Player 1 vs The Serpent Trail

*** In the summer of 2018 I ran the Serpent Trail 100 event. Shortly afterwards I wrote a blog. possibly my favourite personal bit of writing to date. At some point later in the year I noticed the blog had vanished. WordPress claim it was deleted and unrecoverable. I sobbed a little. Over the months since I’ve tried to recreate it. It isn’t the same, it is no longer an original thought. It is merely an attempt at remembering what I wrote in 2018 and preserving my memory for old age. Either way, here it is…. ***

Player 1 vs Serpent Trail

The Serpent Trail. A serious of footpaths and routes weaving through West Sussex. Aptly named from the slithering shape it creates from Haslemere to Petersfield (and that it is a habitat to British species of snake). The 64mile path is home to a small (but growing!), local-ish race from Tom and the team at Freedom Racing. I just couldn’t say no to giving it a go. It would be good training for my upcoming CCC adventure.

I headed down after work on Friday where I planned to camp the night before the race. The organisers had arranged for a shuttle bus service to take us from the campsite at the finish line to the start in Haslemere. Nice and easy. After checking in and registering with a lovely friendly welcome, setting up tent and collecting my bib and dib-dab tracker whatsit I went to bed. It would be an early start with the bus leaving at 5am.

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Rolling start…Freeeeedom

I chatted to a few other tired runners on the bus and tried to get a little more shut eye in before I really had to wake up. A long day lay in wait. Arriving in Haslemere we walked to the start, hidden behind a pub and, just like that, we were off. A sort of rolling start began as we all just began running. Finding our stride, heading out on to the Serpent Trail we were off!

The early mile or two confirmed a few thoughts I’d had. My mind was in overdrive. The day was still very young. We’d not yet covered but a few miles and I could sense the challenge ahead. It was the height of summer. A warm one at that. The Serpent would become my nemesis. My opponent. The challenger I’d have to overcome. I recalled the computer games of my childhood. The early 90s. It reminded me of the platformers and the ‘beat em ups’. Player 1 vs the The Serpent Trail. I was in control.

Within barely a few miles I heard my name called out. I turned to meet the warm smile of Ally. We shared mutual friends. We’d never met but we’d been told about each other running. We ran and chatted and soon found out we were neighbours!

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Making friends on the trails

The sun had started to come out and the early morn was breaking. We celebrated the warmth of the daybreak by getting lost. Not alone though. Others followed us. Somehow we were tracking back the way we came. Ally felt familiarity in the route. She recalled a gate we went through. I wasn’t so sure until a little further along when I noticed a trail sign on the bottom of a tree. It was a weird place to put one and I’d spotted it first time we passed. We back tracked and were soon on the right path again. Joking with the camera man we saw for a second time.

The first aid station was soon a welcome sight. Today they would be spread out over a decreasing distance as we closed in on the finish. The first was ten miles in. We didn’t stay long. We grabbed some stuff and carried straight on. Passing through we saw a runner who’d already lost his battle to the Serpent. His head was wrapped in a bloody bandage. Sights like this often fill me with fear when running. Accidents can happen and when they do they can be pretty bad. The Serpent clearly had his tricks to try and win the battle.

Ally and I ran together for a fair few miles before eventually we went our separate ways. We promised not to get lost again. I broke that promise almost immediately. Before too long I was coming up behind Ally once more as we ran along a road section. I don’t know how it happened. But I could feel the draining effect it had. The Serpent sapping my energy with his mind games. I’d have to focus more. I couldn’t afford to keep getting lost. In the heat any extra distance I covered would mean the Serpent would pound me down and win this battle. Not today I thought. Not today.

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Early morning smiles (pre getting lost!)

Moving on, for the second time that morning I waved goodbye to Ally. We planned to meet again at the finish as she kindly offered me a lift back. That would be better than spending a second night sleeping in a field. The second checkpoint was a welcome relief. The sun was in a prominent position in the sky now. Whilst I chatted to the volunteers Ally rocked up. We were allowed drop bags at this checkpoint and Ally was well prepared. She’d frozen isotonic drinks in her softflasks and put ice packs in her drop bag to keep them cool. Genius. I was a little jealous. Well played Ally! Immediately after setting back out I was lost again. Somehow I’d missed a turn and was running alongside a field of sheep. They were noisily bleeping and leaping all over the place. Perhaps trying to tell me that I’d fucked up and gone wrong, again.

Back on track I thought about the battle. I thought about those videogames I used to play. Each character had their special skills, their power moves and weaknesses. I was starting to understand what I was up against in my opponent. The Serpent’s main weapon in the battle was the path itself. The terrain. The path would twist and turn. It would vary from forest paths, to dirt tracks, to rooty-tree lined tracks, sandy hills and occasional roads. As soon as you’d get accustomed to running on one surface, the bastard would switch it up. Thankfully the hilliest sections were in the first half of the course. But I could use this to my advantage – with hills come viewpoints. With winding paths come alternative views. The course was scenic and I’d use this to my benefit and enjoy whatever was presented to me.

Sometimes though the terrain was tough. There was one particularly fruity climb just before the third checkpoint. The Serpent was throwing it down to us. Challenging us. Taunting us. Reaching the top I was dripping with sweat. I took the chance to replenish my energy and I spent a little while at the aid station – joking with the volunteer and cheering through other runners making sure they dabbed in. He offered me a job. I declined and set back out. It was hot. Morning had become midday. The sun was scorching.

I realised the Serpent was a sneaky opponent. He was one of those with the ability to call in allies. Collectively I came to think of these as an ‘army of bastards’. One of which was the Bastard Prick of a Sun. The Sun, although limited in duration, was unreachable. I couldn’t attack it. I could only avoid it. The Bastard Prick of a Sun rained down its relentless rays of heat, pounding the runners and terrain alike. This was a UK heatwave. Nothing sapped my energy more than the sun this day. I could only avoid it when the terrain gave me refuge in the forests and shade of trees. I weaved and dodged all day long finding those rest bites, those shaded tracks. If I could get to the evening, its power would vanish and I’d come through on top. Hours away though. In the meantime water and shade were my friends.

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Checkpoint jokers

The Serpent wasn’t the only one bringing support to the fight though. I had the camaraderie of other runners. I often thought of Ally and I chatted away with others as and when I could. In addition there were the volunteers. The checkpoints were the friendliest I’d ever encountered. A real family feel. Each one you were welcomed into and cheered out of. I’d use this camaraderie to see me through the battle.

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Before I knew it the Serpent upped his game. In the height of the midday sun, whilst the Bastard Prick of a Sun was showering me with heat, the Serpent lay down a gauntlet of confusing paths and sandy hills. It was tough. I went wrong multiple times. I was trying to interpret the signage of the Serpent Trail that were all ambiguously positioned. They could have been pointing down one of many routes. I had a gpx file but signal was poor and it often took too long to correct the course. Many times I chose wrong. Many times I extended my run and depleted my energy supplies. On one occasion I met another of the Serpents bastard army – Spikey Foilage. Running full steam into an overgrown path I ended up being shredded by spikes from Bastard Foliage. Damn. I was weakening. I needed to get back in this battle. The midday sun was blistering and my heart sank as realised I’d gone wrong yet again and had to retrace my steps uphill and once more through the Spikey Bastard. My legs were screaming from what felt like a thousand cuts. I was out in the open, running more sandy paths with little shade. My throat was dry and water wasn’t quenching my first. I carried on and used my wits were I could – My brain would be my biggest strength. Determination and stubbornness to repel the Serpent’s attacks. I’d run when I could, sticking to the shade and minimising the time I spent exposed to the sun. When exposed, I’d be sensible and walk in the sun to avoid overexertion.

Earlier than expected another checkpoint appeared in the distance. There was a tent. That meant shade. This was the best one. Exactly what I needed. It was full of friendly support , all the volunteers were Tom’s family. His mum and his sister were there and they were great and lifted my spirits and prevented me from succumbing to the beating I’d been taking. One of them offered me a cold wet towel to cool off. Lots of ice and food was available and I took as much as I could. Like in Streets of Rage and eating a chicken  found in a dustbin my energy levels were restored, the health bar refilled. The red turned to green. I was jubilant. I was back in the fight. I was on top now and ready to press forward and attack The Serpent.

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Chicken from a bin. Classic

The second wind was embraced and I ran and ran. As the miles counted down I wondered what the football scores were. It was the World Cup and England were playing Sweden. For the earlier games, the aid stations had been updating scores on their welcome/sandwich  boards. It was good to follow the changes each stop and see how they finished. As I ran I started to realise I’d been running solo for quite sometime now. I couldn’t remember the last runner I’d encountered. I hadn’t been passed either and started to wonder what my position might be. I was expecting a checkpoint but it didn’t come. My water was running low and my feet were starting to ache. I ran passed a pub and there was a lot of noise from live music and the football. Soon after the checkpoint finally came into sight. There were two other runners there. A lady just leaving as I arrived and a man relaxing in a chair. I joined him. I tended to my feet, ate some food and drank back lots of coke. I don’t know how many cups I had. I could have stayed there for a long time. I was happy and getting comfortable too.

As I rested, another runner came in to he checkpoint. Shit, I am being caught. He was jovial. He joked he was done, he wanted to quit, he wanted the bus home. Only he wasn’t joking. He told us he’d spent the last hour in the pub watching the football and eating fish and chips. We all laughed and I was a little pleased I hadn’t been caught after all. I decided to get up and go. Time to end this battle and get it done.

Along the next section I started to meet runners from the 50km race. They were full of spirit and support. I chatted to a few and we exchanged encouragements. We were all sensing the end of the battle now. A little while later, enjoying yet another second wind, I could hear footsteps behind me. It was the runner who quit. What the fuck. We chatted as we walked on. He explained he was told it would be about an hour to wait for the bus and with just about 10km left he felt he might as well walk it in. Only he wasn’t walking, he was running and running strong! I let him go ahead. I was impressed. Although if he’d been in the pub for an hour before I caught him he was clearly a strong runner!

I carried on in my own world. For the last section I’d put my music on. An extra weapon to fight the Serpent and distract my mind. My own boost and distraction. The Bastard Sun had faded and I was winning the battle. After exchanging attacks all day the Serpent was slowly coming to an end. I came upon the last water checkpoint and grabbed some more coke. The sole volunteer cheered me in and urged me on. The next guy wasn’t far ahead he told me. He insisted I could make the top ten if I beat him. I laughed and explained he’d just overtaken me after being in a pub for an hour. “Oh” he said. I cracked on anyway. I was ready to finish.

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Evening views

Not long after leaving the checkpoint, in a field of lush green grass, I could see him. I could see the runner. He wasn’t alone though, he was with the woman I saw at the checkpoint and I could see they were walking. I caught them and had another brief chat. It turns out she was the leading female. Amazing! I carried on. I felt invigorated knowing that keeping ahead of them could put me in the top ten (if I trusted the volunteer’s counting skills that is!). Soon I came upon some more 50 km runners. I followed them as they navigated some fields. I’d switched off and wasn’t concentrating. They went wrong. So I went wrong. Dammit. I was running strong now and this annoyed me. The leading female and ‘pub runner’ we approaching behind. They were also running again. I could sense the finish though and soon we left the trails. We were back in Petersfield. I knew I was close as we emerged onto some roads I recognised from my walk from the train station the night before. But we ran passed the turning, we were running away from the finish and taking the long way, looping around the finish line via some riverside paths through some woodlands. I was still running. I wanted this. Finish strong is my mantra. The Serpent needed one last attack to be defeated so I pushed hard. I broke free of the trees and the darkness that was starting to fall, I burst up into the field and the finish line was in sight. The volunteers rang the bells and whooped me home. Shouts of “runner” triggered some lots of clapping from the crowd at the finish.  The Serpent fell in front of me to the screams (in my head) of “finish him”. I floated across the line with a finisher smile beaming across my face. Player 1 wins!

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Floating into the finish

As I was going to stick around and wait for a lift back with Ally I had a bit of time to spare. I showered and packed my stuff up. I grabbed some buffet food on offer and talked for quite sometime to the medics and photographer whilst I waited. It was fascinating to get an insight into what an ultra involves for them and certainly to appreciate all the hardwork that goes into supporting such an event. A few hours later Ally arrived and we were soon in the car heading back to reality. The Serpent Trail had been defeated. We both emerged victorious from our battles.

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Nice bit of wood that!

Familiarities & Mud

It’s been an unusual week. Unusual in the sense that it’s included a lot of familiarity with both familiar and unfamiliar situations and people. I say week, I mean two instances, just that they happened to be in the same week. First, I went to the Like the Wind Magazine birthday bash. Secondly I went to the Maverick Hampshire race.

At both events I’ve been surrounded by a ridiculous amount of runners and adventure seekers. All with their own passions and stories and experiences. Its been overwhelmingly inspiring.

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5 years of Like the Wind Mag

Before I’d even arrived at The Stance shop where the Like the Wind magazine was being hosted I’d exchange knowing smiles and head nods with other runners. We’d recognised each other but had not met in person until this point. This continued inside and throughout the night at Stance (where I spent a discounted fortune on socks!!) and I made many new connections that night. It was quite surreal with so many people congratulating me and asking me about the Trans Gran Canaria trip.

Two days later and I was on my way to Hampshire with the Wild Trail Runners. They’d swapped out their monthly trail run for an entry at the Maverick Trail Division event. I’d never been to one of the Maverick events before. I’d heard, and seen many, good things about these events and knew a lot of other people heading there too.

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Pre-race feels

And so the theme from Thursday night continued. After registering and collecting my bib I dashed about to exchange some quick hellos and hugs with various others I’d spotted. Friends I knew and those I was meeting in person for the first time. Whilst I’d expected and was seeking out these meetings, one in particular stood out. In the crowd someone came towards me, Perkins! Sarah was there way back when in 2015 I ran my second marathon in Kilimanjaro. We travelled and climbed Kili together and I think I’d seen her just once since. That was most unexpected.

Time had gone by, group photos had been posed for and taken. It was time to run. There were three distances (short, medium and long). Most of the group were bashing out the half marathon ‘long’ distance. We set off. Immediately it became clear, it was muddy. Very muddy. I realised I hadn’t brought spare socks. I don’t know why, I wasn’t expecting mud. No explanation or excuse. I just hadn’t thought about it. I had prepared though. I turned up with my usual garb and was, spare socks aside, prepped for an ultra. It’s the norm now. I’m used to carrying all the gear I might need.

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Wild Trail Runners

Initially the course was inevitably packed with runners. There were those I knew from Wild TR and NSL all around me. Out on the right Adam (Wild Tr coach) was snapping pictures. By this point my feet were already soaked and muddy. Runners ran to the sides of the bogs. Probably because it was easier than running trough the mud but also probably to avoid getting muddy. Like many others I ploughed straight through. There were hours of this ahead. It wouldn’t make a difference now.

I could feel my ankle. The pain I experienced over Christmas came back after Trans Gran Canaria. I’ve run once in the two weeks since. Recovery has been great apart from this niggle. Today was a test. And it was uncomfortable just a few miles in. Probably a warning sign and a fail of the test but I kept it in mind but also out of my mind at the same time, I wouldn’t dwell on it. It wasn’t bad enough to stop running. And that became my mantra for the run. Don’t stop running. I’d heard we had about 500m of elevation to cover. That’s nothing. A few little lumps is all. So I told myself I’d run the whole thing. Don’t stop. I’m so accustomed to walking hills now that today I decided to challenge that approach. Show myself I can and I will. I wouldn’t run particularly fast. Just what was comfortable. Making sure I wasn’t gasping for breath or heavy breathing at any point. Just don’t stop.

The course split for the short course to peel off and loop back to their finish. We continued on through the mud. There were lots of little dips where you’d run down and immediately back up a muddy incline. often over little wooden planks covered in mud. I struggled for grip at times. I didn’t see anyone else stack it though so was confident watching the runners ahead that the ground was stable enough.

I think we were about 6 miles in when I looked at my watch for the one and only time. My ankle was dominating my thoughts so I wanted to see how far in we were. Half way. if nothing else I could count down the distance from here. Up ahead in a field I could see the black kit of a runner, I couldn’t be sure but I thought it was Paul from the Wild TR crew. Out of the field we hit a small road section and a slight incline up a tarmac path between some farmer’s fields. On the left, as I got closer to Paul, some sheep were going wild, running and jumping back and forth closer to the runners. They were excited about all the activity going on around them?!

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Official race photo – how cool are these?!

A little while later we hit a downhill section that was pure mud. Behind me a carnicross runner was chomping at my heels, I let them pass as the dog had so much enthusiasm. I think it was dragging its owner through! After this the route was flat and hard in comparison. My feet started to dry out nicely and then the route split again. We were on the last section of the long course now. A mental milestone where you can start to visualise how much is left. The Volunteer directed us left and up hill we would go. It was short but steep. Groans were coming from the many runners ahead of me. I joked as I blitzed past. I enjoyed this. I felt so speedy as I tip-toed up the incline whilst others bent forwards and pressed on the quads to power up. I kept thinking to myself this is nothing compared to inclines of two weeks ago. It filled me with confidence.

What goes up must come down right?! Soon we were bumbling back down a muddy hill. At the bottom A volunteer cheered me safely across a road and I ran past the aid station. I had everything I needed. I heard them say 6 kms to the finish. I didn’t need to stop for that. I did have a sense of familiarity with the volunteer at the road crossing though. I couldn’t place her. She was on my mind.

The course was quite spread out now. As I trudged through the mud I moved to one side to let a guy passed me. Shortly after this I saw him stop up ahead. I urged him onward as I’m sure that’s where I saw another runner in the distance go. He stopped and pointed to the left and we both saw some blue tap on a tree. It must have been left then. I questioned if I saw a runner go straight on, he wasn’t sure. We went left. It felt wrong. After a short while we turned back, at the turning about 10 other runners carried on straight. Great.

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Photographer hiding in the bushes!

It wasn’t long before we caught them up and there was another hill. I zoomed off, They all let me passed again as I bounded up the incline as they walked. A short stint through some brambles lay in weight before more mud. Lots of mud, probably the muddiest part! I caught up with a female runner and we laughed as we both slid and got caught up to knee deep in parts. We were all smiles though. I said my goodbyes and carried on, seeing another group of runners in the distance. I vaguely recognised Paul, one of the Maverick Ambassadors, from behind and gradually caught up with him just after the course rejoined with the Medium course route. There were a lot more runners now. I briefly chatted to Paul who was feeling a little unwell before leaving him on the last climb. Again I tip-toed and weaved my way up and through all the runners. I stopped running momentarily as I reached the summit as I was slipping and sliding. We couldn’t be far now. Less than a km for sure. I started up again.

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Muddy Socks!

I could see the finish line up in the distance, we just had to cross the field in which we started. I don’t know why, but I undid my bag straps at this point. It made no sense at the time and it makes no sense now. I’m not sure what crossed my mind. I jogged it in to the finish and was greeted by the giant that is Spencer. I gave him a big sweaty hug in exchange for a medal and a beer. We’d met out in Chamonix after the TDS (him) and CCC (me) and hadn’t seen each other since. After a brief catch up I grabbed a Tribe bad and an Ice coffee and went and joined with those already finished. I also found a tap and was able to clean my shoes and socks.

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Not sure why I unstrapped my bag towards the finish

Chatting away at the finish line the familiar unfamiliarities continued as I met more people whom I vaguely knew. Gif appeared with a box of beer – she’d won the female short course race (she joked all the others had gotten lost and she hadn’t), good on her, she loves her beer! Afterwards the Wild TR group headed to the pub and we all shared our stories.

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Trail heroes Jon & Paul

Travelling home I reminisced to myself. Firstly, seeing the Instagram stories and posts answered the question I had mid race – Sarah. Sarah was the cheering volunteer at the bottom of the hill whom I hadn’t recognised. Probably good for her, she would have had a very sweaty hug if I did!

Then onto my feelings during the race. I tried to recall and recount how I felt. Yes, my ankle hurt. It didn’t hurt in a way that worried me though. I felt good to some degree. I recalled enjoyment and having fun. I didn’t push it and I felt comfortable. Yet I was running faster than I am used too. Probably, as a race, the fastest I’d run since Berlin over six months ago! I started slow and definitely got stronger as the race progressed (probably as my body is now used to longer distances where the race doesn’t begin until tens of kms in?). I questioned my prep again. Why I turned up packed for an ultra. Spare kit. Emergency supplies. Medical kits and the like. What was I thinking? I’m too used to days out I think. This was a half marathon. A supported half marathon at that. I enjoyed the mud. Besides the fact that it felt like I was running on highway of mattresses, the mud was ice cold. It was soothing on my ankle and probable helped a little with the pain management.

My takeaways were that it was an incredibly fun day. Very social with lots of great friends to interact and share the day with. I enjoyed the run (recognising parts of the Serpent Trail from a race last year) and felt there’s still a bit of speed in these ultra legs!

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Wild Tr & NSL Crews

Friendships

I’ve read a lot of bollocks about what runners sacrifice. Quotes claiming that you give up your friends and the like. I think that’s the biggest pile of wank-shite ever. Your friends are your friends. They’ll always be there for you, understand and support you. It’s unconditional. Yes, like me, you might see them less, but that doesn’t (shouldn’t!) diminish the relationship. Likewise I am there for my friends unconditionally (if you’re reading this and had any doubts, be reassured).

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Friendship. And my own coordinated crew team!

In pursuing your passions, what will happen is you make new relationships, you gain new friends. Friends with the same specific interests as you and, in my case, in running.

Like any true friendships these friends will go beyond for you. That was what I experienced recently when I ran Trans Gran Canaria. I received much support and well wishes leading up to and during the event and had a great time training with Alan and Gif (thanks for the advice and workouts!) and running local hills with Arlene and other great friends I’ve made through this passion of running.

In particular though I was inspired by and I want to call out those friends whom I went out to Gran Canaria with – Yvette, Jorge, Ale, and Matt. Friends I’ve made through Wild Trail Runners. They were all running the marathon on Friday and they then spent the entire night and next 23 hours driving around the island following me and supporting me. I didn’t ask them too. They just did it. Because they wanted to. Because they enjoyed it. Because that’s what friends do. They slept less than me, clocked several hundred kms, barely ate and endured the loneliness of the night. But they brought so much energy and I was pleased to have them. I looked forward to seeing them. At most of the checkpoints they popped up with laughter and support. They put up with my smells and my moods (which was constant grumpiness!). I owe more to them than words can portray. But for now, the next time someone says you sacrifice friendships or you read some pointless motivational quote of the same manner, you give them the middle finger. Friendship is deeper than words.

Yvette, Jorge, Ale, Matt. Thank you. You’ve given me more than you may realise. My achievements are shared with you all and I look forward to the next adventures!

Rocky Bastard

Trans Gran Canaria. One of the early season races in The Ultra Trail World Tour Series. I only heard about this race last year when some other people I’d met were heading out to run it. Set in the volcanic island of Gran Canaria, the 128 km race is part of the carnival of events staged over a week. With 7,500m of positive elevation it’s no mean feat. Yet it is sandwiched between the marathon, advanced (65 km) and the monstrous ‘360’ – a 270 km tour of the island. This would be my second UTWT race after my debut at the CCC last year and one which filled me with some pre-race doubts. I felt ready, perhaps not in my desired shape due to the customary lack of structured training I do, but confident of the adventure (I’d focused on shorter runs and lots of step-based training). The build up and the journey to Gran Canaria was fine. Typical in that it involved unnecessary stresses about the little things like packing and registering etc. Pre-race anxiety still overwhelms me greatly.

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Elevation profile

The ‘Weekend’ started Thursday night with a Chinese and a good long sleep. Yvette, Ale, Jorge and Matt all had the marathon at 9am so I woke with them at 5am, ate breakfast and sent them off to get the bus before going back to bed. All fine and I managed a few hours sleep before getting up at midday. I had a whole day to wait hanging around until my start at 23:00.

I walked into town and sampled the atmosphere. Cheering the marathon runners along on the last 2 km as I wandered towards the finish line to catch the gang all finish.

During this time we saw the second finisher of the 360 and someone who’d traveled from Alaska for the marathon race with 5 flights to get here! Earlier that day Luca Papi had won the 360 event and would be lining up in the field to also run the 128 km that night. Crazy (he finished by the way!).

The team all finished strong with Yvette smashing through her race, Ale and Jorge battling sickness and injuries to conquer theirs and Matt speeding through the finish so quickly I didn’t have time to react and take a picture! Great efforts.

Some hours later it was my turn to be sent out of the hotel and onto a bus to the start line. There was something weird about sitting on a bus, driving past the start line and thinking “I’ll see you again in two days, hopefully”. One thing was for sure, I was in for a long adventure! On the bus a gentleman from Beijing sat next two me. His second sentence was “let’s have a photo”. I don’t think he’s used to bearded people. I didn’t see him again.

The bus arrived at 9pm in Las Palmas. 2 hours before the race started. We offloaded from the bus and took the short walk to the beach where we mingled with the music and revelers at carnival. I’d never been to a race start that coincides with a local festival. The novelty soon wore off though. It was crowded. There were no toilets. None. Nothing set out for the race. Public toilets were closed and restaurants I inquired at pointed me in the direction of the closed public WCs. Helpful. Like many, I had to take myself along the coast to the sea.

Then we waited. And waited. For the two hours to slowly pass by. The question everyone had was why were we here so fucking early?! I sat on some steps for almost two hours. Smokers all around me which didn’t help with my pre-race anxieties.

With 15 minutes to go we were allowed onto the beach and into the starting pens. 900+ runners jostling for space. The team found me and wished me well. Final words of encouragement (and instilling of fear) from Jorge who’d previously done the race. He kept telling me how hard it was. He was preparing me and I’m grateful for his insights.

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Yawning at the start

Over the loud speaker the announcements were made, a video played and music began, the live band playing the Gran Canaria by Los Gofiones. The ten second count down was made and the race began to a rapturous roar from the crowd and a synchronised-firework display. We set off running ran along the sandy beach. The waves crashing in and teasing our feet.

Within minutes I had to stop and remove the windproof layer that had kept me so warm for the last two idle hours. My plan was to run in short sleeves and arm warmers (which we’d received a pair of in our running pack). De-layered, I felt good. The sea breeze cooling on my skin.

After the beach we headed inland, first up a relatively small (few hundred meter) incline along a very runnable path. I ran most of it as I’d heard of the inevitable bottle necks that would follow.

Soon after this my memory already started to fade. It was night and dark. My mind was fully alert on the terrain and it was becoming rocky. Very rocky. Hard, sharp, loose rocks. We were running in and out of a river bed which felt like it went on for a long time. I often stopped to walk as others bundled past me at speed. I didn’t feel safe or comfortable running such tracks and knew I had a long run ahead. But it consumed me. I can’t recall seeing beyond the track. It was something like slow, gradual climbs up to remote villages before we hit the first aid station about 10 miles in. Yvette and Jorge were there and I fathed as always with my bottles and food before saying my good byes. I can’t fully remember the next section either. I was already in a grump. I vaguely recall a shortish climb through a forest and hurdling trees that were being cut down. Not technical, but not runnable either. It felt like we ran down through some massive mansion estate of some sort too. I remember stone walls and and a long driveway. But soon I emerged in Teror (the town, not my mental state). I think the section we’d just passed was the diverted track announced on the week of the race. It added a few km to the total distance.

At Teror the team we’re again there and we jigged and danced our way through. In TGC you are allowed external support in the vicinity of the majority of aid stations (Teror isn’t one) as long as it’s not in the actual tent. Before and after is fine. I was beginning to understand how I’d see the team or at least hear them as they shouted and ‘cooed’ endlessly into the dark. I was a little disoriented and despite studying the route and elevation I had no idea where I was. I’d continually ask which station this was and moan that the track “wasn’t very nice” (I wasn’t so articulated at the time!).

Beyond Teror the real elevation began. I remember one muddy-clay like climb through the dense forest which I took my poles out for. I blasted past runners as we climbed and was then blasted past in return as we went back down. The downhills were steep and rocky. Not loose like the riverbed thankfully. This would be one of the things I’d come to notice about the race – it’s very runnable. Over such a long distance I can’t run that far. And much of the terrain, as painful as the rocks are, is very runnable indeed. Especially when momentum takes control.

At some point along the way I passed another check point where Yvette and Jorge were waiting outside once I’d emerged from some minor DIY repairs. My left nipple was sore and my shoes were filled with sticks and stones. Whilst other runners fueled on warm coffee I patched up and got re organised. You quickly learn in ultras not to dwell on pains and discomforts but to sort them ASAP! I set off back into the night.

The darkness was full of depth and I also noticed the almost eerie atmosphere of the mountains at night, it was warm (some 14 degrees or so) but deadly silent. No wind. No insects. No animals. Just the noise of runners feet cracking on the forest floor and occasional burps and farts breaking the silence. It also smelt good (ignoring the farts) the foliage had some incredible smells which I cannot justifiably describe.

Off in the distance the silence was broken by the sound of drums. Faint at first but louder as I closed in on the source. Boom. Boom. Boom. Like a war drum pounding repeatedly. As I skipped down a small track I could see the origin up ahead. A band of drummers had lined either side of the path at the base of a climb. A steep bastard of a climb! I’m undecided if it was evil or pure genius that they chose this path and welcomed us like slaves pitted up against an almighty gladiator ahead. I charged forward. Power hiking up. I was enjoying the hills. I felt strong walking them and was boosted by passing runners who appeared less strong than me. It Became my tactic. Run when I could. Walk the rocky bastard parts (of which there were many) and annihilate the inclines. I began to look forward to them.

Next checkpoint up we emerged into a small roadside checkpoint by a reservoir. It was early morning, perhaps about 6am. It was a little cold at this spot and the checkpoint quieter than the rest. Whilst I’d not really suffered any real bottlenecks, the field was definitely starting to spread out. All I was interested in though was my stomach. I needed the toilet. I could feel the rumbles beginning. Your body is on a different cycle at night, eating and exercise disrupts it. Not a single aid station had any toilets. Just like the start, this was the only real negative aspect to the race organisation. Get some bloody toilets in!

Jorge sent me off with instructions as to what I’d encounter next. A long steep climb onto a ridge-way with cliff drops either side. Don’t fall in the dark he joked. I soon understood he wasn’t joking as two black holes of danger lay either side as we climbed. It was quite spectacular in the dark to see even more depth to the night. Along the top we followed a wall protecting you from the drop. I was tempted to climb over and use the wall as support to relieve myself but thought better of it.

We emerged into a road section before hitting a very steep technical down hill section. Almost immediately afterwards we’d climb again. As the path winded back up I could see off to the distance the snake of headlights descending behind us. It was mesmerising. White lights to the back, red (rear) lights up ahead. We were in a valley of some sort. I tried to capture it on my phone but again I can’t do the memory justice.

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Head torches as far as the eye can see

As we started to reach the summit dawn was breaking. The sun was rising and light was finally becoming our friend. It warmed up very quickly. We carried further up through forests and with the light of the morning finally got to see our surroundings. Wow. It was breathtaking. Layers of mountains as far as the eye can see. Each silhouetted by the one behind it. Off in the distance some strange peak formations were particularly fascinating.

We were approaching the half way mark. 65 km. Two things came to mind, firstly that the Advanced race would soon be starting (9am) and we’d be joined by another 900 or so runners. I saw only one positive to this. I’d maybe see Arlene and Julia on the trails. However, whether I timed it before or after 9am I’d be caught up in that race. Get there before they start and I’d have fast and fresh runners up my arse and pushing me faster than I’d like. Get there just after 9am and I might get caught up in the inevitable stampede and bottle necks. Lose-lose. Thankfully though neither happened. As we ran down and through the fields into the town we were greeted by volunteer staff who directed us into an aid station just before the 65 km mark. Here we were welcomed to hot food and refreshments. I decided to spend sometime here. I’d eat the pasta (I’d not been eating as much as I should have) and prep for the daytime running – recharge my watch, change my head torch and buff for a sun cap and glasses and plaster myself in sun cream. Best of all, there was a toilet. And I got the last of the toilet role. I felt like a winner. I headed off replenished and ready for the day.

The second thing that hit me at this point was that I still had a fucking long way to go. I was half way there. I still had a 65km mountain ultra to complete. I’d been running for 10-11 hours. I was tired and cranky. It was still a marathon and a half to go!! For fucksake. But, as Tomasz (who I chatted with over pasta) put it “I’m not feeling fucked enough yet”. Wise words.

Leaving the town of Artenara was another climb. And more treats for the eyes. I was constantly stopping to take photos as we climbed through forests and along more mountains tops. I wasn’t alone and as I’d interchange places with Martin from the US we’d point out good photo opportunities for each other. The strange rock formations were getting closer and more prominent.

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Roque Nublo in the distance

I found the morning tough. I hadn’t seen the team since about 6am and as I made my way to Tejeda I was looking forward to when I might see them again. Alone with my thoughts my mind was constantly drawn to my left foot and ankle which had been hurting throughout. I was also constantly thirsty and breathing heavily. Despite making great progress I was certainly feeling how tough it was. I think the pasta kicked in though and the relieved stomach had settled. I found myself in a rhythm and had a solid stint of running before flagging as we reached Tejeda. The checkpoint felt like it took an age to appear after I first encountered the signs for the village. Upon arrival though I fueled on fists full of oranges (oranges had been my go to at checkpoints so far this race!) and, as it was just over half way, I decided now I could treat myself to cola. Always a runners friend on an ultra. I didn’t want to indulge too soon and it sure was good. As it approached midday it was sweltering. When I left Tejeda, I walked. We were on a paved road section that was downhill. I knew the next climb was one of the hardest, to Roque Nublo (the rock formations I’d been taking pictures of previously in the day). I couldn’t give a shit about running at this point. Some people passed me. I was fine with that. I’d found a strong hiking pace through the night and was able to maintain this comfortably between 14/15 min miles (when I ‘ran’ I was only marginally faster at 11/12 min miles) so I wasn’t fussed. That is until three men ran passed tethered to a metal pole. A lead and back runner guiding a blind man. As incredible as this was, I didn’t want to be stuck behind them on the climb. So I stepped it up.

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Layer upon layer of mountain

Early into the climb I bumped into Victoria, a friend of Yvette’s doing the Advanced. We chatted briefly before my power hike took me forward. The climb was indeed a painful one. But as we reached the summit we were treated to the panoramic views from the popular tourist spot Roque Nublo. Throughout the run I’d been near another runner called Luis. I’d pass him on the ups and he would pass me on the downs. He didn’t speak very much English and me ‘speaker de no Spanish’. But we’d exchange back slaps as we passed. I like this unspoken camaraderie of the trails. It’s special. It’s an acknowledgment to each other’s strengths. No words are needed. As we summited he tried to explain the route. We’d go up to the rock and be checked in before doubling back and heading down a different way. He also insisted on taking a photo for me. I liked Luis. I didn’t get to see him again much more after this as he made too much ground up on the downhills. And this was my concern for the last marathon – as we reach Garañón where the marathon started the route was predominantly ‘downhill’ (as in comparative elevation gain in relation to the rest of the course). The majority of the races elevation is done in the first 80 km of the event. And I was discovering today that my downhills were weak. I’d readied myself mentally. I was planning now to walk the majority of the marathon remaining. I was so far ahead of my estimated time of 27 hours. I was starting to believe I could finish on Saturday before midnight. At a push, if I stayed focused and had no incidents maybe even a sub 24 hour. I cracked on.

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Roque Noblo

I thought I might see the team at Roque Nublo as they’d planned to hike it themselves. But timings would have been tight and Garañón was the planned bag drop. Coming into Garañón I was greeted to the beaming smiles of Yvette and Jorge. I hadn’t seen them for about 8 hours. It didn’t show, but I was so glad to see them.

I had a plan here. Collect my bag. Change my clothes. Eat some food and prepare my kit for the rest of the day and night. Then leave what I didn’t need behind (or rather with the team to save me having to walk to get it at the end!). And that’s exactly how it went down. For food a bowl of potatoes with salt. Butter would have been great but they were delicious. Wet wipe wash, clean T-shirt and buff. Again I emptied my shoes of crap but I also decided against changing my socks. My feet felt OK and I was also afraid to look at them incase something was worse than it felt. I was wearing Stance 360 socks and I’ve found these great for doing ultras. I re-applied sun cream (you don’t want to compromise a race due to being unprepared!) and removed many things from my back (extra night layers etc I hadn’t needed). And I re-stocked on my holy grail – Tailwind. Pre-race I’d measured out 18 servings of Tailwind into either soft flasks or travel bottles to mix with water on the go. This worked a treat and was so quick to take one of the bottles of powder out and empty into water at an aid station. I took 9 with me on the start and had 9 here waiting. Whilst it was slightly less than the desired amount for the race, I intended on eating along the way too as I like the taste of food and thankfully I don’t struggle with eating on the move. I made a slight mistake though and should have taken a few more initially as it wasn’t a 50-50 split for distance or time to Garañón. The last 10 miles I’d done with out Tailwind and I was missing the taste. I was craving my hit like a junkie!

After again chatting with Tomasz over potatoes I was back out and reassured by Jorge and Yvette. They’d run this part as their marathon yesterday so again debriefed me on what was to come. As I mentioned, mostly down hill with two climbs although nothing compared to what went before and then finally the dreaded finish along another river bed.

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The first of the climbs was gradual but long. Through forest paths and looping around the mountain. Here I saw many runners, familiar faces and new. Also many people looking defeated by the run. I’d pass them and check. One guy, Brian, suffered from stomach issues but reassured me he was OK (and had done the race last year) and many others asked the same question – “how far to the next aid station”. Good question. I was wondering the same. It felt like we’d be climbing for a very long time of false summit after false summit. I’d drunk nearly all my water including my third spare flask which I’d carried since the start. I was trying to calculate my estimated finish. Earlier in the day I’d figured a 4 hour half marathon (to Garañón) and an 8 hour marathon to the finish would see me make it in 24 hours. I couldn’t remember what time I left Garañón but now had less than 7 hours before 23:00. I wanted it. I also wanted to go to bed and to stop. I was fed up of the terrain now. Whilst I hadn’t fallen. My feet were beginning to hurt. I was walking as I had been for the last hour or so. 7 more hours of walking was a long time to contemplate.

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Eventually the aid station appeared. It was small but I found a chair and quickly emptied my shoes of stones again. I didn’t plan on staying here long but I was starting to chaff and I wanted to make sure I had more than enough water after that last stint. I’d kept and empty fourth flask after Garañón so I decided to fill them all. I prepped all the Tailwind and a lovely volunteer helped me film them all. He was lovely that is until he got a little mud on the bottle and decided to empty the entire Tailwind filled goodness onto the floor to wash it. I wanted to hurt him. Hurt him bad. He wasn’t to know. I didn’t say anything. I thought some evil things in that moment though. I thanked him and left. As I was leaving the familiar sound of Arlene called out. She was entering the station above me and shouted me on rather than wait. I don’t know how or where I ended up ahead of here?!

The next section was also runnable. I didn’t want to run it but it was downhill and the rocks weren’t too loose. I stayed inline with the crowds and again played leapfrog with various people as I powered past on the inclines and they floated past me on the downhills. Eventually I found a second (third? Forth? Firth?) wind when two faster runners ploughed through. Together they had momentum and I could see them easily alert runners ahead of them who granted them passage past. I piggy-backed in behind them. Tailgating and running several kms with them and a comfortable pace. I was still doing the math. Badly. But I calculated I needed a few stints of running to get me in before Sunday came. After a while they stopped. But I was in the zone and carried on for a little longer before emerging onto another road section.

Walking again we were on another climb. I think I’d been confused as this definitely wasn’t the last climb I’d face. With the late evening sun pounding my skin I hiked onwards as we gradually climbed a fairly smooth and wide path. Up ahead I spotted the welsh dragon on a lady’s t shirt and I spent a while chatting to her and a fellow welsh woman she’s met on The trail. She joked about making it in time for the rugby. Eventually we reached the top and another downhill began. This one was a bastard. I really didn’t enjoy it. A very man-made winding switchback of slippery cobble stones. I don’t know how long it went for but I really didn’t like it. I couldn’t Run it. I was afraid of slipping. It hurt my feet. It was steep and the bends sharp. Gravity forced me to walk faster than I liked. I was glad when it ended. Other than that it opened out onto what I can only describe as what I perceive Mars to be like. A completely alien terrain of hard sharp rocks and dry ground. The torturous terrain of Trans Gran Canaria was relentless!

It didn’t stop there either. We came across a sign that very reassuringly said “extreme precaution. Technical Section”. It didn’t fail to live up to the hype. It was almost vertical. Very short switchbacks of jagged rocks and barley wide enough for a single person. We backed up into a slow descent. A short intersection with another path treated us to the information that it was just 1.5 km to the next aid station. 1.5 km of the same technical descent. My feet were taking a pounding now. I craved the rest bite.

At the aid station I ate cheese. It was good. I also took the decision to, for the final time, readjust my kit. It was now about 18:99 – 19:00. Soon the sun would set so I wanted to be ready. Away went the hat and sunglasses. Outcome the buff, head torch (new battery!) and arm warmers. Deja vu all over again. From here it was the last climb. About 200m followed by a downhill to the riverbed back into Maspalomas.

The climb was slow. I was still calculating my time. I couldn’t figure it out but I was now confident I’d get sub 24 hours. My mind focused on getting to the last 15 km with 3 hours to go. That would be 9 miles. 3 miles an hour. 20 min miles at a comfortable walking pace. I was still hiking at close to 15 min miles. I was confident. I strode on. Up the dirt track road we went. The night began to fall and I enjoyed watching the sun set. The same day I’d welcomed on one mountain I now said goodbye to on another. I captured the snake of headlights coming down the technical section back in the distance and was thankful I navigated that in the day light. My thoughts went with those doing it at night. The only negative point here was a staff volunteer driving up and down the climb, churning up the dust into our faces for us to inhale. I don’t know why he was doing it. Perhaps to check on the runners?!

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Night setting in, head torches in the distance

As we summited the final climb it was time for another run. Initially the path was wide for cars and smooth to run before it became rocky again but not loose. For the second time I found myself tailgating two other runners. I set my aim to run to the bottom and the beginning of the river bed. Then my task would be complete. My false finish. From there I know I’d get to the end. No time pressures. I’d complete the event for sure.

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It was dark when I ran this at night, so here’s a picture from during the marathon

The riverbed came. They carried on. I stopped running. I probably stopped a lot of things at this point but swearing was not one of them. The riverbed was the rocky bastard I’d read about. Dry, sharp loose rocks. It’s not an over exaggeration to say I was afraid again to break an ankle or slit my throat on a fall. I walked. Painfully stepping and sliding like trudging through mud. I swore out loud a lot. But I maintained my pace. I passed a lot of people with my power hike. Occasional they’d run past when we’d have a moments pause from death by a thousand rocks but I’d soon pass them again when they slowed to a walk.

It was dark. My feet were blistered for sure. I was constantly kicking rocks into my own ankles. Fuck it hurt bad I was lonely. I was cranky. The night was again spectacular as the riverbed was overlooked either side by rocky mountain faces. Off in the distance they merged and I longed for the opening back to reality. Eventually it came. I hadn’t passed any signs of the distance markers. I hoped I was near 5 km to go. I hated them when I first spotted “105 km to the finish” and “95 km to the finish”. Now I longed for that last confirmation. My time was good. I was walking back no matter what.

Under the motorway bridge up in the distance two silhouettes were making noise. Calling for me as they had the previous night. I knew it was Yvette and Jorge. I could hear them question and laugh as they thought it wasn’t me. The penny soon dropped and they came in to cheer me on. To the final stretch. I was super cranky at this point. I wanted for nothing except more solitude and the finish. I wasn’t capable of dealing with anything and I abruptly made this clear with unintentional rudeness. My mind had wandered to some dark places over the last 22 hours. Possibly some more places of self discovery also. I wasn’t ready to re-emerge to reality just yet. I still had a lot to deal with and get through.

One more checkpoint. Parque Sur. It seemed weird to have one so close to the finish but also one I was quite thankful for. Some more cola and sweets. I politely declined a beer and begrudgingly trod on. Down an old river bed again (although rocky not loose and nice and wide). The final stretch was a slight uphill along the road I’d walked and cheered the marathoners along on Friday. I’d already spotted that day the grass patch to the side of the road I’d walk. It was like carpet under my feet. I felt smug as runners ran past me. I was getting overtaken frequently since the last checkpoint and I couldn’t give a shit. I’d won my race. I’d smashed my goal of completion. I may not have been smiling but was pleased with myself.

I had two roundabouts to go. Then the last bend Into the finishing straight. I looked at my watch for the first time in ages. It said it was 21:55. A new goal came to my mind. 5 minutes to make a sub 23 hour??! The few stretches of running and tailgating had really paid off (along with my overly conservative 20 min/mile walk estimates). My mind fired up. The quickest I’d reacted to anything for a whole day – my brain and my body connected and agreed we were going for it. I left the grass. It was on. Uphill. Momentum began to kick in. I don’t know how far it was. It looked longer than 5 minutes. There was only one way to find out. Nothing to gain other than personal satisfaction. I powered forward. Photo-finish ready. I wasn’t going to finish looking like I’d just walked a 7 hour marathon or run 128 km. I was going to finish with the smile that had been missing for so long. The cheers and the whoops came. All The team were there including the “Aguafiestas” Ale and Matt. This was my moment. The high fives came as I rounded the final bend into the finishing straight. I lined up with the little sloped finishing platform. The sadistic bastards. I hit it and finished up on my toes instantly striking the pose of the ‘trans Gran Canaria’ logo. I don’t know where that came from. I wasn’t the first nor the last to strike the pose I’m sure.

As I stepped down from the finish some child slapped the finishers medal into my stomach and a lady gave me the gilet. Cola and kebabs were consumed and sweaty hugs enjoyed with the team. Now we all had a gilet for our efforts. I immediately reverted back to grumpy Dai and my legs made it clear how much they hated me. I wanted ice cream but they were closed. I wanted a shower so they drove me home.

The next day we walked some sand dunes and the reality of the damage to my body started to became clear. My ankle is swollen and hurts badly. My feet are blistered and battered. I say we walked some sand dunes. I hobbled them. Flying home I, like many others, partook in the unspoken custom of wearing the finishers gilet through the airport. You nod in silent appreciation to other finishers. You know what we’ve each been through. One final acknowledgement before it becomes another generic piece of apparel in the reality of the real world.

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The Bling

If you spoke to me in the hours after the race then you’ll have received a certain miserable perspective on the event. That was unjustified. I stand by what I said in that, to date, it’s the hardest thing either done. But as the emotion of the finish has settled I’ve been able to reflect on and recall the positive and enjoyable aspects. Yes it really is hard. The distance was new for me and mentally I felt that. For 2/3 of the event knowingly having an ‘ultra’ still to go was demotivating and the pounding your feet take is exceptionally aggressive. But, the landscape and environment is surreal. The Rocky Mountains, Mars like terrain, panoramic island views, fresh aromas of of the forests and witnessing a day break and set from spectacular view points is incredible.

The organisation itself was also fantastic. Before flying out I moaned about the lack of information on the website or email contact. Reality is you’re provided with enough. And that is all you need. The race exhibition and bib collection was so straightforward. No kit checks or too much hassle. The organised buses were efficient. The aid stations were incredibly well stocked and had great atmospheres. The volunteers were superb and so helpful (to the guy who emptied my Tailwind – I’m sorry I thought about hurting you. But this doesn’t mean I like you!). The course markings were phenomenal. There’s no chance of getting lost in this one. Signs and markings were very frequent (even though you rarely turned off the same paths!). Many had hi visibility strips attached to them and there were hundreds if not thousands of markings with flashing red lights too. I played a game at several points along the day and came to the assessment that, when walking slowly (e.g. hiking up a climb pace) there were typical signs/markings every 15 seconds. Without doubt the best course markings I’ve encountered. The swag bag of goodies was also decent. A branded technical compression t shirt, arm warmers, shoe gaiters and finishers Gilet filled the drawstring bag.

Would I recommend the race? I’m not sure. It is incredibly hard. If I’d done the marathon or advanced I definitely wouldn’t be going back to try the 128 km. I did enjoy it though and am glad I experienced it.

I’m also so thankful for Yvette, Jorge, Ale and Matt who sacrificed so much this weekend to support me. One day I’ll be able to repay the kindness.

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Inevitable “Trans Gran” pose

The Doubts

Fears, queries, questions, what-ifs, buts, worries and the voices. These are all manifestations of “the doubts”. As an event or milestone creeps closer, the doubts increase. They aren’t always rational, but they are all explainable. It’s a nervous thing. Fuelled by anxiety. Fuelled by the determination to succeed, to reach the finish and achieve your goals.

The voices in your head will call out the same ‘what-ifs’ over and over, but you deal with it. You just have to. In the same way I process the bad times during an ultra, I face the doubts head on. For each question, each doubt, there’s at least one answer and reassurance. There’s nothing to really fear here.

With my biggest challenge to date, Trans Gran Canaria, inching closer like an ultra runner hobbling to the finish line, my mind is in overdrive. The doubts are coming thick and fast. Here’s a few I’m currently battling.

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Visualise and address the doubts
  • I’ve never done this before” – you’ve can say that about a lot of things you’ve never done before. Time to set some new limits, bust through that ceiling, reset the boundaries and find a new comfort zone to live in.
  • “But it’s 128km! That’s a LOT further than I’ve run before” – You’ll break it up by checkpoint and hike a lot. Get so far through and the kms will be reducing. After a 100km you’re on the home stretch. Remember you’re running home in this one!
  • What if I can’t make the cut offs” – Of course you can. You know the average pace needed and have run similar paces to this before. You know how to pace it across a long distance and elevation. Quit worrying.
  • I’m going to get stressy and anxious” – You always do. Stick to the plan. Get through registration and get your bib. Relax. Get to the start and get moving. Relax. Once those two things are done you are running free.
  • Can I stay awake to run through two nights” – You’ll be tired at night for sure, but you’ve run for 21 hours before, It’s not that much longer. You’ll sleep on Friday before you start. You’ve run lots of night runs. You’re not I’ll-prepared, you’ve trained, you’ll have caffeine. You can rest at Garañón if all else fails. Or find a Chäir.
  • What if I get lost” – Always a risk. Never a real worry though, you’ll have gpx. There are 900 runners. There are aid stations every ten miles or so. You can’t get that lost surely. Just don’t switch off.
  • I’m going to get sun burnt” – you’ll have sun cream and a long sleeve base layer. Just don’t be a dick and forget to use them.
  • I’ve heard the terrain is hard” – Yep, we’ve been told repeatedly that it’s tough. And it will be tough! But you will walk when you need to. Don’t run. Trust your gut. Don’t panic.
  • I’ll need to poo” – of course you will. Poop you shall. Enjoy the sweet release.
  • I’ll be lonely” – You like your own company. You can entertain yourself. So do so and have fun.
  • How much do I need to eat” – as much as you want too. 200 cals per hour is the rough guide. Keeping that going for 30 hours means a lot of food. So just keep eating and enjoy the picnic! There will be plenty of good stuff available at the checkpoints. to enjoy and top up the Tailwind.
  • My foot still feels weird, feels like it’s someone else’s” – well it’s not though is it?!

This won’t be the end. I’ll have to answer many more questions in the lead up. I’ll also have to keep answering the same questions as my mind attempts to fluster me. I won’t let it happen. When the doubts come calling for you, stay strong. Stay rational. Whatever other questions come up, give them the time they deserve just don’t ignore them. Deal with them and be rational and you’ll be just fine.

Beyond the Ad

If you go anywhere near social media platforms like Instagram at the moment you’ll see lots of similar themed posts relating to advertisements. The Advertising Standards Authority recently updated guidance on ‘social influencers’ and its caused a wee bit of a stir among the community. I’ve observed it manifest in a number of different ‘types’ of outlooks and perspectives…

  • There’s people who just don’t care, they’ll carry on doing what they do regardless and without remorse or recompense.
  • There’s people who will follow the guidance to the letter, for better or for worse, without consideration. A tick box exercise if you like.
  • There’s people who will moan about the negativity it drives and how unfair it is on them as an influencer ignoring the impact it has on their ‘followers’?!
  • There’s people who might not be affected but who will call it out at every opportunity, pointing the finger at those influencers and their responsibilities to the world
  • There’s then the people who will go all out honesty and transparency and over-tag and over share every snippet of their lives like they are taking a morale high-ground.
  • There’s people who will back track and justify all their relationships they’ve ever made with statements akin to “I’ve worn this brand since the day I was popped out of my mummy’s tummy”
  • There’s also people who will feel they have to do the opposite and justify their opinions and say “this is not an ad!”. You don’t need to do that!
  • Even people who will simply take the piss at every opportunity.

Me? I do a little of each. Quite frankly, I’m not concerned. I’ll abide by the rules where I should and also where I feel morally obliged too. I also feel as individuals we need to take responsibly and ownership for our own thoughts and decisions. Yes, we can all be swayed by advertisements and influencers, but you make that decision yourself. Stand up and be accountable for your own actions.

Anyway, I’m not tapping away at my keyboard for this reason. That is more a background check and observation. What I wanted to do is flip it around and look at it from a different perspective. A more positive view. Whatever industry we are active in, when presented with an opportunity we make a decision as to whether we want to take it or not. Whether it is right or wrong for us. There will be many things that we take into consideration when making such decisions but it is, as always, a cost-benefit analysis. What is in it for us (value)? What do we have to to achieve that value (cost)? Do we think the benefits outweigh the analysis? Done. Simple.

Whilst (in this context) this will mostly materialise in an incentive (e.g. payment, gifted items, brand enhancement etc.) vs effort (time taken, contractual commitments etc.) considerations, there are other ways we might approach this too, such as meaningful connections vs reputational damage/negative public opinion (I’m sure you’ve read about recent backlashes like the Fyre Festival or Celebrities promoting ‘get fit quick’ type ‘health’ products).

Specifically it is that “meaningful connection” aspect I want to touch on. Something which is often overlooked and something which I feel I’ve substantially benefited from in a number of my recent opportunities.

Take my recent run with Gabe as an example. This was born out of an incentivised campaign to promote the MyCrew App. A simple advertisement concept. I use it, I publicise that I’m using it. If I meet a certain quota (e.g. frequency of runs, number of attendees etc.) then I’d be eligible for some gifted items. This is very much the ‘carrot’ in the ‘carrot and stick’ analogy. I can tell you now that, for whatever reasons of my own doing, I immediately failed to meet the necessary criteria, so the carrot is gone. It hasn’t stopped me being active in the campaign though. Why? Because of the meaningful connections. I’ve met a few runners through this opportunity whom I could talk about, but recently met Gabe who is on the other side of the campaign working within the community. This one got me thinking…

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The man, the legend that is Gabe!

It was one of those meetings were conversation flowed. Natural commonalities were apparent and we got on. We shared experiences and stories and we debated pros and cons of all things related to the running community. To me it is clear we think similarly, we process thoughts, data and ideas in the same way to make them a reality. Our professional backgrounds also reflect this and the type of work we do. It was more than just a run. More than just an opportunistic moment of mutual benefit. It was certainly a means to connect with someone who otherwise we might not have crossed paths with. One I’m sure won’t stop here. It was two people with a shared interest and a shared passion spit balling ideas and theories.

I’m mumbling now but I know what it means to me. I think my point is to look beyond the posts, the cover story, the potential negative image and press and to think and appreciate about what else is achieved from making new connections and where they might add real ‘value’ to your life. Likewise, just because something is an Ad or a sponsored post, it doesn’t imply that it isn’t meaningful…

Country to Capital

It’s only just 2 weeks into the new year and my first Ultra of 2019 is ticked off. This is a great feeling. The year is looking just a little bit daunting, so to get it underway and emerge through the first finish line is pleasing.

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The medal is a piece of art!

Over Christmas I was worried. More than I’ve been since I started running. I’ve had a few niggles over the last year and you know what your body is feeling. This niggle felt a different, it concerned me. I know when it happened. I don’t know what happened or what it is though. During the night run a few weeks before Christmas the top of my foot hurt. It hurt as I stepped off the train, before we even started running. It felt like my laces were too tight but loosening didn’t help (neither did running the 24 miles, I know!). The pain intensified and persisted for a few days and a lump appeared. So I was concerned.

It woke me up for the first time and I swallowed my stubbornness and went and saw a physio. The prognosis was good, ankle movement was as expected and I was set some rehab and stability exercises and prescribed some rest. Always some rest. That is the difficult part right?! Over the Christmas period I continued to dwell on the pain and with the Trans Gran Canaria race looming in the distance I was thinking of pulling out of the Country to Capital. 70km felt like it could put my year at risk before I even began.

But, I didn’t. I’ve been stubborn as always and after a follow up with the physio and a check up with the GP (who confirmed the lump is a small Ganglion cyst, but nothing to worry about) I stuck by my original plan. So to the race I went.

This is quite a popular event. There aren’t that many ultras in the first few weeks of January, especially not ones so accessible from London. An ultra at the beginning of January is a test. A checkup if you like. To see where you are at and what your body is saying after Christmas. Many runners use this event as ‘tune up’ (as Alan describes it) for what is to come. So that became my aim too.

With an early start and a rush from the first train from London to Wendover, I decided to stay overnight in Stoke Mandeville. I’m glad I did. I woke relaxed and at eased and casually made my way to registration with plenty of time to do all the mandatory registration activities without any stress.

I met with Alan, Lenny and a few of their mates and the race Director sent us on our way. There was a mad dash at the start as the runners legged it down the high street to get the front line at the single track paths. And that there is where the majority of my memories of this event comes to an end. It is, as events go, pretty unspectacular. We cover a lot of ground (45 miles!), but it is mostly forgettable. True, the start near Wendover Woods is quite scenic, but as soon as you get inside the M25 it is a grotty run. 30 plus kilometres along the Grand Union Canal towpath, it sounds good, but it is ugly. Flat. Hard. Narrow. Covered in more litter and abandoned rubbish than you can imagine. I’m not talking about the odd bit of crap here and there, in places it was piled with bonfire sized heaps of rubbish. London has a problem here it needs to address! Such as historic part of the country in such a sad state.

Anyway, that’s off my chest. What do I remember?

A few rolling hills to start with provided some early morning treats to the eye. The first 15 or so miles were a breeze with some walking up the inclines and crowds of runners to chat away too and enjoy. Shortly after the second checkpoint, with conversations of the morning often revolving around the recent UTMB ballot results, I got chatting to Sophie. Sophie had quite a remarkable experience at UTMB this year which really puts all the preparation and stress of the events into perspective. There’s a lot of discussion around changes required to events as a result and hopefully we will see those much needed changes come sooner rather than later.

As we chatted, Sophie pointed out how fast we were running. What finish time this equated too. I knew I was ahead of the pace I’d set out for. I knew I’d gone off too quickly. I was feeling OK though so was rolling with it. Sophie gave me a reality check. I stuck with it and carried on, telling myself “as long as it feels good”.

I started to make deals with myself. First off, get to checkpoint 3. This would be roughly a marathon in, after which it was the towpath all the way to the finish. I’d have a moment at the checkpoint and update Alan and the others on my progress (we’d be meeting in the pub later in the day). Checkpoint 3 came about so quickly. Quicker than I expected. One of the volunteers did acknowledge it was now the afternoon, so I’d done the marathon in around 4 hours.

Onward along the canal we went. The field did start to spread out now and no doubt a lot of us were starting to feel the aches in the legs. The route had no signage or markings but I did have the GPX on my watch. I was on the towpath, I didn’t need it though right? Wrong! I was constantly following the runners in the distance and at one point, after heading after a runner I soon heard some screaming behind us. It took a moment but the caller was persistent. I’m so glad he was as we had missed a turning off the canal path onto another. If we had continued, we would have ended up in Brentford! Thankfully I was able to back track and recover and thank the runner. The could have been very costly!

I negotiated the next set of deals with myself. First off, get to the forth checkpoint. I was hopeful it wasn’t too far away. And it soon arrived. To my surprise the volunteers confirmed there were just 10 miles to go (I’d been estimating closer to 13 miles left) and the final checkpoint was only 4 miles away. This lifted me. I decided to walk for a moment and eat some more food, then I’d run what was left of the 4 miles. I could do that. That was a very process-able distance.

The next deal would be when I get to the final checkpoint I’d start a walk-run strategy. I’d been checking my average pace for the last few miles an I knew a strong finish (somewhere under 8 hours) was on the cards. I probable could have run the last 6 miles but there was nothing in it for me to do so. I came up with the plan to walk 0.25 miles, run 2 miles and repeat. This would make the last 6 miles so much more manageable and I felt I’d walked very little other than the few short inclines early on in the run.

After leaving the last checkpoint, a few miles from the finish I saw a familiar face. I recognised it smiling out at the runners. I couldn’t place it though. We had a Hi-five. Then it clicked. Rowan called out my name and it all made sense. We’ve known each other through Instagram yet never met, somehow avoiding each other in the 20 plus group that was out in Berlin together.  Rowan snapped the only picture I have of the day, we had a hug and I was back on my way. The last few miles went down exactly as per the deal, I was blocking out the crap littered tow path until Little Venice came upon me so quickly.

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Rowan’s camera snapping the only photo from the day!

The finish was an understatement. A subtle welcome, medal and a cuppa doesn’t do the brutality of the race justice. The Country to capital is not an easy run. I don’t think any flat runs are. It gives me great awe thinking about those runners who take on events like the Thames 100. It must be so hard on the body. Don’t go entering the Country to Capital because you think it is an easy race, it really isn’t!

It’s the day after the run and I feel surprisingly good. I’m thinking and checking over my body and I’m feeling very happy. There’s things I know I need to work on and things I need to improve, but after a tough run I expected to be in pain in a few places. The worst is my ribs and abs. I know I’ve run hard when they ache! The foot? The foot feels fine. Now back to those rehab and stability exercises.

Trail Run – Sat 29th December

Update: The run is LIVE on the MyCrew app. Download it here MyCrew and look for the run to get easy access to updates and find out who else is joining.

Ok, so here it is Saturday 29th December – a Trail run around Three Bridges. Who wants to join?

 

 

This time last year I met a bunch of trail runners. A collective of like minded individuals who share a passion for running, trails and enjoying nature. They welcomed me into their open group and took me on many adventures over the year. I want you to experience this too. So, come and join the Cool Cats (check them out on Facebook and the ‘gram!) as we head to Three Bridges to get one last muddy trail run in before the New Year comes…

Details are below, but get in touch with me directly and I’ll make sure you are added to the group and kept up to date with the plans. Expect cold and wet weather with mud and plenty of great company. We run together, to enjoy each other’s company and share the trails (there will be plenty of opportunity to take pictures along the way). We’ll probably be floating around the 7.30min/km (just under 12min/mile) pace on average.

The route

The route will be a ~37km loop from Three Bridges, Starting and ending in Three Bridges Station. We will initially run down towards Balcombe station where you can opt to join the group there and do a shorter route (approximately 20km) as we head back up to Three Bridges. The longer route will have a few hills and a total elevation gain of about 500m.

Both routes are available on my Strava page (links below) where you can download the GPX/TCX files if you want to.

Both routes are mainly trail but will involve a few road sections.

The Long Route (36km)

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https://www.strava.com/routes/16464579

 

The shorter Route (~20km (to the pub!))

Trail Run 18km

https://www.strava.com/routes/16314420

 

The Where

  • Three Bridges Train Station
Three Bridges Station
We’ll start from the station
  • If you are joining for the shorter route, meet at the Half Moon Pub, a short walk from Balcombe Station
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Wait at the pub for us to arrive

 

 

The When

Saturday 29th December.

  • Meet for 08:45 to start running at 09:00am from outside the station (Three Bridges)
  • If joining for the Shorter Route, be at the Half Moon Pub for 11:00am (you may need to wait a little while but I will provide updates to those joining)

How to Get there

From Central London:

  • Either Train from London Bridge (08:07am) / Blackfriars (07:59am). Or join from another station along the way. Get off at Three Bridges (or Balcombe if joining for the shorter route, get a later train though!)

From anywhere else:

  • No idea! You’ll have to figure that out for yourself!!

The Pub:

  • We’ll head to the Hillside Inn afterwards. Passing Three Bridges station again on the way. Address is Balcombe Road, Crawley RH10 7SX

 

Your responsibilities

  • Get there on time! We will start running at 09:00. That means you need to be there before 09:00! Please don’t make everyone else late. Likewise if you are joining at Balcombe, we’ll come and find you but won’t be hanging around if you are not there on time!
  • Whilst this isn’t an organised event and there is no mandatory kit, be sensible! Bring what you need. It is advisable to:
    • bring enough water for the whole journey (there are no planned water stops along the route),
    • bring food to eat and keep you fuelled (we’ll be running for hours!),
    • its December so bring warm clothes and something to keep you protected from the rain,
    • Something warm and dry (inc dry socks!) for afterwards too!
    • Any medical supplies you need!
    • Expect mud, Trail shoes are advised!
  • If you feel unwell or have an injury, tell someone. Don’t be afraid to speak to us, so we can help you!
  • Please make sure you are capable of doing the whole distance comfortably. Whilst we will stick together as a group, we aren’t set up to split into different groups. We will be running and not hiking!
  • This is not a race nor a guided trail run! It is a social/group run. There are no pacers or leaders. We will run together at a pace suitable for everyone. If you want to go faster it is your responsibility not to get lost, to come back to the group or to wait and regroup. It is not other people’s responsibility to keep pace with you! Leave your training plans and times at home!

So if you are interested in joining, get in touch here or via Instagram to let me know (If I don’t know you are coming, I can’t plan for you!)

A sneak peak of what is in store for you…

Thanks

Dai

 

 

It’s Soooo Nice.

Another 6 months have passed, well, almost. It is the end of my challenge, 2018 is now technically closed for me (from an event perspective that is!). This means reflection time again. 6 months ago I wrote a mid-way review post and I’m glad I did. I had to read it to recall everything that has happened and where my mind and thoughts were at 6 months ago.

Lets quickly recap on that first half of the year, January – April saw 4 marathons. 2 p.bs, a DNF and a wicked experience of rediscovering the enjoyment and fun I have in running. May and June saw the start of my ultras with 3 of them completed, including my first real taste of running in the mountains. You can read all the detail of those first 6 months in my review.

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Swag from the year – over 1,000km of events

Before I knew it July was here. This is when it started hotting up. Literally. What a glorious summer we had in the UK, and sure us runners moaned about it! It was always too hot. We were always dehydrated. We were always worried and concerned. Runners running early morning and late evenings just to avoid the sun. I couldn’t avoid the sun during the first of the ultras in the second half of the year. The Serpent Trail (not sure what’s happened to this blog!? it’s vanished!!) was an absolute scorcher, but great fun. Whilst the world cup was underway, I was busy running my first 100km of the year through the South Downs. It was an amazing route and well organised event but required some digging deep to carry on for 13 hours in the relentless heat. I compared this event to a Battle. That day I also met Ally whom I found out is my neighbor.

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Flying high on the Serpent Trail!

August was the big month. The first challenge in my path would be  return to the SVP100. Running with Ged and Chris and meeting many many people along the way. A fairly relaxed run (I had my mind on the next imminent challenge!) where I just wanted to ensure I didn’t get injured! One thing I learnt that weekend was not to use a room in a shared/lived in Airbnb. I felt uncomfortable. Most notable in my feelings from this race was the comparisons I drew to running the same event in 2017. It didn’t disappoint.

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Revisiting a race for the first time.

At the end of August it was the main event. Shortly after recovering from the SVP100 it was onto the big one. The CCC. The race that had come to dominate my calendar year. The one that filled me with fear and uncertainty but so much excitement at the same time. I prepped for this one. Whilst ultimately the year so far was ‘training’ for this purpose I also went out to the Alps to Recce the route before hand. Here’s a summary of that recce and also what I learnt from doing it.

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Final push…

Come the race itself, physically it was hard. Mentally it was challenging. I came through it so much faster and stronger than I’d planned. I earned the gilet that day. Despite having mixed feelings on the event I am so glad I ran it.

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A surreal experience

There was no stopping now. With very little time to rest, I was straight into the Berlin marathon. A different race entirely. Shorter distance, road, greater intensity. I hadn’t run a road race for 4 months since Helsinki (and that was a calm and calculated run at a consistent, easy pace). I didn’t know how I’d fare up. The ghost of Limassol still lingered. I took the pressure off myself. I had no real intentions for Berlin. Secretly I wanted the sub 3, but I wasn’t committed to attempting it here and now. Not so soon after the CCC anyway. That all changed when I started running that morning. Kipoche wasn’t the only breaking records that day. I made my own history with a life time membership into the Sub 3 hour club. That can never be undone.

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3hr marathon club membership

Three quarters of the year done. 3 races remaining! I’d achieved the goals I’d originally set out to achieve. I’d come through in pretty good condition. The big races of the CCC and Berlin had been conquered. Immediately I went into a sort of chilled mood. The next races were mere formalities in my mind. I didn’t care what happened as long as I finished and as long as I didn’t pick up any injuries.

Poland was the next destination in October. This was a very social occasion with 5 of us ‘Cool Cats’ heading out and running the 48km at the Lemkowyna Ultra Trail event. We met up with ‘Team Hot Tub’ from Sweden and dubbed ourselves team ‘Zeimniaki’ after discovering our love and inability to speak Polish. The run itself was not as expected as the mud gave way to glorious sunshine and dry terrain. I ran with (or rather near) Yvette for the full 6 hours and we picked up our amazing mugs and cowbell medals at the finish line. It was a great weekend. We also had a brief moment on Polish TV!

I did hit a bit of a low-point (mentally) during September and October. The build up of all the races had raised my expectations. A sort of anti-climax was reached and a little bit of me felt unfulfilled despite my achievements. My motivation and desire had dropped and I didn’t run as much in September and October as a result (still clocking >100 mile months though!). I felt a little lethargic and out of shape (I didn’t alter my diet in anyway and produced a lovely pot-belly as a result!). The calf/hamstring issue I felt out in Poland persisted and I was too stubborn to do anything about it (and still am!). I did however set my mind on re-building myself from November onward. Using those last two races to trigger the start of training for 2019. That was the plan anyway…

Poland was followed by a return to Wales. Brecon was calling once more, this time the 46 mile (2 loops) of the Brecon with Jon, Gif and Reka. Originally this was going to be Jon, Tommy and Kieron but sadly they both had to drop out in the weeks leading up to the event. We met up with Ged and ran together with as little pressure and maximum enjoyment possible. It was a great experience. We had a lot of fun that weekend and Jon secured his 4 UTMB points he set out to.

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What a great weekend!

I threw an extra spanner in the works during November when I (all too easily) was convinced by Ged to run a trial of a new ultra in between Brecon and Dorset. The Thames Bridges Ultra (TBU) is a 50 mile ultra along the Thames (crossing the bridges obviously) that would be run at night. How could I resist? It was free after all! What I didn’t consider was the implications of running 3 ultras in 2 weeks. I felt good on the night but soon tired. The exhaustion from Brecon came out. It was long, hard and flat. Ged had to pull out before the day, but Reka and Krysia provided much needed company through the night.

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The trail Twins!

The Dorset Coastal Trail Series was the final event for me. The end of my challenge. Another 46miles of trails and the first event I’d do on the coast. I signed up to this initially with Alex (who did the half). Later in the year, the WTR bunch got involved and so this also became a very social event. I only wish I’d studied the course before committing as, it involved a number of repetitive laps of the (very) hilly route! The weather on the day was verging on the extreme. Some emergency plans were instigated and route changes applied. Visibility was low as we fought not only the distance but the elements. A super hard run made easier with great company!

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Wild Trail Runners!

What else have I been up to?

Like the first 6 months of the year, the second half was full of other adventures and moments worth noting. So many in fact I don’t quite know where to begin nor what to really say about them! So here, as a reminder for me to look back on one day, are some other highlights from the year.

Lets start with the group training

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  • Never Stop London. This carried on into the year, although I attended less frequently. The community is buzzing (and has grown so much over the summer!) and my strength has definitely improved from all the leg cranks and focused training. I’ve no doubt it helped set me up for success in the Alps.

 

  • img_7744Wild Trail Runners – Towards the end of spring I started attending the hill sessions on Monday nights. Whilst not always motivated to go, or often aching from the weekend’s events, these have been a great opportunity to not only get some additional tailored training and hill sessions, but to become closer with a wicked bunch of runners and community.

 

  • IMG_3049London Burger Run – each month these continue and with a few exceptions I’ve been able to help pace one of the groups. These have also been a great opportunity to meet people and get more involved in the community, but also to learn about pacing and leading groups of runners. Above all the atmosphere is so relaxed and a great way to bring people of all abilities and aims together.

 

  • img_9081.jpgEvossi Explore Runs – another opportunity which came about over the summer was my involvement with Evossi (see below!) which led to some more run leader experience on runs in Richmond and South East London. A smaller, but growing community!

 

Run With Dai. These have continued. However they have been a little less structured (I count some of the times when I’ve run with others which might not have been planned that way!) and a little less frequent. My biggest challenge here has been maintaining not only interest (from others that is – I’m always open to running with you all!!), but freedom to do it whilst still training and travelling for all my events!

  • Run With Montane – this one was a particularly special Run With Dai though as it was the first I’ve done outside of London and which required an over night stop! Whilst there were other motives involved, it also served as a reminder of the past year and a moment of reflection. I’ve now committed to going further with this incentive and will one day make it to Scotland, Northern Ireland and even Germany for a ‘Run with Dai’!
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The Cheviots are something else!

Recce Runs – there have been a few occasions where I’ve done a run to prepare for another run! Usually recces of a run I’ll be leading, but the most notable one was a trip to the Alps to prepare for the CCC:

  • Recce with Yvette – Quite an adventure in itself, this was essentially a multi-stage ultra where we ran 80km over two days in the Alps. I learnt (see my post – ‘Knowing where you are going‘) a lot this trip and whilst I’d advocate doing similar, it isn’t always possible (costs, time etc.) to do before a big race. I certainly won’t be able to recce some of the races I’ve planned for 2019!
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High on the Alps checking out the CCC route!

 

Ambassador Roles – Here is something I didn’t expect. The later half of the year has seen me work with some exciting brands and engage with the running community a different way…

  • Evossi Explore – Being approached by Evossi was a very proud moment. Such an exciting brand that has big plans for establishing communities and bringing individuals together through running. I’m excited to be part of the team and thankful for the opportunity to be an ambassador and also to help with some of the Evossi Explore runs. Go check out their kit, some really smart designs and features!
  • Montane – This opportunity came about through chance and relationship building. It’s incredible to be able to work with one of the leading brands for trail running gear but also to be part of a community so focused on supporting the environment in which we play – you need to check out the work Montane do with their partnership with the BMC and their commitments to Corporate Social Responsibilities!
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Love this kit – The Fireball Verso by Montane!

Achieving my goals – When I started planning 2018 I associated goals to each of my races. There were some very specific targets (such as striving for a GFA time for the London Marathon) but also some less traditional goals in “having fun”, “not getting lost”. I’ve come through the year and achieved all I set out too and I couldn’t be happier. Naturally the two standout achievements were:

  • Achieving good for age (for London) – technically I did this twice – firstly in Malta way back in February, only for the goal posts to be subsequently moved! Secondly when breaking the 3 hour time in Berlin in September. A 3 hour marathon was never a goal for the year but it very quickly became a possibility after a strong start to 2018. With my interests soon switching to trail rather than road, I’m grateful I’ve achieved this and don’t have to worry or think about trying ever again!
  • Conquering the CCC – I’ve never been more out of my depth and full of fear in my life! When I signed up to this race I had no idea what I was doing. Here I was on the back of two trail runs and suddenly I think I can run ultras in the Alps?! Rocking up to the start line among some impressive and prestigious company was nerve racking. I didn’t belong here I thought. I felt like a fraud and that I was winging it. However, over time the experience and exposure to trails prepared me for the adventure ahead. My goal was to survive and survive I did!

Blogging – clearly this has continued otherwise you wouldn’t be sitting here reading this now (I hope you are sitting here reading this now!). I guess I’ve found it quite cathartic and a useful way to process my thoughts, identifying how I can improve and adapt. But also it is serving my goal of recording all these memories and achievements in a sort of diary I can refer back to. It’s very personal for me and I’m pleased so many of you do read my mumbles! Also, being nominated for the the best ‘personal blog’ category in the UK Running Awards is an absolute jaw dropper! (not sure if you heard, had I mention it?! go on, if you want to you can vote for me by following this link and find “RunWithDai” in the nominees. Thanks!). I have my sister to thank for that one!

Vote

What did I learn

  • Race tactics – I’m still figuring this all out. Taking the pressure off yourself is the greatest tactic I’ve learnt so far (besides finding what works for you and trusting how you feel!). Find a way to create your freedom and feed your enjoyment. Berlin was the example. I felt good and strong throughout. I remember so much of the day and ran it consistently. Besides the result, I really enjoyed the run as I felt under no pressure to perform.
  • Leading/running – I’ve still very much to learn here and my confidence needs building. Perhaps I’m too relaxed, I want people to enjoy, not to be dictated at. I’ve now sampled it though, look out in 2019 for the many many runs I end to plan!
  • Social media – I’ve mixed feelings here. Let’s be blunt, it is a cesspool at times. So much negativity and pressure to be a certain way. But, it is so out done by all the wonderful people in supportive running community. There’s a lot of inspiration out there. Just take the experience of social media with a pinch of salt and don’t compare yourself!
  • The People – Running with others is so much more enjoyable than running solo. I used to be a lone-wolf when running. I rarely run alone now and I’m smiling so much more as a result.
  • Challenge – I don’t push myself and I underestimate my abilities. I know this. I don’t know why I don’t try harder. Maybe there’s an element of fear and an element of just being content with where I am. I’ll ride it out though. If and when that changes, I’ll be ready. I’m not going to force anything.
  • Fear – Fear of injury is still there. I’m not unique. All athletes and people involved in sports must have this deep lasting fear of not being able to do the things you love most. I’ve learnt to just accept and be conscious of this.
  • Support – The support is phenomenal. Friends. Family. Strangers. Everyone has been so great and supportive to me. For that I am truly grateful.
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Running is better shared!

What hasn’t changed

  • Diet & Nutrition – I might be determined, but I’m also weak and have very little will power. Put something tasty and sugary in front of me and the greedy bastard inside will take it all. When I crave something, I get it. I still need to learn and introduce some control in this aspect of my life. If I ever have desires to improve and compete then I’ll need to address my diet and self control!
  • Stretching and training is all still crap – I run when I want and stretch only when I can be bothered. The beauty of running so many events is that the time between is mostly for recovery (well, in theory). My basic fitness and capability is not only there but constantly maintained. The Wild Trail running on a Monday has become the only structured and routined aspect of my training!
  • Anxiety – I’m still nervous and anxious. Yep, over 16 events this year and I’m still not used to it. The days leading up to an event can be very stressful for me. I’ve identified the main parts that freak me out are the logistics (getting to and from the event) and the actual expo/race registration part. Yes the wait at the start line is also a time of being anxious, but as soon as I’m running I am free from worry. Never mind the social side of it and meeting people!
  • Stubbornness – I’m still stubborn. I do it my way. My approach works for me and I am happy with that. Whilst I think of myself as easy going, If I want something (a certain flight, a certain race, whatever) then I pursue it with stubbornness. Running through so many injuries and not accepting rest into my approach is the perfect example. But this is associated to my FOMO…
  • FOMO – I still do too much. The reason being is I have the FOMO. Every time I see a challenge that someone else is doing, has done or which looks great. Then I want some. I find it hard to say no. Very hard.
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I don’t want to miss out on the fun!

So looking back, wow. I’m surprised myself at what I’ve done this year. It grew completely out of control in the most amazing way. I’ve done things I’ve never thought I would. I’ve come out of my comfort zone on so many occasions. I’ve made new friends and memories that I will cherish forever. I’ve essentially begun the most amazing mid-life crisis! Some people buy cars or have affairs, I’ve discovered running! I hope this crisis never ends!

My biggest take away though is the people. The community. This is the sort of wanky statement I don’t feel comfortable with, but it’s so true for my year. Look around my blogs and reviews and whom I now spend my free time with… the vast majority of the these people I refer to I didn’t know 12 months ago. I’ve found so much inspiration and support from these people. I have so much appreciation for them and am in awe of their successes too. It’s certainly helped build this love of running I have! This is something I want to celebrate some how. I will find a way!

But what now? Where do I go from here? Good news is that I haven’t stopped thinking or planning. In fact the foundations of a plan are already there. The commitments are made. 2019 is going to be even bigger as I take Montane’s strap-line personally and go Further, Faster! Here we go again….Watch this space, but for now time to put the feet up and chill (from events that is!).

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I don’t think I’ll reach this level of relaxation though!

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I’ve been nominated for the personal blog category with the Running Awards. I’d love your support and votes. If you like what you read and you’d like to vote for me you can click this link and find “RunWithDai” in the nominees. Thanks!

CTS – Dorset

December. Before I know it, it was December. It has come around quickly. This would be my last race of the year. The final event in my race calendar. 1st December would mark the date I’d complete my challenge. Originally persuaded by Jack and Alex (that dude who went blue in the face Brighton) to come to their neck of the woods and hit the trails. I couldn’t resist and went for the longest option (the Ultra ‘plus’). After booking earlier in the year, a group of the Wild Trail Runners then also signed up to some of the various distances on offer so I tagged along for the journey. This is great as I’ve come to love running such events with others. Not just the run itself but the lead up, day before and things you do post run which are all better celebrated together.

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The Jurassic Coast. Dorset

I’m going to keep this one pretty short and as a straight forward review of the race. Partly because I’m tired. My mind is still wired and my body aching. Secondly, as you’ll soon read, the day was pretty grim and there’s probably not a lot to say about the course and hours that went past!

Leading up to the event I was on the back of two previous ultras (Brecon and TBU). This was number 3 in 15 days. I was heading into the run tired and a little complacent. My mind wasn’t focused (and truthfully hasn’t been since Berlin). Evident in the amount of fathing I did packing my bag the night before – Rocking up at the race I didn’t use the bag drop but left some stuff in Maggie’s car. Later realising I’d brought bugger all else and not even spare shorts or trousers for afterwards!

Arriving at the start in the morning it was indeed pretty grim. We’d seen the weather forecasts and event updates in the days preceding the start and they didn’t disappoint. It was cold. It was very windy and it was hammering down with rain. We registered and huddled in the tent and listened to the race briefing. Shivering. The would be a diverted route today due to the high winds and a part of the coastal path would be avoided. We didn’t realise at the time that this would lead to a slight increase in the distance. First out where the Ultra and Ultra plus (yep, it’s a thing for Endurance Life) Runners.

Along with Kirsty, Tamas and Weronica I was doing the Ultra plus. The route would be a figure of 8 along the coast, then repeating the first half of the figure of 8 and then repeating a smaller loop of the first half of the figure of 8. Got it? Yeah, as a route that sounds as boring as it was. As the race director acknowledged, we’d see the ‘one mile to go’ sign 3 times before it applied to us. Great. Tagging in to the start/finish each time would be a test of our will power to continue!

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Cold, wet but upbeat!

We huddled for a group picture and were then sent off, out to do battle with nature. The route first took us up the steps towards Durdle Door. These were some long steps. Everyone was walking. No one was talking. We were all hiding inside our waterproofs. Hoods on, heads buried into our chests. The rain and wind was relentless. Visibility was close to non-existent. Durdle Door was there somewhere. You just couldn’t see it.

After this section was the diversion. We carried on climbing the second incline and found ourselves running through some very muddy fields. There was plenty of space but runners sliding all over the place. Again maybe just a few metres visible ahead. We were soaked through. Wet feet was going to be a stand out memory of the day! It wouldn’t make a difference that I wore my S-LAB ultras that had a hole in them!

The good thing about the lack of visibility was that you couldn’t see what was coming up or how far you’d come. You’d just plod on. That might make the second lap easier!! We passed a few checkpoints, a nice section through a woodland and were back running through the muddy fields in the opposite direction. I hadn’t realised how much of the course we’d run back along. It was only after passing Maggie, Daniel and Matt who were starting out on their Marathon journey (they’d complete the initial figure of 8 route).

First loop done, now came the really big climbs. A few hours had passed and the morning had started to brighten up a little. As we climbed, the cliffs were visible. The white chalk glistening in the gloomy day. The climbs came thick and fast. And they were big. Lunging up steps and, at times, using your hands to grab at the land in front of your face. Each summit presenting new views to savour.

Along the coast I was amused as we ran along side a military training facility. The constant warnings to ‘keep out’ and ‘danger’ were a reminder of the area we were in. But soon the route would take us to the other side of the fence and it felt we were now running in the danger zone.

Looping back at the tip of the ‘8’ the route took us onto one of the hardest parts of the course. A field of mud. Really really muddy soft ground. On an incline. The snake of runners immediate slowed. We weren’t walking. We were sludging and sliding our way through. Eventually emerging the other side to more of the same. A cabbage field. Equally muddy and even steeper. This whole section was a drain on the energy. At the top runners were pulling each other up the final inclines. It was all quite amusing, but tiring and I was glad we wouldn’t be coming back here later!

Sometime later we were back at the coastal paths and joined by the half marathoners and 10km runners. I didn’t realise we’d run those cliffs again and sure they felt steeper this time around. One in particular was really tough and took quite some time to over come. As I powered up we passed a guy being slid down the hill by some helpers. He looked in a bad place. Adam, one of the Wild TR coaches was one of those helping.

We arrived back at the starting point to complete the first figure of 8. I was ready for a rest. With the diversion we’d just done a little over a marathon distance. I knew Kirsty wasn’t far behind me as we’d been passing each other over the last few hours. As I sipped back coke and some (many) and jelly babies she arrived. We were both so glad to see each other and agreed to keep each other company for the next half of the race. The wind and rain made the day quite miserable so far and the lift from company was needed.

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It had stopped raining at least and I decided I needed to re-jig my kit. I no longer wanted to run in my waterproof jacket so removed it to go with the t-shirt and arm warmer combo. I was soaked through from sweat as well as rain. I feared I’d be instantly cold but hoped the wind would sort of dry me out (it did). As I was changing Amy (Alex’s wife appeared). Alex was on the half and expected quite soon into the finish. Then as we were talking, Paul appeared. I’d been speaking to Paul for quite some time but we hadn’t yet met. I didn’t expect to see him as he was contemplating not doing the half as he was running the Hurtwood50 the next day.

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It was visible on the second passing only. Durdle Door.

Time was up. Time to head back out and climb those hills again. First off those steps! Immediately I felt better having Kirsty about. The afternoon also cleared up as we reached Durdle door so we had some views to absorb. We stopped to take some pictures and make those memories before carrying on. Unlike the first loop, there was a lot more walking this time round. But still enjoyable. The volunteers and the checkpoints were full of energy and encouragement and we joked our way through. Passing all the muddy fields before the brief stint along the paved roads and the forest paths (which were stunning now the mist had moved on). Emerging into a field we could see the steep decline down to the second checkpoint at the bottom. We set off but could see a very muddy section half way down which we joked about. As I hit it I immediately slid and did my best ice skating impression as my arms waved about and I spun 180 degree to look back up at the top of the hill and a runner behind me laughing. A good save. Or so I thought. As I continued behind the runner I stacked it. My legs slid forward out from under me and I sat straight down into the mud. Squishy. We all laughed. At least I picked the softest place to fall!! I wiped mud on my face to mark the occasion. The ladies at the check point laughed and greeted me as I arrived, they’d seen the whole thing.

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Moments later the darkness descended

We ploughed on, retracing the route towards the start again. Darkness descended upon us quickly in the overcast sky and we needed to stop to get the torches out. As frustrating as this was, it was certainly the right decision. It was hard enough to see and stay stable in the light! The quick reshuffle of kit though did unbalance my packed kit. I planned to fix this when we reached the start – about 2 miles to go.

As we arrived back at the start, I took time to change my clothes, putting on a long sleeved layer and using my windproof jacket as padding in the bag. It all worked well. It took me far to long to do though, I’d kept Kirsty waiting for what felt like an eternity! But I was eventually ready. Back out we went. Time for those steps and inclines yet again.

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Finisher. Fresh with Warpaint

No surprise, this final 10km was tough. Obviously we knew now we’d finish now as we’d left the comfort of the start. But we were exhausted and walked/run our way around. No sights to see this anymore. Just the few metres lit up by our head torches. Pretty uneventful this time round, we just persevered. Getting over those hills and through the mud. That sign ‘one mile to go’ came into view and our mood picked up. We would’t have to pass it again. This time it was for us! We ran. We kept running. We could hear the hustle of the camp not too far away and plodded down the final stretch into the finish line. Medals and pictures received. We were done.

Shortly after finishing, Maggie and Yvette arrived in the car to collect us and soon after that Weronica arrived too. Time to head home to shower and eat!!

 

 


Vote

I’ve been nominated for the personal blog category with the Running Awards. I’d love your support and votes. If you like what you read and you’d like to vote for me you can click this link and find “RunWithDai” in the nominees. Thanks!