Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Embracing the inevitable

You’re as old as you feel.  Life begins at 40.  Age knows no bounds.  Useful statements in the right context.  Running is different.  A realisation at the Sherman Cup cross country on Saturday that I am now thinking more about age category performance against the youth and speed of today’s competitors rather than overall position.  Even at a recent park run I looked at the age grading percentage first!

I was eyeing up the competition before the start on Saturday to see where I would expect to finish in the v40 category, all being well.  I knew a lad from Sunderland was in particularly good form and expected to be roughly around the same time.  I finished less than 30 seconds behind him in 2nd (24th overall).  I was really pleased with that and took it as a benchmark to build on. A great result for Morpeth male and female teams too.

I think I’m in decent shape at the moment having put in a period of consistent training with Morpeth and doing the odd race or Park Run.  But the focus has definitely shifted.  There is a point where you wake up and realise you’re not as competitive overall in big races and you adjust your outlook.  In other words, face reality!  On the flip side it can be used to my advantage.  If I beat younger athletes they’ll be annoyed and if younger athletes beat me then I could turn around and say “well, you should! You’re younger!”

There is also the issue of recovery.  It takes much longer these days after sessions and races.  I wouldn’t dream of doing back to back races.  Train smart and race smart and look after yourself.


I’m looking forward to the Gibside Fruitbowl this coming weekend, one of my favourite races.  

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Sur les Traces des Ducs de Savoie (TDS). Defeated but not beaten

I arrived in Chamonix on Sunday evening 27th August.  The weather was good.  Dry and warm.  There was an amazing view from my hotel room looking towards Mont Blanc and Aguile du Midi.  It was good to be back and memories from 2015 came flooding back.  I was disappointed to miss Mark Clarkson's Bob Graham the same weekend but he smashed it!
Registration

This time the plan was slightly different.  The TDS.  A 120k route from Courmayeur to Chamonix with 20,000+ ft of elevation gain on rough, remote terrain.  The race was on the Wednesday so I had time to soak up the atmosphere before then.

On the Monday I went on a training run up Le Brevent which was easily accessible from behind the hotel.  A lovely forest trail zig zagging all the way up to the Col.  There was some low cloud and drizzle on the way up which was refreshing.  There were quite a few folk out, some running, some walking and some throwing themselves off the top attached to paragliders. Crazy.  On the way down I said hello to Rory Bosio (as you do)  who was doing the OCC and had a nice chat with a female American who was going to be doing the UTMB.

Training run done, I spent the rest of the day lounging around eating ice cream and getting a sun tan.  Tuesday was registration day.  I got there an hour early.  Quite a few people had the same idea so I joined the queue.  Luckily registration opened early so I was in and out within an hour.  The mid-day heat was fierce.  I met Helene in the queue.  It was lovely to meet her, she is from Paris and we said we’d look out for each other’s results.  Helene was amazing and finished well within her predicted time.  Congratulations!!

Wednesday was race day.  Up at 3am to catch the bus from Chamonix through the Mont Blanc tunnel to Courmayeur.  I managed to have some cold porride, two bananas and a breakfast bar.  I also made sure I was well hydrated.  There were warnings of rain late in the day but the temperature was high and the sun was going to be out.  I reached the start line having dropped off my spare bag for the halfway point.  Time to chill for 45 minutes. 
Sunrise on the first climb

The entertainment began with around 10 minutes to go to get everyone motivated.  It was dark but headtorch was not required as the sun would be rising in the next hour.  The start was crazy.  Everyone sprinting down the small streets jostling for position in preparation for the first climb. This was unnecessary for the TDS as there was plenty room on the trail and we were soon nicely spread out.  I reached Col Checrouit, had some liquid and a few slices of salami. Yum. The next checkpoint was Lac Combal.  I was feeling fine although the temperature was rising and I was trying to drink loads.  I was also conscious of salt intake.  I necked a bowl of noodle soup and headed for Col Chavannes.  A tough climb which took over an hour.
En route to Col Chavannes

Once I reached the top there was a long descent to Alpetta. It was hot and I needed to urinate.  The descent seemed to go on forever, a steady gradient and runnable but I took my time.  A few runners passed me, but I wasn't taking much notice of that.

We hit the Col du Petit Saint-Bernard and I was starting to feel it. Hot, tired, thirsty. My hips were stiffening up and my glutes were worn out.  I refuelled and set off on another long descent to Seez, a small checkpoint before the big one at half way.  There was water on tap and I dunked my head into the trough.  Really refreshing.  It was another 3k to Bourg Saint Maurice. I was walk/running at this point.  Even on the flat and downhill.  I couldn't sustain any momentum.  I took a good 15 minutes at Bourg.  A couple of bowls of noodle soup, some bread and some melon.  My kit was checked as I exited for the essentials, headtorches and waterproof.  Rain was on the way according to the forecast.

I knew what was in store next but you can't visualise or even comprehend how relentless the 6,000ft climb out of Bourg up to Passeur Pralognan via Fort de la Platte and Col de la Forclaz.  Hands on knees for the majority.  Yes, you can say it's 3 times the height of the Cheviot.  But firstly, the Cheviot is over 3 miles from bottom to top.  This climb was 6,000ft over 6/7k.  The gradient, the heat, others dropping like flies at the side of the path it was an experience.  I was hiking for 5 minutes then resting.  This wasn't what trail running means to me.  It took around 3 hours to reach the top then the nervous descent on the other side using fixed ropes to traverse down.  I ain't great with heights and this was a test.  
Another hour to go on the bitch of a climb

I was certainly feeling defeated on the path down to Courmet de Rosalend where I ultimately withdrew from the race.  My first voluntary DNF.  I was in around 180th place at this point which is pretty respectable but I couldn't face walking another 30 miles just to finish.  It was a clear decision and I have no regrets.  I have fond memories of the CCC.  That was a runners course.  This was not.

I thought a lot on the bus ride back to Chamonix.  Two and a half hours.  I still think it was the right choice.

I had a great time in Cham, and met some lovely people. An experience.  If I see another hiking pole it will be too soon.  Ban the lot of them.  Yes, they give you an advantage but I still say it's cheating.  





Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Ultra time

The TDS is only two weeks away. I’ve had a good summer with some great results and some fantastic close, “real” racing.  I love running fast and my hunger has been re-ignited to get faster. 

I’ve certainly learned that I am good at the short, quick races and I feel that I could really kick on if I focussed on this more. I never thought I’d say it but I want to put myself on the line more frequently with the best in my age group and face my fears and anxieties.  It’s completely different to long distance running where you spend most of the time on your own with your own thoughts.  It’s nice and relaxed but for me it’s more of an adventure and a day out. I think I need the excitement of a close race.  I’ve been working a lot on mindfulness recently which is giving me confidence.  I’ve not entered races in the past because of putting too much pressure on myself.

I didn’t anticipate regaining the Chevy Cup this year, especially with the expectation on others to win.  This was good for me as the pressure was on my rivals.  It was good racing for the first half with young Will Robson and then kicking on from Hedgehope using my experience of the race and the miles I’ve put in.

This year has been strange having not been to Morpeth harriers very much and ultimately leaving the club.  I do miss the group but I needed a change for many reasons.  I’ve been floating about doing my own thing and dropping into training sessions at North Shields Poly.  After the TDS I’ll be committing to a club and setting a few targets.  One of which will be aiming for another England vest in 2018.

So, I am off to Chamonix in a couple of weeks.  My last visit in 2015 was an amazing experience and I’m looking forward to a different course, although the TDSS is longer with more ascent.  It will be tough.  Having enjoyed the short stuff this summer, I do realise that I have neglected the long days out but I hope I am fit enough and strong enough to finish the race.  That is the main goal.  I do not intend to “race” it.  The wheels could come off and I could end up injured.


We’ll see how it goes…

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Low cloud at High Cup Nick. 9.3m, 1500'

It was a gloomy, muggy, clarty, slippy and wet day at Dufton yesterday for my first High Cup Nick fell race.  A far cry from the previous weekend up at Wooler for Glen McWilliams' splendid Border trail race where the weather was amazing.  It is, of course, usually grim weather for Glen's races so I'm not sure how he managed that!

I've heard some great reviews of the High Cup Nick race saying it is quick with stunning views.  Unfortunately with the low cloud I wouldn't be able to appreciate that but looked forward to the route.  There were four NFR's and a strong contingent from North Shields Poly with this race being in their championship series.

The start was ridiculously fast, hindered more-so by my mid-pack positioning, but I made my way through.  The first few miles were easy going but then there was a long boggy, tussocky section which I found heavy going.  Then we were climbing High Cup Nick.  The rocks were very slippery and my x-talons were useless!  Once on top the visibility was poor and I was on my own but luckily I could spot the race markers and followed the route down.  The descent all the way to the finish was long a quick.  I had North Shields Poly's Will Robson in my sights but he wasn't to be caught.

Will R finished in a great 16th place.  I came home in 19th (70 mins).   Fellow NFR and car passenger Chris Winter finished in 84th (81mins), Colin Archer from Morpeth Harriers was 54th in (77 mins).  Also in attendance was Jason Taylor making his race comeback plus one other NFR.  Results are not out yet so I do not know where they finished. 

Tom Addison won the race in 61 minutes with the ladies winner Victoria Wilkinson in 11th overall coming in just under 67 minutes.

The soup and roll at the end was tremendous, accompanied by some homemade flapjack.

A grand day out and one to do again.  Hopefully next time I'll get to appreciate the views myself.

JB

Monday, 28 November 2016

To be continued....... I will make time!

Days turn into weeks and weeks turn into months all too quickly these days. Where have the past eleven months gone?!  Routine is all well and good but when it distracts you from the important things in life and you see time pass by you realise what is precious and what you should make time for. We all have priorities and it is healthy to be reminded of these now and again.

My last post was dedicated to the Chevy Chase back in July after finally bringing home the trophy.  It is sitting on the living room book case still waiting to be engraved.  I can tell it is annoying the Mrs being there but tough, I have it to enjoy the memories of such a great day.

There have been some changes in my work life this year with a secondment which went really well.  Initially, it was out of my comfort zone but I gained new experiences and met some lovely people who I will meet up with.  Needless to say I'm back at my substantive role full time.  This has given me an insight into what is out there and given me confidence to explore new opportunities.

I've been running a lot more with Jasper, my spaniel.  He loves being out in the hills as much as me and there's nothing quite like running with your dog.  

I've been racing quite regularly since the Chevy with a couple of road 10k's, trail races (including one of my favourites in the Gibside fruit bowl), the Hodgson fell relays and also representing England at the British and Irish Masters cross country championships in Glasgow.  That was a fantastic experience and I thoroughly enjoyed the weekend.  I even kept the vest!
Top bunch

This year has been as varied as it could have been.  Next year I'm thinking of more fell races in the Lakes, Scotland and the Peak district, one or two trail ultra's and I'm very tempted to do something abroad again.  I do believe variety is key to keep things fresh, I must have lost my mojo several times over the past few months.  I went out on a 17 mile run around the Simonside Hills yesterday but didn't see it.

It's never a good idea to plan too far ahead but I have a few ideas bubbling away.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Chevy Chase 2016

It's now just over two weeks since the 60th Chevy chase fell race. Legs are just about back to normal and the result has just about sunk in.

This was my 5th Chevy, although it should have been the 6th having had to miss last year due to my bad back and the lack of training leading up to it.  This year I was determined to give it a good go. From past experience of this race I have tried several strategies.  In 2013 I started steady and finished strong in 3rd place. In 2014 I started too quick and ran out of fuel in the last few miles but finished second. I planned my tactics with the aim of trying to keep with the leaders up to the Hedgehope descent and then push on if I felt good.


The weather was much better than anticipated although there was a headwind on the way out.  The first few miles were awful. I felt really heavy and quite lethargic. I was in a leading group of 3 or 4 up to the Cheviot summit. Coming off cheviot I took my time to try and save the legs. This allowed other runners to catch up and track me. I assumed the two on my shoulder hadn't run the route before as they followed my every move down to the burn then up to the Hedgehope summit. 

Skirting Housey Crags I began to open a little bit of a gap and I was feeling quite comfortable having eaten and made sure I was taking on water at regular intervals.  From this point on I didn't look behind me.  Not once.  This was difficult as there's nothing worse than being hunted down.

I passed through Brands Corner then Carey Burn and Hell's path.  I hadn't been caught up to this point so I began to think I was in with a good chance.  I put the hammer down, knowing that when the road section was reached that I had the pace to challenge if needed.  I turned the corner into the Wooler Youth Hostel and was greeted with cheers, it was all rather exciting that i'd actually done it. I had won the Chevy chase!!  I was overjoyed.

As always, thank to all the organisers, volunteers and supporters.  Best in Northumberland!







Monday, 18 April 2016

National 12 stage road relays, Sutton Park 16th April 2016

I landed a place in the B team for this annual event down in Birmingham.  Morpeth had two teams who qualified from the Northern relays a few weeks ago (in which I didn’t compete).  This was my first visit to Sutton Park since I was a wee nipper, or so I was told by the Club official.  
It was a long journey, around 3 and a half hours travelling with Messrs Snowball, Alder and Haswell.  We embarked on a recce around part of the course to see what was in store for us, and it was going to hurt.  I was on a long leg (approx. 5.4 miles) and was fifth in the pecking order.  I had envisaged a lot more teams being involved, there were around 60-70 in total and by the time I headed off on my leg the numbers were well spread out.  I was on my own for the majority.   I wasn’t overtaken and made up around six places.  
The course was tough. There were a few steady climbs which felt like they went on forever and the ice cream truck at the 2 mile mark took a long time to come into view.  There was good support around the course which was most welcome.  I’m so glad I wasn’t on the 12th leg, it would have been the longest day ever waiting around.
The A team finished eighth and the B team in the low 50’s.  It was a great performance by both teams and an experience to remember.
I aim to return in four weeks for the National Masters relays.
It’s the Yorkshire 3 peaks race in two weeks’ time.  I have no hills in my legs so I may have to give it a miss.  The Cheviot/Hedgehope pendulum race is on the Sunday which would be more manageable at half the distance.  Apparently there’s a drone filming it………