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.

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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).

Training

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 

Wednesday

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!

Thursday

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

Altitude

Friday

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.

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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.

Saturday

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.

Sunday

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!”

 

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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.

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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!

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

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

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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)

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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.

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

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The intrepid UMCB Zip wire team!

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What a view

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

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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.

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

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The legendary Guadajuko

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

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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!

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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.

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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)!

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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.

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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)!

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

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Los Alisos

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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!

Temazca

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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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!)

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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.

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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.

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

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

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I think I was definitely warmer than this guy!

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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!).

The Wall Ultramarathon 69 miles – 23rd June 2012

On Saturday 23rd June 2012 I ran the furthest I have ever run, 69 miles and 4,700ft of altitude, and I did it in my Luna Leadville Pacer Sandals (https://www.lunasandals.com/), and with the weather on that day they turned out to be the best footwear choice I could have made.

The race was called “The Wall” (http://thewallrun.com/) and was a 69 mile Ultra marathon along Hadrians Wall, a 2,000 year old wall which was the most northerly permanent component of the Roman empire.

(The race finished in the middle of Newcastle but alas my garmin battery died after 20 hours)

I set off from Kings Cross station on the day before, nervous and wishing I had some “magic” to help me complete the distance, but alas this is as close as I got (Harry Potter fans will understand).

The start was from Carlisle Castle at 7am on Saturday (there was another start 1 hr later for those runners completing the race in 2 days, but the thought of running 32 miles, camping, and then getting up next day knowing I had another 37 miles to run didn’t appeal!).

I was staying at a hotel close to the castle so after a light dinner (no exotic or spicy food for me that evening…….) I headed up to bed after setting 4 alarms on my iPhone and booking a hotel call for 5:30am (they had laid on an early breakfast for 6am as there were quite a few runners staying).

RRRRRRRRRiiinnngggggg

Ugh, my various alarms went off and I pulled back the curtains to see …….. rain!

I showered (whilst thinking why am I doing this, I’m going to be getting wet for the next 20-24 hrs?) dressed and went down for some toast & tea.

The topic of conversation amongst the runners was….you guessed rain, and what to wear / carry.

On return to my room I surveyed my 3 bags, my running rucsac, my drop bag, roller bag.

I was running in my Luna Leadville Pacer sandals (traditional leather laces), shorts and a short & long sleeved technical top with my OMM waterproof on top. I was in trouble if it did stop raining as I had nowhere to put all this stuff as my bag was already full!

My running rucsac had food (Clif Shot Bloks & Clif bars), 2 litles of Nuun in my Camelbak, mandatory first aid and safety kit, spare warm top and waterproof trousers for when I get cold in the early hours. I had also packed my headtorch, just in case my drop bag (with spare clothes and more food) didn’t make it to the halfway pitstop at Vindolanda. I was also carrying a pair of Mountain King “Trail Blaze” running poles (http://www.mountainking.co.uk/) which were so light I intended to run with them folded in one hand, getting them out for any steep climbs (I did an ultra earlier in the year where I was picking up bits of wood to help me up steep climbs in a forest, so I was not doing that again) and when I slow to a walk for the latter stages of the run.

I grabbed my bags and headed down to the start at Carlisle Castle.

It was pretty miserable at the start with around 200 people (around 200 are running it in 1 day and 600 are running over 2 days) muttering about the rain and unpacking waterproofs.

Fortunately I had bought my Aquapac waterproof iPhone case so I should be able to take pictures, even if the quality is sometimes not that hot (see below).

As usual I got lots of strange looks due to my footwear, but I did see one person in VFFs.

The start was delayed for around 20 minutes but we eventually got under way (after some “stuff our lawyers make us say” type talks by the organisers) by around 7:20am.

The first few miles wind around streets and parks next to the river, which I got my first inkling as to what was in store. Water, lots of water. The river had flooded (and was about to break its banks again), the result of which was all the paths near the river were under 8-9 inches of water.

I had great delight in running through these flooded areas whilst all “shod” runners queued and tried to thread their way around the water trying not to get their clean trainers and socks wet.

It wasn’t long before the looks of puzzlement at my strange footwear turned into looks of envy as I ran through the water, shook my feet dry, and continued running on the paths (accompanied by cries of “stop rubbing it in!” ).

Here are a few videos taken during the run.

My nutrition and fluids seemed to work well (I was drinking about 0.7 litre per hour and eating 6 shot bloks per hour) from all indications (I’ll avoid further details you’ll be glad to hear).

In the latter stages when the paths were alongside the river we were wading knee deep through the flooding (when we told the staff at the next aid station they said that the first runners through earlier in the day had to wade through water waist deep!). I was almost using my poles as a depth gauge as knee deep water was ok but I didn’t want a swim.

I managed to last until 10pm before I had to get out my headtorch at which point I put on my warm top as I was slowing down and starting to get a bit cold.

I reached the 62 mile pit stop at around 3:00am by which time I was consuming anything with caffeine in (Gu’s, shot bloks I mean anything to stay awake). I had a wonderful slab of chocolate flapjack and nearly fell of the chair with sugar rush. In fact I really did fall off the chair(I think I fell asleep for a second before the sugar hit). A quick cup of tea and then I and another runner who was continuing (we left several “youngsters” behind who were dropping out) left together to cover the last 7 miles that seem to take forever. Boy was I glad I had poles now.

It even started raining again as the sun came up so I stopped to put on the waterproof trousers to fight off the cold for a few more miles. It was ironic that the warmest part of my were my feet, and they were bare!

I crossed the finish line in Newcastle at just after 6am, exhausted, hungry but grinning from ear to ear at what I had accomplished, and very impressed with the organisers of the event (http://www.ratrace.com/run/) who had to cope with some appalling conditions on their first Ultramarathon along “The Wall”.

Now this event was entered with one objective in mind, to prove that I can run over 50 miles, and why? Because I want to travel to the Sierra Madre mountains in Mexico to run the Copper Canyons Ultra Marathon (CCUM) in March 2013 (made famous in Chris McDougall’s book “Born to Run”).

I met the main character in the book “Caballo Blanco” in London last year and he referred to me as the “2013 guy” (he tried to get me to run it in 2012 but I declined as I needed more training). Regrettably Caballo Blanco (Micah True) died whilst running trails several months ago, making it likely that the event in 2013 will turn into a celebration of his life, the native Tarahumara people and place that he loved.

Now to sell the idea to my Wife…………

Richmond – Teddington 10 mile circuit – 7th June 2012

Having woke up early and planning to work at home today I grabbed a bottle, tied on my Luna’s and headed out the door to get in a 10 mile run before sitting down to work at 9am.

It had rained during the night hence the ground was still wet so I was wondering how wet and muddy the path would be once I crossed over the river at Richmond and headed back to Teddington.

The roads were getting busy with commuters on their way to work with dozens of them hurrying to Twickenham station, most of which were oblivious to a runner in a bright orange top trying to thread his way between them.

I was soon running alongside the river by Marble Hill park with only the odd cyclist avoiding the traffic and cycling to Richmond station along the river.

A lot of sticks had been washed up on to the path which indicated it was a high tide last night, so I could well be dodging muddy sections after Richmond Bridge as the section of the path from Richmond to Teddington lock can flood quite badly.

I crossed over the bridge and turned right on to the Thames Path and avoided the very rocky path (I don’t want to break a toe at this point in my training by stubbing my foot on a rock) by hopping into Petersham Meadows and using the grass path on the photo below, and continuing the path off to the left towards 17th century Ham House (http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/ham-house/) which is visible from the path.

I was still averaging around 10:30 min/mile which is slightly faster than my intended ultra speed (aiming for around 11:00 min/mile) but it was still very comfortable and felt like I could keep it up for hours , which is just as well really.

Having avoided quite a number of flooded sections of path I reached Teddington Lock and crossed over the river where I could see some of the boats that took part in the Queens Jubilee pageant, generally in the Dunkirk little ships category.

I headed back along the pavement through Teddington and back home after an enjoyable 1:45 minute run.

Same again on Sunday I think, tide permitting.

Paris EcoTrail 80k Ultra – 24th March 2012

Well its finally here, my first Trail Ultra.

Having already entered a trail ultra (69 miles) running the length of Hadrians Wall in June 2012 I found this one in Paris that looked challenging (alas I didn’t realise how) and incorporated running through some great countryside. A great test to see what I need to improve for the run in June, and would give me 3 months to fix it!

I flew into Paris on Friday afternoon, picked up my number and headed to my hotel that was a couple of Metro (underground) stops from the Eiffel Tower (crawling distance).

The next morning I joined the train by the Eiffel Tower and headed out to Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines south west of Paris and the end of the C7 RER line, along with a few thousand other runners.

I knew it was going to be pretty hilly, but little did I realise exactly how hilly!

I got to the start with a couple of hours to go found a comfortable tree to sit against and sat back in the sunshine to watch runners arriving and the final preparations for the race unfold.

The important stuff is in the following video:

Breakfast at the start

I had been undecided as to whether to wear my Vibram Five Fingers KSO Trek or Luna Sandals for the race, but decided to wear Luna Sandals, but with socks to give me a bit of protection from nettles etc as I didn’t really know how rough the trail would be.

Getting ready

The Start

I was carrying a Camelbak with 2 litres of water and other mandatory kit (waterproof, warm top, headtorch, food etc) and had decided on a fuelling strategy of 1 Shot Blok every mile which would at least give me around 200 calories an hour (you can only absorb around 240 cals an hour anyway) as against the 600 cals I was probably burning. That should hopefully stop me bonking, and not cause any stomach “distress” (polite term).

22k Aid Station

Now the bad news, alas I got to Meudon at 50k and was timed out as I had missed the cutoff by 30 minutes! I had been watching my time closely but the hills had really killed my quads, they were so steep that not only did I have to walk up them (expected) but I had to carefully walk down them as well using even more time and hammering my quads again.

I was with a crowd of runners so we all walked to the nearest train station and travelled back to the Eiffel Tower, picked up our bags and headed back to our respective hotels and a shower. After which I just went to bed as I wasn’t hungry having eaten a Shot Blok every mile for the last 7 odd hours.

Next morning, having gone straight to bed without any dinner last night I decided to treat myself to brunch in a nearby (a key requirement) Paris cafe as my first real food after a day eating only Shot Bloks. Wow did it taste good, and I didn’t care about the calories having burned 3,000 the day before!

In summary it was a great first Ultra, my Luna Sandals were great (aside from where I kicked a 1 inch iron rod on the path and will lose a toenail), and overall it really helped me understand where need to focus for the Hadrian’s Wall Ultra (http://thewallrun.com in June.

Hill training and quads of steel here I come!

P.S. The highlight of the whole run was when a stunning blonde girl on a handsome horse came galloping out of the forest wearing a low cut top. The French runner next to me (who knew I didn’t speak French) thought for a minute and commented to me in broken English “nice orse”. “Oui” I replied and we both exchanged knowing looks!

If that is the sort of hallucinations you get on Ultras, then bring them on!