Tuesday, March 27, 2012


One of the secrets to achieving any goal is to set up another one straight after completing one. So with this in mind I signed up for the 52 K Ultra Trail des Balcon D'azur or UTBA. This is the event that started all this madness one year ago,( except last time I only did the 20 k race). Although this is only slightly longer than the Way to Cool 50, its a whole different ball game. Quite simply it is nearly 8000 feet (2400metres) of elevation gain and is horrendous.....as you can see from the profile map below:-

The Ultra Trail des Balcons D'azur

Not only are there 4 huge climbs but they are incredibly steep and I know, because this is my training ground. I've run this course many times BUT with one major difference, I would do maybe a quarter of this for a training run and possibly half for a Long Run.....but to do it ALL in one go is unthinkable! plus its much worse than it looks because its what they call 'technical' ie rocky, shale, stone, gravel and very slippy when wet.
    Hopefully I'm over my injuries because I've only got less than 4 weeks to get ready! Now I know its too soon after the WTC and my endocrine system may not be very happy with the prospect but its my one year anniversary of Ultra running, so what can I do? I have to give it a shot. However this time I am going to be realistic. I reckon that even on a good day this could take 9 to 10 hours as it's a brutal course and I have to face the prospect that I might not make it......but you know. 'You have to do the thing you cannot do'.
    I just did a quick 10 k practice run on the course last week and climbed 2000 feet on solid rock the whole way up and then did a fast quad crushing nearly vertical descent all the way back down again. Today I feel like I've been hit by a truck, it really is a big test for someone of my limited experience. This is the race I mentioned in my blog a long time ago when I had commented to Jamie 'But people don't actually run up that do they, I know those mountains , thats ridiculous'.
     Not sure if I'm of sound mind on this one. This is where the reality of the actual terrain is much worse than the profile map above....and thats saying something. This race is two thirds the elevation of Karl Meltzers Speedgoat 50, the toughest 50 k in the America, so it will be interesting......or maybe just one big 'painfest'.      
       So the short training window I have for this is just hills and mountains, up and down, non stop. If my quads (and calves) are going to survive this one they better be toughened up a lot, otherwise its going to be a very long day. The lovely soft undulating trails of the 'Way to Cool 50' now seem rather inviting in comparison but to be fair thats a different type of race and they all offer unique and varied challenges. Again for this one there are half the number of Aid stations so you have to be much more self sufficient plus there will be at most 200 runners and they will be spread out along the 52k course so you're very much on your own. Nobody is going to be shouting 'looking good' or 'looking strong' and for two reasons :- 1) Its France and the most you'll get is 'Bon courage' and 2) There's virtually no support in these mountains apart from the local Forest / Medical staff, two goats and a wild boar.
     Already the WTC is a distance memory.

Monday, March 19, 2012


   Arrived back home a few days ago feeling suprisingly NOT tired. 12000 miles plus the race all in a weekend....I think I need to slow down a bit.
     It was a great experience and now when people talk about the big races in America....I've done one. The Way to Cool 50k is traditionally known as the season opener in the U.S. so I guess I am now, officially, up and running. I was lucky in some respects in that the course was very dry and it was a lovely soft surface not like the rocks that I normally run on.
     My stats for the race were a mixed bag:- I did it in 7 hours and 5 mins (ie 7 k per hour) which was okay. I don't know if my first 30 k was too fast (10k per hour) and whether that affected my quads or not. Should I have paced myself better? I don't know. If I'd kept that pace up it would have been 5 hours but with the big climbs in the second part of the race that was never going to happen, but I do feel if my quads had held up longer then I could have done it much quicker. 704 people started the race and I came 605 th and in my age range (50-59) there were 151 runners and I came in at 120. There were 23 people who were 57 years old and I came 9th in this group. (The last person in the race came in at 8 hours and 47 mins !)  And of the 704, an amazing 278 were girls which is highly unusual  for me because in France you hardly ever see girls running ultra's and certainly not this many. They were also very good; I once read the reason for this is that they can take the pain because of  their experience of childbirth.....so there you go. As I have said before I was not tired in any way, it was just the pain in my legs. From now until the next race most of my training will be all hill work so as to strengthen my quads
    The weather was perfect and the support and organisation, superb. The enthusiasm the Americans bring to these things is incredible, its very impressive even though its a bit odd to a Brit like me. I guess we are quite reserved as a nation but as I was the only international runner I thought it only right to join in with the general 'Let's rock' kind of attitude.
     Another thrill for me was meeting Gordy Ainsleigh; Who he? I hear you ask. Well, this is the guy who in 1974 pretty much invented modern day ultra running. Basically he was in a 100 mile horse race, 'The Tevis Cup', and just before the start his horse fell lame and so he decided to run the 100 mile course instead........and thats how it all began. And he ran the WTC 50 this year....and I beat him. Okay, to be fair he is 67 years old!
     Now to put things into perspective the guy who won, Gary Gellin,  did it in 3 hours and 27 minutes which is 14 k per hour (twice my speed). No, I can't get my head around it either. Imagine sprinting at the fastest speed you can go and then doing that speed non stop for 50 kilometres whilst climbing 6000 feet.........Not a lot to say really is there?
     During the week I went to see Helen so she could check me out. She gave my quads a bit of slightly painful physio but it did the trick and so I did a 12k cycle and a Tabata sprint the next day before attending Steve's funeral on Friday in England.
    Its fair to say that when I got back I was both mentally, physically and emotionally shattered. It had been a long week in every sense.
    On Sunday I decided to venture out and see how I was recovering. I did a one hour, 8 k run whilst climbing 1700 feet and all felt good apart from the odd twinge here and there. It can take anything from 2 to 4 weeks for your endocrine system to recover so I'll take it easy and have every other day off and/or mix it with some cross training.
    A girl on the plane asked me how much weight I'd lost during my run; when I told her that I didn't lose any and didn't expect to, she was shocked. I must repeat this mantra at least a few times per week but for those who don't know :- You have to do targeted exercise to burn fat and develop lean muscle mass but the best way to lose weight is in your eating choices. Again, its not how much you eat but what you eat.
     Having returned from America and England I am staggered by how FAT some people are. Sometimes it felt like I was walking through a dream haze unseen as I observed the food choices that people were making on a minute by minute basis. I know I'm on my soapbox here but it really isn't that difficult, it just takes a bit of discipline and a bit of knowledge. I probably eat 2 to 3 times what I used to and NO, I DON'T BURN IT OFF WHILST RUNNING, its just healthy, good, tasty, nutritious food.........plus the odd croissant, which I think I can get away with, ( as long as I open up my Glut-4 receptors)
    No doubt I'll get a few angry emails saying the usual, 'Its easy for you because blah, blah, blah.' Oh well, whatever. I posted two video's from the race . If you can't view them here, then you can watch them on the right hand side of the page along with other vids. Toodleoo...

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


    As you know my race preparation for the WTC was far from perfect but  personal tragedies, injuries, lack of training and more are all part of life but when my flight got delayed 5 hours I began thinking I wasn't supposed to get here and when I arrived at the hotel at 10 pm (which was 7 am to me), and they had no record of my booking even though I had all the confirmations, I thought this is getting ridiculous. I then had two of the noiseist nights I've ever experienced in a hotel resulting in me getting up on the morning of the race at 4:30 am!.............And now that I have all my excuses out of the way, I shall begin.
      I got to the race an hour before the start thinking I was a bit early, only to discover that it was packed. I had to park about a mile away and then overheard two runners talking. ' Hey Dave don't just hate these late starts'.... Crikey! with this kind of attitude watch out China, the US ain't gonna lie down that easily. Ten minutes before the start I spotted quite a few famous ultra runners including Tim Twietemeyer who has run the Western States 100 mile race 25 times in under 24 hours and won it outright 5 times. Its a bit like going for a tennis match tournament at your local club only to find that Roger Federer is playing in the Doubles.
       It seemed like a long time ago that I'd won a place in the lottery to be here today and soon enough the gun went off......at least I'd made it to the start and unusually for me I got all emotional here, instead of at the end. I was constantly checking my calves and wondering all the time if would they hold out. I had taped them earlier as Helen the Super Physio had showed me but now we would see.
       The pace was fast, as I knew it would be and then after a mile we hit a small river which normally you have to wade through at waist height but thankfully it had been a very dry winter and there was a sort of man made bridge which most of us took. No point getting your feet wet this early if you can avoid it as wet feet means blisters. There were over 700 of us, which makes it  by far the biggest 50 k race in the world, and every single person was positive, motivated and up for it. For me this was a bizarre experience as every time I passed someone or vice versa they'd shout  'great job, you're looking good !' Yanks, you gotta love them. If you said that in a race in England they'd think you were being sarcastic and having a laugh, still, you can't fault their enthusiasm........and it works because I started doing it.....'Great, go for it', I shouted. If Steve, God rest his soul, had heard me do this he would have had me shot at dawn for being a complete dickhead.
    We bombed along and I made the first aid station which was at 12 k, in 1 hour -12 minutes, which is 10 k per hour and much too quick for  a race of 50 k......well, it is for me. I was greeted by a very enthusiastic man dressed as a banana who directed me to......... the banana's! I have never experienced so much encouragement by so many people. 'Looking good , you're going great, looking strong.......'
    We then began the long descent into the American River valley.... and all I could think was; if its this steep and long going down, then it must be the same coming back up.......sounds fun, as the Californians would say. I was quite worried about my calves because it was this kind of descent that could 'pull' the muscle but I survived and as we crossed a road down to the banks of the river we were met by a cacophony of encouragement with whistles, cow bells and horns. I filled up my bottles at the next aid stop and kept moving. It was a beautiful day and the scenery was just awsome (I know, he's only been there 48 hours and he's forgotten how to speak English), I felt good and suspected this would be the best part of the race because I was running well with no pain. We followed the river on an undulating track and I heard some one say 'Hey at this pace we'll do it in under 6 hours' to which his friend sagely replied ' Nope, the first half is easy, the second half isn't'..........wise words, if not a little disconcerting.
      I reached the 27 k aid stop in 2 hours and 50 minutes, again fast for me........unfortunately the wheels were about to fall off, I just didn't know it yet. Soon we began the climb out of the valley and joined up with part of the actual Western States course. This gave me a lump in my throat as to even run part of this famous 100 mile course was a big thrill as I imagined all the elite athletes who had trod these steps ( Of course they would have trod them a little quicker than me). A climb of 1500 feet would not usually be big deal  but suddenly things began to hurt, imperceptive at first but after 10 minutes my quads started aching. I came up to a flat bit which I should have run easily but my legs didn't want to. I'd gone from 27 k feeling good to 30 k feeling not so good, this happens and you push on and eat your gels and drink your fluids and hope it passes.........it doesn't, it just gets slowly worse and as I climbed the pain increased. I kept being passed by people saying I was 'looking good'. I thought if I was looking so bloody marvellous then why are you able to pass me ?.....as you can see this well intentioned phrase was beginning to get a little irritating.
      I was annoyed at myself as I knew the problem. I had built up the strength in my calves and quads and was in great shape physically but I hadn't done the miles on the hills in training due to my 6 calf strains.........and this was the price I had to pay. It took me 1 hour -10 minutes to travel 7 kilometres and climb 1500 feet. My pace had dropped from nearly 10 k per hour to nearer 6 k per hour.....and it was hurting. By the time I arrived at the next aid station I was very grateful for the encouragement and support. It was like arriving at an oasis with music, food and wine.....(sorry Steve, I meant soup). We all shared a brief chat and a smile and the asked how far to the next station. '4.8 miles, okay'. Thats about 8 k and it was as if we were all venturing out into the wilderness alone before reaching the next  sanctuary. Its weird because I felt 'lifted' and able to carry on.....and thats how the phsycology of aid stations work, its not just about the food and water.
       However after 20 minutes I was alone again and negative thoughts  and questions arose, 'How was I going to make it at this speed and in this much pain?' I then passed the spot where runner, Barbara Schoener, was attacked and sadly killed by a mountain lion in 1994. Now thats what I call motivation, excuse the pun...... but I shot off like a mountain lion. Its amazing how you can find energy when you think you've nothing left. It now became quite warm and the views across the valley were spectacular and though I appreciated how lucky I was to be here it was still very hard.
     As this is Ultra running Californian style they have another unique addition. Just before a major climb they have little inspirational quotes to keep you going like.... 'You must do the thing you cannot do'. Its all terribly West Coast.........I love it. Luckily I knew about the negative thoughts having done this a few times and so this positive motivation really helps.
    Although I was suffering some people merrily skipped past me chatting away to each other about such mundane things like getting a new bathroom fitted or the next school parents  meeting. Bizarre.
    After another hour we reached the ridiculously steep Goat Hill. This is more of a climb than a run, though a young guy next to me said he saw Killian Jornet run up these hills in last years WS100 and he wasn't even sweating!  This kid asked if was doing this race as a training run for an even bigger event. I was flattered that he should even think such a thing (considering the state I was in), but vanity can be quite helpful sometimes, as I proceeded to lead us all  the way up the hill. At the top was another aid station serving the most delicious soup along with sandwiches, energy gels, ready mixed hydration drinks,fruit, savouries, S-caps; a veritable Ultra cafe. You have to hand it to the Yanks they sure know how to organise an endurance event.
      By now I  had already run well over a full marathon distance so it was just a question of keeping moving or as runners say, relentless forward progress, and still the comments kept coming, 'You're gonna make this..... you got this......Wow, looking good....lets do this'. I have never heard a runner in France or Enland ever speak like this to another runner; they'd think you were a nutter.
     Another 10 k's and then finally one more climb to go and I knew I would make it because the going down was harder than the going up (its an aching quad thing).
    As we crested the hill I couldn't see the finish line......but I could hear it. Its a great feeling as you run along and the crowd are 'high fiveing' you all the way in and, in the midst of all this wooping and 'great job' comments I heard a womans voice shout, 'great socks', I have no idea why but it rather amused me.
     3 months had passed since I began my quest to find the Way to Cool.  6000 miles in the air and a hard 50 kilometres on the ground.......and 7 hours and 5minutes later, I'd found it.

Monday, March 5, 2012


A very good friend of mine, Steve, died this week. He was at the opposite end of the health scale in terms of being fit. He knew it and I'm not sure if he cared. It was his choice to live an unhealthy life and at 51 he sadly suffered the consequences of this decision. Nothing I or friends or family said made any difference. In some respects he wasted a good part of his life (due to alchohol) but in his prime he was full of life and fun.
      I mention it here because we all make decisions every minute of the day that affect our lives. I choose to run and be healthy but I am always mindful that this gives no guarantees.......it just increases the percentages of having an active healthier life. I also make no judgements as we all have a choice, even in the most harrowing circumstances that we may find ourselves.
    It of course puts my race on Saturday into some kind of perspective. He thought I was nuts to do this but always saw the funny side. 'While you are running through the woods', he would say, 'I'll be chatting to the girls at the Aid Stations' and he would and very happy he would have been. So there is no right or wrong on how we live our lives  just as long as we don't hurt anyone.
  I will run my race and think of Steve laughing at my craziness and when I feel pain or reach a low ebb I will think of him saying  with a big smile, 'I would stop now if I were you'. I'll shrug and carry on and he'll walk off with a girl in one hand and a drink in the other..........into the sunset.

Friday, March 2, 2012


  ......be sure not to wear flowers in your hair; especially if you're running an ultra, better to wear compression socks on your feet! Just about to leave for sunny California, again, and with a few days to go and I'm a nervous wreck. 'Why do I do this?' I remember saying to a fellow ultra runner, 'I must be mad' and he nonchalantly replied 'Well of course you're mad, this is not something sane people do', and that just about says it all. The last two weeks of my rather odd taper (in that I didn't really taper), were a combination of nervous 10-15 k tempo runs and cross training wherein I panicked everytime I felt a small twitch in my leg. My physio, Helen, continually worked on my calves and assured me all was well. I  refused to believe her, convincing myself that I was about to fall apart at any moment. This is normal behaviour with everyone before a big race but in my case as a result of my injuries, I felt fully justified in my hysteria.
Cool, California (Small town, Big Race)
      But here I am with a few days to go and I am still in one piece (so maybe she was right) however I've got to get through the 50 k race first, so we will have to wait and see.
      I fly to San Francisco and then drive up to Auburn which is close to the town of Cool. Auburn is the 'Endurance capital of the world' with more ultra events here than anywhere else and 'The Way to Cool 50k' race is one of them and though not as high as my previous ultra's it still has over 6,100 feet of elevation gain. However the main problem, from what I've read, is the mud....well it is to me because I hate mud, it sticks to your feet and its like hauling lead and you slip and your feet get stuck and.....well you get the picture. I can imagine all the ultra runners reading this thinking, he doesn't like mud.....jeez, get over it. Hopefully it will be a bright sunny day and the course will be more forgiving, who knows? Its also the most popular 50k in the world so I've been incredibly fortunate to get in and will therefore make the most of it. I am now into full planning mode with maps to work out possible times, trail conditions, climbs and descents as well as preparing my gels, drinks, food and clothes options. Although planning is very important you have also got to think on your feet and adapt as you go because there are always suprises......and they are very seldom pleasant.
       I just really want to get on with. My goal is to do it in under 7 hours but a lot will depend on any recurring calf problem and/or any other mishap. I feel I'm babbling on now so I have included a quote from an established ultra runner to explain how I am feeling.
The American River near Cool, CA.

    ' Know that you will have pain. Know that it won't be comfortable. Know that you will want to quit. Know that you will get tired. Know that you will get injured. Know that you will get confused. Know that you will meet physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual challenges that you have never even dreamed existed. And know that the true challenge lies in overcoming your innermost fears.'

      Crikey! .....(my sister said it sounds so bad she would prefer to stick hot needles in her eyes) but all the runners go through the same thing, veteran or novice, it really is very hard but thats the challenge. On the flip side its a privelege just to be able to run through such beautiful forests, mountains and canyons on a sunny Saturday morning in the Sierra Nevada mountains of Cool California.