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!

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.