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 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.
First week in Flagstaff AZ
After a fairly lengthy journey via Philadelphia and an overnight in Phoenix I arrived at Flagstaff ‘basecamp’ this time last week. Not really a holiday believe it or not but a chance to get away from everything and train for a few weeks in new surroundings and maybe with some other runners.
Flagstaff is in Northern Arizona so much cooler than the likes of Phoenix. It sits near the southwestern edge of the Colorado plateau and is home to the biggest Ponderosa Forest in the US (so they tell me). I can confirm there are a lot of trees! The town itself sits at over 2,100m above sea-level, something that the locals seem proud of and I imagine helps to attract a lot of athletes to the area for training. (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…)
It stayed dry on the West Highland Way
….and it wasn’t even Highland Fling Day!
Had a cracking run last Friday. Weather (from nowhere) turned, and it was a fantastic blue-sky day for running across some familiar but inspiring trails.
I parked up in Drymen, and took the WHW over Conic Hill to Balmaha. From there it was on to my most dreaded section of WHW to Rowardennan. I don’t really know why – the trail itself is good, the views are great. It just always feels much longer than it is whenever I’ve run it (and particularly in a race).
At Rowardennan there was something missing (other than the wee toilets – what happened to them?). Took me a while to work it out…..Midges! No midges and the sun was out – all very strange. From there I headed up Ben Lomond.
Being a Friday the Ben wasn’t too busy, passing only a few walkers on the way up. Being the closest Munro to Glasgow it does get it’s fair share of visitors ‘fae the toon’. On a clear day though it does have some spectacular views from the top. (more…)
Running in Good Company
A pleasant change.
On Sunday I did something I haven’t really done before. I ran with someone! Well, not just ‘someone’, but the one and only John Kynaston. We live only a few minutes apart and arranged to meet up early Sunday morning. We headed up onto the Braes (Gleniffer) chatting our way through 11miles of up’s and down’s. John has such an obvious passion for running and his ultra experience is remarkable. It was a real pleasure to listen to some of his stories and his general thoughts on running. I was just disappointed when it was over.
It was a fitting end to a hard week of training and hope to do it again soon.
If you don’t already follow it, check out John’s blog here – it’s one of the best.
Taper-time now. Have a good week.
Post race blues?
Thought it about time I actually posted something. Been keeping my head down after the WHW race. It’s been a strange month and I’ve had a few injury concerns, but building back up to peak training weeks.
First things first – a question!
Post race blues – is this a recognised condition?
It doesn’t seem to be talked about much. Maybe it isn’t real? Or maybe it doesn’t affect the full-time athletes as much as there is no ‘normal’ to return to after the event. Most of us anyway have to return to our normal day-to-day working lives only days after a lengthy physical event like the West Highland Way race. I was back in work a couple of days after and whilst I expected it to be ok (at least for the first few hours) I wasn’t really prepared for the slump that followed.
I know it was only a race but I did learn a lot about myself and where I want to head. (more…)
Running on Empty
Friday was my last opportunity for a long training run before the Cateran Trail Ultramarathon next Saturday.
I’ve started to mix up my longer runs meaning I generally now include 2 x types of long runs in my training. Both very different and both much debated / discussed by the running community. (more…)
Sunny Evening Cycling
What a difference some light nights and a drop of sunshine make.
Managed a couple of runs today and after work on a Thursday I’m normally heading straight for the gym and a swim.
Just felt wrong tonight though, so it was straight home, shorts on, sunglasses dusted off and out for a blast on the road bike. What a pleasant change, fresh air, reasonably quiet roads and some natural warmth on my pasty skin.
Roll on the summer!!
No Knee Never
On Saturday night following a 35miler my right knee was troubling me. Sharp pain down the right side of my knee-cap. I went through my normal post-run recovery – the right food at the right times, plenty of fluids, ice pack on my knee etc. Throughout the night the pain in my knee kept me up. I took painkillers, applied ibuprofen gel and desperately tried to sleep convinced that it would be fine in the morning. It wasn’t great when I got up. But moving it certainly helped. Sunday was a rest day anyway, so with luck I’d be fine by Monday. As I’m tapering the training a little for the race on Saturday and with sore knee in mind I decided before bed to ignore the #444alarm for once and sleep a bit longer. Figured I could do a lunchtime run and all would be good.
Lunchtime came and I was convinced that after a few hundred metres it would ease off and the world would continue spinning. It didn’t.
So, tonight instead of running and swimming I’m heading into town to see a man who I’m hoping can do something for me. Either way – I’ll be on that start-line on Saturday.
Thursday training – West Highland ‘No’ Way
I had big plans for Thursday. Needed to use some holiday so thought it would be a good idea to get a tough session in before next weeks race. Would give me plenty time for recovery too.
So throughout Wednesday I formulated a plan. With us now officially in BST and with a week of half-decent weather behind us I thought it would be good to run part of the West Highland Way – the 53-mile Highland Fling route from Milngavie to Tyndrum read on
Race recovery week
Well, following my first race on the 19th March – the D33, plan was to have a lighter training week than normal. Whilst I generally run at least those distances at the weekend I did feel pretty tired all week – felt like I was wearing someone else’s legs for a while. It did stress me out a little but I guess it’s another lesson learned – racing is harder than training (doh!).
So, this week, I cut the mileage a little read on
Saturday snow – marathon
Saturday was meant to be my last long’ish run before Race day 1 next Saturday – a short ultra. So, plan was at least a few hours at a relatively decent pace. It’s been a heavy week of running and that would put a tidy lid on a successful week. Woke up to this however… read on
Top training week
Just a very quick post full of Friday wishes. Sadly I have to work today (I normally cram a full working week into 4 days), I’ve done that already but my employer feels that there’s obviously more to give. This week has been a cracker in terms of training. I still have a longish run to do tomorrow but I’m already up at 115K for the week, 3 x swimming / 2 x weights sessions and a couple of spins. It takes a lot of organisation (and washing powder) to fit all that into 5 days.
Next week will be a little different with my first race on Saturday (details here). A little tapering of the training is necessary I think. I’m extremely excited about the race and cannot wait to get going. Some of my family are coming up to watch, so also a good opportunity to spend some quality time with them pre and post race.
Anyway, I said it would be short – hope you are winding down for the weekend after a fruitful week. Have a good one 😉
Swim like a yacht…
Run, run, run, is that all I ever talk about? Sorry.
No, it isn’t. I’m currently “knocking my pan in” (as they say in Scotland) trying to improve my swimming technique / stroke. It’s safe to say (as many others do) that I find this thee most difficult tri-discipline. I generally toil in the pool 3 or 4 times a week hoping that Read on
Cheap running shoes?
I’ve been putting in the miles of late in preparation for a few races – averaging between 100 – 150K per week. Body is holding up well – trouble is, I’m going through running shoes fairly quickly, particularly the lightweight shoes that I love to run in. These racing flats are used on the early morning training runs as well as the long weekend slogs.
So, I finally thought it would be wise to also introduce a more ‘traditional’ running shoe into my week. If I could find a reasonably lightweight neutral shoe it might also be better for some of the more straightforward trails (with the more aggressive /grippy sole).
Now, the manufacturers are constantly revising and ‘improving’ their offerings. New soles, new materials, new colourways. BUT, the models that came out 2 or 3 years ago were ‘cutting edge’ so surely they can’t all-of-a-sudden be useless? Can they? Read on
Spring Saturday 70 (26/02/11)
Following a good day of training on Friday I decided before bed to complete a long run in the morning. Plan in my head was a 70K road run. Figured if I got up at around my normal time – fuelled up on porridge and honey, I could be out the door before 7.00am and be back around lunchtime to enjoy the rest of the day. The 4.44am alarm went off as normal and after a couple of ‘snoozes’ I was burning my mouth on some hot porridge in a dark unheated house. Other than the breakfast related huffing and puffing it was silent and still – I guess everyone was were where they should be on a Saturday morning – in bed.
Next up, hydration – bladder was filled but annoyingly I was running low on energy powder so dropped a ‘Zero’ electrolyte tab in to top it up. The financial excesses of Christmas had meant I’d only ordered more on Friday (payday) – it’s all so expensive and there were no guarantees that the postman would turn up. So, energy for the run was:
– 3 x Mule Bar Cherry energy gels
– 2 x Mule Bar energy bars
– 1 x Eat Natural bar
All packed into my OMM last drop with waterproof jacket, spare hat and gloves, phone and bank card in a (now busted) Haglofs Watatait (grrr – will be speaking to them!). I’d forgotten to get money out the bank but the card was there for emergencies. So, with the orange glow of the streetlights guiding me to the front door I stepped out in my Nike Lunaracers and pressed start on my watch. I’ve been getting a little bit of stick for running these kind of distances in such lightweight flats. Not entirely sure why? They just work for me – granted at times like any other runner my knees get a little sore but I suspect it’s the cycling that does just as much in terms of irritation. My running style is something that I’ve been working on for the last 6 months and its made a huge difference to my overall efficiency – this is maybe why I can get away with racing shoes.
Within an hour the sun was up and the world was awaking. It’s quite nice being completely in a world of my own and seeing tiny snippets of people’s lives as they get up to enjoy their weekend, work or regret what they did last night. I had a couple of loops in mind to make up the distance. One that’s about 40K another that’s 50K. So I figured if I added at least 15K up front I’d have enough room to up-it at the end should i need to.
First 1:20hr went smoothly – deliberately trying to keep things slow. First gel of the day was squeezed as the paper / milk boys were dropping the last of their orders just before 8.30am. The Cherry bombs are pretty good – not as gloopy as some of the others. Kinda like an over-cooked fruit compote.
Then came across a cycle path (Cycle network 7) and figured I should at least add a few k’s down that – got to be better than the additional effort of avoiding traffic / hungover pedestrians. Surroundings were pretty pleasant and to my huge surprise the big yellow star came out and the sky turned blue – like proper light blue!! Just continued running tbh – I went through about 3k where the inside of my ankle was painful – almost like i was going to get cramp (which I don’t often suffer) but through gritted teeth it wore off. At about 35K I was conscious that I was probably running short on fluid – I spotted a handy ‘Shop this way’ sign for the cyclists and found a Tesco petrol station – perfect! Chocolate bar consumed whilst re-filling my bladder and I was off again. Figured I’d keep going to 42K and turn around and that would take me home in the target 70K. 42K is almost a milestone for obvious reasons – it does feel a bit of a random one though.
I guess psychologically the return should be easier – you can fall into the trap of thinking about the parts that you know will be a struggle but by keeping the milestones small and regular it’s possible to put it to the back of your mind (for the most part). I have a general rule of not thinking about hot baths or warm food unless I’m within 10K of being home!
As it was getting later there were lots more people around – other runners and cyclists. Never quite understand why so many won’t return a nod or hello. It’s not a big ask. We’re all out enjoying the day, doing what we love and you’d think there would be an obvious connection. Maybe just ‘unrbanites’ these days?
At 60K I joined another path and spotted a runner about 50m in front. He was fairly shifting but feeling good I thought I’d have a go. Not entirely sure why or the point of it but in a second I was committed. Chased him, but he was going faster than I first thought. Took me 1K to get level and pass him – then the sudden realisation that I’d have to keep going at a ridiculous pace “why oh why did I do it?” Huge mistake. By 65K he was gone but so were my legs as were any remaining fluids. 5K in under 18mins at that stage was pretty stupid and now I was looking at every puddle with intent……”hmm, that one doesn’t look too dirty.”
So, struggled up the road and finally turned into my street at 72K (and missing 4,500 calories). The next 30mins are usually pretty painful and that’s exactly what they were. But I was soon in a bath with a bowl of pasta, a protein shake and a couple of pints of water with fruit juice. Recovery went well and by later in the night I didn’t feel like I’d been out. Some long compression socks overnight and I woke up fresh as a daisy!
A good day on my feet.