My Western States 100 Journey
With the race being my focus this year I thought it would be good to capture some of the build-up in the form of moving pictures on the old YouTuber.
Let me know what you think – this is the first episode. More on my YouTube channel. Please subscribe there if you fancy seeing some more as race day gets closer.
Join me as I meet the locals, discover unmarked trails, run some mountains, rest, recover and train again.
For more behind-the-scenes content on my final preparation for the big race you can follow me on Twitter, instagram and Snapchat (@pyllon).
IAU World Trail Champs – 2015 Race Report
Yeah, a little late with this one. Still for the sake of consistency, a quick report from the World Trail Champs.
Race start was a pretty awkward time. 3:30am from the lakeside in Annecy. The GB team were staying about a 20 min drive away with a few of the other nations, so it meant a pretty early start (to force down some breakfast) and get on the bus to the start / finish area. It was almost not worth bothering to sleep with the usual nerves and list of things to remember. (more…)
TNF Trans Gran Canaria 2015 – race report
Taking a trip
I’d wanted my first race of the season to be a challenge and it certainly delivered. I somehow had it in my head when I entered months before that it was pretty tough – but maybe just 4,500m ascent tough (with 127KM). I hadn’t fully registered the course profile until much closer to the race – a fairly technical 8,500m of ascent (and returns). (more…)
IAU 100K World Champs – Race Report (From Trails to Tarmac)
So I’m sitting in the waiting room at my normal mid-week osteopath appointment with Daniel. It’s mid afternoon and the sun hasn’t bothered to make an appearance and is already on its way to the other side of the world. This is what the next few months have in store. But man, have I had a few experiences to remember over the last few months? The cold and dark will have to work hard to take any of the shine off those memories.
My time in Flagstaff was incredible. Yeah, the training was good, the trails were fantastic but it was the handful of brilliant people I met that made it so rewarding. Those people have given more than they realise, and just when I needed it. Life changes are blowing around me and I needed a little confirmation that ‘hopes’ could be achieved. It’s given me a renewed drive (not that it was ever lacking) and I know for sure what I want. I’ll always be grateful for that. And there will always be a part me longing to return.
So, coming back from Arizona, I had a few weeks until I’d meet up with the GB team in Doha for the IAU 100K World Championships. It took me a few days to get over the shock of returning to Scotland in winter and to deal with a little tiredness from training and travel. I had some more training to do however and wanted to ensure I was ready for the heat and humidity of Qatar. Following an email conversation with Dr Stacy Sims (Osmo founder), I had a plan to supplement normal training with some sauna sessions. Pretty unpleasant overall but worth the effort.
I also spoke with the team at Napier University’s Centre for Human Performance Innovation and Research and arranged a few sessions in the heat chamber the week before I left, just to see what it felt like before the race. I’ve been really lucky to have access to great facilities and the best sport science brains in Scotland – thanks Geraint.
Heading to Doha
Fast forward to the evening of Monday the 17th November, I was heading for Glasgow Airport in the rain to meet up with the Scottish based team to travel overnight to the middle-east. I met Jo Zakrzewski for the first time and over the course of the journey she kindly gave us a full run-down of what to expect having raced out there at the World 50K champs weeks before.
We would stay (and race) in the Aspire Zone – a pretty new sports ‘town?’ made up of hotels, shopping mall, pitches and stadia. A little strange to be honest and as impressive as the buildings were, it all felt a little soul-less.
The rest of the team arrived from London later that night. Was great to meet some of the guys who’s successes I’d followed over the last few years. Esteemed company indeed (and I’m pleased to report, pretty decent people too!).
The days before the race were hard going. I was in a new place. I wanted to see some of it but I needed to rest up as much as I could and get everything prepared for the race.
The race start was a little crazy. All jostling and elbows, with the entire field all wanting to start from the very front. Can only assume that some just wanted to make the start photos as a few didn’t look like they’d be making the leaderboard even at the end of lap 1. 6pm, countdown from 10 seconds and we were off – 20 x laps of a 5K loop.
I settled in and was relieved to finally get going. The pre-race stresses all lifted by the first corner. It’s a good feeling – race time.
Whilst the heat wasn’t overbearing, within a few kilometres I could feel the sweat running down my back. I spent the next few laps, carefully watching my pace, happy to see a bunch of about 20 runners open up a gap in front.
The course wasn’t fantastic. There were cobbled sections, marble tiles and at least three 180 degree turns. The official feed-zone was poorly lit and one of the water stations was positioned just before a marble section where most runners poured water over themselves.
I just kept my head down for the first 50K, and tried not to take too much notice of the lap numbers. My pace was pretty much on plan and after a spell running with one of the US athletes I was pretty much running on my own after passing a few that set out too quickly. With about 200+ runners however, you’re never really on your own as there are races within the race and everyone running with their own pace strategies. The turns and dog-legs of the course allowed you to see what was going on ahead and behind along much of the route. It was great to see the rest of the GB team throughout. The GB girls absolutely dominated which was brilliant to watch from inside the race.
I rigidly stuck to my plan, from pace, to hydration and food. But as the race entered the final quarter it became even more difficult to know what was going on in terms of position. Our support crew were tied to the feed-zone where there were no live details or leaderboards, so couldn’t do too much to help with updated information. I knew I was in top 12 and unexpectedly was leading the team. A couple of the guys had a tough day and on other occasions could have been pushing the lead pack. Next time!
I tried my hardest to stay focused throughout and I was very aware when my pace started to drop. I fought hard to maintain target pace but my legs were starting to feel as bad as the people stumbling out the over-flowing portaloos. I can’t remember seeing so many people vomiting in any race in the past. Almost made me chuckle at times. We’ve all been there. Fortunately my stomach felt good throughout and I didn’t have to endure the toilets. The osmo and honeystinger combo keeping things settled.
The last few laps, I was gritting my teeth and talking to my legs. “Come on legs, you cruised this pace only an hour ago.” I begged them to move properly like they had done for the last 6+ hours. The hard surface, the humidity and the pace had started to bite though. I longed for some climbs or loose trail. My feet were really burning by this point. I needed to get it finished, and soon.
Coming on to the last lap I could feel that I was being caught. The running superstar Steve Way was closing in. I swore a bit. I pushed and I pushed. At the final pass of the feed-zone there was some relief. I could see behind, and I knew no-one else would pass me. When I turned onto the final straight I wasn’t sure of my final position but I knew I was comfortably under 7 hours, and was the first of the team to finish. I don’t think anyone held high expectations of me. Before the race I had been reminded that I was the slowest in the team. Roads aren’t my natural habitat but I knew I could go sub-7 before I started and I know now that I can go quicker again.
Steve, Craig and Paul all came in soon after. We’d be very close to getting a team medal. The US guys had convincingly taken Gold and it would be between us, the Japanese and Swedish teams to share the rest.
Ellie Greenwood lead in the winning girls team and took individual Gold (World Champ!!!). Incredible performance by them all and thoroughly deserved. They absolutely smashed it.
I sat in an ice-bath immediately after finishing. I didn’t bother taking my shoes off, I just wanted to sit down and stop moving. The others were still running so there was no-one around I recognised. I felt pretty lonely, and just wanted a “well-done” hug from someone who cared.
Steve and his wife soon appeared and offered me a drink as he tried unsuccessfully to climb into the icy paddling pool and sit. After a few more minutes I climbed out and walked back along to the feed-zone to pick up my bag. I thanked them all for the great support, sat for a few minutes then started to walk back to the start / finish area. I had maybe sat in the ice-bath too long or it was too much of a shock to my body but I started to shiver uncontrollably and I felt incredibly ill / out-of-it. I lay on a floor for an hour or so and was given some towels to try and warm up. It was a very unpleasant time and looking back I should have at least changed out of my wet clothes. I hadn’t been thinking clearly though. Eventually I was rescued with a couple of cups of hot soup and the minute I’d drunk the first I was completely alert again.
Back at the Hotel, Craig and I tried to sleep after baths and demolishing any palatable snacks we could find. Sleep wasn’t going to happen though and we counted down the time to breakfast opening at 06.30 by talking about how much we were going to eat and at what side of the buffet we’d start ‘round 1’. We were outside, ready to eat at 06:29. I don’t think we left until after 08:15. We finally got word from home that we’d won a bronze. Happy days!
We followed up breakfast with a swim in the outdoor pool on the 19th floor, and then had to pack up our stuff and clear the room. There would be no sleep now until the airport and the Scottish section weren’t getting picked up until after midnight.
It wasn’t the most comfortable journey I’ve ever had, but it was more than worth it. Getting the chance to be part of a fantastic GB team, race some of the best ultra-runners in the world and return with more than just a plastic finishers medal – it was an experience that will stay with me.
Huge thanks to the rest of the team, the selectors and to Walter, Adrian, Eleanor and all the additional support we had around the course (and at home).
I’d also like to thank Stacy at Osmo for her excellent advice, Geraint at Napier for the on-going support and Daniel who continues to treat me weekly.
I’d also like to thank my sponsors: Nathan, Osmo, Feetures, HoneyStinger and Rocktape.
2015 is already looking like it’s going to be a big year – exciting times ahead! If you’re planning your races for 2015 and you want to ensure you’re in the best possible shape I’m offering distance training support. Check out my website for more details and drop me a note if you want to discuss.
Refuge in Chamonix
So, you run all the time? If you’re not working you’re normally training or planning races and adventures? So what exactly do you do when it comes to taking a holiday? Well if you’re anything like me you’ll probably want a chance to relax a little, run a little and find some inspiration for the next block of training.
In April that’s exactly what fell into my lap. Nathan had sorted out a booking at the Runners Refuge in Chamonix for a week of trails, nice food and inspiration. It was exactly what I needed at that time, having been through a busy period of work and the same repetitive training routes. I had a few key races coming up and hoped that I’d find something to give me that extra spring in my stride. (more…)
A Winter WHW trial (08.11.2013)
On Friday I set out on a challenge that was never really meant to be. I had other plans that had been scuppered by circumstances and bad timing’s (a recurring theme for me of late). So rather than do nothing and waste the ambition I decided on a double WHW. Yep, I know, off-the-cuff like that doesn’t quite give that particular challenge enough respect. A fair accusation I guess, but I do know what’s involved in a WHW both in summer and in winter. (more…)
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (Part 3 – Kintyre Way Ultra 2013)
The final part! ‘At last’ I hear you say.
The Kintyre Way was 2 weeks after the Fling and I was really keen to do it after the disappointing performance. It was pretty tight in terms of recovery but I felt that a 67 mile run along some trails with some new scenery was probably the best tonic and would also provide a decent gauge on potential performance for the West Highland Way race June 22nd.
This was the first time I’d done the race so was excited at the prospect of some new running routes. (more…)
Ultra-running – the highs and lows of life
It’s fair to say that 2013 has already been a pretty mixed bag of ups and downs. For reasons I’ll come on to later I’ve been giving much thought to why it is I continue to run and what I really get from it.
Last week I was asked to talk at a WHW race ‘inspiration’ night to offer some insight into how I train and maybe provide some words of encouragement to those attempting it for the first time. It would have been nice to talk to more people on a one-to-one basis afterwards but by the close most people were probably keen to get home. It got me really questioning why someone would want to run the best part of 100 miles. To openly accept the inevitable suffering (at several stages throughout the race) as well the necessary sacrifices required to train for it. (more…)
A Winter West Highland Way – report
It’s been something I’ve wanted to do for a while but didn’t quite manage to organise it last year. Not that it takes too much to organise if you keep it low-key.
It made more sense for me to do it as a reverse rather than trying to sort out accommodation at the Fort William side (or worse – sit on a train back to Glasgow). I decided on a day, booked a train ticket and that was it. The Winter WHW was on.
Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t just doing this as it sounded like a good idea or just to see how far I could go – it wasn’t ‘spur of the moment’ – I had tailored my training for an attempt and had a target time in mind. The Jez Bragg record of 21hrs 14mins.
Thursday came around quickly and before I knew it I was heading for Queen Street Station with everything I’d need to survive the run (I hoped). It must have been the coldest day of the year to date and I was more than a little concerned about being under-dressed. With just under 2L of fluid in my pack, food and some spares I didn’t really have much room for emergency clothes. Still, no going back now. (more…)
Sur les Traces des Ducs de Savoie (TDS) at UTMB – report 2012
The “beautiful” UTMB race by all accounts……
‘A race in open country along the ‘Grande Randonnée’ paths crossing though the Mont-Blanc, Beaufort, Tarentaise and Aosta valley countryside.‘
….sounds like a stroll. Although doesn’t look it:
BRUTAL is how I’d describe it. Don’t let the pitiful 2 qualifying points or the fact it’s ‘only 70+ miles’ give you the impression that this is the ‘easy one’. Nothing at UTMB is easy. (more…)
Sur les Traces des Ducs de Savoie (TDS) at UTMB
We’re taking this racing thing International! Plane leaves very early tomorrow morning and I’ll be on it raring to go.
The TDS is part of the UTMB event in Chamonix and is…
‘A race in open country along the ‘Grande Randonnée’ paths crossing though the Mont-Blanc, Beaufort, Tarentaise and Aosta valley countryside.
A mountainous event, including numerous sections at altitude (>2,500m), in weather conditions which can be very difficult (night, wind, cold, rain or snow), requiring a very good level of fitness, the appropriate equipment and a real capacity for personal autonomy.’ (more…)
West Highland Way Race Report – 2012
The ‘Big One’
Can’t believe I’m writing my report already. It’s done. It’s gone for another year and already I’m dreading the long wait for its return. I love the West Highland Way race. There, I said it. There is always a drama, there are times when you’d choose to be anywhere else in the world but for now at least, it feels like a home-race.
I won’t go in to all the details – there are a lot of other reports for you to get through and you’ve probably heard most of the same stuff from me for a while. In short, training had been good, taper was pretty straightforward and I was more organised than the year before thanks to all we had learned on my first WHW race. I arrived in Milngavie feeling good but perhaps not as confident as I had hoped having pulled out of the Cateran Ultra after 20 miles or so due to stomach problems. It was an emotional exit having won it the year before and had been extra stoked by the fantastic line-up of talent on the day. It wasn’t to be though – so had to try to put it to the back of my mind.
Kit of the Month – February (Minimal running shoes)
The vivobarefoot Ultra
Now, this is a no-nonsense shoe in terms of build. It has no midsole, no arch support, it’s zero-drop and maybe has 4-6mm of ‘puncture resistant’ material to protect those soft ultra feet. The upper has holes all over and the laces are elastic. So, all in all, not your regular running shoe.
Vivobarefoot pitch this as an ‘amphibious’ off-road barefoot shoe. This I think is what has destined them for the sale rack (not that I’m complaining). It didn’t review particularly well when launched and in my view that’s because it doesn’t really belong anywhere near a trail. (more…)
The Wasdale Warriors – running in the Lakes
Well, it’s been a while. It’s February already so I guess it’s time to crawl out of my cardboard box, escape the warm corner of the shed and dust off those well worked 2011 reptilian running legs.
2011 was a cracker. 2012 is gonna be even better!
Last weekend I met up with some fine people in the Lakes to run over some hills, eat, sleep and run some more. That was the plan anyway, and that’s pretty much what happened. (more…)
Running in Lake District – Coledale Horseshoe
After the River Ayr Way race, it was home for a bath and some food, then pack some stuff for a few days in the Lake District with family.
We were so lucky with the weather and managed a few decent walks as well as some time relaxing and reading.
I also managed to get few runs in. The Coledale Horseshoe looked good on paper and didn’t disappoint. The route starts in Braithwaite. You can park beside the school easy enough (particularly if it’s before sun-up!).
Follow the road towards Cockermouth, passing a couple of paths both sides of the road to a small car park on the left (I guess you might be able to park there – it’s small though and probably fills up quick). The Grisedale path is marked and immediately starts with some fairly steep steps. Me being me, I blindly took the other path for a mile until I realised I’d gone the wrong way. Turns out it was worth it anyway as the sun delivered a morning treat.
Grisedale Pike is pretty runnable although steep in parts and rocky underfoot, making a mis-judged step a potential sore-one. Near the top it’s hands on thighs stuff for a while.
From there I headed on over an ‘unamed peak’ (according to the guidebook) to Hopegill Head – again all runnable.
Then a quick left over Sand Hill and onto the saddle of Coledale Hause. From there it’s a really pleasant trail until you reach a junction. I chose to go right first and head up onto Grassmoor for some amazing views over Loweswater, Crummock Water and Buttermere. (more…)
RAW River Ayr Way Ultra – race report 2011
I’ll keep it short.
Weather turned out pretty decent following the heavy rain on the Friday. Arrived at Glenbuck in plenty of time, registered and chatted to some friendly faces. Got ready to race – warmed up, then just hung about until they finally managed to gather everyone and start the race around 20mins late.
Last of the SUMS – River Ayr Way Ultra
Well, I can’t believe it’s the September weekend already! It’s crazy just how quick this year has passed. We haven’t exactly had a summer to remember in Scotland but I guess we’re used to it.
Tomorrow is the final race in the Scottish Ultra Marathon series (SUMS) – The River Ayr Way Challenge (RAW). 41ish miles (more…)
Keen? A lightweight minimalist trail runner – Review
Like many other runners I have a somewhat unhealthy interest in shoes. My casual trainer ‘collection’ for years has been spilling out of the wardrobe. Whilst I don’t own lots of running shoes I am obsessed with finding the perfect shoe as well as having options for various conditions, distances and terrain for both racing and training. (more…)
West Highland Way Race Report – 2011
The West Highland Way Race 2011
Where to start? It’s such a long race, and so much happens over 95 miles (or more). This was my first long ultra in my first season racing. It wasn’t in the plan for this year but I couldn’t resist when the opportunity arose.
Anyway – get on with it.
We arrived at Milngavie just after 11.00pm and the car-park was almost full. It had rained in Glasgow all day. Heavily. But as we walked up to register in the church hall it stopped and almost felt warm. There was an atmosphere around the place of nervousness, excitement and anticipation – what would lie ahead for all runners and support teams?
I registered without any hassle – “enjoy it” was the parting remark. Hmmmm. Off to be weighed and within minutes we were back in the car with almost 2 hours to kill. This was tough. I was desperate to just get going. To finally forget about the tedious planning and prep of food, drinks, times, meeting points, sleep times, clothes, blah, blah, blah. I was desperate to get on with the running bit – to finally feel my legs moving under me and some wind in my face after a week-long taper. I hadn’t run more than 5 miles at a time over the last week and wanted to be reassured that I’d still remember how!
I sat in the front seat of the car – my crew left me alone with my thoughts. They sat on some deck-chairs and drank tea in a carpark close to midnight – the whole thing was bizarre. I felt pretty confident, just ached for the clock to get closer to 12.30 and I could commence the pre-race sock / running shoe ritual.
There was a race briefing 20 mins before the start. There were so many people around I couldn’t really hear what was being said. Next thing I knew I was saying my goodbye’s to my Support and making my way to the front of the startline. It was quite a sight – 150 or so runners all ready to do battle with whatever the WHW would throw at them over the next day. (more…)
West Highland Way Race – it’s here!
Well, can’t believe it. The #WHWrace is actually here! In about 11hours, 160 or so runners will leave Milngavie in the hope of conquering Scotland’s famous trail all the way to Fort William.
It’s looking like it’s going to be a wet race. It hasn’t really stopped all day, so another clothes change might be required! I guess that’s the beauty of a challenge like this – you could know the course like the back of your hand, have trained impeccably, prepared 15 food options but ultimately there’s a huge “Unknown” on the trail for most people……a stomach that gives up holding food, a trip and fall, blistering, a tendon snap….the “Unknown” can strike at any time – and that’s part of the buzz. Getting through it.
Despite being a very late entrant I’ve been keen to get going for the last few days. Yes, I would have changed my training, yes I could be better prepared but I’m feeling good and (so far) am glad to be part of it.
Good luck to all the runners and support teams – it’s such a commitment from everyone and I hope you find what you’re looking for from it.
My sister will be doing twitter updates as usual (@lilacswizzle). Heck, she might even pass on some messages if you keep them clean! My sister is heading up my support crew with my folks so if you see them have a chat – they like to talk!
The support of an ultra runner
GUEST POST by my sister Nicola!!!
A day in the life of an ultra marathon support person……
On Saturday 21st May my brother raced his third ever ultra marathon, The Cateran Trail 55 and until a few months ago I must admit I had never really heard much about ultras, SUMS, Jezz Bragg etc etc. I mean it was only last year that the boy actually starting running seriously (and did a few 10k races). (more…)
My first Highland Fling (2011 Ultra)
I had run / cycled / walked quite a bit of the West Highland Way in the past and on the Saturday before the Fling I wanted to get one final long run in. As some of you will know I had to miss the GEDM race a few weeks before due to sickness and it had knocked my confidence quite a bit, especially as the training had suffered. So I decided I needed a decent long run and a week before the race seemed a good time to try out some of the course. It would hopefully (read on)
The Highland Fling 2011 – night before
Big race tomorrow. The Montane Highland Fling. Not got a lot to say about it following the GEDM sickness fiasco. Yes, I’m nervous something happens again before the start line.
Anyway, I’ll post up race results / report sometime next week. My sister most likely will be tweeting some race updates. Feel free to follow her here or my own account here.
So, it’s early to bed for me. I’ll leave you with some pics of the area from last week’s training run (excuse the poor quality – rubbish camera, and I don’t like to stop for long).
Running, racing, sickness and sadness
I understand now. I must be a bit of a drama queen. That’s obviously the reason I haven’t written anything for a while. Last post I did was the night before my big race – the one I had put a huge amount of effort into preparing for (The GEDM). Other than a knee injury the week before the preparation had been meticulous and my training relentless. Long runs, nutrition, weights, hydration, clothing, checkpoint times, target pace….the list goes on. I was so ready for it.
Headed off to bed night before the race at 10pm, breakfast plan all sorted, clothes prepared, support bag and instructions all organised – family had been briefed (and were excited about the race). Then at about 2am I was dragged out of my running dreams into a bit of a nightmare by the pain that was building in my stomach. read on