On Saturday 11th August I took part in the Stour Valley Path 100k. I signed up to the race for a number of reasons: a few friends had taken part in previous years and recommended it, the finish isn’t far from my girlfriend Lorna’s parent’s house and I wanted to get some strength/endurance in the legs ahead of training for Munich Half Marathon. I know it’s a little different to run 100k in the build up to a quick half but I thought it would be a fun challenge to tackle.
In the lead up to race day I was excited but equally nervous. I questioned my decision to sign up on numerous occasions; I knew I wasn’t going into the race in great shape and was worried I may not be able to cross the finish line. On the other hand my motivation was to run as far as possible and enjoy a long day on the trails. I gathered my kit on the Thursday evening to give myself the chance of picking something up on the Friday had I forgotten anything.
Bag/vest: Salomon S/Lab Adv Skin 3 12L with two 500ml soft flasks. Perfect size for kit and super comfortable.
T-shirt: Iffley Road Cambrian Striped T-Shirt. I often wear Iffley Road tees on long runs because they are really soft, breathable and lightweight.
Shorts: Iffley Road Pembroke 5″ Shorts.
Socks: I opted for a pair of Stance Crew socks in the end as the route took us through long grass.
Running Cap: Iffley Road Putney Running Cap. Generous peak, really lightweight and very breathable.
Watch: Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR. Good battery life and easy to use for navigation.
Shoes: Salomon S/Lab Ultra. Great amount of cushioning and good grip on dry hard packed trails. Running 100k you would expect blisters and/or black toe nails but I had no issues.
The majority of the kit I took were favourites that I use on a regular basis. Initially I was concerned about wearing the Salomon S/Lab Ultra shoes as I had only ran in them a couple of times. I chose to wear them over the S/Lab Sense 6 because I lacked cushioning when I completed Race to The Stones in 2015. The other main change from RTTS was taking a variety of food and asking Lorna to bring me various sweet and savoury options at aid stations. I learnt that crisps and granola bars are only good for so long.
The night before the race Lorna and I stayed at her parents. On arrival we were greeted with pasta bake and steamed syrup pudding for dessert, Sheilagh knows my favourites. I double checked my bag, laid kit out ready for the morning and got an early night. The alarm clock going off at 4am was a rude awakening but I slept well. As Lorna’s brother Alex was going out on his bike he arrived early allowing plenty of time to get to the bus pick up near the finish point. It was good to speak to a number of runners waiting for the bus, one of them was aiming to compete for the win/course record and others were hoping to beat the cut off time. Arriving in Newmarket around 6am the conditions were looking good. I showed the volunteers I had the correct mandatory kit and was given my number; this was all very straight forward with less than 200 runners taking part. I caught up with James Poole, Mark Parry and Matthew Hanson before the race briefing and we all made our way up the road to the start.
As the start line was a little walk up the road only a handful of participants had made it for 7am but the organisers were happy for it to be a rolling start. It took most of us by surprise but I don’t think anybody minded, we all knew we’d be running for a fair few hours so what difference would a matter of seconds make. It’s a strange feeling starting an ultra, there’s still that adrenaline rush but everyone knows to take it easy and settle into a comfortable pace. Running up the road I was joined by Mel and Matt, having not seen them for a while it was great to have a proper catch up. Mel completed the 100k in 2017 whilst Matt was taking part in his first 100k. We settled into a good pace of around 7min/km and went through checkpoint one quickly only topping up soft flasks. Over the first 20k or so we were bunched up with quite a few runners, it was good to have a chat with some of them to hear about their racing/training. Unfortunately between the first two checkpoints Mel wasn’t feeling it so decided to join the cheer crew. At this point it was quite hot and my legs were already starting to ache a little due to the uneven terrain.
Matt and I ran into the second aid station together and grabbed some food. It was great to see Lorna, her brother Rob and friend Sasha, they all helped me fill up my flasks and I took some jam sandwiches to eat whilst walking out onto the course.
Just after the second aid station Matt decided to ease off the pace a little. As I was feeling good at this point I carried on, hoping at some point later in the race we’d be able to run a few more miles together. There was 10 miles between Clare and Long Melford, as I was on my own I checked my watch frequently to make sure I was following the blue line but also took the time to look around. Having lived in London for the last few years I really enjoy getting out onto trails and exploring somewhere new. When I ran RTTS in 2015 my right hamstring tightened just 18 miles in and I shuffled my way to the finish. I made sure to top up my soft flasks with water and SIS electrolyte tabs at every aid station.
The aid stations were excellent, they always had sweet and savoury options so I could mix it up depending on what I was craving. As there was roughly 10 miles between each of them it broke the challenge down into manageable chunks. I always felt energised leaving each aid station having eaten and seen my cheer crew. Lorna’s mum and dad walked the dogs to support me at Long Melford (at 33 miles) which was nice as I was struggling in the heat. As James Poole had ran the North Downs Way 100 miler the week before he decided to call it a day at checkpoint 3. With many Advent Runners taking part in the 100 or 50k he popped up at every aid station offering support and checking everyone was ok.
The 50k started in the afternoon and took runners along the second half of the 100k route. It was great to see friendly faces on the trail having fun, I was worried that in the latter stages of the race I would really struggle running on my own and the fatigue would take it’s toll. After my RTTS experience I was glad to still be running, albeit it slowly, 75k into the race. However, due to the undulating course my hamstrings tightened and I had to stop and stretch briefly. I knew from this point it would be a tough 25k to the finish but kept plodding away.
The food on offer at the last few aid stations was excellent and they were a lot busier with 50k and 100k runners passing through. I enjoyed salty potatoes, watermelon and flat coke to fuel the final stretch. Over the last 10k I was incredibly tired, every kilometre dragged and I couldn’t wait to reach the finish. It was frustrating wanting to run faster and get it done but my legs were so tight I could only manage a shuffle. I focused on ticking off each kilometre. Lorna, Rob, Sheilagh and Rita walked the dogs to cheer me on in the latter stages and this really picked me up.
Photo courtesy of Lenny Martin (@lennygoesoutside)
Luckily over the last few kilometres I had two runners alongside to work together. We were all so tired we didn’t speak much but just having company distracted me from how exhausted my legs were. It was a great feeling passing the 100k point and knowing I just had 2k to go. After nearly 12 and a half hours of running I finally made it to the finish at Brantham Leisure Centre
Photo courtesy of Rob Elliott (@rob_elliott_1991)
I shuffled over the line to be given my medal by Lorna, it was great to see her and friends. I was so relieved to finish the race in one piece.
Overall it was a great day out on the trails. I was really impressed with the organisation and volunteers, so much so that I will probably return next year to race either the 100k or 50k. Straight after finishing I thought about what I would do differently and how I could improve my performance, I learnt a lot taking part in my second 100k. As there is only two months to go until the Munich Half Marathon I will now focus on sharpening up with track and tempo sessions. It will be interesting to see what sort of shape I can get into off the back of the ultra.
A massive thank you to race organiser Matthew Hearne and his team/volunteers that made the day so enjoyable and congratulations to those of you that took part. I hope the recovery is going well. See some of you again next year!
On Saturday the 23rd of July Lorna and I took part in the Zagori Marathon. We signed up a few months back and the initial plan was to run it with Michalis and Freya. The main reason we signed up was because Michalis is Greek and could show us around but unfortunately due to injuries etc neither of them could make it. Having paid for the race, accommodation and flights Lorna and I still made the trip. We travelled to Athens on the Wednesday before the race and spent a day and a bit there before heading north to Aristi, near to where the race started.It was my first trip to Greece so I didn’t really know what to expect. We arrived on the Wednesday afternoon and headed straight to the pool on the roof of our hotel for a spot of swimming and sunbathing.
The weather was awesome, roughly 30 degrees, I may have burnt a little. In the evening we went to a restaurant, recommended by Michalis, just down the road from our hotel. The food was amazing; we had Greek salad, lots of bread with tzatziki and Souvlaki. The wine wasn’t quite up to standard but it was really cheap so we couldn’t complain really.
On the Thursday morning we went for an exploratory 10k of Athens. Michalis had sent us over a route to follow so that we could take in some of the ruins and run passed the Acropolis Museum etc.
We started our run at around 9am and already it was baking hot. We kept it nice and steady bearing in mind we had a mountain marathon in two days time. After the run we rehydrated and found a nice little bakery near our hotel that sold massive ice creams. We returned to that bakery a fair few times throughout our stay. In the afternoon we chilled by the pool, it was so nice to just relax and not have to do anything. We went for an amazing meal in the evening at Orizontes which is situated at the top of Lycabettus Hill. The hill is the highest peak of Athens which overlooks the capital from 277 meters. This was one of my personal highlights of the trip; we had great food and wine and then watched the beautiful sunset.
After a nice couple of days in Athens the time had come to head up North. We got a taxi to the bus station and then boarded a bus for the 8 hour trip to Ioannina. Once we arrived in Ioannina we were picked up by a taxi arranged by Michalis, we were driven to fifth element to collect our race packs before being taken to Aristi Mountain Resort where we would stay for the weekend. The resort was amazing; the views of the mountains were awesome.
Our taxi arrived at 5:30am to take us to the race; luckily it was only a half an hour drive to the start, in the village of Kipoi (750m altitude), as the race started at 6:30am. We took a few pre-race photos, dropped our bags off and before we knew it the race began.
Being a mountain marathon there wasn’t the sprint start of a shorter distance race but some of the elite guys took off pretty sharpish. The first 700m or so of the race was on road, luckily I wore my Salomon X-series which have good grip for trail but due to not having any real lugs they are also good on road. Then we ran over a three arched bridge called Kalogeriko entering a well preserved path. Within the first couple of kilometres we went over a couple of stone bridges, the runners at this point were still pretty bunched together. Having not done much research into the route both Lorna and I were surprised at how rocky and technical the terrain was. We followed the river bank for about 2km before running inside the gorge, we found ourselves clambering over massive rocks/boulders. Despite the challenging route we were making good time and knew we’d make the cut off time of 4.5 hours for halfway.
We passed through a couple of refreshment stations, one at about 7k and another around 11k. The next station was at 17.5km in the Voidomatis springs. This was where the intense uphill for about 10 kilometres started. Papigo was the site for the halfway point and aid station number 4. Lorna and I had made it to halfway in roughly 3 hours. It was a relief to get there in good time and have the opportunity to fuel up; there were crisps, cake and boiled potato etc. Having looked at the elevation profile a fair amount we knew the hard work was ahead of us.
The uphill was pretty brutal, it was still incredibly rocky. In hindsight prior to the race we should have hit the trails more often and prioritised hill sessions, however we were managing. The poles were coming in handy and Lorna felt more stable using them. Every now and then we had to just take some time to look around and enjoy being in the mountains, the scenery was spectacular.
None of the photos really do it justice. We continued climbing up until around 28k where there was a short sharp downhill section. This proved challenging as it was so steep and the ground was sliding away from beneath us, we had to put the brakes on. After the downhill section there was a little more climbing to do before a sustained period of running downhill. With the course profile in mind I knew where the ascending and descending was, the only thing I didn’t know was that not an awful lot of the downhill section were runnable (for us anyway). The 80km and marathon routes overlap so we saw some of the ultra-athletes flying down the side of the mountain. It was awe-inspiring to see them running with such balance and quick feet.
After the 6th refreshment station at around 31k things were pretty slow going, we were tired from all the climbing. We were running for what must’ve been close to two hours before reaching another aid station. Lorna asked one of the photographers on the route how far we had left to run and he replied “6 or 7k” we couldn’t quite believe it. We finally made it to Avgerinos and the 7th aid station; this was 37.7k into the race. Having done the first half marathon in 3 hours we couldn’t believe we were going to be pushing it to finish in the cut off time of 9 hours, especially with so many other runners behind us. We started to question whether we would even get a medal or anyone would be there at the finish. The pace picked up a little but a considerable amount of time had passed and the finish line was still not to be seen. On the horizon we could see a small marquee with a few people outside, we’d been running for ages since the last checkpoint and thought we must be approaching the finish but no it was another aid station. We were both thinking “this has to say 40k+, we haven’t just run only over a kilometre”. To our amazement it said 39k. It goes to show you can’t underestimate the terrain in trail races; kilometres can take a seriously long time. We shot off from the aid station in a bid to make the cut off time.
The first kilometre or so from the aid station was ok; we could hold a decent pace. Then came a section where we had to zig zag down the side of a hill. At this point we could hear and see the crowds at the finish line in the distance; Lorna and I were trying to predict how far away it was and how long it would take to run there. The final kilometre was pretty flat through a town on the road; this gave us chance to pick up the pace. We made it onto the red carpet/finish straight and could muster a sprint finish. Luckily we had made it across the line in 8 hours and 45 minutes. It was such a relief, we received are medals and then grabbed a drink to rehydrate.
After the race Lorna and I had a few days in Aristi and Sivota to relax. We went rafting and chilled with Fred the Flamingo on the beach.
On a whole the trip was amazing; it was nice to spend time in Athens, explore the mountains and then chill by the sea. A massive thankyou has to go to Michalis for helping me and Lorna get organised and travel around Greece.I’m already thinking about the possibility of doing the marathon again or even the 80k. Athens Marathon will also have to be done at some point soon.
See a lot of you soon
On Friday my work colleagues Nikki, James, David and I headed across London to take part in the Ealing Mile. I’d raced the mile distance three times before and knew that it was going to be a bit of a suffer fest, especially due to it being hot weather. My first mile race was the City of London Mile in 2014, I ran in the post Hackney Half Marathon wave and managed to get round in 5:40 something. I know I’m biased as I now work for Run-Fast but it was a great event, I made it in time to watch the elite and family waves, it was great seeing so many people running whether pushing themselves to their limit or having fun (or both!). Last year I ran the Westminster and City of London Miles finishing in 5:03 and 5:02 respectively, both of which were the day after doing long runs in training for Race to the Stones 100k. As I wrote in a previous blog about goals, I wanted to do sub 5 minutes in 2016 and therefore I thought this would be a good opportunity to go for it. Still recovering from the London Marathon etc I didn’t know whether I would have it in my legs but with a mile you may as well go out fast and hold on as it’s such a short distance you’ll only have to suffer for a little while.
Myself and James jogged around the route to warm up, “This seems much further than a mile” we said. It’s really deceiving how long a mile is, after doing half marathons, marathons and ultras I guess you’re always going to think of it as a really really short distance, it’s still a fair way. Legs loosened up and numbers pinned to our tops we were ready to go. The race started at 12:30, we toed the start line drawn in chalk on the path. “3,2,1, GO!” We were off! Having researched what pace I needed to run to break 5 minutes I set off around 3:05 minutes per kilometre pace. I glanced down at my watch a couple of times to check I was staying around that pace. The first section of the course was flat; you then take a left round a corner to a nice slight downhill section. After a few hundred metres I was breathing heavy but my legs were feeling good, due to the downhill probably ha. As the organisers knew the “Run City Milers” were attending the mile, they had written a couple of motivational messages on the ground; “Go Nikki!” and “#RunFast” to name a couple.
The course was marked in chalk which was good. You run passed a little playground and down into the corner of Lammas Park. As the path wasn’t closed off to public there were a few pedestrians to negotiate round. After taking the corner at the bottom there’s a tree which splits the path, I opted to go right around the tree as off the bend I was on that side of the path (not sure this was quite the racing line ha). From here you head up a slight incline. It lasts for a few hundred metres but given that the first part of the course was slightly downhill it feels like you’re climbing Everest and its taking forever. Finally there’s a left turn and a short flat section to keep pace. There was one more turn to take; I could hear another runner breathing down my neck so kept pushing. On the corner there was a couple pushing a buggy, there was a small gap to go on the inside of them but I quickly made the decision to just run around the outside. This allowed the runner behind me to close the gap, with 200 metres he edged passed me. This was the first time in the race someone had been in front of me, luckily my legs had a little kick in them, and I managed a little sprint to finish first in 4:58. Now that I’ve done sub 5 I don’t have to worry so much about my time in the City of London Mile, therefore I might do the Orion Harriers Fell Race on the 17th of June (great fun last year!) and a long run the Saturday before the event due to training for the Zagori Marathon.
Team Run-Fast (Run City Milers) and the Ealing team
On Saturday Lorna, Emily, Michele, David, Todor and I headed to Seaford. Post road marathons we all have a couple of trail races/events coming up so thought it would be a good idea to run on the South Downs Way (over Seven Sisters) to Eastbourne. Late last year I went on a training weekend with Run-Fast to the same location and therefore knew how steep the climbs were over Seven Sisters, I also knew just how beautiful the views were along the coast and couldn’t wait to run there again.
We all ran steady and walked a few of the climbs; we were just after time on feet and some hill training. It was really nice weather, not too hot because of the breeze off the sea. It was a great 19k or so route from Seaford to Eastbourne, one which I hope to do again soon. Once we arrived in Eastbourne we found Harry Ramsdens Fish and Chip shop, it was so good. The girls then had a little dip in the sea before we got a MASSIVE ice cream and headed for the train to get back to the concrete jungle.
To end the weekend of running I took part in the Hackney Half Marathon. Initially I wasn’t going to enter, mainly due to racing the London Marathon a couple of weeks ago. However, Jon who runs with The Running Works Run Club had signed up, using it as a training run/race heading towards his Ironman later in the year. He said he wanted to run around 1:40 and I thought this would be a good pace to run post London and in the heat. It’s always boiling hot on Hackney Half race day, I’d raced it in 2014 and 2015. Another friend, Michalis, was aiming for 1:40 too and Lorna was going to pace him.
Unfortunately before the start we got split up, I was with Lorna, Jon and Ash who ran with us. Michalis must’ve got into the start pen earlier. We were due to start at 9am but for some unknown reason we were stood waiting for about 15 minutes, not ideal in the heat, I just wanted to get running. Once over the start line we weaved are way through a few runners, we had to do this because we got in the start pen a little late and were nearer the back of the 1:30-1:45 group. To go sub 1:40 we needed to average 4:44 min/km pace, wanting to find some space and run with Ash with the tunes, we averaged closer to 4:30 through the first 5k. With it being really hot I knew we’d pay the price for going out fast in the end but as we were having fun and everyone was feeling good at this point we carried on at a quicker pace.
After a couple of miles Lorna caught up with Michalis and went on to pace him. We were banking quite a lot of time in the first half of the race; we went through halfway in around 46 minutes, that’s a couple of minutes quicker than we wanted really.
He was also taking lots of pics and selfies; screw spending £50 on finisher’s photos!! Ha As we were running we passed quite a few runners, it was funny when people heard the music, turned around and were like “Hey Ash, how’s it going!” We saw so many Advent Running, Run Dem, Nike, Victoria Park Harriers etc people and the crowds were great. We were still holding closer to 4:30min/km pace throughout most of the second half of the race.
We got to around 19k on this pace but then the fast pace at the start and heat took its toll. When you’re running around the Olympic Park there’s very little shade and as you are nearing the end of the race it’s getting hotter and hotter. We were putting in a lot more effort to try and hold a decent pace, long gone were the moments of enjoying the music and high fiving kids.
We got to 20k, Jon was suffering quite a lot. We had to reduced are speed drastically and just get it done, we knew we weren’t going to go sub 1:40 but could still PB. After a short walk to steady himself he got running again. We finished in 1:41:49, a shiny new PB and a good race in prep for Jons ironman. I was happy with the run, obviously it would’ve been better if we’d have gone sub 1:40 but there were a couple of reasons why we didn’t. Overall it was a fun race and I’d made it a Hackney hat-trick.
See a lot of you soon
On Saturday 23rd January I took part in the trailscape South marathon in Ashurst. Having done the previous two marathons in the series I was looking forward to getting back out on the trails. However, I was a little apprehensive because the first 3 weeks of the year I’ve been doing pretty big mileage (for me) as well as going to track and pushing the pace. I definitely approached the marathon as a training run and it was quite good to go into it relaxed not worrying about finishing time or positon.
With the race starting at 8:45 I woke up at 6am to head to James and Claudia’s. I was lucky enough to be asked to run as part of the AR (Advent Running/ar collective) trail team for the trailscape series and they’ve been kind enough to give me lifts to the races. After putting up the marquee and AR banner we had time to catch up with other members of the AR team and familiar trailscape faces from previous races.
Jonny & Freya, who run with a couple Nike run clubs and do long runs with me and a group of friends, were signed up to the marathon too which was good. We didn’t talk about goal times or anything but due to the fact we were all treating the race as a training run we ran together. Having done the last two trailscape races I learnt that the event is much more fun if you’ve got people to share the miles with. In the first event I ran a lot of the course with James and in the second race I made friends with an experienced marathoner. We settled into a good pace in the first few kilometres, the only problem was we ended up heading off course. I’m not 100% sure what happened but a small group of us missed a sign somewhere. All I know is James and Andy two fellow ARers were near the front! Haha After the slight detour we found ourselves back on course but behind a lot of other runners that went the right way. When doing tiring muddy trail marathons (that are generally longer than a marathon anyway) the last thing you need is to add distance.
The good thing about going the wrong way is that when moving through the field (pun intended) you get to see lots of other runners and have a quick chat. The miles went by really quickly, I’m not sure what me, Jonny & Freya were talking about half the time but we had lots of laughs.
One thing we discussed was motivational/inspiring quotes. There was a hill to climb, only was it a hill!? We came up with the motivational saying “The hill is only as big as it is in your mind”. The marathon was a two lap route. This was good because we got to see other runners and high five; I have really enjoyed the trailscape races because all of the participants and organisers are so friendly. One of my favourite parts of the race were the aid stations, I described the event to Jonny and Freya as a long distance picnic. I had forgotten how much I enjoy Soreen, Hula Hoops, Jaffa Cakes and coke.
We kept a pretty steady pace all the way round, we didn’t stop at the aid stations for long and only really walked the seriously muddy climb near the end of the route. We finished in around 4 hours and 10 minutes, Freya was 2nd female and me and Jonny finished in the top 15 or so.
Once I finished I caught up with James, he finished 3rd. He was disappointed but he still achieved a great time especially considering the big mileage he has been doing and the tough conditions. Andy finished first in 3 hours and 20 minutes which is amazing on a course so muddy and undulating. I peeled off my muddy compression socks and got into clean warm clothes and then we cheered in a few runners and watched the presentations. It was great to see a lot of the AR trail team crossing the finish line, some of them were doing their first marathons and Hannah finished her first of twelve this year. After Freya collected her Buff for finishing second we headed back to London, we carried on the picnic in the car with pork pies (recommended by ultra-runner Holly Rush ha) crisps, and brownies/rocky roads. Overall a productive Saturday. My weekly mileage totalled 130k+ and therefore I rested on Sunday. My recovery rate is improving and I’m aiming to do a few more weeks of around 120k including track and do more speed work in February and March. I hope everyone had a great weekend and that your training is going well.
See a lot of you soon
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Also follow: @adventrunning @ar_collective @trailscape