Black Canyon 100km

Sweaty stinky armpits. Why does one produce such a thing when adjusting to a different time zone? It’s 0200 MST (US) time (0900 GMT) and I was wide awake drinking a morning coffee. I made the decision to stay on UK time when travelling to Phoenix, Arizona because I didn’t want jet lag to effect my race. My do or die (don’t) mission.

It was peaceful as everyone slept. Well, not everyone….the nearest highway hums all night. I was staying with Miguel. I got in contact with him via a Facebook group – the Aravaipa Trail running group- on which I asked for accommodation help. The response was really generous but Miguel and his offer of a room in The Ultrahouse was too good to be true. As I look through the visitors book I can see I follow in many other ultra runners footsteps who have also passed through Phoenix.

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I arrive Thursday late afternoon. I have one day before the Black Canyon 100km.

The historic trail is of national significance, following a route used since the times of pre-historic Native American travelers and traders.  The Department of the Interior officially established the route as a livestock driveway in 1919, when it was used by woolgrowers from the Phoenix area to herd sheep to and from their summer ranges in the Bradshaw and Mingus Mountains.  Many segments of the trail roughly parallel the old Black Canyon stagecoach road between Phoenix and Prescott.

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The Black Canyon 100km features a 55 mile stretch of this trail beginning at in Spring Valley and ending at the Emery Henderson Trailhead near New River.

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Along the way we ran through Black Canyon and the Agua Fria river many times- so refreshing!

The day before I go for a 30min run to stretch out my legs. The sunrise is really beautiful

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We drive with Miguel to Black Canyon City so we can collect our bib number. I’m slightly unnerved to find it’s no 13!

I say we because Steph Austen, the Australia athlete, is also staying at The Ultrahouse.img_0191

The race starts at 0700 MST. I slept well and I felt ready. It takes just over an hour to get to the start. I was so nervous but felt positive. I had managed to arrange to meet a friend who said she would crew for me. I waited at the start for her- thank you Sarah in joining me for some of it. The logistics of the race seemed distortedly amplified way before race day. I was getting overly anxious about where I’d stay (until I found the Facebook group), how I’d manage the jet lag, how I’d get to the start etc. Obviously it all worked out perfectly thanks to the generosity of Miguel. Thank you so much! I did not feel it was detrimental in the end but not pleasant in the days preceding. I wonder if my anxiety was a byproduct of the pressure I was putting on myself for the race- win or lose essentially!

The race started in 1°C. I was freezing in my vest and shorts but knew I would warm up pretty quick when the sun rose. I had 100km to run with 1580m of height gain and 2150m of loss after all!

It was a fast start. The first 20miles to the first crewed aid station, Bumble Bee, was essentially all down hill. I purposely hung back from the front pack of woman but still got dragged along in order to remain competitive. It was single track the whole way: weaving up and down and side to side. Really well marked. I hated to admit it but at this aid station my legs were already feeling it. You need speed and agility to excel in this race. As I begin to analyse it I can see all the front runners had good fast recent marathon times- 2.40 something- a good cadence and fast leg turnover was essential.

My stomach was beginning to rumble (not in a good way!). I stopped at the Portaloos and got disconnected from the group of women I was with but I remained focused on trying to catch them back up.

I reached Black Canyon City aid station (mile 37.4) and got to see how far the other ladies were in front of me. It was only minutes but I really struggled in the climb out. I was thirsty- it was topping 31°C now. I had flasks of energy drink and craved ice cold water not sticky sweet fluids.

I began to trip more over the rocky single track. I was tiring but with 25miles to go I couldn’t let go of a possibility. I was 4th. I never stopped trying. I ran the whole day albeit some bits much slower than others. I didn’t look up much for fear of falling over. However, I never failed to be impressed by the height of the surrounding Saguaro cacti which can grow up to 12m tall.

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But they could inflict serious skin wounds!

This was a result of running past a prickly pear cactus as I tried to overtake on the single track.

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At Table Mesa aid station (mile 51) station I drank a lot of water which probably wasn’t the best idea as I set off again with my stomach completely overloaded. After this I struggled to eat/ consume my gels but I knew I’d had enough prior so wasn’t too worried. I sucked and crunched my way through ice cubes which felt amazingly refreshing. The aid stations were well stocked with encouraging volunteers.

The race went on and the horrible sinking feeling of failure crept in. I had a long time to think it through. I had come out to this race with the one goal of getting a golden ticket for a 100mile race in America called Western States. I had (and have over the previous years) failed to get in through the lottery and so rose to the challenge of seeing if I could enter one of their golden ticket races. Could I run faster? I kept asking myself and the answer confirmed I was working my hardest.

I was pleased to finish in 9hrs 49mins. 5th woman. I was pleased to finish full stop! My legs were sore, I felt sick, I had blisters on my feet from the greek crossings and my forehead was burnt! Time for a rest.

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Better to have tried and failed then never have tried at all. Here’s to taking risks!

 

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Geoparktrail, Iran

Two years ago I did this race…..my blog is a great memory of a fantastic event in a beautiful place.
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 Khamir.
It has a long history with people inhabiting the Island well BC. It has been the site of defence and fighting and the Portuguese even built a fort on it. It is used for navigation and trade as it’s at the mouth of the Persian Gulf.
It is quite small measuring 130km long and 40km wide and had a population of about 120,000.
It is famous for a few things. It is supposed site of the Garden of Eden (as described in the Book of Genesis) but who knows.
It’s mangrove nature park is a bird watchers haven where pelicans and many others species, native to Iran or just passing through, stop.

It is a breeding site for Hawksbill turtles which are now heavily protected as their numbers are dangerously low.

It hand builds ships with wood.
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Finally it has this amazing Geo Park. They are trying to establish as a UNESCO world site. The top rock layer is really soft and so when it rains it cuts the landscape into these uniques gorges.
This was the second time the race had been run. Iranian runner, Davood is the race director and has done an amazing thing organising such an event when time keeping and local reliability is not good to stay the least. Last year was just a 28km race and this year was a 30km and 60km (well actually 66km). I heard about it online from a German runner called Moritz and knew it was the adventure for me. I checked the FCO 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 o 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 so I looked into flying from Dubai. The trip was looking off.
However, I found out Queshm 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 a guide. Trip was back on! Yes!
I fly to Dubai and then 12hrs later flew to Queshm Island. On arrival I had to wait to have my fingers print taken but on the whole entry was smooth. Immediately I noticed two things; the people are so friendly; and time keeping is very chilled. The flight took off whenever and 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 bought a head scarf in this was so.
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I was staying in a rural guest house called Sharifi and everyone was so welcoming.
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I was given a bike and lead out of on a quite 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.

Falafel wraps for dinner and then bed.
On Wednesday many more runners arrived from Tehran including Moritz. Everyone was so kind, genuine and talkative. We all got taken to the Mangrove area and I had got a chance to swim. The average temperature is 27 °C (81 °F) but actually it was quite windy by the sea so felt colder.
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 and then 15mins and we waited 2hours so in the end bought was wraps at a street stall. Eventually we got to bed only to be up in 5hrs. The race was supposed to start at 6.30 am but in Iran that meant closer to 7am!
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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The race started on the beach.
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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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I ran slowly to start as the sun really came out on race day. I wanted to be respectful but obviously 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 headed into the gorges. The heat and lack of any air flow was tremendous.
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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, 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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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. I 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.
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.
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It is illegal so a local may have reported us otherwise. It was lovely despite feeling ill and I witnessed a beautiful sunset.IMG_3646
The morning I was due to fly the opportunity to visit one of the gorges came up.IMG_3649
I was worried I would miss my flight due to ‘Iranian time keeping’ but I risked it and it was totally worth it.
At the end I got given a gift of local clothing and it was so kind. I love my new harem trousers.
I have gained so much from this experience. The people made it for me with their generosity and hospitality
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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 Tehran and Sharah one day.

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Ultra X Sri Lanka stage race preview

Here is a video clip of what is to come 21st- 29th March. Pure escapism!~ Tempted?

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Cappodocia 64km

Cappadocia lies in Central Anatolia, largely in Nevsehir Province of central Turkey. The ground consists of a high plateau over 1000 m in altitude that is pierced by volcanic peaks. Ancient volcanoes approximately 9 to 3 million years ago underlie the Cappadocia region. Eruption and erosion created the spectacular pillars and chimney-like forms. Fire, wind and rain!

However, it was also human ingenuity that has given Cappadocia its magical aesthetic. Cappadocia was on the historic Silk Road trading route. Century after century, the area was raided and invaded by expanding European empire builders; The Hittites, the Persians, Alexander the Great, the Romans, the Byzantines, and the Ottomans.

After bringing the Persian Empire to an end, Alexander the Great tried to rule the area through one of his military commanders. Around 60 BC, Cappadocia became a Roman province. During this Roman period, persecuted Christians fled to the town of Göreme in Cappadocia.  They soon discovered the soft tuff  rock could easily be excavated and they built homes and churches and entire underground cities, with up to 10 storeys, in the chimneys.

The region became a monastic centre in 300–1200 AD.

Now the region is a tourist haven. The transfer from the airport was 45mins to arriving in Ürgüp.

Our hotel was amazing.

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We had a day before the race so I did a little jog out but sprinted back followed closely by some dogs. They were actually being more friendly than aggressive but at the time instinct prevailed. We then got our race bibs.

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It was so well organised. In the compulsory kit check was trainers and I had flipflops on. I said you’ll have to believe me when I say I have them.

It got dark about 7pm and so as we headed to the pasta party the stars where coming out.

The race started at 7am. We got up at 5am and had a coffee and a homemade flapjack. We were all set. Nervous smiles!

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I carried the compulsory kit and a selection of gels from Komfuel and 32Gi. My energy levels were spot on. Although my stomach began to cave in towards the end….

Me (before the race): ‘Do you need a final poo?’

My stomach: ‘No’

Me: ‘Ok good lets go and race’

My stomach (10km from the end): ‘I think I need to go now’

Me: ‘What? Are you telling me we’ve carried an extra kilo around this whole time? Typical I race for 6hrs and then you say I do need that poo!’

The conversations you have as a runner!

Anyway back to the start. It was a steep uphill and I was definitely blowing out backwards. My lack of leg speed after practicing going slow and long all summer was showing through. I lost the girl who won here! Anyway with 64km and 2000m of elevation to go I thought I still had a chance obviously! We started with the runners who were doing the 119km route. It was a great atmosphere.

The first aid station was at Ibrahimpasa 11km. I felt as though I still hadn’t really got going. It was a real effort but then the terrain never changed and I realised it was actually a pretty punishing course. Rollercoaster hills constantly up and down wore the legs down. The profile didn’t really depict this.

I was running with many people. I got the opportunity to catch up with people I raced with in Iran at the Geopark trail, in Kazakhstan at the TengriUltra and in Russia at the Golden Ring Ultra. It was so good.

I had the goal to break the course record so I was trying to stick to a set pace and not go off too fast but I also didn’t want to leave anything on the course. I wanted to push hard so it was tough finding a rhythm. The next check point was at 28km so the 10miles between checkpoints took us through the Zemi Valley, Goreme and the Pigeon Valley, before reaching Uchisar. If you didn’t look up it was easy to detour off the trail because it wound through caves and down narrow river beds. The next stage was 8km of sandy tracks to Goreme and I felt I could push on through the Love Valley (honestly it was really called that!). Then the hills returned – 500m in 12km to Cavusin (checkpoint 4). I got stuck behind a dog who seemed to want to join the runners on their route. The problem was as I bent over to put my hands on my thighs to climb my head was at the corresponding height of his anus! It was no good…I had to push passed him which he conceded to. I then imagined he wasn’t that amused as I bent over to continue climbing (although knowing dogs he probably didn’t mind at all! 😂).

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A nice downhill to checkpoint 5, Akdag, which was very welcome after what felt like 400m in 4miles but wasn’t quite as bad as that. My legs didn’t really want to pick up much pace but I kept pushing on in case the leading lady could be caught. I had no idea how far in front she was.

The last stage only had 122m of height gain in 9km but it was in the form of a gradual ascent to quite unrelenting. I was pleased to be finishing but did spare a thought for those runners doing the long course who had to head out to do another loop somewhere. The finish was down the cobbled streets into Ürgüp.

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2nd woman. 6hrs 22min.

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Thank you to the race organisers for having me. It was an incredible venue with superb organisation and such a friendly atmosphere meeting old and new friends alike.

 

 

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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. 

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

It was all quite overwhelming.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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Kremlin (I did not take this photo)

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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

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State Historical Museum

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Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (WWII memorial)

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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! 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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…

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

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Thank you Tengri Ultra for having me!

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

 

 

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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

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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

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