Tuesday, November 22, 2011


 It has occurred to me recently that I might be a bit slow,...well snail like in fact. I mean my average trail speed is 8 k per hour on a good day, including hills, mountains and valleys. My flat road speed is 12 k per hour so there is a big difference. I have probably mentioned this before but the very loose equivalent of climbing uphill to running on the flat is about 1 kilometre per 100 metres ie. If you do a 34k run and climb 1600 metres (16k) during the run then that is the equivalent of running 50 k on the flat...16+33= 50k....(please keep up). Everyone gets slower as they get older but when you look at elite runners they can cruise for miles through the mountains at 17 k per hour. That would be my top speed in a sprint and on the flat!! Its weird because to me its a challenge just to run 50 k, never mind the speed. But, to the top guys and girls they are actually racing each other during this distance....this must be a strange experience. First of all try to imagine running 100 miles, then 100 miles over mountains, then actually racing against others the whole time. Hard to get your head around isn't it? They must be 'hurting' from the demands of running so far and at such a speed, but then to be competing with fellow athletes at the same time, well.........frankly it doesn't bare thinking about.
         So who are these weird people? I realise that many readers of this blog may know nothing about them....and then some readers might actually be them, but whatever, I think its time I gave us all a quick education. For example, who is the number one male ultra runner in the world today? The number one female runner? Which country hosts the most races? What is the number one race in the world? Is there prize money? What is the hardest race?
            World's biggest ultra---- Comrades, S.A. /////// Hardest-------Barkley, USA//////
Hottest-------Badwater,USA  /////// Prize money------None /////// Most ultras--------USA, (France is second) //////// Top Male/Female-------There is no official list but for me its Killian Jornet (Spanish) and Lizzy Hawker(English)
          To ultra runners it seems quite bizarre that the London Marathon can attract 36,000 runners but the London Ultra 50k......250 runners! and its on a relatively flat course through places like Richmond Park etc......Weird. Many, many years ago I ran the London Marathon and have run many half's on roads but there is just no comparison compared to the snow capped mountains of Val d'allos.Now to be fair I didn't know there was a London Ultra either but that's the point. Advertising and sponsorship plays a major role in these large events. The elite runners in the big city marathons get paid not only to win but also just to turn up. This does not exist in ultra's. You have supreme athletes such as Killian Jornet and Lizzy Hawker; Scott Jurek, Anton Kupricka, Hal Koerner, Dakota Jones, Ann Trason, Krissy Moehl,Geoff Roes......and I could go on, and no one has ever heard of them. They have a small amount of sponsorship but usually have to hang on to their day jobs.

London Marathon
      And these guys (and girls) are fast.I do not believe that stood on a rainy street corner in London's Docklands, watching runners go by, could in any way compare to Colorado in the Rocky Mountains. The same is true in the USA, at the finish of the Hardrock 100 mile, set in awe inspiring mountain scenery you get a couple of hundred spectators, and at the Western States 100, the most prestigious race in the world ( the Wimbledon of ultra running), they sit the winner down on a plastic chair at the end for a quick chat and a biscuit, surrounded by a few families, 3 kids on mountain bikes, two sheep and a bear!!
       Most elite runners say that the UTMB in the Alps has the most support with crowds even up on the high peaks who have camped out or have a picnic for the day. I would contest that this experience is as spectacular and awe inspiring for them as it is for the runners and surely has a much greater appeal.
      I heard a story the other day that during the Lakeland 100 mile ultra, again a prestigious event, one of the checkpoint/aid stations was in a corner shop in the village of Ambleside and the runners had to wait in the queue with the local shoppers, (who had no idea there was a race on).........I am suprised they didn't charge them for the peanuts and mint cake! 
     Its a funny old world.


Monday, November 14, 2011


I have been getting rather a lot of comments as regards my new running outfit, some very positive and some a trifle scathing. Luckily I was born with a 'couldn't give a toss attitude', so nothing will deter me, but if I spot some ballet dancing wild boars chasing after me then I may have cause for concern.
     One final note on the G20, apparently Obama brought 800 staff with him to Cannes for a 36 hour visit. I must be missing something.....800!!...Thank God he didn't come for a jog in the hills. What with his lot and Putin's entourage of ex KGB and Sarkozy's 12,000 police.....and Berlusconi's hareem of 'Bunga Bunga' girls all scattered across the hillside, it would have been like some strange re-enactment of Woodstock......
          Anyway back to endurance running. Its been over 4 weeks now since my self imposed ultra 'diversion' in the French Alps and I feel ready to tackle some longer runs again. Looking back over the past 6 months I can see that I did a lot of long slow distance runs over quite high elevation before my first mountain marathon in Val D'isere. It was 3 months uninterupted planned training and this may  explain why I had very little quad damage or pain during the race. The next two ultras were then only 6 weeks after each other and this involved tapering and recovery weeks as well. The two conclusions I  draw from this are that :- 1)  I didn't do enough specificity of training for the latter two and thats why my quads suffered and 2) They were too close together and so my recovery was poor.(the races, not the quads; hopefully they will always remain right next to each other).
       Huge storms here last week so I've been leaping streams and dodging fallen trees all over the place, good fun though and quite dramatic up on the exposed peaks. In the valleys there were terrible floods whilst the sea shore was being battered by the storm surge. This of course all added to the adventure and fortunately I was dressed in my new 'Nureyev' running gear so I was as warm as toast.
     Had Part 1. of my physical assessment. Early conclusions are firstly that I have to strenghten the VMO muscle in the lower quads. This I suspected and I 'll be getting recomendations on the most effective way to do this next time. The second problem area is in my diet. This was a suprise because I am pretty strict in what I eat. I 've lost a lot of weight and increased my muscle definition etc. I am the leanest and fittest I have ever been  and aerobically am in excellent condition.......so what's the problem? Basically I have far too many carbs in my diet compared to my fat and protein intake. I need the carbs for energy when running of course but it appears to be a little more complicated than that and so I shall expand more on this protein/carb ratio thing next time after my second consultation !!!
     Just completed a 4 hour, 31 k run today. It was 5,100 feet elevation gain and at 7.6 k per hour felt pretty good. At one point as I crested the top of a 1000 foot hill climb there was a bright red ambulance on the track with two medics and a bed all laid out in the sun. 'For me?'..I enquired. He laughed,.'Of course monsieur, but you will av to pay for eet.'  and pointing into the valley below said, 'That ees a big steep climb up to here'.....I obviously didn't look that great and he seemed to be giving me the once over just in case I was about to have a heart attack. 'Nah, dead easy' I replied..... with as much bravado as I could muster. This banter continued on for awhile until I asked 'So why exactly are you out here in the woods today?'.......'Eets a mountain bikerr, he as ad an accident; eet happens.'.....He shrugged., I shrugged, said 'au revoir' and as it all seemed farly light hearted I continued on up the next hill.
   About 5 minutes later a 4x4 came wizzing past me containing the aforementioned mountain bikerr. Both arms in a sling, head bandaged up, blood everywhere and propped up in a neck brace!....The things you see trail running, all I wanted was a quiet jog in the mountains  and instead it had turned into an episode of ER.!! ...I half expected George Clooney to jump out from behind a bush and give me 50 milligrams of morphine....
    Anyway, stay healthy.


Friday, November 4, 2011


An unusual title I must admit but topical nonetheless. What has the gathering of world leaders in Cannes in the south of France got to do with trail running and me. At first glance very little, however when I went out for my run today I drove along the coast  into the hills to start from a different location. I was then met by 15 police who stopped me to ask what I was doing. I know I was dressed all in black and probably looked like some special forces guy (yeh, right..) but I assured them I was off for a run in the mountains. This made them even more suspicious, not quite sure why , perhaps they didn't think I was capable!!....or knowing your average French cop... just thought I was stupid, anyway after the usual gaelic shrug they let me go.
       Of course, as I ran up the hill I imagined more G20 security guys about to jump out from behind every rock and tree; I really need to tame my imagination. By the time I got to the top I could see all of the bay of Cannes...not a single boat was allowed on the water, it was weird. About five minutes later, 6 massive helicopters swooped low over me.....I thought this is getting  ridiculous, I am hardly an activist or threat to world security......I'm just out for a morning run. Luckily they were on their way to Cannes ( which is about 8 miles away) and were no doubt loaded with foreign dignitaries probably still discussing the Greek problem..........and that idiot down there. Later I noticed a guy running up towards me followed by four very cool looking guys on mountain bikes, obviously this had to be President Sarkozy having a jog; or perhaps Vladimir Putin out to wrestle a wild boar.......then again it couldn't have been Putin because he had his shirt on!
         Trail runs are going to be terribly boring from now on, just me and the wilderness.... and the odd wild animal. Still, as you can see from the picture I now have my new winter running gear. I think I cut a bit of a dash and look quite the serious ultrarunner....whereas Sue thinks I look like a ballet dancer and totally ridiculous!.....
       Next week I am having a full physical assesment and analysis of health, fitness, running technique and training regime; so it will be interesting to see what the advice is.
      He'll probably say, stop running immiediately, take up golf and under no circumstances go out dressed like that!!!!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


       Sue and I went for a hike in the hills today and I was pointing out all the different places I run (yawn, yawn) and then she asked me a question;- 'Why do you run....you never say Why?'... 'Well', I replied, 'I would have thought it was obvious'.........'No, I think your blogs are far too technical, you don't explain how you feel'.....I guess its a good point and maybe it isn't obvious if you've never done it, so here goes....
       Primarily before I start I consider the possible time, elevation and distance that I have in mind, then what food, water, extra clothing etc that I may need. I plot out the proposed route on Google Earth, which if you've never used it is completely brilliant, and then the possible diversions and changes I may make depending on how I feel. I keep all this in my head and give Sue a brief outline before leaving ...(I'm convinced she's forgotten the moment I go out the door). If its a long one I will put vaseline on my feet and possibly tape just as I would in a proper race.
       I stretch before I go......current thinking suggests this is only neccessary after a run but I've been doing it for 20 odd years and it works for me. Sometimes I feel great and sometimes not but it makes no difference, I always go. I like to get high into the hills or mountains as soon as possible because its stunningly beautiful and feels fantastic, obviously. I listen to my breathing and then just let nature take over with all the sights, sounds and smells washing over my senses. Relax, I'm not going to start quoting Wordsworth or Ted Hughes but I understand their poetry a lot better now than I ever did at school. I would say without exception that all trail runners run for primarily the same reason......to be connected to nature in its simplest form.
      Trail running at its best is quite raw, you feel the stones and rough terrain under your feet, spiky bushes cut your arms and legs as you run through an overgrown track, cobwebs in your face and all manner of insects, birds and animals are always making their presence known.  I am constantly startled by a wild deer or wild boar running close by, quite often I can smell them just before I see them. On the last race I came across huge cows right in the middle of the track.....and they didn't move, so I gingerly edged past them imagining some kind of wild stampede was about to take place. Then of course in hot countries the slithering in the bushes scares me to death; snakes are scary at the best of times but in the middle of nowhere it really gets to you.....well it does me anyway. In the US its bears and mountain lions, I've never seen any but once when running along the ridge of the Grand Canyon at 6:0 am, miles from anywhere, I did feel vunerable.......and a Forest Ranger later told me that I shouldn't really have run alone......shiiit! Most of the time though its great and I guess that slightly risky element of being alone in the wild  adds to the romance and the excitement.
       Besides, its dogs that are usually the worst, so the further away from people who think their cute dog is perfectly harmless, the better. Personally, when I'm running I think a lot about how I am running and how 'the machine' is performing, I listen to my breathing and heart rate whilst considering my posture etc.  Its really important to concentrate on the route ahead because one slip can be disastrous but at the same time I try to keep  relaxed and calm. When all is going well I feel incredibly grateful just to be able to do it......I still don't understand why  people run along roads full of traffic when there are hills right next to them just waiting to be explored and appreciated.
       Even in storms when its raining and windy that too can add a primeval edge to it, although to be honest I hate mud, it sticks to your shoes and its like carrying lead weights around with you. As long as I feel on top of what I am doing then I am okay. Sometimes when I will run along a high ridge or across a rocky precipice its fun and scary in equal measure but at least you feel 'alive' and when you have finished a good run its incredibly energizing.
        I used to run and sort out day to day problems in my head but I never do that now.....I only think 'happy' thoughts and let my mind wander off in wild imaginings....blimey, I'm starting to sound loopy, Stephanie, a friend of ours, thinks I've lost the plot anyway so who cares. When you do feel aches and pains its okay as long as they are manageable and most of the time they are.....you just get used to it. I love the variety, one minute you are bombing down a track and the next you are scrabbling up a rocky ravine with water from a stream splashing all over you, its  exhilerating. You 'feel' the temperature of the seasons and the day. Running first thing in the morning is a different experience to running at dusk, both are stimulating and have their own unique sensation. I really quite enjoyed running in the dark in my recent trail race its just so unusual and not what you might expect. Because your sight is greatly impaired you rely much more on your other senses which then become sharper and more focused, this in turn gives a whole new dimension to the world around you. Even when I am tired....or in long races, exhausted, I still feel connected and its that oneness with nature that does it for me.
        I know many trail runners never race; they don't see the point and I do empathise because, as I may have mentioned before, if you train on your own and then suddenly are running with lots of people its a bit weird. The nature part sort of disappears as now its humans and their respective idiosyncrasies which you notice. I do it because it adds to the variety and besides after an hour or two  I'm usually on my own again anyway.....
        Generally I find the combination of man and nature utterly absorbing and when I moved up to ultra running a whole new  perspective began to develop. The relentless hours are not all fun but it really does test you, there is nowhere to hide and it breaks you down to your naked self. Its weird because you can stop and end the pain at any time ....but you don't.......'Why?'.........now there is a question. As one ultra runner once said, a physchiatrist would have a field day if he stopped to ask endurance athletes what they were thinking at mile 60,....with 40 miles still to go. I have experienced this in my own little way at 60 k and its not pretty........it really does strip you mentally. I mean physically you are already buggered so all you have left is the mental side......and thats the bit you have to conquer....its not easy but its your 'will' that keeps you going. I get annoyed with myself and that seems to work for me but your brain really is constantly shouting at you saying, 'Stop.....why are you doing this?.... STOP!'.........
          At the end of the day, I guess you just have to be there but I can totally understand it if you don't want to be........besides, normal trail running is fab and I really urge you to give it a try.....you might even suprise yourself and enjoy it.