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Breathing in the forest air, my heartbeat and footfall are settling into rhythm as I climb the trail... The autumnal canopy is scattering bronze, copper and golden jewels like a carpet beneath my feet. Ducking under a spiderweb laced with diamonds of morning dew, I see the stag as he scampers deeper into the forest.... My muscles and heart are pumped as I push up and out of the tree line and onto the ridge. Climbing up onto the top of the world, and a panorama I silently soak in. A buzzard lazily flaps away from the cairn. Now the fun begins as I run down the trail, twisting, turning, feeling every contour of the earth beneath the soles of my feet. A log to jump, a branch I scoop under, my feet going quicker, quicker, dancing down into the tree line as a fox darts across my path.... This blog is based on tales of my trail and ultra running exploits. Enjoy!!!

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

The Hot House...

Today there were no idyllic trails to saunter down.. today was work, and training in the Hot House....

Crouching next to my buddy beside the steel container I hear his breathing rate is elevated with anticipation. As I gaze at the blistered, peeling paint on the steel wall, a familiar wave of claustrophobia seeps into my mind. I can just about hear the fire, roaring.... from the depths of the "oven" that essentially this structure has become.

A couple of deep breaths and I plan the logical order of what I would do, should my equipment fail when we are in the heat and very heart, of the fire.... I'm ready.

BANG BANG on the steel door, our cue, and we are on!

I spray the outside of the door with water and SSSSS! It evaporates into steam instantaneously...

As my buddy opens the door I blast a cloud of droplets into the thick black dirty smoke as it pours over us like an overflowing cauldron. Fresh air is greedily sucked into the room to feed the fire that we know is in the depths of the kiln.

We move inside and our thick fire kit gradually absorbs the intense heat. I know once the heat gets in, it  won't get out, it will just get hotter and hotter. A "Boil in the Bag" microwave dinner...

I blast a spray like an umbrella around us... our safe zone. The spray sizzles into nothing, we can see nothing... More spraying above our heads as we move forward... but not too much water or we will scald..

Then I see it coming at us... up in the smoke layer. The red glow... the fire. It moves quickly along the ceiling as I change my branch settings to blast the water deep into its fire gases... Then blackness, so time to progress, I feel hands of fire pushing me down to the ground, we are on our knees as we move forward. Its so incredibly hot, I feel my shoulders burning.

I spray above us, our umbrella... Then it comes at us again, rolling along the ceiling like a dragon and once again I knock it back. We progress, we cannot see, but look for the seat of the fire..... We are close, but once more the fire attacks us, once more I fight back, then we hit the seat of the fire. Game over, but I REALLY need to get out, I am so hot....

We back out, on our knees, always looking to check the fire has not re-ignited...
Bright daylight... we are outside. I pull my mask off and start to cool down....

Once more I go in... this time my buddy fights the fire and I'm putting my trust into him to get me through. We are in our own little bubble of steam in backdraught conditions and he beats it back....

As I cool down once more, I think of my boy... I know in my heart that a casualty would not survive such a fire... but maybe they would, if they were in a room beyond? Or a room above?



I know this has nothing to do with trail running..... or does it? It may explain my love for open hills, space, minimalist kit....

I've never had a desire to do MDS ;-)



Sunday, 28 October 2012

Shropshire Way Ultra 55

Most of my Ultra adventures seem to begin as I leave the front door and this was no exception....

Logistics of the linear race meant I dropped my car at the finish, then undertook a 2 mile jog in the dark, solo, along a dodgy B-Road to the nearest railway station in the delightful Craven Arms.

I survived the South Shropshire drivers but the Shropshire rail passengers on a Saturday night on Halloween have left me scarred for life...

Maybe it was I who was the weird one, dressed in my race gear and backpack on such a Saturday night? :-D

Anyway, costumes revealing not such pretty sights and comments such as "You can spend a long time skinny, in your coffin!", followed by a train ride to Wellington where a cocktail of spilled beer and p*ss  sloshed about the carriage in true Saturday night style..... made up the eve of my Ultra race.

The Minihanes quickly bought some sanity back with food and drink and a bed for the night... It seemed perfectly normal to us, to be running 55 miles on Sunday, to finish after dark, travel home, get washed up and some shut-eye, then up for work as normal on Monday morning... I'm sure work colleagues disagree.

So Sunday morning saw an early start... We were grateful for the extra hours kip due to clock change.

Highlight of the journey to the start venue, was when I decided Marks positive driving techniques would be better appreciated from the back seat with my eyes closed. So I frantically fumbled to operate the shiny rear door handle only to discover it was a petrol cap and the car only had two doors....

The runners turned out on time and we were off. A very small, but rather competitive field...
Safe in the knowledge that all I had to do to take home the 1st lady trophy.... was to complete! That was in the bag, unless I died trying.

We knew it would start with 12 miles of road and although it flew by pretty rapidly, it really took its toll on my legs. Maybe X-Talons were not the best choice, I developed a pain in a muscle on the inside of my calf, that I never knew existed...

Anyway, as with most Ultra's the niggles subside, things go numb and I find myself putting one foot in front of another, in a mostly pleasant air of contentment, to reach my goal.

I usually run an ultra solo, because I can run freely with my energy flux as it dips into lows, and soars way up high! So running in a team that stayed together was a new experience...

I felt pretty naff early on, the guys clearly had a slightly quicker "comfortable" pace than me and I was spiralling down, psychologically. I kept telling them to jog on, but they wouldn't.

Then as I was having a "proper strop" through the trails of Haughmond Hill, Daz turned up to run with us, and what a lift he gave me! "Storm" ran/walked by my side into Shrewsbury and it really picked me up.

After Salop we called in at Andros's mothers in Bayston Hill and she fed us Cypriot bbq chicken, marinated peppers and olives and homemade bread.
OMG... proper food gave me super energy and for many miles after I was flying! So much so, that I ran ahead through boggy trails then sprawled out on the ground chewing on a grass stem, waiting for the lads :-)

We checked in at Lyth Hill, so lovely to see Jan and the kids at every CP.... sorely missing my little 'un... He wasn't there, but maybe he will read my blog one day?!!



So we pushed on with a flying descent of Lyth Hill,.. only my fell running habits kept my quads in one piece!
,
A bit of tarmac to Pulverbatch  and then.... true South Shropshire.... our stomping ground!
After a super gluggy boggy climb up onto Betchcott Hills, I was chomping at the bit! I knew Bridges was a couple of miles of perfect, scenic, downhill twisty trail away.....

The Horseshoes (aka The Bridges) at Rattlinghope (aka Ra-chop) really is the perfect country pub, so it would be rude not to sup a swift half (LMH de ja vu) for the ditch!

Quickly washed down with a pot noodle and up onto the Mynd. The first and only proper climb, and it was tough. It was freezing as we ran across the gliding field, Andros was very strong, he had no mercy.. run! If we run, we will be home quicker!

We chased the muddy footpaths, up the 78 steps ( I counted) and kept pushing down to Sibdon Castle, the finish! To warm, smiling faces and plenty of bling!


Steve Worrallo put on a great race...  SW (that's Shropshire Way, not Steve Worrallo!) was an iota of the Races he has put on this year... check out

http://www.ultrarunningltd.co.uk/relentless.html

I will remember SW as a gift from a friend who couldn't run (Thanks Rog!), I will remember running with Mark and Andros from start to finish (you nearly killed me!), and thanks to Jan and Steve for great checkpoint food and support...........

Phew... rant over :-)









Friday, 26 October 2012

Longmynd Hike 2012

As this year's Hike approached I was feeling somewhat cocky, I'd completed three Ultra's and a number of trail marathons during the past year. Heck, I'd done CCC! The Hike should be a warm-down after that ;-)

My knees and joints had strengthened up as a result of a years trail running with my new club - the Wolf Pack.

So my question this year was not "Can I do it?" but "How fast can I do it?"!!!!

Trouble is with running with the Wolves... they are mostly faster than me and I bust a gut trying to keep them in sight!! So Hike 2012 was by no means a doddle. I blame Mark Minihane for making it a tough day, but I also thank him for helping me get a PB!

Registration was a hive of busy bees stressing about taped seams, micropore and reflective strips. For those unfamiliar with Hike registration... you basically have to carry specific kit in case of emergency and this is checked pre-race.

Anyway we all made it through check-in and went for breakfast. I thought a Full English was perfectly acceptable but the others thought I was a bit nuts....


We walked up to the starting field, fired up and ready to go. My plan this year was to go out quite hard and hope to be grouped with some reasonably paced runners, then survive the second half without slowing anybody down....

We were off... the charge towards Caradoc is always too fast, but when the adrenalin is pumping, who cares!! Pretty soon my heart, lungs and legs were also pumping... lactic acid, as we started the first steep climb. So I settled into my own pace and said goodbye to James and Kris. I kept Droid in sight a little longer, but soon he was gone and then Mark.

Down Caradoc weeeeee.....! Up Lawley urrrrgh......!

I decided it was time for some music as I tackled the insane steepness and it gave me wings. I went a bit loopy coming back down Lawley and over took several people including Mark and Droid. A fun descent it was though!

On the flat bits across the valley, I swiftly lost all the places I made up on the descent! :-D

I had Mark in view ahead and really, this was when he started pushing me on, not that he knew it.
I caught up during the long slog up Gog B**ch and we endured that section together up onto the Mynd. Very much deja vu, as we had ended up doing that section together in the Skyline a few weeks before.


Then as it flattened out, I got left behind again, but I wasn't going to push above my aerobic threshold, not on a 50 miler!

I continued solo all the way to Stiperstones, all quite uneventful really... just plod, plod plod. Tarmac always bores me!

Then off the road and onto the Stiperstones, this was a turning point in my race... I was up for it now!
I pushed on up the climb then flew along the ridge, 20 minutes of pure "foot to eye" co-ordination and not for a moment could I let that concentration lapse....



Stiperstones ridge is strewn with... errr stones!  Many people walk this section as its easy to turn an ankle.
Droid had said "If you can run Stipers, you will make up loads of time on people". He was not wrong, and the more I overtook, the faster I went!!


My reccying payed off when I took the maize field route and I over took a few more who chose to hit the tarmac. Down into Habberley for refreshments and through the cow poo track, on up to Earls Hill. Still feeling good and not far behind Mark. I was out to get him, but for company really, nothing competitive, I know he kicks my ass with his speed! Back down the hill and through the cow poo again... lovely aroma!

Next came the long roady stretch from Woodgate to Tankerville... I ran with Ben and Chris at times, I still felt good and wanted to catch Mark.... I was grinding out a run/power walk/run routine and as I came to Shelve CP, he was just about to leave. I decided to give refreshments a miss. I wanted to group with him rather than wait for the guys behind me who were cramping up and getting slower.... (how cruel!)

So various people faffed about, groups kept changing, but eventually Mark, Stu and I were pointed outside to join two others lads, who were waiting.. I promise you now, when they looked at me they failed to hide their look of despair. I can only assume they thought I was going to slow them down....

This made me VERY determined NOT to slow them down. After a bad start (where I needed to stop for a pee, therefore slowing them down!), we all ran comfortably together across the fields and to the bottom of Corndon. Here I decided to take the lead and push quite hard to show them I wasn't going to tag along at the back all night!

The group worked well together I believe, and we made our way steadily across towards the Mynd. Some were stronger than others, some better on flats, others on hills...
I'd say I was probably mid-group, not the slowest, but Mark and Stu were definitely stronger at times.
Simon really started to suffer on the descents... Mark kept us all running on the flats... That is what grouping is all about I suppose... give and take and lots of encouragement!

Ragleth was pure evil to climb, it was the same as 2011... it was enough to stop myself falling backwards! But this year the descending was fine :-)

Through the town to the finish, I think Mark would have happily sprinted... but I had nothing left, I could only jog. I think I did give Hike 2012 my best shot and was really happy with my time 11h22m. Taking 1h30m off last years time :-)



Friday, 31 August 2012

CCC

These were mountains like I had never seen before, reaching into the sky... Massif Du Mont Blanc. I was taking part in a 60 mile footrace passing through the Italian, Swiss and French Alps on the Tour Du Mont Blanc. The race was the CCC. Courmayeur-Champex-Chamonix.

First, through the mountain tunnel by bus to Courmayeur, Italy where our race starts... The town is vibrant and buzzing with runners and supporters and the sun is shining. I'm excited and raring to go....

Music fills the already dizzy atmosphere and then the tannoy counts us down to the start, and we are away....


Streets lined with drummers, children with cow bells and cheering faces. Gradually the sounds diminish into just the footsteps and breathing of a long single stream of athletes climbing up the forest trail. Climb climb climb, eventually we reach Refuge Bonatti where we find warm smiles, cheers and nourishment.

Onwards we contour the vast mountains as the weather turns to howling winds bearing rain and snow.



Souls are frantically pulling on waterproofs, zipping up and trying to keep moving, as nature shows her force. 



We hit a long steep descent, distant cow bells getting louder and louder as we reach the aid station at Arnuva. 
Delicious food, fill my senses to overload. Then hush again, my steps, one after another take me through the elements and aid stations and into Switzerland.

Down into Praz de Fort where I see chalets in beautiful green meadows, children voices echoing across the valley. Children cycle alongside and give me high fives before I leave the idyllic scene to push up another woodland climb.



My legs are tiring now but I have so far to go. I hear the cow bells getting louder once more and I run the last climb to Champex. A Swiss town high up in the mountains where my senses once again become flooded with such beautiful local food and the buzz of hundreds of runners. I gratefully grab handfuls and quickly push on. 

I'm blissfully unaware that I am overtaking hundreds of runners at these aid stations at this time, though my friends back in England get updated with my placings each time I check in and out.


Now the long climb up to Bovine, huge rocks to boulder, and so steep as darkness drops its cloak over our little group of runners. I'm feeling stronger now I make time, playing cat and mouse with a French guy, we climb the mountain and the rankings. 
I'm running the flats now.... Wide eyed cows, black as the night with horns close enough to touch, adorned with bells, line my path as I run through the deep snow to Bovine aid station. I re-fuel with hot soup, cheeses and meat... then I'm away, down down down the dark slippery trails. I'm aware of great drops into nothingness on the edge of the trail. I'm tired, but I must focus... I have a five year old son at home. I must, above all be safe.

Down to Trient and I'm feeling strong again, the soup warmed me from the inside, the salts gratefully taken into my bloodstream. I pass runners who are tiring, we are on the home stretch now...
I keep thinking of my son, I am wet through and muddy but I must keep running, I must keep warm. My spirits once again are lifted by the faces and throng of the aid stations in Vallorcine and then Argentiere. "Allez allez allez Emily!!!" 

I run into Chamonix alone, every so often I pass a tired athlete walking the final miles, but I do all I can to run and as I join the mystical glacial river that flows though the heart of Chamonix, I know I have done it... I follow its banks to the centre and run under the finishing arch. I have covered 54miles, climbed over 17,000ft and am in the top 20% of the women, I am over the moon :-)

Click the button for the movie...........

100_event

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Strive For The Summit Challenge

Strava's motivational powers!

Strava is a where I upload my GPS tracks from my training and races. The application then does all sorts of cool things with the data from elevation, pace, heart rate, training effect.... the list goes on and on!
It is also a social site, where I can see and comment on friends activities... I would describe it as a kind of Facebook without all the rubbish, and designed for athletes who take their running or cycling seriously.

So Strava's Challenge for May 2012 was called Strive For The Summit..... to climb as many vertical feet of ascent within the month of May. "I'll have a bit of that" I thought! Great training for the Alps in August...

Little did I know it would take over my life for a whole month!!!

I often think I have a rather addictive and possibly obsessive nature, but is "Obsessive"not a word used by the lazy to describe dedication? ;-)

No... I WAS obsessed :-D

The challenge was entered by thousands all over the world... most were in the States, but plenty of Brits too. The leader board was viewable anytime online and updated with each activity uploaded.


Just the names of the above sessions remind me of May's madness...
The womens competition basically turned out to be a battle between myself and a Californian girl.... we both went crazy. Every spare moment was spent running/walking and often crawling up very steep hills!




The time difference meant that whilst I was sleeping, she was running... and vice versa. So when I woke she would have overtaken me on the leader board and I would get in as much ascent to catch up and overtake.. whilst she was sleeping :-D
It was crazy... I trained a lot with my pal Andros, who also got bitten by the bug... it was a lot of fun!!!





So as the month passed I definitely got better at gnarly climbing and it acclimatized with a massively intense SOLO onslaught on the Brecon Beacons....

Mary pipped me to the post in the end :-( 

I climbed over 80,000 feet, was second lady, first Brit, and now had calves of steel!





It was a fantastic motivator and I was sent a Strava T-shirt and beanie for my efforts. I'm also pretty sure  Strava's May Madness set me up for my race in the Alps.



Saturday, 4 February 2012

Pilgrim's Challenge

After the Longmynd Hike I was hungry for another Ultra, so one lazy afternoon I was googling and what did I find? Extreme Energy.

"Hmmm... how about this Pilgrim's Challenge thingy then Jim? Looks ace!"

A 66 mile two day race on the North Downs Way.

That was it, we were not going to miss it. Changing shifts, sorting childcare, training on the hills and counting down the days... and what a fantastic online build up XNRG provided!

After kissing my son goodbye we headed down to Farnham on the eve of the event and stayed in a Travelodge. Carbo loading comprised of a few beers and a big fat pizza... well we needed to relax a little!

Rising before sunrise we arrived at the venue, the field was iced with frost and coloured with subdued flags. We make for the tent and WOW! So warm, bustling with athletes, hot drinks, gels, bars, buffs and smiles.

We started at 9am and I had not the faintest idea of how to pace myself for a two day event. I soon warmed up and got chatting to people. So many people had done so many impressive races... double Badwaters, MDS, Spartathlons!


 I loved Box Hill, the endless steps up and the sandy beachy descent. The sun was shining and the views truly breathtaking. I decided to push on and see what I could really do. If I pushed too hard and had to crawl Day 2 then it would be a lesson learned :-D
The competitors were so friendly, I was given a gel by one of the elite 10am starters when he found me having a "bonk" in the woods.
The checkpoints were perfect the likes of myself who crave savoury food during long runs. I grew stronger and faster, the tunes went on and I crossed the line having done 33 miles in 5h38m.
Plodding into the digs at the school hall, the first thing that appealed to me was two very fit looking guys giving massages... it'd be rude not to!


A constant flow of hot drinks, a great meal and an inspirational talk by James Adams made the perfect evening....


Day 2...
Well we all knew it was coming and I must have been one of very few who WANTED snow. I love snow!! We got snow alright and I was so relieved the event was to continue with a few tweaks to checkpoints and starting times.


Day 2 was so very tough but absolutely amazing... It was like Narnia, everything was so quiet, muffled by the snow. My core muscles had a true work out ducking and diving under the heavily laden branches. The checkpoints were a godsend... vivid bursts of colour in a totally white world. Friendly faces and a load of scrummy food.



I pushed myself really hard throughout the day, as I ticked the miles off, running as much as I could and finishing the 33 miles in 6hrs and 18mins. Back into that lovely warm tent for tea, cakes and the Second Lady Medal for the whole 66 miles! Wow, was I chuffed :-)