The Hampshire Hoppit Marathon

I decided to run the Hampshire Hoppit Marathon after running the Thames Meander in March. I don’t remember how I got to find its website, I was browsing some other runner’s webpage I got to via the Thames Meander photos or something.
The pictures on the Hoppit Marathon site were really inviting and it was taking place just in between the NDW50 and the Race to the Stones, a perfect slot, so I entered.

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I had never been on those hills so I did not really know what to expect. I got to the race start very early in the morning. I woke up at 3am to take my wife to the airport and then drove straight to the race. I got there at 7am and I had 3 hours to kill before the start. I tried to sleep in the car. I parked on top of a hill through which the race was running. It was a good indication of the type of undulation we were going to run on. I did not sleep much, 30 minutes probably, before the car became an oven, the day was already very hot and it was still early morning. I started worrying for the day: 10am is quite a late start for a Marathon.

Race HQ was in a beautiful horse stable grounds, with endless horse race tracks, beautiful grassy fields and nicely trimmed bushes. Everything very well organised, everyone very friendly, but no shade anywhere. By 10am I was already drenched in sweat and I had not even run yet. It did not help that the car park was quite far away from the start and I had to walk there twice.

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When we finally started I felt tired already. After one mile there was a very steep climb, luckily the only one so steep in the whole day, but as a start it was a killer.

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I then settled in a nice running pace that I knew was a bit too much, but I was enjoying it. The terrain was a mix of nice easy dirt road and very ankle breaking single tracks in fields, tracks that are large enough for a tractor wheel but not enough to run comfortably in.

The heat was the real killer of the day. I don’t know how high the temperature was but I guess 33 degrees and most of the race had no shades at all, no wind either. Luckily the sky was not completely cloudless.
I kept on running out of water before getting to the aid stations. I sweated so much I had the worst chafing between my legs ever.

I had decided to race with no vest and just carry a water bottle. I did not want to wear any more layers than needed. I am not so keen on handheld bottles and I have to say, I hated the decision as my right shoulder complained a bit after 30k.

I don’t remember any particular part of the first half of the race except that the views were really nice and the hills not too tough.

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Finally at around 28/30k there was a long stretch inside a wooded area, I was very thankful as it was quite fresh. It also helped that it merged with the half marathon race for a couple of kms and it mentally helped a lot to overtake people.

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Once that bit finished, the hard part started. This is where I suffer the most, after the thirty-second km. I had very little water, I was over heated and my legs where jelly. I walked 400m with another guy but then felt better and started my 1-2-3-4-5 counting routine that makes my legs move. Legs gone, no water, it was just a mental game.

I started overtaking some people, got to an aid station where they showered me in water and gave me an ice lollypop (which I did not eat, I just kept it in my hand to cool me down) and raced at best I could. I was suffering but I was enjoying it too.

After a final climb it was possible to see the finish line, but it was still quite far away, down the hill, but I was relieved to see the end and started running faster and crossed the line in 3:56:11.

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I sat down on the grass and could not move for 20 minutes. It was hard even to recover, having to sit in the sun, but I finally got up and went to get more water and bananas. I did not opt for the free beer as I knew I could not handle it in that condition.

The walk back to the car was endless. It felt far away in the morning, but after the race it was a torture. I had to stop twice, light headed and with my usual hiccup.

I got home in time for some father’s day celebrations. Thanks to my daughters for the wonderful cake and dinner. I did not do much apart from racing that day. Just kept my legs up, slept a bit and ate a lot.

And now it is time to prepare for next month race, my first 100k!

See you on the trails.

North Downs Way 50 and how I redeemed myself

This is going to be a relatively short report as it comes so late after the event, but I wanted to say a couple of things about the my run on the North Downs Way 50 last May. Spoiler alert: it was my best 50 miler to date, for many reasons. But as usual let’s start by talking about the days leading to the event.

After the performance on the SDW50 (I wrote about it here), I was really upset. I had trained very well for what I wanted to be my main race of the first half of year and I felt I was going to enjoy it and do well. The fever that caught me the days before the event ruined everything. Luckily training is never wasted so I decided to just wait a month longer to check if my training plan worked: the NDW50 was going to be even more important. I had to keep the level of fitness.

The week after the SDW50 I took it relatively easy, no speed training and just 60k in the whole week. It was Easter holidays so we went to Italy and I had a nice run with Davide on the Giro Dantesco, nice trails and no wild boars this time. During the Easter week-end I also went to reclaim the CR on Salita Bergeggi that was stolen from me for just a handful of seconds. It is mine again by more than a minute, so I should be ok until next year at least!

Then I had two strong weeks of 105 and 110 km each with solid SSR sessions (like this one) during the week and longer runs during the week-end. Nothing super long, but both week-ends I went to the NDW, once with super tired legs and still managed a solid 25k run and the next week-end 32k on the NDW with two new friends and a dog.

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Action selfie

Then I had one 73k easy week to start the tapering and finally race week arrived: 10k a couple of times but the rest was doing nothing and sleeping as much as possible. I also had the excitement of changing job that week.

On race day I woke up very early as usual and the classic pre-race routine of toilet – breakfast – toilet went perfectly well. I got the Race HQ early enough to find a nice parking spot outside the school at Farnham. I had enough time for a chat with various friends and then after the race briefing we walked to the start.

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Race Briefing

Unfortunately some of us got delayed at the train crossing and by the time we decided to take the overpass we got to the start too late. The race had started at least a minute before we got there.

Note to self: listen to the race briefing from the back of the room, near the exit, so you can leave as soon as it’s done and not get stuck.

The first couple of kilometers were then a bit frantic as I did not want to be so behind everyone else, but then I made myself take it easy as the day was going to be long and I had enough time to make up for that lost minute.

I settled on a nice easy pace. Some flat or downhill bit at just under 5 min/km, some slower bits around 6:30 if I was walking uphill.

I basically walked everything that was making my heart go over 140 bmp. The plan was to be consistent all day, no crazy rush in the first half and no death march at the end.

At the first aid station in Puttenham (at around 11k) I did not stop as I still had a full bottle of water and kept going at that sustainable pace. At around 20k we arrived at the St Martha hill which I had visited 2 weeks earlier. I remember in 2015 in my total ultra-ignorance I ran up all the way. This time I walked it easy and bombed down on the other side. So far so good. Very warm day but I was feeling great.

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At the top of St Martha’s hill

A bit of up and down on big grassy hills and I reached the second aid station (23k) at Newlands Corner. I stopped very briefly for a bottle fill up and some water melon. This time I was not going to get anything else, no coke, no solid food. I had all my gels and Tailwind to drink, I wanted to avoid stomach issues this time.

The next part of the trail is probably the one I ran the most in training. I find the flat woodland there a bit boring except the final part before Ranmore. I like the single track bits there, full of roots and speedy downhill. There was a very fast race going the other way round so we had to stops once in a while and let the other runners go by.

From the 35th kilometer or so until Box Hill there is a lot of tarmac and a lot of downhill that usually kills my legs. I was not looking forward to that bit even if I enjoyed bombing down it in January’s race. Luckily I started chatting with another runner, very friendly Kevin, and the time went faster and even the under-pass before Box Hill was gone before realising it (I usually hate it).

I was looking forward to Box Hill. Psychologically it feels like you are halfway through the race (even if it is around 40k out of 82k) and with the excuse of the long steps section I was looking forward to eating a bit more and take it easy.

Instead it was the worst part of the whole race. I felt really dizzy going up, even walking easy I could not eat anything and felt so tired when I got to the top that I could hardly start running again.

It took around 5k of slow running to feel better but by then my stomach was went a bit strange. This time I solved the issue straight away, I jumped behind a bush and the rest is history. I felt much better and got to one of the hardest climb (Reigate) feeling strong. Walked to the top and run the rest of the way to the 50k mark where the Reigate Hill aid station is. More water and watermelon and off I went.

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Just one of the climbs, enjoying it

Apart from a couple of km on the road this is my favourite part of the race, especially the last wooden bit (Old Park Wood) before Caterham’s aid station at around 61k. It went relatively fast even if my pace was much much slower than the first half of the race. But I was running everything (except the hard climbs) and that is what made me very confident.

At Caterham I had to sit down a bit at the aid station as again I was feeling super weak. I probably spent 2 minutes there longer than I wanted, but I felt I was at the limit, I could not push too much. This is where in 2015 everything went wrong and I suffered the rest of the race. This time I was not feeling super, but I was moving, always. The legs were in pain, but my head was in a good place. And I think this sums up the whole day pretty well. The body was in pain, but my mind was set to do well and made my legs go, just go all the time. And the more I realised I was going and going and the more I felt good.

I started doing the math and while 8:30 hour (my dream scenario), was an impossible task I was happily going for around 9 hours which was much better than the 10 hours of 2015. After a bit I even realised that I could make it in under 9 hours and that was a pretty good boost too.

The climb to the last aid station at Botley Hill (69k) was endless but the end was in sight. I had a quick cup of tea there, preparing for the last push.

The final 13k were the most painful. I remembered from 2 years ago how hard the final fields were, but even if I was prepared it felt like they were going on forever.

Finally after a million fields the finish line was in sight and for the last 2k I just gave it all I had. I even ran the last mile at around 4 min/km pace. I was so happy to see the end and even happier to have made it in 8:51, one hour and 9 minutes faster than two years ago. Training definitely had an impact, but I believe most of this PB performance is due to experience. Running your fifth 50 miler is definitely different than running your first.

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It had been a nice sunny day all day. I had a long time to wait for the bus back to the car so I quickly changed and then collapsed on the grass for hours. I probably drank 8 cups of tea and then had the mother of all hiccups, but I was the happiest man on the planet.

As always the Centurion people and volunteers put together a wonderful day for us runners and everything was fantastically organised. Everyone at the aid stations and at the finish was so friendly and helpful. Thanks! I cannot wait to run the next one in September. Now I only need to survive my first 100k race!

Five laps in the woods

When I woke up for the final race of the year (Wendover Woods 50) I was pretty scared. The week before I was pretty confident and excited (as can be read from my previous post), but when at 4:15am I opened my eyes I started being worried. Darkness and coldness does not help to get pumped for a 50 mile race.

I was scared of everything this time, not just the distance. I was afraid of the cold, the mud, the fact it was a five lap race, my stomach being funny for the last couple of weeks, my old injury coming back, the hills etc. While still in bed I had time to think about a million things that could go wrong. Luckily 30 minutes later, after having had breakfast, all the positive excitement came back and I felt ready, got into the car (after defrosting it) and left very early.

By the time I arrived at the start it was still dark and all my fears came back. The start of the race was in a field with a couple of tents, pitch black. I left the car for kit check and registration and stepped on a cow poo straight away. By the time I had my bib, left my drop bag and got back to the car I was frozen and my feet wet (and smelly). I set the phone alarm clock to wake me up in 15 minutes and closed my eyes and tried to relax and get ready. When I opened my eyes (I did not actually sleep) daylight was coming but visibility was still bad due to the thick fog.

Quick visit to the portable toilets and off we went. The start was not where the race ended, to avoid a bottleneck at the start due to a small stile. I managed to warm up a bit on the way to the start. The race briefing was the shortest ever and we were off. It was time to relax and put the training to the test.

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The Wendover Woods are quite nice. Small but nice. I had been there for one of the Rail To Trail marathons and I remembered steep hills and a lot of mud. Luckily this time the mud was not terrible, the trails were a lot better than I expected, soft, leafy, slippery in places, but never too muddy.

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The woods are quite small but the guys at Centurion managed to create a nice 10 mile loop that is very varied and fun. I only realised after the first lap that we were always running quite close to the centre of the woods, which made it fun as we kept on encountering the same people going for a stroll or walking the dogs. Most of them were nice and supportive of the race, asking us how we were doing and stuff.

So one of my fears, the mud, was unfounded. My apprehension of steep hills, on the other hand, was not. This is the race with the most climbs I have ever done. I am sure it’s nothing compared to real mountain races, but for me it was quite a lot. I think more than twice as much as any other 50 mile race I have done.

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Usually the uphill bits are good to walk, eat some food and in a sort of way almost rest. Not this time. The hills were so steep that my heart rate while walking up hand on knees was a lot higher than while running on flat.

After the first lap I realised my objective to finish in 10 hours was a bit too optimistic. I did the first lap in 1 hour and forty something minutes and I knew I was going to have to slow down if I wanted to finish.

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During the second lap, knowing the terrain, I started planning how I was going to survive running the same spots 4 more times. The first part was the easiest, almost flat, but I found it the least fun to run and I could not wait to get to the first big downhill, down what seemed like a dry river bed. Very steep and slippery with some hidden traps under the fallen leaves. Then after a small climb where I usually had a gel, there was an even steeper descent (called Powerline) that ended in a field, the only bit not in the woods. Then a steady but easy climb and a bit of up and down took us close to the fist aid station, but we could not stop, we could only see it 10 meters away. There were some more kms around the woods before we got there again.

One of the climbs soon after was not even on a visible trail and even after 5 laps I did not know what the best way to tackle it was. The first time I went zig zag, the other times I just went straight towards the next tree with a course sign. No idea what was best. More downhill and then a nice very runnable dirt road finally took us to the aid station. There was only one in the whole race, apart from the one at the start line. So getting at the aid station was quite a morale boost as it meant more than half of the lap had been done.

I only ate fruit and got hot tea (in the last two laps) from the aid stations, the rest was all about trying to eat my own gels and drink my Tailwind powered water.

The long easy climb after the aid station that I ran the first time around became my favourite place where to eat and relax walking for the other 4 laps.

The rest of the lap was first made of a larger bit of dirt road that was very runnable (Boulevard of Broken Dreams), most of it downhill, then a long climb that took us to a nice single track trail (Hill Fort Loop). The craziest climb was at the end of the lap. It was so steep I had to stop and catch my breath just to walk it, grabbing trees and branches to help me stop from sliding down.

More up and down and then a final climb to the finish line. After the first lap I was already dead. The second lap I barely survived. The third lap I was struggling to eat. I looked forward to finish the third lap as I had decided to grab my drop bag and change my top, get the headlamp (a must have after 1pm) and get my MP3 player.

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I felt like a new person, but only for 5 minutes, then I felt s**t. I suffered from not having eaten enough the lap before and the 4th lap became very painful. I was seeing blurred trees and I struggled a lot. I was in the top 30 by the end of lap 3 but I was losing places in the first half of lap 4. When I got to the open field I felt like I was not going to be able to run anymore. I made myself eat more. I had one gel, one salt stick, one Cliff Shot and 3 almonds all in one go. Drank half a bottle of water and Tailwind and walked for 3 minutes to let it all go down. I slowly got better and got into gear again. By the time I was approaching the crazy final climb I was running super excited.

I knew the trail by heart then. Seeing certain rocks or trees that I knew were going to be there gave me strength. I also got to a point where running downhill was so painful I managed not to think about it. I went in a sort of trance where I was thinking of myself as only being made of two arms, with no legs. I let my feet go by themselves and did not think about them, floated. It worked quite well and I finished lap 4 on a high. One more lap to go!

One final cup of tea (I never stop at aid stations, I eat and drink walking away from them even if it means carrying a paper tea cup folded in my pockets) and I was ready for the final push.

After twenty minutes in the final lap I had to turn on the head torch as it was very dark and everything changed. The woods became even more magical. My MP3 player was playing the right music (instead of the boring podcast I had on lap 4, big mistake) and I tried to enter that special “made only of 2 arms and no legs” trance. And it worked. I felt like I was going fast (later I discovered it was the slowest lap I ran, but it felt much faster than the 4th) and started overtaking people again that I knew where on my same lap. Running down the river bed I was almost in tears of happiness, I could not believe I could still run and I was so happy of being in the woods in the dark. When I got to the descent before the field I slipped and fell for the first time and I thought it was about time! I was too excited to be at the end to care.

The fourth lap was painful in places, especially the downhills, but otherwise it was the most fun, magical and emotional of the day. I loved it. Almost at the end, in the middle of what seemed like nowhere, in the dark, a family with kids were there with cow bells encouraging me, I was so dead that it felt surreal and I could not stop thanking them while I running away.

I got to the end so excited I even sprinted the last one hundred meters. I could not believe it, the day was over. It felt eternal but at the same time short. I finished in 10 hours and 27 minutes. 30th place (which I am very happy with).

I collapsed in the car and sent messages to everyone to let them know I was alive. I changed as quickly as I could into warm and dry clothes and went back to the starting tent aid station for a very well deserved minestrone which tasted like the best thing I had ever eaten.

I cannot thank the Centurion people and volunteers enough. It had been a fantastic day and I cannot wait to finally try and do all four of the 50 milers next year.

I have plans. Stay tuned!

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Chiltern Wonderland 50

After pulling out of the first two Centurion 50 milers I finally felt fit enough to tackle my second ever 50 mile race, the CW50 (Chiltern Wonderland 50). Training this year has been pretty poor due to the never ending injury and only in May things started looking normal or at least bearable for my shin and ankle. Since then I tried to get back into running seriously. I paced Manu for the last 55k in his epic SDW100 in June, I then ran the NDW Marathon and Chiltern Challenge 50k Ultra in July. In August I had my ass handed to me while pacing Davide on the NDW100 and again racing the Intro to Ultra Peak District 50k. Coming into September I was feeling pretty good. I did some long weeks, culminating with a 40k Saturday followed by a 30k Sunday two weeks before the CW50 that gave me confidence. Especially the run I did on Saturday where I tried to keep my heart rate very low and see how I felt. It felt good and after 30k I was fresh and accelerated happily.

I therefore decided to base my effort on the CW50 on my heart rate. I was going to try and keep it under 140bpm for at least the first 50k and then see if I could accelerate a bit towards the end. Instead of starting too fast and then crawl at the end like I usually do.

Last year I did my first 50 miler in exactly 10 hours (NDW50). At the time I was a lot fitter than this year, but a lot less experienced, so the plan was to try to finish at least under 10 hours.

I love the Chiltern Hills and as this race does not follow any particular national trail we were promised an especially beautiful route and we were not disappointed. Those hills are fantastic and the whole race went up and down beautiful hills, many woodlands and very few boring road or open fields. The views when popping out of the woods were some of the best you can get in the British countryside and definitely kept your mind away from the effort at hand.

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As planned I started slow, keeping an eye on my heart rate. The first 5k were mostly flat on the river side so I needed to stop myself from going faster.

The first real hill came and to keep the heart low I started walking bits of it, eating the first gel of the day. That was basically what I did the whole race, as soon as I felt it was too much effort going uphill I was walking. Walking with intent, but not killing myself. At the same time if the trail was flat or downhill I ran it. No excuses this time. In previous races I always misjudged the pace and ended up having to walk some bits on the flats too towards the end. Not this time. I am very pleased with my performance. I never felt like I wanted to kick myself for starting the race and loved every second of it.

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At the first aid station I basically did not stop, just grabbed a cookie and kept going. I was feeling a bit cold and I did not want to slow down too much.

I ran a big chunk of the race between the first aid station and the second with a very nice guy and we chatted away. Before we knew it we were at Bix’s aid station, 18 miles done, eating watermelon and feeling great.

The real hills started there and I was glad I saved some energy. The steepest one was the one going up to a windmill. It was so steep you could not even walk it up in a straight line.

 

I stuck to my tactic of keeping the effort level, eat every 40 minutes or so and just enjoy the day. I even started overtaking people and at the halfway aid station at Ibstone I had one of the best cake/cookie/whatever it was. I was not cold anymore and I was actually running out of water before arriving to the next aid station which was a bit of a problem. Especially as I was using Tailwind this time so my liquids were even more important towards the end of the race, when I have trouble eating gels.

I had promised myself as a reward/incentive that I would have started listening to music after 50k. I waited a bit longer and only put some music on after the Swyncombe aid station. It was probably the best moment of the race. I realised my legs where still almost as new. I was not tired at all, I was enjoying the day out and I was just moving forward, almost without thinking about it. The music made it even more amazing and I found myself singing.

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I realised I had paced it right when I started overtaking a lot of people. I think I passed almost 10 runners at the golf club in Nuffield. I was pretty excited there as I had run there twice already and I knew how much fun was running down to Grims Ditch.

I got there pretty broken up by the downhill, but I was 41 miles in, only 9 left to go! A couple more watermelon slices at the aid station and I was off.

It was hard to keep running at that point but the excitement kept me going. The last 3 kms I just let myself go, no point in saving energy anymore. When I entered Goring village I felt supersonic, I even high fived some kids. I had done it and I did not suffer too much. 9 hours and 22 minutes. Not amazingly fast but much better than I expected. Now I know that on a good day, when I have no stomach issue, no injuries etc I can run at that pace without too much pain. Now all I have to find out is how much faster I should go and still not crawl too much at the end. That’s what I will find out in November at the WW50. I cannot wait.

As all of Centurion’s events it was perfectly organised, the aid station volunteers were amazing, the route was perfect and the Chiltern hills are my new favourite place.

Here is the Strava log if anyone is interested.

 

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Digdeep Peak District 30 miles

I finally managed to spend a weekend in the Peak District. I am a big fan of the English mountains, even if I come from places where we would call them hills. I meant to visit the district for a long time, finally taking part in a race gave me the opportunity to go there.

I was looking for a longer run to do in August between Davide‘s NDW100 (post coming soon about that) and my September’s CW50. The Digdeep Intro Ultra 30 miles was perfect. It is part of a whole weekend of races so I was also tempted by the social aspect.

I left on Friday after lunch thinking I had plenty of time to get there, set up camp and see the talks that were in the program. Unfortunately the M1 was a continuous single traffic jam and took me over six hours to drive there (instead of three). The weather got worse and worse and when I finally arrived it was raining, I missed the talks and it was getting dark already.


I built the tent in the field near the Whirlow Hall Farm (the race headquarter). The first impact with camping life was not the best. The tent my good friend (and vegan apparel designer) Petr lent me was smaller then I expected. The field was muddy and full of cow poo but most of all it was not flat. I built the tent, had some food at the farm and then since it looked like nothing social was going to happen I went to try and sleep. It took me ages to fall asleep. Once I had to get up and take a walk as I felt too cramped inside the tent but that gave me the chance to see the sky at night with an almost full moon. There was quite a lot of wind so the day ahead was going to be interesting.

At 5am I was woken up by the noise of people getting ready to race the longer 60 mile race that was starting 2 hours before mine. It did not look like it was worth trying to fall asleep again so I got ready for my race too. The air was freezing cold and when we finally started running I was glad.

The course is a 30 mile loop around some of the best looking hills on the side of the Peak District near Sheffield and from the get go it was clear it was going to be a very good looking scenery.
After the painful final I had on the last two races I decided to take it relatively easy at the start. After a bit of fields and woods we arrived at the top of a beautiful hilly area full of Houndkirk Moor.

 

I felt a lot better and started accelerating a bit and at the first check point at Fiddler’s Elbow I was probably going too fast and that made me forget to check were I was going. I had the gpx file on my watch but I kept ignoring it and looking at markers and following people. We took the road and then realised we should have been on the path above. We went back and got on the right track. Good thing we did as that trail was the one following the top of Stanage Edge where it would have been impossible to get to if we had stayed on the road unless we were in for some rock climbing.

At the end of the ridge there was the unmanned checkpoint 2. We dibbed in and kept going. Less than 800 meters later we saw another dibber. I thought it was a checkpoint for the 60 mile race and kept going. That was a mistake. It was our checkpoint 3 too. Time penalty number one.

We ran down up and down a road for some more kms and then reached the checkpoint at the base of Win Hill. Going up the hill was a tough climb. The gnarliest of the race. Not a chance to run that one (the photo below does not do it justice).

Once at the top the view was amazing. The wind was crazy too and I did not envy the marshal waiting for the runners all day long at the top. This was just a bit after 20k and I was feeling relatively well. The climbs were harder than I am used to, but I was doing ok. Eating one gel every thirty minutes (even if I hated them, I will go back to my usual make) and drinking regularly. I made the mistake of not filling up the water bottle at any station yet but I thought I had enough to get to the next.

This is were disaster struck. Coming down from the other side of Win Hill the wind was so strong my eyes were watering and I had to use my hands not to fall on the steep rocks. At that point I might have missed an important sign and kept following the markers and a couple of guys ahead. After a while I saw that everyone stopped and looked at the map. I instantly looked at my watch gpx and realised what an idiot I had been not to look at it earlier. We had been following the 60 mile race markers for at least 3km.

We run back trying to cut down the hill and avoid going back up. We were going to miss checkpoint 6 at Aston but the time penalty (second one for me) was nothing compared to the time it would have taken us to go back. For fear of being lost alone I ran with those guys and not at my pace. By the time we joined the correct route at Hope village I had run 30k, 25k were still to be ran and I was feeling dead already. Mentally I was also a bit down as I hated myself for having run 5k more than needed. I was also out of water! I felt the gels stuck in my throat as if they had clogged my insides and basically felt a bit crap.

I put some music on (as always I waited until I was halfway through the race) which helped and continued running (I also managed to smile for this selfie).

The trail around a massive cement factory felt like lasting for ages but I finally reached the big aid station at Bradwell. I was so depressed to think I lost so much time. I had some real food, filled the water bottle and went out.

A long bit uphill was quite welcome as I had a chance to walk it and talk with other competitors. I ran down the other side feeling like I could not stop even if I had wanted to.

From then on it was an alternating of walk the hill, run a bit, walk again.

Then an endless bit along the river Derwent felt like it lasted an eternity. It was a very nice part of the trail, with the river down on the side, but it was flat and at that stage I would have preferred a bit of walking uphill and running downhill.

My wishes were soon granted and the final 10k of the race arrived, with a very long climb. I never felt so low in energy. I could not eat anything and my head felt light and my legs like made of wood. It lasted forever.

I finally recognised where I was as we got back from the same trail the race started on and when I realised it was actually skipping some parts we did in the morning I finally got out of the low point I was in. I even managed to run the full last 2kms and crossed the finish line completely knackered. Here is the Strava file if you are interested.

It was a beautiful place. The weather had been variable, sun, rain, mostly windy, but it was beautiful being out there. I am not too happy for having taken the wrong path and even less happy for having crawled the last bits. It was definitely a good lesson. I need to do a lot more long runs. The injury from last November really affected my fitness. Last year at this time I was so much stronger. Next month I will do my second 50 miler ever but I don’t think I will have much time to improve my fitness so I will have to be very rigorous in taking it easy and eating regularly. I cannot wait.

After the race I had a sort of shower with a water bottle in the middle of the field under the rain and in the wind. It was even more painful than the race.

Then I waited to see the first people finishing the 60 miler and then went in my tent. Spent the time from 7pm to 7am sleeping. I only woke up at 1:30am to watch Mo Farah win gold at Rio’s 5k race. Amazing stuff.

The day after the weather was slightly better and I went for a hike. I saw from far away places I had been the day before and I was amazed in realising how much terrain we covered.

I then drove back home to finally have a real shower.

I enjoyed the weekend in the Peak District a lot. Shame there was not much social interaction happening at the farm. I guess the weather did not help much. I will definitely go back and do it right next time!

Druid Challenge 2015

After the last 10 mile race it was time to prepare for my first multi day event, the Druid Challenge, three days of running on the Ridgeway for a total of 84 miles.

I have been looking forward to this race for more than 6 months and I wanted to prepare well. The four weeks leading to the race went really well. I ran 6 times a week with a weekly average of more than 100k and did back to back long runs during the weekends. I started the first week with 30k on Saturday and 20k on Sunday. Then the week after 35k and 30k and the third week I did 40k and 20k. During those week I also did speed training twice a week, a couple of hill repeats and tempo runs.

Basically I prepared very well and I felt super confident. So I packed my bag and I was ready to go! Actually packing the bag has been quite a challenge as having to run 3 days in a row with no idea of what the weather was going to be like I brought a million things, plus an inflatable bed and sleeping bag.

Day 1

The train trip to the start at Tring took ages. I met another guy at Clapham who was going to the race too and we could not even get on the first train. It was so packed.

When we finally got to Tring we were just in time to get ready to start with the Elite group, which was fine for me as I registered as “elite”. Anyone that thought they could do the first day in less than 5 hours was elite. The idea is that the fastest runners start later so that everyone sort of finishes together and the checkpoints are ready etc. So walkers always started first, an hour later the runners and another hour later the elite. Depending on how you finished each day you were put in the elite or not. It was my aim to always be in the elite and it was not that hard to achieve.

From the Tring station we were taken by mini-bus to a farm where we could change (inside a silo) and listen to the race briefing. We were then driven to the start of the race, on the Ridgeway. It was pretty evident from the start that it was going to be a wet and windy day, but everybody was excited. We started with a bit of downhill that was probably the most dangerous of the whole race as it was on that white slippery chalk terrain that is characteristic of the Ridgeway. After that the rest was mud for the best part of the three days.

The first day was the longest, almost 30 miles and as I did not know how I was going to feel running for 3 days I took it relatively easy. The race leaders disappeared pretty quickly. Even if the whole race is on the Ridgway and I had the GPX file on my watch I managed to get lost many times. The first time after not even 3 kms and the second time 1km later.

The first half of the day went pretty well. After 20km we entered Wendover. It felt a bit strange as it was a Friday, kids were in school, people were in offices and we were running in the rain. After Wendover I think I took the wrong path again (I got lost there on my second marathon in February too), but after a while on the top of the hill I managed to get back on track. At that point we started overtaking quite a lot of walkers and slower runners which in a way gave me quite a boost.

I saved the mp3 player until halfway through the race which was exactly crossing the fields in front of Chequers. While trying to put my headphones on I lost one of the yurbuds. Sad, but I did not stop.

The rest of the race was a mix of emotions. The wind sometimes was very strong and the terrain slippery. I stopped to put my jacket on and felt terrible for a couple of kms. Then on a downhill bit I felt fantastic, then terrible again.

The last checkpoint was 10k from the end and I was really dead. The 8 or so km after that were the worst one, on endless flat fields with muddy bumpy terrain, hard to run on. Then it started getting dark and I did not want to stop and get my headlamp on so I started accelerating and felt I had more energy than expected and decided to race the darkness. The last 1.5k were on tarmac and I was happy to finally have some grip on the terrain.

I arrived at the school in Watlington were we were staying for the night pretty spent. 48km in 5:01 in pretty atrocious conditions.

After a hot shower and setting up my bed in the gym I started socialising a bit and it was a nice evening. I met a lot of nice people, the food was not too bad either and the evening went by pretty fast. A lot of people do this race to prepare for the Marathon de Sable so a lot of discussions were about that.

While eating dinner I also discovered I finished the day in 15th position which was a lot better than I expected.

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At 10pm the light were switched off and everybody tried to sleep the best they could. Not easy with all the snoring and people moving about. Even with ear plugs it took me ages to fall asleep. The excitement and the novelty of my inflatable bed did not help.

Day 2

The second day was the shortest (just a bit over a marathon) and that was positive as I was already afraid of being out of steam. I knew the rest I had during the night had not been enough. I even tried to sleep more in the morning as I was leaving with the 9am elite group. It did not help. I only managed to miss breakfast and I had to eat just two croissants with some water. Luckily half of my luggage was food. I had enough snacks to survive for a month.

The route on the second day started from the school where we slept so no need for a bus drive. It was raining very heavily and it was very windy. It was not going to get better any time soon.

I started easy as I did not know how fit I was after the day before but I pretty soon got into a good rhythm. The first half of the route was actually the best of the whole three days. Up and down hills in the woods. Even if the weather was terrible the woods were lovely. Autumn is the best time to run. We kept on going between forested bits and open fields where the wind was moving you sideways.

We then arrived at the golf course in Nuffield where I got lost this summer when exploring the Ridgeway and it was a morale boost. I knew that there was going to be a nice long descent for a while and I really enjoyed it and picked up the pace. Then there was a long bit on the river which I had found very boring and I was afraid I was going to suffer. Instead I just concentrated on following the people in front (mostly Laura, the girl who placed second at the end) and when we got to South Stoke I was glad that part was over. I barely stopped at the checkpoint and kept going. Faster and faster. I felt good. I put my MP3 on and started overtaking some of the people that started with me. I was so into it I took the wrong turn at Goring but luckily recovered quickly. Beautiful town on the river by the way.

After that, at the 27th km there was a long climb. I ran most of it. Fuelled by some wafers and the thoughts I was well over halfway through. When I got at the top a Metallica song boomed in my ears and coupled with the descent made me do a fist pump and grin like an idiot. That high point did not last long. I had to walk a bit and lost some time before the final check point but then I knew it was almost over.

After that it felt like it took ages to get to the finish line. The final kms where on open fields beaten by such a strong wind I had to remove my hat and I kept on losing my footing in the mud. I was glad when it was over. It had been shorter and I did not finish spent, but I was so happy to be handed a hot cup of tea at the end!

Finished the day in 14th position: 43km in 4:32.

We were then driven to the leisure center in Wantage where we were staying for the night. Luckily I arrived early and managed to get a nice hot shower. Others were not so lucky. I have maximum respect for those people walking most of the route. They spend 9 or so hours in the mud, rain and wind and when they get in they risk of not having a hot shower! Even crazier were the two guys pulling a tire for 3 days, training for the Yukon Arctic Ultra.

The rest of the afternoon was spent resting, chatting with fellow runners and mending the various painful bits. I had a sport massage that I found fantastic. It was my first one but it will not be my last.

I had a little pain in the right shin but there was nothing I could do.

After a nice dinner (hat off to the organisers, everything was like clockwork) we attended two talks. The first one was from course record holder Nathan Montague who talked to us about his latest victory at the Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Desert Marathon. Very interesting and inspirational stuff. The second talk was from Rory Coleman. I have to say, I did not enjoy this last one much.

Then we were off to bed. This time I managed to fall asleep pretty quickly and never woke up during the night.

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Day 3

The third day I woke up with a bit more pain on the right shin, but not to terrible. The weather was still quite abysmal but everybody was pretty excited to finish the challenge. Again I started in the 9am elite group. We were driven to where we finished the day before and the first part of the run was basically in the same boring terrain as the end of the day before. I really tried to take it easy (sticking to around 5:30/5:40 min/km) and save enough energy to get to the end, but after a while I felt pretty good (same thing as day 2 basically). The pain on the shin went away. I kept on eating my salt sticks and gels and avoided the check points food. I had been very diligent all the other days and avoided eating strange stuff and that meant no issues at all with my belly this time.

After the first 16k in the undulating fields we started going up and down nicer looking hills and I accelerated a bit and left the group I was with behind. For a second the sun came out but then the rain came back. It was colder than the days before but that was actually better. At around 27km we arrived a Liddington where we had to run on a big busy road which was not fun, but I had a banana from the check point and kept on going.
Then a very steep hill had to be climbed, very muddy and windy, rain was heavy and everything was clouded in fog. It was a pretty tough part of the race. I was surprised to see people having a Sunday walk in those conditions. A bit surreal, you could not see that much ahead and then people walking their dog popped out of the fog, or people on horse back, all this in a killer wind.

Then when the fog cleared a bit I realised I was 15k from the end and I just felt like I could not run slow anymore. I had to go fast and I just went for it. I overtook a couple of people that had started with me and never looked back. At the last check point I did not even stop, I just showed my bib and kept running. I only noticed later I was going at under 4 min/km pace.
Then I saw a guy that I know was close to me in the race timing and decided I had to overtake him. I think he saw me and started accelerating too, but then he stopped to open a gate and keep it open for Niandi and I went pass them. We talked for a bit and I tried not to look tired and accelerated in the fog.
After a bit more of up and down on grassy hills there was the much awaited tarmac road leading to the end. The first half km was a very steep descent. People were walking down it but I could not stop, I just bombed down it.
I think that is where I injured my shin even more and now after almost 4 weeks I am still not running. But whatever happened to my leg that day it was worth it. Those last 15km were probably the best in my running “career”. I was dead and at the same time full of energy. I just ran as fast as I could, uphill, downhill, everything. I never felt so alive. Overtaking people, saying hi to the ones I had met in the evenings. It felt so good. I also felt it was the end of the week end. 15k and then it was it, I had to make the most of it.

The last couple of kms on the road were quite flat and I just went as fast as I could. It felt fast but it was actually just around 4:40 min/km but after almost 135k it felt fast. When I got to the finish line I was very happy: 46 more km done, in 4 hours 29.

The last part of the third day was really an amazing experience and finishing the whole 3 day race felt like an achievement to be proud of. I got my medal, went for a shower. Noticed my shin was a bit swollen, but ignored it. I watched the prizes presentations to the winners and then took the mini-bus to Swindon. The train trip back home was endless.

I only found out a bit later I had finished 13th in the whole race which is fantastic. I dreamt of being in the top 20 and I could not ask for more.

end

Unfortunately I was not lucky enough to be captured in any of the nice photos taken on the hills and wood, but if you want to see how beautiful and wet it had been, check these albums out: day 1, day 2, day 3.

For people interested in kit and nutrition I do not have much to say. I had to change every piece of clothing each day as nothing dried during the night. I only had one pair of shoes, the fantastic Saucony Peregrine. They worked really well, but sometimes I wished I had bigger slugs. Even with 3 days of wet feet I had no problems, the injinji worked as well as always. In three days (during the race) I ate 10 High Five energy gels, 12 Cliff Shots, 1 packet of Powerbar wafers and 12 saltsticks. I took very little from the aid stations apart from water and the occasional salty snack or half banana.

Now I have not been able to run for almost a month and it looks like it will take bit longer to recover fully. X-rays have not found anything so I guess it’s just a question of taking a rest. It’s hard not to run but I am seeing it as a forced off season before I start preparing for next year Centurion Running 50 mile Grand Slam.

See you on the trails!

High Weald Challenge 50k Ultra Trail

Sunday morning the alarm clock went off at 4:20am. My second ultra was waiting for me, exciting. After the usual breakfast I drove to pick up @craigjmcelroy and together we went down in Kent for the High Weald Challenge 50k Ultra Trail.

I have been preparing for this race quite well with a lot of climbs while on holiday and quite a bit of long runs the month before. So I felt pretty confident and was aiming for 4:30 (ah ah ah!). Once we arrived at the beautiful Groombridge Place we picked up our bibs and in the freezing morning prepared for the challenge (with a visit to the portaloos).

At 8am the race director walked us to the start line and we were off.

We ran most of it together. Took it relatively easy at the beginning. Walked most of the uphills, speeded up a bit in the middle part, but in general we were trying to save some energy for the end.

I did not eat anything strange this time at the aid stations. Only drank water and ate my own gels. The day got warmer and we got into a nice rhythm. We even managed to chat a bit.

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The course was really nice. Not too hilly, something like 700mt of elevation in the whole 50k, so not too bad. The trail was muddy here and there, but nothing compared to the last time I was there (see my first marathon), but it was still quite a tiring terrain with very few fast runnable bits. Most of it was on uneven tiny trails on fields or in woods with plenty of roots and branches. A lot of fun.

Even if it was not marked particularly well (still better than expected) we managed not to get lost too much, either following someone else or looking at the navigation tool on the watch. Which is great by the way, the Fenix 3 is proving to be the best piece of kit I could buy. Luckily we did not need to look at the 20 page long road book given to us at the start.

Check out this video to see how wonderful the course and the day was. You can see me and Craig at 4:55 in one of the best downhill bits.

In the last 12k I struggled quite a bit but did not crawl, I just ran slower. Craig went ahead as he wanted to do it in 5 hours (and managed to do it). I went as fast as I could. The stomach was fine, the legs too, but they felt like they were coming off the hips. Every time I got into a rhythm I had to stop and climb over a stile. There were probably 25 stiles in the whole race and after a while they were really a pain!

I finally got to the end in 5 hours and 9 minutes, 24th place. My target of 4:30 (as always) was a bit too optimistic. Check out the Strava stats here.

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Overall I loved the race. I would recommend it to anyone looking for a nice 50k, especially on a sunny day like last Sunday. The scenery from the hills is beautiful, the forests are fun to run and you get to cross Winnie The Pooh bridge too.

I felt good for most of it and even the bits I suffered were nothing compared to previous races. I just regret not pushing a bit more at the end, but I think it was a good test for the Druids Challenge.

The only negatives, as far as I am concerned, are that the course could be marked a bit better and that there were no refreshment at the end. No bananas! Nothing, just some water. Strange as the aid stations were very well stocked, plenty of water melons, my favourite ultra distance fruit! The ceramic mug received with the medal was quite nice actually.

We went to the pub for a quick beer and pie and then drove back home. It was a good day and going to a race with someone you know is definitely more fun than going alone.

The days after I felt fine, no pain anywhere, which is also a good indication that I should be able to run the second Druids day. Not sure about the third!

I decided not to go to the Cardiff Half Marathon next Sunday as I have not heard from Brooks about the bib I was supposed to get for free. Plus it is a bit too far and I would need to dedicate the whole weekend to it. I will instead do the Kingston 10 mile race that is just outside my door. I can do it and get back home as if I just went for a training run. I am aiming for a 10 miles PB. We’ll see.

Have fun!