Ultra Time Again (and 4 months of other stuff)

Well, my New Year Resolution of keeping my blog more up-to-date went well didn’t it? I know you non-teacher folks get fed up of us bleating, but this year workloads have reached a new low (honest). Add in the fact that currently, as of June 1st, I have run nearly 750 miles (over 250 more than I have ever run by this time of year) and there simply hasn’t been time to blog.

But it’s the school hols (right, NOW you can start moaning about teachers!) so I have a minute – just! So, what’s to report? Well, I’m going to start with the here and now, because that is what is consuming my time and my thoughts at the minute. It’s Ultra-time again!

Ultimate Trails 110k 2015 (#110kforAlisha) – closing business.

You may recall that last year I entered this race as an Ultra debutant. Infact, this entire blog was set up just to record my progress from ‘bang-average’ runner to ‘Ultra-God’ (I’ll let you know when I make it there.)

Anyhow, I was honoured to run in the memory of our friend, the lovely Alisha Bartolini (18), who tragically died of Meningitis the previous year. Innocently setting up a Just Giving account and asking some kind folks to Facebook it for me, I was truly astounded to raise £2500 for Meningitis Now. I also completed the race, about as successfully as I dared hope, in 17hrs 37mins.

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@jumpyjames (aka official Lakeland Trails photographer, James Kirby), actually doing an amazing job of making me look just a little bit like a proper Ultra runner. (Thus proving what an amazing photographer he is.)

If you are keen enough to want to read my review of the race, then make a brew (I go on a bit) and click on the link below:

#110kforAlisha – Ultimate Trails 110k race, 27th June, 2015.

Thanks for clicking that link, (it took about 10 minutes to work out how to do it) and for reading the entire article – it really means a lot to me.

You didn’t click it did you?

Right, as punishment here comes another link.

This year I finally got round to editing the footage I shot of the race on my friend’s GoPro camera. (Great bit of kit; must buy one.) I then innocently published my film on YouTube. Now, I am (was) a YouTube virgin, so was utterly innocent to the laws of copyright. Laws which quickly became painfully apparent. I could have re-made the film but, if you watch it, you will see why the music was an integral part. I now understand the basic laws of copyright, and YouTube are kind enough to leave the film on-line for your perusal. The punishment for my innocent actions is that you cannot view the film on any mobile devices.

So….. (if you didn’t click the last link you are NEVER going to click this one) if you would like to watch my film of last years 110k ultra… put on your smart TV or your old fashioned home computer (the one with an actual keyboard, covered in dusk and paper in the unused corner of your office/study/basement/bedroom/shed), make yourself a brew (I go on a bit) and click the link below! (PPLLEEAASSEE – first of all because I really actually want someone to see it, but mostly ‘cos this link is going to take about half an hour to sort.) If the link is unsuccessful, go onto YouTube and search ‘#110kforAlisha’ – remember, TV or desktop computer only!

My super awesome, (and slightly illegal) fairly long (nearly the whole 17hrs) film of the Ultimate Trails 110k race, 2015!

How good was that?

I know – amazing!

You didn’t click that link either did you?

I know you didn’t, because the clicker hasn’t moved on my YouTube channel.

Also because, if you had watched it, you wouldn’t have said ‘Amazing’, you would have said ‘Well it went on a bit’ or ‘There’s 50 minutes of my life I’ll never get back’.

I suppose I’ll just move on…

Ultimate Trails 110k Race 2016 – #110kforIestyn.

So I re-entered this year’s race. Just for fun. Then fate raised it’s evil head above the parapet again.

Last October a past pupil of our school, a lovely lad called Iestyn Keir, tragically died aged just 12. He had only just left Primary School but was still part of our everyday lives as his Mum, Carrie, is a TA at school. Iestyn was a mad keen cyclist but otherwise just a delightful, polite young man.

I hope to have time to write more about him in the build-up to this year’s race, but for now PLEASE click on the link below and read a little bit more about him. I certainly don’t expect you to sponsor me, there are enough such requests floating around in cyberspace these days, but if you do – thank you so much, from both myself and Iestyn’s family.

Just Giving – #110kforIestyn

The charity I am supporting is called ‘Child Death Helpline’. The premise behind the helpline is pretty self-explanatory. It was set up as a joint venture by Alder Hey Children’s hospital in Liverpool and the Great Ormand Street hospital in London, who were both running separate such helplines prior to joining forces. I know the helpline has been particularly helpful to Iestyn’s family at this most traumatic of possible times, so anything I/we can do to help is tiny in comparison to the amazing work they do.

CDH

If you would like to know more about them, here’s a link to their website.

http://childdeathhelpline.org.uk/

Iestyn, this year’s race is for you. I’m going to power up those hill climbs like you did on your bike. And if you could help me out with the descending a bit, that would be much appreciated. I descend like Sir Bradley on a wet Giro mountain stage. (Apologies if you don’t get that joke -Iestyn does.)

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Iestyn Keir – mini Cav.

And now onto my running year to date. (I’ll probably go on a bit – feel free to stop reading completely at this point.)

Wigan Harriers Endurance Group.

The club continues to grow on a weekly basis, it seems. I wear my vest with pride to all races now and always, at some point on a course, someone will pipe up “Come on Wigin!” It is a pleasure to spend time with a lovely bunch of people. My better half has joined and enjoys it just as much, despite claiming to be a total fun-runner, (a false claim, I hasten to add) but never-the-less backing up the oft-repeated phrase that running clubs are available to all, not just ‘fast-uns’.

The cross country season ended on a bit of a damp squib – literally. We finally managed to put out something close to a full strength Men’s team at the penultimate race of the season, held at Cleveleys, near Blackpool. This jumped us up the tables in all league categories and set us up for the grand finale nicely. The grand finale never happened though – waterlogged course. Ironic given how cross country is supposed to be just that. To be fair though, we did have a LOT of rain in February, and localised flooding was a problem.

If we can put out a team like this, however, for more races next year, we will have a very strong line-up!

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Wigan Harriers Men’s Team – Cleveleys, Feb 2016.

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“If you’re smiling in cross country, you’re not working hard enough!” (In my defence, I think it’s lap 1!)

The National Cross Country Championships. Donington Park, Sat 27th Feb.

You may remember, the last time I blogged was in the immediate aftermath of the Northern Cross Country Championships at Witton Park, Blackburn. The most brutal hour of running of my entire life. (Another link alert!)

Toughest. Race. Ever. The Northern Cross Country Championships. Witton Park, Blackburn. Saturday 30th January, 2016.

Well only three of us hardy souls dare venture to the Nationals after that! I was joined by Mike Harris (Club statto) and Steve Nicholls (team manager – don’t laugh.)

I always suspected that this event would be anticlimactic after the Northerns and so it was. Don’t get me wrong, I loved taking part. The cavalry charge of hundreds of decent runners stampeding for the first corner was a joy to be part of. Knowing you’re lining up against the best of the best was both inspiring and a privilege. (How many sports do you get to do that in?)

It’s just that we all knew in our heart of hearts that, this year at least, the Nationals would be a damn sight easier than the Northerns!!!

And so it was. Not as hilly. Not as muddy. Not as cold. Not as windy. Not as rainy. No hail. I’m sure that in most years ‘the National’ is the pinnacle of the cross country year; but not this year. I repeat my last blog – if you completed the Northern Championships this year my cap is tipped in your direction.

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Oh no no no. High fives? I’m just not taking this running lark seriously at all, am I?! Dave Collins will have me kicked out of the club!

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And then there were three. Mike (left) and myself (right) apprehend Steve for looking like a baddie from a Home Alone movie. Or for crimes against vest/shorts colour combos.

Revenge at last on the Lakeland Trails!

As usual the Lakeland Trails events have been the focal point of our family days out. They have been made even better this year by the fact that Leanne now runs the 10k race in the morning, the kids race is at dinnertime, and I run in the 17(ish)k race in the afternoon. Also we have been joined by various families who have made the days out even more enjoyable – and also that we know so many people at the races now! We barely have time to run these days for catching up with people we only see at Lakeland Trails events! (Not least Graham Patten, the organiser, and his family who are such inspirations to us all.)

Both Leanne and I entered the full series of Spring races. I have been flying in training all year and then what happens, two days before the Cartmel opening race? I twinge my knee. At the time I thought I had properly made a mess of it. Fortunately I think I just overdid it the week before and this was my body’s way of saying “Calm down, son!”

At least I can proudly tell you I was sensible and didn’t attempt to run on it; meaning I was back running normally within a couple of weeks. It’s just that this seemed to be happening a lot before Lakeland Trails events – I was beginning to think I was jinxed! I counted back and realised that, of the 9 LT events I’d entered, I’d missed 3 to injury – and actually got one of the injuries in one of the races I did enter!

Anyway, Cartmel was a terrific event, despite my non-runner status. Leanne and her friend Donna, making her trail debut, had a great time…

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Leanne (left) and Donna (right) both in Meningitis Now vests, search for dry land on the Lakeland Trails (photo courtesy of @jumpyjames)

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As you can see, I offered fully enthusiastic support despite my depressed, injured status.

 

So I had to take it easy for a couple of weeks, especially with a family ski holiday on the horizon. I didn’t run before the holiday specifically so that I could run where I usually ran and test my knee out. So I got my early morning hangover run completed en-route to the Swiss Alps in the lovely French town of Besancon…

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Dawn on the river in Besancon. (Not a person called Dawn, I mean the time of day, obviously.)

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Same river, same town. Just without Dawn.

Confidence in knee restored, I then skied happily with the girls for a few days before going for broke and completing an evening run up the mountain to one of the lift stations in Saas Fee, Switzerland. Another stunning evening – made harder this year by the much greater quantities of snow on the trail than previous years. A proper workout!

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Swiss Alpine Toblerone scenery.

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Lakeland trails buff makes it from Saas Fee village (1800m) to Hannig lift station (2350m)

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Looking back down to the village. Shall I stick to the trail or take the direct route?!

Before we knew it the holiday was over (probably a good job or Barclaycard would be hunting us down). Then it was straight back to the Lakeland Trails! This time at Hawkshead. I got injured on one of the descents last year so formulated a plan to take it easy descending, but give it some hammer on the climbs and flats. As it happened I paced myself really well,catching a couple of guys on the dreaded coffin climb to finish in 12th place. I was pretty pleased considering this was my first run at full-speed in over a month, but was now frustrated at having finished 11th once, 12th twice and 14th and 15th too. Top 10 was the target for Staveley.

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The @jumpyjames Hawkshead pictures are always iconic. Have a look on Strava/Garmin/Facebook etc and see how many runners use it as their profile pic!

And so to Staveley. And, to cut a very long story very short, I hammered it from the gun. (Or drums in the case of Staveley!) I was trying to pace myself up the first hill when I heard a shout of “Come on Wigin!” from a couple of members of our club who just happened to be walking in the area! Accelerator immediately pressed to show-off, I found myself in a bewildering 6th place at the first drinks station, but knowing in my heart of hearts, that I may have gone off too quickly.

I managed to maintain some sort of pace, despite losing a couple of places, and recovered on the final climb and descent (the Sting in the Tail!) to finish in a highly satisfying position of 8th. I was naturally delighted with this, once I’d recovered! I did remark to Leanne later in the evening that I much preferred running the LT races when I could trot in a carefree fashion around the courses in those early trail running days, as opposed to racing full-gas as I seemed to be doing now! Still, at least the curse of the Lakeland Trails seems to have been put to rest!

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Stunning scenery, looking down towards Kentmere. I look a bit knackered because I am, in fact, knackered.

Being a proper Ultra runner and recceing the 110k Ultra course!

A good pal of mine from other running circles (see next sub-heading) has also entered the Ultimate Trails 110k race. Rob is a very good runner at both long and short distances. He is very quick over 10k trail routes but also has a couple of Hadrien’s Wall ultras under his belt, as well as a self-organised crossing of Wainwright’s Coast-to-Coast footpath.

He fancied a bit of a recce of the route, so I put together a 30(ish) mile plan together involving a circular route from Ambleside taking in much of the first half of the route proper.

However, the Lake District weather was having none of that, and despite our date of 12th March coming after some pleasant early spring weather, the snow duly arrived scuppering any plans we might have of crossing summits. (I was going to use High Street and Fairfield.)

So a swift plan B was formulated, involving the first two stages of the Ultra on an out-and-back basis. This would give us masses of climbing and descending, but hopefully keep us just about below the snowline. (My hiking days forbid me from venturing onto high ground without being fully prepared. Lightweight running gear and rusty navigation skills classed as ‘unprepared’ in my opinion!)

However, I think this plan worked out best. The first two stages of the race are completed in the dark of night. Rob and I now know these stages very well. I knew stage 2 was hard but had pretty much forgotten how hard stage 1 is! We will be much better off for completing these 28 miles (14 out, 14 back) come Ultra night!

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Rob: “This definitely counts as a snow run now, doesn’t it?!”

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Nan Bield Pass, right on the snowline. It had better not look like this in July!!!

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Out of the cloud and snow, descending to Mardale Head, before retracing our steps back to Ambleside.

(Conti) Lightning DOES strike twice!

You may recall I won the Conti Lightning Run a couple of years ago with a Men’s Running team, then kept in touch with them and ran as part of the Conti Grip running team at last year’s Thunder Run. (I’m not going to add any more links to past posts – just take my word for it!)

Well I was lucky enough to accept a late invitation to join the Conti Grip team for this year’s Lightning Run with my Choir Boy team buddies. They are a great bunch of like-minded souls; all decent runners who relish the opportunity to challenge for victory in a quite prestigious race.

The Conti Lightning Run is a 12 hour endurance race run as either a solo, a pair, or a team of five, over a 10k cross country course in Catton Park near Burton-on-Trent. The premise is simple – run as many laps as you can in 12 hours.

We knew we were the second best team there and, as such, we hoped to finish second at worst. We kept the lead team honest all day – they never got more than 10 minutes ahead of us. And every so often, we would have a better lap than them and cut the lead slightly. This went on until the 8 hour mark when Alex Money threw in a 35 minute lap for us! Wow! His 3rd XC 10k in 7 hours – 35 minutes! We suddenly found ourselves neck-and-neck for the lead! This was getting exciting!

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2nd 10k of the day knocked off. Sprinting (sort of) into the relay transition zone.

And so it continued until the 10.5 hour mark when Alex again launched a killer lap – 36 minutes! (Bear in mind that everyone on the two teams were running sub 45 minute laps for the entire day, so these laps were brutal after 9/10 hours!)

We suddenly had 2 laps to go and were somehow in the lead! It was now survival of the fittest. I’m not the fastest on our team by any standards, but I tend to maintain my times and so I found myself heading out on the last lap of a 12 hour relay race defending a lead! I don’t think I have ever been so nervous; you never really know what your body is going to do to you on a 4th 10k in less than 10 hours! Fortunately I held it together and, despite a few nervous glances over my shoulder, maintained our lead for victory! A sweet, sweet moment for all of us. Winning comfortably, as we had done the previous two years, is all very nice, but it is nothing compared to a hard-earned, and unexpected, victory against the odds. We were thrilled. (And in my case, relieved!)

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Start as a team, end as a team. Crossing the line together! (I’m spent!)

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Conti Lightning Champions, the Conti Speed team (aka Choir Boys!) L to R: Alex, Brad, myself, Pedro and Rob.

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The podium shot. I’ll let you work out the re-arranged order!

So, that just about wraps things up. I could bore you with all sorts of training run info, but I would be doing just that – boring you (as if I haven’t already.)

I have had a monster half-term training week to date, and will complete that on tired legs at the Lakeland Trails Coniston marathon (with Rob, above) on Sunday. Then it is just four weeks to go to Ultra time again.

Training has gone well and, with a little help from a few special souls above, I hope to be able to report on some more successes soon.

Get out there and have a go yourself. You might be surprised.

Thanks for reading. (If you’ve made it this far, I should be offering prizes.)

Mark

#110kforIestyn

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One thought on “Ultra Time Again (and 4 months of other stuff)

  1. Pingback: Mark’s story time…part one | wiganharriersendurance

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