like I was only just getting started. But, mentally, I had nothing. I felt lonely and isolated; I had tried striking up conversations with Americans, Canadians and some British people through the day and got little more than a few words from them. I tried striking up conversations in broken French, Italian and Spanish during the conga queues but got little more than silence. I wasn’t enjoying myself and it didn’t look like many of the people around me were either.

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TDS, August 24th – corner snipped from race number having just dropped.

I walked over to the ‘Abandon’ tent, took off my number and asked what time the bus back to Courmayer/Chamonix would be and where I might get it from. The woman who took my number looked at me puzzled and said that I had another six minutes before the cut-off and before I would be timed out – “Are you sure? You look great.” – “Yeah, I’m sure. I’m not having any fun at all. It’s too crowded. When’s the bus please?” – “Okay, if you’re sure. The bus leaves at 1730 from the station. You’ll be back in Chamonix by 2015. You’re sure?” – “Yeah. It’s all good. I’m done, thanks.”

With that, I was done. I made my way out of the aid station and to a local store. I bought a can of coke, a can of beer and some salted crisps and then ambled over to the bus station. I felt light. I felt like I’d made the right decision and I was glad to be away from the madding crowd.

La Grattague (25th August, the day after)

I didn’t arrive back to my apartment in La Grattague until 2315 on August 24th. I was still covered in dirt from the race but I was feeling serene and not at all down about abandoning the TDS before the halfway point. I cracked open a beer, ate some pasta, had a shower and then enjoyed another beer on my balcony in the peaceful mountain darkness. Before going to bed I had already made up my mind that I would head out every day for the rest of my trip and in so doing log my biggest ever training week in terms of mileage and vertical gain and descent! I felt tired and slept very well.

I woke up energised and excited on August 25th. I quickly checked LiveTrail to see how my friends were getting on in the race – the friend I started with finished in 20:58:15 and my other friend finished in 28:02:46. I felt happy for them both and dropped them both congratulatory messages before I headed out for my run and hike.

I set off at 1305hrs and stayed out for 3:20:29, covering 21.5km and +1091m. My initial goal was to summit Mont Joly, but instead I made do with Mont Joux – the main summit was a little too ambitious as it was very hot out and with 51km and +2600/-3000m from TDS in my legs and in my head, probably not advisable!

I hiked hard on most of the inclines pausing at streams to soak my forearms/arm sleeves and hat and in shaded sections I ate and drank plenty. My main goal for the day was to run all of the downhills and to run them mostly hard – mission accomplished! Secondary to that I wanted at least 1000m vertical gain to add to the 2600m from yesterday – mission accomplished. Finally, I wanted to have fun, lots of it – mission definitely accomplished.

I enjoyed being out, exploring new trails and putting to bed my mental demons from TDS. It was great to just take the time for photographs too; I even sat down a few times just to enjoy the views – especially from the summit of Mont Joux.

Over the following days I ran/hiked:

Friday 26th: 16.6km (+934m) [Solo, La Grattague]

Saturday 27th: 10.7km (+166m) [with my friend who finished TDS in 28 hours, Chamonix]

Sunday 28th: 12.3km (+684m) [Solo, La Grattague]

I left La Grattague on Sunday 28th August and my week of running turned out to look like this:

UTMB Week 2016

UTMB Week 2016: 134.5km, 6460m, 17h45m

Now, it’s on to the rest of my year and looking ahead to next summer’s racing schedule. I will return to the Alps but I’m not sure I’ll be returning to run one of the UTMB races – from what I experienced at TDS and from what I’ve heard from friends who ran UTMB, OCC and CCC, they are too crowded for my liking!

Two down, TDS to go…

It has been a tumultuous ten days and my ‘Three Bucket List Races in Three Months’ project has been hanging by a fine thread…

Three Bucket List Races, Three Months. Summer 2016.

Three Bucket List Races, Three Months. Summer 2016.

Last Thursday I went to work with a bit of a sore throat but it seemed to disappear until it reappeared with a vengeance after a very long meeting on Friday afternoon. I went from feeling stronger and fitter than I ever had to feeling under the weather and then just like a bag of crap.

I didn’t run, hike or move a muscle from Friday evening which meant cancelling my only full kit night run which I’d planned for Saturday. This being the case, by Sunday afternoon I felt the need, regardless of illness, to push on through and get in my final long run before TDS. At this point I still thought I was in with a good chance of feeling in the right shape to take on the race – I didn’t feel too bad. Almost four hours later I knew I’d made a mistake and added at least a couple of days to my recovery time as well as undoing the recovery from the previous 24 hours or so. I’d lost my voice on the run, I felt lethargic towards the end and my temperature was on the rise shortly afterwards! Oh dear, there goes my final week of taper training.

The final countdown...

The final countdown…

I went to work Monday feeling absolutely awful and left at lunch time. I honestly felt at this point like I was 99.9% going to DNS at TDS and this did nothing to help me fight what turned out to be a viral chest and throat infection! 99.9% DNS certainty lasted until Thursday morning when I started to rally and feel like I had, by the end of the day, a 70% chance of at least starting the race. By Friday afternoon I felt like there was an 80% chance of racing and I decided to head out for a walk in the woods, via the pub for a Guinness [‘It’s Good for You’] with my girlfriend.

The walking/Guinness strategy worked because on Saturday I woke up feeling 80% healthy instead of 25/30% healthy like I had for the previous week. Therefore Saturday was spent doing last minute list making and shopping for gear to go in my drop bag and race vest! It was tiring, but not draining and I spent the evening relaxing, foam rolling and poring over race maps before having a hot bath and an early night. By the time I hit the hay I felt 87% healthy.

Cormet de Roselend, 66km - Drop Bag

Today, I’m ready. I still don’t feel 100% health wise but I’m 99.9% lining up to start TDS on Wednesday! I have spent the morning packing for a week in and around Chamonix and finalising my drop bag list and race plan.

24 Hours - Plan A 24hr 45min - Plan B Sub 30hr - Plan C Just Finish! - Plan D

24 Hours – Plan A
24hr 45min – Plan B
Sub 30hr – Plan C
Just Finish! – Plan D

This afternoon I’m taking it easy, eating a lot and drinking as much water as I can handle. Early in the evening I’m planning to go out for a short 5 or 6km run – my first in a week – before settling down to a relaxing evening.

Three Bucket List Races, Three Months – that was the plan. Two down, TDS to go…

Chamonix, I’ll see you tomorrow morning!