Sunday, 3 July 2011

Marathon du Mont Blanc

I can't believe this was a week ago already. This time last week I was recovering from running in the sun - today I'm sat on the sofa watching the team time trial. The race was great - I crossed the line in 5:59:43. Really pleased to be under six hours, though slower than the 5:30 I was hoping for (but better than 8 or so hours I thoughts I'd be out there at one point!)

(pic courtesy of Hannah)

We arrived a few days early, as Ali was doing the half marathon (the Cross as it's called) on the Saturday and the marathon was on the Sunday. The weather when we got to Chamonix was cloudy, punctuated with heavy rain and rumbles of thunder. All very .. promising. The forecast for the weekend was hot however and sure enough Saturday dawned to bright sunshine. Ali really enjoyed the Cross, and I enjoyed watching. It gave me an idea of what was in store for Sunday.

The marathon started at 0700. By 0500 I was eating toast and boiled eggs, and shortly after that I stuffed down a pain au chocolate. Standing on the start line I was regretting eating the pain so close to the start time, and indeed my stomach didn't feel great for much of the race. The start was in the town centre, and after some psyching up from the announcer we were off.

The run through the town was pleasantly brisk, and we were soon on the ski de fond circuits (less snowy than when I have run on them previously!) and heading up the valley. I felt slightly sick and had slight stitch but decided not to worry about it as I was likely to be out for a long time, and hence it had plenty of time to improve. That was an accurate observation.

The first bit of climbing was relatively short, but quite steep in places. It didn't take long to get up to Argentiere, and I saw Ali for the first time when we ran under Pierre a Ric (the red run down from Lognan). After Argentiere things got a bit tougher. It was up hill to the top of the Col de Montets, and then depressingly down hill towards Vallorcine. Depressingly because I knew we'd have to gain all the height again fairly soon. Still, it was a lovely sunny morning and despite the uncomfortable stomach I was running briskly enough.

Once in Vallorcine the course turned sharp right, and up. And up. And up... After a long time walking up steep switch backs through the woods we hit the piste. I know the Chamonix area well from skiing and I know thats a blue run and not steep. Or, so I thought. Blue runs it turns out are frickin' steep when you have to run up then! We ran past the top of the Vallorcine bubble and I knew for sure that the next section was almost flat. For sure! Show's what I know. We carried on up. I knew it was a long way to the top of the Possettes having skied off it enough times. But running up it in the heat brought a whole new appreciation as to how high 2200 metres actually is.

Eventually we reached the top and started the descent. It was steep and technical and fun! I flew (for a fairly low value of 'flew') down, passing more people than I was being passed by which was the goal. Despite the heat I was feeling good and bounded down and was soon on the less technical section in the forest above Le Tour. And here suddenly my legs stopped feeling quite so good. Oh dear I thought, this doesn't feel right.

I had worked out if I was back in Tour at 3:30 I was looking good for a 5:30 time. And indeed it was exactly three and half hours when I ran out into the Tour car park, waved at Ali and headed on. Outside Tour I felt really wasted, and walked to eat a gel (by the end I had got through 8).  The gel down, I started running again. We were soon through Montroc for the second time, through an aid station (where I had a couple of pieces of cheese which went down well), across the main road and on the path up to Flegere.

Up. Again. By now I was able to run, but could barely lift my legs on the climbs. People started to pass me and I realised that 5:30 was not on the cards. I limped along. It's a stunning route though I wasn't really in a state to take it in. It seemed to go on forever and at started to think that eight hours was probably a more likely time.

After a lengthy period I saw something up ahead - a lift! The far end of the Brevent-Flegere ski area! I knew that meant the end was, whilst not exactly near, at least in sight. I struggled up the piste towards the lift station and another aid station. Some coke and a couple of pieces of orange perked me up. I left the aid station (ignoring the sign advising walkers it was 2 hours to Flegere) at a run. And, miracle of miracles, actually started to feel better. I was passing people and feeling pretty good. Maybe sub six hours could still be on the cards!

At 5:30 I passed the three km to go sign. Could I do ten minute kilometres to the end? I wasn't sure, especially given I knew the last km was up hill. However it seemed vaguely feasible so I pushed on enthusiastically.

Finally I reached the bottom of the last climb. 12 minutes. I was, frankly, fucked. I ran as much as a could, but had to walk as it got steeper, managing to run again on the less steep sections. I could see the top now and hear the commentator encouraging people on.  With the crowds of spectators it looked a bit like a Tour de France hill top finish.

I was back to walking on the last steep section. I spotted Ali, who walked alongside me encouraging me on. With less than a minute to go I managed to start running again. The commentator was shouting enthusiastically (my addled brain wasn't up to much French my I got the gist - if I was quick I would be sub six).  With a last push I was finally over the line. I was handed my medal and slumped on a bench to recover.

After a few minutes I was back on my feet and look for some post race refreshment. MBC were providing beer. I took one (and more sensibly, some water) and found Ali. Ultimately the beer didn't prove a wise choice. It was welcome, but didn't sit too well on my stomach which on top of not having felt great for the whole race had had to absorb eight gels, assorted bit of energy bar, orange segments and cheese. It did at least stay down till I was out of the hire car!

It was a really good day. The organisation was fantastic and the support at the aid stations brilliant (I had my camelbak filled for me twice!). Will be back next year to try and get that 5:30!

Monday, 6 June 2011


I've twinged my back. Not related to tapering in anyway, but thought I'd open with it. Presumably a result of assorted twists in yoga last night combined with bad posture in my chair at work all day.

Anyway, as the title suggests I am now taking a bit easier in the run up to the Marathon du Mont Blanc. This week would have been an easy week anyway (as it was at the end of a three week 'hard' period), and following an extended weekend last week with lots of running and some mountain biking, and then on Wednesday an exquisitely painful massage my legs were well and truly knackered by the end of last week.

The bank holiday weekend consisted of mountain biking at Cwmcarn (the XC route, I'm not up to down hill), a local 12.5 ish mile very hilly route hard (1:50 - a new best), an easy hour round town and then finishing up on the Tuesday (I had an extended weekend) by running from one end to the Malverns and back. From the far south end to the north is 16km, > 1000m of ascent and took me 2 hours 10. The run back was presumably the same. But I took some slight short cuts on account of feeling properly stuffed. I got back to the car after 27km, 1400m of ascent and 3.5 hours (and a stop for a can of coke and cup of tea). The biggest bag of chip from the local chippy, smothered in salt, vinegar and ketchup was my unusual but well received recovery food.

So, the weekend just gone was quiet on the exercise front. Easy running and yoga. And we went to the EWR open day. It was a good afternoon, and the EWR folks were friendly and enthusiastic. I am really keen on the Lake Baikal thing. They were also giving away one of their arctic training weeks, which was won by the guy sitting next to me. Bah. However, all was not lost and Ali won 20 quid worth of Cotswold Outdoors vouchers, and the nice man from Bamboo Clothing who was there promoting their clothing gave us both a free top. I've only worn it round the house so far but I have to say its a fantastic material. Really comfortable. We got 10% off any orders in the next couple of weeks and I'll be taking advantage!

Anyway just under three weeks to go to the Cham Marathon. Aside from the Rough Ride next weekend it's all short stuff, with some fast runs thrown in the keep the lungs working and feet turning over. Really looking forward to being in Chamonix for a week in summer (even though it is a bit damp at the moment - hopefully the weather will improve).

Saturday, 21 May 2011


I was delighted this week to realise my 6th place in the recent ultra won me some money, as I was third male. 20 whole pounds cash*! Woot! I shall be the Endurance Life spending it as soon as I have decided what event to do next.

A busy week but managed some running. The hill out the back of the Farringdon Travelodge proved useful for hills reps. Having half an hour free early in the morning on Thursday I decided to see how many times I could run up and down it. Turns out, 12. The day before I had a pleasant trot through the city, checking out some old haunts. Quite a lot of new buildings, but good to see one of the worlds greatest cafes is still going - the Peoples Choice.

Today I tried a new run route. Out through Shurdington, up on to Crickley Hill, then along the Cotswold Way to Leckhampton Hill, and then Cleeve hill and home. 30km with nearly 900m of ascent, in three hours. Was quite pleased with the 10km average speed over that terrain.

A recovery baguette with four 'not bacon' strips and two fried eggs perked me up at the end, as did a trip to Go Outdoors. I love that place. The one in Gloucester is big! It's like a playground. I came back with a Osprey Raptor pack, a 10 litre water container (which means we can now have running water in the van - tested and it works!) and a Power bar (which I had eaten before I crossed the car park.

In other news - no rapture. Probably for the best, I've got stuff to do tomorrow.

* Not actual cash.

Sunday, 15 May 2011


It's been a lazy weekend. I thought I'd recovered pretty well from the Ultra. I ran on Tuesday and felt sprightly enough (and indeed had to run very quickly home from work to get to yoga), and again on Thursday though legs were feeling less sprightly.

However it seemed to have caught up with me by Friday. I was pretty shattered and after a massage my legs really felt heavy. I had planned a couple of hours running on Saturday, and biking on Sunday. Saturday dawned, and I still felt shattered. So, it became an easy day with a pleasant afternoon snooze followed by 'Moon' on BluRay (a great film). I was going to do a local British Heart Foundation on Sunday (today) with a friend, but he was unable to borrow a road bike (and quite reasonably didn't fancy it on a 'all mountain' mtb). Without that as a motivator I slept late and mooched around the house.

I have however indulged in some retail therapy. Some jeans and other clothes, and today, after umming and aahing for a year, I finally took the plunge. I am now the proud owner of a very snazzy looking Cube AMS Comp. But it's raining. And I don't want to get it dirty. So the Simpsons will do for now. Afan next weekend will be a good first ride.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

A long way

I think the title best sums up the Endurance Life ultra I did last weekend. We drove down to the Flete estate on the Friday evening after work, arriving to increasing gloom and rain which eventually became quite an impressive storm. We were very glad to have the van, rather than having to have put up a tent.

Registration opened the next morning at 0830, and with all of 50 metres to walk it was a leisurely start. The rain had stopped, and it was cloudy but dry. I was feeling excited right up until the point where I looked at the route details and saw the distance: 36.6 miles. Oh dear. I had anticipated 32 or 33 miles. The furthest I had run in one go in 2011 was 20 miles! And, like all Endurance Life events, it was likely to be a tough course (spoiler: it was).

Luckily I only had an hour to worry. At 0930 the small group doing the ultra set off. The course consisted of two loops and an estuary crossing (so the race starts were timed so that we crossed at low tide). The half marathon (15 miles) did the first of the loops, ending with the watery crossing. The full marathon (a mere 28 miles) did both loops and ended with the water crossing, whilst the Ultra did both loops, crossed the estuary and then off we went on the first loop again, shoes full of water.

The first loop was a pleasant, if rolling, run along the coastline, before turning round and heading back inland (after first ducking under an electric fence!). The group quickly split, and for a long while I ran with a couple of other intrepid racers. We hit a checkpoint at just under 12 miles quite quickly (1:36) and I was feeling very comfortable, though very aware that this was likely to change in short order. As we started the third member of our group dropped off, leaving me with Diane Roy who was looking very strong (and went on to be first woman and second over all). The second loop headed away from the start inland, before hitting the coast, and heading back in along the coastal path.

We arrived at the sea front at around the three hour mark, with Diane having pulled ahead by a couple of hundred metres. At this point there was a nice flat mile on the beach, before we picked up the costal trail and things got...hard. I was definitely feeling the distance at this point, and we progressed along the costal path in a wearing rhythm - a steep climb up to the cliff tops, a short rolling section, a steep descent down to a beach, followed by a steep climb up to the cliff tops etc etc. Diane was occasionally visible silhouetted against the sky as she crested the top of a hill I was just starting to slog up.

Eventually I arrived at the estuary and headed up stream to the crossing point. Ahead I could see figures making their way across the water - the half marathoners at the end of their race. At this point I was passed by Oliver Sinclair. We chatted briefly, before he quickly pulled away.

The river crossing wasn't too bad. Cold, but not deep. I was quickly across, and was briefly amongst all the half marathon runners. Then they turned up to the finish, and I, somewhat reluctantly, headed out on the first loop for the second time. I was pleased with my time to that point - approx 4:30 which wasn't bad for 28 miles.

At this point my legs were tired, but I felt pretty good, The pace was slow, and I walked on the steep bits but was fine. As I ducked under the electric fence for the second time and approached the final steep climb I could see Oliver at the top. I was, by my estimates, 4th at that point, and was vaguely hoping I could hold on. The run back was fairly easy, though given the distance we had covered by then, not quick. With some three miles to go, I looked back and for the first time in ages saw another runner. She caught and passed me quickly, and pulled away looking strong. Ok, fifth I thought. I can hold on to that. The descent down to the estuary had been fast the first time, but on tired legs was much trickier. I also quickly realised it would mean we would be finishing with a climb back to the start/finish.

A brief section of flat along the water front and it was indeed up hill. With probably just a few hundred metres to go, I heard something behind me, looked back and saw another runner approaching. No way I thought and speeded up as best I could. It was to no avail - I was passed by (according the the results) Helen Bennett, who was positively flying. I have absolutely no idea how she was able to sprint up hill like that after that distance. Suitably impressed I slogged on to the finish, and sixth overall in 6:29.

It was great course, and I was delighted with myself for completing it. Endurance Life did their usual brilliant job of organising, and all the EL staff were friendly and helpful.

The Domino's Vegetarian Supreme pizza was well received that night!

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Ultra run shopping

Food shopping for a couple of nights camping and doing an ultra makes you look like some sort of sugar and noodle freak. Pain au chocolate, mini cheddars, jaffa cakes, super noodles, some red bull. Plus some baps and vegetarian sausage - can't beat a sausage sandwich after a long run. Chuck in some SIS Rego, or the For Goodness Shakes recovery stuff and we're set.

Weeks before races always seem to be really busy at work. A long day today, and in London tomorrow so an early start. At least I can sleep on the train.

Otherwise all set really. Chuck the stuff in the van, and off we go!

Monday, 2 May 2011

Weekend away

Just back from a pleasant weekend camping in the van in Combe Martin, on the north Devon coast. Really nice little town, and the coast there is amazing. Miles of cliffs, deep wooded valleys and Exmoor just inland. A real variety of terrain.

Views are good.

All confirmed for the Endurance Life ultra next weekend. In the pub yesterday evening Ali realised you had to book camping separately - I had mistakenly assumed it came with the entry. The deadline to book was 1 May, so we hastily booked over 3G there and then.

A week of tapering now. Legs are appreciating it, having not really had a break since before we went skiing. Hopefully by Saturday I'll be raring to run!

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

First post of 2011

Hum, well it's been a while since I blogged. Apologies to my doubtless legions of readers. So what have I been up to I hear you ask? When I last posted I was still hobbling. I have subsequently had many massages (ITB release is very painful), done a lot of yoga and various exercises to support the knee and ITB. The upshot is I am more or less pain free, aside from the odd twinge in my right knee which still has a bit of inflammation after long runs.

The winter was good. Four weeks skiing (over three trips), cut short from five for various reasons but in the end a good decision due to the poor season in the Alps. On our last trip we spent four days touring with Hannah Burrows Smith. It was a great few days. Our first experience of staying in mountain huts and we both really enjoyed it. After a day on the Argentiere glacier we headed to Arolla in Switzerland, and from there up to the hut. There was an exciting ladder en route to the hut.

The next day we skinned up Mont Blanc de Cheilon. It was a fab day, and for the most part we had the mountain to ourselves. The following day we headed over the Pigne d'Arolla, which is on the Haute Route. There were one or two other people around.

It was a great trip, with the camper van coming into its own - you can't beat a fresh cup of tea and a nice sit down after a long day skiing. There a whole bunch of my pictures here.

As for running, so far this year I have done the Forest of Dean half, in a not very spectacular 1:33. Was happy enough though, as had a friend staying that weekend and the night before had been somewhat less than ideal preparation. Next event is the Edurancelife running festival. I qualified for the marathon, but am planning on doing the ultra instead (provided I can switch) as am feeling reasonably perky. Then it's the 75km Torq Rough Ride with some friends, and then in June the Marathon du Mont Blanc, which I am very much looking forward to.

Training has been going pretty well. The year started consistently, but at the end of Feb I got a heavy cold which mutated into a sinus infection and in the end needed antibiotics to clear it. That caused four weeks of patchy exercise, though I did manage to get out a bit. Since skiing I have managed to get some decent solid hilly miles in, making the most of the Easter weekend and the sunshine culminating in a tough 18 miles yesterday. I was delighted this morning when my run to work was brisk and felt good, though I feel pretty tired this evening. It's these last two weekends which convinced me to try the ultra in a couple of weeks. I reckon I'm good for thirty odd miles if I pace it properly!