Sunday, 14 December 2014

TNF San Fran Marathon

I’d been looking for a season finale and had picked out TNF50 as a good option. The TNF50 out in San Francisco is probably the highest quality field in US ultra running, normally stacked 20-30 deep in quality runners.

After Chicago Marathon I had a few easy weeks and built back but issues that arose before continued. During the fall season I’d been coaching XC over in Pennsylvania, supply teaching around South Jersey and lecturing at Rowan University so I’d been spending 2-3 hours per day sat in a car, which for me means Piriformis/psoas issues.. Even during Chicago I could feel the usual nerval pains and since then it had got worse with pretty severe groin and stomach pains whenever I picked the pace up. I’d raced Philly half two weeks prior to the 50 miler as a final test and ran an uncomfortable painful 1:17 when I’m sure I’m comfortably sub 1:1 5 at least (my PR is 1:13:36), during that run whenever I tried to pick it up my core just felt inflamed. As I was to fly into SFO the night before the race, 6 hour non-stop flight across the US, 2-3 hours sleep, then race a 50 miler, I knew I was risking further issues so then emailed the RO’s asking to switch to the 50k.. I’m almost back fit but I know after long periods sitting I need proper recovery and stretching, mobilization work to not get further issues at the moment; so the 50 miler wasn’t going to happen; it’s just too big a race to pull off like that.

Through seeing a local physio and lots of psoas/hip flexor/hip adductor stretches I actually trained well in the final 10 days and ran 7.5 miles on the Wednesday before at 6:20 min mile pace and felt comfortable so knew I was coming back to fitness.

However storms had hit San Francisco over the past week and as we arrived at Philly airport we were told the flight was already delayed. I went to chat to the airline and asked what chance did the flight have of leaving on their new predicted time and explained why I needed to know ‘Zero chance”, we aren’t expected to take off until 9:15pm.. This meant a 3-hour delay and us landing in SFO after midnight needing a good hour to get to our accommodation. So I emailed TNF50 organisers and asked could I drop further and just run the marathon because that started at 9 am allowing a 4-5 hour sleep after the flight before getting the shuttle over to the Marin Headlands.

Gwen had seen an IHOP nearby so at 6:30 am, probably due to the jet lag, and pretty awake we headed for pancakes before I got the 7 am bus out to the starting zone. At 3 am I was woken by a group of girls coming back to the hotel who had enjoyed a night of some sort of chemical stimulation and wanted to shout about it… at that moment my back was sore, my groin ached I thought no chance but strangely at 6 am I felt pretty good but also knew I couldn’t come all this way and not run in such stunning terrain. I knew I could get through a marathon regardless as I’d done lots of 13-17 mile runs over the past 2-3 weeks.

We headed out over the Golden Gate Bridge and the cloud was already set in but it was now pretty light and slowly made our way deep into the Marin Headlands until we came out the other side at a scene which resembled the Highlands, but with the pacific Ocean looming in the background. The start area had fires going and was pretty easy to get around with few toilet issues.
At any unfamiliar race I always want to know the start/finish situation.. get that first mile done no issue.. come back in knowing the set up.. when do you need to kick? Any stings in the tail? Best line in? So I walked, jogged and did strides for first k or so out when I could view the first but of the course. Coming back I felt good and knowing the marathon here would lack much depth actually felt pretty confident of getting a win.

At the Start line Dean Karnazes gave a few words but I was off stretching and basically just stood as close to the actual start line as I could and was looking at who would be threats, you always get a bit intimidated but I’ve learnt never judge a book by it’s cover when you get there and you see so many skinny fit looking runners... during the handshake I tried to get some info on who every one… size people up.. I’m  pretty confident by now that I’m not getting the win. Soon we all moved to the start line and we set off bang on 9 am. I surged to the front and a guy joined me, then another guy popped in. I think maybe I opened up dialogue first, just who knew where they were going? Where they were from… it turned out we had a Brit, an American and two French guys at the front early on.. the pace early on was really comfortable.. may be low 6’s on slight down hill road, so I slowly squeezed the pace and we moved on to trails and went through mile 1 at 5:50.. with a trail marathon I always think just run on effort you would for a road marathon, but work harder on the hills and try to conserve energy on descents.

My main threat I guessed was the French guy.. they run in the mountains.. climb and descend well, so at the first ascent I just thought I may as well try to see what the situation was and hit it hard and pushed up the hill, opening up a gap. I heard nothing and had that hopeful thought that maybe it was the dream move and the race was over.. but even within 100m of cresting the summit the route had a minor switch back which allowed me to glance back and I could see 2-3 runners pretty close.. and looking good. As a mountain runner I always fancied dropping people on descents so hit it pretty hard but soon the French runner was on my shoulder.. soon after I’m staring at the soles of his sense ultra trainers.. I’m now thinking “shit!” I’m wearing adidas boston boosts, a road shoe. He’s in a nice trail shoe on wet muddy trails.

We descend pretty quick but I cover him and feel OK and then we start to climb back and I re-pass him. At this moment I’m now all but convinced this race is won as by now all I could see was him but we were in cloud.. but generally I think if you ascend quicker than them and they descend quicker, generally their legs give in before yours do due to them hammering descents..

So I climb away, crest the summit and here he is again.. so he pushes on, I follow, he picks up the pace, I glance at my watch.. 5:25 pace.. the pace keeps building.. 5:20… 5:15.. at the mile lap my watch shows 5:13 for mile 9 in a marathon when my pr s 5:59 the base we hit flatter trails and both run upper 5:50’s and I still feel OK but worryingly he looks good. We get to the next aid station and he’s wearing a soloman vest so has his food and pushes on.. I’m carrying nothing so have to pause for food and water and then chase him down. After two sharp turns I see him climbing away and push on, slowly bringing him back but suddenly I realize he’s pulling away. Every switch back I lose him, then see him again and he’s definitely pulling away. I take of my shirt as by now the sweat is pouring off me but it makes no difference… I talk myself through it, it’s mile 10.. 16 to go.. it all changes 16-18 miles in.. ease off recover.. get back on track.. I was paying for racing him down that hill my quads felt dead. So we descend and at switch-backs I keep getting the odd glance of him and he’s clearly going well. We descend down and enter the aid station just before mile 12 and I get a ‘go Iain’.. it’s no less than Frosty who I know from living in Wales, so that’s a much needed lift.. its now a gradual down hill and I settle into low 6’s pace.. no one behind.. no one ahead.. my plan was just run comfortably and see what happens as I had no idea on the route ahead, the sight says ‘coastal path’ but paradoxically it instantly climbs.. looking up I see the French lad still running well but seems closer.. every time I see him he’s closer.. suddenly the win is on again so rejuvenated I try to push on but more measured this time.. Suddenly he’s there.. 100m away.. I can see him turn to look and I can’t work out why he’s so close but turning the next corner I hit what he faced.. slushy, clayey mud.. just no grip at all and he’s in trail shoes, I’m in road shoes..

I back off and slowly follow but randomly glance back and realize I’m not alone.. the rest of the field is suddenly in view, this two horse race now has more horses.. so I’m mindful not to look back again and just think ‘you’ve caught him, he’s closer than 3rd is to you.. focus on him’ .

We then start the long descent to the turn around past ascending 50k and 50 miler runners and its clearly a hard return but pleasingly the gap is rapidly narrowing.. so at mile 15 I know I’ve caught him and as we turn around I open a gap but immediately I’m faced by a few runners coming in behind me so know I’m far from safe.. and one looks great.. better than I feel. Knowing the climb is very visible I don’t glance back as I know there is nothing I can do and all I’ll do is let him know I’m tiring. So I climb away and try to keep it ‘comfortably hard’. The climb just keeps going and I try to chase down 50k/50 mile runners and latterly 50 mile runners as the 50kers head off and then start the descent, looking at my watch I’m back running in the 5’s again so I’m getting confident.

After the long descent, maybe 21 miles in we hit the last food station and I pour coke and energy drink in and climb away. Again at the same aid station Frosty is there and she joins me for a few paces and I have that worrying moment she’s going to try to hug me.. I’m covered in sweat, spit and coke.. it was great to see her and she’s always so positive.. but I am literally dripping in spilt fluids, drool and perspiration..

By now I have no idea of my gap, I generally don’t give up places late on in races and know as long as I run close to MP should be OK… every descent I’m back down at low 6’s, high 5’s pace so grow increasingly confident.

The route now retraces the first loop so I know the route and know that the last 4 is quick, and was fairly confident that as long as I crest the last major summit in the lead I was OK, and I was, this time I descend well sub 6 min mile but was still comfortable that despite the lack of 5:14’s I was OK. the route then suddenly appears and I forget there is a sting.. one last climb.. I ask the guy which way? In now broken Manc…  he looks vague then says “I’m just a spectator”.. so I run the last hill hard as it’s only a few hundred meters and then push and push. My toe is now cutting up as I could feel the grit rubbing but I push on knowing that if I hit the 5:30’s I’ve won.. I kept looking back and saw no one and pushed fairly hard trying to encourage others and getting encouragement off them and then hit the final road climb. I love races when you can cruise in and enjoy it.. so I cruise around the bend and listen to the announcer… nothing.. I see the finishing chute.. nothing..  OK 50 milers, 50 k’s are out there but I’m about to win the marathon.. so I cruise in and nothing. Just silence. I walk up to the girls for my medal.. they look confused.. eventually they give me a 50 mile medal..

So, hungry I walk off in search of my kit bag and food. The food was great, bag was no issue. so I’m sat enjoying some pasta, bowl of soup and suddenly there’s all this commotion as the marathon winner finishes..

I didn’t want the accolades, I just wanted the prizes.. running is expensive, I’m a poorly paid immigrant. So I head over and ask to speak to someone and just say, whilst eating my pasta, “I finished a while back?’ It reminded me of finishing 4th in the world champs and Steve Edwards asking me how it felt to lose bronze, my reply was ‘eh? I’ve never been higher than 4th?’ Steve looked panicked, here the guy looks at me and just seems to say WTF? But they were great and checked my number and all was OK, I won a nice TNF jacket. It was on all on my GPS watch so no questions could be asked.

Anyway it all worked out, the shorter distance races are full runs

Great race and event. Very fast trails.. Where else could you run a marathon with 5300 ft of ascent sub 3:20? Less distance, maybe 3 miles more and similar ascent to the Yorkshire 3 peaks to put it in perspective to the UK runners, which is on good trails.

Looking at the results I was pleased with the caliber of runners I beat, the guy who lead early on was a 2:38 marathoner so to eventually finish a good distance ahead was pleasing.. and the rest all seemed to have solid pedigrees.. It was a strange race as it felt the ‘fun run’ being the shortest race on the day but it was still a marathon with 5000+ feet of ascent so a nice work out and finish to the season..

We then had a nice afternoon in San Francisco, seeing the Sealions, nice breakfast at a cafe sat outside on the side walk and flew back to Philly and the cold...

A few days off and build back for 2015 and hope for more PR’s..

Monday, 13 October 2014

Chicago Marathon

Quick report on this weekend's marathon..

This was always my A race of the year, run a pr, hopefully 2:38 or so.. the Gold was sub 2:38, silver sub 2:39 bronze sub 2:39:57 (previous PR).. the second goal was run a fairly even race, which I've never managed. When I ran 2:39:57 I went out into a head wind and came back with a tail wind but even with that assistance I still ran a 1:19 1:21 split..

Training in the heat and humidity of the Philly summer had hurt me, I just did not feel fit but local runners assured me you feel OK once the cooler air comes. The last  months saw me add much more quality, fast finish long runs, 16 milers at 6:20 pace, lots of LT sessions and a 2:48 marathon to BQ, so I knew I was in decent shape. I'd tried to run a last quick half 3 weeks ago at Newport Liberty half but on a humid day I had a shocker and clocked 1:21.. not what you need when you want confidence to run a 2:37 marathon… But i'd hit 90-100, even 105 miles most weeks since my ITB issues back in July so I had a solid base. My training is always 75% aerobic base and then the final 4-6 weeks in a sharpening phase where I add the quality.

I stayed out at O'Hare, up at 4:30, ate a few muffins, 45 minute train in and the start area was superb for a huge city marathon, loads of toilets, signs and easy bag drop.

This time my plan was just run low 6's. The start caught me off guards, I was chatting to a guy from the Sunderland living in Baltimore, when the elites went off.. almost immediately the American Development Coral (sub 2:31 men) and then our rope dropped and we could go.. 20 yards from the line it was almost a rolling start.. from there the road dips down hill and through a tunnel so your GPS loses signal immediately, we pop out and surrounded by Chicago's sky scrapers my GPS is again all over the show so I just hold a comfortable pace and pop by the 1 mile marker around 5:55, perfect first mile buT I wasn't quite sure when I started. I'm a tad stiff but that's normal.  My watch was all over the show but I keep it around 6 and pass each mile marker very close to 6 min miler, we pass the 5k and I'm at 18:30 or so, about bang on.

The field has now thinned out and I ask a few around me their goal times, most are 2:35-2:40 so I'm pretty happy. The females were all shooting for 2:37 and at that level are often strong experienced runners so good to sit in with. The next 10 k were pretty uneventful, water and gatorade stops were well signed, at 10k I grabbed a gel, another at 20k, and also a 400 mg ibuprofen. We went through the half bang on 1:19, which was about spot on, possibly a read fast, and I still didn't know how much time I had on the clock.

We were now in a a good group moving seamlessly through, I was worried the group were too fast but we had a barefoot runner in the group and I couldn't let a barefoot runner drop me.. My main issue was my needing a pee, it started around 10 miles and I hoped it would go away but it didn't so I knew I had to stop, and soon after the half I jumped into the trees and went for a pee and quickly caught on another group. I now had another decision, play it safe or gamble on a few 5:30-5:40 miles and put myself back in my old group.. I gambled and soon caught them and got a breather whilst I sat in. At mile 17 you get a gel stop so I grabbed a few more gels.

Conditions were perfect, a tad breezy, enough that you wanted to be in a group, cold but not too cold. We again moved through well and went through the 20 miles almost bang on 2 hours. Our mile pace was perfect, almost exact 6 minute miles but the group started to fall away. I still felt good and pushed on. From mile 21 onwards you get banana's so I was eating and drinking well and feeling strong. Mentally if you pass people you feel good and in a fast marathon like Chicago you pass many late on. The course is flat but with a fair few tight turns but the fastest line was marked in blue through any turn and bends so I stuck to that like glue.

I ate well, 4 gels and probably 2 banana's in the whole race and so felt confident with a few miles to go I could pick it up and finish well.

I was now confident 2:38 was in the bag, I was doing maths and realised sub 2:37 was even on.. and I dug in still hitting 5:50's in miles 23 onwards.. despite supposedly being a flat course there is a sting in the tail at Chicago, at mile 26 there is a hill.. it's nothing but after 26 miles of pancake flat running this murders you but I caught a guy there, chased him down, crested the hill and ran strongly in to finish with just over 2:37 on the clock.. as I finished the PA stated my time was sub 2;37..

I grabbed a beer, it was free at the finish line, walked through to the bag drop and then had it confirmed by friends I'd ran 2:36:45.. I was pretty amazed. I never thought I was in that shape. That's almost 10 minutes off my pr since 2010 when I ran 2:46:09 and it took me two years to beat that, so my next target is Boston and sub 2:35… But most pleasing I ran 5:59 pace, not many clock a sub 6 min mile pace marathon.. and with 1:18:31 and a 1:18:14 splits, a nice small negative split and a very evenly
paced run.

I now need to get quicker so its more of a focus on speed work over the winter.. but with TNF50 San Francisco thrown in.

Strava details:

Marathon photo:


Monday, 14 July 2014

ITB issues again..

Feeling recovered after 3 ultra's in 6 weeks I started to ramp up the miles in mid June and seemed to be running well, 2 weeks of 70 miles a week, lots of sub 7 minute mile running comfortably, and then suddenly I developed a dull ache. I blamed this on wearing old trainers so changed and the next day it was more painful… day 3 I did 5 miles and it was bad.. that night I set off for a steady 6 and stopped within 400 yards..

I guessed from the pain it was the old IT Band…

I get more emails on this issue that any other running related problem. My advice is always quit running.. instantly.. of course that doesn't apply to me, so stupidly I ran 2 days longer than I should have done..

With IT band issues the first stop is always to stop. Get that inflammation down, so give it 24-48 hours. I'm as bad as anyone for 'I'll just do 5k'… all you are doing is lengthening your time off proper training, let the IT band recover, then work on the issue causing the IT issue..

There's no way you can 'run off' an IT band issue, so even if its mid race, just stop, the less inflammation there is the sooner you can get back and slowly  build back up.

In September last year I had a DNF in a 50k due to core issues and I suspected this was the same. IT band issues coming from a generally weak, inflexible core. So I tried some of the old exercises.. one legged squats, balance work.. leg raises.. I was chronically weak on the bad leg. Literally could not do a 1 legged squat.. not all the way down just drop the knee. I had no balance, my pelvis dropped, and I was weak.

So I decided just to copy what the physio gave me last time and hoped I could get back in 2 weeks.

So I took 4 days off, no running. Each day I just did 1 hour plus on the stationary bike and also did a lot of hiking as by chance we were just off to the Catskills and then up to Maine.

Every visit to the gym would also be 30-40 minutes of rolling with the foam roller. The IT bands were agony but each day it gets easier. Then I'd just do core, various planks, side planks, side leg raises, 1 legged squats, squats, clams.. some light weights then the rolling and stretching. At first I could barely even fire the glute medius on the bad side, it's like the muscle just is no longer there.. doing the clams I really had to focus on my bad side to not just lift the leg by rotating the hips or lifting from the inner leg, and on the bad leg I'd feel the fatigue on the glute much earlier.

A trainer I worked with in Germany, Andreas at Aloha Vitalis, used to work a lot with myself and Ts'otleho Fane on our squats as they are such a functional movement we do throughout the day and something believed to help with your running technique and its something which I've found has helped.

After just one week of 4 days of biking and then 3 days of hiking, and the core work, I did a light 5k on a beach and felt OK.. since then I've kept the core work and built back up and have just finished an 80 mile week.. nothing over 20 k, but 3 runs of 12 miles or more with one at 6:50 pace in the midday sun in high humidity, which is probably equal to a 6:30 paced run in good conditions so feeling pretty good again..

But the key to being back so soon was detecting it early and stopping, but then addressing the issue. Do not just rest, let the inflammation go down, and start again.. all you are doing by that is treating the symptom and not the underlying issue.. which for me, like the last time, was a chronically weak core and inflexibility in the hip flexors and gluteus.. nothing new but its only when things go wrong I address it. I need to keep on top of the core, stretching and rolling to keep my training consistently high, which is the key to progress...

With me as soon as I can re-train the gluteus to actually do some work I just feel much more in control running.. so I find the clams, one legged squats and side leg raises key. Then just build up again, get the confidence back and keep training.

I thought I'd blog about it because you should blog about the good and the bad, we all have those shit periods, but also how it can be overcome quickly if you can find the root cause and address it.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Pemigewasset loop

In the White Mountains, on the high tops, mountain racing is essentially banned by USFS so FKT (fastest known times) are the main way people compete.

One of the classic FKT's is around the Pemigewasset wilderness loop. Its a lovely 31 mile, with 9000ft ascent, around a natural horseshoe.

Having a few days free I trotted around the loop over 2 days, about 10 hours running time, spending the night in Garfield Ridge Shelter.

The FKT is 6:27, by Ben Nephew, with the womens 7:34 by Larris Dannis. I fancy a crack later this year, sub 7 should be very possible.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Cayuga 50 - USATF 50 mile trail running championships

This was planned to be my last major race of the Spring season.

Cayuga 50 is a new race up in the Finger Lakes region of New York State and organised by Ian Golden. When I first thought I'd be in the area for the race I emailed Ian to see if I could get an entry and he was great. He had a package laid out for 'front runners/elite runners' which was a great help.

The race is basically a 12.5 miles out and back with 10-12,000 feet of ascent. GPS readings will be pretty poor as the race runs up and down tight gorges. Almost entirely on single track or forest trails with constant hills and almost no totally flat running.

On arriving on Friday I did a quick 3.5 miler and then headed to meet others at Ithaca Beer where there was a race Q&A session and then back to the cabins where we stayed up chatting with the Trails Roc crew, and their dog Picasso, who were nearby. On Saturday I ran another 7 miles of the route which was basically the first loop and then headed into Ithaca to watch the Films in Motion Film festival which was in the area for the race and we then headed to Ian's for a BBQ (I got some more dog time with Ian's dog Indy, he's a tailless (he won't say how) collie/Australian Shepherd cross) before an early evening with the race starting at 6 am. The atmopshere was great from the off, Ian had managed to get together a strong field with runners travelling from all over to attend, with Matt Flaherty coming in from Indiana, Michael Owen from Ohio, Yassine Diboun from Portland and Chris Vargo from Arizona, with plenty of other strong runners from the local regions. From international races I knew of  Ben Nephew, Dave James and Brian Rusiecki, and more locally Michael Daigeaun who had just ran a 2:24 marathon and had been dominating local ultra's.

My plan was top 10 at least, top 5 if all goes well.

Despite the strength of the field the start was pretty steady, much more conservative than Ice Age. I sat in behind the front group and felt pretty comfortable, certainly not over doing it and soon enough the group split as 3 or 4 went off hard and the rest formed a nice group. I was quite happy as we went through the first aid station and up the first major climb. It was pretty cool early on but due to push towards 80 later in the day and as we popped out of the trees it was already heating up. I was running with Yasssine and chatting away and felt good as we started the first major descent to the main turn point at 12.5 miles, Yassine had opened up a gap on the descent but I was conscious to take it easy and hit the climbs hard. After grabbing food I turned to climb the steps up the gorge and there was just nothing. My legs just seized. I've never before felt so bad so early. I went from feeling great and fancying a top 5 spot at 11 miles to feeling like I wanted out at mile 13... I looked at my watch and it had 'auto paused'... basically I was going so slow it thought I'd stopped...

I'm not sure what went wrong, I think the lack of hills in training had caught me. All i wanted to do at that moment was lose the route and DNF... unfortunately the route was well flagged so that wasn't going to happen.. so I plodded on up and even on the flats was struggling to hold 10 minute miles. My groin/pelvic region just felt on fire with constant pain in my groin (which felt similar to a past issue which was psoas pain). I'd stupidly played 7's rugby on Thursday and think had caused a few issues in my psoas/periformis/groin regions which were now really affecting me.

I think I was 9th, 6th - 9th, were all tightly bunched and a few others seemed to be in view which was why I fancied 5th still as I tend to finish well and you can normally bank on 1-2 people in the top 10 blowing up especially as it was due to be a hot day. Pretty soon though as I plodded through the top fields I was passed, 10th - 11th - 12th.. and I stopped counting. I was pretty set that I'd run to the start point to start the second lap and call it a day. Even on the descent I just felt in pain but not any actual injury, just constant discomfort. I really don't like to DNF (Did Not Finish), especially in trail ultra's (I've twice DNF'd in road ultra's both times with hip issues (once due to running in an arm cast and once due to periformis syndrome) when my goal times had gone so I dropped out to prevent further issues and target other races). But in a trail ultra, unless your health is at risk (badly over heated/dehydrated), or you do have an injury which will only get worse, having a rough day isn't an excuse. As I got closer to the turn around point I knew I was just being a soft lad and would have to push on and hope things changed. I knew I needed ibuprofen and at the next aid station stopped for a while and got 400mg off a helper. I also grabbed a load of fruit here and really hydrated. Time wise I was pretty certain I was going to be out for a long time. As I turned back to start the last half a fair few others were coming in and this did help fire me up a bit as I realised I could well end up well down the field so pride does kick in. At this point a young lad on his first 50 joined me (Cirus) an I decided just to follow him and hold his pace and this seemed to help, at first it seemed hard but maybe as the ibuprofen helped I could feel myself freeing up and it became easier but soon we stopped to find another lad in big bother so took a few minutes out seeing how he was, he was on the verge of blacking out, kept almost fainting and the two knew each other. A helper was also with him and after offering them drink and gels she said she could cope so we carried on, but it certainly made you want to look after yourself for the rest of the race as the heat was really getting up. We ran together and my aim was just chase his back, hit 30 miles.. ht 50k.. hit 33 miles (2/3rds).. just keep mentally chugging away. I spent so much time looking at my watch that I inevitably did the classic toe clip and went flying down again, as I'd done on one of the recce runs, grazing my knee, chest and hands again; instinctively yelling out, I called out to Cirus that I was OK but he stopped and checked, it was like that the whole race, with people looking out for each other, it was a really friendly event despite the competition element.

Despite feeling pretty ropey I was actually starting to plod through the miles again and we were soon catching other runners and making progress and I pushed on at the next aid station and felt I was climbing pretty well up the major climb again, I grabbed another 2 ibuprofen here, Cassie Scallon (one of the top US female ultra runners) was helping out as she had to miss the race due to a broken leg and thankfully she got me some more. I was pretty confident if I could keep going to the last turn around I'd then be able to push on knowing it was the last stretch. I still wasn't running great but was certainly running better. After the major climb through the woods it's a good few miles through the forests and fields up the top again before the steep descent and here I almost ran into leader Chris Vargo. It was way earlier than I expected so I guessed he was an hour ahead of me which wasn't good so that was another kick up the arse. I'd expected to see Michael Owen first, who was leading and looking great when we passed on the out and back at the half way but he'd also succumbed to the heat and dropped out at the last turn around. Soon enough a few more passed and to a man everyone looked shagged... it was kind of comforting to at least know everyone was just struggling - Yassine seemed to be the only one who looked great, early on I thought he was struggling but he looked better at mile 40 than he did at mile 4... Almost all our splits would end up pretty horrific, mine were 3:40 and 4:15 and most seemed to lose 20-30 minutes + on their last lap, which is over 1 minute per mile which shouldn't be happening.. maybe it was the heat, maybe we did all actually go off to fast but I did feel 7:30, and still do, was a reasonable target..

As I climbed back out of the turn around point up the gorge steps I was getting info that runners were just ahead and soon enough I caught a glimpse of two as the course flattened out and I passed two more who had stopped or were taking time out to rehydrate at various road crossings and aid stations on the final 12 mile run in. The two ahead were a good 400m plus ahead through the boggy fields but I caught them quickly and was now pretty sure top 10 was still possible. I asked a few and was told I was in 12th and that the next guy was 3 minutes ahead.. as I entered the penultimate aid station there was still no one in sight and 3 minutes over 6 miles is a chunk to get back. But I still had Lucifers Steps, these are a flight of steps a good few hundred feet high and plenty of more climbs along the way so it was still a possibility. The trails are uneven but not overly technical so I was able to get a decent stride going and but still I was getting told I was minutes off the next guy. At the top of Lucifers steps we were told it was 0.5 mile to the next Aid Station, which it was probably more, but it helped to push me on knowing from there it's almost 3 miles mainly down hill. Finally I saw Brian ahead and again that really pushed me on and I moved past him just at the aid station, I just grabbed a gel and pushed hard here, the last mile is entirely down hill so I told myself it was just 2 miles of hard work. My watch had died so it was just counting down points we'd pass. I kept glancing back and still hoped to see one more but noone was in sight and I finished in 7:55, which ended up giving me 10th. I'd actually thought it was higher and initially the results said 8th but were revised to 10th. There were timing issues on the course so online tracking was off.

The rest of the day was spent recovering and hanging out at the finish area. Ben (who had a cracking race to finish 5th) and I headed for a sit in the river and then showered before heading back to hang around with others until the prize giving. I ran the race in the race sponsor's socks, farm to feet, so won $100 in free socks off them, I also got a free pair of Scott trainers for taking the fall and a baby's water bottle because Ian thought he'd seen me running without a water bottle.. Matt Flaherty won a grooming kit for his task.. It's worth staying around for prize givings just for freebies, Ian was basically calling out anything to win the free pies, socks, trainers, sunglasses and I think most went off with some prize. Plus  like with cycling there were prizes for winning climbs, sprints and overall leader.. and with a $10,000 prize pot for a few it was a lucrative race. I'm not yet a USATF member so unfortunately missed out on an official top 10 in the US champs.

We stayed at the finishing area until the last runners finished about 9 pm, supporting the race sponsors as you do.. well drinking their beer. Then a group of us headed out to support the same race sponsor at the tap room at the Ithaca brewery, with Scott, Brad, Matt, Chris, Dave and Cassie. A few of us then headed back to one of the cabins for a BBQ and show support for the race sponsor again.. with a group from the Philly/NY region but by midnight we were all pretty shattered.

A great weekend. A great area which will hold the USATF championship again next year so definitely one to attend. Ian has put a lot into the race to make it a great event, both on and off the trails. I'd never been to the Finger Lakes region and already we're planning on another trip back this summer and to attend other races in the area later in the fall.

Overall not sure if it was a shite performance or a good one, it's always pleasing to hold on in and come back like I did, and I did end up with the top 10 I at least wanted but should have been higher and quicker had I prepared better. Certainly I'll race next year again but do more hills, climbs seemedto go well, I just didn't seem to have the conditioning to cope with the descents which I'd normally breeze through.

Scott Dunlap's great blog is here which has a race report and pictures:


Some day I'll find my watch dongle so I can download my race data....

Monday, 12 May 2014

Ice Age 50 miler

This last weekend was the first key race of the season; Ice Age 50 mile trail race out in Wisconsin.. one of the great things about running is the places it takes you. I drove out Thursday and drove for 15 hours in total from new Jersey through Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois and Wisconsin over the two days.

Ice Age was in the Montrail Ultra Trail Series this year and the top 3 spots are awarded spots in the Western States 100 miler, so that was a faint hope. The race preview on irunfar listed all those in contention so by last week I knew I had little hope of one of those spots.

On arriving at the course HQ on Friday I ran further than I intended but it was a glorious day, so did the first 9.1 mile loop on the Nordic ski trail; for those who have ran or skied on XC ski trails this was fairly typical ski terrain, lovely wide evenly surfaced trails with tight turns and undulating trails with sharp parabola-like sections. It was clear the start was going to be very fast but also potentially damaging to the legs with all the short sharp ascents and descents.

After registering I drove out to Otawa Lake Campsite and had a lazy night snoozing on the air bed next to a nice fire. The race started at 6 am so I was up at 3:30 am for breakfast, packing up the campsite and heading to the start. It was a cold morning but was due to heat up to around 70F later in the day so I started in shorts and a vest, with my number on the shorts so I could run topless if needed.

The start was pretty hectic, to be honest I've never known such a fast start, we set off at low 6's as a group of maybe 20 and within a half a mile I knew this was stupid for me so started hanging back.. within a mile I guessed I was somewhere around the top 15-20 and remained there for the first loop which I ran fairly much on my own, popping out back at the start averaging around 6:45 pace which I felt was about right.

 The next section is an out and back on single track, rocky, undulating and narrow my pace fell and I really started to feel like shit. I felt so bad at one point I thought I was off route so was quite pleased to DNF... but then spotted a course marker so had to carry on.. here I was caught by a few runners, one of them I knew had just ran a 7:17 100km (Kevin), qualifying for the US team so I was pretty happy with where I was. I was just shocked how far down the field I was but I knew there was nothing to be done but run my own race and just see what happens. I was pretty sure a chunk at the front were running well under the course record pace so was hoping things would break up later and I'd move through the field, but I also knew from the irunfar preview there were a good number of quick marathoners up ahead for whom low 6's are easy miles.. so you just never know.

At the turn around point at around 21 miles I started to feel better, mentally you have taken a big chunk out of the race but you still have 50km to go and you are already fairly tired. Still early in the morning but nevertheless the sun was now up and it was really heating up and we were all sweating heavily. Through this section Kevin, and one other guy, and I stayed fairly close, I was taking longer at aid stations but then using him as a target move back up to him and we moved along nicely and at around the marathon distance I pushed on and soon caught one of the adidas runners who was clearly struggling. I was now around 10th and feeling pretty good.

Although it was only 70F, maybe even a tad less, early season heat hurts and with little shade from the trees, not much wind and sun reflecting off the rocks and sand it did feel hotter and people struggled more than you'd expect for that sort of heat.. but thats pretty normal for any early season race where temps get even slightly warm as we've spent all winter, especially this winter, running in cold temperatures.

The course is basically a capital T with a loop at the start so at the intersection of the 3 trails, aptly named confusion corner you head off north to do the last of the out and backs. I was fairly sure I was 10th but thought I should have been lower down but in the end a fair few of those ahead had DNF'd along the way. The last section has some good runnable trails but some fairly long continual ascents, nothing to long but with around 4500ft of ascent. The GPS showed slightly less ascent and less distance but I doubt the winding course under the trees was accurately captured. You are now in with the 50k runners so spotting other people ahead was difficult and I saw no 50 mile runners until mile 36 when Max King and Matt Flaherty came flying past, both were motoring and well under the course record.

I actually fancied Matt to catch Max as Max was clearly hurting, you hear people say that the quicker runners don't suffer, it's just rubbish - Max seemed to be in a world of pain and pushing on. I thought Matt looked fresher but in the end Max dug in and won in a new record of 5:42, taking 12 minutes off a 26 year old record.. not often you see that much taken off such a long standing record, hugely impressive. It's like someone suddenly taking 7 minutes off the Jura or Peris records.. probably one of the best runs I've ever seen. Matt was also a good 4 minutes inside the old record, so another class run.

Each aid station was well staffed with a range of jelly baby type things, pretzls, crisps, P&J sandwiches, water, heed, coke and other energy drink stuff.. by the 36 mile one I was pretty much not communicating and just biting the centres out of the P&J sandwiches, grabbing some banana's and heading off. I was carrying a 500ml water bottle which I eventually emptied out as it was additional weight. there were also  few gels to go at.

From 33-38 I was struggling with a nerve issue, I think the 14 hour drive had aggravated my piriformis issue so I was getting a sciatic type pain/numbness down my right leg which was concerning but there was not much to be done, my plan was 1200mg (the RDA) of ibuprofen, in 3 400mg tablets at 20, 30 and 40 miles.. (if hydrated enough) and stuck to that. Hydration wise I'd stopped for 3 toilet breaks so I was pretty happy with how hydrated I was.

At around 37 miles the other leaders started coming through and I worked out I was 9th and just before the last turnaround I saw 2 other runners, one clearly struggling and one seemed to be going well. After a quick stop with some language confusion.. 'water or heed?' me: 'water' them: 'water or heed?' I think I need to work on my yank accent... I set off and soon saw other runners coming towards me.

I reckoned I now had 2-3 runners within 5-10 minutes behind me and 2 runners within 3 minutes ahead.. Everytime I passed a runner I'd check my watch and guessing we are all running around an 8 minute mile work out the times I have to make up or keep.. soon enough I caught C Fred Joslyn, he's a 2:17 marathoner but was clearly in trouble (chatting afterwards he'd developed hamstring cramps at 35 miles) and pushed on with the vague hope of catching Jason Wolfe (top US ultra runner).. Zach Bitter was in 6th and he was way off but 7th was still on if I could catch Jason..

I also knew Kaci Lickteig was around 5 minutes behind, she was looking so fresh and happy, with her was Kevin so I knew I needed to push on and try to catch Jason just to keep my place. Around 43 miles I finally saw Jason and this gave me a kick and I was feeling good and expected to breeze past him as I was definitely running quicker at that point but he responded and picked the pace up, eventually I got past and hoped he'd drop off but he surged past again and this time opened up a bit of a gap on a climb from the next aid station. This is why I love racing the competitive ultra races, having these battles late on in a race, it just makes it more fun. Eventually I caught him and this time really pushed hard on the descents, I never looked back but when you passed others on the 50km they'd cheer so I tried to listen and eventually seemed to open up a gap. The course then joins the ski trail and it's a last 1.5 miles back to the race HQ to finish 7th in 6:36, 2nd in my age group. Jason took 8th and Kaci 9th overall, in 6:41.

In that field I was happy in 7th, I thought I'd be quicker but Zach Bitter (another top US ultra runner (6:44 100km runner, US 24 hour champ) was 6th in 6:19 so even if I'd ran the time I'd wanted I was 7th, but the top 10 were all well known top runners. Great runs from Max, Matt and Kaci who all ran under the previous records.

It's a superb race, very well organised, well marked, great aid stations. Definitely worth a trip, it's probably not an area you'd ever see without the race yet is a beautiful area. Thanks to the RD and all the volunteers involved. A tough run, plenty of good running but regular more technical sections or short sharp ascents and descents prevents you really getting into a rhythm.

The results article is here:

Strava details here:

Some pics of the Ski loop and camping are below..

Next up Cayuga 50 mile trail race in NY state in 3 weeks, US 50 mile trail champs. Certainly not 100% yet, but fairly happy with that run.

Monday, 5 May 2014

Broad Street Run

This weekend was the biggest 10 miler in the US, Broad Street run. Its basically a run across Philly from the North, down Broad Street (literally) to the Stadium Complex in the south of the city.. it drops a few hundred feet over the course of its 10 miles and apart from a quick dog leg around the town hall is perfectly straight. Despite its cumulative descent there are numerous short up hills and with a head wind I just struggled.

After Cherry Blossom 10 miler in DC a month ago I really thought I'd crack 55 here and had been given a seeded number as I've ran 56 at the slower Cherry Blossom and in Philly half.

Despite the down hill I just never got going, the first two miles were mid 5:20's but I was soon upper 5:30's and by 5 miles was into the 5:40's and with the head wind just mentally gave it. Cracking event to be fair, it's all there for a fast run and many do set significant PR's on the course.

The head wind was an issue but i always feel they are largely mental, you feel like shit and the wind is just an excuse to heel back even more. Maybe last weeks 50k was in my legs but I've also been struggling with allergies all week; head ache, head cold, sinus issues so possible also a factor.. anyway all added up to a pretty shit unenjoyable run.. I finished in 57:51.

Next week is Ice Age 50 miler out West in Wisconsin so hopefully a return to some sort of form..

Results are here:

Strava details here:

Monday, 28 April 2014

Ironmasters Challenge 50km race

The original plan was to run a 50k trail race down in Virginia last weekend but the car issues put paid to that on the outskirts of DC last Friday night.. so after spending a few days in DC sorting the car out I drove back and quickly scoured the web for a new race this weekend.. ideally Sunday as we planned a 5k Saturday. The options were NJ marathon which was offering seeded places or Ironmasters 50k.. Unfortunately NJ marathon wouldn't accept my marathon PR as a qualifier as it wasn't registered in the Athlinks database - muppets - so instead I went for the 50k out in rural PA.

Saturday Gwen and I drove out to a local 5k and both won, I ran a steady 17:20 and Gwen 20:50 to take a decent amount of cash in prize money.. 2nd was 19:40 so I was quite happy to be able to sit on 5:30-5:40 pace and not take too much out of my legs for Sundays 50k.

Arriving out at Pine Furnace SP at around 6:30 pm I wanted to get a quick run in to check some of the course, just get an idea of what I was facing the next day. Ideally that would have been the first 5k or so but I ended up checking out a hilly section from miles 20-23, which turned out well. For $25, and $5 for a pizza, you could stay in the dorms at the Ironmasters Mansion so I took that option and by 12:00 was regretting that.. you've never heard such horrific snoring.. 6 of them snoring away, all with different snoring.. did my nut in so eventually I found a couch and grabbed a few hours kip there before getting up at 4:30 am when all the race prep started.

Pretty shattered I made my way to registration and was pretty alarmed to see quite a few decent runners.. I'd expected to win quite easily which suited me as this was very much just a long training run for Ice Age in 2 weeks.. At 7:30 we set off and 3 of us went into the lead, one lad seemed to want to push it so I sat behind him and we turned off the road following the orange tape, passed an orange flag and went along this track for a good km before we all started having doubts, there was just no tape.. and more crucially no one behind us.. the race profile also showed 2 miles of climb early on, not 1 mile flat.. I turned back, 3rd seemed unsure and the guy ahead carried on.. eventually the guy in 3rd followed me which was the right call as a km back we found the correct turn off.. there was a small flag on the floor, at that flag if you turned your head to look over your right shoulder you'd see another flag.. but in a race you'd not do that.. taping wasn't great through the whole race. So now the options were quit.. or push on and try to catch. The detour had cost us a good 1.4 miles plus a few moments thinking so I guessed I was 15 minutes off the leaders, which if it was won in around 5 hours I reckoned I could get that back and still win so pushed on - I needed one last long run regardless so there was no real option..

Soon I caught the back walkers and started to pass the field on rough rocky trails with steep ascents and descants, most seemed to understand that I had gone wrong but others seemed to see me as a direct competitor and would try to race me as I passed.. eventually it all thinned out and I realised I was catching up to around the top 10 about 10km in.. I was working way too hard and also was not eating as I knew food points were miles 8, 18.5 and 28.5.. so I had 10 miles towards the end with no food so saved my gels til then as I knew I'd be struggling with such a hard start behind me.

At the first food station I was around the top 5 and feeling pretty confident as long as nothing went too wrong but then started having route issues again.. you'd get a flag and then nothing, eventually after following a trail you'd find another flag, sometimes flag and tape were every 20 yards, other times it would be 100's of meters depending on who had taped it. The other issue was sometimes an orange flag on the floor meant a turn, other times it also suggested better ground to run.

Looking at the race profile the first 8 and last 8 were the hardest miles miles on the course where all the major climbs were so I was pretty happy to be moving into good running with clear paths. The trails from now on were moderately undulating, leaf covered, rocky with occasional tree roots, whilst not great I find that my pace holds up better on rough terrain like that than others so was pretty happy with now the day was going and soon enough caught 3rd placed. Up until now I was constantly being told 1st was 10 minutes ahead which I didn't get as I was sure I should have been gaining as I'd opened up a gap early on easily enough. Finally I got told first was 2.5 minutes ahead and after a short climb I finally saw two heads bobbing in the distance around 12 miles in - I gave a little fist pump here which was maybe a tad early as there was still the best part of 20 miles to run after a very hard start. Soon enough I caught these two and moved into the lead, one of them was last years winner so it was good to catch him and be able to relax a bit. I was a tad worried about the guy who was just ahead when we got lost so tried to push on but the heat was now really getting up. I knew I had two steep climbs to come but these were only 500-600ft each and quickly went past and then from miles 27 down it was generally down hill on good runnable trails. The last one around 24 miles was long enough to cause a few walking sections, especially over the scree higher up, but it was a lovely area to finish on.

The only fright was crossing a snake (I think a ribbon snake) on a last climb but other than that it was a pretty uneventful run in and I eventually finished just under 4:49, which I think may be a new record. I'm pretty sure sub 4:30 would be possible knowing the course and racing it more rather than a tempo start and cruise finish.

On my watch I made it bang on 50k, that was with the detour, most made it around 29-30 miles, but in the trees GPS may be off. It's wheel measured to 50k.

Strava details here:

Pictures below off the recce the night before and the finish area.

nice race, very friendly atmosphere, just needs to sort the taping a bit more, but otherwise lovely little event. Entry was $70 which for 3 food stations, a nice t shirt, 2 beers and a meal was good value. Nice to see a new area of the Appalachian mountains too.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Cherry Blossom 10 miler DC

The 2014 USA 10 mile champs were held in Washington DC at the Cherry Blossom 10 mile road race so we headed there for the first proper race of the year following a week in Maine, with 3 days skiing. Since moving over I've ran 3 x 100+ mile weeks with plenty of long runs, weekly track sessions and tempo work.

The course is fast, flat but with tight bends but has previously been the scene for many 10 mile PR's so I fancied a decent run and was aiming for sub 56, as my pb stands at 57:12 set 18 months ago on a perfectly flat fast course in Llandudno. I'm certainly feeling like I'm 95% back to full fitness but benefits from the last 3 100+ mile weeks and better training are probably still to come.

The forecast was pretty good, high 50's to low 60's for the day, but the morning would be much cooler with a stiff breeze. To make matters worse the women's elite field was starting 10 minutes earlier which reduces the runners around me making it harder for packs to form and increasing the likelihood of spending a few solo miles.

After an 8 hour drive south we arrived at 8pm and went out for a steady 3.2 miles to stretch the legs then had the usual pre-race meal of pizza. The DC metro was being opened at 5 am to transport runners to the start at the national mall, right next to the Washington Monument. We arrived at 6:45 but then queued for toilets which wasn't too bad but we still didn't get a great warm up. I got 0.5 miles done before the start then headed for the seeded corral.

The course is fairly flat but the first and last miles contain the hills, opening up with a slightly downhill first mile and a gradually climbing last mile. With top kenyans over and also the top US runners the start was rapid but this time I held back and slowed deliberately when I saw 5:10-5:15 pace for the first third of a mile and went through the first mile marker in 5:26.. from then on my mile splits sat at 5:32-5:37 apart from one 5:42 when I got isolated.

Early on I found the pace hard work and the tight 180 degree turns made it hard going but then just after mile 6 I was caught by 2 runners and held on to them and suddenly we picked up a few more and formed a nice group to tick the final few miles off. For a while I thought sub 56 was gone but ran a good last few miles and finished in 55:57, many struggled with the last mile as it was into the wind and with a gradual climb but stuck in the group I just chased heels and found it OK, never desperate.

Probably one of the most well paced consistent races I've ran and it's always nice to improve a pb so a decent day.

Well organised race for its size, certainly a fast course although the tight turns and gradual climbs slow slightly, the main issue was the strength of the field, it seemed thin in the seeded runners range, possibly from the lack of elite women which would normally be mixed in and so for a race of 20,000 runners you could get isolated. I found philly half much easier in that regard even though I was definitely working harder in Philly but had that incentive with a group to hold on to.

Due to the cold snowy winter only a few cherry trees had blossomed too.

Next up is a 50k in Virginia in 2 weeks.

Strava data:

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Transatlantic move..

So since I last blogged it's been a busy few weeks. I finished work in Germany, got my visa and emigrated to the US, and now live just outside of Philadelphia, in Collingswood NJ - about 6 miles from downtown Philly.

Running wise it's fairly good, nice trails not too far away and some good groups to train with.

Due to visa regulations I can't work for another 2-3 months so can basically train full time and hope to get back to 100-110 miles a week.

Today was my first race in almost 4 months, a local 5k - adrenalin 5k. It strangely attracts a top class field with sub 15 pretty regular. The course isn't super quick, its fairly undulating, never steep but rarely flat, but with a strong field I expected close to a pb which is 16:15.

The first mile was too quick, well under sub 5 pace for the first half mile.. and I slowed to 5:10 for the first mile but mile 2 was awful in 5:35 and then got better and ran 5:20 for mile 3 and 5:10 for the last 0.1 for a time of around 16:35... didn't feel great, certainly lost my head a bit in mile 2 but a quality work out regardless.

Not too happy but not too upset either.. a decent week of just over 100 miles once I do one last run today with some quality work in.

Sunday: 13.2 on roads and trail 6:45 pace
Monday: 20.2 on sandy trails 7:20 pace
Tuesday: 13.2 miles (7.3 miles 7:50 pace am, pm: 5.9 7:30 pace on roads around town).
Wednesday: 14.2 miles on road and trail 6:50 pace
Thursday: 14 (7.5 miles on roads 7:40 pace am, pm: 6.25 miles, with 3 x 2km reps on the treadmill around 5:30 pace)..
Friday: 11.1 miles (am 4.1 miles 6:16 pace, pm: 7 miles 8+ pace on local roads)
Saturday: am: 2 mile warm up, adrenalin 5k, 2.5 mile cool down. 16:35 ish for the 5k.. slowed in mile 2 but went off way to quick.. at the end of a 100+ mile week so expected to be tired. First race in nearly 4 months so low 16's or sub 16 should be achievable over the summer. pm: 7 miles on trails and road. 

The plan is a few key 50 milers in May and June but a few fast 10 milers next month and May but will try to race a lot more over the coming few months.. every other week at least.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Harz and back to training

After JFK the plan was an easy two weeks.. then build back to good miles. Unfortunately I slipped walking down the stairs and fractured my little toe. Not accepting it I ran for two weeks before eventually accepting defeat and went for an x-ray. I took 2 weeks off, biked every day and from NY eve slowly started running again. The first week was 76 miles and then last week 102 miles, so happy enough to be back on the road.

This weekend I went to the Harz mountains again, in central Germany. It's cold but there's no snow. It's the biggest ski area in the North of Germany but it was obvious from the webcams there was no chance of a cross-country ski. Friday night I did 7.5 miles on road and trail, following 4 in Rostock at lunch, Saturday a 19 miler up Brocken, and Sunday a 10 miler on trails, collowed by another 5 miler back in Rostock. Hopefully a few races thrown in from now on to add quality sessions..