Author Archives: runningsquirreljo

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Two Oceans Marathon (56km)

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

The race is iconic because it’s so beautiful.

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

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

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

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

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

               

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

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

It was spectacular- both the hike and the views.

               

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

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

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

Thank you Cape Town you’ve been amazing!

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Categories: Marathons, Ultra races | Leave a comment

Geoparktrail, Iran

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

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

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It is famous for a few things:

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

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

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

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

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

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📷: Davood Shirkhani , race director.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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📷 Moritz

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

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

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

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

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📷 Moritz

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

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📷 Leah

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

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

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📷 Moritz

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📷 Moritz

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📷 Moritz

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

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📷 Davood

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

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📷 Leah

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

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

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

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

 

 

Categories: Sponsors, Ultra races | 2 Comments

 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.

Categories: Ultra races | Tags: | 2 Comments

Lavaredo Ultra Trail

11pm, Saturday 23 June, Cortina town centre and the gun went off. It was the start of the Lavaredo Ultra Trail 120km trail race with 5800m of climbing.

It was a pleasant evening which was a relief as on the previous few nights thunder and lightening had spectacularly rolled around the valley producing hail the size of cherries.

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Jon was racing too.

We kissed goodbye and the race started. The trail climbed out of the town, head lamp after head lamp winding their way through the trees. I used the LED Lenser MH10 head lamp and it was utterly brilliant; comfortable, good strong beam of light, easy to use and no sign of fading all night.

I had anticipated that the first half of the course would be more runnable and so set a pace that would bring me in at half way in just under my target time.

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During the night the course went past the Tre Cime di Lavaredo which is the emblem of the Dolomites. It would have looked like this in the day if I’d seen it!

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Forc. Lavaredo was a peak that I did reach as dawn was breaking and the view was spectacular. There was a lower layer of cloud in the valley but above was the sun breaking.

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I journeyed on acutely aware that I had not even reached half way but wasn’t feeling great. My energy levels were fine; I had well and truly carbo loaded the 3 days before using 32Gi Endure; I had been regularly eating 32Gi gels and Bounce balls;  I was drinking very regularly; and I was sweating well. My legs felt as though they had no power. I struggled to push the pace on on the flats and this was truly noticeable as I ascended. It did not feel as though I was going through a bad patch, although a little nauseous, I just felt rubbish!

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As dawn broke I was coming up to half way, Cimabanche. I replenished my stock of energy, applied sunscreen,  swopped head lamp for sunglasses and headed off again.

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Photo credit: Kris Duffy

I was overtaken at half way losing my 5th position (although at the time I did not know my position). I was asked ‘what is wrong- why are you running so slowly?’- I had no real explanation. The sun came up and the second half of the course began to test my technical skills descending and my ability to climb at any sort of competitive pace. I noticed that as I climbed I felt really nauseous and as I descended I felt better. I did not put this down to altitude at all at the time but perhaps, in hindsight, it was?

There was another trail race on and as I climbed the 10km from 80 to 90km I got stuck behind hundreds of these runners on the single track winding it’s way up the valley. It was really hot but I could make use of the river.

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The rest of the race became a battle to the end. I just kept moving forward. I was passed. I rested on my poles. I shuffled on. I was passed. I felt nauseous. I felt better. My legs dreaded the descents when they knew I would try and run but all they produced was a shuffle. I was passed.

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Photo credit: Kris Duffy

It was such a long 10km to the end. I was so pleased to come into the  town. My fellow Winchester and District Athletic Club Runner, Robin Houghton, caught me up here and we ran in together.

I crossed the line and the compère asked me what happened. My reply to him was ‘the wheels fell off!’. It happens and although my pride was a little dented I was delighted to have finished.

I waited up for Jon. I knew he was on his target and I wanted to see him finish. I was so proud. He never ceases to amaze me.

Thank you to all your lovely messages of support before and afterwards. Also to my sponsors- SCOTT RUNNING, ROCKTAPE, 32Gi, LED Lenser, Bounce Balls and Coffee Buddies.

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Categories: Ultra races | 2 Comments

Lavaredo Ultra Trail

11pm, Saturday 23 June, Cortina town centre and the gun went off. It was the start of the Lavaredo Ultra Trail 120km trail race with 5800m of climbing.

It was a pleasant evening which was a relief as on the previous few nights thunder and lightening had spectacularly rolled around the valley producing hail the size of cherries.

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Photo courtesy of Rachel Gorajala.

Jon was racing too.

Photo credit: Bridget Funnell. Thank you, and Roger, for your support

We kissed goodbye and the race started. The trail climbed out of the town, head lamp after head lamp winding their way through the trees. I used the LED Lenser MH10 head lamp and it was utterly brilliant; comfortable, good strong beam of light, easy to use and no sign of fading all night.

I had anticipated that the first half of the course would be more runnable and so set a pace that would bring me in at half way in just under my target time.

Screen Shot 2017-06-28 at 08.59.34

During the night the course went past the Tre Cime di Lavaredo which is the emblem of the Dolomites. It would have looked like this in the day if I’d seen it!

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Photo credit: Rachel Gorajala.

Forc. Lavaredo was a peak that I did reach as dawn was breaking and the view was spectacular. There was a lower layer of cloud in the valley but above was the sun breaking.

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Photo credit: Kris Duffy

I journeyed on acutely aware that I had not even reached half way but wasn’t feeling great. My energy levels were fine; I had well and truly carbo loaded the 3 days before using 32Gi Endure; I had been regularly eating 32Gi gels and Bounce balls;  I was drinking very regularly; and I was sweating well. My legs felt as though they had no power. I struggled to push the pace on on the flats and this was truly noticeable as I ascended. It did not feel as though I was going through a bad patch, although a little nauseous, I just felt rubbish!

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As dawn broke I was coming up to half way, Cimabanche. I replenished my stock of energy, applied sunscreen,  swopped head lamp for sunglasses and headed off again.

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Photo credit: Kris Duffy

I was overtaken at half way losing my 5th position (although at the time I did not know my position). I was asked ‘what is wrong- why are you running so slowly?’- I had no real explanation. The sun came up and the second half of the course began to test my technical skills descending and my ability to climb at any sort of competitive pace. I noticed that as I climbed I felt really nauseous and as I descended I felt better. I did not put this down to altitude at all at the time but perhaps, in hindsight, it was?

There was another trail race on and as I climbed the 10km from 80 to 90km I got stuck behind hundreds of these runners on the single track winding it’s way up the valley. It was really hot but I could make use of the river.

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Photo credit: Kris Duffy. The ‘V’ on the distant horizon was our destination.

The rest of the race became a battle to the end. I just kept moving forward. I was passed. I rested on my poles. I shuffled on. I was passed. I felt nauseous. I felt better. My legs dreaded the descents when they knew I would try and run but all they produced was a shuffle. I was passed.

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Photo credit: Kris Duffy

It was such a long 10km to the end. I was so pleased to come into the  town. My fellow Winchester and District Athletic Club Runner, Robin Houghton, caught me up here and we ran in together.

I crossed the line and the compère asked me what happened. My reply to him was ‘the wheels fell off!’. It happens and although my pride was a little dented I was delighted to have finished.

I waited up for Jon. I knew he was on his target and I wanted to see him finish. I was so proud. He never ceases to amaze me.

Thank you to all your lovely messages of support before and afterwards. Also to my sponsors- SCOTT RUNNING, ROCKTAPE, 32Gi, LED Lenser, Bounce Balls and Coffee Buddies.

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World Trail Championships 2017

Putting on the GB kit is always a honour and I was so looking forward to the privilege. I had been selected to run in the World Trail Championships which were to be held in Badia Pratalgia, Poppi, a region of Tuscany. The course was 50km through the Sacred Forests trails. Team GB (female) consisted of 6 runners with 4 to score. As usual I wanted to make my training count and do as well in the vest as possible.

We were staying about 12km outside of Badia in a place called Camoldoli. The accommodation was in an old Monastery which sat hidden about the trees. It was a very serene setting to rest the day before the race. A nice opportunity to forget all your worries for day and talk to new people, enjoy the Italian food and soak up the sunshine. The build had been fairly stressful so this was really welcome.

The opening ceremony was the night before the race and all the teams got to stroll through the Italian streets of Poppi up to the castle which dates from 1191. Music, dancing and traditional Italian costumes were on full display to mark the occasion.

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Tom Payn, Kyle Greig, Gareth Hughes, Matthew Roberts, Jo Meek, Katie Kaars Sijpesteijn, Helen Bonsor, Sally Fawcett &Joasia Zakrzeski (not in order)

Race morning was a complete contrast and very much one of focus; alarm went off, coffee (Intrepid Baboon expresso) & Bounce Ball breakfast consumed, race kit on, bus to the start, compulsory kit check, good lucks and we were off!

 

We were off with the words in my head ‘don’t go off to fast’ because despite it being an uphill start there was a real stampede.

 

As I reflect back over the course I just remember running up or down. It was held in the National Park of Forests Casentinesi.

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The first part was fairly runnable but the long climb from 33km to 44km was less so. It was relentless…although relentlessly beautiful. The course saw us run through the untouched Sasso Fratino forest which is nominated to become a World Heritage Site (UNESCO), along ridges, past ancient religious settlements like the Verna Sanctuary (where is it believed San Francis of Assisi is believed to have received the stigmata), around the huge hydraulic Ridracoli dam, descending steps and cobbled tracks and ultimately climbing and then descending 2900m.

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I ran the race alone just consistently passing other runners until the final climb where I have to say 3 runners passed me. I managed to hold out for a top 20 finish (17th) in 5hrs 31mins.

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I was first in the GB team but the others soon arrived in. We did not manage a team prize but worked hard for our position of 4th. The French, Italians and Spanish took 1st, 2nd and 3rd racing expertly over the mountainous route.

A big thank you goes to the team, the team support (Adrian, Spencer and Sam), British Athletics, my race energy gel providers 32Gi, Rocktape for saving me from too many ankle sprains, SCOTT Running #SupertracRC,  Bounce Balls and Get in the Mood Coffee. Now back to reality!

 

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Wings for Life World Run

img_2510-154km was the result of a long run down a dual carriage way/ highway in Bratislava. I could just leave it at that but the race and day was so much more than my result.

Wings for Life World Run is a charity event supporting spinal cord research. It’s organised by Red Bull and involved 24 countries around the world all starting their event at the same time. 30mins after the runners start a car starts, and gets progressively faster, and when it catches you you’re out. I got caught after 3hrs 49mins, first female in Bratislava (4th overall) but 12th female worldwide (winning woman did 68km!) and 119th overall (winning man did 92km in a regular wheelchair that was not even designed for sport: winning male runner did 88km). There were 150,000+ runners.

The race in Bratislava started by the Danube.

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The air of excitement really made it feel like a bigger event than just the race I was in. I towed the line with all 3132 Slovakian finishers and set off running through the docks and around a part of the Old Town. This part of the city contains the castle:

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The Castle. Rebuilt in 1953 after a fire. However, a castle has stood on this site for hundreds of years

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and from up there were some great views….

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The red roofs of Bratislava Old Town

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The Old Town wall

Once we had crossed this bridge we headed and off out East.


I got in pace with two Austrian men and that really helped as pounded down the empty road in the hot afternoon sun. I’ve got a great SCOTT RC vest tan!

I took a 32Gi gel every 7miles and water at every available station. Weirdly it was carbonated bottled soda water which didn’t really quench my thirst but it helped. Maybe it was the heat combined with the pace but my stomach wasn’t that happy trying to digest it all. I can’t complain- why would it be? Needless to say a lot of the water belched back up!

I struggled a bit towards 40km for some reason but at 40km I thought we were losing pace so pushed on. This lasted until it rained torrentially and then my pace got a bit less consistent. That combined with my stomach having had enough by then. Then at 50km the two Austrian chaps caught me back up and it was great to have company for the last 4km or so.

Stefan & Markus- great runners!

At the end I got returned to the start where there was a big screen showing all the runners still going.

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Incredible feats of speed endurance!

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TransLantau 100km

When I was running along I had a momentary thought about how to start this but essentially all my ideas went along the lines of ‘bloody hell fire and shit the bed!’ #ABeast! Most of the time I was concentrating or having a word with myself.

Since I’ve finished and slept the memories of the tough points fade dramatically. I am left with a disappointment in my performance especially how I faded because of my stupid error of perhaps going off a bit enthusiastically! They have not faded enough though for me to remember I did continually ask myself ‘am I going as hard as I can if not push on’ so I know I gave it my best which is all I ever ask really. The realms of my capability where less for this race so I have to remember that too.

I’d had a busy (what I mean is really stressful) few weeks before leaving home and to be honest training had been hampered by niggles which meant I had curtailed sessions. I was incredibly nervous of the race but now I know why. It was a premonition of how hard it would be and I was right to be respectfully weary of such a distance on such terrain.

The trip had lots of firsts… Visiting Asia let along Hong Kong. Starting a race so late (2330hrs). Night running for the whole night.

My journey over was great. I watched some new releases. I arrived and took a taxi to Mui Wo. I decided to stay on British time as my trip was so short so ate and was awake at random times.

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First local taste of their cuisine

Race night arrived soon enough. Everyone was so friendly at the start (I have since been delighted to read their Facebook posts to know they found it hard too- the technical terrain and wet foggy weather were their real challenges too). It was a really well organised event by Clement and Sabrina. Before I knew it we were off…

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We ran out of Mui Wo into the darkness.

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I had put the checkpoints on my arm but failed to account for the effects of the humidity- they soon dripped off me.

I know when everyone writes about trail running they mention the beauty of the course and the views and the immense feeling of joy they have in running along but there was none of that today. The views were obliterated initially by the darkness and then high up by the fog and wet weather. There  was no beautiful sunset but I was pleased when the daylight arrived. The trail took all my concentration for 15hrs. It took me out of my comfort zone whilst I descended what others (I imagined) sprang down. I ran alone so at least no one could hear my chit chat!

2.5hrs into the race and my torch died. This was my first fear confirmed. I had two and spare batteries so it was ok although quite fiddly to change batteries on route.

We then climbed Lantau peak and it was blowing a hooly up there. The visibility was less than a metre and I was unsure of where the path was leading me. It was all a bit frantic. The descent was as everyone warned me step after step which soon became a theme on the course.

I felt I was running well but in hindsight too well! I should have started a little slower.  Marie McNaughton a local lady and I were sort of together for the first half. I never saw her but our times suggest there was nothing in it. She passed me as I was having a wee (poor lady had a fright!). As the course was negatively loaded which I had not fully appreciated I got slower and slower and she just maintained the pace (although afterwards she said she was going to drop out at CP8 or 9 because she found it so hard but was persuaded to continue on. This was her 4th 100km in a local grand slam so she really wanted to finish for that accolade). I was not conditioned to run for 15hrs and considering all my hill training was done on a treadmill I was not really mountain fit but I was not going to allow such lame excuses so I kept pushing. My feet suffered with blisters which although I tried to ignore were really sore especially the one on my sole. My feet are awful at the best of times but perhaps the humidity made them slip around more in my sweat (?).

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Annoyingly painful!

After it popped I dressed it just to pad it out abit. By this stage the effects of fatigue cumulated with ever more technical descents were taking their toll. It was meant to be 103km but it was more like 108km. Knowing the route would have been a luxury as there were so many false hopes as I kept thinking we must be nearly there. As I started to write this there were runners still out there- an truly incredible effort.

I had no energy problems thanks to a 32Gi gel or a chew evey hour.I did crave savoury after 8hrs and had some cheese which went down really well. I also tried coke for the first time to settle feeling a bit sick and it worked a treat.

I came first Open female but 2nd woman. Time 15.05hrs. Distance 107km. Elevation 5100m (I think). Overall 8th. I was disappointed- my fade, my blister, my crap descending but as I grow older I’m much better at reflecting on it all and taking away the lessons.

I learnt some things during my race:

  • The importance of respecting the distance.
  • Start slow. Slower than you think.
  • Prepare your kit. Check your headlamps. Rechargeable batteries do not have a long life span.
  • It helps to ask yourself ‘have a done everything I can to look after myself’ when racing- water, salt, energy. If yes then ask ‘can I push on’. If yes then good. If no then just accept where you are.

I am so grateful to my body when it puts up with what my mind makes it do!

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Thank you Clement and Sabrina for such a well organised (tough!) race and your friendliness. A big thank you has to go to SCOTT Running for helping me get to the race and also to 32Gi UK, Rocktape UK, Bounce Balls UK, Ledlenser, Coffee Buddies for their support before, during and after. I would also like to say thanks (and well done) to all the friendly hello’s at the start and the end by the other trail runners and supporters- Ruth, Marie, Harry, Jacky, Jeremy, Henri and John who made me feel very welcome which was much appreciated after travelling such a long way. And finally to everyone for their amazingly supportive comments on social media it was and is so appreciated.

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El Cruce

El Cruce means The Crossing in Spanish but the race is not in Spain; it is in Argentina briefly crossing into Chile.

The travel time over here took over 27hrs eventually arriving in Bariloche. It’s a town next to the most enormous lake and has a back drop of mountains all around which is incredible scenic.
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We then travelled up to Villa Catedral with the awesome Cerro Catedral Mountain as the vista. It’s Argentina’s most popular ski resort. However, no snow now so the mountains were full of runners and crazy mountain bikers.

The first day was one of registration, packing, meeting new people (thanks Jorge Maravilla for your friendship and help) and a flag ceremony!

Jon with the GB flag

The race was over 3 days covering just under 100km. On Wednesday 1st February we got up at 3am to start. Thank you Intrepid Baboon for the Expresso boost to wake me up. The start was unusual. First there was a coach trip of 2.5hrs to a Argentina/ Chile border crossing point. We got of the coach all bleary eyed got our passports stamped exiting Argentina raced 3km and got our passports stamped returning.

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Then got back in the bus and transported another 1.5hrs before we raced 32km. The race took us through woodlands, rivers, up nearly 1000m and finally ending at the campsite next to a beautiful lake.

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All we had to carry was the compulsory kit. The volunteers were brilliant…tents up and great BBQ’d meat to eat.

 

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Mass BBQing

The lake was the place to wash and freshen up from all the sandy tracks and sun; it was so clear and blue.

The first day was like a time trial because as you got off the coach you started to race and with 500 runners we all arrived at different times. So the 3km and the 32km times were added together for the end of stage 1 result. I was lying in 3rd (3hrs 20mins) 7minutes behind two very strong Argentine runners (Tania Diaz Slater & Luciana Urioste).

Day 2 was a toughie. 35km and 1583m. The first 20 runners started together so I tried to keep up with the local ladies but as soon as we hit the technical single track I began to loose them. We started off along the beach, up through some woods and then a single track climb which peaked with a scree scramble to the ridge. Up and down along the ridge before an gnarly technical descent, then a sandy one and then back along another lake side. I never saw 1st & 2nd again but I raced and raced to make sure 4th could not catch me (4hrs 44mins).

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Over night it started to rain and remained on and off all morning as we raced the final stage. I stayed with the lady lying in 2nd for a good hour only again losing her on sections of rocky technical single track. My legs and breathing for the first time felt less strained. Just as well as I was fed up sounding like I was enjoying myself when I was actually hurting! I think I was finally getting used to the altitude and terrain. The race of about 27km went up and up (1582m) to Cerro Catedral and then dropped down for the last 10km (3hrs 9mins). It was much more runnable today and certainly tested the legs, heart and lungs!

Amazingly I only fell over 3 times. For all the variation in terrain I could not fault the SCOTT Kinabalu Supertrac RC. I fell because I tripped not slipped or lost my footing. I used poles on day 2 which helped my quads but, goodness, my poor non- existant triceps were taken to task! My nutrition worked well. I had a Bounce Ball for breakfast and then alternated a 32Gi gel & chew bar every hour during the race. I Rocktaped my ankles to prevent me spraining them.

Finishing is always a good feeling .

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I waited for Jon to finish so we could have a sandy sweaty- rain-damp celebratory hug. He came 5th in his age group despite really struggling with the heat and resultant cramps on day 1. He never ceases to amaze me!

 

I finished in 3rd in the end delighted to make the podium (11hrs 32mins).

Now for the long journey home. It always means so much so THANK YOU everyone for all your support and kind words on FaceBook, Instagram and Twitter.

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