Malnad Ultra 80km

I slowly peeled of my socks with the anticipation of finding a leech or two on my feet but I was relieved….there were none! They like the wet weather and this year the race was hot. It was into the 30’s (oC) and with 70% humidity. Luckily the course was pretty shaded by all the jungle trees; silver oak, teak, rosewood, pepper and cardamom.

The race was the Malnad Ultra in the Southern part of India. The name Malnad in Kannada literally translates to Male-naadu, the land of the rain. However, the name is derived from Male (hill) and Naadu (region) in Kannada. Therefore, the Land of Hills amidst the Western Ghats (also known as the Sahyadris), one of the 25 bio-diversity hotspots in the world. It is a region known for its bio-diversity, endless greenery and some of the most picturesque spots in India. The region is also known for its Coffee.

The Malnad and its coffee was the motivation for organising the race in this region. The Coffee Day Global Group gave access to their best coffee plantations for this race and so the majority of the Malnad Ultra course was within privately owned plantations adjacent to the Bhadra Wildlife Reserve in Karnataka.

I flew into Bangalore (officially since 2014 it’s been called Bengaluru  when the Government of India restored it to its original name in order to revitalise the national heritage and ancestry). I stayed there a night and explored a little. It was busy with cars travelling in all directions, cows, dogs, rickshaws, beautiful temples, old remains and a friendly atmosphere. The drivers of India love their horns (car horn just to specify!).

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Chikkajala Fort

Lord Hanuman, Hindi Monkey God worshipped for courage and strength.

I got up early the next day and caught a train to Birur. It was 4hours of experiencing the Indian Railways. It is one of the largest employers in the world with 1.4million+ staff.

 

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I got food and slept.

Steamed rice cakes and lentils

I then caught a bus to the race venue.

The food and accommodation was excellent although no coffee despite being on a coffee plantation so I never got to taste the beans!

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The 80km race started at 0630 in the Lalbagh Estate (there was also a 50km and 110km route).

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The first few miles of the figure of 8 course was on road before heading onto jeep track taking us through Byre Khan, to Dod Khan, and then some single trail up to the Summit. The summit, Mullyanagiri, at over 1828m is the highest peak in Karnataka. We then made our way back to Lalbagh via Byre Khan. There were aid stations every 4km and the course was well marked with lime wash on the trees. Being back at Lalbagh meant 50km was done and the opportunity to get more supplies from my drop bag (Komfuel gels) before heading out in the other direction. Again the first few miles where on road climbing to Sampigehutti before heading off on the trails again to Doopad Khan and then back again. The total course was 3052m elevation and very runnable although deceptively technical as mainly of trails were covered in leaves so hiding rocks and stones. I had a chorus of birds chirping and the sound of cicadas throughout the day. I kept my eyes peeled for wildlife which has been previously spotted by the race organisers as they marked the course; giant malabar squirrels, porcupines, black bears, deers, pythons and cobras but I didn’t seen any of these just lots of monkeys.

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A giant squirrel!

It was an incredible race. I kept passing people that had gone off too fast or were struggling in the heat. Running in relatively new to India with only 10-15yrs of history but gaining incredible popularity. It seems to be a matter of pride and bravado to enter a race completely unprepared. I talked to many runners who had only run 10km and then entered one of the ultras. Needless to say the DNF rate was high within the 1200 entries. I wasn’t the only foreigner to race; there were some Americans (including Hayden Hawks (50km, 1st) and Corinne Malcolm (110km DNF)), a Canadian (Florent Bouguin, 110km, 1st) another Brit and an Australian. However, it was a joy to finish with those that succeeded and share a sweaty handshake! I was delighted to finish as 1st female with a new course record and 2nd overall in 8hrs 15mins.

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Ultra Trail Mont Blanc (UTMB)

The journey for this race most definitely started months ago. Accumulating points in order to be eligible to enter took 18months of long mountainous races. I used the points from the CCC 100km, Laverado 120km and Translantau 100km in Hong Kong.

The journey has just ended. It’s ever so anti climatic. Where did those 30hours go? All that hard work and focus and I crossed the finish line feeling so flat and devoid of emotion it surprised me.

I wanted to write this as soon as I finished but we travelled back late on Sunday night. I was tired when my head hit the pillow at 2am and to be honest I’m still pretty tired. We collected the dog who then decided to be ill/ have a melt down which took a trip to the vets and an anti-sickness, a painkiller and a sedative to settle.  I was then back at work. It’s only been today that I’ve felt emotional. I was cycling to feed a neighbours cat and got knocked off my bike. The shock made me cry for a good long while. I’m now done with feeling sorry for myself. There are lessons to be learnt for next year! Yes I need to go back!

Training essentially started 12 weeks out where I shifted focus to gaining elevation from just getting some runs and miles in. I like to run fast so it was difficult for me to drop all my speed sessions so I kept a few in along with the odd park run. I cross trained on the bike. I slept in an altitude tent to acclimatise to the elevation gain at the top of the hills. I visited the area twice – once for the Mont Blanc Marathon (a great race) and then again for a recce which didn’t quite go to plan. I sprained my ankle at the end of the first day so had to limp it back to a bus and travel back to Chamonix. This meant I missed essential long training days at a key moment. I couldn’t run for 10days which in itself wasn’t too bad as cycling can be used as an alternative but the timing 4 weeks out was far from ideal. The rest of the training went well. Lots of uphill running on a treadmill or reps of a local hill. Probably could have got some fast hiking practice in but I didn’t. I would rather run!

I tapered sensibly wanting to fully respect how long and hard the race would be. Being tired on the start would not be an excuse.

Jon and I got out to Chamonix late on Tuesday. Wednesday was number collection. I felt pretty stressed for some reason – ok you may say well of course you would be with what is ahead but that is not really like me. Then my hormones kicked in a week early so that explained that (sorry but this is a real life blog). Thursday and Friday kit preparation and relaxing. They enforced the cold weather mandatory kit as it was forecast to be minus 10 and wind chill. My crew was Pete from SCOTT Running and Jon, my husband. They were brilliant. It was so good to see their friendly supportive faces at the permitted checkpoints, saying all the right words of encouragement and providing me with all I needed. As the race went on I really felt like I was letting them down. The runner is just the person on show- none of these ultra races can be achieved without support on and off course.

The race departed Chamonix in the rain at 6pm. I was ready for this beast. Well I thought I was!

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Photo Credit: Tom Wilkinson

I started off doing what I felt was a comfortable pace. It was difficult to judge as the first 10km is essentially road and flat trail to Les Houches. I climbed well but never pushed. The first check point was 31km in. It was manic as everyone was still really close together. I could not find Jon so started to fill my pockets with apricots/ cheese/ cake etc from the aid station. Then I did one more check and he spotted me. Rubbish out and more food in (komfuel selection of gels, chews and Tailwind mainly). I was smiling and enjoying it immensely.

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Photo credit: irunfar.com (Bryon Powell)

It was properly dark when I left and with 650 lumens (Ledlenser NEO10R) on my head I had complete vision so headed up the road happy in my tunnel of light. It was wet and cold. I had my warm gloves on and some waterproof ones over the top. My buff on my head and of course a waterproof jacket. In my pack was all the mandatory kit so I knew I had another 2 warm layers top and bottom if things really were bad at top of Col de Bonhomme (2329m). In hindsight maybe I did keep pace here but I honestly didn’t feel like I was pushing it. I caught up with Cat Bradley and then tried to stick with her but I probably should have asked myself what am I doing this far up the field. People told me running 100miles is like a lifetime lived in one day. But what I learnt is that you don’t get a second chance.

I was cautious descending Bonhomme as this is where I sprained my ankle. Running at night was magical. I could see ice flake patterns forming on the rocks. The moon was so bright when it appeared from behind the clouds. The clouds were keeping us warm because when the wind picked up it was very much chillier.

I sailed through the compulsory kit check at Chapieux. On leaving there my stomach decided to let me know that 52km of running into the night was not the right thing to be doing. However, energy felt good so being a tad lighter as I ascended Col de la Seigne (2516m) wasn’t so bad. I was pleased to be running this bit as I’d had to hobble it on the recce.

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The top was shrouded in mist and it was hard to see where to go but I figured this was good as it made the pace steady. I was soon running on a track as the bad weather has re routed us around Col des Pyramides Calcaires. My focus was Courmayeur. However, I could sense I was descending into the town not feeling as I wanted to be. My stomach was still complaining but the odd stop here and there was no real excuse for such a slow pace. I had been running for 11hours and it was 5am. I swopped my tights for shorts and ditched my extra clothes thinking as the daylight arrives so will the warmth. What a stupid error! The wind picked up and it was freezing. Unbeknown to me many dropped out due to the cold weather. I left the aid station only to return as I had forgotten my poles. Doh! I ate and replenished my pack but as I write this I have read what other runners ate and I’m beginning to think I did not eat enough properly food. I was still on gels and chews and eating a bit of rice pudding.

On leaving Courmayeur it was the climb up to Bertone which really highlighted how lethargic I felt. I wrapped up at the top as the wind whistled around me.

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Photo credit: Reme Fabregue

As I climbed towards Grand Col Ferret (2490m) my little legs turned pink and my fingers lost their feeling. I didn’t hang about it was up and over. I could not collapse my poles as my thumbs could not apply enough pressure to the button.

Descending into La Fouly should have been enjoyable but I was getting frustrated with my performance. I kept willing my legs on. I remember a runner asking me as they passed if I could not push on through the discomfort of my quads but I really couldn’t. I shouted out loud but still no response. I felt deconditioned, I guess. Missing out on my recce and its long days was taking its toil now. I was passed by many. I kept recollecting my pace throughout this part of the course when I did the CCC in 2016 and the contrast was really demoralising.

Heading to Champex Lac was a case of putting one foot in front of the other. It was pathetic. I didn’t feel the need to hang around for too long at the aid stations. I just wanted to keep going. Jon has finished UTMB in 40hours so what excuse did I have?

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Photo credit: Yann Audouin

At Trient I hiked in and hiked out. I’m not a strong hiker but it was faster than my shuffle!

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Photo credit: Yann Audouin

Legs

Photo credit: Yann Audouin

At Vallorcine I changed my shoes and Injinji socks. I had badly stumped my toe (and then obviously again and again) and torn my Tibialis Anterior (shin muscle) so thought it might help reduce the pressure to go half a size up in shoe and it did. Amazingly for me I finished with no blisters either (just massive bags under my eyes!).

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Photo Credit: Yann Audouin

Night arrived again and I began to hallucinate. I saw people having a bath and rocks turning into animals. Vallorcine, via La Flegere took forever. I enjoyed the journey of training and I felt the race end should have been a journey of euphoria but it wasn’t. I felt nothing. 170km, 10,000m of elevation. 30hours 16mins, 19th female. 128th overall out of 1778 finishers (783 dropped out). Next year I’ll feel more! I’ll achieve more!

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Photo credit: Jon Meek

Lessons learnt:

  • Condition legs with more long days of training- get a good week in about a month out preferably in the mountains or just don’t sprain your ankle whilst trying to!
  • Eat more proper food. Ideas I’ll try include peanut butter and jam sandwiches and potatoes.
  • Go slower at the start…really slow.
  • Ducktape works well to prevent blisters.
  • WD40/ lubricate my poles so the button to fold them isn’t so stiff with cold hands.
  • Be pleased to have finished as many didn’t and a DNF is hard to make peace with.
  • Be grateful- the body is a wonderful thing especially considering what I put it through. I am recovering well although my torn shin muscle may take sometime yet.

A massive thank you to all those who helped me through training and the race. I had the best kit (SCOTT Supertrac Ultra RC shoes and waterproofs etc; socks from Injinji); a great choice of nutrition from Komfuel; no sprained ankles due to careful footfall, diligent rehab and Rocktape; no altitude sickness courtesy of SportingEdge; great night vision from Ledlenser; great daily support from SymproveCoffee Buddies, and Bounce Balls; inspiring crewing from Jon and Pete, great Rufus- dog care from my Mum, and during training Anne and Di; and finally great support from all those lovely people who cheered me on online and on route!

Categories: Ultra races | 5 Comments

Ledlenser Head Torch review

My next race is the Ultra Trail Mont Blanc (UTMB) where I start at 6pm and run through the night (hopefully just one night but you never know!). I obviously need a head torch (and a spare one) but which one!

I am already biased as I have been supported by Ledlenser for the past few years but they brought out a new range recently (NEO). My current main head torch which I use for long races is the MH10 and so I wanted to compare it to the new NEO10R.

Main head torch options

1. MH10

The MH10 came with the torch, a rechargeable battery, red and green filters, a charging USB cable and instructions.

2. NEO10R

IMG_4938In the box comes the torch, a rechargeable battery, a chest strap, an extension cable for those that don’t want to wear on their head, a charging USB cable and instructions.

Lumen output (both the same)

There are two modes:

  • Energy Saving Mode that delivers a longer run time
  • Constant Current Mode that optimises for lumen output (brightness) but at the expense of run time.

Pressing the button on the front of the torch in quick succession cycles through these three options. I had had set on bright to dull but you can switch modes and have it cycle through from dull to bright. It seems there is little difference between 1 and 2 in terms of brightness and then 3 is pretty dull. However, according to the manual Mode 1 is 600 lumens, mode 2 = 250 lumens and then mode 3 = 10 lumens.

Focusing Optics (both the same)

There is a Patented Advanced focusing optics that give the ability to ‘zoom’ the light for a spot beam (for distance illumination) or a flood beam (for near illumination). To control this you turn the dial on the front of the torch.

 

Comfort

The MH10 has the battery positioned horizontally. I found it tended to slip down my head and so to avoid my ears from becoming sore I used a bandana underneath it.

 

The NEO10R has the battery placed vertically. There was no slipping and I did not feel the need to use the battery extension cable to remove it from my head. There is a small red light integrated on to the back of the battery which I liked.

Both head straps were adjustable and comfortable.

Battery Life (both the same)

I have not tested it fully yet in one go. If it’s on full power (600 lumens) it is reported to last 10hrs, on medium power 15hours and on the lowest power 120hours.

Warranty (both the same)

Up to 7 years.

What I think?

Both were easy to use and have great battery life. I’ll probably stick it in mid power mode for most of the race and just increase it to maximum power on the more technical sections. The MH10 felt slightly lighter but the NEO10R was more comfortable with the battery positioned vertically. It’s a close run thing!

My Spare

The NEO4. It weighs 100g, takes 3 AAA batteries. It has two energy modes (energy saving (6hrs on the higher power 240 lumens) and constant (3hrs on the higher power 150 lumens).

I like the fact that there is still an hour left of light in the torch when you get the first low battery warning. It’s comfortable and I can wear it without any buff underneath.

Now I know I’ll be able to see where I can go I can just concentrate on racing. UTMB here I come. Ekkkk!

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Supporting Champions

Ultra Running & Me on the Supporting Champions podcast! Thanks for the opportunity to chat about and promote the sport I love.
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>>> Click here <<< (if you want to listen. Thanks)
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Run 🐿 Run
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SCOTT Running #noshortcuts Komfuel #fueltorule 32Gi UK Beta Running #Injinji Ledlenser #epicLEDLenser #ukrunchat Rocktape UK Coffee Buddies #coffeebuddies Bounce Balls UK #bounceUK Symprove #guthealth Sporting Edge UK
[https://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/jo-meek-on-ultra-endurance-episode-11/id1330373242?i=1000414204427&mt=2]
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Annecy Maxi Race

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My little legs have just run around Lake Annecy. Well….not just my legs my whole body, heart and head! They are all reminding me of that fact today.

I arrived in Annecy with no real expectations about the town or the run and on both accounts I was blown away. It’s a beautiful town by the most glorious lake and the run route was stunning.

I was staying in the Old Town which was so vibrant and charismatic.

 

 

The day before the race was bib collection where I had to go up on a stage to collect it as I was one of the international competitors. I felt pretty embarrassed by this knowing that I may not race up to their expectations. I mean an 85km | 5000m+ trail race and my last race was 42km on the road! It was going to be a baptism of fire but I needed to hit the trails at some stage and I love to experience new places so entering seemed a good idea. If only I’d fully known the brutality of the course! 😉

The race started at 5am. It was a really fast start through the first 3km or so to the base of the first mountain (so my road running training was useful!). It was then a 15km climb to 1663m, Mount Semnoz summit. This, at 18km, was the first assisted aid station.

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Although I knew I had already lost the top 3 runners and wasn’t feeling terribly strong on the hills I was still determined to push and push so didn’t spend long refuelling. I was experimenting with different fuel types courtesy of Komfuel. I wanted to see if varying the types made me feel less nauseous later on.

My hiking capacity is abysmal and so it seemed was my pace running uphill but I did make up time descending which surprised me. I guess the descents initially weren’t too technical once past the roped sections 😳 and snow line 😬!!

We descended back down to 734m. My memories of the race merge and I can never really remember specific details of the course. I recollect the mountainous course where beauty  is connected with pain united by the desire to suceed.

We climbed again to 1286m then down then up to 832m and then down to 43km, Doussard, at 469m. This was aid station 2.

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📷 Benjamin Moleins

I was at the other end of the Lake. I felt ok. I refuelled again. I had been toing and froing with a French runner called Sophie. She was confident on the technical aspects and strong uphill with no poles!

Leaving Doussard we climbed up to 1650m. It was runnable leafy trails and I was remembering what everyone had told me ‘Enjoy it’!

This photo was taken by PhotoSebt about 60km in and 1500m up just before Pas de l’Aulp/ Roc Lancrenaz.

From there I descended down to the final aid station at 69km, Menthon St Bernard, at 500m.

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Excellent crewing from Benjamin Moleins

My quads were beginning to feel the effects and my feet were sore. They were certainly not used to the rock ‘n’ roll assault on them. I had grunted all the way down: my abs ached with the bracing, my feet were developing blisters, my quads were argumentative and I was feeling nauseous. I’m guessing the heat and my relentless mission to push on was making me feel sick because my fuel was actually going down ok. The competition or more precisely my self-competition demanding unreasonably as usual.

I thought I only had 16km to go- I could see the finish along the lake! Oh my god I was in for a shock! The last bit was the most testing and gruelling part. The 1265m climb was technical rocky single track and went on and on. My poles went away thinking it must be the descent now and I repeatedly got them out again. It was the not knowing, my fatigue and crap technical skills that made for some less cheery times! We ran along the ridge and I spied down, way down, the finish. The finish was at 447m and I longed for a road to run on! I had rocks, slippy rocks, slimy limescale, mud, and gnarly trees routes to contend with. It was a beast! I gritted my teeth and cursed all the way down- slipping, rolling ankles and tripping was about the only things I remember.

Although I do remember asking myself why am I doing this!

The challenge?

You only live once?

Makes me a stronger person?

The pursuit of a passion?

All of these and more I guess. Who knows! Before I came up with any sort of answers I was there…the finish. 5th female, 42 overall, 1st old lady. Yes!

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Massive thanks to Fergy for your support!

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Wings for Life World Run, Sunrise Florida

Flying out from Heathrow on the 4th May made me laugh…

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Jon and I were heading to Florida for the 2018 Wings for Life World Run. I was lucky enough to win this race last year in Bratislava. My prize was an entry into the 2018 Wings for Life World Run in any country it was being held in. I chose Sunrise, Florida. It is a charity event supporting spinal cord research. It’s organised by Red Bull and the aim is to run as far as you can before the catcher car catches you. It starts 30mins after the runners and wheelchair users start and gets progressively faster, and when it catches you you’re out. Last year there was 24 countries it was physically held in but this year only 11. They had more app runs where they used a virtual car.

Florida was hot, hot, hot! It started at 0700am local time and even then it was 22oc and 86% humidity. The high dew point (23oc) fully reflected the relationship between the humidity and the temperature and it felt tropical.

I started with 8 previous winners who had also selected to race in Florida. It was always going to be tough.

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Aron Anderson (in the front), (L-R) Nathalie Vasseur, Zelijka Saban, Me, Manuelito Figueroa Salva, ?, Marek Mockovciak & Elov Olsson

Sunrise is north of Miami and west of Fort Lauderdale. It is home to the Florida Panthers and we started outside their stadium (the BB&T centre). IMG_4297

It is also next to the Everglades National Park which is a wetland that provides important habitats for numerous rare and endangered species like the manatee, American crocodile, and the elusive Florida panther.  Crocs are a big theme….

The Florida race started with 3000 competitors.

Pre race photo at the start with my fellow SCOTT runners from Sweden (Joacim Lantz & Elov Olsson) and Jon and then we lined up- runners and wheelchair users alike.

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We did one lap and then headed out onto a Expressway for miles and miles….

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Photographer: Elov Olsson

I started at the pace I raced at last year. I was no fitter so couldn’t go quicker and I also knew I didn’t want to go off too fast. I raced behind Nathalie, the ultimate winner for the first half but she maintained a far closer pace than I did. It hit me pretty quickly actually. I felt a bit wobbly and queasy and at times a little shivery. I slowed, I drunk at every stations and I consumed my 32Gi gels. I was inspired to push on- A chap at the start in a wheelchair helping a lady in a walker by physically moving one leg in front of the other for her told me to ‘run for him’. I did! I got caught at just under 43km in 3hrs 15mins of running.

People always ask what I think during a long race. It varies depending on what stage I’m at in the race but today the usual demons reared their head during the race- a chimp on one shoulder and me on the other having those discussions about trying to moving a bit quicker:

(Me) Come on then lets pick the pace up….(Chimp) Your training hasn’t been good enough due to niggles and more recently getting run down….(Chimp) It’s hot….(Me) That’s no excuse you know you’re better than this….(Legs) We’re feeling a bit depleted down here and why are you feeling so wobbly….(Me) COME ON IT WON’T BE FOREVER WE’VE GOT THIS! Etc etc! I was pleased to finish, I was pleased to be able to run (always a privilege), yes, I am one of those people that are never entirely happy with their performance but I knew my training had not been ideal so I was pleased with the result in the end.

I’m now in Barbados swopping running clothes for a dress as there’s a family wedding to celebrate.

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Massive congrats to Nathalie for the win in Florida. Vera Nunes (female runner) and Aron Anderson (male wheelchair user) for the world-wide wins.

 

Categories: Marathons, Ultra races | 1 Comment

Two Oceans Marathon (56km)

Officially Cape Agulhas is the place where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet, and not the “two oceans” as believed at the Cape Point, near Cape Town. This was made up for publicity reasons. Cape Agulhas is the southernmost tip of Africa. However, Cape Town and its surrounding ocean makes a stunning backdrop to this race.

The race is iconic because it’s so beautiful.

The race was on Saturday 31st March. 0630 start which meant the sun rose on route. I had a race strategy and despite the previous day driving the old porcelain bus 🚽 🤮. I thought I had nothing to loose to stick to it. The first 20km or so rolled around with little lumps to ascend and descend. Nothing that really unsettled a steady pace though. It starts in Newlands and snakes 28km to the first of two major climbs, Chapman’s Peak, then dips down to Hout Bay reaching the marathon distance and then up to Constantia Nek where one part of the hill is about 10%, in order to navigate seeing the two oceans. The wind was really strong especially at the peaks. The last 5km felt rollingly lumpy again and my legs weren’t really playing ball. My pace slowed to 7.25 and I couldn’t make up going down what I lost going up. I felt a bit lifeless in my legs whether this was because of the previous 24hours or, probably more likely, lack of essential marathon work/ pacing in my legs. It’s a marathon runners race which I realise sounds stupid because 56km is obviously longer than 42km but the race pace needs to be built on after racing a good marathon in training. All the top women had done a 2.37marathon in 2017/18.

It is excellently supported by the organisation with water stations practically every two 2km. The water was gloriously cool provided in really convenient bags (although not ideal for the environment being plastic). Due to the drought and the need to use less plastic people were protesting with banners that the runners should be carrying their own water supply. It was a fair enough protest but in this particular race I can’t see it happening because of the need for speed!

I crossed the finish line is 4hrs 16mins. If I’d raced last year I would have got in the top 10 with that time but this year I was a mere 26th.

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The whole trip was a rollercoaster ride; my luggage got lost and on its eventual return to me items were missing (a massive thank you to Jim Murray who lent me his spare Garmin watch); I picked up a stomach bug so spent the day before the race vomiting and in actual fact the night after the race I also spent enjoying the company of the bathroom (Sorry to my room mate, Renee Metivier and thanks for being so nice!); I got to race a fantastic course against superb competition though and explore Cape Town.

After the race I threw off my vest and threw on my tourist guise and headed to the Waterfront and it’s vibrant and creative atmosphere. Really lovely place to hang out.

               

I then moved accommodation to an Airbnb, a traditional Bo Kaap house where the houses are really colourful and the street cobbled, and met Stu (or Stew?!?) the house rabbit!

My post race aim was to climb Table Mountain which I did via the Platteklip gorge route. I actually walked up from the city but after descending I hitched a lift back into town as my legs felt done by then and it was supposed to be rest day! I got talking to the chap that gave me a ride and learnt much more about the severity of the drought. The water levels are at 22% and at 17% the taps get turned off. I had been drinking the water and some people thought that it was this that made me sick because there are higher concentrations of bugs in it at the moment (?). They are praying for rain and so fingers crossed for them!

It was spectacular- both the hike and the views.

               

As I walked out to get some food I was lucky enough to watch the most fantastic sunset over Table Mountain. I headed to Kloof street which was really full of live. I enjoyed a local wine and just soaked up the atmosphere.

On my last day I woke to a call-to-prayer (very very early!) and wet fog. However, I still aimed to climb Signal Hill where there was no view at all but I did it with good company (Thank you Gerda Steyn (The Champ!), Duncan and friends for your great hospitality). I got talking and asked more about South Africa. I was intrigued by the call-to-prayer when I thought I was in a Christian country. I learnt that the Bo Kaap area I was staying in is a multi-cultural area and the first mosque was built there in 1844. I was told that the SA’s are very tolerate of different religions but there is still racism. The Black Economic Empowerment is a racially selective programme launched by the government to redress the inequalities of Apartheid by giving certain previously disadvantaged groups of South African economic privileges previously not available to them under white rule. It is called Affirmative Action.

I learnt and experienced a lot about a country I had always wanted to visit. I packed in as much as I could! I did not race as well as I wanted to but I gave it all I had on the day and so walked away contented.

Thank you Cape Town you’ve been amazing!

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Geoparktrail, Iran

Qeshm Island is located a few miles off the southern coast of Iran in the Persian Gulf opposite the port cities of Bhandar Abbas and Bhandar Khamir. Qeshm means Long in Arabic and the island is long and thin measuring 130km long and 40km wide.

The oldest settlement on it is about 40,000 years old and now about 120,000 people populate it. It has a long history; with navigation and trade as it’s located at the mouth of the Persian Gulf; with defence and fighting (The Portuguese built a fortress there in the late 16th century); with fishing, salt mining and making hand built ships.

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It is famous for a few things:

It is the supposed site of the Garden of Eden (as described in the Book of Genesis) but who knows for sure.

Its mangrove forest is a bird watchers haven where pelicans and many others species (can you tell I’m not into bird watching as I can’t remember other names!) native to Iran, or migratory, rest. Apparently it hosts 20% of Irans’ birds.

It is a breeding site (between March and July) for Hawksbill turtles which are now being carefully protected by the locals.

And finally it has this amazing Geo Park. They are trying to establish it as a UNESCO world site.

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The top rock layer is really soft and so when it rains it cuts the landscape into these unique gorges.

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📷: Davood Shirkhani , race director.

This was the second time the race has been run. Iranian runner, Davood has done an amazing job organising such an event when time keeping and local reliability is not that great. Last year was just a 28km race and this year the format changed to a 30km and 60km (well actually 66km). I heard about it online from a German runner called Moritz (Instagram: @run.travel.grow) and knew it was the adventure for me. I checked the Foreign and Commonwealth Office advice and it was far from any dangerous conflicts. The borders of Iran (Iraq and Afghanistan) are basically the only out of bounds areas. To get a visa I needed to apply and then travel to London and get my biometric data taken. Then I could fly to Tehran but I would need a escort for the whole trip because I’m British (same for Americans and Canadians). For this I was quoted £1000. The trip was looking dubious but then I looked into flying from Dubai. I had found out Qeshm Island hosts a 300-square-kilometre free trade jurisdiction so it meant if I flew from Dubai straight to the Island then I would not need a visa or a guide. Trip was back on! Yes!

I flew to Dubai on Monday 5th Feb and then 12hrs later flew to Qeshm Island.

On arrival I had to wait to have my finger prints taken but on the whole entry was smooth. Immediately I noticed two things; the people are so friendly and time keeping is very chilled-  I had offers of accommodation and car travel before even boarding.

I had to wear a hijab, and full length clothing for the trip and luckily had thought to pack a head scarf in.

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As a gift I was bought some Harim trousers so went native on arrival!

I was staying in a rural guest house called Sharifi and everyone was so welcoming

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📷 Moritz

Immediately on arrival I was given a bike and lead out of on a quick tour of the village. This might have seemed the last thing I wanted to do after 24hrs of travel but actually it was quite invigorating. Seeing the stars in the warmish evening air was refreshing. The average temperature is 27 °C (81 °F) but actually it was quite windy by the sea so felt colder.

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Breakfast was traditional- flat breads, date juice, chickpeas, salad, cheese and tea.

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On Wednesday many more runners arrived from Tehran including Moritz- we were the only runners to come from outside of Iran. Everyone was so kind, genuine and talkative. The day was spent visiting the Mangrove forest and just chatting.

That night we collected out bib numbers and listened to the race brief is Farsi so none the wiser really! Food was in 30mins we waited an 1 hour…. food was coming in 15mins and we waited 2hours so in the end headed off and bought some food at a local street vendor. Eventually we got to bed only to be up in 5hrs. The race, starting on the beach, was supposed to start at 6.30 am but in Iran that meant closer to 7am!

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📷 Moritz

The atmosphere was jovial and it was amazing to see how many women were running. Everyone wanted to say hello and get a photo.

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📷 Leah

A little bit of road soon took us out into the geopark. I managed to fall over on the road after tripping over something but only skin wounds thankfully. What an idiot!

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The route was through hard desert sand, along rocky outcrops and up through valleys taking in some outstanding landscape.

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📷 Moritz

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📷 Moritz

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📷 Moritz

I ran slowly to start with as the sun really came out on race day. I wanted to be respectful but obviously it was not enough and a fat lot of good my best intentions were! The first 30km I was cruising. 3hrs of running and so I thought 6.5hrs to finish. I wondered why people kept telling me I was in second overall and then realised some of the front men had gone wrong. I had started to get a blister so stopped for some vaseline application and then the route headed into the gorges.

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📷 Davood

The heat and lack of any air flow was tremendous. I started to feel sick and thought perhaps it was my nutrition but then even when I stopped eating I continued to puke. I suddenly remembered a pearl of wisdom from a great physiologist I know, Joe Layden: If someone overheats their core temperature then cool their forearms down. I was running in arm warmers (and full length leggings) for the cultural prerequisite. I pulled them down (my arm warmers not my leggings!) and at about aid station 44km I got some coke on board and this saved me my race. I could continue to put one foot in front of the other and not be sick but I didn’t dare try any food. I slowed up so much but never wanted to stop. The winning men who took the ‘detour’ started to pass me. Moritz passed me and I told him I felt terrible but wished him good luck so he could catch the leading chap infront (and he did!). At the end he told me he was surprised I finished when I did (I must have looked pretty rubbish!). I crossed the finish line in 7hrs 15mins, 1st female and 4th overall.

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📷 Leah

I was so hot and then so cold and then so sick for the next 48hrs. I spent so much time in the toilet I can tell you it’s made in Iran but the biday hose is made in Italy, what the grouting is like etc..

The doctor visited me- I was so embarrassed- and to be honest it was more from saying I think it’s just heat stroke. It feels like I’ve made an error but I definitely drunk enough. I honestly think being fully covered was my downfall in 30+ hear in the gorges because I’m sure it wasn’t a bug.

I was desperate not to miss out on exploring the island so when everyone went out to the beach I dragged my sorry arse along too. They had to drive to a remote beach so the women could undress and swim in a bikini or costume. It is illegal so a local may have reported us otherwise. It was lovely despite feeling ill and I witnessed a beautiful sunset.
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The morning I was due to fly the opportunity to visit one of the gorges came up. I was worried I would miss my flight due to ‘Iranian time keeping’ but I risked it and it was totally worth it.

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I have gained so much from this experience. The people made it for me with their generosity and hospitality. I would like to thank Davood and Kiana for hosting me and all the others runners I got to share sometime with. I’m now travelling home but I would love to visit the country again. Thank you too for all your lovely messages of well done!

 

 

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 Fuxian Lake 50km

Fuxian Lake stretches out through Chengjiang, Jiangchuan and Huaning Counties in the Yunnan Province, spanning an area of 131 square miles. The lake is the 2nd deepest (158m) freshwater lake in China.

View from hotel room

The Chinese Athletic Association (CAA) and the International Association of Ultramarathon (IAU) are hosting the event which included both a 50km and a 100km. They were using it as a trial with a view to it being the 50km World Championships in 2018. The race was one of invite and I jumped at the chance to visit China. Athletes from over 20 countries, including Australia, Canada, Japan, USA, Argentina and several European countries, were invited to take part, alongside runners in the open race. Athletes from over 20 countries, including Australia, Canada, Japan, USA, Argentina and several European countries, were invited to take part, alongside runners in the

I arrived with a few other British athletes 3 days before and got to meet new friends and was reunited with old ones from the UK and abroad. The journey was a long one as I fly from Heathrow to Guangzhou which took 12hours and then caught a connecting flight to Kunming taking another 2hrs. I arrived at the hotel over 24hrs after leaving the UK but enjoyed some good films!

The area in China is 7hrs in front but luckily I have no trouble sleeping the first night. The next day what I do struggle with is the fact we are at 1757m above sea level and I live at sea level! My breathing whilst trying to run was certainly laboured. I had that and the glorious sunshine to adjust to where the midday sun was peaking to about 30degrees.

The hotel was lovely. There was an amazing pool which looked out over the lake. I tried one length of bilateral front crawl breathing and sounded like a whale blowing out of his blow-hole as I fought for more oxygen.

Posing!

I tried to be as adventurous as I could with the food but the chickens claws and gizzard (digestive tract) I could not do!

I spent time with the other runners relaxing, eating and getting nervous! Perhaps because I was in the company of the other runners all the time I felt a brewing of butterflies as they discussed pace and previous performances. It took a lot to just remind myself to run my own race. We hired a taxi and drove the course which proved to be hillier than anticipated as we all thought running around a lake would mean flat. I wanted to start at a conservative pace but I had never run a 50km road race before and wasn’t sure how much time to factor in for altitude so it was going to be a best estimate. Eventually it was race day!

img_3118Alarm clock went off. Coffee Buddies coffee, a Bounce Ball for breakfast. Bus to the start. More waiting. The Chinese loved taking photos so that filled sometime as I nervously smiled.


I wonder what they do with all their photos of people they don’t know!

I was so pleased when the gun went off. 8.30 and we were starting.

We ran from Moon Bay Park and finished in Hujiwan accumulating 510m. I started conservatively and it took ages to get into my stride. I fuelled every 10-15km using 32Gi gels and a drink of Tailwind as I wanted to try it out. There was water every 5km which was always welcome as it was so humid. I ran the whole distance alone but slowly caught others and finally with 10km to go was in 3rd. The last 6km were a struggle. I just felt sick and my body didn’t really respond to me wanting to push on. You think with only 3 miles to go there is always the ability to squeeze out that final bit more but I tried and failed.

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I finished in 3:49:29 miles behind 1st (Dominika Stelmach 🇵🇱) and 2nd (Petra Pastorova 🇨🇿) but delighted to make the podium. It’s been a long year and I’m ready for a bit of downtime.

Speedy Dominika & I

You think you’re tired but that soon fades when you spend time watching the 100km runners finish. They looked exhausted. It was a privilege to cheer such performances in when a third of the field failed to finish! Well done to all the British runners who all finished. In the men’s 50km Paul Martelletti finished 3rd (3:19:01) and Paul Fernandez 8th (3:48:54). In the women’s 50km Sue Harrison was 4th (3:53:38) and Hannah Oldroyd was 12th (4:20:21). In the 100km Jo Zakrzewski (8:50:30) took the silver medal behind Valeria Sesto of Argentina and Melissa Venables finished 8th (10:28:51).

The journey home was full of delays and lost luggage but the memories all travelled home in one piece and they are certainly all good.

Thank you to everyone in the team who made it such a great trip and to all my sponsors for making the race a success.

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UltraVasan

Vasaloppet started in 1922 as the World longest ski race (90km). However the historical route dates back to the 15th century when a young (future King) Gustav was fleeing the Danes and King Christian. He encouraged the men from Dalarna, a central province (meaning Dales or valleys), to uprise against them to free Sweden from it’s union with Denmark. It took 2.5years of fighting before in 1523 Sweden became independent.

Since then the ski race has been joined by a cycle race and since 2014 a running race.

This history is far more interesting than my race to be honest.

I flew over to Sweden arriving late Thursday. The transfer took 5hours from the airport to Mora. I shared the journey and a room with Jo Zakrzewski so we had a good catch up. Then it was bedtime. The Friday was a day of registration and meetings and before I knew it I was up at 2am to catch the transport to the race start. 

We started at 5am. It was beginning to get light but no sunrise due to the rain clouds. And God! did it rain…torrentially. The puddles and riverlets took over the trail. I actually got cold and by the end I was shivering. I know- I should have run faster to keep warm but my lack of training miles was evident towards the end of the race. I was willing myself to pick up the pace but my legs weren’t having any of it. This was my biggest disappointment because I didn’t realise I hadn’t done enough until after the after race analysis I did. Well at least I think that was reason.  Annoyingly I also had about half a dozen pit stops as my stomach dictated. The joys of being a runner!

The race started in Salen and finished in Mora. It was 90km of runnable trails. A mix of narrow woodland trails with plenty of tree roots, some rocky single track and wooden platforms crossing marshland, and wide dirt tracks. Lakes, trees and marshland dominated the scenery and rain!

I held back at the start as Ida Nilsson and Sarah Bard took off at a cracking pace. As we journeyed into the more technical aspect of the course I overtook Sarah but was then overtaken by Johanna Bygdell who proved to be so fast traversing slippy rocks and tree roots. I stuck with her for a bit as we caught Ida who was obviously cruising. She then changed gear and was off. After 20km I was on my own and this remained so until the end.

Although I was disappointed with my performance I was delighted to hold onto 3rd.

1st Ida Nilsson 🇸🇪| 2nd Johanna Bygdell 🇸🇪| 3rd Me 🐿🇬🇧

 

The race was superbly organised from the emails sent to the course marking. The atmosphere built at the end as the rain stopped and the sun came out. We all waited until the last runner came in and then enjoyed wine, food and great company as I met new running buddies.
Thanks as always goes to my sponsors- SCOTT RUNNING, ROCKTAPE, 32Gi, LED Lenser, Bounce Balls and Coffee Buddies.

A special thank you has to go to Peter Fredricson for helping organise the event (Vasaloppet) and for hosting me.

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