Tuesday, 30 June 2015

IAU World Champs 2015 - Annecy Maxi Race

 This was a late inclusion in the calendar.

Obviously I was disappointed with my run but it was fantastic. The team always bond and I just loved my time with them. I discuss a few issues I have with the race and issues around it in this blog post bit don't let it detract from how much I loved my time in this race and with my team mates and management. Tom, Kim, Lee, Paul, Paul were just class to be around and it was great fun. I think some imagine more egos but it has always been super relaxed and just a good laugh. Add to those guys and Tracy, Bonnie, Lizzie, Sally and Sarah and it was great. Our management team just could not be flustered; they ooze confidence but also that they care about the person, not just the team. Their treatment of Lee back in 2013 when he was injured, and his rewarding their treatment now was a great testament to how we are treated as people. 

Following the withdrawal of a teammate I was promoted from ‘Non-Traveling Reserve’ into the full squad for the Great Britain and Northern Ireland ultra-distance trail running team. I’d represented GB & NI back in 2013 in this same competition where I finished 4th, helping the team to the Gold medal on a controversial 5 lap 48 mile course with 2400m of ascent. This time around the course was 53 miles and 5300m of ascent over much more technical terrain surrounding Lake Annecy in the French Alps. This time with the race getting enhanced status and the iconic Maxi-Race route the field was far stronger with around 40 countries represented.

Following my call up I had basically 6 weeks to get mountain fit. Every weekend from then I’d been away in the mountains and had averaged a good 10,000 feet of ascent a week so felt I could handle the climbing. I had hoped to make the GB team outright but to be honest could understand not making the 1st VI, I also felt I’d had the rub of the green making the team in 2013, but the UK ultra scene is now incredibly competitive. Add to that my base in the US and my lack of top class racing in Alpine settings and I couldn’t really find fault with the selections especially with the class of runner selected, and who also missed out.

The course was spectacular; I went out the week before and checked out a good 80% of the course. It didn’t suit me, I knew that, despite my 4th place in 2013, I’ve never excelled at ultra-distance mountain trail running. Even my top 50 UTMB finish of 2009 was really just a solid run than anything special. The races I do well at are quicker undulating technical trails with spells of fast running like in Wales, and at the JFK. An Irunfar preview described my 4th place of 2013 as an ‘outlier’ but I think my 4th place and sub 6-hour at JFK (at the time that performance put me on the top 20 all time performers at the US’s oldest 50 mile race) demonstrated that it’s those races I can do well at. However I was hoping to put that right at Annecy and perform well in an Alpine setting.

Training went OK, I had the ascent in but was feeling too beaten up cramming the ascent into the weekend’s or multiple reps of Mts Misery and Joy at Valley Forge. Those runs crammed 2500-3000 feet of ascent and descent in 12-14 miles of hill reps but lacked the long quad pounding descents needed for conditioning. Had I been called up earlier I’d have planned more races in preparation and invested more in weekend visits to the Southern snow-free areas. Whilst snow-shoeing in the NE provided me with the ascent I didn’t feel ‘Fell-fit’ as Asquith put it in ‘Feet in the clouds’.

Anyway after a few days rest I met up with the team on the Thursday before the race and as usual with the GB set up everything was spot on. We have a hugely experienced management team in Elenor, Adrian and Walter. These guys just exude calmness, are well organized and go out of the way to remove any stress from the runners. Thursday night we had the opening ceremony and it was a tad chaotic, prolonged and the food not great.. that worried me.

A late change had seen the GB team amongst others (notably not the French) moved further away from Annecy meaning a longer bus journey in for the 3:30 am start on Saturday morning. Friday was pretty relaxing, we sorted out kit, ate and went to bed early. I was sharing with Paul Giblin, with Tom Owens, Kim Collinson, Paul Raithstick and Lee Kemp also in the team. Most of us knew each other so from the off it was just a great laugh.

My concerns proved true on the race morning.. the 2:15 am bus was now, according to the driver, a 2:30 am bus, which eventually left at 2:45 am… after getting to the race and watching the French Athletes warm up we then do a U-turn further on and disembark the coach gone 3:05 am.. less than 25 minutes to get to the actual start, sort our bags out, warm up, stretch etc… it was a shambles. Add to that I could see every shitting gear advert or store in the trail running world but not a toilet. We had 4!! Portaloos for 300 runners. The next race starting at 5:00 am had almost 2000 runners. That is simply appalling and money pinching.

So after not getting my required 3 pre-race number 2’s in, I knew I was in trouble. Sprinting back to the start line at 3:28 and I’m also without water as I forgot to fill up my bottle in the rush and I’ve also done no stretching. With recurrent core/groin/hip issues I know I need a good 1 hour at the start area running, drills and stretches…  then all the toilet and organizing..

The weather had been good all week, bar a Monday storm, but we had unforecasted rain Friday night resulting in wet slippy limestone and muddy trails.

We set off bang on 3:30 am and went off down the road, I really put in a burst to get towards the front and ran hard through the town, up the first hill and then when the race went straight I jumped right into a campsite to fill up water. I knew we had a hard 10-11 miles of ascending before the first water stop so could not risk carrying on. I quickly rejoined and was in an OK position and climbed but didn’t feel great. The race route climbs fairly steeply until about 850 m and then climbs in steps over the next 10 k or so with plenty of technical flatter sections. Early on maybe I slipped on a white piece of limestone, a route or mud I didn’t go down but straight away my groin tightened and from that moment things just got worse. One by one my muscles just ached in that whole right hip region. Climbing I was Ok, but I just couldn’t open my stride on the descents. I hit the summit of Semnoz, the highest point on the course at over 1600m elevation, just ahead of Paul R but he soon passed and sped away on the descent. 10’s of people seemed to pass on the upper ascent and descent on Semnoz.

I tried not to panic and slowly pushed on, now joined by Barry an Irish runner and soon Cassie from the US team. Cassie and I climbed well through the surprisingly muddy trails, it must have really rained up this end of the lake, and I stated to feel better so pushed on but again couldn’t descend as we dropped down to Doussard at the half way point on the course. Even on the final few k’s on the road into Doussard I just was not running freely and was constantly dropping places.

The course had three aid stations and in 85 km’s of tough running this puts a lot of importance on each aid station. The first was at the summit of Semnoz after 11 miles, the 2nd at Doussard after 27 miles and the 3rd at Menthon St Bernard after 45 miles. This meant the next aid station was crucial. With calm crew assisting at aid station there was no rushing through so I grabbed my poles, had some smoothie and filled up supplies and set off. The next leg was the toughest. It had a gradual climb up to Col Du Forclaz then a long gradual climb up anther col, before a stunning section up the highest point on this side of the leg at ???, up here I was passing many and feeling better but on the descent I again lost a few places but this time at a less rapid rate. Using the Poles on the ascent I had a nice rhythm and moved through the field well. 

At the final aid station I quickly grabbed one last smoothie and took off past a stunning chateaux and climbed upwards Col du Bluffy to begin the last leg over Mt Veyrier. Here I saw Yassine up ahead who runs for the US. I soon caught him and it turned out he was with Henrik and the three of us had been chatting at the opening ceremony so we had a good few miles together before I pushed on when we entered the forest. The temperatures really climbed later in the day but in the trees it was at least manageable and every time I caught someone, another person enticingly appeared ahead so pushed me on. With just one final descent and with most on very tired legs this was the only descent where I actually held my position and gained a few places. I hit the road just outside of Annecy and swore when I swore the 1km to go sign, I was hoping to nick under the 10:30 time but with this to go I had little chance but seeing a runner ahead gave me a kick, then in the distance one more and he seemed finished so I quickly caught him and finished in 10:30:19. My aim before the race was sub 10, sub 10:30 as the B time. I’d love to go back again, without the groin issue I’m sure sub 10 is feasible, add in the wet muddy trails and heat and a quicker time is certainly plausible.

I was disappointed somewhat in my time but do think with a longer build up I could have been more competitive. In the 6 weeks I’d managed to get strong enough to climb well but just did not have the descending skills nor did I feel ‘fell fit’; when you are ‘fell-fit’ your body can tolerate slips, falls and tiredness, little injuries don’t happen like they did to me here. Maybe for this I actually got my training wrong, I came into it with a strong aerobic base from the Boston marathon training but I think the consecutive weekends of 20-45 mile hilly training runs probably hurt me more than I admitted at the time, such long weekend runs also impacted on my midweek training. I was certainly strong on the ascents and felt I could have kept going but I was too poor descending, especially with the injury and need to race more in future. I’m not going to comment on my personal issues with the late call up. butI broke my golden rule of never running long 16+ trail runs on consecutive weekends and felt too beaten up. I got it wrong, my training was wrong and I need to work on that but, again, late call up, you take risks. I showed in 2013 at the IAU and JFK50 that give me 3-4 months and I can compete… give me 6 weeks and it will be hit and miss.

I’m not going to comment on my personal issues with the late call up. I Well I wasn’t until others had their say, I think it was forgotten that although I was given a great opportunity through an athletes withdrawal, it need not have been so late, I need not have spent so many $100’s on other races. Needless to say I totally disagree with the Solomon stance and their issues with this World Championships being about trail running unity and a single start… it was, I believe, about them wanting their runners to represent their brand at a world championship and not their runners’ countries. They basically wanted to insert a Barcelona into the Soccer World Cup depriving nations of their best runners, then claim to be the trail Running World Champions. The toilet issue was bad enough, add in another 2000 runners and it would have been chaos at the start and subsequent feeding stations.  Regardless of their issues this is one race every two years, keep some perspective, not some huge threat to what we know as trail running. This is a race between runners and their countries, not brands. 99% of trail races are Solomon against some other brand; is one race every two years not being brand centered really the end of the world? If anyone is threatening trail running as we know it, it is those who have somehow caused lapped and out and back trail races to not technically be trail running according to the ITRA (International Trail Running Association), just because such races are not needed in France. Without such races, trail running doesn’t exist for thousands of US runners. Iconic races like IceAge50, TNF 50 San Fran and the new classic of Cayuga Trails 50 are now no longer trail races according to these organisations! So remind me again who is threatening the sport and unity of trail running again?

Regarding all this bullshit about the lapped Welsh race and out and backs? What was the Irish race in 2011? Where were the French complaints then when they were world champs....

Anyway, back to GB & NI success if we add Ricky Lightfoot and Andrew Symonds to this team can be at the forefront for a good few years yet and there are more in the wings to get involved, guys like Paul Navesy, Adam Perry to name a few.. . I’d urge any runners who want to be involved to search for competition, not race wins, not top 3’s, go and search the strongest fields, race in the alps, target the biggest races, be prepared to have your arse handed to you. I still think the UK lacks a true championship race or like TNF 50 SF, provide that top quality race and field in one well advertised official championship race. Before the race I thought we honestly stood little chance of a podium as I expected the Alpine countries to absolutely dominate, those who could train and race in this terrain on a weekly basis. Huge credit must also go to the USA men’s team. Too often USA runners have failed to show their true talent abroad due to a myriad of factors including injury, flights, tiredness, terrain etc (obviously with a few notable exceptions: Sage, Alex and Krissy to name a few), so personally I was pleased to see them excel at this level. I know some have doubted the ability of US runners and have seen it was excessive media hype and this answered those questions and no doubt more US success will come.

Lastly Talk Ultra listed this as a weak field "But the recent Transvulcania Ultramarathon, particularly in the men’s race had a far greater quality of field than what will be assembled in Annecy".. that just was not true. This was one of the strongest 80-100km fields you will see so lets build on this. Look at the times from the winner in the top 20/top 40 in both races.. which is stronger...

The IAU hold the future as one sport.. 

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Appalachian Trail Four State Challenge FK

Total Distance: 43 miles
Total Ascent:  7000 feet
Total Time: 7:29:51
Average Pace: 10:28 minute miles

My wife loves a romantic weekend away so when I offered her the chance to spend the night camping on the banks of the Potomac River, roasting marshmallows on an open fire she jumped at it, I then introduced the: ‘well you have to wait for me here, here and here’ concept…

This was to be my first attempt at an Fastest Known Time (FKT) after moving to the US last year. In the North East racing in the main mountainous areas and National Parks is fraught with conservation and erosion issues compared to other areas and so FKT’s have arisen in place of races in many areas. I was pleasantly suprised how keyed in I was in the morning and was basically treating in like a race, even being quite nervous on the drive out because I wanted to set a solid time and get a good hard training run in for the World Trail Running Championships later this month in Annecy, France.

We left South Jersey shortly after 6 am and drove out to Pen Mar Country Park, luckily getting there just as the caretaker opening up the facilities. The forecast was good, almost too good; with temperatures pushing towards 80F by the afternoon.

At the car park I quickly found the AT (Appalachian Trail), used the rest room, and then walked out past the rail tracks to the first state boundary at the Mason Dixon Line, marking the PA/MD state boundary.

After a quick photo I set off, passed the rail tracks and steadily plodded along a good trail feeling pretty happy. I was actually really looking forwards to just a long day on the trail. The first few miles were fairly quick then there was a fairly rough boulder climb but the route from there to the first road crossing at Foxville road was pretty nice and I arrived there already 10 minutes up on the previous FKT schedule. The early miles were all pretty steady but already I was sweating heavily and after approaching the 10 mile point on the second major climb I started to get concerned about water. Again the trail improved and I was back steadily running at 8-9-10 minute miles and was soon at Pogo’s Memorial Campsite. Here I grabbed some water but then realized I was at a campground so poured it away and refilled from a stream a few hundred yards away but again questioned its quality so thought that may mean I’d have to reach the 21-22 mile re-supply point with just the 1 liter of water I was carrying in my Ultimate Direction running vest.. Thankfully at the I-70 crossing I hit a support station for the ‘Hike Across America’ (HAM) challenge hike and after much confusion that I wasn’t showing my number they allowed me to fill up.

The profile does not show that there is actually a fairly steep climb up to Washington Monument but that went quick enough and soon enough I could see Gwen parked in Washington Monument State Park and grabbed food and re-supplies.

This was almost the half way point and I was already 40 minutes up on the previous FKT and knew they slowed a lot over the second half so was pretty confident I’d get close to the 7:30 I was aiming at. During the first half I ate 1 gel, 2 bananas, 2 kind bars and a block of cliff shots and at the car I had a smoothie, 2 sandwiches and drunk some coke. 

The plan was now to meet Gwen somewhere in Harpers Ferry in another 20 miles. This gave me a good chance to get used to running for 3+ hours unsupported which I may have to do at Annecy as re-supply points are much less frequent than at other ultra’s.

Setting off again I felt good but Gwen came sprinting after me with her GPS watch as I was concerned mine would run flat so we had planned that I would take hers from half way. The next stage went through to turners gap and then joined the JFK section of the trail through to Weaverton and then down to Harpers Ferry.  Having ran JFK I was therefore confident I’d take a chunk of time ove the next few miles but what I didn’t realize was the JFK route takes minor roads to avoid the roughest climbs on the AT section here. Although the climbs are only 800 feet at a time the trail is exceptionally rough here and very slow going. Pushing 26 miles in and it now getting to the hottest part of the day I was really chugging through the water.

But soon enough the trail improved and I was back making good time as I descended down to Crampton Gap and again was offered water supply by the HAM group, but again they couldn’t seem to grasp that I was just someone out for a run and not part of their challenge hike.

Mentally I’d broken the run into sections, run the first 21 miles to Gwen, then to the 31 mile point at the Gap, then to 37 mile point after Weaverton, then to mile 40 in Harpers Ferry then the last section up to Loudoun Heights. Getting to the Gap and feeling good on the penultimate climb of the day I felt I’d broken the back of the challenge now and made good time to the long descent from the top of Weaverton cliffs and down to the rail crossing.

From here it’s a quick flat 2-3 miles to the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers, over the Godwin Byron Memorial footbridge and into Harpers Ferry where the fun began.

The HAM group called me their way so I went over and they just could not understand that I was not in their challenge, so eventually they pointed me on my way but not on the AT, a cut through to save time, so realizing that I then backtracked into the center of Harpers Ferry and picked up the trail along the cliffs to wards the next bridge where I met Gwen on the trail again.

With just 2-3 miles to go I grabbed some Gatorade, water and a few bars and set off for the final climb but was delayed by being chased by 2 big pit bull/boxer things that were off the lead and chasing me. Obviously just being playful but I was running towards a major road and had to double back to return these dogs and gave the owner a few words about having his dogs under control. I don’t mind dogs but those who aren’t so keen would not have been happy with 2 big dogs chasing them and nipping at them, playful or not.

The final 800 foot climb is short, a tad rough and I broke into a walk in places but soon touched the border post after 7:29:51 of being on the go.  There is a fair bit of debate about where the challenge actually ends. The previous FKT stopped at the signpost at the top of the climb with a sharpie ‘WV/VA’ border sign marked on. Others say it continues another kilometer to the remains of an old post where you can see down left into Virginia proper. After finishing I continued on to see if I could find that point and went up the next day to check. On hiking up the next day we found a National Park Warden erecting a ‘Virginia/West Virginia State Line’ sign on to the post which I originally stopped the watch on so that makes a nice obvious finish location to this FKT. So for now I think that is where the FKT should officially end.

I think sub 7 is possible on knowing the route and better conditions. The AT is fairly well sign posted but before and through Harpers Ferry the sign posts get infrequent and especially in Harpers Ferry itself it is easy to go astray. I think 7:30 is a nice solid time and hopefully it encourages a few more to try to better this time and create more of an FKT scene in the mid-Atlantic States more similar to those in the Catskills, Adirondacks and North East where many FKT’s have now been established.

My watch made it 41.4 miles but all the way through I was coming up short on my GPS mileage against posted mileage in various guidebooks so I think the challenge is nearer 43 miles.

Kit worn:
Ultimate Direction Scott Jurek Vest with 2 x 500ml water bottles
Scott T2 Kinabalu trail shoes

Food eaten:
5 bananas
1 peach
1 strawberry and banana 500ml smoothy
750ml coke
3 x 500 ml Gatorade
2 x ham and cheese sandwiches
2 x GU gels
3 x Kind bars
1 set of cliff Shots

Four state Challenge information page: http://www.trimbleoutdoors.com/ViewTrip/1903734

At the PA/MD border and Mason Dixon Line marking the start of the challenge

At the final border post marking the border between VA and WV

The old border sign marked by a sharpie now replaced with an official sign.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Breakneck Marathon

The target all winter was Boston, so 90-100 mile weeks  and key sessions and bi-weekly long runs with one week per week 15-20 miles. All went well-ish.

Come Late March I was feeling OK and starting to knock out longer runs at a decent pace but the winter was harsh. Even in the Mid-Atlantic States we had a bad winter, not lots of snow, just bad sequences. Snow, thaw, freeze; or freezing rain.

Randomly I was asked to join a new trail running team Mountain Peak Fitness (MPF)/ Red Newt Racing (RNR). I knew of RNR through Ian Golden who had organized the USAT&F 50 mile trail champs last year but had only heard of MPF via Ben Nephew’s various race/FKT reports.

Whilst still focused on Boston I was suddenly incorporated into a world of weekends away, snow-shoeing, mountain races and other distractions…

Cut to early April and I’m teaching in a school and hid behind desks in a lock down with some kid pissing in a bottle in the corner… $80 a day to deal with that shit, suddenly I get an email that I’m in the GB team for the world trail champs (55 mile 16,000ft ascent) in 7 weeks.  So whilst getting the kids to just sit whilst police charge around corridors I’m planning..

The first thing is Boston is out, Breakneck is in. I email Ian and within minutes Ian offers me a spot.

Next the kid passes me the piss filled bottle.. I’m sure Beckham and Rooney had similar issues when called up for cap No. 2….

I felt I was fit but Breakneck would be a step up from anything I’d experienced recently. Advertised as Breakneck Marathon it was actually going to be the best part of 50k with 10,000 feet of climbing on technical trails. I looked at the entry list and it looked like it would be a hard day with fellow MPF/RNR teammates Ben Nephew, Ryan Welts, Carlo Agostinetto and also Dennis Mikhaylove.

By chance I was in Boston the week before the race so caught up wit Ben for a 3 hour run, which turned into a 2:45 run with a strong finish and Ben seemed strong. As a multiple time US international, winner of many big races and holder of many FKT’s I knew he’d be the main competition but having hiked with Ryan in the whites he seemed as strong as an oxe on the hills and I thought the steep ascents and descents of Breakneck would suit him, then there was Carlo who I didn’t really know but he’d just ran a 1:13 half so I knew he was in good shape. I’d never met Dennis but he’d just attempted a 12-hour world record on a treadmill and has a strong reputation but also a reputation for going out hard.

Gwen and I drove up the night before and camped at the race start which meant the pre-race was pretty much stress free. Ian Golden is an experienced RD and everything was going smoothly. We started at 7 am and the pace was steady as we climbed the initial slopes. I’d had a cold 3 weeks ago and although I feel fine I’m still hacking up and early on I felt terrible and my breathing was labored. I sat in with Ben and then a guy Mike pushed on ahead and soon Dennis, Carlo and Ryan were behind me. I backed off and relaxed and tried to let the early miles pass. I was reluctant to get involved at the front so early on and was hoping a few would duel it out and take their legs out but it all seemed pretty sensible. Mike dropped away after one of the descents and the five of us all seemed in good shape… a Russian, a Brit, an Italian (an actual proper one… and to be fair he looks the part) and 2 American’s battling it out..

With the winter being like it has I don’t think anyone knew quite how fit they were; Ryan had spent all winter snow-shoeing, Ben had been trying to survive the Boston snows and Carlo and I had been on the roads. My aim was just to save the legs, keep it easy and have a steady solid effort. Normally I’d have been more confident putting in a hard push to try and break the group but after so little time in the hills I was just trying to save the legs and stay with them as long as I could. My worry was my core/hip flexors, running on the roads you just don’t work your core like you do in the mountains so I had concerns about how I would hold up after 3+ hours of racing.

The first 10k was pretty uneventful and we hit the first aid station around 6-5 miles in as one group and climbed Breakneck. This is a steep scrambling climb with great views down the Hudson. I got chatting to Ryan here, and the pace was pretty steady which suited me as it was the steep walking climbs that are alien to me where I live now. At the summit as we started to descend Ian Golden met us to get some feed back on the route. It really is a stunning route, easily the most scenic interesting race I have done in the US so far. The descent was finally fast running and we started to pick up the pace and I just stuck behind Ryan and Ben as Dennis strode on just ahead. At the base we started a long climb and whilst not aiming to push I opened up a bit of a lead as we climbed and felt great so I was getting confident this was going to be a good race. The sun was now starting to get up and I generally cope OK in heat so I was pretty happy.

As we descended to the next food station Dennis and Ryan got back at me and Ben and Carlo were still close. The race was going well, on gradual climbs I was coping well, on the steep ascents and descents I was at least holding my own so pushing 20k in all was good.

Soon enough we all hit the 25k point back at the start and grabbed food. Carlo and Dennis set off quick, Ryan and Ben now seemed to be struggling and I took while to get sorted but felt increasingly confident of having a good day. As I climbed back out I caught Ben pretty quick and passed him and he didn’t seem too good, soon enough Dennis was next and then finally I caught Carlo and moved into the lead as we scrambled steeply up Beacon. Pushing 20 miles in I slowly seemed to open up a lead but on this 7+ mile section of no aid stations I’d finished my 500mls of water before the top of the scramble and soon enough I was starting to struggle. I kept glancing back and Carlo was close so I kept it steady and soon enough seemed to be truly on my own and I felt like I may have the race sown up. It was a false dawn almost 4 hours in and I hear foot steps and to be honest I was surprised it was Ben, and more surprised that he looked good.

For a good 90 minutes we were never more than 10m apart. I thought Ben may shoot past as we kept descending but he seemed happy just sat behind me which I was thankful for, as I wasn’t sure I had much of a response in me if he wanted to up the pace, and as I was desperate for water I kept the pace steadily hard but the aid station never came, we’d descend, climb, descend, climb.. finally we saw Joe Azze and Scottie from MPF/RNR taking pictures and they said the aid station was close.

We both spent a few minutes here pouring fluids in and Ian gave us some ice to try to cool down with. Having ran a solid pace I was pretty confident it was just a two way battle from now on in but within a few hundred meters there’s Carlo and barely 100m back there is Ryan and both look good. At most we had a 5 minute gap with a good 5 hilly miles to go and with our bodies starting to cramp all could yet change. As we climbed Beacon again Ben seemed stronger and was able to run where I could walk and seemed to pull away but suddenly he slowed and I was able to get back to him. The trails now improved and the running was better, which meant a quicker pace. Already I was out of water again but tried unsuccessfully to open up a gap on Ben. I wasn’t sure how much to push as I didn’t know if we had another climb or how this race finished so just kept it comfortably hard and try to keep in touch with Ben. As we hit the summit I took a wrong line and Ben called me back but got back in the lead. We now descended the steep scramble down Beacon passing runners who were coming up it. I was trying to hold on to Ben but had constant twinges of cramp. I was trying to keep close to Ben, so close I was almost jumping on to his hands as we bounded down Beacon. As the terrain got more runnable Ben started to up the pace and I sat in behind.

We were now well under 2 miles to go of mainly good running with a few minor climbs so could start to push. I was trying to just sit behind Ben as I was still feeling the cramps but also, despite the fairly runnable terrain we were running on loose rocks covered in leaves and I was trying to remind myself this was a training race and the aim was just a hard run and shouldn’t risk injury.

The pace remained fairly hard but not uncomfortable as we made the final curve and left the woods, we were now in the final mile and the surface improved and with it Ben picked up the pace. We both struggled up two minor hills, Ben was hurting but so was I, I kept trying to draw level but he seemed to always find another yard. As we left the jeep track for the last time Ben made it clear that he meant business.. the Bumbag was cast into the trees and he again picked up the pace. We were now inside the last 0.2 miles and in an all out spring after 5 plus hours of hard running, leaping fallen branches, Ben was shouting out to a 25k runner to stand aside, thankfully he finally heard and stepped clear as we bounded by and I tried one last kick and felt I may have a yard but Ben went again and as we descended the grassy slopes I knew he had me and he finished 2 seconds ahead in 5:12:22. Footage here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RzaokOmTPos

It was a bitter sweet feeling at the end. My aim had been achieved, I’d had a steady hard run and felt good. I’d not suffered as much as I thought I would. Could I have pushed more early on? Possibly, but I think we were all in a similar spot with not knowing quite how ready we were for such a hard race. I can’t think of many races that I have found so enjoyable and I’d enjoyed the competition with Ben, Carlo, Ryan and Dennis. The rest of the day was spent hanging around the finish area with new teammates and getting to know more people.

It was a good day for the new team, with Ben, myself, Carlo and Ryan filling the top 4 spots with less than 15 minutes between us. And Ryan’s wife Kristina taking the women’s win. It was quite surprising that despite our vastly different training over the winter we were all so close on the day. Carlo is pretty new to trail running and will certainly be one to watch in the future..

A few days on and I’m pretty happy. The next day I felt fine so had a 4 hour hike to see some of the route at an enjoyable pace and then had a light run, Monday was less good but slowly I’m back to decent mileage so feel I recovered well which is a sign I’m in decent shape with the Worlds now 6 weeks off.

I’m really looking forwards to a good summer racing and getting to know the team more.

Thanks to Ian Golden, Joe and Elizabeth Azze for putting together the team, its a great mix of experience, abilities and personalities and we all seem to naturally hit it off; and Ian and all those involved with the race. This was the inaugural year, it's a great course and will be is a classic addition showcasing what the area has to offer.