Monday, 3 August 2015

Pacing a legend

Robert Young is in my opinion a living legend. Known as the MarathonMan he has completed some amazing feats including winning the Race Across America and running 370 official marathons in 365 days. These included many ultra marathons which he classed as just a marathon.

I was recently lucky enough to be included as crew for Rob's recent challenge. He was inspired by Dean Karnazes and his epic run of 350 miles without sleep and he wanted to break that record.

I was going to join Rob at the 350 mile point in Milton Keynes for the next 53 miles before I would hand over to the next pacer. This blog is a summary of that little jog we had.

My daughter had kindly agreed to take me to the meeting point on the main dual carriage way of the A5 in Milton Keynes at the MK Stadium roundabout. This was the agreed meeting point and the 350 mile marker. It was at this point the Karnazes collapsed with exhaustion and could no longer continue. Could Rob make it to this point....I had been following his progress since he started on Tuesday morning at 9.30am and it was now Friday morning at 11am.

We drove further down the road as we thought it would be fun to go Rob hunting and see where he was. I had seen on a previous crew post that he was currently between Wing and MK so I knew where he would be.

The rain was pouring down and there was Rob with 3 pacers running down the centre of a very busy dual carriageway. This road has nowhere safe to run apart from the centre but due to the appalling conditions lots of cars had been phoning the police to complain. We met Rob just before the police were asking everyone to kindly get off the centre path and move onto the far more dangerous side of the road.

A quick conversation and we left to secure the necessary McDonalds and extra strong coffee that Rob requested at the handover point.

I had never met Rob before, never even spoken to him but I felt honoured that he would allow me to run with him on this challenge and that he would let me be part of the historical miles. I had been warned that he is a bloody nice bloke as well as an amazing athlete and being a miserable old git I was sure this wouldn't be the case.

So there I was waiting in the driving rain for Rob to finally arrive, and we waited and waited and then waited some more.

He was running well, the weather was not so bad so what was happening. We got in the car again for a quick recce to find him but no ROB! Suddenly an ambulance flew past us sirens blaring and we thought the worst.

I had mentioned that the main A5 was a really busy road with no footpath and maybe he would be better off running down the old A5 Watling Street as this had paths and was a parallel road and if anything would add a mile or so to his planned journey. maybe he had decided to run this route instead. We drove up that road and still no Rob, this was getting worrying.

I quizzed the crew via the chat, kept ringing their phones but no one was answering and still no sign of him.

Then I got a message, they had stopped to play a game of Quoits in a field as you do 345 miles into a run with no sleep.

We started to race to McDonalds but the road was blocked. I decided to run there instead to buy food and coffee and asked my daughter to drive back to the meeting point. I had around 5 minutes to buy the food and run back to be there at the correct time. I ran into the most packed McDonalds ever with kids and parents queing up inside and outside in the drive through. This was a big problem but a quick conversation with Tony the manager and he very kindly gave me a bag of burgers and a coke and refused to take any money!

Rob ran up the slip road to the 350 mile point, I was expecting fireworks, high fives, screaming and shouting about his amazing achievement but in true Rob style he just said "Ah well" and sat down to eat and drink.

Crew handover at mile 350

A few handshakes of congratulations and then things got a little strange for Rob. Picture the scene, we are sitting on a main roundabout at the top of a slip road and suddenly the bushes opposite start to move and four ladies come out from the undergrowth and run over to Rob. They were some of the ladies I train in my run club and they had come out to find Rob and get a kiss and a cuddle and give him their support.

Enough of the jollies it was time to run and off we went into the unknown. I won't say I was feeling 100% happy as it was just me and Rob now, on the crazy busy dual carriageway in the driving rain. How would he be? would he stay awake? what is he collapsed on my watch! what if this and that.....the questions were endless.

I didn't need to worry as Rob was overloading on caffine now and began to tell me all about his remarkable and terrible life. We swopped a few tales and the run was becoming great fun despite the weather. he managed a steady run walk strategy and when he was running it was around 8-9 minute miling and his walk rate was 15 min pace.

Then the pain really started to kick in. his legs were suddenly not responding. I asked how he was and in typical style he said his legs hurt a little and he would love a massage but that was impossible.

Kev to the rescue! I called my great friend and superb massage therapist Sarah Nesbit  and cheekily asked if she was busy. Sarah knew what we were doing and 15 minutes later she drove past us and said she would meet us the the Stony Stratford exit by the Travel lodge. I had visions of Sarah massaging rob in the rain on a portable bed but she had somehow managed to secure a room for free where she could work on Rob! This was becoming a bit of a theme where the people and business freely gave to help this amazing man.

Sarah's magic hands
Sarah worked hard to try to ease the pain, I worked hard to keep his spirits high and to ensure he stayed awake and lucid. I had to check his feet as he had been telling me how they were the perfect example of a runners feet according to a leading expert. No blisters at all, no damage of nails just wet feet! This was crazy, how could he have 0 blisters after all this running and in soaking wet shoes. Rob explained that he looks after his feet well, yet more subtlety.

We were then joined by another one of my athletes and another runner who had been following my progress reports on the Ultra Running Community Facebook page. Helen was also an ultra runner and was fairly local and had asked me if she could join in the run.

Her addition to the run was amazing as she brought out the fun side of Rob where I was all about the running business. So off we went on the road to Towcester still on the A5 but with a path this time, what luxury! The rain continued to pour and the lorries kept us covered in spray and dirt. Rob had changed his running gear after the massage as I had brought some spares with me but we were now out of gear.

Shitty weather circa mile 365
This is where the back up crew came into play. There was no back up crew so I created one on the fly. I called my wife Julie and asked her to come and help. She brought loads of fresh kit, socks, shorts, tops and jackets. Helen called her man John and he turned up with more gear and the game was back on.

We were regularly running at 7 min miling at this stage and walking fast in between. Julie and John were driving ahead and stopping every few miles to give fresh kit or food as needed. Things were looking good.

Stupidly I mentioned to Rob that at Towcester the back up crew had secured pork pies and sausage rolls, he launched into a 5.30 min mile pace and I started to curse him as I couldn't run that fast for a sustained period. This shows the strength of the man and what a machine he really is.

Towcester check point came and went, more new clothes were required as the waterproof jackets were useless at this stage and everything seemed to be constantly soaking wet. The night was approaching and Rob was beginning to deteriorate.

The walk breaks were getting slower, the runs slower still, he was retching, not drinking enough and in a bad way. The rain continued to pour and Helen and I continued to keep his spirits up. John and  Julie kept driving ahead every few miles and did what they could to help. Things were getting bad now as Rob has lost all sense of humour and I actually heard him say he wasn't feeling that great.


The master of humbleness and understatement as always.

Despite this discomfort Rob showed himself to be a true gent as he was more worried about Helen being hit by branches than he was about himself. As we neared the next agreed stop point Rob began to get worse. Once we go to Weedon he asked to sit in the car for a bit as he didn't feel great. His head was spinning and everything was hurting.

I was now in a real situation. I had a duty of care to Rob and had to make some very tough choices.

The next 7 miles would be all on road with nowhere to stop for us or the cars.

We had run out of dry kit and shoes and although we had food none of it was palatable at this point. Rob was dehydrated and getting worse.

His throat was very painful and he was worried about everything. I took a picture and called a Doctor friend of mine at 22.11pm. The diagnosis wasn't great but this was a telephone call and a picture that wouldn't bloody send.

We decided to call 112 the non emergency service and requested an ambulance to attend and make an assessment of Rob. Our thoughts were that if he left the scene and went to hospital the race was over but if they came to him he was still in the game. Who do you call for adjudication for records like this. Especially at 22.30pm on a Friday night.

The ambulance finally arrived, Ron was sweating and shivering. we briefed them on the situation and the assessment started.

Whilst this was being done a car pulled in and a couple got out and asked if we knew anything about a crazy runner or had seen him! It was one of Rob's old army mates and he was driving around trying to find him. I wasn't the only one playing find Rob games that day.

The ambulance crew were very concerned about Rob's heart rate and in their opinion the race was over and he was to be taken to hospital. We had a quick discussion and agreed that after 373.75 miles and around 90 hours this little jog was over.

We all followed the ambulance to the hospital and I went in to see Rob. The doctor assessing him was asking questions and Rob was saying things like "I've been for a little run". His humility even at the lowest point was superb.

The doctors were understandably concerned about his heart rate but as he is such a supreme athlete his low heart rate is natural. Throughout the time in hospital Rob continued to talk about running the Thunder Run 24 hour race the next day! This was in the original plan, run to that race then race it.

Rob did make it to the race to cheer on fellow runners and support others in his selfless way. He will be back to smash other records and is already talking about the lessons learnt from this little jog.

So what lessons did I learn and can pass on to others.

First and most important is that we truly are more capable than we think we are. Watching Rob's progress throughout the 24 or so miles I ran with him shows me this. The strength and determination he showed was truly epic and will inspire me on future runs.

The value of a crew is paramount and ensuring you have enough clothing, shoes, nutrition and drinks seems obvious but cannot be emphasised enough. That said it was crazy to see how far Rob managed to run on very little nutrition and hydration.

Some of the things I expected Rob to know about considering his recent achievements were not things he had heard of or ever considered. Things I take for granted as an ultra runner such as

Magnesium flakes for recovery and spray during running
Spirulina Energy Bits (which he tried one and hated)
Taking Paracetamol instead of Nurofen for pain (during the entire run he only took 1 tablet at my insistance)
Compression socks

Some other surprising facts
Rob also suffered from severe chafing but never once did he mention it. I offered him some BodyGlide but he politely declined despite the secret pain he must have been suffering.

Rob never swore during the entire time I was with him.

He maintained a positive attitude at all times and was grateful and a gentleman to every person he met.

There are rumours of animals spontaneously exploding as he ran past but that's for another writer to document.

I can honestly say it was one of the most rewarding runs of my life and I would run with Rob anytime of day or night if he calls upon my services again. I would encourage anyone to follow him on Twitter and Facebook and if you get the chance to run with him then seize that chance.

Finally this was all to raise money for Rob's chosen charities so please make a donation of any kind through his website at this LINK

Friday, 17 July 2015

My best selection of Ultra Running books and Podcasts

I read a lot of books. A huge amount of books. and when i'm not reading them i'm listening to them through audio books and podcasts. I see a huge amount of threads where people ask what are the best books for Ultra runners, Ironman Triathletes and what the hell are podcasts anyway. I'll cover podcasts in another blog.

So here is my definative list in no particular order and with a little summary from me. You could even buy them if you click one of the links and I will earn about 5p if i'm lucky


Born to Run: The Hidden Tribe, the Ultra-Runners, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen
by Chris Macdougall.
If you haven't read it you must have been in a Mexican Cave for many years. Yes the story moves around the place and yes there has been massive discussions about barefoot running but this is still in my top 10 of all time best books. I love the stories and the science. This shows the true capabilities of the human body and what we are actually capable of doing.

Natural Born Heroes: The lost secrets of strength and endurance
also by Chris MacDougall
An amazing book not only about running but about the true life heroes of the second world war as well as mixing in parkour, strength and conditioning, nutrition, a variety of heroic stories and a detailed explanation of fascia. This was a medical term I was unfamiliar with but have now learnt is of massive importance to everyone.

Ready to Run
by Kelly Starrett
The go to book for ALL athletes in my opinion. Kelly breaks the body down and shows you how to rebuild it in a stronger, more effective way. There are no stories about endurance or achievement but if you want to be the best runner you can be then get this book.

The Endurance Handbook: How to Achieve Athletic Potential, Stay Healthy, and Get the Most Out of Your Body
by Dr Phillip Maffetone
I LOVE the Maffetone Method. Running at your optimal heart rate and allowing your body to naturally get faster, healthier and stronger. What's not to like in this latest book for Dr Phil. I have personally trained dozens of athletes in this method and all have seen amazing results and many who used to hate running now run at least 5 times a week and ADORE IT.

Never Wipe Your Ass with a Squirrel: A trail running, ultramarathon, and wilderness survival guide for weird folks
by Jason Robillard
I bought this book originally because I thought the title was fantastic and hilarious. What is contained within the book however is pure gold if you like running ultra marathons or are looking to do your first ultra.

Running and Stuff
by James Adams
James is a lunatic, he looks like one, acts like one and runs like one. Actually he is a bloody nice bloke and yet he still manages to knock out amazing ultra marathons in the UK and abroad. His funny and irreverent stories of races and the way he speaks to you through this book is brilliant.

Out There: A Story of Ultra Recovery
by Dave Clark
Dave is my current coach, I sought him out after reading his superb book as I felt a connection with him and his achievements. This is no ordinary ultra runner who has lost a few stone and done some amazing races. NO!!!! Dave is an ULTRA GOD and a thoroughly nice guy. His book will shock you, upset you, warm you and amaze you as you read about his triumphs, massive failures and the person he was and has become.

Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons
by Bryon Powell
This was one of the first books I read on Ultra Marathons and it's still one I refer to one a regular basis. Get this for the plans alone as they are tried and tested by many athletes in the same way that Be Iron Fit is used for Ironman triathlons. Bryon runs IRunFar and covers all major ultra marathons through his website, twitter feed and facebook and is one of the most knowledgeable people on the American scene.

Running with the Kenyans: Discovering the secrets of the fastest people on earth
The Way of the Runner: A journey into the fabled world of Japanese running
both by Adharanand Finn
I have chosen both of these books as they are both superb reads. To get an insight into the Kenyans from someone who has lived with them and trained with them is superb. The tale of the Japanese dedication and how highly they value ultra runners made me want to move there instantly.

The Marathon Monks of Mount Hiei
by John Stevens
The definitive account of the truly mind blowing Marathon Monks from Japan. These guys take Ultra running to another level in the aim to achieve enlightenment and become living gods. Forget DNF's these guys have to commit suicide if they stop at any point in the long 7 year journey which sees them start with 100 days of consecutive 40k runs up and down mountains and progresses to the 7th year where they have to run100 consecutive days of 84k folowed by 100m days of 40k just to finish them off. They also have to do a shit load of other crazy stuff to achieve complete control of their mind and body but if I told you it would spoil it. Needless to say this is one of the best books I have read on controlling human suffering with the mind.

Athletes Guide to Recovery: Rest, Relax, and Restore for Peak Performance
by Sage Rountree
We all like to exercise and run and there are never ending threads about recovery and how long it takes between races. Yes there are lots of super human athletes like Dave Mackey who seem to be able to knock out ultra marathons on a daily basis and the Marathon Monks mentioned above but they all have got there through listening to their bodies and understanding what it takes to recover. This book will help you to understand your own body more and you will be amazed at how long it actually takes to recover properly.

If you have any books you think deserve to be included in this thread then please comment. If I haven't read them I will buy them and report back

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Running in Crete in the land of the Natural Born Heroes

Chris MacDougall has got a lot to answer for.

He first wrote the amazing book Born to Run: The Hidden Tribe, the Ultra-Runners, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen which is still in my all time TOP 10 best books of my life and believe me I have read a lot of books in my time.

Then recently he released his latest book Natural Born Heroes: The lost secrets of strength and endurance.

This is a mish mash of stories about the 2nd world war hero's in Crete weaved cleverly with Parkour, strength training and other tales of heroic acts that mystify and entertain.

When I first read BTR as it's now commonly known I was drawn to email Caballo Blanco the mysterious white horse/ghost runner who is the main focus of the book. We conversed many times and I signed up to run the 3rd version of the race with a couple of other UK runners. Unfortunatly due to a stupid injury and cash issues I was unable to make the race and it is still one of my biggest regrets. Not because of not being able to race but also not actually being able to meet Micah True (Caballo).

For anyone who doesn't know the tale this fabled ghost runner died recenly doing what he loved best, running on the trails of the Copper Canyons in Mexico. His legacy will live on for many years with his race the CCUM (Copper Canyon Ultra Marathon) which was set up to help the Tarahumara people which this book BTR is based on.

So enough about BTR what about NBH (Natural Born Heroes).

The Cretan people according to MacDougall's book have long been associated with heroism. Zeus himself was born in Crete and Pheidippides the legendary Greek runner was also from Crete.

Pheidippides the Hemerodrome

Birthplace of Zeus

Like BTR this latest book has a main character and for me it is focused on George Psychoundakis a Cretan peasant who became a war hero in WW2 by continually relaying messages back and forth across the mountainous terrain of Crete. These routes were often ultra distance and over the craziest terrain I have ever run along.

I developed a huge respect for George with my exploration of a small part of Crete in the week I spent there on holiday in July.

It's not just the mountains, and there are many of them. It's more the punishing foliage that greets you at every twist and turn. Think UTMB on steroids and throw in a miriad of the nastiest bastard thorns along the lines of Barkley.

Not that I have experienced Barkley but I have seen the videos and read the reports and can only associate parts of the Cretan landscape with that sort of terrain.

I ran every day, and every day I got covered in scratches, twisted my ankles, feet and knees in every way imaginable. Now bear in mind I was running for fun, training for my next 100 mile run and so not covering vast distances and certainly not under constant threat of my life.

I did however get chased by a little handbag dog and another nasty little bastard. I learnt a new use for water bottles that day when a quick squirt in the face stopped them in their tracks!

The twists and turns, roots and rocks reminded me of the worst parts of the TDS and CCC in Chamonix. The scenery was spectacular and haunting at the same time. The Cretan people lived up to their reputation as the most hospitable people in the world. They are even a little odd at times as we found out one day on a drive through the mountains.

We stopped at a cross roads, hopelessly lost with a choice of 6 different roads to choose with little or no signage. It was reminiscent of the Northants 35 Ultra where there is a road like this that everyone gets lost at!

Suddenly this tiny old lady who was sheltering from the sun comes up to the car. It's lunchtime, bloody hot and we are in the middle of nowhere up the top of a mountain and there she is sitting in the little shade there was.

A brief unknown conversation starts and we try unsuccessfully to ask directions and she tries unsuccessfully to talk to us. Then she gets in the back of the car!!!

She then proceeds to tell us where to drive. This wily old woman wanted a lift and was going to take us roughly where we wanted to go as long as it was along the route she wanted to go.

We laughed long and hard the whole way as she blithered on in Greek about the towns, the scenery, food, at least that's what we thought she might be saying.

We drove for an hour around the craziest of roads and mountain passes and see some beautiful villages that you would not know existed. Always getting waves and Kalimera's from the lovely few people who lived there, in the middle of nowhere. We dropped her off and found out later that this is normal practise in the mountains for the people who live there.

They can wait for hours for a car to pass and then however many of them can fit will get into a car and be eternally grateful.

The Cretan's are also blessed with over 100 different edible weeds. These weeds it seems are natures Super Foods and all at our feet. Horta seems to be the favourite on the marketplace although Horta seems t be a word associated with a variety of different weeds which all look different. Think of spinach used in a salad or steamed with some olive oil and salt and a gazillion health benefits.

Kalitsounia was a sort of health pie that I searched high and low for but was unable to find. You can buy the sweeten version anywhere but the true Kalitsounia seems to be only available in the mountain villages. This is often made with Horta and local cheese and is supposed to provide immense nutrition to ultra marathon runners.

It seems the Cretans have a endless supply of highly nutritious food growing in abundance everywhere and this is another fabulous fact in NBH. Chris tells you all about the weeds you can eat and how amazing they can be for your body.

So would I go back......

In a heartbeat.

Crete was beautiful, magical and tougher than anything I can imagine. I would love to run an ultra there one day and experience more of the Island.

As for the book Natural Born Heroes.....well lets just say I now have it on Audible too as there are so  many nuggets of fantastic information that you can often miss when reading it.

I highly recommend Crete for training camps or holidays but like any Greek island the true spirit is lost in the commercial, tourist parts and the best is always high in the sky. Up those bastard mountains covered in spiky, vicious brambles, tripping over rocks and roots in the trail of the heroes.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Thames Path 100 the ultimate DNF

Th ultimate DNF is how I have taken to describing the experience this weekend at the Centurion Running Thames Path 100 mile Ultra marathon. it was supposed to be flat, easy, a little bit muddy in places and all that other stuff you read about in other reports and actually trust.

The reality was a little different......

The first 50-60 miles are very runnable and I was glad to be using road shoes as this helped me in getting a great start at hitting the 50 mile point in 10.00 which gave me loads of time to do the 2nd half or so I thought.

Training had not been ideal for this race. I had concentrated too much on my athletes and getting them to a finish in Barcelona Marathon. It wasn't anyone's fault except my own and I knew deep down I hadn't respected the distance as much as I should have. Having completed the South Downs Way 100 in 2012 in 24.08 I had an idea of what it would take to finish sub 24 hours and I believed I had it in me.

I would rely on my stupidity, stubbornness and a sprinkling of Irish lunacy to get me there. I had trained for 2 years at heart rate and knew I would be in good shape in terms of speed without causing myself any trauma.

A little too much wine, cheese, crisps etc in the weeks and months leading up to the race meant I was over my ideal weight but not that bad.

I had learn to use fat as fuel and had many 3-4 hour runs on nothing but a cup of coffee prior to the run and a few sips of water during the run so I knew how to tap into my Chateauneuf du pape gut and use that vital fat to fuel me.

I ran the first 50 on a few hand full's of nuts and seeds and a few sips of water. I later realised that I was getting dehydrated as the sun was out a bit and my lovely Irish skin was burning, mixed with some red urine I knew I had to start hydrating and fast. The hell with Tim Noakes and drink to thirst, I had done that and was now having issues. Maybe I wasn't hydrated enough before the race and a few beers the night before and a bottle of wine two nights before probably didn't help. Getting lost a few times didn't help the mindset but It was under control and I only ran around 2-3 bonus miles.

I picked up my first pacer Lisa at the 50 mile point and we had a good laugh as we took off. I was now on the run 25 and walk 5 mins strategy and we used this to good effect. The pace was fine and I still felt good apart from a sore right knee and a very strange feeling in what I thought was my left adductor. It was causing me pain when running and walking which was odd.

Pacer No.2 2 was Donna and under my orders of just talk shit to me and don't expect conversation she did a great job. We learnt a lot about each other and had a real laugh.

Pacer No.3 was Tina who is a bit like a female James Bond but I can't tell you any more than that. Needless to say the conversations was really interesting and kept my mind off the growing pain in my left adductor and groin area.

Pacer No.4 was Dave and unfortunately for him we got lost, we missed a fecking bridge near Reading and carried on right through the town centre through the main restaurant areas and beyond. I didn't worry at this stage about lack of markers as the river was on our right the whole way so assumed they had been removed. There was also a couple of other runners behind us so they were either following us or we were on the right track.

Big mistake

We ran around 2-3 miles before I took stock and said we have to turn back. I was kicking myself for being so dumb. The runners behind us had gone and we set back off through the pubs, restaurants and clubs checking every turning or gap along the way. My mind was getting aggitated and I was really pissed off at this stage.

Finally we came back to a fucking bridge I had mentioned as we passed it earlier and there was a bastard little bit of tape hidden away in the dark. I love centurion Running but some of the markings were poor at best. James and I have discussed this and i'm not being critical more an observation for future events. It messes with your mind when you get lost and running 100 miler's is tough enough. Poor Dave had to put up with me swearing for ages until I have vented my spleen enough to move on.

Pacer No.5 was Stuart, the partner of Tina and another secret squirrel. I mentioned what had happened in the previous section and we started off with enthusiasm.

Fuck me we only got lost again......and again, these bonus bastard miles were really beginning to piss me off now. The safe time I had for a sub 24 hour finish had now gone and I was against the clock now.

Stuart did his best to keep my spirits up and encourage me to keep moving. The problem was that my leg was now in serious pain, walking and running hurt s I couldn't do either very well and whatever I did was slow.

Pacer no.6 was my long suffering wife Julie, it was her birthday and I was gifting her with a pacing mission with a sweary, Irish lunatic who was in a bad way and really pissed off with life. the universe and markers. Julie knows my pain tolerance level is up there with the best and she has seen me complete races I should never have done and DNF in a race I should never have entered. She was sure I would be fine and kept encouraging me.

This was where the meltdown started to happen. Somewhere between mile 85 and mile 90 things went rapidly downhill. My left leg was now in a mess. The terrain was now a mud fest, the rain was annoying and the distances between aid stations seemed to be all wrong. I couldn't lift my leg, it was like someone had snapped a tendon in my groin area. I still thought it was adductors and kept massaging the area as I shuffled along.

Some quick maths confirmed I could finish if I could maintain my 30 mins per mile pace.

30 minute fucking miling.....WTF!

I was when I realised we had less than a mile to get to the sub aid station at 95 miles and it had taken me over 2 hours to do the last mile that  knew I was fucked. We asked someone how far to the aid station and they confirmed a mile. Slipping and sliding, cursing and crying it took nearly 3 hours to get to the road to crawl into the ambulance that had been arranged for me.

Two Volunteers from the Streatey Check point had come to my assistance, Ian and Mark acted and crutches as we moved along an inch at a time. Ian suggested I swear as that helps, being a loon I didn't need asking any more and a tsunami of expletives spilled from my frustrated mouth as the futility of my situation hit home. Those two guys epitomised everything that is great about centurion events and I would help them out any time they need me.

I have to thank my wonderful support crew and pacing team for everything they endured. They are all part of my family and my athletes. For some strange reason all wanted to be part of this journey. I think it's safe to say that they may stick to marathons now!

By the way it was all my fault for getting lost as it's my race and I should have been more aware so don't beat yourselves up or else I'll kick your arses in training this week.

So why the ultimate DNF?

I think when you have given everything to a race, when you leave a part of your soul on the course, the you know you have tried your absolute best. In my previous DNF at the TDS I had a mental breakdown but my body was ok.

In this race my mind was fine, no sleep demons, no hallucinations, spot on nutrition and eventual hydration. It was like a car with a flat tire, then the 2nd one goes bang, then the 3rd busts and you know any moment the 4th will explode in spectacular pain.

I have no bad feelings about not finishing as I learnt a lot from the experience. One of the main lessons is that I can't make my wife suffer like this any more. I can't let my athletes, friends and pacers see me in such a sorry state. The trauma for them is too much and they are not used to it. I will ensure any future races are not done on Julie's birthday and may even ban her from being there if it's a long, stupid event. Mind you I've been told in no uncertain terms


We will see about that my lovely.

I did say I was stubborn and stupid.

Monday, 8 September 2014

My CCC race report

I finally got to the start line of the TNF UTMB CCC Ultra Marathon on Friday 29th August 2014. I had entered the previous year but been unsuccessful in the ballot and opted for the TDS race like a lunatic. At the time I stupidly reasoned "How hard can it be". After all, I had done an series of ultra marathons up to 100 miles, Ironman Triathlons x 4 and numerous other crazy events involving endurance and fitness over the last 8 years. The TDS was a great big DNF and another story but here I was at the start line for this years race.

The start of the CCC is a pretty amazing affair. The runners crush in against each other in their respective number sections. I was in the 2nd section presumably due the the times checked in my qualifying races. I was quite happy with this as there is nothing worse than having a greater runner breathing heavily down your neck as he continually tries to pass you on the climbs. The music blares, the crows grow and the nerves really kick in.

Suddenly there is a count down and the first wave is off. Us lesser mortals in the 2nd wave wait patiently for what seems like hours but was only maybe 10 minutes. The frantic athletes pour through the town and receive great applause all the way until the first climb starts.

I made sure I had said the right things to my wife and daughter who were to be my main support crew. I also had 5 other friends who had made the journey to Chamonix and were covered in Union Jack wigs and flags. They also had an assortment of horns, bells and whistles and I knew they would be heard for many hours by an assortment of runners. They have all either competed in races or attended Ironman races and know the value of encouragement and the hell with the French, Swiss and Italian reserve.

The first climb to Tete de la Tronche is long and fairly boring. It's mostly single trail so there are very few opportunities to pass people even if you wanted to. The scenery is the redemption as there were many aspects that were lovely if you took the time to stop and appreciate. I found myself getting very aquainted with the unique contours and colours of the show heel in front of me. Once you reach the top these views are beautiful but I didn't want to stop and take pictures unless I was waiting around or really knackered!

The decent starts on relatively good ground, you can run quite fast and enjoy some scenery as well as the feeling that you are flying across the mountains. Into check point 1 at Refuge Bertone and a rapid stop just for some water and off to the next checkpoint at Refuge Bonatti. Now on the map its looks relatively flat and in general it was but there are always bits where you have to be careful of your feet and stride.

I sailed through that checkpoint and began to look forward to the first major checkpoint at Arnuva. I had seen my mate Max there in his CCC race the previous year and so knew how beautiful it was. All along this ridge we ran, I kept seeing lovely mountains on my left and thought we must be close now. But it kept on and on. the trail was still good to run on and there was an opportunity to chat to a couple of other Brits abut the race and what fun we were having! Little did I know this would be the majority of conversation I would have in this race.

It is a strange feature of the UTMB races that hardly anyone talks to each other! Maybe it's because you have no idea who is in front or behind you unless they speak or you notice the flag on their number when you look back. For many hours in the race I didn't speak to anyone and didn't hear anyone speak either. The French and Italians seem to run in groups of 2-3 and were chatting away in the early stages but even this went in the later part of the race.

Finally the decent into Arnuva started and I could hear the sound of the big bells and horns from my crew. I hope they all know what a lift this can give a runner and I was so glad that their noise wasn't reserved for me alone as they gave a huge lift to everyone who was running and got a mixture of dour looks and smiles from other spectators.

I grabbed some food, topped up my water and got ready to start the next climb. I knew this one would be a bastard as it is the 2nd biggest in the race so I was prepared or so I thought. My crew cheered like crazy as I left and a quick check in with my wife left me feeling great and I began to climb, and climb, and hike and curse. This little climb to the Grand col Ferret went on for what seemed like hours. Occasionally I would stop and look back. I could just about make out Arnuva in the distance and it was crazy to think that a short while ago I had been there and now I was up in the clouds again looking down.

Finally I reached the top and felt really good about myself. I was in good shape and ready to run downhill to the next checkpoint at La Foully. This is where things started to get a bit technical. The roots started to grow from the ground, the rocks started to get a bit bigger and in general it was getting harder. The decent is exposed in places so I made sure I had my windproof jacket ready and reminded myself to keep eating and drinking every 30 minutes.  I had been caught out by altitude last year when i didn't drink for hours and it wasn't going to happen this year.

La Foully checkpoint was where I had some noodle soup for the first time and I needed it. The soup is really just stock with some thin noodles added but it really tastes great and makes you feel much better. The next stop was where I could get some assistance from my wife at Champex Lac in Switzerland and I was really looking forward to seeing her and changing my socks and getting some more food and some vital running love.

It was on this decent when things started to go a little wrong. I began to tighten up, my quads in particular were really giving me grief. I began to sort of sideways shuffle down the mountain and kept mixing up my gait in an attempt to sort my failing legs out. My mind was starting to annoy me with the silly thoughts of DNF and not being strong enough for the mountains. I kept reminding myself that despite not having any mountain training I had done 80k last year in the TDS and that I was strong enough to finish this stupid race.

The mind plays nasty tricks on you in ultra marathons. One minute you are flying and loving racing and everything that goes with it. You feel like a pro and consider giving everything up and just running for the rest of your life. Then the demons of self doubt kick in, slowly at first, the creep up on you and begin to nag at you. I thought of the pain, the sacrifice, the months of training, the crew who had given up their time and money to support me in this race. But those fecking demons say it in a different way. You are not good enough, not experienced enough, not tough enough. Look at the other runners they are laughing at you and trying to fly past you. You try to chase the thoughts away and sometimes they go but at other times they come back even worse.

I decided I needed some music to sort my head out. Shit, bollocks, fuck my Ipod was dead, how did that happen! I cursed out loud and started to rant, swearing at rocks and mountains and my stupidity at running with a dead ipod.

The decent into Praz de Fort which is a small checkpoint before Champex Lac just got worse and so did my mood. I actually looked forward to the climb and the first major meeting point.

I crawled in looking like shit and in a dark place. My poor long suffering wife tried her best to make me feel better but nothing was working. I saw my friends who were also trying to send me encouragement and my daughter who was looking concerned. It was a busy checkpoint and we all knew the night lay ahead. Another lesson was learnt there, prepare your crew, even if they have done it loads of times before ensure they know what to say and when to say it. Not that my mrs go things wrong but some of the things she said were best kept for other times, I wasn't in the mood for a pep talk, some arse kicking maybe but not a rah rah speech but this was my mistake and she was doing her best.

Out came the head torches and on went the change of socks and top. A bit more soup and some coke and I was up and ready to continue. I wasn't finished with this race just yet.

As I left Champex Lac the rain started and the darkness was upon us. On went the head torch and waterproof jacket. It's just a little shower I told myself, a little shower that lasted over 4 hours. The rain made everything a different ball game. Mud started to form and puddles of water everywhere. The trail got slippery and really quite crazy at times. I was climbing now and made good use of my poles and know without them I would not have finished.

The night was a mixture of rain, swearing, slipping, some running, lots of hiking and major mood changes. I climbed the 3rd major mountain into La Glete and the decent into Triente where the next major checkpoint and assistance was. To be fair I was in a better place at Triente and changed my shoes from the Brooks Pure Grit to Salomon Speedcross in the mistaken belief that they would cope better in the wet. A longer than normal hug with my daughter set us both off into tears. I have only known my daughter to cry once before and this really cut me up and I was more concerned about her than myself. I knew it was because she didn't like to see me suffer, she was new to all this and that she must be dog tired too but it didn't make it any easier. My wife was also in tears now and a look of toughness and empathy from a French volunteer made me realise I had to be strong for them as well as myself.

Back into the night, back to slipping and sliding in mud.and climbing again to Catogne the penultimate mountain. Now things were getting really technical and the rain wasn't helping but it was starting to stop but this didn't really matter as the damage to the trail was already done. I had trained in the rain but nothing like this. The rocks were now getting bigger and the roots were everywhere. People were slipping all over the place and for the first time I began to think that I might actually fall and fall badly. That would ruin my race, I had to make sure I didn't get injured. I started to exercise even more caution as I couldn't risk not finishing. My thoughts had long gone about finishing times and glory now it was pure survival.

I can't believe the UTMB runners had to run through this after we in the CCC had already wrecked the surface. They must have been cursing us and the weather too and I give maximum kudos to anyone who managed to finish that race.

Into the final assisted checkpoint at Vallorcine and what a relief it was to see my team again. The lift they gave me in spirit was immense and especially when they said "see you in Chamonix" as I left. I now had to finish, I had done all the hard work and there was just a stupid little mountain left between me and glory!

Little did I know the cheeky gits had kept the toughest climb till last. Now I experienced a little lunacy in terms of technicality last year in the TDS but this went to a new level now. I was running half asleep, drifting in and out and trying to keep myself awake. I ran through the Col des Montets where a wonderful French girl screamed at me in French to "eat you fucking crazy bastard" to which I replied in my now awful French "I am wrecked" she then proceeded to say the same thing in perfect English and told me to get my ass in gear. She was right, I needed to eat.

I had to eat to stay awake and struggled to open a Clif shot block pack. Why are those bloody packs so difficult to open after 22 hours of racing and at 5am! I chowed down on 3 blocks and had a little mars bar and felt a bit more alive and began the climb.

This climb went on forever. Over bigger and bigger rocks and on constant switchbacks. The daylight was beginning to break and this made things easier to see and so easier to navigate. It would have been a real nightmare in the dark as it was horrible at first light! Imagine stepping up massive rocks, slipping on them and then repeat accordingly for hours on end. I stopped at what I thought must be near the top and took this picture.

It was breathtaking and impossible to describe. I sat there and felt really small and insignificant. Who cared about my race. The sun still rises and sets and shit still happens as well as good things. I took some video and started to climb again, now that I was out of the clouds it was much better visually.

I met a runner who was British who had completed the race 5 times and this was his first time to climb this park in the daytime! He said there was loads of times when you think you are there to find that it's yet another switchback and there is more to climb. He wasn't wrong and it was relentless. This was without doubt the toughest part of any race I have ever done and a major milestone in my mental toughness for the future.

Finally I reached to summit to what i was told would be a very runnable part of the course. All downhill to the last aid station at La Flagere and then onto Chamonix and the finish.

Runnable my arse.

Slippery rocks, mud slides, cascading water, more fecking rocks, crazy French runners flying past at a slightly faster rate but it seemed like they were flying. Then you are free of that technical stuff and through the last aid station. Only about 7k to go and it should be lovely and easy to run. But it wasn't, it was more of the same stuff again except the rocks were much smaller but the roots were back. I had said to myself that I wouldn't let anyone pass me unless they were really flying downhill but the people who did pass me were so much better at decending than me and I really was scared that I would fall and it would all be worthless. I had a number of quite major slips on the big rocks and the really scared me and jarred my back so caution was the best way.

Suddenly I was there running on road, lovely road with no more fecking rocks, roots, mud or water. I came into the town and there was Paul who had also entered the same race. I thought he had kicked my arse but he had withdrawn earlier. I really felt for him as this was his 2nd year of DNF in these crazy races.

He jogged with me to where my friends and family were in the town center and my wife and daughter grabbed me and we began to run to the finish.

The applause from the spectators was wonderful. Finishing with the two most important women in my life was a dream come true and best of all my friends managed to capture it all on film.

I ran down the finishing chute and stopped at the end to bow. In respect to those fecking mountains. You might have beaten me last year but I beat you this year!

My amazing crew were Paul, Burti, Shannon, Alistair, Angie, thanks to Paul Haynes for running the last K with me mate, you will never know how great that was.

My beautiful wife Julie who is always there for me through the training, the racing and all the post race BS that gets talked about, thank you for putting up with me and my lunacy.

My amazing daughter Tamara who I hoped I have inspired a little and given her some precious memories. I'll never forget our hug in the aid station and also that fecking terrifying paragliding we did 2 days afterwards!

So what's next.....UTMB.....I'm not sure even i'm that crazy, but then again......

Final shot is the coveted finishers Gilet, and yes I have taken it off since.....for the odd day.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Lazy Fat Bastards Guide To Weight Loss Day 2

Ok, so at long last you are here at the start of the weight loss journey, the day you begin to implement lots of new ideas, new things to try and a new way of living. The premise of this journey is to give everything a try, you might not agree with everything but give it a go anyway. After all it's only for 30 days that is hardly any part of your life and you have spent years getting your body to where it's at now so 30 days won't kill you.

Today is all about what we do when we first get up in the morning and this is the easiest of all things. Get up, get straight into your kitchen and pour a large glass of water, ideally a pint or a litre if you feel really up for it. The get loads of ice and add it to the water. You need iced water and you will be drinking it over the next 5-10 minutes. It will be refreshing, it will be cold (that's the point), it may annoy you or get your teeth on edge but make sure every day for the remaining 28 days you start your day with the same glass of iced water.

"What a stupid idea" I hear you say.... "how can that possibly help?" It's all to do with cold thermogenesis and I will go into greater detail in later posts about this but for now here is a little story explaining the benefits of Cold Thermogenesis.

The story of Michael Phelps is an amazing one. The most decorated Olympian ever, a truly gifted swimmer who has smashed every record in swimming and made himself a household name. Did you know that at his peak he was eating around 12,000 calories a day! Now that is some eating regime! If I tried I don't think I could manage 8,000 so whay does he look so good if he eats that much and what makes it worse is that so much of it is so called junk food.

This paradox really go to Ray Cronise. How in the hell could Phelps get away with that?

Yes he swam, ALOT, but that in itself could not account for the massive amount of calories he injested daily. If we look at the calories in and calories out idea then Phelps should weigh a hell of a lot more than he does and should never achieve what he did.

Swimming is non weight bearing, in other words it's tough and exhausting but there is no contact with the ground like in running and the water has a sort of massaging effect on the body. This makes it a great sport for everyone, even f you can't swim because you too can get the benefits of cold thermogenesis and the fitness that messing around in a pool can give you provided that pool is cold!

So back to Pheps. Cronsie determined that the only way Phelps managed this weight loss and physique was not only because of the weights he lifted (a small part), or the amount of swimming he did (a little bigger part) but because of the cold environment in which he swam!

Swimming in cold water causes the body to become a furnace for fat loss. The body needs to become warm, it likes being warm. It regulates itself to become warm when faced with cold. Phelps spent a crazy amount of time every day in cold water and it was his bodies reaction to this that helped him to burn all the excess calories he was eating.

So whilst I would love yo to freeze your bits off in a cold pool, the sea or in constant cold showers we are lazy bastards so we start small and build. The small start is the glass of iced water each and every day before anything else in eaten or drunk.

Your stomach will have to warm that water, that will burn calories without you knowing it and with no sweat or effort. This is the easiest and laziest way to build cold thermogenesis into your life.

if you are feeling ninja and want to read or listen to more about the benefits of Cold Thermogenesis then here are a few of my favourite resources on the subject and some of the people who have taught me so much about fat loss and the body.

Ben Greenfield, Ironman Triathlete and all round guru on everything fitness and health related. Owner of Endurance Planet which is a MUST listen to podcast

Tim Ferris author of The Four Hour Body, life hacker extraordinare and all round interesting guy

Ray Cronise, scientist and cold investigator

thanks to these guys for helping me in my journey and I hope to help you get there too.

Monday, 11 November 2013

The Importance of baby soft feet in Ultras and Ironman Triathlons

Baby soft feet are one of the most important but most overlooked aspects of endurance training and racing. Personally I make it a mission to ensure my feet are in tip top condition for any important race for at least a month prior to the race. I make sure I go to a good chiropodist at least twice in that month and a week before the race to ensure all issues have been dealt with and my feet are perfect to compete.

Our feet are the foundation of running and without a decent foundation we cannot expect to go very far or fast. The stories I hear of blisters, lost toe nails, and general pain go on forever. I experienced debilitating blisters in my first long ultra and swore that that was one lesson I would learn from.

Feet are funny things, there are around 20 main muscles, loads of tendons, ligaments, bones and soft tissue that can help or ruin your training and racing so why do so few of us actually take good care of our feet?

In barefoot running the general feeling is to ensure you have built up a good bunch of callouses that will protect your feet and make sure that they are hardened and ready to cope with what the earth throws at them.

But we generally keep our feet cocooned in our Asics, Salomon or other shoes to protect them from the nasty things we might land on. This is great but it makes our feet soft and weak, we protect them too much.

Blisters are caused by friction between either skin on skin or skin on material. It can happen because your toes rub against each other or because your feet are rubbing against your socks or shoes. Yes you can tape your feet, you can wear double layered socks, you can even try a number of remedies such as soaking your feet in petroleum spirit. But whilst these all seem to have some merits I believe you can beat good foot care.

Since I discovered this little secret I have not suffered at all on any distances or races from Ultra's to Ironman Triathlons. I make sure my feet are buffed, toe nails are trimmed, feet are creamed and any old blisters or small issues are dealt with by my chiropodist.

Now running long distances does cause your feet to swell and sweat so there is a high possibility of getting a blister but I have found that great care has eliminated this issue.

As far as toe nail loss goes I have found that it is only down to incorrect footwear in terms of sizing. This is because runners often go for the same size shoe they would normally wear, when in fact they need to be a half to a full size bigger to prevent this happening. Toe nail loss is due to the toes bashing against the front of the shoe, which causes small traumas in the toe nail which leads to black toe nails and eventually nail loss. Keep your toe nails, go bigger on shoes.

An excellent book on this is Fixing Your Feet by John Vonhof  it is a little long and does go into massive detail but if you are into long distance running, Ironman Triathlon or multi day running then this is the book for you.

It covers how to deal with feet issues such as blisters and most importantly how to prevent then along the lines of what I have described here. It covers multi stage races such as The Marathon des Sables and other long distance races.

So look after your feet and they will look after you. It doesn't have to be expensive and you don't need to visit a chiropractor, just get a decent foot buff and some good nail scissors and make sure you don't cut too deep or that will give you issues!

Final tips.....make sure you are hydrated. Blisters often occur as a result of dehydration.

Get some good socks. I prefer X-Socks for general running and Dry Max socks for long distance trails. Both have been my preferred choice