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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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.

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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.

 

 

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!).

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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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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!

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Photo Credit: Tom Wilkinson

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

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Photo credit: irunfar.com (Bryon Powell)

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo credit: Reme Fabregue

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

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

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

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Photo credit: Yann Audouin

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

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Photo credit: Yann Audouin

Legs

Photo credit: Yann Audouin

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

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Photo Credit: Yann Audouin

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

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Photo credit: Jon Meek

Lessons learnt:

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

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

Categories: Ultra races | 5 Comments

Ledlenser Head Torch review

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

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

Main head torch options

1. MH10

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

2. NEO10R

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

Lumen output (both the same)

There are two modes:

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

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

Focusing Optics (both the same)

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

 

Comfort

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

 

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

Both head straps were adjustable and comfortable.

Battery Life (both the same)

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

Warranty (both the same)

Up to 7 years.

What I think?

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

My Spare

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

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

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

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Supporting Champions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Florida race started with 3000 competitors.

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

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

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Photographer: Elov Olsson

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

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

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

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

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

 

Categories: Marathons, Ultra races | 1 Comment

Two Oceans Marathon (56km)

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

The race is iconic because it’s so beautiful.

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

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

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

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

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

               

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

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

It was spectacular- both the hike and the views.

               

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

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

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

Thank you Cape Town you’ve been amazing!

Categories: Marathons, Ultra races | Leave a comment

 Fuxian Lake 50km

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

View from hotel room

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

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

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

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

Posing!

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Speedy Dominika & I

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

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

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

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UltraVasan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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