Golden Ring Ultra Trail 108km

The journey to Russia could not have gone better. I got upgraded! Amazing luxury! Champagne, choice of meals and space to incline the chair back. On landing in Moscow I was picked up and driven for 5hours to Suzdal. The road surfaces were relatively poor so it took a while to cover the distance. It was interesting to see the stark contrast between the city and the rural towns. All the money is in the city. However the culture extends far beyond the city.  I loved the colourful display of window frames.

fullsizeoutput_927  fullsizeoutput_924fullsizeoutput_925

On arriving in Suzdal it was buzzing. It was founded in the 11th century, Suzdal is one of the oldest towns in Russia and home to more than 300 unique historical sites and monuments from ancient Russia, including several that have been named UNESCO World Heritage Sites. 

Golden Ring Ultra Trail  Golden Ring Ultra Trail  Golden Ring Ultra Trail  Golden Ring Ultra Trail

Awarded federally protected status in 1967 and surrounded by expansive forests and fields which I learnt I would be running through.

My first priority was finding some food some a menu that was complete gobbledygook. I opted for pike!

I had a day before my race to register and get my bib number. I used the day to eat a lot. The men’s course record was 10hrs which is not that fast for a flat course- only 800m of elevation (don’t get me wrong it’s fast!). I figured then the course had some hidden difficulties so I was eating to prepare my energy stores!

The race started at 0500 so I got up at 0345 for a coffee and some oats. Compulsory kit check, bag drop for 68km and then I lined up. The music was rousing- we were started by Michael the race director and his mini axe!

I thought if it was flat I could sustain 9min/ mile pace on runnable trails for 108km so I started off with that pace in mind. However the first few miles were around the ancient sites on the road so my pace was slightly quicker. However, we soon hit single track through fields and adjacent to the river which meant frequent river crossings (good wee opportunities!), boggy, muddy slippery trails and lots of river rushes to battle through.

The river crossings were deep- I had to swim. It was hard to overtake so my pace was kept pretty conservative.

20190721_004_DSC_3900

I caught the first two women about 2hrs into the race. I swept past the first one but the leading woman was a class runner- a real match! On and on the miles went and we essentially remained together. The trail changed from single track to technical forest. They called it the Russian jungle.  We had to battle through young trees, old fallen trunks and slippery mossy stacked logs.

67589965_1456513981170623_5217129802749706240_n

I had the odd sense of humour failure as my foot got sucked into yet another bog but in the end I told myself to not fight it so much and just go with what the trail threw at me and this helped. I got ahead after an aid station but lost the markers temporarily and she caught me. It coincided with me leaping a trunk and wacking my knee on a sticking out branch. It was like I’d hit my elbow funny bone- my leg felt slightly dead.

She was much more fluid and relaxed running through this undergrowth and I was happy to follow especially whilst my knee throbbed. There were periods were I felt she was stronger than me but I knew I couldn’t let her go. It was only 25miles or so into the race and with 42miles to go I knew this race was going to be tough physically and mentally. There were certain points when I pulled away and tried to increase my pace to put some distance between us but these were usually on runnable tracks and by the time we returned into the ‘jungle’ I could hear her salt tablets rattling away in their container in her pack as she closed in on me. I used these solo times to good effect- obligatory toilet stops and shoe lace malfunctions.

We then hit a long stretch of sandy track. I didn’t know exactly how long it was but every time we turned a corner the track disappeared to the horizon. We worked well together- clacking along at a pace where I could only manage a few words. She was more loquacious and from what I could gather was looking forward to the chicken soup at check point 68km making a chicken impression and the word ‘soup’. I on the other had this awful realisation that I was developing a blister on the sole of my foot. 

All the water crossings and soggy forest floor, swamp land, had taken its toll. By the time 68km came I knew I needed to address it with tape. She on the other would sail through and gain the advantage. I had to remain focused. I stopped at the check point refuelled from my drop bag ad sat down to take my shoe and sock off.  I demonstrated my need for tape and vaseline and the staff at the check point were brilliant. Really on the ball and were able to provide me with both. All the checkpoints were really good- fruits, food, coke and lots of encouragement. I taped my foot and then put a very gritty soggy sock back on and my shoe.

I set off and thought ‘oh god the tape…it’s too tight’. I felt like a Chinese lady with a bound foot (although I’m well aware they would have suffered a lot more than me!). However I couldn’t feel my blister so focused in on establishing a consistent pace. It was runnable and I wanted to make sure I didn’t lose the course markers. My hamstrings felt really uncomfortable (which makes a change from my quads which tend to suffer in mountain races!) but the more normally I ran the better they responded. The only problem with this was running normally was hard work! Normally I develop more of an ultra- shuffle saving energy. I was desperate to catch her so I pushed on and on under the midday sun. It was hot but luckily the morning had been relatively shaded and cooler. I kept thinking I can’t lose this race because of a blister. 

I hit check point 82km and looked round and saw her behind me. Now I was confused. She must have stopped for something. This was my  only opportunity to take his lead and go. I had 15miles or so to go and I headed off like I had stolen something. I flew through ‘nettle’ fields, along wiggly single track and through farm land.

At 10miles I suddenly felt spent. My legs were really complaining. All I could do was keep trying to eat and push. Coke helped!

Golden Ring Ultra Trail

I turned around at certain vantage points and could still see her white cap bobbing along. Men passed me and I passed them. I tried to use them to drag me along but they could obviously smell home earlier than me and were really picking up the pace whereas I was just trying to maintain my current one. We had one final swim crossing where it was highlighted to me I forgot to apply anti-chafe cream to a delicate area and it stung like crazy! 

I climbed the bank and weaved through the muddy trails to eventually emerge on a road. Now I could smell home. My blisters and chafing were nothing compared to my effort in pushing to the finish. That finish line was so welcome. 

I hugged the race director with my stinky sweaty body and sticky gel hands. 

IMG_8629

I waited for Elena. It was lovely to see her finish (although obviously lovelier because she was behind me!). 

It was all quite overwhelming.

407CC160-9FC7-4EA5-B929-B238F7C4DBDC

The prize giving was immediately post 3rd finishing. The race sponsors had been incredibly generous with gifts from local suppliers, Suunto, Compress-sport and rubles! The medals were selected and then branded with your race distance. There was also a belt buckle for fishing in under 13hrs. 

 

(Oh I almost forgot I won a sofa! I gave it to Vladimir, the chap who met me at the airport and drove me to Suzdal).

After the race I decided to leave Suzdal by bus and travel back to Moscow through the night. I hadn’t seen the city yet. Two friends, Fergy and Anna, from the UK were also racing and they were planning to head back so we caught the last bus back. It was 4hrs of cramping and being squashed, we all needed to stretch our legs out flat, but we made it. 

Bus

Arriving at the hotel at 0400 meant little sleep before we headed out sight seeing to Red Square but it was worth it.

The Cathedral of Vasily the Blessed (aka St Basil’s Cathedral) is a church (now a museum) in Red Square built in 1555- 61 on orders form Ivan the Terrible.

IMG_8639

Kremlin wall

The Kremlin is a fortified complex including 5 palaces and 4 cathedrals! It was formally the Tsar’s residence, and now belongs to the President.

Kremlin_Moscow

Kremlin (I did not take this photo)

Golden Ring Ultra Trail

Memorial to Marshal Zhukov. He was the most decorated Russian soldier, who received many international awards in addition to Russian awards.The statue shows him in the act of inspecting the troops on the Moscow Victory day parade in 1945

Golden Ring Ultra Trail

State Historical Museum

SGolden Ring Ultra Trail

 

Golden Ring Ultra Trail

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (WWII memorial)

Golden Ring Ultra Trail

GUM (their department store)

I only managed to get a visa for 3 days in Russia (that was an ultra in itself) but I would love to go back; the history, the splendid buildings and the culture are all a draw.  Through the race the people I met were incredibly welcoming, the race was well organised with a great atmosphere. It was runnable but with some technical forest trails to challenge your pace (and patience)!  I was the first European to win an ultra out there and in doing so set a new female course record. Thank you for having me! 

20190721_018_DSC_5642

 

Spasibo 🙏🏻

Advertisements
Categories: Ultra races | 5 Comments

Olympus Ultra 71km

Leaving at 0230 to drive to Gatwick for a 0555 flight was perfect preparation for race day. The race started at 0200BST (0400 local).

I landed around midday to be greeted by Dimitrios. I love Dimitrios- he said I looked 32years old!

The journey from Thessaloniki to Litochoro took just over an hour.

I could watch Mount Olympus rising before me. The village was red tiles and white washed walls.

IMG_8342

The temperature was 35degrees. I could see the Aegean ocean in the distance. It was all glorious. Just the matter of a small run to do! The distance of which has grown since I registered. It was 65km but I have since learnt it’s 71km with 5500+m of elevation.

fullsizeoutput_8ec

I spent the afternoon walking up to see the valley of the Mountain of the Gods.

 

 

 

Blackout blinds turned out to be a winning formula as my room mate (Katie Kaars Sijpesteijn) and I slept in until 0800. I had a small jog before a greek breakfast awaited. Lots of yoghurt, cakes and delicacies.

fullsizeoutput_8eb

Not wanting to underestimate the race I had an easy day.

Up at 0230, flapjack and coffee, bus at 0315 and start 0400.

Not many starters- 65. The main event was definitely the marathon as it was part of the Skyrunning series. I did not enter the marathon knowing my skill set was not best placed to tackle such Skyrunning courses which is defined as ‘running in the mountains above 2,000m altitude where the climbing difficulty does not exceed II° grade and the incline is over 30%’.

Oh how I laugh now! I should have done the marathon. It was far more runnable by all accounts.

I spent 14hrs 9mins working on my weaknesses. The first 5km or so was up a road from Dion, past the archeological site and so I made sure I started conservatively. These pictures were taken the day after the race when Katie and I headed out for some sight seeing. They are from the ancient city of Dion dating from 5th century BC. In the Hellenistic period (which covers the period of Mediterranean history between the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC and the emergence of the Roman Empire as signified by the Battle of Actium in 31 BC and the conquest of Ptolemaic Egypt the following year). Dion became the religious center of Macedonia, gaining importance and entirely developing into a city. Zeus, the King of Gods, was worshipped here, and the Olympic games were held in honour of Zeus and the Muses, goddesses.  Alexander the Great sacrificed to Zeus in Dion before he began his campaign against the Persians. 

 

 

Then the Romans arrived, in 169BC and added to it. Just amazing!

 

 

 

In 1806, Dion was rediscovered by the English explorer William Leake and the site is still under excavation. Anyway back to the boring bit…..

The course then hit the trail from Koromilia to Petrostrough which was steep single track and rocky but runnable on and off. There was a small water fountain “Itamos” next to the path which provided lovely cold spring water. We climbed from about 300m to just 1900-something-m in 10km. After an hour the poles came out and pretty much stayed out for all day.

The trail ran uphill in varying angles of slopes, through all sorts of vegetation, with the sound of the river coming from the deep ravine of the Orlias gorge below. The route guide remarked…’the dense vegetation creates the feeling that a little further it is lost but that does not happen‘. This was true I often felt I was cutting my own trail but never felt lost as such. 

At Koromilia there was a refuge which held an aid station. It was about this time I was waiting for the sunrise but typically it was slightly cloudy so I missed out but the views were immense down to the ocean.

The track at its beginning was hardly visible it did exist and too us up to a wooded ridge before passing through a large plateau lying in a dense beech forest. I seem to remember an infinite about of pine cones on the floor throughout the whole course. They conveniently acted like roller skates under my feet which was useful until I was fed up of slipping over on them!

65840344_2485027664875925_8571746320329474048_o.jpg

Eventually the pine trees with the white trunk emerged and these grow at high altitudes so I knew I was nearing the top, 1940m at Petrostrouga . The path then descended – well I got have slid down on my arse the whole way if it wasn’t for the dense pine trees.

Again we headed back up which took us up to a ridge line with sheer drops on both sides. I couldn’t look down so missed on the views. I had to just keep moving forward. Heights are my most favourite thing! The descent was steep shale and I actually enjoyed skidding down.

I knew now it was just one more up and down. The journey up to 2917m Mount Olympus was so long but so beautiful. We crossed snow fields, colourful wild flower meadows and wild horses. The mountain itself has many peaks and felt like a horse-shoe shape as I climbed up through the centre of it.

The descent was again comprised of loose shale before reaching more boulders and rocky type terrain and finally technical forest paths with roots and rocks. We wound our way down from 2900 to 300m over about 16hrs and it took me hours- about 4 I think! I was so lame at the descent!

We past the most glorious springs of the river Enipeas which looked to tempting but on reaching the water my legs were not terribly co-operative at flexing to let me get to it. The was still 400m of climbing to do in the last 10km and this was in the form of steps- 840 to be precise. It was a tough finish on sore legs. To my memory there was about 10km in total of runnable trails. The course truly tested me in all aspects of my trail running weaknesses- hiking, descending and ridge-line crossing with confidence. I have to say it was a great days training, I nailed my nutrition and I got no blisters or felt any injuries returning, but a slightly empty finish as it was not a very competitive field. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Greece and exploring these new trails but the event to do was probably the marathon distance for that real race experience

 

 

 

I finished in 14hrs 9mins. I was first women and 8th overall.

 

Thank you to the Olympus Marathon race organisers for having me and for hosting such a well organised weekend.

Categories: Ultra races | Leave a comment

Tengri Ultra 70km

I can’t actually believe I’ve been to Kazakhstan. I had been nervously apprehensive about the trip in the days leading up to it. I flew from Heathrow to Moscow. Then raced through the airport to make my connecting flight as we landed late only to find the next flight delayed so I just people watched. The Russians are a serious lot; there is no smiling upon making eye contact, no awareness of personal space, no stranger politeness and limited helpfulness. I soon learnt though than on a one to one basis once you’ve been introduced they are friendly and do smile!

I boarded, ate, slept and then woke to witness a beautiful sunrise.

img_7472

This trip was going to be special.

I got to the bustling airport and tried to use Uber but was directed to Yandex, a Russian Taxi service app. I got a lift with Miras, who obviously supported wholeheartedly Arsenal Football team!

Almaty was just coming to life. The word ‘Almaty’ in Kazakh language means ‘grown with apple trees’ and it’s known as a garden city. I only really travelled through but noticed lots of trees and parks just no real city centre only blocks of buildings.

In 1997 Astana replaced Almaty as the capital city. Astana is now called Nur- Sultan after a former president and is located in the geographical centre of the country.

I boarded the bus with my fellow runners. Despite the fact we were all heading to the same place there was still no smiling on eye contact. It made me laugh! 

After 2 hours on a bus we arrived at the Tamgaly Gorge area.

img_7481

The fast flowing River Ile swept through the landscape which was sandwiched between rocky hills. The sun shone; it was baking. Poppies were growing in the long grass. It was beautiful. The camp was setting up and the race atmosphere was building.

img_7528                             img_7550

img_7546

I had to collect a roll mat and a sleeping bag before finding a tent and settling in.

img_7486

img_7532

As horse is a traditional meal here I thought I may be getting some for dinner so unsure of what the meat was I stuck to the pasta and salad. A disco rolled on in the background but I managed to fall asleep.

Up at 4.30 ready to race at 6am. I felt ok considering the UK was 5hrs behind. Some oats and a coffee for breakfast and I was ready!

I wanted to try out a different nutrition strategy for this race because I’m fed up of feeling so nauseous during ultras. I had a feeling a lot of that was contributable to the amount of sweet things and gels I consume. Obviously the rest of it is down to working so hard!! 😉

The race started on time and it was light and cool. Even before 1km had lapsed I had almost lost sight of the two women in front of me; a Russian and a Ukrainian. I knew I had not done the training appropriate to start at that pace, since returning from injury, so didn’t head off and pursue them.

The course was comprised of two different loops with 1325m of ascent.

img_7525

We ran up through steep rocky gorges for 20km before heading back to the river and running along side it. I saw wild horses in the pastures, a tortoise crossing the trail, a scorpion (dead! Phew!) and an eagle souring above. Amazing!

We continued through the start still following the river. The aid stations were really regular and so getting water was no problem which was just as well because when the sun came out it peaked 34degs (considering last year it rained I’ll take the sun and its heat!). The next section was steep initially, as we left the river, with loose rock but then on reaching the Steppe grassland it was a long stretch of green pasture.

The descent was pretty technical as we followed the course through dried river beds and the Tas gorge; loose rocks and big slabs. Spiky scrub and tall bamboo I particularly remember fighting my way through. My legs and arms are scratched from the battles.

I continually gained on runners but never saw the other two women again. My results show I moved from 22nd position to 6th overall. I finished feeling pretty pleased. My savoury nutrition plan worked and I didn’t feel sick. I finished in 7hrs 17mins which was the target- the female course record. Unfortunately this year the Russian girl who set it went for a new one and completely kicked my arse!

img_7552

That evening there was some fire dancing, music and some Shamanic traditions: he was acting as a messenger between the human world and the sport world! Tengrism is a central Asian religion characterised by shamanism amongst other things such as animism, totesmism and ancestor worship. The word ‘Tengri’ literally means sky.

img_7506                   img_7517

The next day I explored the Tamgaly Tas area with Oksana (the Ukrainian lady who came 2nd). There are old rock carvings, petroglyphs, dating back to the 11-12th century- possibly an old outdoor worshipping site. It was fascinating. The petroglyph below shows a Buddha.img_7527

The views from the top were spectacular as well…

img_7536                 img_7538

……with Steppe eagles circling overhead. Wow- just wow!

img_7544                     img_7531

Thank you Tengri Ultra for having me!

Categories: Ultra races | 2 Comments

Vietnam Trail Marathon 70km

The Vietnam Trail Marathon was in its inaugural edition. The team already organised the Vietnam Mountain Marathon and the Jungle Marathon so were experienced in race directing. Nonetheless I didn’t expect such a quality show.

We landed at 0530hrs and got a taxi into Hanoi were we collected our race bibs.

img_6430

From there it was an organised bus ride 5hours to the north west. Destination Moc Chau.

img_6449

img_6447

Moc Chau reminded me of a mountain resort but with a rather misplaced corporate luxury hotel in the middle of it. The race brief was amidst a performance of local traditional dance.

img_6458

It felt very patriotic as they displayed what was good about their province including dancing around with pictures of milk urn, it was very colourful and jovial. Buffet dinner with lots of sticky rice, spring rolls and noodles and then bed.

img_6456

The alarm was set for 2.30am. It was 8.30pm in the UK so on getting up it felt like I definitely wanted to be heading to bed but typically I woke before the alarm thinking ‘oh god I’ve overslept’. However, pre race routine kicks in and I headed towards the kettle for a coffee and bowl of oats. The bus left at 3am and the race started at 4am. It was warm to me coming from a British winter but all the locals were really wrapped up in coats and gloves. They kept touching me and asking me why I wasn’t cold!

Moc Chau is an area famous in Vietnam for its tea plantations and peach blossom. The race took place at the height of the peach blossom season so people were bringing the trees into their homes for lunar new year. Mopeds with trees attached to them flooded the roads.

img_6500

This race took my breath away. Running through the dark for the first 2hours or was over pretty technical terrain. I used the LED Lenser SEO 7R.  As the darkness lifted I was amazed to see what I was running through. We climbed up to a plateau in the dark on a technical single track. It was humid so the rocks were slippery and everytime I reached to grasp something for balance it was thorny and spiky. The plateau revealed small villages that no car can access. They were so deeply hidden in rugged terrain with no running water or electricity. However the people did have plenty of energy as they tended their crops and smiled and waved. The children ran along side laughing which was a very precious experience.

The trails weaving through the landscape changed from jungle like with roots and vines that tangled between your feet to rural farms with cows, buffalo and pigs to flower fields, tea plantations and blossom orchards. However the think sticky mud didn’t change – it was so slidey and hard to move through.

img_6471

One French runner lost the sole of his Hoka Shoes and so had to finish the last 30km with just the uppers of his shoes held onto his feet by socks worn over the top.

My race was made because of the scenery.

img_0654

I had no expectations. I felt pretty rotten from the beginning. I had done 3 weeks of decent running but nothing over 4hrs or 20miles. Then 10days of being ill and then a week limping about on my sore foot hoping it would hold up to the rigours of 70km. My body clock wasn’t sure if I should be sleeping or whether breakfast was appropriate. I felt nauseous especially as the sun came up and the humidity rose. My foot was really sore (long standing issue I manage). I guess it’s fair to say I wasn’t feeling the love for ultra-running. In hindsight I had arrived in Vietnam after a really tiring and stressful 3 or so months so not sure I was in the most optimal condition but whinging (even to myself) in a place like this was totally ridiculous. I resolved to just make sure I would do my best.

The race continued up and down slipping and sliding over its 3645m and I kept pushing on needing to see more beautiful scenery. The race was superbly marked and although I ran alone I never felt unsafe.

I was pleased to finish I must admit.

photo-2019-01-20-16-17-50

9hrs 37mins. 1st female. 5th overall.

It took a few hours to stop feeling sick but the sun shone and lying prone in a tea plantation was delightfully relaxing.

The people were so friendly. I mingled amongst runners and traditionally dressed locals.

img_0562

I felt a bit like a giant at times. I was delighted to win a wooden water buffalo having said hello to so many on route.

img_6472

It was a great day for many reasons. I’d been able to run in one of the most beautiful places in the world; to help put things into perspective; Jon won his age group in the 21km race; the sun shone and I met more new friends.

3 days relaxing afterwards was spent kayaking, swimming, cave exploring all in Ha Long Bay. The name Hạ Long means ‘descending dragon’ and it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site. The bay features about 2000 limestone islets in an area around 1,553 km2.  The limestone has gone through 500 million years of formation with tectonic influenced plate activity, rain and humidity shaping the topography of the area.

img_0030

img_0628

img_0620

img_0631

Heading back to the chaos of Hanoi was quite a contrast. The red on the traffic lights doesn’t mean red! Just cross with confidence apparently and you’ll be dodged!

img_6516

img_6515-1There was weasel coffee to be tried- the weasel eats the coffee cherries, partially digests  the coffee beans, poos them out where they are collected, cleaned, dried and roasted. Following the French invasion in the 1800s, coffee was introduced into Vietnam, but was considered a luxury so only the French colonists along with Nguyen dynasty’s nobles could drink it. The farmers were forbidden from consuming it therefore the only way to drink it was to pick up the Weasel poo which was a block of coffee beans sticking together. They soon discovered it was more aromatic, smoother and less bitter.

With time before leaving the country for the 11hour flight home there was also time for a Vietnamese massage which was a whole body experience. Lots of pressure, clicks and cracks!

An amazing place! So many experiences. The trip contrasted; from being physically demanding in the mountains motivated by the people and breathtaking landscape; and yet mentally relaxing with the time on the ocean.

 

Thank you to the race organisers and as always to all my sponsors. SCOTT Running, KOMFUEL, Led Lenser UKBeta- runningRocktapeSquirrel Nut Butter, Coffee Buddies, & Symprove.

 

 

Categories: Ultra races | 2 Comments

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!).

img_5799

img_5796

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.

 

img_5848           img_5814

img_5812

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!

img_5830-1     img_5846-1

 

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

img_5835-1       img_5836-1

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.

img_5853

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.

img_5867

Categories: Ultra races | 11 Comments

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!

d0a88638-d00a-4cc9-bfc9-bd52ff0846ca

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.

img_5135

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.

utmb_profil_2018

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.

2065b3ae-ef9c-449c-bb49-8a3c802ebe95

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?

UTMB

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!

Trient

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!).

Tired

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!

img_5157

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!

IMG_5027

 

Categories: Sponsors, Ultra races | Leave a comment

Supporting Champions

Ultra Running & Me on the Supporting Champions podcast! Thanks for the opportunity to chat about and promote the sport I love.
.
>>> Click here <<< (if you want to listen. Thanks)
.
.
Run 🐿 Run
.
.
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]
Categories: Ultra races | Leave a comment

Wings for Life World Run, Sunrise Florida

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

IMG_1417

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.

IMG_1427

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.

IMG_4312

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

IMG_1439

IMG_4323

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.

IMG_1441

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.

img_4058

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!

Categories: Marathons, Ultra races | Leave a comment

Blog at WordPress.com.