I had never done a full Mountain Marathon before, but for for a while had been keen to give one a go. Ed and Helen from the Harriers have done the Saunders Lakeland Mountain Marathon the last few years, and said that they would be doing it again this year. Alan, also from the club, has been doing these events for years, and when he asked me if I wanted to join him in a team, I quickly accepted and signed us up.
A Mountain Marathon is "an extended form of fell running, usually over two days and often with a strong orienteering element. Competitors usually participate in teams of two, and have to carry their own food and tent". There are various classes which vary in length and difficulty so you can choose the class that suits you. Since Alan was experienced at these self-nav events, and with us being of similar speed, and the fact that we both like long days out running in the mountains, we decided to take on the Bowfell class, which was the hardest pairs course. Having Alan as a partner was really useful as he was able to share his expertise and experience and it made selecting which kit to take a lot easier - you have to keep weight to minimum!
Having done a fair bit of wild camping and bivvying in the past, I was used to selecting appropriate kit, and making sure I didn't take too much, however, this took it to the extremes! Whereas wild camping I normally take a 60 litre backpack, for this, I used an OMM Adventure 20 pack (20 litre). Each pair had to carry a tent and enough food for the weekend, plus each runner was required to carry smaller mandatory items (compass, map, gloves, hat, torch etc). Essentially, all I took was a sleeping bag and mat, dry clothes, food for us both, stove and pan, and the smaller mandatory kit. Alan carried the tent (Alpkit Ordos 2) which weighed the same as the food and stove/pan.
We left Belper on the Friday evening, with me unsure as to what exactly I was letting myself in for this weekend. I knew that the winners of the Bowfell class were expected to be out running for about 9-10 hours over the 2 days. We would obviously be out a bit longer! Other than that, I was going into the unknown, but was really looking forward to it as there's not much that comes close to spending the day running in the high mountains.
We knew the event was going to be in the Lakes, but it was only a month before the event that we founnd out the start location, Pooley Bridge near Ullswater. I wasn't too familiar with this area and was looking forward to seeing another area of the Lakes. Other than the start location, you don't know where the controls are going to be placed, or even where the overnight camp was going to be. You find all this out on the start line.
On day 1, you are allocated a start time (8:40 for us), at which point you're handed a map of the area, and a seperate piece of paper showing the grid references of the controls, and a brief description of the their location (eg. stream bend or crag foot). You then have to mark the positions of the controls on your map and then start navigating your way to the first one.
After marking on the controls on the map, Alan and I set off towards the first one. Often the quickest way from one control to the next is to go as directly as possible, not using paths, so we headed off up a ravine and then over boggy, tussocky, marshland. However, you want to make sure you're not losing height or climbing unnecessarily. Unlike 'normal' orienteering, the controls are not immediately obvious - they're not hanging from gates or walls, but are often lying on the ground, so sometimes you can be be stood within a couple of yards of one but can't find it!
The weather was always changing, one minute heavy showers, another minute sunshine and the next cold winds. Thankfully, visibility was very good so this made navigation a lot easier than it could have been if the clag was down. Despite being tough underfoot, everything went well. With Alan's experience, we were able to find the controls quite confortably. In hindsight, we could have chosen a better route between controls 1 and 2 - we should have gone up onto a ridge and taken a high line, but instead we took the direct route, going up and down about 4 different valleys, all off-path.
Day 1 finished with a very tough final climb with us on all fours, with every single muscle in the leg screaming for you to stop, and then a final descent down to the finish which was lethal underfoot - about half a mile, averaging 45% gradient, of wet grass and sporadic rocks - one runner had fallen down a ravine just before us, and another followed them shortly after us, both having to be airlifted to hospital (read news article here). This event is not for the faint hearted!
We finished day 1 in a satisfactory 9th place. We had been running for 7 hours 5 minutes, covering just over 22 miles with 8,000ft of height gain - that was a very tough day out!
Arriving at the overnight camp we quickly got the tent up and put on our dry clothes. Both of us were exhausted and after lying down, struggled not to fall asleep! It was raining outside so there was not much to do other than eat or sleep. For dinner we had brought a Pot Noodle (the container can be re-used), cous cous, tinned mackeral fillets in curry sauce, and custard with melted Mars bar. It was also nice to catch up with Ed and Helen and see how they had got on after their day.
After day 1, I was not sure how my legs would hold up for day 2, however, after a pleasant nights sleep, I awoke feeling refreshed and ready for another day running. Suprisingly the legs weren't that achey and after a bowl of porridge and cup of coffee, we took the tent down, collected the day 2 control descriptions marking them on the map, and set on our way. It was a mass start this time (between 8 and 8:30), so there was steady stream of people making their way up the first climb. Alan and I managed to run most of this, and soon we branched off-path again heading for the first control.
Again navigation went well and both Alan and I were running well - we even managed to get the fastest times between checkpoints 3-4, and 4-5. Unfortunately though, on the very last control, we took the wrong bearing and miscalculated the direction we had to head in. We didn't realise our mistake and spent a good 15 minutes searching the area for the control. In the end, we realised what had happened and finally made our way to the correct location.
Day 2 was tough, but not quite as tough as day 1. We ran for 4 hours 51 minutes, covering 18 miles with 4,500ft of height gain.
In the end, after both days we finished in 10th place overall (11 hours 57 minutes, just over 40 miles, and about 12,500 feet of height gain) - if it wasn't for the final control mishap on day 2, we would have been a few places higher, but as it was our only major mishap all weekend, we can't complain. All in all, we think we were off-path for about 90% of the time we were running - this is very tough and tiring running!
At the finish, we were rewarded with cumberland sausage, potatoes and mushy peas, coffee and chocolate cake, and both Alan and I were exhausted. It was one of the toughest weekends that I've ever experienced, but I loved every minute, and will definitely be back for more! Thanks to Alan for expert navigation, for driving and not snoring in the tent!
View Day 1 on Strava
View Day 2 on Strava
I wouldn't normally do a write-up for a short, mid-week fell race, however, after the Grindleford fell race, I just had to! This was the first time I had been able to do the race, as last year we were mountain biking in the Alps. It was pre-entry this year, so I signed up, and as a few of the other Harriers had commented how good a race it was, I was really looking forward to it.
As I left Belper, the sun was shining and it looked like it could be a nice evening. However, before I had left, I checked the weather forecast, and it said something very different - heavy rain from 6pm onwards. Lovely. As I got nearer to Grindleford, the sky darkened, and sure enough, the rain began to fall. I sat in my car watching the heavy rain, waiting for the a gap in the shower. Fortunately I had my OMM waterproof so after collecting my number, I went off for a brisk warm-up. The rain was still falling, but thankfully it was quite mild, so stripping down to my Harriers vest wasn't too bad despite the rain.
There were about 370 runners registered for the race, and we all accumulated on the cricket pitch ready for the start. Myself, Ed and Sean were the Belper representatives, and we positioned ourselves at the front of the pack. The race was advertised as 4.5 miles, with 499ft of climbing - due to the shortness of the race, I decide to push hard from the off, attacking the climb, and then try and hold my own on the descent.
The race started with a lap of the cricket pitch, before we wound our way round and started the first climb. Start loops are always fast, so I tried to get as close to the front as possible to position myself for the upcoming climb. The climb was all runnable, but quite technical in places, made even more tricky with the soft ground and very slippy rocks and tree roots. The main climb was about 1 mile long, and I was very pleased with how I ran. I overtook a handful of runners in the bottom section and then started pulling away from them, closing in on the group ahead. It was all going well until I ducked under a tree or rock (I don't know which), and lifted my head prematurely, smacking my head on the hard object above. Despite feeling dazed, I ploughed on not wanting the runners behind to gain any ground, but after touching the top of my head, I realised there was blood. I carried on, feeling a little light headed, every now and then checking to see if I was still bleeding - I was. After the steepest part of the climb, there was about half a mile of steady uphill, moorland bog. This was tough going, especially with the driving rain and incessant bogs underfoot.
We summitted in Longshaw Estate and a fast forest road followed, before we started to descend through the woods towards Padley Gorge. I love this area of the Peaks, and the running is so much fun, with it being technical underfoot at times, however, due to the rain, it was even more technical than normal, with the rocks and roots very slippery, and the ground inbetween very soft. I was really confident in my footwear (Salomon SLAB Sense 3 Ultra SG shoes) and pushed on through the rocks, hopping from one to the other, or slaloming my way through with smaller steps. I closed in on a couple of guys ahead and flew past them.
After a brief stretch on the road, we turned off and started descending down to the River Derwent. I was chasing the two guys ahead of me, and being chased myself by a pack of 3/4 runners. Turning a corner in one of the fields lay a line of flagstones, however, since I was carrying so much speed I overshot the stones, straight into a waiting bog, up to my waist. That brought me to an abrupt halt, but thankfully I managed to clamber out quickly before the chasing pack made too much ground. Sprinting across the next field, we then dropped down to the Derwent and proceded to wade across. Due to the amount of rain we had recieved over the last few days, I was expecting the water level to be higher than it was and a raging torrent, but it only came up to my knees so I was able to cross quite easily. A final sprint across the cricket pitch brought you to the finish.
I was really happy with how I'd run (despite the cut head and bog), and pleased with how everything had come together for the race. I finished in 12th place out of 321 starters, and with it being a Peaks race with a good quiality field, I was pleased with this result. My head was still bleeding, and the rain still falling hard, so after catching up with Ed, I decided to make a quick getaway. I also wanted to get my car off the saturated cricket pitch as soon as possible as I could just tell it would soon be a mission getting all the cars off the field!
View run on Strava
Man v Horse is becoming an annual event for me. Since it is based in Llanwrtyd Wells, just 5 minutes down the road from Beulah where Lily grew up, this has been an event that Lily has grown up with, regularly taking part over the years. Llanwrtyd Wells is apparently Britain's smallest town, and also the town that hosts the world bog snorkelling championships and the world MTB chariot racing championships. Everyone from around the area turns up for the day, either running or watching, and it is a great event and day out. Man v Horse is, as the name suggests, a race that pits man against horse, over a 22 mile, mountainous, off-road course. The challenge is for man to beat the first horse home - a feat that has only occurred twice in the 25 year history of the event. I first took part last year, and thoroughly enjoyed it, coming in 10th human, and 24th overall (including horses and relay teams), however the conditions last year were awful, with torrential rain, and deep bogs thoughout which contributed to the cramp I got towards the end.
This year, leading up to the event the weather was looking promising. It had been dry for some time, however 24 hours before the race, it began raining and it didn't stop until the morning of the race. Thankfully we had decided to stay at Lily's parents rather than camp, so after a good night sleep, I woke up ready and excited for the race. It was dry, but humid. After picking up my number, Lily and her brother ran off down the course (with local knowledge they knew all the shortcuts!) and I went off for a warm up and made my way towards the start in the center of Llanwrtyd Wells. It was heaving, with runners and supporters mingling. As well as the solo runners, there were also the first leg runners from the relay teams. A relay team is made up of 3 runners - the other 2 legs had already been bussed off to the various changeover points around the course.
Shortly before the start, the horses were paraded through. They were due to start shortly after the runners for safety reasons. At 11am the gun sounded and off we went. Similar to last year, I decided to start at a conservative pace. The first mile is on road so it's easy to go off too fast - you just have to remember the race is 22 miles long so pacing is key! It's hard to distinguish who you are competing against - fellow solo runners or someone who was part of a relay team. The only indication is the colour of the number, but this isn't always easy to see, so you have to take care not to increase your speed to try and keep up with the runner in front as they may be a relay runner.
Shortly after the start, the climbing began. Initially rocky climbs, but then a combination of forest road and grassy moorland. The majority was runnable, with the exception of some very steep rocky, boggy and thorny sections.
I was pleased with my pacing and how I started, however after only 5.5 miles, the ground began to shake and rumble, and the first horse came flying past! I was suprised how soon I had been caught. Last year I made it to about 8 miles before the first horse caught me. I guess the conditions this year favoured the horses more. Shortly afterwards, a few more came flying past.
The first relay changeover point was at 6.5 miles, and I had arranged to meet Lily here. I had given her a couple of bottles of electrolyte drink for her to give me at the various points I saw her, as well as a couple more gels to replenish my supply. I think lack of electrolyte last year was one of the reasons why I cramped up so badly. I also made sure that I took on water at ever water station around the course (about every 3/4 miles).
Around the 8 mile mark, we encountered the biggest hill yet. It was predominantly runnable, with a few walking sections thrown in. I made some ground on the guys around me, taking a few places, and being overtaken once. With the exception of a runner overtaking me about a mile from the finish, that was the last time I was overtaken in the race.
Through open moorland and forests we went. It was a great route, and thankfully since it was fairly clear, some of the views were stunning. I met Lily again at the 15 mile mark (second relay changeover), and it was great running through a funnel of runners waiting to begin their legs. It was a cauldron of noise as everyone was cheering you one, and after about 2 hours of running it was a great boost.
We were now in the last section of the race, with a steep climb coming up. Again, due to the terrain I had to walk some of it. I saw a handful of guys ahead of me, and I was determined to catch them. I felt good, so after reaching the top of the climb, I made my way after them. I soon started picking them off and over the next 3/4 miles I must have caught about 4 or 5 other runners. A few more short, steep climbs followed, and shortly before dropping off the last hill to the finish, there were more bogs! It was here where I cramped up last year. Thankfully, due to the fact I was in better shape at this point in the race, and that I had some time between me and the guy behind, I slowed down and picked my way carefully though.
There was one last obstacle before the finish, and that was a thigh deep river crossing. This was great fun, and the ice cold water was soothing on the tired legs.
In the end I crossed the line in 3:03:19 (this is actually 12 minutes slower than last year, but the course was significantly different this year, and a mile longer). I came 28th overall (including horses and relay teams) out of 857, and 13th solo runner out of 630. Lily and I will definitely be back again next year. It's such a fantastic event, and one I thoroughly recommend!
View run on Strava
After Lily and I had planned our week in the Lakes, I noticed that one of the Lake District classic fell races was due to take place, the Fairfield Horseshoe. I had heard about this race, and was keen to see for myself what it was like. I had only ran in one Lakes fell race previously, the Buttermere Shepherds Meet last year. That was a tough race, and it was only 1.8 miles! I therefore knew that this would be hard going to say the least, as I've come to realise that you cannot compare the Lakes and the Peaks when it comes to fell running!
Lily had decided not to race, but 8 other Harriers came up specially. It was another cracking day, and the atmosphere was great on the registration field as we milled around prior to the start. The race itself was advertised as 9 miles with 2,999ft of elevation. After all the running I had already done this week, I wasn't sure how my legs would hold up, however, it turned out that I think the runnning had made me even stronger.
From the start we headed up a rough track before heading off-path, and sharply upwards towards the ridge above Nab Scar. This was a tough hands on knees climb, but I felt as though I held my own. Once on the ridge, we were able to begin running again, whilst still climbing. At times rocky, and at times grassy, it was good runnable climb, interspersed with steeper sections where I was forced to walk. However, I didn't necessarily mind these walking sections as it allowed me to look around and admire the view - seeing the views across to the Scafells certainly nulled some of the pain I was experiencing! Halfway up the climb I turned around and saw fellow Harrier Alan a couple of runners back - he was running really well. Upwards we climbed, going around Heron Pike, and over Great Rigg, with Fairfield ahead of us gradually getting closer. We finally reached the summit, Alan and I side by side, where Lily was waiting, and thankfully I was able to grab a mouthful of water off her before the long descent began.
I have really noticed that my descending has improved in leaps and bounds over the last year, andI thought this would be good test. I set off from the summit, letting gravity pull me down. The descent itself, was about 5 miles in length, pure ridge running. It was one of the best descents I've ever experienced, and as we were able to take any line we wanted, runners were everywhere! On the technical, rocky parts of the descent, I was able to hop from rock to rock quickly - I only fell down once, catching my foot on a tuft of grass (on probably the least technical part of the descent!), but thankfully it was a very smooth landing, and after a roll, I bounced back up again. I was very pleased with how I descended, overtaking between 15/20 other runners.
In the end, I came home in 32nd place out of 317 starters, a result I was very pleased with. It was a great day out with the other Harriers, topped off with a nice drink and cake in the Golden Rule pub in Ambleside.
10 miles, 3,006ft of elevation.
View run on Strava
Wow, what a week that was! Lily and I had been planning a week camping up in the Lakes for sometime, and we'd both been looking forward to getting away and doing some running in the mountains. I was also hoping to use this week to reccy some more of the Bob Graham Round, and a number of Belper Harriers were hoping to come up and join us for the Lake District classic, the Fairfield Horseshoe fell race on the Saturday.
Leading up to the week, the weather was not great and we were in two minds whether we should change the tent for a cottage, but fortunately, the weather improved dramatically and the weather turned out to be incredible, perfect for camping and mountain running - clear blue skies with no clouds and temperatures getting towards 20 degrees.
We decided to camp in Grange in Borrowdale for the first part of the week due to its proximity to the various mountains we wanted to run over, and with it being a great campsite. We then moved on later in the week to Chapel Stile in Langdale, as this was nearer to Rydal where the Fairfield Horseshoe was to start.
On the Sunday we decided to reccy BGR Leg 1. We did this before at the end of last year, however the weather was not great which made navigating harder than it should have been. However this time, the weather couldn't have been better. Lily had planned to run/walk from Latrigg up over Skiddaw and back down the Cumbria Way. She dropped me in Keswick and I set off, catching her on Jenkin Hill half way up Skiddaw. The views were magnificent on the top, allowing me to see the lines coming off Skiddaw, up Great Calva and up Blencathra.
Coming off Skiddaw was so much easier this time as I wasn't in thick cloud, and I could clearly see the stile I needed to take to get over the fence to descend to Hare Crag. I easily picked up the trod and descended down, thankfully this time with much fewer bogs in the way! Since I had already run Leg 1 before, there was no need for the map throughout the run as I was able to go from memory throughout.
The climb up Great Calva was easy enough, and heading up I met another guy reccying the route. We seemed to be going at similar pace, but after a brief chat at the summit he hopped over the fence and started descending down the fence line. Previously, I had taken the direct line off the summit through the thick heather as there was a very smll trod, so I thought it would be good to compare lines, mine against his. So I headed off but due to the time of year, I just couldn't find my trod! So, I headed towards the fence line, hopped back over the fence and raced down a well worn line with the fence to my right, trying to keep the guy ahead in my sights. It turns out that, that this way off Great Calva is probably a lot safer and more reliable, as you simply follow the fence, and then follow Wiley Gill until it joins the River Caldew. Last time it was hard to find a decent crossing point of the river, but on this new line, the crossing was easy.
The climb up Blencathra was a drag as always, but I made sure to keep turning round and enjoy the views. My next decision was which line to take off the summit of Blencathra. Previously I took Doddick Fell, but since the weather was near perfect, this time I chose to take Hall's Fell. This is a lot more technical than Doddick, and the upper section reminded me of Striding Edge. I eased my way down and soon the running became easier. In hindsight, I'm still not sure which line would be quicker to take - I know that Doddick would be safer though!
Upon reaching Threlkeld, I caught up with the guy from earier, Andrew. He was about to run Leg 2 as well, and has a BGR attempt on 10th June, aiming for 20/21 hours. He asked if I fancy joining his support team, which is very tempting and would be great experience prior to my attempt. Despite not overly pushing myself, I reached Threlkeld in exactly 3 hours, which I was really pleased with. This is actually under 18 hour pace - something I will most certainly not be aiming for!
BGR Leg 1 (Keswick to Threlkeld): 12.4 miles, 5,017ft of elevation.
View run on Strava
The following day (Monday) I planned to run BGR Leg 4. Lily had some work to do so it made sense for me to head off running for the day. Leg 4 starts in Wasdale which is one of the most inaccessible valleys in the Lakes, and ends at Honister. I therefore needed to find a way of getting to Wasdale without using a car. The simple answer, run!
Lily dropped me off first thing in the morning in Seathwaite, and I set off, taking the bridleway up Styhead Gill towards Styhead Tarn. Again, the weather was incredible, but it was even hotter this time, and by the time I reached Wasdale after 5.5 miles and just over an hour of running, my bladder in my Salomon vest was nearly empty. Thankfully the line up Yewbarrow goes alongside a beck so I was able to refill easily.
Leg 4 begins with a brutal climb out of Wasdale up Yewbarrow (there is no easy way out of Wasdale!). Whilst only 0.7 miles, it averages 42%. And there is no path. Thankfully, over the years a very small trod has been indented into the mountainside by fellow Bog Graham runners, so I was able to follow this faint line. I had not reccied Leg 4 before so I was reliant on the map and route notes to ensure that I was picking the fastest and most efficient lines - like on Yewbarrow, there are various trods created over the years which don't follow recognised paths, and it was key that I could find these. I also had GPS in my Viewranger app if required. Thankfully, since the weather was so good and clear, I could clearly see where I needed to go and more ofthen than not, which lines I had to take.
I had read that when Billy Bland ran his record breaking BGR (13:53), the only time he had a slight meltdown was on the ascent of Red Pike, so I was cautious of this climb! However, despite being a drag, especially after Yewbarrow, it wasn't too bad - although it since turns out looking on my GPS trace, that I went to the wrong summit and missed the actual one by about 20 yards! The only real issue I had, was finding Steeple. This is after Red Pike, but is out of view, just over the far ridge. Due to this, I started heading towards Haycock, but thankfully quickly worked this out and corrected my line.
The rest of the run went smoothly, and it was a really enjoyable day out in the high fells. After Steeple, I summitted Pillar (where I stopped for a quick sandwich), Kirk Fell, and then Great Gable. Both Kirk Fell and Great Gable are hard, steep, rocky climbs, especially after descending from the previous peak, but a slow and steady hand on knees climb brings you out eventually to the top. Once on top of Great Gable, that is the last big climb of the round done. A rocky descent follows before a quick climb up Green Gable, and then a very smooth, runnable line takes you over Brandreth and Grey Knotts. Finally it is a very steep and fast descent down to Honister where the leg finishes.
On my GPS, the leg was only 11.7 miles, but took 4:28 (with moving time of 3:25). Like on Leg 1, I was very pleased with this effort, and felt I had more in the tank - it turns out I ran this leg at 19/20 hour pace. The final issue when I reached Honister was that I had no phone signal, so the only way back to the campsite in Grange was to run! Thankfully this was nearly all downhill. After 6.5 hours and 21 miles of incredible running, I finally reached Grange, and a lie down in the River Derwent followed to soothe the legs. That was a fantastic day out in the mountains.
BGR Leg 4 (Wasdale to Honister): 11.7 miles, 5,731ft of elevation.
View run on Strava
On the Wednesday Lily and I decided to head out and run one of our favourite routes - part of the Newlands horsehoe. We have both run this before, and decided to head out from the campsite in Grange towards the bottom of Dale Head, at which point follow Tongue Gill as it climbs steeply towards the old slate mines. Once above the mines, it flattens out and after crossing some pretty boggy ground, you reach Dalehead Tarn.
Lily decided to head up High Spy and make her way along the ridge towards Cat Bells, whereas I went for an out and back up Dale Head. In comparison to the climbs previously undertaken on Leg 4 of the BGR, this wasn't too bad. After enjoying the 360 views at the summit, I decided to take the Borrowdale race route off the summit - straight off the side back down to Dalehead Tarn. Whereas it took 16 minutes to reach the summit going up, it only took me 4:30 coming down! It was an exhilarating descent, and one I can't wait to do in the Borrowdale fell race later this year!
I then set out to try and catch Lily, heading up High Spy and over Maiden Moor before dropping down to the col before Cat Bells. It really is great running over that ridge, with great views all around, and great terrain to run over. I saw Lily coming off Cat Bells and arranged to meet her back at the col after I had summited and then turned back. A fast descent off Cat Bells followed, and then a steady run back through the valley to Grange and a nice jacket potato at the tea rooms. After all the running so far that week, I was pleasantly surprised how well my legs were coping, and how well I was climbing. I felt really strong and could really notice how the training is paying off.
9 miles, 3,125ft of elevation.
View run on Strava
I signed up for the Yorkshire 3 Peaks fell race back in January as soon as the entries opened. I knew it was a popular race, and had heard how prestigious it was and wanted to experience it for myself. The one downside planning to do this race, was that it was only 6 days after the London Marathon. I therefore knew that my performance in this race would dependant on how I recovered after the marathon.
In the week following the marathon, I rested, running once, but made sure I went on the foam roller twice a day. I certainly feel this helped, and after a short run on the Tuesday, I finally felt that my body was mine again by Thursday. However, based on the fact that I knew I would still be tired come race day, I decided to run this race to enjoy it, and not worry about finishing position or time.
I arrived in Horton in Ribblesdale at 8:30am, and with the race starting at 10:30, this gave me plenty of time to register, have a bowl of porridge (as it was an early start, leaving home at 6:00, I was beginning to feel hungry again by this point), and do a short warm-up.
I knew it was a popular race, with over 1000 people registered - I'm not sure how many actually started, but it was certainly close to this number. After the kit check, which was very strict, and the race briefing, we made our way out of the big marquee to the start. The weather at this point was pleasant, a little bit of sun with a cool breeze, but looking towards Pen-Y-Ghent, you could see a considerable amount of snow on the top 200m. The organisers had warned us about up-coming showers, and a wind-chill of -4/5 on the summits, so we knew it would be a tough day out!
Thankfully, having run the route before (but not the race), I knew where I was going, and settled into a steady, confortable pace, letting the guys who I would normally be competing against pull away. As we made our way towards the summit of Pen-Y-Ghent (698m), the first peak, I saw the first 3 (Marc Lauenstein, Ricky Lightfoot and Tom Owens) coming back down towards me - they were certainly going well, and already 15 minutes ahead of me after about 4 miles! At the summit of Pen-Y-Ghent, we did a loop along the ridge through the ankle deep snow and bogs before descending. I was wearing my Salomon S Lab Sense Ultras, and I was very happy with this decision - the grip didn't fail me once in the very treacherous conditions underfoot, whilst people around me were going to ground quite regularly on the descents, and these were also the same choice of show for Ricky Lighfoot and Mira Rai.
By the time we arrived at the 3rd checkpoint at Ribblehead (about half way), another hail shower was starting, and looking up towards Whernside (736m), it looked like the weather was really turning, with the summit now hidden in the angry clouds. The climb up Whernside was different to the route the 3 Peaks walk goes, with the race going straight up to the summit, initially crossing a river, and good few rather deep bogs before the gradient ramps up, with the last mile to the top averaging 21%, climbing 1,177ft. After a hands on knees climb, I summited, directly into another vicious hail storm and strong winds. Visibility was severely reduced, and after dibbing in I made my way as quickly as I could off the summit - bearing in mind this was also covered in about 6 inches of snow, this was easier said than done! As I reached the bottom of Whernside, 3 mountains rescue vehicles came flying past me with their lights on, so it looks I like I got off that peak better than someone else!
Looking back on Strava, the leaders (Marc Lauenstein and Ricky Lightfoot) were finishing the race as I was in the valley between the 2nd and 3rd peaks!. I ploughed on and made my way towards Ingleborough (724m), and really pleased with my climbing, I made up a few places, but as we reached the really steep section, running ground to halt.
You may think that once you reach the top of Ingleborough that that's it, but in fact there's still about 4.5 miles to go back to Horton. This is where my body started to give up on me, and tiredness in the legs really hit. I trudged down, losing the places I'd made on the climb, but thankfully I wasn't too worried about that. Seeing the finish below was a welcoming site which lured me forward.
I finished in 4:11:46, in 247th place. All things considered, I was quite pleased to come in the top 250, but feel that if I really was racing properly, I could be about 20 minutes faster. All in all, a great race and great day. Superbly organised, and it was a privilege to take part in such a prestigious race. Here's to many more!
View run on Strava
So after 4 months of dedicated training, the day finally arrived: London Marathon day. This was my first London Marathon and I was keen to put in a good performance after prioritising this for the first part of the year - missing fell races and plenty of winter off-road running. Having previously done 3 marathons, I learnt this week that my last 2 were in fact now invalid due to the Manchester Marathon course being 380m short. Nice.
I was was pleased with how my training had panned out, culminating in a half marathon of 1:19 and a 20 miler of 2:12. I ran the 20 miler (San Domenico 20, which was hilly) at perspective marathon pace, 630/mile and came through comfortably. After some deliberating, I decided to aim for 6:27/mile for the marathon which would give me a time of 2:49, with the plan that if I found that too fast I could drop back to 6:30/mile which I knew from experience I could handle.
Lily and I went down to London early on Saturday morning with North Derbyshire Running Club who had hired a bus and arranged a marathon package for the weekend. Ed and Helen from Belper Harriers were also there, and it was nice to be with some familiar faces and great company. After swinging by the Expo at the Excel Centre to register, we made our way to the Marriott Hotel at BexleyHeath. Lily and I had a dip in the pool and jacuzzi, and spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing. Following a nice carb-rich dinner, it was early to bed for an early start.
We got dropped off at the start and made our way to the Good for Age pen where both Ed and I were starting. It was a cool morning with a considerable breeze, but thankfully the rain from earlier had cleared. I'm glad I had packed an old t-shirt and bin bag to wear to stay warm on the start line! Lily and Helen left us and went off further down the course to the 10k point.
I started well, hitting my splits and was pleased with how the first few miles were going. It was an undulating start, and I soon decided to drop back to 6:30/mile pace. Feeling comfortable, I continued at this pace through 10k, seeing Lily and Helen which was great. Cutty Sark was incredible, with the crowds like at a football stadium, and the noise deafening.
Still pleased with my pace and feeling comfortable, I went through the 12 mile mark, but suddenly going towards Tower Bridge (where, incidentally, the crowds were unbelievable) a stitch on my right side came on, quite sharply. From experience stitches in my right are usually down to pacing, but again from experience, I knew my pacing was good. This slowed me down going over the bridge, and for the next mile the stitch stayed. Going through half way (1:26), I was now worried thinking my race and plans were out the window as I still had 13 miles to go. I battled on, seeing Lily and Helen again at Canary Warf at mile 16 and again at Westminster at mile 25. Around the 15 mile mark, since the stitch was still lingering, I decided to ease off and just go for sub 3 hours, and at least try and enjoy the last 10 miles. As I had gone through halfway in 1:26, I knew I had time in the bank, and therefore eased off, running the last 10 miles at an average split of XXX/mile. In the end I finished in 2:57:22, so very happy to get my first sub 3 marathon. It wasn't my greatest run, and I know there's more in there and I'm capable of a faster marathon time.
I've been trying to work out why the stitch struck as I'm positive it wasn't down to pacing as this was the pace I'd run San Domenico in, and with it kicking in after only 12 miles, this is very early in the race. A few thoughts are that I'd not slept too well the last 2/3 nights, that the food I'd been eating the day before and on the morning of the race was slightly different to usual (the porridge in the hotel was creamy and with milk opposed to soya milk), or maybe the occasion got to me? I'm not sure, but I still loved the day, and the experience. A fantastic event with incredible support and atmosphere the whole way round and a must for any runner to experience! I can see why they say it's the best marathon in the world, and the crowds throughout were like nowhere else. Despite previously saying no more road marathons, there is unfinished business, so maybe one more next year... The immediate question now is, will I be recovered in time for the Yorkshire 3 Peaks fell race next weekend?!
View run on Strava
People often ask me, "why do you run?", and quite simply, the answer is "because I love it". What's not to love, being in the great outdoors, away from the office, escaping day-to-day life and routine? Yet, they don't always understand.
Each day, sat in the office I gaze out of the window at the beautiful Derbyshire countryside, my playground, and long to be out running the trails. Rain or shine, the lure is there, beckoning me to pull on my trainers and run. But, with bills to pay, running is often sacrificed. And what's more, I know there are many more people making the same sacrifice every day.
Many people who run, simply run on the road. On the boring, hard, monotonous pavements, surrounded by the noise and fumes from passing traffic. For some, it's unavoidable. For others, it's what they choose to do. For me, it's a temporary means to an end.
After 6 years of trying unsuccessfully through the ballot, I finally got a place in the London Marathon with a Good For Age qualifying time. After completing my 3rd marathon last spring, I claimed "never again" - not due to the distance or intensity, but due to the nature and type of the running involved, and sacfrices made during the training. I longed for the trails, for long days out running in the mountains, exploring new terrain. But, in order to 'tick one off the bucket list', I begrudgingly accepted my place, and I'm now back on the road, training for another marathon, counting down the days for it to be over. This will be my last road marathon... if I go sub 3!
What is there to love when running on the road? It gets you fit, yes, but can you enjoy it? I don't think so. Anyone who has run off-road has experienced the joy and freedom that it brings, and once you've tried it, surely there's no going back? When running on the road, you fall into the same old loops, constantly dodging cars and people, going up and down countless dropped curbs which can only lead to injury.
Compare that to off-road running. The freedom to explore, the opportunity to find new trails and seeing where they lead, and in some cases, going completely off path for the unique fell running experience. Every run is different. Conditions underfoot change all the time, colours change with the seasons, views continuously change with the weather. Through the winter when the days are short, running with a headtorch completely changes your perspective on the surroundings. Running off-road allows you to be at-one with the great outdoors - is there anything better?
For me, I love to plan, and I get just as much a thrill planning my run, as I do whilst running. Studying the OS map of the area I am about to explore, I picture myself on the ground, whilst plotting the perfect route, getting as much height gain as possible, pushing myself to the extreme. Whether it's the Peaks on my doorstep, or further afield in the Lakes or the Brecon Beacons, you never get bored as the world is your oyster and it's there to be explored.
Then there's racing. Fell racing is at the opposite end of the spectrum to road racing as far as the pomp and ceremony of the event goes. Without the big sponsorship deals and extortionate entry prices, the majority of fell races are under a fiver and entry on the day. Whether in a school, scout hut or local pub, registration is as basic as it comes - at the Buttermere Shepherds Meet fell race last year, registration was in the back of a sheep trailer, and the entry fee was a donation to a local trust. Then before you know it, you're lined up on the start line and you're off. No mass warm-up or blaring music, sometimes you don't even know the race is beginning.
Fell races don't just vary in distance, they vary in nature. Ranging from way-marked routes, to point-to-point self-navigation, to orienteering style events such as mountain marathons - you are kept on your toes, continously being tested in every way, and that's one of the things I love. It's not just running mindlessly down a straight road; you have to think. You have to think about your next step, avoiding rocks and boulders, but you also need to think about where you're going. With my love of planning and map reading, I love having the option to race while navigating, picking the best and fastest lines whilst trying to outwit my rivals. Following others, whilst a gamble, has worked in my favour in the past though. At the Totley Exterminator fell race last year I followed a local runner through some technical terrain on a non-existant path, but he took me on a lot faster route than the one I had previously reccied.
Put all the above together, and it's perfect. On the self-nav races or mountain marathons, you get it all. From the planning to the exploring, whilst racing competitively against others, nothing can compare, and there are certainly no equivalent road races.
One of the best aspects of fell running is dealing with the elements. Whatever is thrown at you, you have to embrace it and rise above it. Yes, you could argue this is the same when running on the road, but how much fun is it running down a grey, urban street in torrential rain and driving wind. But, imagine that same weather whilst being up high on a remote mountain ridge, in the clag, finding your way with map and compass, staying dry in a OMM Kamleika Race 2 jacket. Some would call this a nightmare. I call this perfection. Yes, I love running in the dry, enjoying the views on a glorious spring or summer day, but there is something special, alluring, about being isolated on a mountain side in extreme weather.
From an early age, mountains have been a part of me - although I'm told I was sometimes adverse it. When I was 5, I had to be bribed up Cat Bells in the Lakes with Opal Fruits by my Grandad - this is the Cat Bells, that according to Wainright is "a family fell where grandmothers and infants can climb the heights together". I might not have agreed then, but it's since become the first peak on one of my favourite Lakes District runs.
Come the 25th April, when London has been and gone, I will be back to where I belong. Local fell races in the surrounding area and the Peaks will be coming thick and fast, with the Yorkshire 3 Peaks race the next 'big one' on the agenda - the week after London. Whilst I have been dabbling in fell races during my road training, I've not done as many as I would have liked. Hopefully the legs will forgive me for neglecting the hills for the last few months, but I can't wait for that unique pain and torture that is experienced slogging your way up the steepest fell.
This year, the fell season promises to be exciting, and one of the best yet for me. Being a competitive runner and constantly striving for improvement, one of my goals this season is to improve on my race placings from last year, including hopefully getting a race victory. With the frequency of local evening races, the need for 'training' seems to go out the window, although there is something magical about being out for a casual run in the hills on a warm summers evening as the sun is setting. Alongside multiple evening and weekend races through the summer, the highlights for the rest of the season include the Yorkshire 3 Peaks, Man vs Horse, Saunders Mountain Marathon, Holme Moss, Borrowdale, and the Lake District 3 x 3000's, but I'll talk about these in more detail in future posts. As someone who has run multiple ultra marathons, the 3 x 3000's is the perfect climax to the season. It's going to be tough, 80k over the three highest peaks in the Lakes (Scafell Pike [3209ft], Helvellyn [3117ft] and Skiddaw [3054ft]), but it'll be something to aim for towards the end of the year. That's something else other people struggle to grasp - why would you want to run 50+ miles over the mountains in one go? That's for another day...
Then there is the dangling carrot of the Bob Graham Round - the 66 mile, 27,000ft circuit of 42 of the highest peaks in the Lake District within 24 hours. This is something that I became aware of a number of years ago, and originally thought was an insane idea, out of reach, and for people other than myself. However, the more I've run and the more I've improved, I know this is now something I'm capable of. Last year, various trips to the Lakes were taken to reccy the sections, with more scheduled inbetween races this year. The aim is for a 2017 attempt, although there is a slim chance it could be this year... especially if the prep for the 3 x 3000's goes well. I love a challenge, and the BGR is again perfect, especially with all the preparation and planning required beforehand. A very long day out in the high fells, pushing yourself to the limit, with the adrenaline and rush of going against the clock - tell me how you would experience the same feeling running on the road?
It's not all about racing or challenges though. One of my favourite ways to spend a day, is spending the day running in the high fells with my girlfriend or other fell-loving friends. It's less intense, yet just as enjoyable and we're all doing what we love.
I run for the journey, and the experience, not just for fitness. The mountains are there, and they need exploring - that thought is what drives me on; that is why I run. I can't wait for 5:30pm!
Kiss or kill. Besa o mata. Kiss glory or die in the attempt. Losing is death; winning is life. The fight is what decides the victory, the winner. How often have rage and pain made you cry? How often has exhaustion made you lose your memory, voice, common sense? And how often in this state have you exclaimed, with a broad smile on your face, "The final stage! Two more hours! Go, onward, upward! That pain only exists inside your head. Control it, destroy it, eliminate it, and keep on. Make your rivals suffer. Kill them." I am selfish right? Sport is selfish, because you must be selfish to know how to fight on while you suffer, to love solitude and hell. Stopping, coughing, feeling cold, not feeling your legs, feeling sick, vomitting, getting headaches, cuts, bleeding...can you think of anything better?
The secret isn't in your legs, but in your strength of mind. You need to go for a run when it is raining, windy, and snowing, when lightning sets trees on fire as you pass them, when snowflakes or hailstones strike your legs and body in the storm and make you weep, and in order to keep running, you have to wipe away the tears to see the stones, walls, or sky. The strength of mind to say no to hours of partying, to good grades, to a pretty girl, to the bedsheets against your face. To put your soul into it, going out into the rain until your legs bleed from cuts when you slip on the mud and fall to the ground, and then to get back on your feet and continue uphill until your legs cry out, "Enough!" and leave you marooned in a storm on the remotest peaks, until you die.
Leggings soaked by snow, driven on by the wind that sticks to your face and freezes your sweat. Feeling the pressure from your legs, the weight of your body bearing down on the metatarsals in your toes, pressure that can shatter rocks, destroy planets, and move continents. Legs suspended in the air, gliding like an eagle, or running faster than a cheetah. Running downhill, slipping on the snow and mude before driving yourself on anew, and suddenly you are free to fly, to shout out in the heart of the mountain, with only the most intrepid rodents and birds hidden in their nests beneath the rocks as your confessors. Only they know your secrets, your fears. Because losing is death. And you should not die before you have given your all, have wept from the pain and the wounds. And you cannot surrender. You must fight on to the death. Because glory is the greatest, and you can either aspire to glory or fall by the wayside. You cannot simply not fight, not suffer, not die...Now is the time to suffer, the time to fight, the time to win. Kiss or kill.