Thursday, 23 January 2014

OMG Orrell 12hr Ultra 2013

Impressive Toilets and the Search for the World’s Ugliest Woman

A wise man once told me the world’s ugliest women can be found in Wigan. As I wasn’t qualified to affirm or refute this statement it was with understandable trepidation I travelled to compete in The Orrell OMG 12hr Ultra on December 29th.

The event was a relatively late inclusion in the race calendar and was an unusual date to hold a 12hr race.  However it suited me perfectly and gave many people an ideal excuse to escape their families for an entire day during the Christmas period. Although the event was at the arse end of 2013 I approached it the first event of 2014 and was motivated primarily by the prospect of racing the Spartathlon in September. I’d already reached the qualifying standard so my acceptance was dependent on entering fast enough once registration went live.

The Robin Hood: nice toilets. 

The race format was very simple: the route was a 1.19 mile anti-clockwise circuit around the roads of Orrell and the idea was to cover as many laps as possible in 12 hours, starting at 9am. The only time I’d previously completed a 12 hour race was at the 2012 Hell on the Humber night race which had consisted of numerous out-and-backs across the Humber Bridge. I ran 72 miles in that event so was determined to go further but didn’t really know what shape I was in. After a lacklustre performance at the Sri Chinmoy 24hr track race in September I’d done lower mileage but had completed most sessions on flat routes at a faster pace. Fartlek and progression runs had been my staple training program for the previous two months so I felt relatively fresh and relaxed.

Getting ready (Photo Orrell OMG).

After a quick course briefing at the Robin Hood pub HQ (which mainly involved the need to keep turning left) all runners were ready for the off, some keen and others clearly not so keen. The event was designed to help Team True Spirit raise funds for injured servicemen and there was a distinct military feel to the event – some of the injured servicemen were competing and it makes you appreciate having two fully functioning legs that some mad, bearded fucker hasn’t blown off.

Topography for each lap (Photo Orrell OMG).

We set off and immediately there was a predictable variety of pacing strategies being used. As there was also a relay event running in tandem it was impossible to know who was doing what so I spent the first few laps relaxing and enjoying the simple fact I was racing. The route was deceptively undulating. The first half was predominantly downhill and there was then a subtle climb around the back of the course until it descended back to the finish. Once we returned to the Robin Hood we entered the car park via the timing mats, passed the aid station and then continued back onto the course for another lap. The route appeared fairly boring on paper but compared to a 24hr track race it was like running naked through a fairground on acid.

I had no pacing strategy, wasn’t using heart rate and didn’t have any idea how many laps I had done. I find that during ultras the best thing is to switch off all distraction and become as relaxed and focused as possible. Because I can feel superhuman one minute and close to tears the next it’s usually more productive (and easier) if I run as I feel at the time.

Aid station in Robin Hood car park (Photo Orrell OMG).

During the first couple of hours I began lapping a few people and was also passed a few times myself. The aid station was filled with everything I needed but as I felt good I ate and drank almost nothing during this time. I’d done all my long training runs without breakfast, didn’t take any nutrition or fluids and consequently I wasn’t remotely hungry or thirsty at any point during the race.

The forecast had been for a bright, dry day with light winds. I previously had visions of us trudging away though ice and slush in howling winds so I think everyone was relieved when the sun made an appearance. The conditions were perfect and the only part of the course which felt remotely cold was near the finish as we climbed into a slight headwind. The cold weather was playing havoc with my bladder and I found myself visiting the Robin Hood toilets every few laps during the first few hours. The pub was temptingly warm and cosy and I can highly recommend the toilets: very clean, warm and well presented. 

Onwards and upwards (Photo Orrell OMG).

It makes sense to mentally separate events into several sections and the Orrell OMG was no exception. I had a very simple plan which evolved slightly during the first couple of hours:
  • For the first 1-6 hrs I was going to snack and drink as appropriate, switch my mind off, stay relaxed and tick off the laps as consistently as possible
  • During hours 6-10 I was to maintain the consistency and begin using caffeine
  • For the final 10-12 hrs the plan was to maintain all off the above, switch the brain on, concentrate and be prepared to suffer
To break up the monotony I also planned a couple of morale boosters during the last few hours:
  • At 10.5 hrs I was going to order a pint of real ale from the Robin Hood
  • At 11 hrs I had a pair of lightweight shoes to change into
The morale boosters might appear trivial or pointless but it’s surprising how looking forward to an apparently simple occasion can make several hours pass much faster.

As we entered the middle third of the race I began to be more aware of how I felt which is always an ominous development. I expect to have good and bad patches in any race and it’s not uncommon to spend several hours struggling, only to feel stronger than ever in the last quarter of a race. It’s usually more psychological than physical - you’ve covered a long way and you’re not even half way into the race - but I was hoping I would have covered more miles before having to deal with it. There was a brief distraction from the discomfort as runners from the shorter events joined us. There was a 10k, half marathon and marathon starting at various times and I was quite envious as the 10k runners completed their event in the apparent blink of an eye, to then disappear into the warm pub for a Sunday lunch.

As the morning progressed people began emerging from their houses but seemed thankfully indifferent to what we were doing. New runners joined the course as relay team members swapped places, some jogging while others flew past. Many runners seemed to know each other and the event was becoming a very sociable day. I was happily doing my own thing, sticking to my plan and had absolutely no idea how well I was doing.

Map of the course: arrow indicates the Robin Hood (Photo Orrell OMG).

The undulating nature of the course was proving to be very advantageous as it constantly provided a subtle change in muscle recruitment. I find running long distances on the flat harder to maintain than if I’m constantly climbing and descending and the frequent change in gradient was something I really appreciated throughout the event.

At halfway I began using Coke and opened a can of Relentless. I was now in the routine of running three laps and then having a drink, picking a handful of food and then continuing to run as I ate. I’d brought my own supplies so – combined with the nutrition at the aid station - had the choice of gels, cake, chocolate, crisps and fruit salad.

The middle third of the race continued without any drama until I began to feel a hotspot under the ball of my right foot which, considering I’d covered my feet in Vasaline before the event, was a very unwelcome surprise. I usually find hotspots develop into blisters very quickly and the subsequent miles become exponentially harder as a result. To delay the inevitable I stopped for the first time in the race, re-applied the Vasaline and changed socks.

The course became busier as the day progressed. People I’d seen leaving the house in the morning were returning home and we seemed to be trapped in our own time zone as real life passed us by. The only person who seemed remotely interested in us was a dishevelled old man who seemed blissfully confused and happy to talk to anyone at all.

As we entered the final third of the race I began to feel stronger and less aware of the fatigue I was feeling, possibly due to the caffeine and definitely because I knew the majority of the race had been cracked. Another bonus was that for some inexplicable reason the hotspot had settled down so previous thoughts of walking had disappeared and I was now completely focussed on running as hard as I could for the remaining four hours. I still didn’t know my position but was aware that I was gaining places as the miles passed - many people were by now walking and those who were passing me were clearly relay runners.

As darkness arrived we donned our high-viz vests and continued our journey under the streetlights. The temperature had dropped slightly so I added another layer and the routine of running three laps and then fuelling continued without incident. My pace was consistent, I felt great and seemed to be gaining more energy the further I ran. Visits to the toilet were becoming progressively more enjoyable as they provided a brief sanctuary from the cold. The problem was that it was full of people looking very warm and comfortable, all tucking into hot food with a pint of beer.

 The show goes on under the street lights (Photo Orrell OMG).

My first morale booster was scheduled for 10.5hrs into the race and the laps flew by as beer o’clock approached. The aid station volunteers had been very helpful all day so I gave them a fiver, completed another lap and returned to a pint and a half of real ale waiting for me. Whatever anyone ever recommends you to hydrate with is all lies. Nothing refreshes you physically or mentally as effectively as a good beer. Everything immediately felt easier and I stopped for a few gulps every couple of laps for the remainder of the race.

As the race approached the last hour there seemed to be increasingly fewer people on the course. Many people had pulled out but most appeared to have stayed to watch friends still running and the finish area was increasingly lively compared to the rest of the course. My foot was still sore but I’d still somehow managed to avoid blisters developing. The plan was to still swap shoes for the final hour so I stopped for the second time to change into a pair of Saucony Kinvara. They were noticeably lighter but within a minute of running the hotspot suddenly filled with fluid and burst. Hurty feet always guarantee a certain amount of unrelenting misery but as I had less than an hour to run the endorphins, caffeine and alcohol were successfully managing to numb the pain.

It was around this time I first realised where I was in the race. “You’re in second, he’s only just in front”. I didn’t know who it was at first but eventually realised it was Chris Collins, a runner who’d blasted the early miles and I’d previously assumed was a relay runner. He must have slowed considerably later in the race, only to recover to run strongly again in the final hours. I ran the last few laps as quickly as possible to reel Chris in but never saw him at all in the distance. My legs felt surprisingly strong and for the first time during an ultra I felt it was my leg speed and running efficiency which was holding me back rather than fatigue.

Time for a sit down: with Paul at the finish (Photo Orrell OMG).

As I approached 9pm I completed a lap with a few minutes to spare which meant I could continue around once more, the pace being irrelevant for the final lap.  I relaxed and enjoyed my final run around the streets of Orrell, and passed the bewildered old man for the very last time.

Race details here:
Team True Spirit details here:

I’d felt very strong in the final hours of the race and was pleased with the way my body had reacted during and after the event. I eventually covered 80 miles which a PB and was particularly satisfying, especially when the time of year was taken into consideration. I’d taken on fewer calories than expected so the sessions during the previous months designed to improve fat burning efficiency had clearly been effective.

More importantly I ever saw any particularly ugly women during my 12 hours in Wigan, and the ones involved in the race all seemed very nice. Runcorn, on the other hand, is a very different story…

Recovery drinks my arse: what everyone should eat after an ultra...

Kit Review
Saucony Mirage.

Changing to a lighter shoe was a good idea and the Saucony Mirage is a great lightweight shoe that still offers medial support. The 4mm heel drop allows for a smooth, rolling foot strike and for shorter events it would be ideal.

Because it has a relatively firm, responsive midsole it was very unforgiving on hotspots after eleven hours of running so in hindsight I would have used a Brooks Pure Cadence which is softer underfoot.

Salomon Exo Motion baselayer.

As the weather was cold(ish) but dry I used a very basic layering system. I wanted all skin covered and all materials had to be warm against the skin. I didn’t need anything too warm or waterproof. The Salomon long-sleeved Exo Motion top is a fantastic baselayer which is unbelievably stretchy and well fitting. Because it has a woollen feel it doesn’t feel cold against the skin like many other items with a higher Lycra content and was perfect for a December event.

Salomon Fast Wing Vest.

I wore a Salomon Fast Wing gillet as a windproof layer on my torso and it was just thick enough to prevent me feeling any wind chill during the race. If it was any windier I might have used something with a Windstopper front panel.

Salomon Momentum tights.

To avoid having cold, Lycra fabric on my legs I chose my Salomon Momentum II tights. They’re relatively thin and light but have a brushed internal surface which felt warm from the outset. They would be slightly too warm for a spring/autumn event but were perfect for running in December. 

All Salomon and Saucony products were supplied by Royles:

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Sri Chinmoy Self Transcendence 24hr Race 2013

Colonial Upstarts, Bonsai Trees and a Strange Man Punching a Tree

As this was my third year at the Sri Chinmoy Self Transcendence 24 hour race, I decided it was to be a boy’s road trip packed with ultrarunning-related japes and hilarity. Carla - my previous support - had conveniently arranged a hen do in Barcelona that weekend and everyone else in the western world was apparently busy. I was therefore reliant on a crack team of two 24 hour virgins to provide the entertainment: Chris, an Ironman athlete dreaming of past Kona glories, and Dan, a strange troll-like creature who I’d somehow convinced to enter the event.

It's Friday night, it's a road trip, let's crank it up to 11!
The plan was to travel down with Chris - and his daughter, Arabella - on Friday evening and meet up with Dan on race morning. Amazingly, Chris had managed to dress himself properly and was unusually ready on time, and after a surprisingly small amount of faffing the road trip began. As everyone knows the most important element of any road trip is a  rocking soundtrack, the sort of thing Jeremy Clarkson would listen to. Unfortunately I have great taste in music and Chris doesn’t so a middle ground couldn’t be agreed on. We consequently travelled to London listening to Radio 4.


The next morning after fuelling our bodies with a wholesome and nutritious McDonalds breakfast, we travelled to the race venue at Tooting Bec track. We picked Dan up en-route managing to take a few wrong turns, nearly causing a pile up and promptly losing him just outside the track, all within ten minutes.

Pre-race flex off: who needs calf muscles anyway?
The venue was instantly familiar except it resembled a building site along the back straight. We chose a pitch at the far end and this was to be our home for the next couple of days. Once I’d registered, set up my support area and Chris had erected the tent Dan eventually arrived. How the man gets himself to work every morning I’ll never know.


The relaxed atmosphere before an ultra is something I’ve grown to really enjoy over the last couple of years. Chris was struggling to adjust as he was used to the adrenaline and testosterone fuelled nature of a transition area before the start of an Ironman. I’ve found I don’t need that intensity or stress anymore and relish the change of environment.

Ladies, form an orderly queue...
In between incomprehensible monologues, Alan Partridge quotes and obsessive texting, Dan somehow managed to get himself ready with the help of his assistant, Lynne. We were sharing the same table and chairs and it was soon apparent I didn’t have as much food or drink with me as usual. Because the food provided by the organisers is so comprehensive and varied I found I took most of my supplies home with me the previous two years.


The weather was perfect and spirits were high as we lined up to start at midday. My race plan was very simple and there was a tier system of goals:

Gold: run 135+ miles

Silver: beat my previous distance of 127 miles

Bronze: achieve the Spartathlon standard of 200km (124 miles)

 Chris realises what he's missing.

Hours 1-4 (Clockwise)

After blowing up at the Lakeland 100 I was conscious of not repeating the gamble. I was also aware that I needed to reach 100 miles well under 18 hours to have any chance of reaching 135 miles. I decided to run the first hour and then follow a routine of running 7 laps and walking 1 lap for as long as possible. This was one extra lap of running than the previous year.


I didn’t want to get distracted by splits and measurements as there was a long way to go and energy levels can fluctuate wildly during an ultra. Dan was chirpy and continuing to talk shite, and Chris insulted us every time we passed him so things were looking good.


As usual I was being lapped from the start but I wasn’t remotely bothered. I knew several people would withdraw or self-destruct later in the race so I remained relaxed and ticked the early hours by. Chris soon left to visit the zoo and after around two hours Dan’s Alan Partridge quotes had virtually ceased. The novelty of the event had worn off and we were all resigned to the reality that we would be running around the same track for a whole day and night with very little to look forward to.


Hours 5-8 (Anti clockwise)

After a week of poor weather it was a huge relief to have such perfect conditions forecasted. The day was slightly overcast with a light breeze but I was happily running with short sleeves and a gillet.

Picnic table - spot the Moshlings!
The early hours were fairly uneventful. There were still several people lapping me at a decent pace and most people were engaged in conversation as they ran. There were some strong Scottish runners competing and they’d brought an energetic group of supporters with them which was a welcome distraction.


During quieter times I found myself focussing on anything different and exciting outside the venue. I became a master at this the previous year but soon realised that this year there was very few little activity around us apart from the occasional siren as an emergency vehicle sped past.


Every four hours we were to change direction. My plan was to alternate my shoes at this time throughout the race to provide some variety and hopefully prevent injury and blistering. I switched from my Saucony Omni to Adrenaline GTS and the difference couldn’t have been more stark: the Adrenalines felt really hard underfoot and I was in two minds whether to change straight back. I’m very conscious of hot spots developing as they soon become blisters – until people experience them they can’t appreciate how crippling they become.


I went through the first marathon in under 4:15 which was quite a conservative pace. It felt very comfortable and I was still conscious of pacing the event sensibly. I was halfway down the field which was slightly better than previous years and as the hours passed I began to creep my way up the leaderboard.


Excitement was eventually provided as I heard some noise in the trees adjacent to the back straight. At first I couldn’t work out what was happening but after a few laps I realised what the noise was - a man was in the middle of the wood repeatedly and enthusiastically punching a tree.

Awesome lapcounters working through the night (Photo Run and Become). 

As the light began to fade the floodlights were switch on and I had the first of several hot meals. I only ate small amounts but wanted to avoid sweets and cakes as much as possible. The volunteers were as helpful as always and any request was happily answered. Chris eventually returned from the zoo to resume the insults and he’d also brought some beers with him which put a brief spring in my step. By now Dan wasn’t providing any entertainment whatsoever and had disappointingly transformed into Mr Seriousultrarunner. 


Hours 9-12 (Clockwise)

As darkness fell some supporters left and the place became noticeably quieter. We’d also lost a couple of runners through retirement and Treepunchingman had also gone home (or gone to find some different trees to hit). I changed back to my Omnis and couldn’t believe how softer they felt underfoot. The weather was still perfect – spectators were wrapping up but the temperature was ideal for running. I’d brought loads of clothing options with me in case it rained but all I needed was my arm warmers.

The 24hr buffet (Photo Run and Become).
One or two people were paying the price for starting too fast and one runner was throwing up so violently I could hear him from the other side of the track. Amazingly, after emptying his stomach he continued running as if nothing had happened.


Scotsman Marco Consani was flying around with great consistency as were the two lead women. I’d raced Helen James a couple of times before but didn’t know Fiona Cameron, also from Scotland. She was on schedule for an outstanding performance but the race was still in the early stages.

There were a few spare seats left for spectators (Photo Run and Become).
As it approaches midnight the body inevitably begins to tire as it expects you to be sleeping. There’s also the fact that you’ve still not reached half way and the finish seems a long, long way away. Despite this for some reason I started to feel stronger and decided to increase my running to 8 laps run, 1 lap walk. 


Chris stayed up to insult me for a final couple of hours while sitting there drinking beer. Sometimes he gave me the finger, sometimes two fingers and occasionally had the creativity to use a combination of the two. He eventually disappered into the tent mumbling that he'd had enough of  watching skinny old men shuffling around a track.


The runner with the vomiting issues was still running well despite more violent episodes. It was proper vomiting too, the type that takes your breath away and makes your eyeballs stick out.  If I’m sick I think I’m going to die and need to lie down in a dark room - how he was able to continue is beyond me.


During the evening a familiar race appeared. I’d raced Chris Ette at the Lanzarote Double Enduroman a couple of years earlier and then duelled with him at the UK Triple Enduroman a few months later. He’d eventually won and I was second. He’d come to watch the race for a few hours and seemed to know the Scottish contingent – the world of ultra-endurance sport is a very small one!
Perfect running conditions during the night (Photo Run and Become).
Hours 13-16 (Anti clockwise)

The halfway point is always a positive time in a race, and after 12 hours it’s particularly welcome. I was maintaining the 8/1 ratio and managed to gain several places during the early hours, entering the top ten overall.


There were more people walking by now and several people appeared to have injury/motivation/happiness issues as the fatigue increased. Most supporters had retired to bed and runners were largely reliant on the volunteers.  The conditions were still ideal and at times there was a full moon so I was still using some electrolyte drink with the occasional sweet tea. The hot snacks kept arriving and the 24 hour buffet saw no signs of slowing down.


My feet still felt ok but I made the point to stop and change my socks and reapply Vaseline to my feet. Losing five minutes could prevent losing considerably more time later on and I was prone to blistering beneath the balls of both feet.

Leader board in the early hours (Photo Run and Become).

Hours 17-20 (Clockwise)

I continued to feel strong as dawn approached but the two lead women were still in front which was unusual. Fiona and Helen were still several miles ahead and didn’t appear to be slowing. Helen’s tactic had been the same the previous year and had resulted in her slowing during the later stages. She was obviously stronger this year and I wasn’t making and progress on either of them.


Dan was beginning to have problems with his hip and was also suffering from Facebook withdrawal symptoms. Spirits were lifted when breakfast arrived and then Chris surfaced from his tent so the insults duly recommenced for the final few hours.


I eventually reached 100 miles in 18:06 which was quite a blow. It was quicker than previous years and I was running well but realised it was impossible to reach my goal in the remaining hours. On a positive note I’d gained another couple of places which was some consolation, but my motivation had taken a huge hit. I still had six hours of running left knowing I’d failed my objective.


Hugh Pinner – who I’d raced with the previous two years – was having stomach issues and we found ourselves walking together. He mentioned that the race was also the English Ultra Champs and that there was a good chance I was in contention. I remembered reading about it in the pre-race information but hadn’t given it any more thought. He kindly went to make some enquiries and established I was in third place as the others ahead of me were either female, Irish or Scottish. I was steadily catching the two ahead so I now had another reason to keep the pressure on myself.

Who's idea was this? Dan holds back the tears.
By now most people were finding it difficult and this is when the event really begins to test people. Track racing is completely raw with no fluff or distraction. There are no hills to crest, lakes to pass or pretty villages to pass though. It’s 24 hours of monotony with nothing to take your mind away from the increasing discomfort and pain.


I reduced my running back to running 7 laps and walking a lap and hoped I’d be able to maintain it to the finish. With around five hours to go I was up to fourth overall and was leading the English competition. This was because others were slowing (or stopping for breaks) whereas I was maintaining a consistent – if unimpressive - pace. 7 laps became 6 laps and I eventually settled on 4 laps and then a walk.

Holding on to fourth with hurty legs (Photo Run and Become).

Around this time I made a pact with myself that I wouldn’t do another ultra again. The pain was entirely self-inflicted and completely unnecessary. I was actually planning what I’d do with my newly aquired free time – I went through a series of crap sports and hobbies and even decided to buy a bonsai tree at one point.  


Dan had seen the physio who’d recommended he withdraw but he was running well, only interrupting his progress by repeatedly stopping to satisfy his Crackberry habit. I wanted him to put the phone down and get back on the track so tried my best to encourage him;

“Dan, start running!”

“Fuck off. Unlike you I’ve got friends!”


Hours 21-24 (Anti clockwise)

By now I wasn’t in the most positive place I’ve ever been. I’d failed my objective and wasn’t sure if I’d even achieve the Spartathlon standard of 200km. A couple of times I actually sat down for a minute which is something I almost never do unless I’m tending to my feet. Dan, Chris and I briefly discussed the merits of what we were doing and I was struggling to think of any positives. It was mental weakness, nothing else. Chris even stopped taking the piss for a few minutes so I must have looked bad. 

"So there's this place near me which sells bonsai trees..."

I was eventually kicked back into focus when I realised a couple of Englishmen were gradually catching me, and unless I strapped a pair of balls on I would go home with nothing. I stepped up the pace to make the best of the situation and began to get my legs back. I was prepared to try anything to make the last couple of hours as pain free as possible – I’d had an impressive amount of Ibuprofen up to that point so thought I’d try a beer. It would either go horribly wrong or make me invincible, only time would tell. I felt like a Yates' Wine Lodge regular sat there all smelly and dishevelled drinking Peroni at 10am but it was surprisingly enjoyable and went down very well.


I’m not sure if the Peroni had any effect other than boosting morale but I started running more consistently. I was aware of who the others were and where we all were relative to each other. I knew when they were walking or running and I was counting how many times I was being lapped. Because I was 2-3 miles in front I knew that I they would have to lap me 10-12 times per hour to pass me. Unless I imploded this was impossible so I just had to keep going. I passed 200km with around 30 minutes to go (as I had the previous year) so beating 127 miles was possible if I pushed as hard as possible.


Both the lead women had slowed and I had almost caught Helen but it was too late. The rest of the field were split between people finishing strongly and those  resigned to walking.  The runner who had spent an impossible amount of time vomiting during the race was having one last heave for the road, and I’m surprised if he had any stomach lining left by the end.

 Immediately after finishing. Never again etc etc.

Chris helpfully pointed out it wasn’t a race-walking event and the last few laps were a blur as I dragged myself around the track as many times as possible before the finishing horn sounded. I didn’t know exactly how far I’d run and didn’t want to know. I gave it everything until the horn signalled everyone to stop and then immediately collapsed onto the grass. Afterwards Chris said it looked like all the competitors had been simultaneously shot by snipers.

Expecting to be rumbled at the English Champs presentation (Photo Run and Become).

I eventually covered 127 miles, exactly the same distance as 2012. My major objective wasn’t achieved so my performance was insufficient. Winning the England Athletics Ultra Champs was a happy surprise but I knew some of the strongest runners were in Athens preparing for the Spartahlon. Still, it’s nice to win and I’m not giving the medal back.


I should have reached 100 miles in a faster time and I was left with too much to do in the last few hours. I was also slower in the last 27 miles than the previous year and this was due to lack of mental focus and positivity after reaching 100 miles behind schedule. I was also able to walk, talk and function after the race which has never happened before – another indicator that I hadn’t given it 100%. This race is more mental than physical and I’d been rightly exposed.


Both the Scottish winners had achieved the British team standard for 24 hours which was awesome, and Marco achieved the third fastest ever Scottish distance behind the legendary Don Ritchie. Geoff Oliver also covered 94 miles breaking the world 80+ yrs world record. He also broke every intermediate world record except 100km en route. Top bombing.


Shankara and her team had provided yet another flawless and friendly race and it couldn’t happen without the lap counters and aid station volunteers.


The next morning after an uncomfortable night’s sleep I was predictably incapacitated and still in a huge amount of discomfort. I was also surprisingly excited about entering Spartathlon 2014 and the retirement plans I’d made during the race seemed a very long time ago. Bollocks to normal life and bollocks to bonsai trees.

Race details here:

Race results here:

England Athletics report here:

Kit Review

Skins A400 shorts.

Because the weather was so consistent I didn’t change clothes during the event. I used Skins A400 compression shorts as they’re very comfortable and great at preventing chaffing. I can’t get away with loose shorts for long distances and I've used these shorts several times without any problems.


The A400 calf guards are tried and tested from previous events and also acted as an insulating layer during the night.

Salomon Fast Wing Vest

The Salomon Fast Wing Vest is light and very breathable and I used it to reduce the effects of wind chill from the breeze. I didn’t overheat during the day and it was perfect as a light insulating layer during the night.

Saucony Omnis.

I’m now a convert to the Saucony Omnis. I previously used the Hurricane but the cheaper Omni felt just as cushioned and comfortable. The 8mm heel and slight rocker in the midsole allows for a very smooth, rolling foot strike and they were very comfortable, even towards the end of the race.


All Salomon, Saucony and Skins products were supplied by Royles:

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Lakeland 100 2013

Kamikazes, Ninjas and the 85-Mile Elastic Band

‘A person or thing that behaves in a wildly reckless or destructive manner.’

‘An utterly foolish or senseless person.’

Last year’s attempt at the Lakeland 100 had been a respectable example of conservative pacing resulting in 17th place. Complete lack of prior route knowledge had caused me to lose a huge amount of time but I had still managed to work my way up the field throughout the entire race by maintaining a constant pace. I’d learnt a huge amount from the race and I was determined to return and be more competitive.

Or so I thought...

This year I had a cunning plan. I would start faster to seed myself with better runners and hold the pace for as long as possible. Ideally I would survive all the way to the finish but the obvious unknown was judging exactly how hard to work and be able to maintain the pace for 105 miles. I didn’t have a target finishing time but had set myself the goal of a top 10 finish. Amazing how simple it is on paper.

Stage 1: Coniston  to Seathwaite (7.0 miles)
2012: 1:29       
2013: 1:07       
Three, two, one...(Photo Sportsunday).

Race day weather was perfect: sunny with a light breeze and the temperature in the mid 20s. The forecast was for a clear night and a few light showers with sunshine and humidity the following day.  At 6pm we all eagerly lined up at the start and after a rendition of Nessun Dorma we began our circumnavigation of the Lake District. I immediately found myself near the front as we wound our way through Coniston towards the slate mines. Within a couple of minutes we began the first of many climbs and I realised I was further up the field than I had originally planned, something which would have considerable consequences the following day. The field had already split and I could only see two runners ahead, Stuart Mills and Ken Sutor.

I was climbing with two others and I realised one of them was Terry Conway, last year’s winner and course record holder. It was quickly clear I had two options: ease back and be sensible or take a massive gamble and risk complete physical meltdown later in the race. The pace seemed relatively comfortable so I stayed with them – that decision would be the most important one I made during the event!

Gatecrashing big school! (Photo Sportsunday).

We made good progress during the first half of the stage (predominantly uphill) and then I predictably lost ground to them in the second part of the stage (predominantly downhill). By the time I approached CP1 the other two were leaving so the plan was to check in and leave as quickly as possible. I didn’t know it at the time but I’d reached CP1 in 1:07, 22 minutes faster than 2012.

The Nick Selfdestructometer score after Stage 1: 1/10

Stage 2: Seathwaite to Boot (14.0 miles)
2012:   1:30
2013:   1:16

Losing time on the downhills was something I expected to happen but the problem was I wasn’t familiar with the route during the early stages. I hadn’t recce’d anything before Buttermere as a) I couldn’t get to the relevant recce weekend and, b) I was expecting to have more people around me that early in the race.  I soon became unsure of where I was and lost some time consulting the map, something I had really wanted to avoid after the time wasting the previous year. I was rushing (which is never a good idea when navigating) but managed to catch a glimpse of the others several times a few hundred metres ahead. Things were going well until I reached a farm at Grassgaurds.

One of us is working too hard (Photo Sportsunday).

I followed the obvious route through a farm but after crossing a stream realised there were no wet footprints on the track. I scanned my surroundings hoping to see the others in the distance but there was no one anywhere. I swore a lot (which always makes me feel better) and retraced my steps through the farm as I knew there was a pair of runners not far behind. I soon ran into them and they guided me back on course. Not only had I been caught but I realised these weren’t the same pair that had been following me so I’d been caught by another two as well. Arse and double arse.

The rest of the stage was fairly uneventful. The marshes which had been knee deep last year were much dryer due to the recent heatwave and the going underfoot was good. The leaders were nowhere in sight but we gradually caught the two in front and soon arrived at CP2 in Boot.

The Nick Selfdestructometer score after Stage 2: 1/10

Stage 3: Boot to Wasdale Head (19.4 miles)
2012:   1:10
2012:   0:57

Positions changed occasionally but I knew I was maintaining my position in the top 10. I was now almost always running with Darron Howarth who I’d bumped into at the farm during Stage 2. The pace was clearly slower than I’d being running at the start but it felt right and I was fairly confident I’d be able to maintain it for the remainder of the race.

Debating the wisdom of starting so quickly (Photo Sportsunday).

The sky was still clear and we could see for miles. Peaks surrounded us in every direction and we had a clear view of Kirk Fell which hid the first significant climb of the event: Black Sail Pass. As we dropped towards Wasdale Head I was feeling surprisingly warm considering the light was fading. We checked in, chatted to the volunteers, refilled our bottles, grabbed a few snacks and continued as quickly as possible.

The Nick Selfdestructometer score after Stage 3: 2/10

Stage 4: Wasdale Head to Buttermere (26.3 miles)
2012:   1:58
2013:   1:48

Last year I switched my head torch on during the climb up Black Sail Pass but I was clearly ahead of last year’s schedule as we still had perfect visibility. We were now joined by a tall chap called Steve and gradually made our way up the climb. The lower slopes gradually became steeper until I was pressing on my thighs with my hands, taking it one step at a time.  Conversation ceased as we all found our own rhythm and eventually the gradient plateaued as we began the treacherous descent down the other side. The path was strewn with sharp boulders, loose rocks and shale. There didn’t seem to a single level part and I began to lose ground on the other two, something which would reoccur throughout the race.

The road book and map.

After passing the YHA I re-joined the others and we made our way up Haystacks. It’s deceivingly innocuous on a map but felt like Black Sail Pass’s little brother. By the time we reached the top visibility was low so we finally switched our head torches on. Someone in the group pointed out it was almost 10:30pm! What goes up comes down and we were soon negotiating our way down a very uncivilised descent which thankfully became easier towards Buttermere. During this time we were passed by a couple of fast-descending runners and we then all made our way together towards CP 4.

The Nick Selfdestructometer score after Stage 4: 3/10

Stage 5: Buttermere to Braithwaite (32.8 miles)
2012:   2:05
2013:   1:36

By now it was completely dark but as the sky was still clear we still make out the silhouettes of the fells against the sky. The temperature hadn’t noticeably dropped and we were still running in our short sleeved tops.

The evening was perfect - clear sky with a light breeze.

Stage 5 consisted of two halves: a climb up to Scar Crags contouring up the valley, and a straight, fast drop into Braithwaite. The climb from Buttermere isn’t steep (until the end) but it seems to go on forever. Our group largely remained together during the climb but once over the top we began to split and a couple of quick descenders began to catch us. After a brief climb through Barrow Door (which caused some navigation issues last year) we began the long run down to Braithwaite. A couple more runners passed me during this descent including the first female, Lizzie Wraith. By the time I entered CP 5 there were a handful of people there busy refuelling, eating, clearing debris from shoes, stretching and administering their kit.

The Nick Selfdestructometer score after Stage 5: 4/10

Stage 6: Braithwaite to Blencathra Centre (41.3 miles)
2012:   2:08
2013:   1:46

I was beginning to feel the effects of the early pace by now but was still confident I could continue at the pace we were holding as long as I stayed adequately hydrated and fuelled. The group had now split and I left CP 5 alone to run the flat road section towards Keswick. We were now in the early hours of the morning and this is always the time when the body feels the most tired. I often feel very sleepy when I’m racing at this time of night and last year I’d struggled during the same stage.

As I approached Keswick I gradually caught someone called Lee who I would eventually spend the rest of the race with. We made our way towards the climb around Latrigg and re-joined Darron who’d had a very fast turnaround at the checkpoint in Braithwaite. A few of the others shot ahead into the darkness but we let them go and maintained our previous pace. After the initial climb the course levelled off slightly as we pushed on towards the remote checkpoint near Skiddaw. Once we checked in with our dibbers we began the gradual descent towards CP6 at the Blencathra Centre. The path was initially quite difficult underfoot but it soon became very easy to make good time. The volunteers at every checkpoint were all very helpful and I was able to collect some food while someone filled my bottle for me.

During ultras I don’t have a specific nutrition plan as taste and appetite fluctuate in random ways you can’t plan for. I aimed to eat as much savory food as possible as it has a higher salt content and doesn’t become sickly like most sweet foods. Because I’d run around the previous year with unnecessary food in my bag I planned to utilise the wide variety of food available at the check points instead. I had a small food bag which I filled with snacks, ran while I ate them and then stuck the empty bag into the top of my calf guard until the next checkpoint. Quite clever I thought. Because of the warm weather I also used a salt sachet in every bottle to help me absorb the fluids.

The Nick Selfdestructometer score after Stage 6: 5/10

Stage 7: Blencathra Centre to Dockray (49.0 miles)
2012:   1:51
2013:   1:45

Before the race I’d considered CP6 to be a key point in the race. The night section was effectively over and the hardest parts of the course (in terms of topography and navigation) had been successfully completed. All three of us were predictably fatigued as we’d run consistently through the night over difficult terrain, but spirits were high as we pushed on towards Dockray. After a short section on a disused railway line we began to climb up to the Old Coach Road which would then take us straight to the next checkpoint.

I was still climbing well and often at the front of the group so this section was ideal for my strengths, i.e. no descents! When I needed to piss I did it as I ran or walked which seemed to gain respect from my running partners. Lee always stopped when he needed to go and then had to work to catch us up, and regularly complimented me on my ‘Ninja piss’.

The Old Coach Road never seems to end but eventually we reached the checkpoint in the car park at High Row. The marshals told us we were still in the top 10 and apparently there were one or two quite close ahead. I knew Lizzie had pulled ahead and was fairly sure who the others were (by sight if not by name). We also heard Terry Conway had pulled out which was a surprise as he’d been running with ridiculous ease when I’d had my fifteen minutes of fame earlier in the race.

I stocked up as usual and declined the offer of a chair as I didn’t want to stiffen up or switch off. Once I’d filled my bottle with tea I let the other two know I was leaving and walked off while eating.

The Nick Selfdestructometer score after Stage 7: 6/10

Stage 8: Dockray to Dalemain (59.1 miles)
2012:   2:24
2013:   2:09

By now the sun was rising so the headtorch was removed. I began running down towards Aira Force and was surprised the others were nowhere in sight. Soon enough they reappeared and we began running together again. Apart from the usual fatigue, soreness and pain which would be expected after running 50 miles I was feeling strong and enjoying the whole experience. Even though I had no way of comparing my progress to last year’s race I knew I was ahead by a considerable way and was really motivated to continue pushing as hard as possible.

The shade at Aira Force was a welcome relief.

The sky was mostly clear and the temperature was already in the 20s by the time we contoured our way along the north slopes of Ullswater and we began dousing ourselves in water whenever we crossed streams. After negotiating the crags around Gowbarrow Fell we reached one of the quickest parts of the course. Although Stage 7 is the longest stage (10.1 miles) it’s relatively quick as the second part is predominantly downhill with a few miles along tarmac roads. We made good progress and morale was high as we approached CP 8. Dalemain was over halfway (59 miles) and reaching it was huge psychological boost for all of us.

All competitors had the option of accessing a drop bag at Dalemain. This meant clothes could be changed and we could restock with food and personal items. I used the time to sit down for the first time and sort my feet out. They weren’t causing me trouble but a hot spot can quickly turn into a blister which can then become crippling in a short space of time. I cleared the debris out of me shoes, cleaned my feet with baby wipes, reapplied Vaseline and then put a clean pair of socks on. If I had a second pair of Cascadias I would have changed them as well.

While I was fumbling around I was waited on by some very helpful people and ate and drank as much as I could while I was there. By the time I was leaving the others were also ready so we left together. I now had a cap and Oakleys to combat the sun but the rest of my clothing remained unchanged.

Leaving Dalemain as the lip began to tremble (Photo Sportsunday).

The Nick Selfdestructometer score after Stage 8: 7/10

Stage 9: Dalemain to Howtown (66.2 miles)
2012:   2:03
2013:   1:39

We progressed as the sun became warmer, Lee occasionally stopping while I continued to thrill everyone with my amazing ‘Ninja piss’. We passed through Pooley Bridge which was unusually deserted, a far cry from the footfall it would experience later in the day as the visitors descended on the shops and eateries.

After a long gradual climb and equally long and gradual descent we approached the checkpoint at Howtown. As I stood filling my bag with snacks it was the first time my legs had felt wobbly during the race. I wasn’t too worried but it was the first time I’d felt as if I was in a bit too deep. We’d covered 66 miles but still had a respectable distance to cover so I put extra salt in my drink and started walking back onto the course.

The Nick Selfdestructometer score after Stage 9: 8/10

Stage 10: Howtown to Mardale Head (75.6 miles)
2012:   2:39
2013:   2:32

From Howtown the only way is up. The lower slopes through the valley were fairly shallow so we were able to run but the gradient soon increased and we were back into Black Sail Pass mode: one foot in front of the other, short steps and pushing down on the quads. After reaching the first plateau I could see Lizzie in the distance reaching the top of Wether Hill. The only other person visible was behind us in the valley and we all appeared to be equally spaced apart. It was on this climb that I started to struggle for the first time. Whereas I’d often been at the front pushing the pace in the first 50 miles I was finding it increasingly hard to maintain contact with Lee and Darron.

We eventually reached the summit, had a brief walk and chat (mainly to compare how bad we all felt) and then began the long run along the tops. The path gradually took us down towards Haweswater and was one of the most enjoyable parts of the course. The legs were suffering but the route is over spongy grass which was a very welcome relief after the terrain we’d covered over the previous 70 miles. I was surprised to see we’d almost caught Lizzie and she seemed to be having a bad patch. By the time we began the steeper drop towards the lake three became four. There was very little breeze and Haweswater  Haweswater was like a mirror – not a single ripple. We ran down the steeper slopes towards it and I had a brief chat with Lizzie (''I’m in a whole world of pain!'' ''So am I!''). We then turned right to run along the lakeside path. The map suggests it is flat but the path constantly rose and fell with some technical sections to negotiate as well. I began to lose contact with Lee and Darran and realised I was entering my own bad patch. Even though I’d slowed considerably I somehow managed to drop Lizzie who must have been feeling even  worse than me. 

Things were unraveling by the time I got to Hawaeswater.

As I progressed along the side of Haweswater I realised things were beginning to unravel. There were two possible outcomes: a) if I slowed down, rested at the next checkpoint and consumed more calories I would recover and have a great race, or b) I was fucked. The temperature had risen and I used every opportunity to soak myself in the streams. By the time I eventually reached Mardale Head Lee and Darron had already left. I’d also been overtaken by the runner who had been trailing us as we climbed out of Howtown - he was flying and I actually wondered if he was one of the 50 mile runners at first. I couldn’t believe how fresh and fast he looked.

At the checkpoint I sat down for the first time since Dalemain and ate as much as I could. I wasn’t hungry or thirsty and the heat wasn’t bothering me at all, but I forced myself to do the sensible thing and hoped it would be enough to bring me back into the race.

I’d had a similar experience at a Triple Ironman two years previously. During the second night the accumulation of fatigue and lack of sleep had forced me to grind to a halt and rest. I lost the lead and actually thought I was going to have to walk the last 40 miles. It was only when I ate some hot food at breakfast that my legs returned and I ran the remaining miles feeling better than ever. (You can read that story of daring and heroism here: 

Lizzie soon arrived having made some ground up on me in the last couple of miles, and after a couple of minutes we left the checkpoint together, both keen to catch the two in front.

The Nick Selfdestructometer score after Stage 10: 9/10

Stage 11: Mardale Head to Kentmere (82.1 miles)
2012:   1:56
2013:   1:48

Once we left Mardale Head we began a substantial climb which I found noticeably harder than any of the previous climbs. It still felt like we were moving at a decent pace but we were clearly not making any ground on the runners ahead of us. We occasionally chatted but I was more focussed on getting through my dark patch. Once we reached the top we saw someone walking in front of us. I hadn’t seen him before and wasn’t sure at first if he was a competitor or not. I later realised it was Ken Sutor who had been the race leader during the earlier stages of the race. He had also studied at the Runashardandfastforaslongaspossible School of Running and was actually walking slower than me, some achievement considering I was hardly moving.

The descent after the climb from Mardale Head.

We exchanged whimpers as I passed and I refocused on catching Lizzie who had pulled ahead slightly. The next checkpoint was at Kentmere which involved a run into the valley and the scaling of a few walls, something I managed to look very difficult. We arrived at the church together and by now the legs had graduated from wobbling to buckling. I remembered we were offered fresh smoothies the previous year and it had been a real highlight of the race. After hours of sandwiches, cakes, biscuits and crisps it was great to have something fresh and natural. I drank two smoothies and took a couple of sandwiches with me as we left to begin the slog up Garburn Pass.

The Nick Selfdestructometer score after Stage 10: 10/10

Stage 11: Kentmere to Ambleside (89.4 miles)
2012:   1:56
2013:   1:48

Many of the climbs in the second half of the race were very similar: not very long but steep with paths covered in loose rocks. It was hard to gain any purchase underfoot and we found ourselves increasingly slipping as we climbed. It felt like we were taking one step forward and two steps back for much of the time.

My pace was becoming noticeably slower as Lizzie began to pull away again. I didn’t want to consciously slow any more so I tried to maintain the best pace I could. The resurgence I’d had at the Triple Ironman wasn’t happening despite all my efforts and I repeatedly came to a halt during the second part of the climb. By the time I reached the top Lizzie had disappeared. I took stock of the situation, continued to walk for a couple of minutes while I rehydrated and then began to run.

Or rather I didn’t. I managed around ten steps and came to a halt. I tried again and the same thing happened. After a few more attempts I realised I was going to have to walk if I was to continue. The walking pace had also deteriorated so I was spending as much time walking sideways as I was forwards. I was now in the same situation Ken Sutor had been in when I’d passed him during the previous stage.  My head was fine, I wasn’t hot and I didn’t feel lightheaded – the elastic band had finally snapped and my legs had simply died on me.

The long-awaited recovery had failed to materialise and I’d been constantly deteriorating for the last 25 miles. It was becoming apparent I was either going to have to slowly walk/shuffle/stagger for 20 miles to the finish or accept defeat and pull out. I came to race the event to my best ability and had nothing to prove to myself by limping back to Coniston. I was more than happy with what I had achieved up to that point so after 85 miles my race was over.

The problem was I was still 4 miles away from Ambleside. Luckily it was mostly downhill and the weather was perfect. The forecasted rain hadn’t appeared and under different circumstances it would have been a very enjoyable stroll in the country.

Despite my withdrawal I still maintained my top 10 place for a considerable time and I only remember 2-3 people passing me during this period. The contrasting nature of our circumstances couldn’t have been more different and they all looked depressingly strong as they ran past.

The long walk into Ambleside...

Once in Ambleside I shuffled along the main road to save time and was offered a lift by one of the other competitor’s wives.

''Are you in the Lakeland 100?''
''I was ''
''Do you want a lift?''
''Yes please!''

I remember trying to answer her questions and not making a huge amount of sense but I was extremely grateful to get to the checkpoint a bit quicker.

I felt a charlatan as I entered the checkpoint as I received a very enthusiastic reception from the marshals and spectators gathered around the entrance. I quickly indicated I wanted to withdraw and after a couple of people asked me to confirm my decision my dibber was finally removed from my wrist.

The aid station crew couldn’t have been more helpful but I really didn’t need anything except a way back to Coniston. I wasn’t thirsty (and still had some drink in my bottle) and only ate because the spread looked nice and I knew it was the sensible thing to do.

The options for getting back to Coniston were limited: get a taxi or wait for the broom wagon at 2am the following morning. I’d never been in the same situation before and had never considered alternative ways of getting to the finish of any race. The taxi was clearly the most attractive option but John Kynaston came to the rescue as he was driving back to continue marshalling duties in Coniston. So that was it. On a sunny afternoon with around 15 miles to the finish I was wrestling myself into a car experiencing my first ever DNF.


This can only end one way...!

Starting so quickly was a gamble and I knew it. I wanted to maintain a decent pace for as long as possible and then dig in to the finish, and I think this would have been the right strategy if I’d held back slightly during the first couple of stages. I was in the top 10 during the entire race and maintained this for around an hour after I withdrew so my pace was considerably quicker than last year. The splits for the last two stages where I really deteriorated were still faster than the times from last year so it’s clear my training had been effective leading up to this year’s race.

My course knowledge was much better than last year (i.e I'd seen the course!) but there were still some places that were unfamiliar on the day. I plan to run the course as much as possible next year as I’m convinced course knowledge is paramount to be competitive in this event.

And of the others I’d run with during the race? Darron eventually finished 5th, Lee was 7th and Lizzie was first lady and an amazing 8th overall. Well done chaps! Can’t wait for next year.

Race details here:

Race photos (courtesy of Sportsunday) here:

Kit Review

Skins A400 sleeves.

Because the weather was consistently good I didn't need to use any waterproofs or spare layers. The Skins sleeves were perfect for the cooler temperature at night and the calf sleeves were perfectly cool and breathable during the warmer hours.

Salomon shorts.

I used the Salomon Exo Wings Twinskin short as they had been comfortable in training and were less traumatic to members of the public than Lycra shorts. I always smother myself with Vasaline and you'll be relieved to hear I didn't experience any serious chaffing.

Brooks Cascadia.

As ever I relied on Brooks Cascadia as they don't eat my feet and are ideal for courses which cover a wide variety of surfaces. I'm still not sure whether I can use a half-size smaller as there seems to be slightly too much lateral foot movement when I'm on uneven ground. I'll probably experiment with the next pair.

All Brooks, Salomon and Skins items were provided by Royles: