Races

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Spartathlon. A lot tougher than Cheam Park Run.

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Woah, that was tough. Real tough, like running through treacle for 153 miles tough. That race is a bastard. Roads, uphills, sun, night, cold, downhills and a death bus chasing you along.

I have written a full article to come out in Outdoor Fitness magazine to describe in great detail the beauty/evil of this race so with the risk of sounding like a broken record I’ve attempted to put down a few words here to those that know me about what happened on the streets of Greece.

I won’t lie to you, I set out fast, hitting the first marathon in 3.30 and getting through halfway in 12 hours. I had my eyes set on a sub 24 hour finish and I’d gambled my lot on this working. Basically I underestimated just how tough this race is. The hills are constant, gradual ups and downs that wear down your body, the heat makes you work out of your comfort zone and the strict cut offs force many to look over their back for the Grim Reaper Death bus, picking up all those who falter, if only for a second.

What followed was a 153km trail of vomit from 100k onwards and a battle to motivate and push myself to go forwards and not just sit down and give up. It was a different beast to all of my recent races and I was determined to prove I could suffer with the best of them.
I will be back in Greece for this race again, maybe 2014, maybe 2015, but I will be back. Do I regret the gamble, would I do it differently if I could rewind to that Friday morning? Nah, I’d still fly off, chase Mike Morton and go for a sub 24hr finish. I’ll learn much more from vomiting 30 times than if it all went swimmingly and the prize was a pretty cool thing to chase!

Basically I got my ideas a little above my station but I’m not going to change my ambitions, I’ll just have to try a little harder. A lot harder. Finishing that race reminded me why I love this sport and will drive me forward to greater things.

My support crew were invaluable at times in Sparta and were the always laughing, joking and helping me in any way they could, even Mick & Rebecca rubbing my vomit covered legs and then eating some crisps (I don’t know how that helped but they did it anyway). The pros and cons of having a support crew are many but that’s a whole different blog I reckon! 

Anyway that’s my season over, it has been a great one but bring on 2014. It will be better, I promise.

P.s. Thanks to Louis Waterman-Evans here is some evidence that shows how I felt through the race…

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Rest is for the weak…right?

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So there is less than two weeks until my 2nd big race of the year, the Spartathlon, 153 miles across the dry, hot, arid landscape of modern day Greece from Athens to Sparta in homage to an ancient ultra-runner, Pheidippides.

I’m out here early, sitting in the 28 degree heat of the morning, just so I can get used to it a little bit more before race day and relax a little. I’m usually the exception to the rule that everyone starts an ultra marathon with an injury, the irritating chap at the start who says “No, no, I feel great. Really looking forward to this little jolly” and I always mean it.

This last fortnight though it has been a little bit different. Just after the Death run with Mark Woolley and James Adams in Malaga I made an error that I’m not proud of and something I try to push onto all of my coaching clients. I didn’t pay the respect due to running over 150km in the space of 3 days, I didn’t rest properly and I’ve paid the price. It only started as a wee niggle, one little pain on a hard, trail session on the Monday night in Spain, but I ignored the warning signs and cracked on anyway.

When I got up to jog to a track session with Rebecca and her chum Grimmers the following Saturday I thought a couple of days rest would have done me well, even though my legs were tired still. I didn’t even make it to the end of the road.

3 weeks before a 153 mile race and I couldn’t even run 153 metres. Shit. Back home I went, RICE was implemented straight away and I sat on my backside for the rest of the day. A quick email to Simon Lamb (Six Seconds High Sports Massage) and I was looking at all the possibilities.

If it was ligament or cartilage damage then Sparta was out of the window. I could only hope it was due to tired legs and rest was what I needed, so that is what I concentrated on, putting all my efforts into recovering from that. If it is more serious then I would have bigger issues anyway, one being my work with TomTom, which is keeping me fed (as well as a few 9bars).

Simon was great, working on the “knot the size of an orange” and some seriously tight quad muscles. It was possible that the tight quads were pulling up on my knee when I exerted myself, especially on the downhill. If this was the case then Sparta was not out of reach, I would have to rest but everyone loves a taper right?

3 sports massage, nightly self massage and heat treatment on the leg every chance I got this week and I’m feeling better. I managed to pace the 1.50 group at the Bristol Half at the weekend for Tom Tom and the leg felt stronger, not 100% but getting there. With 2 more weeks of rest I am confident, 95% confident, that I will line up at Sparta feeling good and just a wee bit anxious about my knee.

Why am I telling this to everyone who reads my blog? Why not keep an idea that I don’t do injury and am fully fit for the race for any potential competitors? Well at Spartathlon my only competitor will be the race itself and I’m pretty sure Greek roads don’t gain confidence from reading blogs, they’ve stopped enough runners in their time to be very cocky about their destructive ability.

The second reason is because many runners flirt with injury so often and we always forget just what we put our bodies through. We wonder why we feel tired the Sunday after a sub 7 hour 50 miler or a fortnight after winning a 135 mile multiday race (Austin, Rick, that’s you two) and forget that we should feel f**ked some times. Proper f**ked.

Rest is such a key element of ultra running and it is so often over looked and as hard as I like to think I train, I rest even harder. I make it a competition with myself to rest as much as possible and if it was an Olympic sport I’d like to think I’d be quite good (although many Pro Athletes make this an art form).

You aren’t going to “toughen your legs” by running on damaged, tired muscles, you are just more likely to injure them and the joints and bones they work with. Just because we’ve got away with it thus far, don’t forget that if you push your body and smash it up without giving rest the respect it deserves them it is when, not if, you pick an injury.

So with that in mind, I’ll be crossing my fingers, sitting by a pool, reading a stack of books and sleeping for the next two weeks before Spartathlon and I will maybe do a little run or two. Just maybe.

Anyone recommend a good book?

Getting ready for a wee race in Greece

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For Ultra runners the Spartathlon needs no introduction, but for my Mum, the only other person who reads my blogs, here are some links to tell you all about it.

Spartathlon written by British Speed Merchant Ian Sharman.

Spartathlon in the Economist written by 3 & 0 British Spartathlon wrecking ball James Adams.

It’s basically 153 miles, from Athens to Sparta, which was proposed as by the British Military’s Ozzie marathon runner John Foden. Pheidippides was reported (by veritable Ancient Greek Times journalist Herodotus) to have run the distance before the sunset the next day (ie 36 hours). John did it with some chums in 1980, thus proving he really had balls of steel and now there is a yearly race for people to prove they are as tough as John. This year I’m going to have a go at it (but I have removed my balls as they are superfluous to requirements and I must go super lightweight…)

So how do you get ready for a race like this? I kind of knew I could make the distance, having run 149 miles in 24 hours in May and 100 mile in 15:43 in June, I just wanted to make myself a little quicker and learn to deal with the beast that finishes many a Spartathlon attempt, the heat. Easy, if you don’t live in the UK, where summer consists of 4hours 13 minutes of sunshine and 90 days of rain normally.

First point of call was the Heat chamber at Kingston University where ultra runner Chris Howe is a research techy. They let all sorts of nutters jump on the treadmill at 40 degrees centigrade and 40% humidity just to see how much they can sweat in an hour. A good chance to test myself way above expected Spartathlon heats but also to find out what it feels like when you push too hard and your core body temp goes over 39 degrees. You feel shit, much like when you try too hard in any race. Good to know. Get in touch with them here (Kingston Uni Science People) if you want some fun times in there!

That done I felt I needed some practice in a real hot place that was a little bit like Greece and Mr. Mark Woolley, multiple Badwater, UTMB, Spartathlon and breakfast finisher had invited a bunch of people to come out to Malaga for a Spartathlon Boot Camp and his infamous Death Run. Sounds good right? Closest I’m going to get to a relaxing summer holiday I thought!

It turns out it was eventually Mark, James Adams (three time finisher, no time DNF’er of Spartathlon) and myself were the only three foolish enough to sign up for this Boot Camp and Mark had no choice as we were in his house! The idea was to run a cheeky 53km road run on the Thursday, a nice 4hr scramble in the Sierra Nevada on the Friday, some wild camping (5 men sleeping in a car park), the Death Run, then another bit of dogging/wild camping and a rest day before James shot off back to the UK. Simples right?

The first two days went swimmingly, 52km in the heat was nice, less so for James and then the scramble was a nice rest for our wee pins for the Death Run. Then came Saturday. So, why do they call this the Death Run, a name placed upon it by James himself when it ate him up and spat him out 3 years ago?

The run is about 90km, from the coast at Motril to the highest point of Mainland Spain at just under 3500m. That said, it isn’t all up hill, sometimes you lose the precious height you gain and have to start again, with 4500m of ascent during the whole day. The first 60km is mainly road and is great prep for Sparta, dodging cars and, after the first 20km, just jogging uphill. We were joined by two of Mark’s Spanish amigos, whilst Mark was going to crew from the car, due to finishing a particularly hot Badwater and a cheeky Canadian 70 miler already this summer.

For me this was a chance to work out what to eat in the heat, how to stay cool throughout and find a lovely outfit that would make me look pretty in Greece (although not too pretty that I got picked up by a truck driver on route). I set off with a good few Wholebake 9bars and flapjacks attached to some pockets on my arms, a soaked buff round my neck and my “I look like a d**khead” sunglasses on. Excellent. The first 20 k was nice and flat and the 4 of us stuck together, using my pidgin Spanish and, mainly, the Spaniards English to have a chat.

After 20k the route we were taking decided to go uphill, for the next 70k it seems. I plodded off, setting 10k an hour on TomTom and the others didn’t fancy following. Apart from seeing Mark in the car a couple of times before 30k I was now in for a bit of a lonely day, but that’s the price you pay eh?

The local fountains and shops along the way kept me hydrated rather nicely and it wasn’t too long until I run out of road, getting to the National Park with our big mountain. I trotted up the trail to our cars at 2200m and then settled down for a wee kip. We’d promise to tackle the mountain together, just in case the weather came in and I got lost up there.

Everyone got there within a couple of hours and off we set for what was basically a full mountain day, about 5 hours of trekking up and down mainland Spain’s highest mountain. The views were fantastic and it was a rather chilly experience, not something you expect of Southern Spain but this place has so much more to offer than cheap Sangria and Brit filled beaches. This will not be my last visit to the Sierra Nevada (mainly because we spotted a high altitude training centre amongst the trails).

We got back to our camp site/car park about midnight, all a fair bit knackered and it was into sleeping bags and unconscious within a few minutes. Death run done and still alive. Nice.
Back in the UK now and a few hot baths, some heat chamber sessions and running around on a bin bag should keep any acclimatisation I’ve gained ticking over until Greece. Mark and his family were great hosts and hopefully they’ll let me out to stay again soon!

I’m right excited about getting to Sparta now and can’t wait for the great challenge of this historic race. We’ve got a solid British team heading out there, including a few Grand Union Canal Race winners, one of whom is attempting a double Spartathlon and it should be a great atmosphere out there. After a strong showing from the Brits at UTMB and The Grand Slam of Ultra Running, I guess we best put a bit of effort into Spartathlon now too…

Team 9bar Annual Party Time!

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I’ve just returned back from the annual Team 9bar get together and it was a brilliant laugh as ever! ThIs year we assembled at Denzil’s Race to the Castle, a lovely 40 mile jaunt along the Welsh Cambrian Coast and the team of ultra runners, rafters, triathletes, BMXers & cyclists met up with the Wholebake team and the Team 9bar management of Alan and Liz Tucker with plenty of partners present too!

Some opted to run the full 40 miles, including Charlie Sharpe, fresh from an epic run at Lakeland 100 and his 12 Labours of Hercules victory the week before, tootled along in first place, probably only eating 4 polos and half a cup of seawater over the 5 hours it took him. Whilst some of us, myself included, opted for a 15k jolly along the coastal path that was put on for those who never wanted to run 40 miles or simply had wussed out due to a big training week in Malaga coming up. Don’t worry, I got plenty of abuse for this, but gave plenty back as well!

The evening saw everyone meet up for a big dinner all laid on by Mark, the big dawg at 9bar and a lovely meal, with some Musical chairs, ensued. One minute you were sitting next to a member of the GB women’s rafting team, then a top level BMX rider & the politest man in Ultra running and finally, if you were lucky, you got the company of Alan and his excellent array of jokes. One liners they are not, but worth the time you invest!

The bar was hit afterwards and an awards ceremony for prizes such as “Cutest Twin”, “Best Newcomer”, “Weirdest Facebook photo”, as well as a presentation of some funds raised by the team for Richard Kell’s phenomenal Soapathon were presented, which Wholebake had generously doubled. Then people started to sneak back to rooms or hit the bar, depending on whether they had a early morning workout planned or a late evening hydration ambition.

The Sunday brought a great team breakfast, but not until Charlie and I had bumped into each other on out separate outings on two little hills with fantastic views over the bay below. After a wee jog back and a large Welsh feed we were given our leaving goody bags of flapjacks and other Wholebake goodies and I attracted the attention of a beautiful young lady, celebrating her 100th birthday, who wanted to know what was in my bag. Happy to oblige, I left her with a flapjack and a smile on her face and we all went out for a team photo. Another happy 9bar fan I hope!

We all then set off our separate ways, all once again reminded of the great support that we as athletes get from Team 9bar and Wholebake to help us achieve our goals, not matter what sport we’re doing. The camaraderie and friendship of the team members who regularly made it to 9bar events up North was evident and it left me delighted to be part of a great team and even more determined to make it to more events with the team in future. I’d fully recommend getting to an event and trying them yourselves, the Nutty flavour is the best, in my humble opinion. What do I know though, I’ve only eaten a few hundred of them…

North Downs Way 2013

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Wow. What a race.

At the 2013 North Downs Way 100 there were two events. The main one being 154 starters trying to make it from Farnham, Surrey to Wye in Kent, over 102 miles of the North Downs.

The other race was the one between Anthony Forsyth and Ed Catmur, two chaps who had different race plans and were willing to put it all on the line to gamble on that tightrope of pushing body and mind to the complete limit and seeing if they come through the other side.

The full race report will come out in due time, after all the dust has settled from the 30 hours + of planning, organising, racing and clearing up that goes into each event weekend but a brief summary of the battle between the front two should whet the appetite.

Ed Catmur set off ahead of the pack from the stat of the race, having 30m a the first checkpoint and a good few minutes at each of the following ones, but Anthony raced his own race and kept comfortably within distance of Ed, changing places we he entered halfway at Knockholt in 2nd and leaving it in 1st. Anthony’s super efficient crew making a big difference on the day.

They have been on each other’s tails all day and at mile 65.6 Anthony was still in the lead by 1 minute 45 seconds, nothing in Ultra terms! Both men were looking great, on course record pace and flying on sub 16 hour pace. You never knew we was going to come round the corner first!

The next checkpoint at Detling was 82 miles and first in was Ed Catmur, BY 30 SECONDS! There were still both pulling away from strong runners in 3rd and motoring on to the finish, an amazing effort by each.

Sat at the finish now I know only one thing, Ed has extended his lead at Lenham, to a measly 10 minutes, again nothing in a 100 mile race. One bad mile and that whole lead is gone in an instant, two 20 minute miles and that lead is reversed. The reports are only coming from texts from excited checkpoint volunteers and we honestly have no idea who’s going to come through that finish line first…

All it takes is a wrong turn, very possible on a very well marked course with 15 hours of running in your head and when you question every decision you make twice, maybe three times because snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, a British tradition, is something you dread with each passing minute, begging to see the finish line appear.

So we sit here in Wye, just wondering and making penny bets one who will turn up here first. Anthony has an entourage that Hollywood would be proud of, urging him forward and possibly giving him that extra push, that extra motivation to find something else to give in the pursuit of victory. I’m unsure if anyone in Ed’s friends and family know he’s racing? An anonymous solo effort on possibly the hardest 100 miler that Centurion Running stage.

This is the closest to a neck and neck finish you get in 100 mile racing, a race that has a history of throwing up some interesting races but now this one won’t go to the man who has trained the hardest, nor the one with the best crew, the best nutrition or a bit of luck. None of that matters at this stage, now the race goes to the man who can find something more and put it all on the line.

I can’t wait to see both of them finish, they’ve been awesome and either will be a more than worthy winner.

TomTom Runner GPS Watch Launch Day; Running, massage, sandwiches and squats.

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Last Thursday was the launch day for the TomTom Runner and Multisport GPS watch and Rebecca “Coxy” Cox and I had been drafted in as the Brand Ambassadors and Team TomTom running coaches for a day of fun in Battersea Park for journalists, competition winners, retailers and running clubs.

We designed the day as a workshop in improving your running and had the five key areas that we feel everyone can work on or sometimes forgets!

Goals – You should always have goals, something to motivate you and drive you forwards, be it in each session or for your whole year.

Strength – often overlooked by distance runners as unnecessary, strength and speed work is vital to improving your overall fitness and your performance as a whole. A strong core will keep you going strong throughout a race.

Pace – We’ve all done it, sprinting off at the start of a race only to be gasping for air and struggling before the finish. Pace yourself, in training, in races, with your goals, in life.

Fuel – if you’re training for an ultra marathon then you’re already a bit of a machine, so treat your body like one. It needs fuel to operate, to repair and to reach it’s potential so feed it after hard sessions and no scrimping to lose weight. You may get lighter but you will lose power, strength and energy.

Rest – Rab C Nesbitt has this bit down to a tee, sit down and put your feet up more. The more quality rest you can get, the more time your body has to grow back stronger. Adding junk miles onto a tired body will just cause damage and injuries.

So with this in mind we’ve got a wee video of the day, filming by the excellent Mr.Castro.

TomTom Runner Launch Day

The TomTom runner went down well with everyone and it was always funny to see the surprised looks and hear the noises people made when the Quick GPS located the satellites almost instantly every time. The easy to use, clear display is great fun too if you’re sprinting down Box Hill seeing how fast you can get without falling over when you look at your watch. It gave me even more respect for Roger Bannister though

The day as a whole felt like a great success and it was really good to meet plenty of fellow runners, dish out some advice, sprint against a few and learn a little bit more about the bullseye I’ve stuck on my own back with all this running! Great to meet some of the people behind Wiggle, Run24/7, The Guardian Running blog, Men’s Running and bundles of others.

My legs were a little sore the next da though, 6 strength sets followed by 6 5k runs with sprint finishes takes it out of anybody. Luckily there was 6 chances to fuel up on good food and 6 chances to get a sports massage as well.

Legs are feeling good now though and I’m taking advantage of this Brand Ambassador role to use my extra spare time to get up into the mountains and do the Welsh 3000s tomorrow.

Coxy, TomTom and I will be at a variety of events throughout the rest of the year, trying to help a few people with their running, showcasing the watch, pacing some people and generally having a good time. First stop is Race the Train in Wales and I cannot wait.

2011 North Downs Way 100

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With the 2013 North Downs Way 100 this weekend I thought I would eventually post my blog about my first attempt shuffling along a Centurion Running event. The inaugural NDW100 was a good day for me.

I’m not one for sentiment but I can’t help a smile spreading across my face whenever I think back to that race, one that I was convinced to run by a Mr. Allan Rumbles because you got a belt buckle for finishing under 24 hours. A shiny belt buckle!

It was a 50 mile out and back course from Farnham, Surrey to Knockholt Pound, right near home and my dad and his mate Mick had offered to come along and help out.

I set myself the target of sub 20 hours and decided I would walk anything that resembled a hill from the start, sharing my misery with Allan Rumbles, as this was his fault really. I really enjoyed the first 30 -40 miles, chatting, eating, never over exerting myself and plodding towards halfway. I met up with Sandra Bowers along the way, a solid runner who was doing the 50 miler, and both our competitive spirits came out as I urged her to beat the woman in front, who knows, she could have be taking the lead? We upped the pace to the half way point and Sandra finished in about 9.50, leaving me on target but with little room for error.

On the way into half way we had seen Dave Ross, Neil Bryant and Mark Collinson all go the other way and Neil, having won the JOGLE the year before, was miles ahead with South Downs Way 100 winner Mark looking strong as well. I turned around in fifth place and I was happy to be on the home straight, albeit a 50 mile one.

I was feeling rough from 50- 65 and, although I overtook 4th place because he was running the wrong way ( I did correct him and run with him for a while), I wasn’t feeling my best and at 65 miles I was still 90 minutes down on Neil, who had led from the start.

At the next checkpoint around 65 they told me I was gaining on third and it brought a little spring to my step. I put the music on, a mix of reggae, dance and indie folk and I pushed my pace. I started to feel good and I knew I could catch Dave in 3rd, apparently he wasn’t looking great.

Coming up Box Hill I was starting to feel rather nice, I was expecting to see Dave any second, pushing on through the woods in the dusk, when in the next clearing stood Dave’s missus, wondering where he was, he must have taken a wrong turn in the woods but I pushed on. He might be just behind me.

I shot down Box Hill, much to the anger of my quads, and met Mick and Dad at the next check, where, to the disgust of a nearby lady, I shouted for Vaseline, chaffage is an issue in many races but the boys were in trouble. I shot straight out the other side of the check though and was off, apparently 2nd was a long way off but going slower than I. I looked too strong, still 24 miles to go, I won’t be able to keep this up.

I trudged up the next hill, eating Gu and any other food thrust in front of me, I was starting to believe I could catch these guys, two very experienced Ultra runners…

I kept feeling good, it was like a 30 mile runner’s high and I kept smashing on. Just before the last check point I saw a light up ahead, surely not? I pushed on and chatted to Mark briefly, he had had some issues with tainted water and was struggling. I told him tag on and we can push to the finish but he didn’t have it in him. I got to the final check and Henk was there, a little drunk as usual, but a stalwart of old school ultra running and organiser of my first 100 at Caesars Camp.

I screamed as I came into the check “how far? How far?” And Mick shouted that Neil was only 10 minutes ahead, but going well. With only 5 miles to go I had to make up 2 minutes per mile. I was rueing my decision to start so slowly, I was going to lose by a tiny amount but I had to try.

Henk told me to f**k off and I let out a primal scream as I left the check point and knew at this point I had to give everything I had, anything less would not be good enough and even that may still have resulted in failure. I pushed on, feeling as if my pace was worth of a 100m final, but constantly hoping to see Neil round the next corner, or just a light in the distance, something to chase.

With about 2 or 3 miles to go I saw a light, one single beam, on the ridge ahead. It was a few hundred metres ahead, but it was there. It couldn’t possibly be Neil. For some reason I turned off my head torch, I didn’t want him to know I was chasing him down and I didn’t know if he knew I’d been sprinting for 30 miles to catch him.

The closer I got there surer I was that it wasn’t Neil, I hadn’t made up the 10 minutes that quickly. I pulled up alongside and said “hello, you’re Neil Bryant right?” And after a monosyllabic reply I congratulated Neil on his JOGLE run and how much in awe of his previous performances I was. As with Mark I asked Neil to tag along but my competitive spirit wanted to leave him for dust.

I pushed on, now with a different fear. What if Neil overtook me now? What if I took a wrong turn? It was actually my race to lose now, Neil had led for 155 of the 160 km but now I was on front, and I felt awesome. I shot down wooded trails and followed sign after sign, begging for the finish to appear.

I heard voices. Was it Neil behind me? No it was ahead, it was Dad. One last little corner they said, I let out another yelp, an involuntary roar, then sprinted for the line. I had done it. I had won the NDW 100 and my time, 19.47 was nicely under 20 hours. It was the closest to a negative split I had ever finished, regardless of distance.

I clapped in Neil and Mark and then collapsed into the van. I was spent, my body had nothing left to give. I had never felt better. Maybe I had a few more miles in me ;)

I cannot think back to this race without a strange feeling running through me, without emotion welling up and a smile reaching my face, even a laugh, maybe a tear. It was a 30 mile runner’s high at the end of a 100 mile race and I loved every second of it. I wouldn’t feel that feeling again until Barcelona 2012, but I know I will be chasing it in every race I do, until they lock me in the sanatorium for good.

Enjoy the North Downs Way 100 this weekend everyone and I hope you find a bit of the magic I did on that trail.

Last Box Hill Endurance Session!

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To the lovely people of the running world!

I am moving away from my delightful abode next to Box Hill (due to me going feral and becoming a full time Remote Ultra Marathon Coach) and I’m going to do one last free Endurance Session on Box Hill with the wonderful, yet sadistic, Rebecca “Coxy” Cox.

The date is Sunday 28th July 2013 and the time will be 1 o clock at Box Hill, Surrey.

To sign up just send an email to Robert.britton@live.com with the subject title “Make me suffer” and I will get you on the list.

It will be a 3 hour session looking at how to build functional muscle for endurance and nippier running and mental and tactical coping strategies for your endurance events, be it a Ironman, a 100 miler, a 5k park run or a multi-day adventure race.

Any levels welcome, the session is adapted for everyone to “enjoy” and anyone so has turned up so far had always taken something positive from the session, as well as a little bit of DOMS.

What have you got to lose?

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Petzl South Downs Way 100mile No Head-torch Challenge.

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The Petzl South Downs Way 100 did not figure in my plans for this year, but some nice Twittering by Mr. Sam Robson had whetted my appetite and I got that urge, that desire to run every single race I could. It is usually a little devil on the shoulder that I do my best to ignore, but this time I felt differently.

I’d only been undertaking light duties after the World 24hr Championships in May, taking plenty of rest days and eating well, but I couldn’t lie to the devil on my shoulder, I was going fast. Breaking my own training records in nearly every session and thinking, just contemplating, what if I enter the Petzl SDW 100?

So that little devil won the discussion (he very often does with me, but he’s not that bad a chap) and I found myself in a tent next to the start line in Winchester waiting for my crew to arrive. Unbeknown to me Mick, my usual crew, had had a family emergency and my Dad had to step in at the last minute to help my friend Coxy keep me on track all day. I felt for Coxy, sharing a van with that man all day would be interesting…

At the start line everyone wanted to know how fast I intended to go, James had painted me as the “favourite” for the win and people were talking about the pressure. I didn’t feel it, I just knew I had to go out and enjoy myself and see how my body went. I had a pace in mind but that was my little secret (maybe Coxy and Dad knew too) but none of us really believed it was possible. After some play fighting with Sam at the start, we were off. I was expecting a few guys to rush off but after a couple of laps around the field (my forte) we were off on the SDW.

So it was soon just Sam, a nice chap called Olly and myself trotting along at the front, with us taking turns to get the gates, like a Tour de France breakaway looking after each other. I found myself dishing out advice to Olly in 2nd and thought “how arrogant am I? I’m in first and telling second how to do it?”. We got to the first check point and Olly and me pinged straight through, Sam, being unsupported had to stop and then catch up, a tiring extra activity in addition to carrying those beautiful but weighty sideburns of his!

I soon found myself alone, possibly because of a headwind I was creating myself but I was slightly ahead of schedule and feeling comfortable just trotting along. It was nice to see surprised faces on each of the checkpoint staff as I popped through and I was grateful to see smiling and helpful people at every stage. I love helping out at races and our sport is built on the efforts of volunteers, something we must never forget.

So I figured I’d just plod along until I could pick up a pacer at mile 54 and then get towards the business end of this race. I’d been informed of the stellar performance of Jean Beaumont behind me and there was a little bit of surprise from some people that a lady was in 2nd. Get with the times, women are as good as men at this game and even though the 2 races are classified differently I saw Jean as just another competitor trying to chase me down.

As James said in the race preview, I like to run my own race and will rarely hog the lead early, it just so happened that today my own race was out on the front and I was the hunted instead of the hunter today, a slightly less enjoyable task but good fun all the same. I knew that if I just kept moving faster than anyone else then the win was mine. Only after 54 miles I allowed myself to think about this, the back 50 is the home straight after all…

Coxy joined me at Washington at 54 and I went through in about 7:50, which was a bit under schedule but I still felt fine, the legs strong and able to sneak away from Coxy (a sub 3.20 marathoner and 100 mile runner herself) on the downhill, letting gravity do some of the work for me! I’m no fell runner but I’m not bad downhill for a Southern Fairy, which is possibly more to do with being a few sandwiches short of a picnic than any ability. Coxy did a fine job of pacing and was also grateful for a break from my Old Boy, coping with her own ultra marathon in that van, the two of them having a couple of “navigational disagreements” but keeping it all looking smooth to my eyes!

So on we trotted along, enjoying some fine weather, some tail winds and fantastic views across the South Downs. These rolling hills are a joy to behold and it’s a playground I will be spending more time in in the future. My aim was to get to Ditchling Beacon in 1st place, where I met Paul Navesy, another team Centurion runner and speedster in his own right, and we would make sure we brought home the bacon from there. 30 miles to go and now it really was the business end of this race.

Coxy, glad to have stopped running and probably missing my Dad’s company at this point, was back in the van and Paul and me got going. This section was one of the most runnable in the race and Boy George, were we running. I think there was even a sub 7 minute mile in there somewhere, tanking it down those lovely descents and powering up the hills. Paul reckon the tail wind was making the up hills feel like flats but his fine, waxed legs had only just started. They definitely felt like hills to me!

The food was still going down wonderfully at this point, Cliff Shot Blocks, fruits gums, rice pudding and, of course, jelly Meerkats! It was the fluids that were starting to be an issue, everything seemed to be collecting in my stomach. I jogged into the Petzl checkpoint at Southease and made sure my Zipka head torch was on and bright…shame it was still light but I hope the guys at Petzl didn’t mind my aim to finish the race in daylight? Irony is a beautiful thing!

The next few miles were the only ones of the race where the wheels came off a little bit, walking uphill into a headwind on the big Horseshoe past Southease was where I had to dig deep to keep the pace up. I’d promised not to worry about times until 15miles to go but I knew sub 16 was on the cards if I wanted it. The downhills were still wonderful and I was giving Paul a run for his money, as long as I didn’t lose too much on those pesky up hills!

After emptying a few litres of fluid from my stomach it wasn’t long until I was picking up the pace again and feeling alright. The beautiful thing about a 100 miler, compared to a 24 hour race, is that the quicker you go, the nearer the finish is! I felt that any extra effort was just going to make life easier and I could push hard with actual benefits!

We skipped through the last 2 checkpoints, still leaving that wonderful look of surprise on people’s faces and headed down into Eastbourne, with Paul stopping every now and again to make sure the markings were all in order.

I bumped into James Adams and Drew Sheffield on the final drag to the finishing track and it felt good to be pacing it in to the finish. Drew headed off to warn them but James stayed with, a very nice gesture but I’m not sure if it was his choice to make, we’re still going pretty strong ;)

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We hit the final loop of the 400m track and, although I’ve been round a few in my time, this one felt like the longest one ever. I got to the finish line, stopped to walk it in Kilian style, arms in the air and then remembered that just isn’t my style, dropped a shoulder and sprinted over the line (I don’t want to make it easy for someone to take my new CR). Then I collapsed in a heap, a very happy, elated, smelly but joyous heap.

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15:43:53. I hope you don’t mind some course language here, but fiddle-sticks, I was pleased with that. There’s a picture of my pacing targets I had set as a high target and I cannot believe how close I stuck to them.

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My dad and Coxy were at the finish and I could not have done it without them. Paul made the last 30 so much easier than I had any right to have it, I owe him big time (hopefully an assault on the SDW next year?). Centurion running and Petzl had put on a great event and James Elson was on top form as always, as were all the volunteers.

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The £500 that Petzl put up as a prize is a wonderful thing and hopefully a sign of things to come for a great sport that is growing in stature year on year. In order to try and keep Ultra Running as pure as it is now I’m going to donate £100 of my win fee to charity, something that I intend to do every time I am lucky enough to win something, just so we don’t forget the real reasons for being on those trails, enjoying it, pushing ourselves and being part of a great community of people. I’ve chosen the Brompton Foundation, a charity very close to a friend of my mum and one that does great work.(http://www.thebromptonfountain.org.uk/)

What’s next for me? It is always going to be Spartathlon, a race I feel is a worthy adversary to have a right good tear up with. Before that I’m going to make a leap into the great unknown, leave my job and make ultra running my life, with the help of a bit of remote coaching and living dangerously. Fingers crossed!

Box Hill Training Day Part Deux

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Great News!

I have found a better incline on Box Hill, it’s called Juniper Top. I take school groups up there so if a 8 year old girl can stride up, how hard can it be?

3pm on Sunday 23rd June Coxy and I will be running our second Box Hill Endurance Session, just because people loved/hated the first one so much.

Same drill as last time, payment is in sweat and misery and you need to email your interest to Robert.britton@live.com if you are crazy enough to want to come down. Bring a friend and the misery is shared.

What happened last time, words of a survivor.

Space is limited so let me know ASAP and I’ll get your name on the guest-list.

South Downs Way 100 for me this weekend, so at least I’ll be a little tired next Sunday…?

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