Thursday, 9 April 2020

Bob Graham round 2019

The Bob Graham round has fascinated me for several years now, I'd read about it and it seemed a million miles from my capabilities. I knew bits of the Lake district and had done lots of mountain running but this always seemed like an impossible task. It was something hardened fell runners from the local area did, not soft southern trail runners. I mean 65 miles, 42 mountain peaks, 27000ft of elevation gain in 24hrs all self navigated that's just nuts!
Ultra running is my life and I love it but it can get a bit samey sometimes. I found myself getting bored of stuff so I decided a few years back to mix it up and try as many different running related things as possible. One of my favourite things is to do is create mini adventures and just go off exploring for a few days. In 2016 I bought the Harveys Bob Graham map and started studying it. It wasn't long before me and my buddy Dave Bowen arranged a 3 day round stopping in b and bs. It was a cracking weekend although Dave was recovering from surgery and I was coming back from injury. We mainly hiked, took terrible lines and got lost quite a bit. It was great fun but took us about 34 hours moving time and a 24hr round just seemed impossible.
Not long now
Over the next 18 months I took about learning the route, weekends away running legs, part legs, Out and backs. I loved every minute of it all be it slow learning. I was still unsure whether I could actually do a round but I loved my weekends away.
Coming into 2019 I had Western states to run but this was going to be my other "A" event. I was okay on the route and now was the time to put it all together. I got some coaching from Kim Collison who has done a winter and summer round and all my efforts were going to lead to this. So to make it official I set a date, August 17th Anti Clockwise. I ramped up the weekends up there and worked out I could leave home at 3am on a Friday arriving in the lakes at 10 am. I'd rest for an hour then run for 6 hours. Saturday I'd run all day and Sunday I'd run for 5 hours from 6am before travelling home. Then back to work Monday. My mountain legs were certainly coming on but even in May I was wondering how the hell I could make this even ringing Kim after one weekend in total despair questioning my capabilities. He put my mind at rest and told me to man up. It helped.
I had enlisted an ace team for my attempt, some of the best runners I know. It had to be a good idea to surround myself with runners that were equal or preferably a better runner than myself. Leg 1 was going to be Richard Leahy, Annabellle Stearns, Ian Brazier and his daughter Katie. Things had happened though and it ended up just me and Richard doing the leg with Kim Collison pacing for the first few miles. Leg 2 was Paul Nelson, a fantastic mountain runner. He had a fast BGR and multiple race wins under his belt. He would be navigator for the leg. Joining us muling was one of my best running buddies Scott Ulatowski. Scott and I are on a very even footing and often train together. He can get the urge to shoot off too fast but he was recovering from the Lakeland 100 so that would hold him back nicely. For leg 3 Scott was hoping to stay on for but would see how he felt. James Elson would be nav for this leg. He is a top class mountain man having done a Bob and helping on lots more. He has also been a team GB 24 hour runner, definitely a very good runner to have on board. Juhanna Kirk was the third helper on this leg. A good friend of Scotts and a Hardmoors winner. Leg 4 Kim would nav, Kim has coached me, is a world class runner and winter BG record holder. Plus he could probably run Leg 4 blindfolded. Muling was John Melbourne another buddy who had made the trip up. John is the Centurion Grand slam record holder and sub 15 hour 100 miler. He is also a massive piss taker and wouldn't be letting me slack off. Kim and John would stay on for leg 5 plus anyone else in the team who fancied it. Lastly was my road crew, my wife Jacque. No body knows how to crew me like she does. What I eat, drink, have on my feet, when to bollock me and when to listen. Above all I know when I arrive at any given point she will be there ready to go. The A team for sure!
Countdown with Richard
There was heavy rain all week and a plan A, B and C was in place. This was happening I just wasn't sure of the exact time or day! As it got closer and the weather forecast was more certain I decided on plan A. 7am Saturday 17th August. Some heavy rainfall was coming through on Friday but looked set to clear for 6am. It was on.
We all met at Moot hall for photos and I was buzzing, this was a dream moment. I was fit, well, good weather and I had a great team ready to go. My parents even rocked up with a few minutes to go to wish me luck. They had travelled up from Kent with us and it was great to have them there.
On the dot of 7am we were off. I bounced down the High street with Richard and Kim. We chatted and tried to reign the pace in as we followed the undulating roads towards Little town. At the Swinside Inn Kim left us and Richard continued with me. I had elected to use La Sportiva Mutants for the day and they are not too bad on the road so there was no need to change. We left the road and headed up the track towards the foot of Hindscarth before turning right up the steep bank toward Robinson. I was chomping at the bit and working a bit too hard pushing Richard all the way up. To be fair he was carrying all the kit and water for two of us. We reached the summit in 88 minutes a massive 22 minutes up on my schedule. Although I had a plan on paper the plan was different in my head. I figured I could pick up time early and then cruise it in later on. We soon reached Hindscarth in the allotted 17 minutes. The storm was now well and truly passed and the wispy clouds were just rising above the summits. It was like they were lifting for us and guiding our way through. We made Dale head in 13 minutes and gained another 4 minutes. We had an absolute ball descending into Honister. I tried to hold back but couldn't I was having too much fun. We could see everyone was there as we approached, it was a big turn out of family and supporters. We were a massive 31 minutes up and had caught Paul off guard who had arrived with minutes to spare. He'd seen my tracker and had to toe it to Honister to be on time. I used my allotted 5 minutes to change socks as my feet were soaked already. As I sat on my chair trying to sort my socks I couldn't reach down I'd had a massive fall on the North Downs Way a few weeks earlier pacing a friend and smashed my ribs. I was pretty sure one was broken. Only Jacque knew about it as I hadn't wanted anyone telling me the attempt was a bad idea. I'd kept quiet but I was in agony now I couldn't even lean forward to untie my shoes. I decided to take a pain killer and try and forget about it.
Honister slate mine
Come on Scott!
Paul led me up a different line I was used to as we left Honister I was happy to follow although I did question it. Within 200 metres I realised I'd left my gloves behind. Scott was reluctantly sent back for them as Paul and I powered forward up the slope. It was the first time I'd met Paul, we had chatted on the phone and he seemed like a decent bloke. As we climbed the first hill together he felt like an old friend as we put the running world to rights. His line upto Grey Knotts was pretty good too. We had made another 3 minutes although I was probably blowing a bit too hard. It was an easy dash across to Brandreth and we moved across it quickly. We pressed forward but there were still some clouds floating in and out and Scott was yet to catch up. I told Paul we would have to wait as Scott could end up anywhere. Paul pressed on and I waited for Scott. Scott then helped me reign it in a bit because Pauls pace was starting to show and it was too quick for my round. We got to Green Gable bang on the 14 minutes allocated. We were moving well and ascended Great Gable in good time. Paul was pulling ahead then waiting for us, it was fine though as he was just far enough ahead not to get lost in the cloud. Of the few recces I'd done I'd never come off Gable too well and always lost time but Paul got me on a much better line and we missed the worst of the rocky stuff coming down more to the right on the path rather than straight down. On recces I'd found 45 minutes to descend that and climb Kirk Fell a little optimistic, with Pauls knowledge we did it in 29!
Running into Wasdale with Scott
My energy levels were still good, my rib was ok although I think I was so high on adrenaline I could have been missing a limb and wouldn't have noticed. My mental plan was still in place (if a little fast). At this rate we were on a 20 to 21 hour pace. I usually just follow the fence down off of Kirk Fell but again Paul pulled rank and took us down the gulley. This was good fun, Scott and I were in hysterics trying to motor down as Paul disappeared again. I really enjoy leg 2 but the Pillar is a real slog especially as you have to run all the way up to hit the summit on schedule. I had a massive wobble here and had to tuck in behind Paul. Food was still on point so just fatigue but still a bit early in the day for that. We made 7 minutes but it was hard fought for. Steeple came and went without incident. I still say Red Pike from Steeple is impossible for me in 13 minutes and it was on the day we were 3 minutes short. Red Pike to Yewbarrow is a nice section a steady descent and good climb up the other side. I was intending to try a new line up Yewbarrow which keeps you quite low before a sharp climb up. It keeps you on grass, is pretty quick and easy going but Paul shot off across the rocks at a higher level. I followed, I didn't want us to split up and I'd asked him to nav and he hadn't failed me so I went with it. It went well and we topped out without incident. As long as you get in the trod the descent to Wasdale is fairly straight forward if a little steep. We were straight on it and Paul decided to shoot off ahead where as Scott and I went down steadily. Scott had done a great job keeping my speed down, we were in great spirits. I believe we were even singing most of the way down, this was fun. We arrived in Wasdale car park at 12.56 a massive 1hr 27minutes up on my 23hr schedule.
Wasdale stop
Wasdale was amazing. First a hug from my son and his girlfriend at the entrance to the car park then seeing everyone at the car was a real special moment. Wasdale is miles from anywhere and just to have everyone drive out there was super cool. There was a real buzz with everyone chatting about how it was going, Pacer and nav change over then me and Jacque doing admin. Shoe and sock change, new supplies for the mules and eat lots. James and Juhanna were ready and Scott decided to do another leg. I was up and ready to go within 7 minutes opting to hike while I ate a massive pie.
Sock change
James had seemed apprehensive in the build up about naving my leg 3 and it is a big responsibility . We had spoke on the phone and he'd suggested we naved together and of course I'd agreed but I hadn't factored in tiredness so me naving probably wasn't going to work. There were a few lines I was dead set on but 90% of it was entirely his decision. I had however recced the route out of Wasdale a few times and had found a route up Scafell that I believed to be quicker than any other. Its very steep and about 300 mtrs to the right of the scree shoot that everyone comes down. So we crossed the gill out the carpark and across the boggy field to pick up the fence line which you follow straight up and onto the path at Green How. I was blowing hard as we reached the path but broke into a jog to just get moving again. We soon joined the rocky path up and we hiked to the summit. 68 minutes to the top which I was very pleased with. The next bit across to Scafell pike I had thought about a lot and again this would be my decision. I'd tried Foxes but it just takes too long and Broad stand had not even been considered so we were to go lords rake but not down the West wall. I wanted to find the end and do the entire length of the Lords rake. We actually missed the end in the mist but I knew if you climbed down at any accessible point you would hit the rake, which we did. It was a real highlight of the round through the rake and we were having a great time. We reached Scafell Pike 10 minutes up. This was a massive boost as I'd worried about this bit for ages knowing how easy it would be to lose time here. My target from Wasdale to Scafell Pike had been 2 hours we did it in 1 hour 43!
Gulley into Lords rake
and out the other side
Bringing up the rear
Now the real work began, the tough rocky section from here to beyond Harrison Stickle. This section was one reason I had gone anti clock. Get this out the way before I get too tired. I have a habit of falling easily on rocky ground on tired legs. Thing was now that the Scafells had taken there toll and I was feeling tired. I was eating well and just hoped it was a phase and I'd get over it. As we trotted across the rocks James had full control of the nav and I just followed. It took all my concentration not to fall. We made good time on Broad crag and Ill crag but lost on Great end. Esk Pike passed without incident and we were really getting away with the weather. The whole section had been clear apart from Scafell. As we climbed Bowfell I was dead certain on the line back down as I'd specifically reccied this very bit a few weeks previous. James had suggested going round the long way via Ore gap but I was sure. I'd remembered a couple of features to get us on the right trod and I explained them to James. He quickly recced what I said as me and Juhanna summited Bowfell. Rosset Pike is a fair push from Bowfell and as we came back down James was ready to lead us. We were perfect through here and arrived at Rosset 1 minute up and 2 hours up overall.
Chin up man
I had a massive crash right here. I was dog tired and mentally we had passed some of the real tough stuff but my brain was fuzzy. As the others chatted happily and moved well I was in a whole world of trouble. It became a real battle as I shuffled along. We lost 5 minutes to Pike o Stickle our biggest loss so far. I pushed hard through Harrison Stickle and Thunacar and we were evens timewise. I had elected to do High Raise next but you really have to run up the long grassy slope then run across to Sergeant man. I was a little slow but nothing too drastic. The run across to Calf crag is fairly good going but I was really struggling. I'd been horribly lost here in the past but today was perfectly clear and nav wasn't a problem my legs however were. I perked up a bit as we ran across to Steel Fell probably because I knew this section was almost over. We descended steadily to Dunmail Raise and arrived at 7.26pm. 1hr 54 up on my 23.05 target.
Descent to Dunmail
Seat Sandal
I had a sit down and ate what I could all while busily changing into my night gear. The adverse weather was drawing back in and the tops were shrouded in cloud. I changed my shoes and socks again while Kim and John were getting a debrief from the others. I gazed upwards at the cloud wondering how I was going to pull this off. I just wanted to get leg 4 done but I was feeling pretty tired and generally shitty. Jacque had fed me porridge, mountain fuel breakfast and a meat pie. I was fed and now warm. We set off 12 minutes after my arrival. We hiked up Seat Sandal which is a good 40 minute slog. John and Kim were chomping at the bit to get going. John even said to me "come on get running you c***. I was knackered and this was going to be a hard leg but I tried to hide it by just not speaking and there was certainly no way I was running any of this first ascent. Near the summit the head torches went on and the first splats of rain hit me. We lost a minute on Seat Sandal and a further 4 up Fairfield. I had only recced the out and back option on Fairfield and Kim had decided this is what we would be doing. As we turned to head back down I knew I had to dig in now. This wasn't going to be easy at all. I mustered a jog back down and to be honest it was no more. We tracked round to the base of Dollywagon and up the steep slope as we approached the summit I decided to get a waterproof on, it was cloudy, windy and the rain was really pushing in. Within minutes the weather had really taken a turn for the worst and we were experiencing heavy horizontal  rain. Visibility was non existent and we were completely reliant on Kim's knowledge. Even he struggled slightly to find Nethermost Pike and funnily enough on my previous recce I had missed it all together. We lost 7 minutes here which was more down to me faffing with my coat and me running very slowly. I had a little push on through to Helvellyn and Lower man but all in all this was not great. White side, Raise and the Dodds were tough going. This bit would usually be my bread and butter but I was tired, disorientated and a little cold. everything just seemed so much further than I remembered. We had actually lost another ten minutes! We reached Great Dodd and I couldn't even remember how to get to Clough head I just got my head down and followed the guys. It ended up taking 33 minutes a massive 10 minutes over. We were haemorrhaging time and there was nothing I could do. I also knew from previous recces that from Clough head to the carpark at Threlkeld in 27 minutes was near impossible for me. My quads were good but I was now completely running on empty. The boys were feeding me loads of gels but they were now having no effect. This was just deep fatigue. The descent took me 43 minutes and was my biggest loss so far. It also made me feel pretty shit and moral had dropped off. It was now 12.40 in the morning and I'd lost an hour over leg 4. This wasn't a done deal as I'd dropped off the pace so much. Leg 5 was going to be a challenge for sure.
I sat on my chair in the carpark and could have stayed all night but Kim was keen not to mess around and I needed to push on. I didn't change any clothes I just shoved as much food in as I could and we left after only using 5 minutes of the allocated 10. Juhanna and Scott had turned up to keep Jacque company. Juhanna decided to join us for the final push. I had actually had enough now and sense of humour was at zero. With John there this isn't good because he would just rip into me some more. We reached the gate at the base of Halls Fell and I knew I was capable of making the summit in around 30 minutes on fresh legs well this wasn't going to be the case tonight! Kim obviously knows the route better than me but we took the ridge all the way up whereas I would've gone further left from halfway up and picked my way up the grass. I'd tried it a few times and its a cracking way up but who was I to argue. Near the top is a massive rock on the ridge that you have to climb up but I had no strength and couldn't pull myself up. I had to get a boost up from John. Had I been alone I wouldn't have had the power to pull myself up. We summited 62 minutes after leaving Threlkeld. 2 to go!
It was now 2am and I just wanted to go to bed but no time for dithering. We took a direct line off the summit and straight down through the tussocks. I was very slow through here and kept falling over where I had no power in my legs or ankles to hold me up. Juhanna and Kim went ahead and John stuck with me. We jogged all the way to Caldew and I was helped across. We soon joined the fence line that would take us to Great Calva. I can honestly say I have never been as tired in all my life as I was at this point. I dropped to the back as we climbed constantly stopping but Kim was having none of this and made me go to the front. He wouldn't let me stop and I literally could have cried. We reached the summit at 3.17 and lost nearly 20 minutes but to be frank I couldn't give a crap anymore this was a war of attrition and I was giving it all.
Now for the big descent and ascent to Skiddaw. Skiddaw is very special to me as it was the very first mountain I climbed in the lakes and fittingly it would be the last climb of my Bob. I pushed and pushed as hard as I could and eventually at 4.30 we reached the top. The last summit!! There was a lot of praise and back slapping at the top. I was so happy and the time meant I could walk down and still make it. We jogged across the top but my body started to seize up and shut down as it has done on more than a handful of occasions as soon as I know its in the bag. I ran as best as I could but it was little more than a trot. John asked on the way if I was going to start running. Fuck off John I am running was my reply. Yep he got me I bit. On the descent I was crying on the inside and choking up. It didn't show but this meant so much. So much work, so much effort and so much help from my friends. We entered Keswick High st and all my buddies were there I ran up to the hall, up the steps and touched the door. 22 hrs 51 minutes had passed since I was here last. I held my face in my hands trying to take it in. This really was a moment I'd never forget.
I really will never get over the generosity of my friends and family during that 24 hour period. Not 10 years previous my alliances lay with whoever bought me my next drink but these were my true friends and I'll be forever grateful. I have never been anywhere as special as the Lake District and never completed anything quite like this challenge.
Half the team
I am now a member of the Bob Graham 24 hour Club and my number is 2366.

Sunday, 4 August 2019

Western States 2019

After Western States 2017 I still felt incomplete. Yes I'd finished, yes I got a buckle but it wasn't the race I had wanted. I had reached Foresthill and completely shut down. This has happened twice now. Once at the Barcelona 24hr track race and at Western States 2017. It is a very strange situation, you are not injured, nutrition is good, well trained yet you can't run. This has played on my mind since WS I have analysed every aspect of that race trying to work out what it was. The conclusion was it was culmination of two key things, altitude and heat. I pushed too hard too soon and the lack of oxygen completely stripped my body of energy. I followed that by hitting the canyons heat and powered on regardless. My body was completely broken come Foresthill and although my brain was still focused on finishing sub 24 my sub conscious was stopping me running. My sub conscious was preventing any more damage to my body by stopping me running. I firmly believe this to be the case and had another very experienced runner concur. This wouldn't happen again bring on Western States 2019.

Team GB
I felt I needed to go back. My dream in limbo. That elusive silver buckle still in Auburn. There is no way I could leave it. I thought I'd just throw my name in the hat with a 5 year plan to get back in. So year 2 and 2 tickets in the hat and for the first time in many years I didn't watch the draw. Then a message pops up on my phone from Jim Kepfer in Auburn. Gordy just pulled your name!! Shit I was in!!!  I took me all of 10 seconds to decide I was going to go and within a few hours my flight was booked, hotel booked and messenger group set up with the fellow Brit runners.

I trained hard for this and under the guidance of Kim Collison got myself in to super shape. I cleared the diary of races and decided to concentrate on learning the Bob Graham route in the lakes. The mountain running and weekly leg session in the gym prepared my legs for what was to come. I planned every step of the race, my nutrition, clothes, strategy, everything ! I was ready.

The build up during race week was fun but I remained focused. I was here to race, I was here for my silver buckle! The only thing that broke my concentration was meeting my running hero Scott Jurek. Total legend and left me speechless. I had so much to say to him, so many questions about his multiple WS wins, Spartathlon wins, Badwater wins, Hardrock win, he's even done a Bob Graham!. So much to say but my tongue tied in a knot and nothing come out apart from "Can you sign my hat".
Fan boy
Shit FFS you meet a running legend and that's what pops out. Funny really.

Race morning arrived and all the Brits congregated to chat but I was zoned in on the race, working all the bits through in my mind. I had to wish everyone good luck and go do my own thing. I stood in the start area and soaked it in. This is it this is my moment. I completely focused on not going off too fast. If I flew up that mountain with my heart rate through the roof and panting like a over heating pug I would have just mimicked 2017. I really didn't want to do that this was key to my race plan. Just concentrate.

Lets do this
The gun boomed and we were off. I ran for about 50 metres before settling into a hike. I had an hour and twenty in my mind to reach the Escarpment. I hiked hard and held back from any running. The urge was there but I knew It was not in the plan. I'd been training to heart rate and was aware spikes in my heart rate were not what I needed. I controlled my breathing and worked hard enough not to lose too many positions. As we strode on I was passed by several Brits. Matt Brand, Keith James, Annabelle Stearns and Ammon Piepgrass all passed me. It was so tough not to get my racing head on.
I reached the top in just over an hour. I was a bit fast but more importantly I hadn't overly exerted myself. It was freezing at the top! I'd decided at the last minute to wear a long sleeve over my pack and I needed it. I also had a spare pair of socks as gloves. Good job too because my hands were numb.

The high country
I started running once over the top and kept it to a steady jog. My timings were simple, Robinson in 7hr, Foresthill in 14hr that would give me 10 hours to cover the last 40 mile. I can average 5 mile an hour in the late stages so if I had the perfect day sub 23 was possible. My first goal though was Robinson. The snow wasn't as bad as 2017 but there were banks of it everywhere over the first 6 mile. Luckily I'd choose a grippy shoe and waterproof sock which served me well. I was running well, slow but well. The air was thin and the altitude was playing its part. Every time my heart rate spiked I backed off and let it settle. That meant holding right back. I got to Lyon Ridge and felt fine I drank some coke and moved on. The snow thinned as we carried on along the ridge, the views were spectacular. I passed the spot where I had fallen in 2017 the trail is pretty rocky on the ridge and I was taking extra care this time. I paused for a few views this time instead of running flat out across rocks while trying to look round. Red Star Ridge came and went I was a little up on schedule but no dramas I was just concentrating on not falling and keeping my heart rate in check. The snow was thinning all the time with minimal snow banks now. There was one particularly steep one so I tried to show off by skiing down it. Epic fail. Crashed onto my backside and skidded down on my knee giving me a nice ice burn to think about.

Duncan Canyon
As the miles ticked by I could feel the air thickening and my lungs filling with oxygen. I ran to feel and I could now step it up. I dropped into Duncan eventually reaching the icy waters at the bottom. The water was thigh deep and very refreshing, I dunked my head and felt revitalized as I marched out the other side. I ran into Robinson feeling good and about 15 mins up on my predicted time of 7 hours. This was a major stop for me. I took my time and changed shoes and socks also powdering my feet. I ate lots of fruit from the aid station to clear the sugary gel taste from my mouth. I repacked with supplies and headed out after a good 10 min stop. I was still under the 7 hours but half hour outside the 24hr pace according to their timings.

I had worked on nutrition this time knowing that it wasn't quite right last time. A high percentage of runners puke at Western States. The heat really doesn't help keep stuff down and puking is not great when chasing a tight time schedule. Once your gut has emptied you are in a world of trouble because you have to get all those calories back in your system or you will bonk but when you try to eat you feel sick again. Vicious circle. I felt sick last time and stopped eating. This time my strategy was to get 200 cals per hour in and top up at checkpoints. I was carrying mountain fuel, gu and hi 5 gels. I was to take 100 cals of either every half hour. Straight away the mountain fuel made me feel sick so I ditched it. The Gu is my rocket fuel but again it was making me feel queasy so I had to just force one down every two hours or so. My main fuel turned out to be the High 5 gels, they are pretty liquid and easy on the stomach. They are around 90 cals but don't pack a punch like a gu. I had brought enough of these to have one every half hour and topped it up with fruit, redbull, coke, mountain dew and the odd cup of soup. This was all I ate but it worked. This gave me the magic 300 cals an hour.

I ran out of Robinson and bumped into Jim my pacer for later. It was good to see him, we chatted briefly and I ran out feeling strong. I was able to run pretty well from here. The trail seems to descend for ages and its a good time to make up on the 24 hr cutoff. I ran into Millers Defeat and loaded up on ice in my hat and backpack but soon after I realized it wasn't really needed and the ice in my pack was actually burning my back so I had to stop and empty it. I kept the bits in my hat and for the rest of the day all I needed was a few cubes in there to keep my head cool. Through Dusty Corners and last chance I was really running well. I seemed to be gaining places with only the occasional  runner passing me.

I reached the top of Deadwood Canyon and ran the switchbacks down. Mt quads were in good shape and the heat wasn't too intense but I descended steadily knowing what lie ahead. At the bottom I took a breath and walked round to the stream that comes down the hillside. I washed my face, dunked my hat and started the hike upto Devils Thumb. It is about 1500ft straight up with about 35 switchbacks. I hiked strong with the thought of the aid station at the top pulling me forward. I had to stop a couple of times feeling faint. I actually thought I was going down but held it together. I reached the top and breathed a sigh of relief. Matt was in there looking pretty ill. I really wanted something cold but was drawn to the soup and ended up having several cups. A nice rest from the sugary stuff. I left straight after Matt and he was doubled up puking on the trail. I so wanted to help but what can you do? A few words of advice and I pressed on almost straight back into running. El Dorado Canyon was next and it passed without incident. I hiked out the top and ran into Michigan Bluff. The reception was incredible. I picked up some supplies from a drop bag and drank a selection of cold drinks and ate some strawberries. Annabelle was in there preparing to leave and it was good to see her looking strong. I walked up the main street and the atmosphere was incredible with almost everyone of the dozens of people giving words of encouragement. My pacers Jim Kepfer and Pete Korn were there and it was great to see them. Not having ever met Pete. I took an ice cold redbull from them and drank it as we walked and chatted. My mind was now getting firmly into 24hr mode. I was feeling great and I told them we would be running for that buckle come Foresthill. As I rejoined the route a supporter said "All flat to Foresthill". Great I thought not remembering the trail.

Well that wasn't true I passed through another canyon through to Foresthill. It wasn't as harsh as the other two but a canyon all the same. I hit the tarmac and hiked up to the main road. It was around this time last time I overheard a conversation where a pacer was saying to his runner how unlikely getting a sub 24hr would be from this point would be. Well those words resonated in my head. It was happening today. I ran into the aid station and time for another main stop. Sock change, foot powder and food. Jim was expressing concerns about the time it was taking but it was 10 minutes well spent. I had reached there bang on my schedule and spent 10 minutes sorting stuff so I was now 25 minutes outside 24hr pace. This was not an issue I was going to get my buckle.

Get me off this boat
I explained to Pete my pacer for this section that I felt good and wanted to run to the river. I explained pace and what I wanted from him and we started running. It was an amazing section and everything felt right. Pete knew I'd be getting a silver and so did I. It was one of them moments when all the stars aligned. It was now or never I was so focused all that mattered was running. Had I succumbed to negative thoughts now I would have never forgiven myself. Pete was incredibly positive and every so often I'd pull up and he would allow me 1 minute before we ran again. Over that next 16 miles we picked up time and places only briefly stopping at aid stations for redbull or coke. At each aid station another few minutes was taken back from my 24 hr hour deficit. Darkness arrived and we donned head torches at about mile 70. We caught up with Annabelle just before the river I stopped and we exchanged positive words but it really was time to run so I wished her well and pushed forward. We were so close I preyed she would maintain her pace and get her buckle too.  By the time we reached the river we were evens on the 24hr cutoff and nothing was going to stop me. We changed pacers at the river and I clambered into the boat. Willing it across as I just wanted to crack on.

Jim my trusted pacer from 2017 took over and we started the long hike up to Green Gate. I was super positive but I could tell Jim was still well aware this was borderline. He had been in this position many times and seen many fail. We ran straight after Green Gate through some undulating trail which I didn't care much for but I was getting through it. We got a good pace going and were picking off other runners. The run was massively undulating and the climb to highway 49 was a real sting in the tail when you feel the trail should be getting easier. I ran into Pointed Rocks aid station mile 94 it was around 3am, Two years previous I had reached here at exactly 5am and 24hrs elapsed. I grabbed some coke and ran through. Jim stopped for a pee but I just ran and left him to catch me up. I ran and ran to No Hands Bridge and didn't enter into the bridge party atmosphere I just pressed on. It was around now that I felt I would do it and started to well up. I pulled it together though as there is still a bloody massive climb to go to Robie Point. My body now started to shut down as it was hitting home I was going to make it. Pains in my legs came followed by fatigue and the lack of will to run. I hiked up as hard as I could.

Job done
I came out the top of Robie Point around 4:10 am and knew it was in the bag. Pete was at the top having decided he couldn't go home knowing something special was going to happen. We ran easy to the track chatting about how things had gone but my mind was elsewhere. The years of training and effort were firmly in the forefront of my mind this was it. We entered the track and Jim said they would meet me at the other side of the line. I said no way join me and cross together. A wave of euphoria hit me as I crossed the line in 23:24:59.

Silver Buckle
I was under no illusion coming into this that sub 24 was right there on the boundaries of my ability. It was no fluke.  All the tiny details meant minutes on the day, that 35 minute buffer could have been lost in the blink of an eye. An extra minute in each aid station, a few too many walking breaks, puking from eating the wrong food. Coupled with a specific 16 week training program. Weekly hill reps, gym sessions, speed work, saunas it all amounted to that 35 minutes saved. I ultimately had the perfect race and hit my target. It doesn't get better than that. No complaints, no excuses.

The big question is would I go back? My philosophy has always been if you have the perfect race don't go back because you can only fall short but I love this race with a passion. It is part of me and under my skin so yes I will go back. I am a silver buckle holder and no one can ever take that away.

I just want to mention some of the other Brit runners, Matt Brand, Ammon Piepgrass, Tim Lambert, Keith James it was lovely to meet you all. Well done to Beth Pascal and Tom Evans for flying the flag for the UKs elite.
Most importantly though Ian Brazier, Richard Leahy, Annabelle Stearns and Sharon Sullivan. You guys really made it a trip to remember.

Anyone in the UK interested in a brand new Ultramarathon for 2020 check out the North Downs Way 153 on my website it will be a future classic.

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Thames Path 2018

When I booked this up for my 6th attempt it was to serve one purpose, that being to provide me with a fast hundred, a pb and if everything fired correctly a Sparta auto. Little did I know that after a manic 2017 race wise what was about to happen to my body in 2018. So really this is a report of two halves as half the battle was just to get to the start line.

There I was happily running round the track at Barcelona in December at the annual 24hr race. This on the back of running the Arc, Western states and Lakeland 100 in the same year. I was nailing it and bang on schedule for a Sparta auto. I hit 75 mile and was ready to push on into the second half. Then it hit me, my hamstrings started to seize up followed by my quads and within an hour I was unable to move my legs it felt like my body was shutting down. I subsequently stopped before the 24hours were up and shuffled back to my hotel.

All smiles now. 
From that day nothing seemed right with me. I rested for two weeks then ran the headtorch marathon which in hindsight was a monumentally bad decision. I couldn't run, my legs just wouldn't have it. Again I rested for a couple of weeks then ran the Tanners, again I felt like death and my legs were completely dead. I didn't run a bad time but I was definitely not right. Then came the difficult decision to ditch this years Arc. I love that race but no way was I able to run it. During January I developed a lump in my throat and in my true stubborn style I totally ignored it. My leg power wasn't improving and I'd now developed breathing problems and chest pain but still I carried on entering stuff and ran the Brecon to Cardiff ultra to take my mind off the Arc. During that race at the top of the massive climb I developed the worst chest pain ever and really thought the worst. I carried on though like an idiot. I finished and the very next day finally carted myself off to the docs. Upshot was a viral infection probably caused by a completely shot immune system this had lead to bronchitis. The lump was a viral cyst.

What I should have done back in December is just took some time off but I'm so hopelessly obsessed with fitness and running that I just carried on regardless. I already work in a physical job which is not dissimilar to 8 hours of heavy cross training every day and being self employed means no time off. So the work load, the constant training, the racing and the lack of recovery had finally caught up. The complete shut down in Barcelona was a warning shot that I ignored so followed my immune system failure. By March I was a complete wreck, I gave myself false hope that I was feeling better and ran the Steyning stinger and back my bronchitis came. So still instead of total rest I decided to reel it in a bit. I put the gym on hold, training runs were only to be 10k, no more and I'd just chuck a couple of longer races in but just jog round if necessary all to get me to the start of the Thames Path. I'm not going to lie the last few months have been hell but things have got slowly better and in the last three weeks I have been without chest pain. I'm still under the doc and am still undergoing some tests but all seems well. The last month made my mind up that although my fitness isn't quite there and a pb was probably a pipe dream I would be able to start the Thames Path 100. I'd made the start line.

Dream team
My plan was very simple, my 100 milers seem to be defined in the first 30 miles and given the hot weather forecast I would run a very conservative but precise first 30 then just see how the race panned out. There would be no pressure on myself just go about your business and be thankful you are out there. As we milled around waiting for the start I could feel the suns piercing rays tingling my skin. It was 9am and today was going to be a scorcher. I know from experience that the best way to deal with direct strong sunlight is to cover up. Hat, sunnies, arm sleeves. In fact the only exposed parts were my face, hands and knees. I felt pretty comfortable on the start line and stood well back from the front. I mustn't go off too fast!

We started and I quickly settled in to 8:30 min miles. Just as planned. My food strategy was a gel every 45 mins and topped up with Tailwind/Mountain fuel or whatever I fancied en route. The plan was to meet my crew at Wrasbury 22 miles and it worked out I would be there in 3hours 17min. I reached Wrasbury with little drama and I stopped for seconds at the aid station knowing my crew would only be a little further on where I would be able to switch bottles. I met my crew within a minute of my predicted time. The Thames was gorgeous, people everywhere, so much going on. All this lead to some heavenly trail running. The heat wasn't really bothering me yet, I was keeping my sleeves damp and my hat wet and that was enough to stay on top of the temperatures. I ran into Dorney at 30 mile feeling surprisingly fresh and my slow start was paying off. I had run the 30 in about 4:40 so I was exactly on pace and now was time to start a more strict walking plan. Up till now I'd walked for 1 minute after an hour and a half and then a subsequent 1 minute every 45 mins.

Bang on time
The run to Cookham was pretty uneventful. Most of the early position changes had taken place, the field was well spread out. Runners were dropping like flies though and I had passed some very good athletes. All you can do in those conditions is your own thing and crack on. The heat was beating on us and keeping the core temperature down was key. I refilled my bottles at Cookham, damped everything down and took an ice lolly. I walked along the river eating my lolly, all was good in my world. Somewhere in the next couple of miles I came to a busy road and was trying to avoid pedestrians but as I skipped to dodge one I tripped and face planted in the main road. Soo lucky a car wasn't coming! My pride was dented as people expressed their concern but I was fine. I sheepishly jumped up and ran avoiding all eye contact.

Another crew stop at 42 miles, I'd slowed up considerably but was still running. My feet felt good but I took the time to remove my shoes and socks, powder my feet and eat a couple of fruit pots. It was a good stop well timed. My next crew stop would now be 51 miles. I ran but I was just about to have the mother of all bad spells. From the 44 mile aid station I felt like death. I was eating right but felt violently sick, my head was spinning and I felt dizzy. The sun was about 45 degrees up in front of me and there was no shade. It was relentless. The heat was finally getting to me. I started a 10 minute to 1 minute run walk strategy, this was so tough. I really started to question my reasons for being out here. I had nothing to prove, no time to chase, what was I doing? Why put myself through this shit? I'd had enough and I was definitely dropping at Henley. Boats full of people partying passed me by, Henley seemed an age away! I reached the bridge and crossed, the amount of people out and about gave me a slight lift as did the applause as I ran into the aid station.

I set about sorting my feet with fresh socks and powder. I couldn't eat though, I felt really sick. Runners were coming in behind me looking fresh and full of beans. A couple barely stopped just went through smiling and eager to press on. I felt hopeless, my mind was spinning. James and Jacque were speaking but it went in one ear and out the other. I often feel I'm letting people down when I consider dropping. When you mention it everyone just looks at you like there's a massive spot on your nose then carries on caring for you. I'm always left just getting up and carrying on even though 5 minutes ago it was over.

Ok I thought I'd kind of left Henley for no particular reason lets get to Reading and drop there at least it be a good 100k covered. Although I felt awful I was still running, I hadn't really lost any places although a couple of lady runners were really running well and it was taking everything to keep them in my sights. None of it mattered because I was dropping at Reading anyway but there was certainly no issue with my running. I wasn't walking for prolonged periods, I had no chest pains and the sun was dropping fast. Reading appeared and I spotted my crew from a way back. Excellent i'll get over there and drop out. I bumped into Sarah Sawyer on the way over and said Hi I'm dropping. Not a lot was said but it was enough to reconsider my postion. In 30 seconds I went from finished to finisher. If nothing else I'm up for a challenge. I only had 40 to go. It was cooling down, lets have a go. I saw Jacque and restocked and loaded up on gel the only thing I was able to eat now. I poked my head in the aid station door and left. It all seemed possible again.

Feeling rough?
It started to get dark on the next section and my headtorch came out on the long section along the river towards Whitchurch. I had a light jacket which I put on too. I started doing some decent running again kept the other two runners in sight. Scott was one and Laura Swanton the other . They were running well and I was doing well to keep up. At the carpark at the far end I met my crew again and decided on waterproof socks. The grass was getting wet and this would only get worse so to avoid foot failure they were a must. Whitchurch was a flying visit , I was a bit delirious and felt quite faint so it was probably a good move to just keep going.

Buckle happy
I don't mind the next section. It's probably the best stretch of the second half. I leap frogged Laura several times and we were both enjoyed the trail sections and varied terrain. All was good in my world again. I quick stop in Streatley aidstation and I was off and running again. I left first followed by Laura then Scott. They soon closed the distance and passed me. Scott was not seen again till the finish but Laura and I ran some together, some apart but was never too far away. This 20 mile section to Abingdon is definitely the toughest. Its bleak and featureless. It just goes on and on! I was having my own private battle with sleep demons and was totally incoherent . A sunk a few caffeine tablets and just kept on run walking. I sent Jacque to the finish so I could just crack on and get it done. The aidstations came and went. I was passed quite convincingly around 85 mile by David Thompson. We are friends but he said nothing as he passed , he was obviously on one. I was a little pissed off as this put me in 10th place and Laura who was just behind was like a robot she just didn't stop running! My competitive side came through and I was determined to either catch David back or at least hold my top 10 place. I ran well into Abingdon and there was no one behind, the aidstation staff said there was a runner ahead who I may catch so I ran my heart out to do so, In hindsight I think they were telling me porkys.

I got to the last aid station ate one last gel and committed to running hard in. I did in fact run one of my best splits of the evening and walked very little. I felt like I was running 7 min miles but in fact I think they were 10s but boy it felt fast. I soon got to the gate and it was just light enough to see without my torch I ran to the line and crossed with a big sigh of relief. 10th place and 18:54:18.

Six of the best
I'm so happy with this race. Although it wasn't a pb or anything particularly out standing I ran one of my best 100 milers ever. I ran pretty much all the way, my feet management was perfect, fuelling was good even though I was nauseas for hours, my plan worked out really well and I reckon another 20 miles and I would have made up places but best of all I had no chest pain. This was my 20th 100+ miler and I cannot recall anyone going better. My only negative would be my slight mental weakness at the end of the first 50. The heat caught me slightly and I almost dropped but I'm really glad I gutted it out.

I've always said this race is my nemesis and should I conquer it I'll leave it be and not run it again. Well balls to that it's really just an annoying old friend who I have a love hate relationship with. We will get together whenever possible and duke it out. Got to run at least 10 of them and then I'll reconsider.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Western States Endurance Run 2017

Very soon after completing my first marathon I became fascinated in ultra distance running and what the human body was capable of. This lead me to read every book and article I could find on the subject. After reading one particular book my mind was made up. I would one day take part in the Western States Endurance Run. Fast forward eight years and I'm stood on the start line. The clock reads 00:17:05, I turn to my crew member and friend Chris Benjamin and say "That clock has been ticking for eight years and now I'm finally ready to start". I stare up the mountainside and  I feel rather emotional, It has been one long journey, 55 ultra marathons, thousands of miles of training, qualifiers, entries, hours spent watching the draw, disappointment and elation all about to come to fruition now. Would it live up to the hype? Would I go sub 24? Would my feet hold up? Is it the greatest race on the planet? Would I even finish?? All these questions were about to be answered in the next 24 hours.

I trained double hard for this one post Arc of Attrition. I emptied my diary and decided to once again put my training in the hands of James Elson. He helped me through Spartathlon and although I could do this on my own I do enjoy the structure of having a coach I find it very motivating. Plus I was determined to leave no stone unturned, It really had to be this way, No excuses. Training went exactly to plan, long weekends in the lakes, days on the south downs, 50k races, fast marathons, hill reps, I even spent one evening a week doing single leg weighted bouncing lunges just to make sure my quads were conditioned. The only part of training that went awry was my physical job getting in the way of training in the last three weeks, what can you do, works work!.

I had changed my diet too, starting the day after the Arc in fact. I gave up refined sugar and almost all processed food. Such a simple concept but sugar is in everything! However I stuck to it and felt great with it. It's a real enjoyable way to eat, you get lean and gone are the sugar highs and lows. As you get older your body is like a vintage car, you need to put the premium petrol in and the decent oil or it'll run like bag of shit. I experimented with sugar free running too but that didn't work. It's ok to a point but I just kept crashing and burning. So I ditched that idea.

I spent a lot of time toying with kit. The Salomon 1 litre pack was going to be my pack of choice but I kept overheating whilst wearing it so I changed pretty late to 2 x UD handhelds and a waist pouch. With all the support at Western I certainly didn't need to carry more. I love my Hokas but they are pretty unstable. With such a mountainous prospect I decided I need to be nearer the ground. Inov-8 Trail Talons turned out to be the shoe of choice, they are spot on, I'd go as far to say they are the perfect shoe for me.

Lake  Tahoe
Lake Tahoe
Everything set it was time to fly. I arrived a few days early to try and acclimatize to the altitude. Lake Tahoe is at around 5000ft above sea level so that would be the perfect base for me. Tahoe City itself is gorgeous, it sits right on the lake which in turn is enormous. The lake is completely surrounded by mountains and there is only one outlet which measures about 20 metres across. You can stand on the shore and the views are breathtaking, a great place to gather pre race thoughts. Squaw valley resort is about six miles away and is approached through pine lined roads. It is a real rugged landscape and the expanse of it all hits you round every turn. The resort was the host of the 1960 Olympics and the torch still burns there. As you wander through the massive carpark to the start area you expect everyone to be involved in or at least know about the race. This isn't the case and in fact half the people milling around Squaw Valley have no clue. The startline is tucked right in the corner at the foot of the first climb.

Heading up out of Squaw Valley
The start line arch
Lots of snow near the top
The Escarpment takes you to over 8000ft so it was a good introduction to the mountain to take the organised hike to the top. The hike is leisurely and its nice to chat to a few other competitors however it was quite alarming to reach the snow so soon. Some of the climb is steep and getting a footing was tough we were certainly going to have our work cut out on race day. The view from the top was worthy of the hike and with the help of a local we were able to visually plot the next 30 mile.
The day before the start was registration, it was great to see everything set up and ready to go. The start area is a relatively small courtyard with the gantry in the corner. Registration was in an upstairs room in the building behind. After a ten minute queue the process began. All very regimented as we were shepherded from table to table unable to proceed without having fulfilled your task at the current table. Cards with your name and number on, wristbands, photos, questions, freebies all before being ushered straight out the exit. No faff. In and out. The most important thing I walked out with was the sacred wristband, loose it and no race. We all headed over to the briefing room next for the race talk. Same old stuff about course conditions etc. One stand out point was a story about Gordy. The WSER committee had somehow managed to miss count the waitlist entrants and had told one runner he had a place. He flew in from Vermont only to be told they had miss counted and there was no place. That guy happened to be John Fegyveresi from Barkley fame. Now John was in tears at the prospect of having to go home. Then up steps Gordy and says he's had rough week and feels he won't get too far so he will stand back and let John take his place. All to massive cheers. You couldn't make this shit up. Hmm well maybe you could? The cynic in me has my reservations about this story but it sure makes a great headline. To finish the brief they got all the elites up the front, UTMB winners, Laverado winners, WS winners. The thing that struck me is how young they all looked especially Jim Walmsley, a mere slip of a lad. Really made me feel old!
Gordy the legend
Me and David
I slept well that night and after my 2:30am alarm call we were soon heading for the start. We were promised breakfast which turned out to be coffee and muffins. I couldn't face a muffin at 4am so I settled for a Cliff Bar, I had to eat something. I collected my number and was ready. Unlike UK races where people mill on the start line for ages the WS start line was empty with 20 mins to go. I stood at the start line and just soaked it up. I chatted with Peter Wright and David Harvey two fellow Brits. We wished each other luck as the clock ticked away. Finally everyone surged forward as the final few seconds disappeared, the gun exploded and we were off. My plan for the first mountain was mainly to fast hike and keep up with some of the leading ladies that way I wouldn't drop too far back and get caught on the single track further along. I really needed to get to Robinson Flat in 6 hours 30 to stay on my 24 hour plan.

I ran across the line and within 300mtrs I was walking, the sloped tracks are fairly steep but runnable, just not today. Not a wise move for all but the elite. As we rose up the twisting tracks the first shards of light could be seen in the distant clear sky. I kept stopping to look and take it all in, the higher we rose the more entrancing the view became. There was a cloud inversion in the valley below. I was in heaven and wasted several minutes stopping to look. Its not everyday you get these views, I made the most of them. After a couple of miles of long smooth switchbacks we hit snow. Very lumpy and still relatively steep we trudged ever upwards. About a mile from the top of the escarpment is a very steep section of trail, real hands on knees stuff as I was already blowing hard from the thinning air. Sixty five minutes had passed by the time I reached the top of the escarpment. Four miles in 8750ft up, incidentally that is higher than any point on the UTMB course. I took one last look at the valley behind and then the wilderness ahead before pressing forward to the cheers of the crowd spectating from the top.

Half way up the first climb
Early in the race
The trail descended slightly as we ran all the time trying to find my groove. Before long we hit a patch of snow, little did I realize this would be the norm for the next six miles. We seemed to be maintaining altitude and the going was tough, real technical stuff. The snow patches were pretty constant in frequency but they could go up, down, level or indeed 45 degree cambers. It was so awkward to keep a footing, runners were sliding off the snow banks then having to climb back to the marked path. There were fallers everywhere. The down sections of snow had to be slid down either ski style or my preferred method of crouching with one leg forward and sliding down. In between the snow patches there was no defined trail, we were running on branches and pine needles following the markers set by Tim Twietmeyer on a route he had deemed to be best. It was rough and more like an assault course than a trail run on these early miles. Gradually we left the snow behind but the snow melt had turned the trail into mushy mud, over the ankle mushy mud. This was far more British and I took quite a few places as I bowled through it headlong. I ran into Lyon Ridge aid station and
Concentrating soon after my fall
demolished a can of coke, it was a relief to have a break, although we'd only been going for ten miles it felt like a whole lot more. The run high on the ridge was now drying out but extremely technical, my brain was doing overtime as my eyes flicked from rock to rock. It was so hard to concentrate, the views were amazing and my mind kept wandering as I tried to take it all in. I was running at what seemed a respectable speed keeping my place in the long line of competitors. We weren't toe to heel but if you stopped plenty would barrel past. Then disaster struck, I caught my toe on a boulder and before I could even out stretch my arms I smashed into the surrounding rocks. My elbow, knee and hip took the biggest hit. I lay on the floor contorted in pain, a group of four runners came hammering through one yelling a cursory "ok?" before disappearing around the corner. Who could blame them? They were not jeopardising their WS dreams for a downed runner in the wilderness. As I composed myself the pain seared through my body, I stood to take stock of the situation, I was in so much pain as I tried to move forward, my knee felt alien and extremely unstable. I hopped forward, it was mile twelve this is a possible race ender. My hops turned into a limp, too much had passed to get me this far, years of effort. I made a decision right there to overcome it. The pain was only in my head, I could still move, I kept telling myself to reposition the pain else where in my brain. It may sound like horse shite but it's something that I felt I did. I jogged into Red Star AS and took a glance at my elbow it was scuffed up and there was a fair bit of blood on my arm sleeve but adrenaline was firmly kicking in. I figured the sleeve would help contain things and keep it clean. Time to crack on.

Duncan canyon
The views were stunning high on the ridge but since the fall all my concentration was going on foot placement. We were still at fairly high altitude and would remain so until Robinson Flat, I think we averaged 7500ft through this section. I was breathing heavy due to the exertion but the thin air just wasn't feeding my muscles, it felt incredibly draining. Things were starting to hot up as I descended into Duncan Canyon, my knee and elbow were still zinging with pain but I was holding it together however my speed was suffering as I knew another fall wouldn't be good. I reached the creek and there was a rope strung across, the water was thigh deep and extremely cold. The numbing feeling on my legs was heaven. I got my balance in the middle and dunked my head under before wading through. What a relief, a real system reset. The climb out the other side of Duncan was long and sustained and an ideal opportunity to rest. The altitude had zapped my muscles, my body was screaming for energy. The GU and Cliff gels were maintaining my 200 cal an hour but I was tired surprisingly so for such an early stage in the race. I could hear the buzz of Robinson Flat AS up ahead and ran hard to it. I so wanted to show my crew I was solid. Seven hours had passed for the first 30 mile, I was 30 minutes down on my absolute slowest predicted time so in my eyes I was a good hour down. It was good to see my crew, Jim and Chris. Jim is a real old school runner, he doesn't enter races he just puts his shorts and trainers on and runs. He knows the trail like the back of his hand, every mile of it. Chris has run Badwater, Spartathlon and a whole host of other 100 milers, he is a real experienced guy. I couldn't have asked for a better team to back me up. I picked up my drop bag and changed my shoes and socks. The waterproof socks I had worn for the first 30 had done their job and kept my feet from getting macerated. I drank more coke, restocked on gels and told the guys I would be another 7 hours to Foresthill at 62 mile.

I walked out of Robinson and up the wide dusty road eating a handful of melon. It was really hot now and we were easily in the 90 degree range. I had my hat adapted by my mum pre-race she stitched elasticated pockets to each side of my cap and I would fill these with ice. The ice would then slowly melt and trickle cold water over me. Lovely. I had opted for total skin coverage using my arm sleeves all day. Also the hours spent in the sauna acclimatizing before the race helped loads. All in all I was dealing with the heat really well. As the road reached a crest and I finished eating I started running again for what turned out to be a very runnable bit of trail. Millers Defeat AS soon appeared and I was advised to do as much running as I could in the next 10 mile because after that I'd have 12 mile of hell! I stuffed my hat full of ice, took the advice and ran on. The next section was undulating through thick forest and very runnable, I really enjoyed this part of the run and was leap frogging with several other runners. It worked very well to keep each other going. The trail is extremely dusty almost sandy in places very apt as I passed through Dusty corners AS. I was shuffling a bit which isn't ideal on these rough trails. With that I stubbed my toe square on a rather large rock. The pain shot through me like electricity. Fuck!!! That hurt. I knew straight away by the searing pain that I'd either ripped a nail off or broke a toe. Either way not a lot I could do about it. I carried on to Last Chance AS and had a system check, I was dog tired but still eating, my elbow had stopped bleeding and my knee was sore but if I kept it square to my foot running was perfectly manageable. Oh and my toe was just a stubbed toe.
The sort of view you can expect
The descent into Deadwood Canyon was steep and lengthy, I dropped about 2000ft to the base, the temperature at the bottom was off the scale. I was feeling ok though, yes it was hot but it wasn't bothering me too much. My legs were really tight and I couldn't face the climb down to the creek but Jim had told me that a bit further up the other side there was a cold stream. He was dead right and I dunked my hat and arm sleeves, it was ice cold and so refreshing. I knew the climb ahead was to be the hardest of the day and definitely the hottest. The sun was beating on our side of the mountain, estimates on the day were around 110 in that canyon. The climb out of the canyon was the most physically demanding part of the course, it just went on and on, steep switchback after steep switchback each one sapping more energy. I was being passed easily on this climb and climbing is one of my strengths. I was tired and regularly stopping with hands on knees to catch my breath. The climb eventually ended and I walked straight into Devils Thumb AS. I was wobbly, there was runners crashed out everywhere. I thought it best to get my shit together and keep moving forward even if it was a walk. There is a short flattish section after the aid station to start running again before another massive 2500ft descent down to Eldorado Creek. I shuffled down the descent conscious that my water was ebbing away fast. I had two 500ml bottles that had been plenty so far but they were not going to last me up the other side of the canyon. Luckily enough there is a aid station right on the creek and I was able to restock and have a sponge down before undertaking the next climb to Michigan bluff. As I climbed the up the other side I worked out I was over halfway, 50 miles in 11 and a half hours. I had a further 2 and a half hours to meet my 14 hour target for Foresthill. The near 2000ft climb to Michigan Bluff was certainly easier than the last with long shallow switchbacks and much more shade. The AS come as a welcome sight knowing the worst of the course was done. The trail from Michigan Bluff to Foresthill was rugged and pretty slow going and I was tired from all the course had thrown at me, I didn't feel much like a runner at this point. My thoughts started to wander to the 24 hour target. I was calculating what needed to be done in the last 38 mile to go sub 24. The first thoughts of doubt entered my mind. I was physically in ok shape, my nutrition had remained pretty good, my feet were good and mathematically it was on. There was one glaring problem though, I was shattered! I felt bereft of the ability to run. It took a lot out of me just to get to Foresthill. I hiked up the hill with another runner who had met his pacer. The pacer was explaining how he had been in this exact position twice before and both times had failed to go sub 24. Great! As I turned the corner my pacers were walking towards me and conversation soon turned to the 24 hour target. Jim had done all the maths and was explaining not to worry but I was worried.

Foresthill with Jim
Foresthill was buzzing and it was buzzing with people. Thousands I'd say. I'd arrived in about 14 hours 10 and took a further 20 mins to change socks and eat. Food was becoming a real struggle to get down and I felt quite nauseous. I ate some yoghurt and a few swigs of tailwind but struggled with anything else. I even ran back into the AS just to make sure there wasn't anything that I'd find appetizing, there wasn't. I walked with Jim out of town, he was keen to get running and rightly so, It had been a long day for the guys. On paper the next section is extremely runnable and I was trying my best. My legs however had other ideas, the intention was there but I was just unable to get my legs turning over properly. It was like running in slow motion, a very peculiar sensation. I felt like I was running but Jim was walking and I could tell he was getting frustrated with me. He kept asking why I couldn't run, I didn't have the answers.
OMG I'm tired!
We arrived at Fords Bar AS and I could feel a massive blister on my toe. I had to get it sorted, Jim protested but it was no good, it needed sorting. It was stinging like murder, I peeled my sock off to find the side of my big toe missing its skin. The blister had burst and the skin had peeled back. The AS captain wrapped my toe in tape and we were good to go. Darkness had firmly set in and the trail was featureless, soft and dusty under foot, undulating and overhanging vegetation. Waves of runners were passing me now all of them chasing the silver buckle. Bucklemania was in full flow, some would make it some wouldn't. I wasn't, in fact I was dropping further back on my 24hour dream. I felt awful for Jim, everything he'd done for me and I couldn't muster a run. We hiked down to Rucky Chucky river crossing where we was due to change pacers. Jim ran ahead to brief Chris, I can only imagine it wasn't a positive conversation.

We were helped into our life jackets and given a glow in the dark neck band. I was pretty shaky and had to be helped into the boat. The oarsman soon had us across and I was helped out the other side. We took our time at the farside AS. I changed my shoes and socks, got loaded with gels and after some soup we hiked up the long ascent away from the river. It was about 2 miles straight up and into another AS. We pressed on and Chris asked if I wanted to run, I explained I was running! This was rubbish, I was rubbish. Chris had flown all the way in from Kansas for this and I couldn't perform. I was doing the motions but was just not moving at any pace.

Much of the next few hours rolled into one. Steady plodding on dusty trails with just enough roots and rocks to keep us on our toes. We both kept tripping over and over again. It became quite comical. Chris kept running way ahead and disappear into the distance then wait for me to catch up. We had a few proper runs but the damage was done. I eyes were spinning with tiredness, the caffeine in the gels wasn't quite cutting it. These are supposed to be the easy miles of the WS course but they are far from flat with hills a plenty. In the distance I could make out the flashing lights of a police car and I figured we were coming up to Highway 49. Daylight was breaking and the 24 hour mark drew ever closer. The police stopped a solitary car as I was given priority over it. We crossed the road and ran through the grassy meadow leading us all the way to Pointed Rocks AS. I entered at exactly 5am and 24 hours had elapsed, I still had 6 miles to go. I felt pretty flat and was busy making excuses to myself in my mind. I had a drop bag here which contained my GB flag but I told the AS staff I didn't need the bag. Chris took a look and saw the flag, he insisted I take it with me. Whatever the finish time I'd earned the right to carry the flag over the line. I jogged down the final descent into the canyon and onto the famous No Hands Bridge. I stood there for a minute and drank a coke, just savouring where I was and the superb runners that had passed this very point. Chris was urging me on though, 3 miles to go. We climbed the final ascent to Robie Point which is a real arse kicker just to finish you off.

Finishing straight
It's done
I left the trail for the final time and joined the tarmac. Jim was there to meet us and we all wandered onwards towards the stadium. I would usually feel an urge to race anyone to the finish line but I was done in and couldn't handle a sprint finish so I timed my final run so that the track would be clear. I entered the track with my flag round my shoulders, it was a very surreal moment. A moment I'd dreamt about for a long time. I jogged round the track as the announcer read my pre written running resume. I thought I would cry, I have at other finishes but I just felt relief, relief it was done. I crossed the line in 25:50 with the GB flag held aloft. My Western States adventure was over. I stood on the line while Tim Tweitmeyer hung the medal round my neck, the guys run over to congratulate me. I just wanted to lie down. I felt faint post race and within minutes my knee started swelling. I went to the medical tent and crashed out but was kicked out pretty soon for not being ill enough. I popped to Jims for a shower before returning for the awards ceremony. My knee had swollen solid and I had to start my walk to the front several minutes before my name was called otherwise I would have been late. I took my buckle, shook everyone's hand and left the awards tent.
Placer High school
Physically I ended up coming out quite well. Although I ended up in the emergency room just to check I was ok to fly home. My leg was swollen massively and I needed to check for DVT. I got the all clear.  On arriving home I got checked out by my physio and it looks like I crushed my collateral ligament, so loads of swelling but no real damage.

Jim and Chris
Stop swelling!
Mentally I needed to work things through. I needed there to be no excuses. Other wise there would be the dreaded 'what if' demons. Make sure every aspect was covered then what will be will be and I believe I did that. The race was certainly harder than I expected and the early miles and altitude chewed me up and spat me out. I struggled a bit with the terrain too, I may be a trail runner but this was mountain trail running. Everyone tells you its a runners race which it is but you have to be very skilled with rough rocky terrain. At the end of the day I prepared and trained as hard as I could but it was not my day to go sub 24, I did everything possible and came up short. I can't be disappointed with that.

Would I do it again? Now there's the million dollar question. For so long I've dreamed of this race, I assumed it would be the holy grail of trail running. In many ways it is, just not my holy grail. I hyped it so much in my mind that it could only ever fall short of my expectations. Yes I enjoyed it and yes It is a running spectacle but its not in my mind the greatest race on the planet. It has the greatest history, the most hype, is incredibly beautiful in places and is bloody hard to get into but that doesn't bring greatness. People will forever chase a place in the Western States Endurance Run and rightly so, it's an experience not to be missed. Part of me wants to walk away from it but me being me will keep putting entries in and I'll make a decision if I'm ever lucky enough to be drawn again.
The buckle