I have never ever run in Wales before. At the end of last year I saw a half marathon advertised on Facebook through Tough Runner UK events, which was sponsored by Hoka One One! As a passionate Hoka Racer I organised entry to the race. My mum ended up getting it for me for Christmas. My family will never get their heads around why a gift can be in the form of something seeming to be so torturous. The truth is, as all us runners know, that no matter how hard it is, it’s always damn good fun!
The race took place in the Afan National Park, South Wales. It was about an hour north west of Cardiff which was fab because it meant we could visit some of my wife’s family who live in the capital city. They had just had their first baby and so it was lots of cuddles and catch up in the days leading up to the race. We booked an AirBnb very close to the race so were staying out of Cardiff. The town was quiet and quite run down, but the local people were very friendly and there is a lot of outdoors stuff to do around there. It felt like a lot of the towns there had not had much investment over the years but they are set in some lovely parts of the UK. The house we stayed in was lovely. We had a pool and table tennis table and the whole house to ourselves. The kids reckoned it was haunted, but the pipe work was old and there was a lot of creaking floor boards around. Lots of annoying bed swapping going on over the long weekend!
The day before the race I took a nice jog along the river, which kind of turned into a tempo 10k run. As I wasn’t ‘racing’ the half I didn’t mind doing that, although I knew there was going to be a lot of elevation in the run. That was the main thing I wanted out of the race. Just a standard effort long’ish run with some climbing. On the morning of the race I turned up early which was quite lucky as the drive up to the car park was single track (like serious single track with no passing points). I parked up not far from the start and headed down to pin my race number on. While there I bumped into someone I knew through an old friend which was quite something as we were in the middle of nowhere really. Always nice to see a familiar face. I managed to get a few photos before stripping down to race gear and getting ready to start. The usual calls for faster runners to get to the front were met with not much enthusiasm however a small crowd gathered near the big inflatable Hoka One One start line. It was there I saw Harry Jones (@harryruns on YouTube). As a fella Hoka team member I said my hellos and then we were off!
I watched Harry and some others dash off at sub six minute pace while I settled into the first climb which starts straight away. It was clear early on that the climbing was going to be tough. I soon settled into a good steady pace which was mostly comfortable and had a good chat with a few people around me. Always good to make new friends during events. Not everyone likes to chat but there’s usually always a couple who will. I’ve got chattier the older I get I think, but if I feel someone isn’t wanting to, I’ll quickly stop. The race itself took in some lovely green and brown scenes through the hills of the Afan National Park. We were lucky with the weather, getting just a slight bit of rain at the end of the race. It was very windy however, and cold. Gloves were required. The end of the run, after taking in about 2,000ft of elevation was good fun. You come down a hill that you started on, and go through the finish like with a load of people lined the sides. I got some high fives from some of the volunteers and really had some fun with the finish. 1:38 was my time, which over that terrain as a steady long run was surprising. I had originally wanted two hours on the feet so a 2 hour half would have been fine and probably had moe benefit for my current training phase. After the finish I chilled for a bit and got to chat with Harry and his girlfriend Louise for a bit. Harry had a great race and finished at an incredible 5:53 pace over that whole route. The dudes got legs of steel. The last time I saw Harry was after his UTMB finish in Chamonix last year. Literally, after the finish. He was still covered in dust and looking like needing some sleep. Great running from the Hoka One One Racer – #timetofly
Before I left I visited the cake stall that was outside of the race HQ. They were selling gigantic pieces of melted chocolate and cookie dough stuff. I bought three boxes of it and took it back to the holiday house for the family to consume. After the race it was feet up for some chill reps. My favourite kind of training. Wales was great. I can recommend the event for sure. It’s cheap and well supported and organised. Check out Tough Runner UK events on Facebook or via their website. Wales was great. Loved walking about Cardiff and the surroundings around Afan. It’s great for running and mountain biking, and in fact one of my friends said it was his best place to go biking.
Next stop for racing ….. the 2020 Centurion Running South Downs Way 50 —–>
A short look at the Portsmouth 50k and Look Back at 2019
That time of year. Again. Geez it goes quicker and quicker with each rotation of the sun. I can almost remember myself typing the report from last years Portsmouth marathon (and I can’t remember a lot at all these days). As it had been such a big year of running, with over 3000 miles logged in Strava, I went into the Portsmouth 50k with no pressure at all for any kind of time or result. However we all know what happens the closer we get to the date of an event don’t we? For me it goes one of two ways – I question my ability when I’m fit and think there’s no way I could possibly do well, OR, I think I can go faster when I am clearly not ready to do so at all. Why is that? What a backwards combination of either over confidence or unecessary fear? I believe the closer you get to an event, the more pressure there is to perform IF you have set yourself a goal. When there is no goal, there is no expectation at all, and so your mind decides it is ok to aim higher than it may be ready for. Of course we often mix these two up as well, once we start a race and end up going too fast, but in terms of where the mind sits before a race I always find this happens.
I divert too much. Bak to the run. We had a LOT of rain and wind leading up to the race this year. It dried up for the day however. Lovely conditions overhead, but the scars of the bad weather the week leading up to the race left the ground torn up and bloodied with rain water. Did you guys see that MAHOOSIVE puddle on the Billy Line before the race? Lots said they avoided it on the way out but on the way back didn’t bother with the two way traffic going on. Awesome. Sometimes you miss all the fun by avoiding what you think will do you harm. Going through the puddles is revitalising. Or so I keep telling myself. Not sure my feet feel the same way. If feet could feel.
Before the race a few of us met up inside the Pyramids. This is a well practiced pre Portsmouth race routine now. This is something I never try on Great South Run day because at the Portsmouth races it is already too full of resting bodies. Can you imagine it at Great South Run day?!!? I spent a good hour inside lent up against a wall. I just wanted to chill this year and just sit and relax before the race. I hadn’t prepared anything much this year and decided to just take a bottle and try the new Hoka belt which was kindly posted to me a month before the race (thanks Hoka!). Normally I’d go into a 50k and even a marathon with some kind of simple nutrition plan, but I didn’t spend too much time worrying. Through the race that day I ended up drinking mostly water from the stations and a few jelly beans. Terrible idea. I am destined to continually make bad nutrition choices, close to race day. I shall accept this fate. For now….
For most of the race I was actually ok, but the final 10k was hellish. Although I didn’t feel hungry I think my energy levels were drained. It had been leaked out of me over the first 25 miles of the route through my nonchelant ways leading up to the day.
Jason and I ran together from the start, saluting Jalfrezzi Jungle on the way out. For those who don’t know what or where Jalfrezzi Jungle is, here goes the explanation – hot curry the night before a training run, can have adverse effects on the body. Jalfrezzi Jungle is almost a ‘last minute’ stop point potential, before you hit the Eastern road going out of town, or – it could be the first point you hit heading back into town where you can no longer hold it in. Jalfrezzi Jungle is the small bit of trees at the end of the path by the flags, closest to the boat station. The jungle grows strong there. Well fed plant life. Again, I’ve gone off on a tangent. Jason peeled off for a toilet break near the Eastern road bridge and I carried on pacing the start (too quickly as always). I expected Jason to catch me up sooner, but he did not. Turns out later he paced it well and over took me with a mile or so to go before the finish. Just before the 13.1 mile point I caught up with a friend Dave who could no longer carry on after having a speedy start. He had already called home for a pick up as he wasn’t feeling great. After a quick check at the feed station, and some water I headed down to the seafront where it was a pebble dash until we almost got back to the same point. The additional 5 miles you do is mostly on pebbles and paths. This takes it out of the legs considering the distance being run. Although the 5 miles isn’t a lot by itself, the bite comes back later on. This goes for all the mud and puddles and slipping and sliding being done all across the route.
I saw Jason on the return journey after the half way turn. He wasn’t far behind. The return journey was very different along the Billy line. I was paced a lot of the time by the person in front, or the oncoming traffic. It really isn’t a bad thing though. It’s nice to be suddenly surrounded by lots of runner and recognisable faces. Because the 50k starts earlier than the other races we didn’t get to see many others out. I ran in the top 15 or so 50k group and so it was very quiet. The wasy back was great though. High fives. Dodging. Splashing. Slipping. Laughing. Chatting. Being ignored. It was a real mix of great stuff. It’s great to hear your name being called out as someone you missed shouts out. I love seeing the faces of friends and calling out to them when they are trying to concentrate on dodging a puddle or person. SO funny. For a mile or so I ran with a guy I’d heard with a South African accent, David Ross, who was running the marathon. We had a mutual friend and got chatting about ultra running. It turned out that David had won the Centurion 100 Grand Slam one year and also holds the ambassador role for looking after UK runners doing Comrades. Enjoyed chatting with him before he headed off to catch someone he’d had a bet with. That’s when things got hard. Energy depletion alerts were going off all over the place. At that stage it’s too late to react. It’s a case of hold it together at some kind of stead pace and get to the finish. To eat at that point would be a waste.
About a mile before the finish Jason came up from behind. It was lovely to see him and he was bounding with energy. This man is an ultra running machine. He crossed the line shortly before me, giving us position 16th and 17th. A top 20 finish was a surprise really. I was slower than I originally wanted, but really pleased once I found that out later. The winners and even the top 10 were just amazing with their times. Another running friend George ran a negative split for the race! Amazing. I normally love hanging around the finish line at races, but for some reason I just wanted to get away from everyone and lay down in inside. I wanted to get my bag, get some kit off and just relax. I had to go and do that, and called a quick goodbye to friends and families. Once inside I quickly recovered. It’s a lovely feeling once you know the hard work is done. I had a lovely quick chat to a lady who was selling vegan health products next to the Runr guys. Craig and the guys at Runr had looked after my bag during the race which was really good of them – thanks guys. My mate Dave kindly gave me a ride home which was a relief as I was cold and tired. A walk may have done me good, but the lift was candy like. Had to take it. Thank you Dave!
Once home it was a soak in the bath. Then out. Then dressed and off to the pub for an early Sunday roast with friends and family at the Eastney Tavern. It was wonderful. Lots of race chat and checking results and sharing photos. That’s when Jason and I both realised we’d placed in the top 20 finishers. I don’t drink a lot, but two and a half strong ales were lovely but were all I could handle. Anymore would have been good night. I’m such a cheap date. Which is great cause I paid for it 🙂
The 2019 Recap Bit
2019 has been challenging and rewarding. Most years are. Challenging as I decided to enter a lot of big mile races and face distances and terrain that really put me out of my comfort zone. Surprisingly, the race I thought I’d mostly struggle to finish was the one I did finish, but not without learning the most about myself ever. I learned that when faced with mountains (literally! multiple!) of struggle – a finish can still be achieved. And not just a finish either. You can reach your goals by adjusting your plans on route and taking the time to recover when needed. When you feel your worst and decide it’s time to quit, turn off for a short while. Eat. Drink. Recover and when you gather the strength back to decide to take just 1 step more …. then it’s time to hit the route again. I learned too that a DNF is not failure although I had to go through the feeling of failure itself to work that out. Yes it was horrible and yes it was depressing and no I wouldn’t want it to happen all the time. But here I type now, with new goals for 2020 which include going back to a race I failed to finish, with more incentive to get through it. More incentive and more knowledge and tons more experience. In a roundabout way, your failures are just more ammunition for future success. They are part of the bigger picture and journey we are all on which will be revealed as an epic masterpiece when we are no longer able to run one day. It’s hard sometimes to see what an important stroke of a brush adds to a masterpiece but one day it will all make sense. I am sure of it. I’m going down a rabbit hole here.
2019 was very kind to me. When I was at a real low after my first DNF, Hoka contacted me and invited me to join the family as a Hoka Racer. Me? I really was blown away and very much appreciated their support from them on. I may not be the fastest runner, but what I lack in speed I make up for in love for the sport, and for Hoka shoes. 2019 has been another good year for the legs and have avoided all those horrid lower leg issues like stress fracture, and I believe my choice of awesome footwear has been the major reason there. Hoka One One shoes are my go to shoe for all terrain, and now even just wearing around casually as well. Superior cushioning works for me. Fantastic shoe and their moto #timetofly or ‘flying over the land’ really resonates within me. The love of the trails, the mountains and hills, the fresh air and freedom. The good company and seeing people grow and enjoy running. It’s all like this really positive force in the world. I wish more would take it up and see for themselves. Thank you to everyone at Hoka for the support and belief in my own running and everyone elses too.
And the year finished on another high. A project I’ve been wanting to do for ages now. A podcast. Portsmouth is a city that has a high concentration of runners. Those runners are all awesome and each person has a story to tell. Those stories sometimes seem boring to the owners who have lived them, but infact they are super interesting and full of little gems of information and wisdom. The podcast has been started to capture, save and store those stories and experiences and share them with other runners. It’s a simple set up to start with, but enough to start and get going and reach a goal I’ve set myself for 2020. If it all takes well and people enjoy them I will get a better set up and grow the show. If you haven’t heard any yet, please do visit – portsmouthrunningpodcast.co.uk , or search for them on iTunes, or Google podcasts. I am super excited to really dig deep into the line up of interviews I’ve got planned this year so please look out for them all.
Lastly, well done to you all. The running community here (and everywhere) is a great one. It really does improve peoples lives and the way people interact and communicate with each other. It’s a force for good. Once again, happy miles everyone! See you out and about….x
This year I took part in another Great South Run. After last years success with a 1:03:00, I was up for giving it another go, but this time with the aim to have fun and enjoy the day out! For those who don’t know of it (really?), it is a 10 mile race around our beautiful city of Portsmouth. It takes you along the entire stretch of the Portsmouth seafront and also around a lot of the city including the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. You get to run past the HMS Warrior and Victory ships which is always a treat. For the second year running we were treated to great conditions. This year saw the race happen a week earlier than it normally does. Great choice that was because the weekend after was scheduled for rain and the weekend before was a windy one. Excellent placement!
It has been a year of extremes for my own running. The long distances and training over the past year have left their mark in the form of a number of ongoing injuries that do not seem to be shifting at all. They don’t stop me running, but they are holding me back quite a bit. Still, I get to enjoy my running most of the time and I believe they will eventually go. I’ve been working with a physio called George from Up and Running at Roko, and learning how to incorporate stretching into my routine. I must say, George has been great. He gets absolutely mad at me for not listening to his advice on rest. I get that. I annoy myself with it. But we’ve come to a mutual understanding that my running is my daily medicine does. I need it to balance everything going on in my busy life. So, the Great South Run finally arrived. Training since the UTMB CCC has been slow going and hard. Trying to get faster and fitter and getting the legs to turn quickly has been difficult but also interesting. It’s not helped by the injuries but the whole entire process has been a learning one as always.
Earlier this year I was offered to join the Hoka One One (remember, pronounced o-nay o-nay yep?) family as a Hoka Racer, which was just a dream come true. I did wonder for a while if they had the right runner!? I am not the fastest runner out there by any means, but I guess if passion and love for running was measured in speed, I’d surely be up there. Like many others, running has become such a major part of my life. It is never far from my thoughts, challenging me, helping me develop new ideas and solving issues in every aspect of my life, and also introducing me to new amazing people and places. To now be racing for a brand I love so much and representing them in races is just a dream come true. Hoka One One running shoes that have been so kind to my legs and body ove the years and I’m extremely pleased and proud to be running for them. So the Great South Run was going to be my first time running in my gear! Awesome!
This year IBM had been great in refunding us half of the entry fee to run as part of a corporate team. I ran alongside a few other runners from IBM and we all met up before the run to get some group photos. It was awesome to have support from IBM too who have invested a lot of time and money over the past year to help support a healthy work life balance. At the site we work on during the week, we have access to plenty of great facilities to keep in shape. We have a load of different sports activities available and a brand new state of the art gym with a ton of equipment in it. There are some lovely routes around the area and a large group of us run each lunch time during the week. Back to the race day though. After our photos were taken, we headed down to the warm up area at the back of the D-Day museum and did a few laps hoping to see some of the elites, however they all been taken in to the starting area by then. Before long we were down there in amongst the crowds. Not too near the front, but far enough forward. Someone mentioned that a certain Jimmy Mallet(?) was at the start with his gigantic hammer and I just looked blankly as I’d no idea who in hell he was. I had to explain that I grew up in South Africa. All was forgiven. Soon we were off. I starred strangely at the man with the hammer and decided not to get hit. Lots of people were heading towards him however.
The race itself was pretty standard. Kicked off at about 6:30 pace and pretty much stayed about there all the way around as best as possible. I saw a few people I knew during the race and had some nice chats. I saw David Poole sporting his Bad Boy Running kit and another runner I know who was aiming for his ten mile PB. I really got into the crowds this year and decided to run through the Rose and Thistle Pipe Band who always play under the bridge near Gunwarf. For those who know me well, I am a member of this band and have been for years now. Of course I don’t play with them during this parade as I’m usually running. I ran through their circle this year and got to high five them all which was fantastic. They were on a short break between tunes when I got there so perfectly timed. I also did a lot of high fiving all the children who support the event so well. Lots of them put their little arms out hoping to get some back from the runners so it’s really good fun to line up and wind up a really big high five for them all. These are potentially our future runners! At mile seven I was going strong and well and relatively comfortable as was planned and so this year I decided to stop for my family and friends and get a photo with them all. It was great fun to see them all. Usually it’s quite high fives going through but I took my time this year. I then saw some more friends at the Eastney end of the run as we know a lot of people who live that end of the front. Was awesome to see them all. Ben, one of my core team of run directors at junior parkrun was handing out jelly babies along Henderson road which was great. The final couple of miles was quite funny. I still had some breath in me to talk and tried to get some conversation out of a large group of us who had bundled up together. It was so quiet. “The weather has been good to us this year again hey?” —– met by complete serious silence. Saying that, a guy next to me eventually replied and we chatted a bit. I guess it’s not the ideal place in a race to be striking up conversation, but at times it’s nice to take the edge off of the pain.
I came through the finish in 1:06:15 this year, which was pleasing. I’d wanted anything under 1:10 and expected to be no faster than 1:05. Target achieved. Like last year I peeled through a gap to my left after the finish to take a sit down and bumped into some of the elites who had finished and were all changed and probably ready to go home. Was great to meet Chris Thompson again with another lady who may have finshed the race but I didn’t recognise her as she had big sunglasses on. My friend Dave Harvey who had come over to see me, and I got to meet Eilish McColgan who had absolutely obliterated the competition in the ladies race. She’d also broken her mums record time in what was a very incredible run. She looked fresh as a daisy though! Not to hang around too much around there making a nuiscance of ourselves, we headed towards the finish funnel and collected our goody bags. To my annoyance, the bag contained a bloody technical shirt! Argh, not another one! When are the race organisers of these huge events going to give us the option to take a shirt or not? It’s got to be so easy to do surely? Anyhow, we collected our stuff and then ended up meeting a ton of finishers and friends at the exit of the finish funnel which was getting majorly congested. I started to get a bit cold after a while and so decided to head off home for a jog. On the way back I saw one of the IBM team finishers who was making his way through the final mile. Some shouts of encouragement were fired his way. I was surprised just how many runners there were still making their way around. It goes to show just how big this run is.
On the results side of things, we had an added bonus. Our team won the entire corporate team events category! In other words – a first place in the Great South Run! Ok, so it’s not quite that good, but it’s a great result for us. Extremely cool. A couple of our team members ran 1:04.xx times and another ran a similar time to myself. Lovely result!
The Great South Run is where running races started for me. It’s on my doorstep and is still an awesome event that attracts so many people. Everyone is running for their own goals to be reached and you hear and see so many fantastic stories. Well done everyone! As always, happy miles to you all and enjoy the winter running…xxx
PS – if you got this far through my post well done. I can hear you wondering what shoes I wore for this race. I wore the Hoka One One CarbonX. This shoe has grown on me the more I use it. The first time I ran in them they felt quite different than anything else I had used before. They feel a bit like they are missing pieces of sole at first but it’s not off putting, just different. A super fast yet very cushioned shoe. Really comfy. Check here for more information. I also raced for the second time with my new Coros Apex watch. If you haven’t yet tried the Coros watches, do check them out. The battery life is immense if you want a watch that can last a month in full GPS mode with heart rate too, and is simple enough to be really easy to use without any of those added features you just don’t want or need. Coros are definitley growing in popularity.
In 2018 I followed the UTMB CCC race from a small laptop screen. I tracked Tom Evans through the race and witnessed his awesome performance where he overtook the lead runner in the last few km’s, and come through the finish in 1st place. Experiencing that, even through a tiny screen, was enough to motivate me to enter the ballot for a place in the 2019 race. I had never really wanted to run/hike in the mountains before that. Roll on a few months later and my good friend and I had put in a group ballot entry, and were successful upon our first attempt! Jammy. Very lucky. Awesome! But oh no, wait a second – what have I done? After being successful in the ballot and sorting out holiday dates with the family, it dawned on me what I had gotten myself into. My race calendar for 2019 already had two big races booked (TP100 and GUCR). We decided that this was going to be just a fun experience run rather than a hard race, but even with that in mind, it was obvious I had my work cut out for me. It was apparent that to finish the CCC you had to put in a fair amount of training, especially hill work/hiking. But I live in Portsmouth and it’s very flat. We have a small hill north of the city called Portsdown Hill. At best you could get maybe two minutes of steep climbing. Further north you have the Queen Elizabeth Country Park which has Butser Hill and a trail called the South Downs Way which is undulating and very long. The climbs are plentiful there, but very short. I didn’t even have any way to measure in my head how the Alps would differ from Butser Hill but I knew the difference was huge. It was going to be another challenge itself to train well for this race. I had also agreed to keep training to a ‘minimum’, as my races had eaten into enough family time and finances over the year. I agreed that weekends away racing and running were not going to happen. Trips away to train in bigger mountains and hills were out of the question. I had to make do with what I had and train early morning. This write up is a post about the experience of heading out to the mountains of Mont Blanc and what it’s like to be a part of the most incredible running races I have ever seen. It’s a story of battling against the odds and finishing an extremely tough race after almost throwing in the towel half way. It’s a story of lessons and how amazing friends and complete strangers can be. It also has lots of photos too! Thanks for reading.
I’ve covered how I entered this years CCC. My friend Colin and I had secured a place together and he was taking his family out there a few days earlier than me. I arrived in Chamonix the Wednesday before the race which gave me a couple of days to cruise around town for a bit and take in all the atmosphere. I’d travelled to Chamonix and the Mont Blanc region as a very young child and my mum tells me that I had actually done a poo on the mountains back in the early 1980’s! TMI? That’s not significant at all and I don’t remember it, but a little nostalgic for some reason…? I arrived in Chamonix by Alpy Bus. The journey started early but was very easy. UTMB fever kicked in early as the security guard at Heathrow clocked my Hoka shirt and shoes and engaged in ultra running talk. He was a runner himself and a keen Centurion racer. It made the airport bit nicer. He told me I’d be blown away by Chamonix and UTMB. He was right. In Chamonix the bus dropped me off right outside where Colin and the family were staying. For ages I could not stop staring at the mountains. Mont Blanc was visible from the front of the cottage. Holy crap – was I actually going to run around these things? I felt like an ant. We had a quick catch up and a bit of food before heading straight into town to see what all this running fuss and UTMB was about. Wow! I was blown away once we got into town. So vibrant, so busy, so full of runners! Plenty of running related shops and brands that you wouldn’t normally see walking down a high street in the UK. Boxes of Hokas and various brands in the general sports shops. We got some photos of the finish which was near the square in town. People were eating and drinking and cheering runners through some of the races that had already begun. There are various races that start during the UTMB week: UTMB , TDS , CCC , and the OCC. There is also a hugely long race called the PTL which is about 300km in length! Each of those races of varying distances goes through the beautiful mountains around Mont Blanc and each requires a certain amount of points you earn through qualifying races, in order to enter.
We wondered through the town market to where the running stalls were, which were occupied over by all the major running brands. There was everything from Hoka to Coros. So many hiking pole to head torch companies, all showing off their latest gadgets. Of course, I went straight to the Hoka stall (where else?) and then onto the Hoka area which was being set up for the pro athletes who were doing a signing. The Hoka staff were super busy and many spoke different languages, but it was great to chat to a few of them and introduce myself. The fan boy in me got my cap signed by Harry Jones and Kaci Lickteig. I enjoy meeting the pros. These are runners you follow the results of all year and to meet them even for just a quick photo is quite inspiring. Once I’d finished fan-boying hard, we bumped into friends from Portsmouth who were also out there racing and crewing. Our friends David & Heather and Stewart. Great to see other familiar faces and lots of runners from Portsmouth! I then realised that I hadn’t eaten much all day due to the travel. We headed off to a nice bar and restaurant called Big Horn and what a choice that was because it was where Strava HQ were set up for their week of parties and give-aways. The place did some mean craft ales and good food. While in there I saw Zach Miller from the US walking around. Man, we’re at UTMB here I thought! I also found out that if we took our race numbers in the next day after kit check, that we’d be able to claim a free pair of Strava socks. We planned to get those freebies for sure, and that brings me onto the kit checks the next day.
Colin’s family sadly left for the UK Thursday morning. They were going back early and so Colin and I were there on our own from that point. Party time! Err, no – relax time! After the horrid goodbyes Colin and I bundled up our kit into the packs and headed into town again for the kit check. The race organisers have to get thousands of runners in different races through a fairly detailed process ensuring that all the kit meets the safety standards and criteria. I thought it would be chaotic but the process was really well done and ran so smoothly. You arrive with your ID documents and get given a randomised sheet which has a number of items selected on it to be checked and verified. I think I had to show my foil blanket, waterproof jacket, head torch and base layer. Before you show the items you are then sent to another queue to unpack your bag and get it ready to be checked. Very similar to checking your hand luggage at airport security. Your items are taken out and placed in a tray. This makes a quick in and out at the actual kit check so you don’t spend time unpacking everything for the volunteers. You unpack and pack everything at a bunch of tables to the side and when ready, they call you over one by one. Once done and your sheet is stamped, you go through to get your race number! That makes it all very real. Once done there it’s onto the next section where you get your tags attached to your back pack which contain the electronic device scanned each time you head through a check point during the race. Once done there it’s onto the next quick queue to get your free UTMB technical shirt. It’s a really nice shirt and I normally wouldn’t take a race shirt but this is a really special one so I did. Relief! Nothing left to do apart from wake up the next day and don’t miss the bus. There was time for a few photos after the kit check in a great spot with the mountains in the background. This was it. No turning back. Time to chill – then time to race!
The next morning we had set the alarms for 5am. Colin cooked a mean pot of oats for us and we got dressed into our ‘not so neatly’ spread pile of race clothes. I went for shorts and one of Centurion shirts as the material is so damn light, cool and comfortable. We headed into town while still dark and managed to quickly find a stream of people heading onto buses. We were being taken to the CCC start which is about a 20 minute trip through the tunnel under Mont Blanc to Courmayeur, Italy. A top tip for future runners is to get the earlier buses if possible. It means you have to wait longer at the start area but you won’t get panicking if the buses are stuck in queues. There were runners everywhere! You could sense the excitement and the nerves and the start of the race was just surreal. I’d seen it the year before and now I was actually there! In Courmayeur, for the CCC! I couldn’t believe it at times. Once in the starting pen which are numbered according to the first digit of your race number, there were a good twenty minutes to go. Time for a few photos as I bumped into another running friend from Portsmouth, and met another Hoka ambassador from Malaysia. People were really friendly and there was much chit chat going on. Then came the countdown…. uno! We were off! Music was playing an epic race tune which sounded like something out of Game of Thrones. The thrill was insane! What was to happen that day hadn’t been written yet but the universe had a plan for us all….
The first mile out of Courmayeur was quite flat with a slight hill, which then went off into the trees and trails at the base of the first mountain, and got steep soon after. The first climb was to check point Refuge Bertone which was after the high point of the first mountain. I’d heard so much about this first climb. I’d really built it up in my head so much that I was expecting to be in pieces at the top. That didn’t quite happen and when I got to the top a couple of hours or so later I felt quite good. I was so pleasantly surprised. Perhaps my Butser Hill training reps had been all I needed? Don’t get me wrong, the climb was very hard work but I felt like I could go on quite happily whereas many runners on that first bit were stopping and some were feeling ill towards the top. Colin and I had started in different groups and so he had caught me up by the time we hit the first big check point. This was great news as I then didn’t have to wait there for him. We had agreed to get through this race together. He was moving fast and feeling very strong. The check point had plenty to eat in it, and luckily some stuff I really fancied which was shaved Parmesan slices and a thick salami meat. Absolutely delicious it was. I could have stayed there all day. But time was of the essence and we were soon off again on the first downhill. There had been some technical and steep downhills leading to that check point and I found them already to be a little bit harder than heading up hill. There was some nicer sections here along the route which were completely runable but you couldn’t really get a rhythm going because there were either bottle necks of people, or a sudden steep bit or climb that stopped you from picking up any pace. I think to get some pace on there you need to be in among the front runners to get some space as well. After quite some time we reached Arnouvaz which was another check point, with food and drink. We were quick in and out of this one with some nice photos taken during a drink. I saw someone being very sick here which I thought was quite early on, but the climbing was clearly taking its toll on people. It was taking its toll on me too but my body was able to somehow hide it from me for a bit. It was going to soon spring out and surprise me like it always does….
With what I thought was the worst mountain out the way I think I had incorrectly calculated that the others would be slightly easier. That was the most stupid thing I could have set myself up for. The second climb to Grand Col Ferret was really steep and felt very very long. It was at the top that I then realised just how much the mountains were taking out of my legs and body. Feeling good was not an option anymore! It went on for what felt like hours. Colin took some great photos there and managed to get out his navy flag for an awesome pose in the wind. The downhill section after there was pretty horrendous on my legs. It’s long and drops down to check point La Fouly. Before then however we stopped at a quick water station along the route and there we found our friend Dave looking really ill and in a bad way. He had been really affected by the heat during the day. We did our best to ensure he was ok with our time there, and checked he had everything he needed. I told him to eat, relax for a while and that it would pass eventually. He had plenty of time banked. Colin and I had to press on however so it was a quick hug for Dave and we were off again on the downhill stretch. I wasn’t feeling great myself at this point and did my usual thing which is to go all quiet and trying not to let it get to me. Unfortunately, things got bad for me from then on. Really bad!
We had seen Dave later on at La Fouly in fact and he was much better. I however was gradually heading into a very dark place and could feel my race collapsing around me. My legs and body felt ok considering, but my energy levels were low and the nausea was terrible. As always nutrition (and heat) played a part in this, but I am growing to almost accept this now by default and just try to learn to deal with it when it comes. The problem with long races like this is that when you are going through the nausea it is extremely difficult to plan to deal with and I find I cannot make sense out of anything. My body almost shuts down. Even though I’ve thought about it and considered what to do, I just don’t want to do anything at all. Nothing sounds like a good plan. Your brain almost shuts down alongside the body, and everything including talking to people is a nauseating task. When we got into Champex-Lac I collapsed on a bench. I didn’t bother to even fill bottles or do anything. I couldn’t face it. Colin was feeling good still and moving well. I had been slowing him down a bit over the last few miles and I believed that it was game over for me. I could not face the thought of climbing another few yards, let alone three mountains! Just the thought of it was making me feel worse with each passing moment. Colin was worried about me and he really didn’t want to leave me there. We had planned to finish together! This happened to me for the first time earlier this year in the Thames Path where Jason and I had to separate for the first time due to my nausea. It seems I’m due a bout of it in very long races. I was absolutely gutted at this stage but eventually managed to convince Colin that he had to press on otherwise his race would be in trouble too. It was the right thing to do. My main focus at that checkpoint was to get Colin to be comfortable with the idea of focusing on his race and leaving me there. I’d be fine. The race organisers plan for this stuff. It must be a hard thing to do feeling like you are leaving a friend behind who is in a horrid state, however this is the nature of these races and we know what we are getting ourselves into. You can do what you can at the time but there is a point where you need to let go and let the other runner press on. Colin eventually agreed to go on and I felt bad that he felt bad, but it was the correct thing to do. He gave me a banana piece and told me to eat it and then headed out the door and back into the race. He was running like an absolute legend and I was so pleased he was going on. Now, time to focus on me and where to hand my number in…. however first, a sleep. I put my head down on my arms and let everything go. Eventually, no pressure. No more running. No mountains. Man I feel so ill, but at least it’s over. Zzzzzzzzzz.
I don’t know exactly how much time passed by but when I lifted my head later on I saw a man in a blue jacket sitting next to me. The aid station was really really busy. Lots of noise. Hoka One One was printed all over his jacket. He was kitted up in Hoka gear but not in running kit. He was crewing for a number of runners that weekend. We spoke for a bit about Hoka and he mentioned he was an ambassador in Malaysia. His name was Joseph. I told him my race was over. I was handing my number in. And that’s when everything changed and things turned around. Joseph had other plans for me and told me I was not quitting. No need. He sprung into action and headed to the busy food tables to get me soup, cutlery and a few packets of his own food that he had prepared in bags. Rice, sausages and vitamins. I had not wanted to eat earlier on but enough time had gone for the nausea to ease a bit which was enough for me to shovel some down. Like a sick child, I did what I was told there and had some plain rice, salty soup and a sausage in a special sauce. It went down ok and there was no feeling like it was coming back up. Great. Joseph also let me keep those packets of food to take away with me for the next check point. I emotionally got my long sleeve base layer on and head torch on my head. I couldn’t believe I was considering walking out back onto the path, but after the help and kindness shown – I really had to try. I think that was Josephs plan all along! Surely I’d not make it to the next peak. I couldn’t imagine running any slight incline, let alone the next three mountains. Against the thoughts in my head and the way my body was feeling, I left the station and got back onto the trail with a few other runners. I had some concerns initially as I felt like I was going to get stuck half way up this next climb and be in between check points. It was a risk, but a risk that ended up being VERY worth my while. Thank you Joseph and Wei for the company and extreme kindness shown to me, a complete stranger. I was going to make this worth it!!! (I only really thought that positively on the final descent, but things improved slowly). My lesson here was the amount of food Joseph got me to eat. Soup with noodles, rice, a whole sausage and some vitamins. Perhaps this is a new weapon in my experiences that I can draw from in the future. When ill – rest, eat and continue!
The climb and descent to Trient, the next big check point was hard and long and strangely very silent. Runners were just breathing and sweating hard and there were pockets of single file queues going up and up. You could see tails of people in the black distance by their head torches and looking up seemed a mistake as it acted as a reminder about how much more climbing you had to do. I met another runner, Rebecca who I got chatting to. One strange thing about the CCC which is quite funny looking back, is that because you are single file you never really get to see the faces of other runners. Even more so at night. You see the tag on the race packs with that runners country flag and their name. Rebecca and I chatted for ages about all sorts of topics. Talking really helped pass the time in a much more enjoyable way rather than step counting on a steep climb or seeing people in the high distance knowing you were so far down still. When I finally arrived at Trient I had my first real thoughts about possibly making it up the next mountain!? What the heck? Two more mountains to go. Trient is another low point, but not the lowest on the route. There were still two mountains to climb. I could not find a free table at Trient. It was rammed. I made my way to the soup counter and got myself a cup filled with noodles and soup. I then made my way outside and very slowly sat/fell to the ground and took my race pack off. I fiddled around with the pockets trying to remember where I had put the food Joseph had donated to me. My movements were sloth like. Slow. Feeling sorry for myself but feeling a tad better than a few hours previously I forced down the soup, noodles and rice and consumed the last sausage. I packed everything up while watching numerous runners making their way in and out of the check point. I carefully stood up, put my pack back on and then filled up one bottle with fizzy coke and one water. I used this combination since Champex-Lac. With fizzy drinks you just need to sometimes release the pressure out of the top of the bottle by squeezing the top. A few times I forgot to do that and I ended up getting a whole throat full of gas which made my eyes water and burnt my nose! I was soon back out on the course and would continue to use the Coke and water combination until the very end of the race. One of the things I remember about Trient before I continue on was the music, the DJ and the fact that there was a section the runners couldn’t enter into which had a bar for the support crews who had been transported there by the race organisers. It was quite odd seeing a bar right next to the carnage that is the benches of an aid station. As I disappeared into the darkness ahead the voices and noise grew to a familiar silence which was the sound of feet and poles on the trail. All I had in my head was keep moving and drinking and eating. I felt like I was in a much better routine now. In a few hours I’d be able to say that there was one mountain left to go!
Vallorcine was the next check point but only after another very long and steep climb and downhill. This is where things really changed for me. Clearly the rest earlier on, the food and drink I’d consumed and the fact that I had kept moving and made a bit of progress were all building a much more positive outlook in my head. I climbed the next section really well and ended up taking over a few people. I seemed to be using my poles well still although my shoulders and particularly my elbows were in pain as well. Manageable pain. I spoke with a few more runners having brief conversations that lasted for a few minutes at a time. The Coke was going down well and I seemed to be having a good time taking a few sips of Coke and then water later on and just alternating like that. The food over the past hours had certainly kicked in and energy levels were restoring. At the time it doesn’t feel like restoration is happening in the body as everything hurts, but the fact that I could talk and move and eat and drink is proof that it was. I grabbed soup, noodles and finished off the rice I had. I filled up my bottles and was probably out of there in about twenty minutes. One more climb to go! The end was feeling real now. I couldn’t believe I had just climbed and descended two mountains after being in the state I was in. Surely the finish is now going to happen. A runner earlier had said to me after I left half way post my wobble, that leaving Champex-Lac means statistically you have a very good chance to finish. Something worth bearing in mind for any future runner fancying a go at this race.
The final climb was amazing. It was a long trail next to a river for quite some time before getting to the steep stuff. I met up with a Belgian runner and we got chatting. It was his third time if I remember correctly. It was lovely chatting to him as he was quite complimentary about how fast we were moving uphill! Really? Then he shattered my soul by telling me that we were about to hit the steepest climbing of the race. Excellent. Fortunately my soul had been armoured by a few hours of noodles, rice and soup. Oh and Coke. I kept up with him for most of the climb to the top and we were over taking runners like mad. We climbed much faster than anyone else who was ahead of us until we got the to the top. We were then separated and I didn’t see him again because I took a photo of the sunrise over the mountain. Hello if you are reading this! In fact hello to anyone I ran and chatted with that day and night (Yeah right!). The sunrise was now happening behind the mountains of Mont Blanc. It was spectacular to see and as well documented by ultra runners, REALLY lifts the spirit. I felt very awake now and full of excitement. My phone reception was doing some weird things over the past hours and I hadn’t had a chance to tell Colin that I was back on course. I’d been wanting to do this for ages and at the top of the final climb I got to do just that. I sent him a message with a photo of me at the top. I was so happy I got to break that news to him. From then on it was a very technical downhill with a few short climbs to the final check point called La Flegere. From the profile of the race I had somehow remembered as it being downhill to La Flegere but I was mistaken. There were a few more hills put in there including one last little steep bit up a track to the aid station. Uncalled for really. Who did that? 🙂
This was my shortest stop and all I did was refill my bottles with Coke and water. I did not want to find myself going down the next mountain without a drink and underestimating it because it was the last climb. Always leave the stations fully prepared on this race and do that until the finish! It was now really warm with the sun peaking over the mountain tops. I didn’t want to waste time getting my long sleeve base layer off and so it was in and out. On the way out I got the call from Colin that I’d been waiting for. It was so awesome to hear from him and he’d just finished. I knew that I had a couple of hours to go to get in under 24 hours which had been my race goal originally. Colin wished me luck and from then on it it was head down and RUN! I wanted that sub 24 hour! I engaged beast mode. With legs and body in pain I kicked my ass into gear and began to run as hard as I could. Feeling like a 6 minute mile, which was likely a 9 – 10 minute mile. It wasn’t really fast at all but the trail is still very technical. There are more things to fall over than not, and rocks and roots are vicious. I nearly took a couple of tumbles but managed to stay on my feet – just about. One runner shouted as I passed by that I might be able to make it under 24 hours if I continued to move like I was. Another passer by who was hiking up the hill told me to carry on as the path got very runable soon. What a load of bollocks that turned out to be, but it served a purpose to keep me going so fair play. The trail did not get easier underfoot until the very bottom getting into Chamonix. It was so nice at that point however as I started to pass so many runners and seeing more and more hikers and general runners who were likely just out on general weekend activities. This meant I was so close. As I came onto a road I knew I could make it. There was fifteen minutes left to sneak in under 24 hours. Annoyingly, but so funny looking back, we all had to walk up a scaffolding bridge to cross over something. I can’t recall if it was a railway or river? My brain was tired and focused. All I could focus on at the time – was the time! I ran the next stretch along a familiar path and I knew I was in town then. All the way along past the registration centre that we’d been in the day before for kit check, along the river and down to where the Expo had been that week. Marshals, walkers, holiday makers all cheering us on. It was my turn to finish like I’d seen so many doing during the week. Along the streets of Chamonix I heard and saw a friend Jason scream my name and take some photos of me. I smiled and I jumped for a joyous pose (ouch!) and looked happy. Ok, I was really happy actually. The smile was huge. The relief was about to come.
Around the final bend and still over taking runners just because I was moving well. High fiving spectators and enjoying the moment. I had considered what I’d do finishing over the line but those plans all went out of the window. I did my “Time to Fly” arms, and high-fived as many people as I could. It felt amazing! That step crossing the line was unreal. Thinking back, I had no idea how I managed to make it there. So much to remember and look back on. Lots to process. From the impossible, to the possible and everything in between. The race was done. I saw runners I’d spoken to at the aid station when I was feeling my worst and they were pleased to see me, and me them. Joy and hugs all around. Then I saw Colin and Dave and there were even more hugs. A bit wobbly on my feet, I managed to get to the side of the finish area and have a chat to everyone. The relief takes ages to sink in. Contemplating everything that has happened doesn’t really start to happen then. All I wanted was a seat, but couldn’t get one of those until we were back in the house later. Unfortunately before then we had to make our way to the kit check area again which was opposite direction to home. This was to collect our bags with the tops we’d worn at the start to keep warm. Dave and a few others were heading for drinks but we made our way to the house and began peeling the clothing off of our feet and bodies. It’s like removing a layer of skin that’s been rotting. Yummy. Feels great when done though. How can sitting on a sofa feel so good? I always go on about the contrasts running develop in life. Contrast is goodness. It develops healthy borders in the mind between discomfort and comfort, which makes me realise just how lucky we are in life. Even to have a sofa! Just a seat. It makes me so mindful of everything. The silence, the smell of a cup of coffee, the temperature …. so much xxx.
I remember sitting on that sofa soon after we got back and Colin was talking to me. The next thing I remember was waking up an hour later disorientated, and for a few seconds not realising where I was. That’s exhaustion for you. Once I came around however, I was awake. Sore, but awake. Colin had obviously put his head down for a bit after that and so I decided to have another coffee and take a shower. Getting in and out of the shower was emotional but being clean and washing away the grime felt good. Disgusting details are free in this write up – haha! I had a nose full of dirt from breathing in the dust that had been kicked up over the day on the trails, and both my legs were so caked in the dust that it took a lot of scrubbing to get them clean. No blisters, no cuts – nothing. Just a VERY sore foot arch which is an injuring I’ve been dealing with since Thames Path! After an hour we were both awake and headed back into town for some lunch and drinks. We spent most of that day chilling in Big Horn. There I managed to get some more Strava goodies like a t-shirt and cup. Love the freebies. I had a beer , but then soft drinks for the rest of the day. Also managed to spot a running friend of mine walking past the bar, Alan. Alan is now an Asics Frontrunner and has done a lot of great running events over the year. Got a quick photo and hobbled back to the table to sit and chill some more. Grand plans of partying and staying up late did not materialise. We were both a bit fragile and actually ended up having an early night.
Chamonix was more amazing than I ever imagined it would be. Up until 2018 I had never really wanted to go out there. Mountain running isn’t my thing as I normally like to take part in more ‘runable’ trail terrain, which doesn’t require so much hiking and specialised training weekends away. That isn’t me saying that more hiking races are too easy – VERY far from it. These races are runable in parts too. It’s just a completely different thing in some respects and where I live and train does not really cater for these races much. However it really gripped me and I now realise what is so special about heading out there for the races. Meeting other Hoka One One racers and pro athletes, getting to speak to my favourite brands about their gadgets and equipment. Being a part of those epic race starts and music. The mountains. The people and nationalities. It was just something special. The organisation of the UTMB week is second to none. Every little detail is covered and made as easy as it could be considering the logistics and numbers that they have to deal with. Right from the entry process and on, everything was so easy and straight forward. The only things I found a bit of a stress were the doctors certificate that had to be signed, because no-one at my surgery would sign it. And having to pack and take all that mandatory equipment overseas to a race in a country you’ve never run in before was a new experience but it all turned out well. So long as you write lists, check and recheck the mandatory kit lists and be prepared, you’ll be fine. Chamonix is so full of shops too that you would always be able to find what you were looking for anyhow. At a cost that is….
One other thing I’d like to expand on a bit is the different nationalities. I think I only saw a few other British runners during the race. So many lovely runners from all over the world. I met runners from the middle east, to the far east. Americans, Canadians, Irish, Mexican and Australian. The whole world is represented in that race and everyone is super friendly. A lot of runners I spoke with were there doing their first CCC and only a handful I chatted to were back for more. Lots of people had travelled with their families and were planning to run through the finish with their children and partners. I really hope everyone got to do that. I finished the race in 23:49 (Strava trace here) to scrape through my goal of going under 24 hours. The pleasure will be long lasting for this one. It’s given me confidence going into future 24 hour races and dealing with nausea and getting ill. I’ve learned something new – when you have time in the bank, use it. Sitting down and putting your head down at an aid station for half an hour isn’t the end of the world or your race. Don’t just hand your number in, no matter how bad you feel. Sleep, eat and recover, and then start moving slowly again. In other races there is sometimes added pressure about aid station cut off times and the amount of time you can spend in them but use whatever time you can. It can still work out and ultimately ensure your race ends the way you planned. Thank you to my new friends who helped make me see that. Training although difficult living in a flat area, can be done using the hills you have. You need to get creative and sometimes perform some very tedious routines with hill reps however it can work. I managed to finish this using small hills for training.
Last but not least, some shout outs firstly to Hoka One One for the Speedgoat 3’s. These shoes were instrumental in keeping me stuck to those technical trails. Also thank you for the Clifton 6’s for keeping my body comfortable and in good shape. Now I just need to get some more Hoka clothing suitable for these ultras. It’s a privilege to be part of your Hoka Racer program and run for a shoe company that I’ve grown so fond of over the years. I also want to thank Coros for the most excellent Apex running watch which means I can leave all my charging cables at home and not worry about getting a complete trace over these distances. Fantastic running watch! Thank you to the friends who supported in Chamonix (Colin especially for putting up with my moaning on route, and the Portsmouth runners who were there supporting and running). And lastly a huge thanks to my family who I love so much. Kids, I know I’m not there a lot on those early mornings when you wake up, but I hope these will motivate you and inspire you to achieve your goals one day. My wife has been great in supporting me over these mornings too when I haven’t been there to get the kids ready for their activities. Big big love and thanks! xxx
So, Chamonix …. perhaps see you again in a few years time for UTMB? Oh yes…..! Happy miles everyone!!!!!!!!!