Hoka Highland Fling 2016

What is the Highland Fling?

The Hoka Highland Fling is a 53 mile trail race which takes place every year in April. The route follows the West Highland Way, Scotland’s oldest official long distance footpath, through the Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park and encompasses some stunning scenery (and a few hills I might add).

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How I came to enter

I’m sure it was Graham Kelly’s fault!

I met Graham in 2013 when we both travelled down to Urique, Mexico to run in the Copper Canyons Ultra Marathon (also known as Ultra Marathon Caballo Blanco) made famous by Chris McDougall’s book ‘Born to Run’ and we’ve run together on and off since then,

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Having been talked into entering the Fling it was only several months later I realised that I would have run the South Downs Way 50 only 3 weeks before so I was likely to have heavy legs as a result which would make the Fling harder. I was right!


Night before

I flew up to Glasgow straight after work on Friday night, grabbed a bite at City Airport and was met at Glasgow Airport by Graham and his girlfriend Katie (Wow, just wow!) who first met face to face when she pulled his beard (is that a Scottish euphemism?) when she ran past him during last years Fling, when he was a spectator on Conic hill due to injury.



Always entertaining as I’ve run in modern Huaraches i.e. Luna Sandals for the last 5 years and so far have avoided any running injuries (not many people in trainers can say that I imagine). As this is going to be a pretty gnarly and rocky trail I had been training both for SDW50 and the Fling in Luna Origen sandals, that are a modern take on the original huaraches Manuel Luna showed BFT to make in 2006, except these have Michelin snow tyre tread for the sole, topped with a modern slip resistant upper. In a word a beast of a sandal.

 Should cause a stir as I doubt anyone has completed the Fling in sandals before.



Now I have a problem in that I can’t seem to eat after around 25 miles, and even before that I want savoury and salty things not sweet. This caused me to get timed out at 70 miles during a 100 mile attempt last year (SDW100) as the wheels had come off as I hadn’t been able to eat for the last 20 miles (and was getting overtaken by snails!).

As I could still drink I have since been testing Trailwind as if I couldn’t eat, at least I could drink the calories and in SDW50 it seemed to work (supplemented with some honey roast cashews and dried fruit). So I packed my UD pack with a few bags of those to eat, a couple of caffeine Gus, and filled 2 soft flasks and a hand held with Trailwind (with a pile of stick packs of it in the pack to make up at each aid station. I was going to drink the handheld and save the soft flasks as and when needed.

For each of my 4 drop bags I had a bottle of flat coke, a pork pie and a tunnock bar.


The morning of the start

The alarm went off at 03:00 as we needed to leave by 04:30 so after 2 bowls of porridge (when in Rome) tea /coffee we grabbed our stuff and yawned towards the car.

The start was freezing! Once I’d dropped off my 4 drop bags and handed my overnight bag to Katie’s mum (who was driving up to Tyndrum) I had to keep walking about as my toes were already cold and it would take 3 miles before I would be able to feel them again. My hands were also cold as I’d managed to flush my lightweight gloves down the loo (not a good start).


Conic Hill 1

It was tough on the legs running down the other side!



19.8 miles Balmaha

 A quick in, handheld refilled with water, grab 2 bites of the pork pie and out again! I always try to stay less than 2 minutes at an aid station as I know I will need that time later on as I start chasing cutoffs (this race was going to be no different).

27.2 miles – Rowardennan

A quick water refill and no time for Drop bags here.

34.4 miles – Inversnaid

Same again, water refill and out again.


40 miles – Beinglas

I was so glad to see this place after a nightmare and very slow run along the Loch which was mainly scrambling and climbing over muddy rocks, roots and boulders. Whilst having a quick swig of coke I was glad to hear it was a runnable trail from now on, as having only just made the last 10 miles along the Loch in 4 hours I couldn’t see how I was going to run the next 10 miles in 3 hours unless something changed drastically underfoot. Folks at the aid station assured me it was runnable from now on, I hoped they were right! A caffeine Gu was just what I needed to kick start the system for some running!


I had to push miles 40-50 as although the cutoff at mile 50 was 20:30 that would only leave 30 minutes to cover the last 3 miles over unknown terrain and currently I didn’t  think I could run 3 x 10 minutes miles if my life depended on it! I needed to get to the 50 mile cutoff at 20:00 and I literally spent the next 10 miles thinking of nothing but that, whilst taking turns in leading and following a few other runners which seemed to help all of us keep the speed up. The “rollercoaster” (as I discovered it was called) I was almost glad to meet as after my nightmare along the Loch any trail I could actually run on was welcome, even if I could go uphill faster than I could go downhill!


Mile 50 to 53 (the finish)

I made it to the 50 mile point at 20:00 which was a huge relief as I’d been hearing traffic for a while and was wondering if I would ever get there.

 Now it was just keeping the pressure on so I stayed the right side of the 21:00 cutoff, and I knew it was going to be close, as I and the other cutoff chasers kept leapfrogging each othe,r all of us trying to keep our speed up to make the cutoff.

 45 minutes later I have never been so glad to see 2 pipers starting up and I knew I was very close, then I saw the barriers and was directed towards the red carpet. I turned the last bend, spied Graham, did a quick high 5 whilst shouting “Mas Loco” before making the final dash for the line, finishing with 9 minutes to spare at 14 hours 51 minutes!


Several minutes later I was sat in the tent, wearing my first Fling medal, with a bag of goodies, whilst sipping a cup of the most wonderful tomato soup I have ever had!


UTMB CCC – my unfinished adventure in Chamonix

I’ve done a few ultras over the past few years both successful (The Wall, NDW 50, Race to the Stones) and otherwise (Copper Canyons Ultra Marathon, dropped after 30 miles when water ran out in aid station in 35C) but running in the Alps always held a certain attraction.

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I entered for the 2014 event more to guarantee one way or another (with the 3 tries with increasing odds) I would get to run it before my 60th birthday. Hence I was a little surprised when I got in first time, as did Wayne a fellow “Mas Loco” I met in Urique at CCUM.

Now I always run in Luna Sandals (and have done for the past 4 years) which has resulted in pretty strong feet, so I wasn’t too worried about the mountain trails, but I was taking a pair of Injinji socks in case it got a bit chilly at night. I decided to wear to the Luna Oso trail sandal as I knew a few friends who’d completed Western States & Leadville in them so I knew they were good for gnarly terrain.


However I was also taking an old pair of Vivobarefoot Breatho Trails (fixed up with ShoeGoo) in case the trails got really muddy if it rains) and carry them in my pack so I could switch over if needed (it turned out later to be a wise decision).


Now, I live in West London (Twickenham) and most of my training tends to be in Bushy & Richmond Park and along the River Thames, so in summary its pretty flat, aside from a couple of hills in Richmond Park. So to try and get some climbing in I spent lunchtimes hiking up and running down the office 20 floors of the fire exit stairs in the tallest building in Canary Wharf, 1 Canada Water. Not ideal (as I later discovered) but it was about as much as I could do.

The Adventure begins 


I got an early flight from Heathrow on Wednesday morning and with Mountain Dropoffs at Geneva I got to Chamonix pretty painlessly for midday where I picked up the keys to my apartment.

Later I met up with Wayne by the wooden huts selling all the ultra gear and spent an hour looking at all the gear I could spend large amounts of cash on!


I had nothing planned but after a chat with a bearded Scottish fell running pal (also a Mas Loco) I decided to get the Aiguille du Midi cable car and spend the day breathing thin air and seeing spectacular views.

I managed to stay at the top for 2 hours (after which I did feel a bit light headed) and marveled at the views and the “head for heights” exhibited by some of the climbers who were just starting out on an incredible experience on what looked like the top of the world.

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I then descended to Plan De L’Aiguille where I spent the rest of the day hiking some of the paths and chilling out in the slightly less thin air



Wayne and I met up and got the coach to Courmayeur and after queuing 30 minutes for the loo eventually got to the start line in the 4th group and started at 9:20 (in hindsight we should have started in an earlier group).

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Tete de la Tronche

Refuge Bertone
I was coming into the first checkpoint and heading to a food table when the Woman in charge pointed at my sandals and told me I couldn’t continue in them. This caught me completely by surprise as I had just was just scanning the tables for something salty!  I said that nowhere in the rules did it say no trail sandals but she insisted that, in Italy, they are not allowed (rather ironic considering an Italian firm, Vibram, pretty much invented . minimalist running, and seem to be a major sponsor of the event with VFFs all over their stalls). I quickly pointed out I had alternate footwear and she agreed if I left my Luna’s with her I could continue in the race. Whilst I was changing footwear she got on the radio to France HQ to check. I had changed 1 foot when she said it’s ok having spoken to the France Race HQ so I put my sandal back on, stuffed the Vivo’s back in my pack, grabbed a gulp of coke and headed out, having lost 15 minutes and not had time to get any food or refill my Camelbak.

I had just the Checkpoint when I saw Wayne sat on a rock. He was feeling sick and waving me to continue I thought I’d see him again as he is a stronger runner than me.

Refuge Bonatti

Now as I was approaching the next checkpoint I was preparing myself to have to go through the whole “no sandals” bit again. Instead I was greeted by an English woman who smiled, said that Bertone had phoned ahead and they were expecting “a guy in sandals” who was fine to continue. Alas I was chasing time cutoffs so aside from a gulp of coke I couldn’t stop.


It seemed to take forever before I could see this checkpoint down below and then descending switchback after switchback with me and a couple of Japanese guys taking turns to go in front to keep the pace going. Eventually I got to the checkpoint and was in the tent scanning what was left of the food (I knew I was probably in the last few runners as the cutoff was about 5-10 minutes away).

I then heard a commotion, saw a few gestures in my direction and saw a race organiser headed my way, I took a deep breath and waited. I was approached by an Italian guy in his late 50’s who was pointing at my sandals and shouting (he had wild hair which did remind me of Doc Emmett Brown in “Back to the Future”, but this was looking too serious to smile). I called for someone to translate what he was going on about and someone said I was going to be disqualified for wearing sandals and cannot continue! I quickly grabbed my Vivo’s and waving them at the official said I’d change into them and put away my sandals. There was some discussions after which he agreed and said once I got over the top at Grand Col Ferret I was in Switzerland and could wear what I like!

I changed footwear which was a challenge as I was cramping every time I tried to reach my feet to tie my laces, and left the checkpoint (later finding out only a couple of people made it through after me before the cutoff)

Grand Col Ferret

This climb seemed to take forever, I was getting slower and could see down in the valley behind me a couple of runners that looked like the sweepers meaning I was very close to running out of time. I pushed on, forcing myself to eat a gu though the sweetness made me gag but I knew I needed it.

The rained started and the trail started to get muddier which made me appreciate my change of footwear, although I would have changed by now anyway, even without some stroppy F’ ing official!

The sweepers caught up with me and asking if I was ok were really encouraging and keeping me moving till I could finally see the checkpoint at Grand Col Ferret just ahead of me.

Now I had run out of water hours ago (with all the drama at the previous Checkpoint I hadn’t refilled my Camelbak so my intial 2 litres was long gone) so I asked at the Checkpoint if they had any water and received the expected answer, no.

I had purification tablets so I knew that worst case I’d just drop my Camelbak in a stream to fill it up and throw a few tablets in, so it was not life threatening, just uncomfortable.

I now had a long downhill run with a few ups to get to the next Checkpoint at La Foully which if I could get some speed up I may be able to make the cutoff, but I knew it would be close. I started off and quickly discovered that the limiter on my speed (aside from being completed knackered, hungry and thirsty) was the mud on the narrow trails with the big drop to the right. Actually speed is really the wrong word, I was just trying to get as close as I could to maintaining a 15 min/mile pace which (under normal circumstances) hardly counts as speed in anyone’s book!

I had started my descent when I got a SMS from Wayne, he had had to drop from the race as he heard a snap when running downhill and, to cut a long story short had detached part of his quadriceps muscle from his thigh bone! Arrrgghhhh, so no running for a few months for poor Wayne.

The sweepers again caught up with me and were encouraging me and a couple of other “back of the packers” to pick up the pace and keep going. I managed to pull away with this encouragement and headed off down the trails close to La Foully, though it was taking a long time and I couldn’t stop to look at the map as I didn’t know if I’d be able to start again.

La Foully

So after 11hrs, 41k, 9,186 ft of ascent, 7,874 ft of descent I finally made it to La Foully in the dark and missed cutoff by 5 min! I was sad but knew realistically even if I had made it I would have missed the next cutoff after that.

Whilst waiting for the bus Sitting down and drinking loads of flat coke was rather nice.
It’s pretty depressing sitting on a quiet bus full of people who’s dreams of running into Chamonix have been shattered (for that year anyway) but a least for me being the oldest person on the bus (confirmed after a quick scan) held some small comfort.

Back in Chamonix I picked up my drop bag, grabbed some food and went back to the apartment.

After a shower I climbed into bed looking forward to dropping off pretty quick only to spend the next 30 minutes getting cramp in either my foot, calf or thigh. I tried getting to sleep in any position I could but I still got cramp.

Eventually I bit the bullet, emptied a couple of spoons of salt into a glass of water, held my nose and necked it, trying not to throw up! It worked a treat and I fell asleep shortly after, lovely.


I spent Saturday watching the CCC and then the UTMB finishers being cheered across the line and decided I have to come back to experience a finish at Chamonix.


Watched more finishers from a bar 100m from the finish and just enjoyed the atmosphere and beer.


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I had a surprise visitor to the bar that made coming to Chamonix, even with a DNF, almost worthwhile, Rory Bosio winner of UTMB!

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Sad to leave after an incredible experience, the race didn’t go as I hoped but Chamonix is the most beautiful place and CCC, in fact that whole week of UTMB races, makes you want to come back.

To quote an ex-Governor of California “I’ll be back!”


Race to the Stones 100Km Trail Ultra #racetothestones #lunasandals

After UMCB in Mexico I was looking for a Summer Ultra, but something a bit closer and easier on the pocket when I saw Race to the Stones. It was pitched as:

“The Race to the Stones is a fully supported 100km trail ultramarathon following in the footsteps of Romans, Vikings, farmers and traders along the iconic Ridgeway. You will pass Iron Age forts, ancient burial chambers, cross the mighty Thames and the mystical down-lands of Salisbury plain on your way to the finish line at the 3,000-year-old stone circle at Avebury”


Here’s even more info for any history buffs: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avebury

100km along a the Ridgeway ending in Avebury Stone circle sounded good, I just needed to sort out the logistics and start planning .

A day of so before, I even cleaned my Luna Leadville pacers which fit like a glove having done around 1,000 miles. They are a bit thin and I’ll probably replace them with the new Oso trail sandal when it is out, but it should be ok (or so I thought.)

I’ll be wearing Injinji toe socks with them which will give me a bit of padding, but mainly so any stones that fly up don’t open cuts on my feet so will give me a bit of skin protection.


I drove down to Avebury on Friday night, had a dinner (Salmon) in the pub in the centre of the village and retired early as I needed to be up at 4:00am to get the coach from the finish (where I was camping, or sleeping in the car) to the start at Chinnor almost 2 hours away. At least this way when I finish I can crawl to the car.

Breakfast was 2 bananas as I got on the coach at 5:00am which with 3 hours before the start was just about right.

On arrival at the start it was get registered, attach timing tag to my ankle (a short piece of Luna leather lace usually does the trick) and fill up my camelbak & bottle.

Then a cup of tea, and join the queue to the usual little blue houses!


I knew it was going to be a hot day probably 30C / 86F so my plan was to keep drinking from my hand bottle and refill it every Pit stop / Aid Station (roughly every 10-12k). I had 1.5 litres in my Camelbak should I need it (and I certainly did later on).

For nutrition I was using the following:

  • Clif Shot Bloks (caffeine version) – pretty much from the start, and at the latter stages when I needed the caffeine
  • Justin’s Nut Butters (Peanut & Honey) – They were great, just had to have them at aid stations due to the amount of water required to wash them down.
  • Quesadillas with refried beans & cheese – These I got the taste for in Mexico and were great, not too filling but with high carbs, fat & salt really picked me up
  • Banana Malt Loaf – small pieces to snack on and not as sticky as the normal stuff
  • S-Caps (Salt tablets) I was taking 2 tablets at every Aid Station

(I did have cups of tea and water refills at the excellent Pit Stops / Aid Stations, and a couple of flapjacks but that was all. I wanted to be pretty self sufficient on food I had trained with to avoid any errr …..shall we say “digestive distress” and I had none at all, hurrah)

Then we were off, as usual I started at the back as we were a mixture of people doing 100km non-stop and people doing it in 2 days camping overnight who were a bit more sprightly (though many of them paid the price later as only 60% of them finished).

The scenery was gorgeous and difficult to capture on a phone camera but I did try.


One became very grateful for any shade as obviously on the “Ridgeway” there was not a lot of trees for shade.


I did notice after a few hours that the “fluid” was looking a bit “strong” so I increased my water intake a little and upped the salt tablets to 2 an hour after starting to get “sausage fingers”. It was about 10 hours before my next loo stop by which time everything was back to the right colour and my sausage fingers were back to normal. (I seemed to have to stop every 20 minutes for the last few miles of the race as I was clearly emptying my fingers!).

I was also soaking my wrist and neck Buffs in water and pouring water over my head to keep my Visor Buff wet which was refreshingly cooling (and something I learnt in Mexico to keep cool).

Did a couple of Heart Rate checks during a few hiking stages (Normally my Resting HR is 55bpm & Max HR is 194bpm) and it was around 96bpm so not too bad.




Run to the Stones 2013


Run to the Stones 2013

This was around halfway at 50k in 7hrs 40 min something like 16:30 Saturday afternoon.

I had hayfever tablets in my pack in case this field of rapeseed set me off but luckily it didn’t.


Crossing the Thames at Goring & Streatley and seeing the ice cream vendors was very tempting (as were the pubs)

The Bad

I got to 75k around 23:20 and I was suffering.

My Luna Leadville Pacer huaraches were just not man enough for the gnarly rocky flint trails I was going along. I’m pretty light in them but the sharp stones just kept bruising my feet leading to a blister just forward of the ball of each foot. I stopped and changed my socks (which seemed to have collected a cup of trail dust each), cleaned my feet with the irreplaceable baby wipes (should be renamed “Trail wipes”), applied blister plasters and put on my clean socks, wonderful.

My other source of pain was chafing which I treated as best I could with my Bodyglide stick (oooooowwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww).

I was now slowed to a half jog and “cowboy” type walk.


This little guy made me smile in the early hours!

By now my Garmin 910XT had finally given out after 20 hrs 26min (which was pretty impressive as it is only advertised as lasting 20 hrs) and I was feeling really tired. The morning sun had come up and I was now walking slowly over rolling hills, each time hoping for a glimpse of Avebury or some indication that the end was near. I knew it couldn’t be more than 8k but it was taking forever.

Then I had an idea, in the last few Pit stops / Aid Stations the same runner would arrive (with his pacer) and snooze in a chair, I’d leave and later on he would pass me seemingly refreshed after his 10 minute sleep. Maybe it would work for me?

I came upon a fairly flat rock at the side of the trail, took of my rucsac and using it as a pillow laid on the rock backwards with my feet still on the floor. It wasn’t that comfortable which I was hoping would prevent me from falling asleep for too long. It was nice and warm in the sunshine and I must have dropped off, hearing some runners walk past as I drifted off.

As my Garmin was dead and my iPhone was in low on power and in airplane mode I wasn’t aware of the time but I reckon I must have dozed for 10-15 minutes, either way when I awoke I felt a lot better. I threw on my rucsac, popped a caffeine shotblok and headed off, with a bit more spring in my….err delicate stride!

I could see 2 runners ahead who kept disappearing and reappearing as they descended and ascended and each hill. Then they didn’t reappear! I kept walking hoping that meant they were descending off the Ridgeway towards Avebury and the finish, but trying not to  get my hopes up. I reached the point where they had disappeared from sight and there they were, descending the Ridgeway towards the little village of Avebury and the finish. I was nearly there!

Now I knew that the last bit of the route involved going into the middle of Avebury, between two of the stones and then following the shape of a letter “U” back the way we had come and then finishing down a long straight path ending in an Finishing arch and the farm where I had left the car.


As I approached Avebury I pulled out my iPhone just to see the time, I wasn’t particularly bothered (as I didn’t think there was a cut-off time for getting 2 UTMB points, or at least my questions regarding that hadn’t been answered) but I wanted to know.

I glanced at the time and a cold shiver went down my back, it was 7:45am Sunday morning and the race started at 8:00am Saturday morning, if there did happen to be a cutoff for UTMB points it would be at 24 hours, shit thats 8:00am!

I started running, declined the offer to have my picture taken between the stones and headed back the way I had come and the two left hand turns that would lead me to the finishing straight. I glanced again (I was now holding my phone) 7:50am and I was picking up speed across the field towards the final turn and what I guessed to be 500m to the finish.

The pain in my feet and my chafing was fading as adrenalin was kicking in as I accelerated down that straight, mentally I was back in Bushy Park parkrun, throwing everything into that last 100 metres, except this was several times that distance and I was tired, but that tiredness was leaving me, being replaced by a fierce desire to beat that cut-off. I could think of nothing worse than missing the cut-off which I could have made if only I had speeded up for that last mile.

I was now 100 metres from the finish, it would be close, I could see people and the circa 7 minute mile pace I had been doing, gave way to sprinting which I knew from experience would cover the final distance in 16-17 seconds, whatever state I was in.

I crossed the line at 7:57am, stamped on the chip sensors just to make sure the tag I had tied round my ankle registered me finishing and staggered into the shade where someone hung a medal round my neck whilst I tried to get my heart rate to leave the dizzy heights of 190 bpm or so for something a little more sedate.

 The race had started late so my finishing time was 23:45, but better to be safe than sorry.


My tired old pair of ‪#‎lunasandals‬ Leadville Pacers that got me through 100km of gnarly rocky trails (5,000ft ascent / descent) in temperatures of 30C / 86F are probably due to be replaced with a pair of Oso’s just as soon as I can afford them!


All in all a great and well organised event, in fact brilliant for their first time running the event under these conditions.

Roll on next year’s, I’ve registered an interest already!

Ultra Marathon Caballo Blanco – The adventure begins

It all started one evening in November 2011 in a Girls school, near St Paul’s Cathedral in the City of London. I had started running in VFFs, moved to Luna Sandals, read “Born to Run” (not the normal order of things I gather from other running folk) and was now sat with several hundred people in a school hall, listening to a tall, shy, tanned guy talking about two subjects that were clearly very close to his heart, Tarahumara and running. I had taken my then 16 year old son Sam along, not because he was a runner, but because he had read “the book” and wanted to meet Caballo.


By the end of the evening the race had moved to the top of my “bucket list” and despite Caballo trying to persuade me to run in 2012 I insisted I needed to run an ultra first so would run it in 2013, after which he referred to me as the “2013 guy”.

So after a couple of ultra’s in 2012, February 22nd found me on a flight to El Paso with all my running kit in my hand luggage and the stuff I could afford to lose in the hold.

I had booked a place on the “Diego shuttle” so was spending 2 nights at Motel 6 before departing for Paraiso del Oso midday Sunday with the rest of the travellers. I was also due to be sharing a room in Motel 6 & Urique with a Scotsman I had never met (aside from Facebook) who judging by the way he typed in Facebook probably sounded like “Groundskeeper Willie” from The Simpsons.

I was right!

Fortunately Graham and I hit it off from the start, and as we loaded the vans and then squeezed in to the back seat of the van along with Graham I had no idea of the impact the trip would have on me, never mind the impact on Graham!


Our journey to Cautemoc was slow as we hit a sandstorm at one point


Cautemoc Hotel (our overnight stop on the way to the canyons)


I didn’t realise the altitude we were at (6,400 ft) and how cold it would be in the morning (yes that is ice not some kind of flower)


Divisidero Cable Car & Zipline

We stopped at the Divisadero Cable Car & Zip Line for a couple of hours although I wasn’t brave enough for the Zip line. Instead a group of us took the cable car down and walked a trail for a while.



Christelle and I returning back to the cable car after a walk along Tarahumara trails.


The intrepid UMCB Zip wire team!


What a view


Jan Bosschaert with a good head for heights (or maybe he didn’t realise there was nothing holding the rock up)


Doug’s Hotel

We finally reached Paraiso del Oso and were well looked after during our stay and were grateful for the work and coordination Diego had put into making this trip possible.




My first ever Margarita, alas swiftly following by 6 others after which I had to lie down!


The legendary Guadajuko


We visited a Cerocahui Tarahumara Boarding School providing a BBQ, games and I set up a Webcam I brought with me.


The girls sang a song to thank us.

Wednesday 24 mile hike to Urique

For the 24 mile hike down to Urique we had local guides who looked like they were going on a 10 minute stroll to get some milk, where as we seemed to be carrying enough supplies and water for a month!


A touching moment as we were about to cross the bridge on the 24 mile hike down into the Copper Canyons and Urique. Maria and Luis made us take Caballo’s ‘if I get hurt lost or die, it’s my own damn fault’ oath. Luis said that what we were about to undertake would change us, and I believe it has, particularly for 2 people on that hike (you know who you are) the Tarahumara phrase ‘Kuira-Ba’ is beautifully relevant.


At 55 I was expecting to be on the upper age group on the trip, and then I met Toshio who at 72 years old (and 250 Ultras to his name) gives us all something to aspire to (and he is always smiling)!


It was sometime after the hike that I started to see less of ‘Graham’ and more of ‘Graham + Kate’ and I was usurped from my ‘Scottish to American’ translation duties’. I fully understood why, as fair Kate had far better legs than me (a fact I was able to confirm frequently over the 32 miles of the race on the following Sunday) 😉

On Thursday morning we hiked up to Los Alisos (part of the race course) for a farewell ceremony for Micah.



What you can’t see below is the 2nd horse he is towing that insists on taking the inside path, so we ended up edging around its rear end on the drop side (I was getting ready to grab its tail if I slipped)!


Looking back on the trail it’s not only beauty that is skin deep 😉 (glad I didn’t meet the horses there)


Los Alisos


For the ceremony we all formed a circle and Maria passed Caballo’s ashes around the circle for everyone to hold and offer their own silent farewells. After which Caballo’s favourite Mas Loco shirt was burned on a fire and the ashes were sprinkled around his favourite tree and finally on the fire. Memories of Micah were spoken and it was a moving experience for all.

I managed to keep in together until as we were leaving I hugged Maria, who thanked me for making the trip and said she was glad I came, after which the emotional wheels came off and I had to hurriedly head for the trail whilst trying not to blink!


Thursday afternoon we drove to the top of the canyon to Cabañas San Isidro for a Temazca (ritual sweat lodge) where 14 of us sat in the dark in a small hut whilst red hot rocks were shovelled into the pit in the floor along with water sprinkling and herbs of various types added to the heat. After around an hour we left the lodge and stood around the fire outside in silence for a while and the dark. It was quite eerie as no-one felt the need to speak.



The ride up to the top of the canyon I found very traumatic as the road is very rocky, narrow, sheer drops and the driver was on his mobile for a fair bit of the journey! On the way back down I was blindfolded and playing music loudly though my headphones (Sensory deprivation rules ok).

Tarahumara Dinner

Friday evening we were invited to dinner at the Tarahumara camp on the far side of the river. They had butchered several cows and were cooking them in 3 large pots whilst the butchered carcasses were covered up nearby on rocks.


It was a uniquely original evening with local people appearing from everywhere once the word got out about dinner!

Saturday – Kids race

This kids race on Saturday was a great success and I hope it becomes a regular event as it was great seeing their enthusiasm.


Giving out the medals, water and bags of school supplies was brilliant.


Sunday – The Race

As Kate & I were likely to be running at a similar pace (as in we would be a lot slower than the Scottish mountain goat known as Graham) we decided to run together.

Graham stopped for a hug on his first return from Guadalupe and still finished in 10 hrs 30 min! Makes you sick doesn’t it (though on second thoughts if I was offered a hug by Kate I’d probably stop too!)


We were going ok (slow, but ok for Brits not used to 97 Degrees F) until we reached the bridge to Los Alisos after 8 hr 45 min where we were told that there was no water at Los Alisos. Now so far we had each consumed around 12 litres of water (and probably poured a similar amount over our heads), eaten 24 S-Caps each and decided to just stop for 5 minutes before continuing. We filled up our Camelbaks, thought about the run up to Los Alisos (I had done it on the Thursday so knew what was involved) and that our water would just about last us to get there (if we drank it rather than used it for cooling) but we would be coming back dry and couldn’t guarantee the water at the aid station by the bridge (where we currently were) would still be open. In addition we would also have missed the Urique cut off by a number of hours as well.

I kept remembering (as did Kate) the bit of “Born to Run” where Barefoot Ted runs out of water and drinks bodily fluids, so we had a vote and decided a cold Tecate was infinitely more preferable to the warm alternative, so we heading back to Urique to finish 32 miles and still an Ultra!

Just outside Urique we were greeted by Graham walking towards us carrying 2 cokes, I almost hugged the Scotsman, but instead got Kate to give him an extra hug on my behalf.

It was an incredible day and one none of us will forget for a long time.


So the big question, will I return to Urique to finish the outstanding 18 miles I missed this year?

Yes I will, but I’ll probably leave it a few years and maybe time it for a special birthday. So maybe I’ll see some of you guys in 5 years time to celebrate my 60th birthday! Knowing my luck Toshio will be there and still thrash me as a racy 77 year old!

For me 2013 was the important event, and I fulfilled a promise I made to a friend who is no longer with us.

Last Blog before the long awaited UMCB Mexico running adventure begins

Well after months and months of training in rain, snow (and sometimes even sunshine) I’m on the last 6 days before I leave to journey to Mexico for the Ultra Marathon Caballo Blanco http://www.ultracb.com/ made famous in the book “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall (http://www.chrismcdougall.com/).

It is expected that there will be around 120 international runners travelling from all over the world to run alongside 100 Mexican and 300 Tarahumara runners.

I’ll try and update my blog wherever I can get WiFi access as I’m sure the scenery will be stunning.

Its been tough keeping the miles up over the past few months with the UK weather and trying not to pick up an injury.




Alas I had a twinge on my right calf after doing 30 miles in the snow on two consecutive Sundays (with my mountaineering neighbour and http://www.ringofire.co.uk/ RD James Bingham) a few weeks ago (suspect it was partly due to wearing heavier “minimalist” shoes than my Luna’s causing a slight running form change). After which I halted running and moved to just working on my quads using my Wife’s steps (whilst furiously massaging my calf so it’s fixed in time for the run). With the amount of ascent & descent (10,000 ft) the inevitable walking should give my calf a bit of time to rest during the run.

Alas the only thing I cannot train for (aside from the ascent & descent) for is running in temperatures of 35-40 degrees C at midday!!

Here’s a quick summary of my itinerary:

I fly out from London on Friday to El Paso, Texas (2 hr flight change in Dallas) and then on Sunday start a 2 day van journey (with an overnight stop at Cuauhtemoc) with 25 other runners to a hotel at the top of the canyons (http://www.mexicohorse.com/).

Tuesday some local hikes and a tour to Cerocahui and in the afternoon we will visit the local Tarahumara school where I will be giving a 10 year old laptop I’ve brought from Twickenham a good home!

Wednesday we commence a 24 mile trail hike down into the canyon whilst our luggage is transported down by van. Followed up by dinner with the runners in Urique at Madam Tita’s restaurant (of “Born to Run” fame)

Thursday we walk part of the course and in the evening 20 of us are going to a Temazcal Sweat Lodge at Cabañas San Isidro. Several hours of sweating later I’ll be glad for the swim in the waterfall.

Friday we walk another part of the course and pick up our race packets and in the evening attend a Pre-Race Runners Dinner with the Raramuri runners.

Saturday is a run for the Kids of the Canyons! Over 400 Children from all over the Canyons will participate in this run. All children finishers receive a Medal and a Shirt donated by Marathon Kids and a bag of School Supplies donated by the Runners and Supporters of the event.This is followed by a Pre-Race Festival in Urique Town Square.

Sunday at 6am the 50 mile Ultra marathon Caballo Blanco starts!!!! Presentations start at 5pm which I would really like to be back for, but 11 hours for 50 miles is 2 hours off my best time so we will see……..

Monday we all leave (walking very delicately I imagine) and start the 2 day drive back to El Paso where I catch a flight on Wednesday afternoon back to London having (hopefully) achieved the number 1 item on the top of my “Bucket List”!

Now what was number 2 on my “Bucket List”……….. 😉

.Oh yes, and I need to recover quickly as I’m pacing James for the last 30 miles of the Thames Path 100 Ultra (http://www.centurionrunning.com/thames-path-100-2013/) on the 23rd March!

Lots of running, some chilly weather and preparations for Mexico begin

I really seemed to have settled in to a bit of a running routine of late as I try to maintain a decent mileage (by my standards that is) in the remaining months before Mexico, so a normal week is generally looking like this::

Tuesday – 10 or 14 mile run through Bushy Park, along the Thames to Teddington Lock and home via Teddington (10 mile route) or continue to Richmond Bridge and back along the Thames to Twickenham and then home (14 mile route). Although I did get carried away last Tuesday as it was such a gorgeous wintery day I just carried on and did a loop of Richmond Park as well taking the distance up to 21 miles!

Thursday – 10 or 14 mile run through Bushy Park, along the Thames to Teddington Lock and home via Teddington (10 mile route) or continue to Richmond Bridge and back along the Thames to Twickenham and then home (14 mile route)

Saturday – Bushy parkrun 5k

Sunday – 17 mile run from Chelsea along the Thames path to Chiswick Bridge and back whilst Sam is doing judo @ the Budokwai

So generally I’m running around 40-45 miles per week in my Luna Sandals (Leadville model) unless on days when the trails are really muddy which is when I have to resort to my Vibram KSO Treks.

I was fortunate to win a competition at Luna a few weeks back that resulted in me receiving a free pair of their Tabi Socks which have been great for keeping my feet warm when it got down to -5C (23F) recently.

Here are some photos from my runs in Bushy Park over the last few weeks during the cold spell which was great for both running and photos:

The Bushy Pom Pom tree (Mistletoe)

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Toasty feet (thanks Luna)



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A quick play with the Panorama feature on my iPhone


A few photos from my Sunday morning Chelsea to Chiswick Bridge runs before the cold spell:



I think I was definitely warmer than this guy!


and one from the Saturday morning 5k parkrun in Bushy Park where the wildlife can get a bit close at times:

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Mexico & Ultramarathon Caballo Blanco

I’ve had a Hepatitis A & Typhoid jab and I’m due for a Tetanus jab in January which will be all my innoculations over with. I’m now starting to think about what stuff I need during the trip and items like water purification.

In my next blog I’ll probably go into a bit more detail on how I will be getting down there, and hopefully I’ll be able to blog as I travel down and upload anytime I reach free wifi but we’ll see. I can see that my Powermonkey & solar panels are going to get a lot of use keeping my iPhone charged up.

Thames Path 100 (Richmond to Oxford along the Thames Path)

3 weeks after Mexico I’ll be pacing my neighbour James for the last 30 miles of the Thames Path 100, so sometime in early February we’ll probably run the last 30 miles of the course into Oxford to familiarise ourselves (well me anyway) with the course, as it will probably be dark when I’ll be running it in the early hours of the morning (unless James is really really fast!).

A Roman Camp in snow and mist, a 62 mile week, autumn runs along the Thames and yes more deer!

I can’t believe its almost a month since my last blog post.

I’ve been busy with a friends 50th birthday weekend in North Yorkshire where I was able to fit in a morning run “in snow” (Saturday morning) and in mist (Sunday morning) running through a Roman Camp (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cawthorne_Camp) on the North Yorkshire Moors! It was definitely time to start running in socks with my Luna Sandals

I’ve had a quite a number of early morning 10 and 14 mile runs through Bushy Park and along the Thames to Richmond with the obligatory deer of course.

My highest mileage week was 62 miles, partly due to a 23 mile Sunday morning run (6:30am start!) with my neighbour James where we ran through Bushy, Kingston, along the river to Richmond Park, where we did a lap and then ran back along the river to Teddington Lock and back home via Teddington. Unfortunately it was pouring with rain for most of it so we ran through an awful lot of mud which can be pretty challenging in Huaraches.

Finally my run last Sunday was a beautiful autumn 15 miles along the Thames from Chelsea to Barnes and back whilst my Son Sam was doing his usual Sunday Judo training at The Budokwai.

Oh, and here’s one from Saturdays Bushy parkrun where one of the course marshall’s looked a bit more fierce than usual.

Goodbye Man-flu, 10 mile training run, Misty parkrun, and 20 miles along the Thames

At last it seems that my cold has almost gone, so to celebrate I went for a 10 mile run on Friday morning, taking advantage of some sunshine. It was my usual circuit through Bushy Park over the Thames and along to Teddington Lock where I head home through Teddington High St and past all the coffee bars with people sat outside eating breakfast. Oooh the coffee smells good!


Bushy parkrun

On Saturday it was off to Bushy parkrun as usual, though I was just going for a run rather than a race (oops sorry, I mistakenly said “parkrun” and “race” in the same sentence so I’ll be expecting a knock at the door any time now from the parkrun police!) as having done 10 miles the day before and possibly a long run the next day with James.

It was the first of many misty mornings to come in Bushy as the temperature starts to drop.

Sunday run with James

So Sunday morning and James Bingham (my neighbour, mountaineer and RD of RingO’Fire Ultra) and I met up at 7am to go for a longish run as part of our aim of increasing our mileage in preparation for my 50 mile Ultra and James’s 100 mile Ultra  in March next year. As I’ll also be pacing James (in the dark) for the last 30 miles of his event it is good that we get used to running with each other.

We headed down to Bushy Park, along one of the West side perimeter paths and out Hampton Court Gate and over the Thames. We then turned right and continued along the South side of the Thames West towards Walton. It was a chilly morning, but the clear skies held promise of sunshine later. We were travelling pretty light a few energy bars and some water and a jacket in case the weather turned bad (plus I had a surprise in my Camelbak for later). I was wearing my Luna’s but had put on Toe Sox as my toes took 2 miles to warm up on parkrun yesterday

We were early enough to miss most of the rowing clubs getting their boats into the water, but we’d have that obstacle course of dodging around “eights” as they are lifted out of the water on our way back.

We got to our 10 mile and halfway stop at Weybridge Ferry (photo below) where a small flask of tea (the surprise) helped the Clif bars go down and after a quick break at our improvised “Aid station” we turned round and started to head back along the Thames Path.


We got home after a great 20 mile run in (mainly) sunshine with no ill effects on either of our legs (James ran 19 miles home from The City on Friday night as well) and I can see it being a regular run, when we are allowed to disappear for 3.5 hours early on a Sunday morning.


It was ironic that one of the conversations on the run was the breakfast we would have when we got back, particularly as James was locked out (family at gym) when he got home, so his breakfast consisted of a large mug of tea and 2 slices of toast and jam I took over to him as he sat on his doorstep in the sunshine.

It was still a great morning run and I look forward to next time!



Training, parkrun interloper, Bristol Half Marathon and no more road races (probably)?

With my last race of the year approaching on Sunday I reduced my training to a 9 mile morning run through Bushy run on Tuesday and a 10 mile on Thursday.

I was a volunteer “funnel marshal” at Bushy parkrun on Saturday and had to cut some of the finish funnel tapes at one point (whilst the runners were over at the start) due to the fellow below wandering rather close to the finish!

Sunday at last, I had driven down to Bristol on Saturday night and my friend Phil and I arrived in Bristol about an hour before the start. It was already starting to get crowded.

It was a bit chilly but pretty good for a run.

My target was to beat my PB/PR of 1:48:55 which I set in 2010 and I was hoping the increased miles I had been putting in would help.

I set off at around 8:15 min/ mile pace with an intention of pushing up to 8:00 min/ mile after the 1st mile. Of course I had forgotten that there were a few hills on the course.

I ran with my water bottle and a few shot bloks so I was able to avoid the rush and all the water on the floor at drink stations (which are a bit of a pain in Luna Sandals as they can get a bit slippy).

I felt fine all race and I finished in 1:47.52 beating my PB/PR by just over a minute and averaging 8:12 min/mile.

What I did decide after running up and down streets, round traffic islands etc was this was not that much fun any more.

The two Trail Ultra’s I did earlier in the year (  EcoTrail de Paris and The Wall) , and the training in Bushy Park and along the Thames that I have been doing is so much more enjoyable than running with thousands of other people up and down town streets and round and round traffic islands.

So for now, at least, I will not enter any more road events. I’ve already entered my “Bucket List” event Caballo Blanco Ultra Marathon in Mexico in early March 2013, and I’ve offered to pace my neighbour (and Race Director of Ring O’ Fire Ultra) James for the last 30 miles of his Thames Path 100 Ultra later on in March 2013. So maybe I’ll just look for another Trail Ultra later in the year. I must admit this one did look rather nice ……South Downs Way 100

We shall see…..

Morning runs, Thames and Boats

At 51 miles, last week was probably the most training miles I have run in a week and all in my Luna Sandals!

Monday – I continued my early morning runs through Bushy Park and along The Thames which I really enjoy and will miss once I find some gainful employment again. That 10 miles for the day increased by another 8 miles as later that evening my friend Phil stayed over (we are running Bristol Half on Sunday though he will beat me by at least 5 minutes!) and we went for an 8 mile headtorch run round Bushy, which can be a bit unsettling seeing lots of pairs of eyes reflecting your light back at you and knowing their are very pointy antlers a few inches above those eyes!

Wednesday – Another 10 mile morning run via Bushy and The Thames.

Friday – A 9 mile run via Bushy and the Thames due to starting from Fulwell station rather than home as I walked Oliver to the station first.

After crossing Kingston Bridge and heading along the Thames towards Teddington Lock I saw the following barge towing another barge carrying large pieces of wood. I was trying to work out what they were but finally realised they were lock gates. Probably to replace some further up the river, and what better way to transport them. You get an idea of scale by the 2 guys sat on the 2nd one in Hi-Vis jackets.


Sunday – As I was taking Sam to judo at Budokwai in Chelsea and would have 2.5 hours to spare I decided to pass the time running from Chelsea to Barnes & back along the Thames Path which is 14 miles.

The weather forecast was rain so I threw on a jacket (which proved useful later). It was a good run and I had just reached my turnaround point at Barnes when it started to rain. But the path was fairly well protected from the rain as the trees still had a lot of leaves on. Having run the path in the winter parts get get very muddy which can be a challenge running in sandals.

I made good time and got back early so I had time for a wonderful vanilla latte whilst waiting for Sam to finish. The Starbucks staff looked very glad this sweaty, muddy runner wanted his latte to go!