Friday 13 November 2015

Petzl TIKKA RXP and e+LITE review

The great head torch debate is a subject that never dies.  Along with trail shoes, packs and the controversial Hoka and poles, it's a topic that reappears and is discussed at great length on social media pages.

Like most products the technology is forever changing.  No sooner have your settled on a head torch and a bigger (or smaller and lighter) and better one is released.  And like most products, personal choice boils down to budget and what you expect from it.  Everybody knows someone who swears by a £10 effort from Argos, but you get what you pay for.

I was lucky enough to receive a Petzl NAO when I won the Lakeland 100 last year.  The NAO is the Rolls Royce of head torches and the pioneer of reactive lighting.  It comes with a rechargeable lithium battery and  could light up a house.  All great.   But there's a time and place for the NAO. It's not for everyone and it's certainly not my go-to head torch.  Firstly it's a bit overcomplicated for me and I was never confident I had it on the right setting. Put it on constant rapid movement mode and it will last an hour. In most situations it can been quite excessive if you only need to see where you're putting your feet.  Plus, it's not exactly comfortable. Wear it for a lengthy period of time and it hurts.  I used it during Spartathlon and it was a bit overkill for a course that's predominately road.  Plus, it took about two days to get the indent off my forehead!

So, along came the Petzl TIKKA RXP, which I used for the first time during the White Rose Ultra earlier this month.  Now this is a go-to head torch.  It uses similar reactive technology as the Petzl Nao, but is more of a toned-down version.

I'm not a very techie person, but I like gadgets. When it comes to a head torch, I want it to be bright (215 lumens), light (111g), comfortable, rechargeable (can use AAA batteries too) and have a decent battery life (up to 10 hours) and beam (70 metres).  I just want to put it on...and run.    The TIKKA RXP ticks all the boxes me. Plus, it's competitively priced at £90.

If a new head torch is on your Christmas wishlist, I'd recommend putting the TIKKA RXP on your letter to Santa.  It's everything you need for trail, night and ultra running - and more! 

E02-P3-ELITE LowResAnother fabulous bit of kit is the Petzl e+LITE. I wouldn't want to get stuck up a mountain with it, but for races that require a back-up light source or to make yourself visible on night runs, this is ideal.   I've used it on city runs when the street lighting is a bit sparse. Weighing in at 27g it's the equivalent of carrying a matchbox, so you can stick it in your pocket or pack for emergencies.   Have you ever tried to change the battery in your main light in the dark?  I have and it's nothing short of a nightmare. 

Considering the size and weight, you'll be amazed by the brightness - 26 lumens.  And the battery can last for 75 hours.   Search online and you can pick up an e+LITE for about £15.  Small price to pay for something that might just save you in an emergency.   Just be careful when you're packing it.  I lost my first one on a night canal run before I'd even had a chance to switch it on!

PERFORMANCE series headlamps [EN] with REACTIVE LIGHTING Technology. Beyond power...Intelligence from Petzl-sport on Vimeo.

Thursday 5 November 2015

The Idiots' Guide to Running The White Rose 60

Having only recently discovered that I didn't have the points to enter UTMB next year,  I was in the frustrating position where I had to run a race to, well, run a race.  It's a topic that has been discussed and slammed at great length, but I wouldn't get a foot in the door without the nine points required.  I was two short and realistically my only options were the White Rose 60 last weekend and the CTS in Dorset in December.

While still nursing the aftermath of Spartathlon, I chose the White Rose 60.   It was always going to be a big ask, but all I had to do was get around in one piece.  Ships burned.  No excuses.

As a late entry - with low expectations on racing 60 miles - only a few people knew I was doing it.   Even the super-observant John Kynaston missed my name on the entry list.  He was surprised to see me at race registration, but within five minutes we'd already agreed on a mini competition - cloest lap times - and he was relaying stories of the good old days when he used to beat me. #backinthedayJK

The White Rose Ultra has three race options: 30, 60 and 100.  The 30 mile is stunning loop around the High Peak, Colne Valley and Pennines. The 60 is two loops and the 100 in three loops with an extra bit thrown in.  It's relatively low key and relaxed.  A sharp contrast to my last gig in Greece.

I was so unprepared for the race that I was still debating shoe choice at registration.  I had no expectations and no course knowledge, but was hoping to finish in 10 hours something.  Just plucking numbers with a goal of 5ish hour laps.  Mainly because I had to drive back to Glasgow after the race.

At 8am the 30 and 60 mile participants we set off.    The 100 mile race started at midnight, so most were already one lap down. There was no
distinction between who was in what race, so it was hard to tell who was competing against who.

There's a lot of road on the course - maybe 40% - but it was either up or down.  And what was off road was boggy.  Bit of a mixed bagged really, so glad I chose my Salomon S-lab Sense.

There are stocked checkpoints every five miles, so it was easy to break down the lap into six sections. I carried my own Torq bars, Shot Bloks and Gu gels though.

Pic by SportSunday
My plan was to take the first lap steady, stick with people and get my bearings.  Although the course is well-marked it's a bit tricky and easy to miss some of the turn offs.  I was called back once (thanks Kate) and was very hesitant at some junctions until other runners caught up and kept me right.

The weather was absolutely glorious.  Hard to believe it was November 1.  At points it was quite toasty and I got really dehydrated and had a tough couple of miles before the CP at 21 miles.

I was back at race HQ in 5 hours 17, quickly picked up some supplies and moved out onto lap two. Speaking to some of the 30 runners, they couldn't fathom why anyone would want to go out for another lap, but I was fairly relax about it.  Maybe because I am used to lapped races, but I think it was because I could relax and just enjoy it having already covered the course.

With Chris Baynham-Hughes. Pic: Mark Oliver 
Starting out on lap two I realised I'd forgotten to pick up my bottle of Coke.  Giving my inability to eat - and my caffeine addiction - I rely quite heavily on Coke during races.  All I could think about for the first five miles was Coke - and CP didn't have any.  Crisis.

Pushing on I spotted Matt and Rich Wilson ahead.  I'd overtaken Matt in the Lakeland 100 last year and the Lakeland 50 this year, which he wasn't enamoured about.  It was pretty apparent they (Matt most likely being the instigator) weren't happy about me catching them, as they seemed to find another gear.  But the gap remained the same for a few miles.

Most of the route is on country roads and trails, with a few road crossings to negotiate.  Approaching a road crossing at around 37 miles, I made the assumption that the roads were really quiet (as they had been all day) and ran straight out.  Not wise, as I was hit side on by a car.  I was knocked onto my right side and just lay on the road - trying to assess the damage.  Another car stopped and there was a bit of frantic panic above me, but I don't really recall what happened.

The poor lady who hit me was obviously shaken and kept repeating that I'd just run out in front of her.  The other chap was trying to help me up but I was bit shocked and trying to let the initial pain subside.  He was really kind and asked to give me a lift home or to the hospital.  He looked a bit baffled when I declined as "I was in the middle of a race".  Really I was thinking: "Naw, mate.  I need to the two points for UTMB".

I pretty much left them standing and got going again.  With my heart rate maxed out and on the brink of tears,  I couldn't believe what just happened.  To be honest, the fact that it hasn't happened to me before beggar's belief.  I was just really lucky it was a cautious driver and not some boy racer - or anyone who drives a Merc.

My shoulder, hips and ribs took the brunt of the hit and fall, but it wasn't too painful.  Although I was winded and had some discomfort across my chest, I made the decision to keep going.  Then my next thought was: Those fecking Wilson Brothers have got away.

Being super cautious on the roads and sticking to running towards the traffic, I crossed over to take the left turn to see Frank's crew waiting at the junction.  I planned on being cheeky and asking if they had any Coke, only to see on approach a little angel with a can of Coke his hand.  They had overheard me asking at the last checkpoint.  It was a god send.

By the time I got to 45 miles, I'd caught up with the Wilson Brothers again, but they kept pulling away. Ideally I would have liked to have passed them, but I didn't want it as much as Matt did - who was checking every half mile to see where I was.  Watching the turning headtorches made me laugh.

I was just quite happy with finishing.  I never knew where I was in the race.  It wasn't until I got to a CP at 51 miles that I was told I was first lady and 5th overall.  After I was trying to work out if I could break the ladies record set by Shelli Gordon last year in 11:08.

The shuddering was hurting my chest and ribs and I was so paranoid that I'd fall, but I knew if I was going to miss the record it would only be by a couple of minutes.   My friend and CR teamie Eddie had sent me a charm bracelet with the words "make it happen" on a few weeks earlier and I started chanting this over and over.  Still not the craziest thing I'd done that day.  I finished in 11:05.

It was definitely adrenaline that kept me going, as within half an hour of finishing I was feeling it.  I could barely get my shoes off. The four-hour drive home was horrendous, arriving after 1am - and then I couldn't sleep for the pain in my ribs and hip.

A race too far for me, so time for some proper recovery now.  Even without the incident, my body is broken and I'm knackered.    I would normally use the expression "I feel like I've been hit by a bus" but I don't want to pre-empt anything.

Full results here

1st (joint Jonathan Pritchard and John Hill) 10:55
3rd (joint) Richard Wilson and Matt Wilson) 11:00
5th (first female) Debbie Martin-Consani 11:05

Saturday 31 October 2015

Spartathlon 2015

You know one of those races that you're never ever going to do? Like never?  That was my initial response when I first heard about Spartathlon.  That heat and all that road, forget it.   But after a few years in the sport, the crazy gets crazier and the unthinkable becomes infatuation.  It's one of the world's classic ultra-distance races, so ranked high on my bucket list. 

I was reminded by running friends in a similar way as I was when I signed up for GUCR a few years ago.  "But, Debs, you hate running on the canal".  I doesn't bother me so much now, but it did then. New for 2015 was "But, Debs, you can't run in heat".  Valid and vital point.

The prospect of the heat terrified me and I'd pretty much resigned myself to airing on the side of misery during the race.  But it wasn't the car crash I expected it to be.  Granted, it wasn't as hot as in previous years, but it was still beyond the melting point for my fair skin.

I'd basically sweated my ass off in the month leading up the race in saunas, hot yoga and a heat chamber.  At my last heat chamber session I was surprised to report I actually felt quite comfortable for the hour.  My confidence was a few rungs up from last ill-fated holiday runs and I felt as prepared as I was ever going to be.

Previous participants spoke so highly of the experience, but how could running along the edge of road be the "best race ever"?  What could be so "special" about it?  Why would your get the race logo tattooed on your body?
Regardless of what the influx of international visitors think, the Greeks are very passionate about the race.  It's ingrained in their history and culture as it mirrors the journey made by Pheidippides, the messenger of ancient Greece, who covered the 153 miles (246km) distance to request assistance from the Spartan armies.  

Individually, there's nothing extraordinary about the race characteristics:  The heat, the relentless road, 8800ft of ascent, the mountain at 100 miles,  or the speed your need to travel at to stay within the strict cut off times.  It's the combination of those factors that stop the majority from making it from Athens at day break to Sparta before sunset the next day. 

Even despite the race's strict entry and qualifying criteria, the success rate speaks volumes about the difficulty of the undertaking.  Typically around 40%, but it's been as low as 23% on a few occasions. 
Brtish Spartathlon Team (

This year, the field was very deep.  "Stacked" as my Stateside friends would say. Arguably the best the race had ever seen.  The male and female 24-hour world champions, Florian Reus and Katalin Nagy were starting, along with previous winners and placers and a few high calibre international athletes.  On paper, that would increase the percentage of finishers, as the cut-offs wouldn't or shouldn't be the major issue.

As countries are allocated a specific number of places, everyone comes as a team.    So we arrived as a mixed squad of 23 in our fancy dress kid-on GB kit.  All part of the razamataz which I , of course, whole-heartedly embraced.

Even after the race, my recollection of the experience all merged into one big mish-mash, so this is a bit sketchy.
The Start: Picture by Sparta Photography Club
At 7am, as daylight was creeping in, we set off through the streets of Athens - causing a major traffic jam as we went.  Even after 33 years, I don't think anyone knows whether the motorists are honking their horns out of support or to show how pissed off they are.  We went with the former, smiling and waving like idiots.

I was pretty relaxed, but I could feel the tension around me.  People racing early on, breathing harder than what is deemed appropriate for a 153 mile race.  The mix of adrenaline and the fear of the dreaded cut-offs incite people to get-the-miles-in-early.

Media chat with Paul R
The cut offs aren't particularly tight, but there's no room for error. It's certainly not a journey you'd embark on for the social aspect. Each of the 75 checkpoints (placed around two miles apart) have their own closing time.  And each checkpoints had a board displaying the CP number, distance covered, distance to sparta and closing time.  Less of a gentle reminder and more of a don't-even-think-of-sitting-down-here statement.   The happy bus is always looming in the background waiting to pick-up the stragglers.

The checkpoints are well-stocked and you can leave a dropbag at any one of them, but I was lucky to have Marco crewing for me. He would meet me at the designated 15 support points. 

Playing in the traffic
The first 20 miles are pretty uneventful.  Just roadside, a few climbs and lots of a traffic.  I won't lie to you, the landscape doesn't change much.  But I was promised it would get slightly better after the first 50.

The run along the coast was beautiful though.  Picture postcard crystal blue. Never had water looked so inviting.  I'm sure every runner must have looked longingly at the sea - mainly because we were getting fried at that point.

Although we started in a nice stand-about-in-vest  temperature - which is the equivalent to a very good summer's day in Scotland - it started to really heat up by around 11am.  

Shortly after this,  I would see Marco for the first time in Malaga.  CP11, at marathon distance, was the first time support was allowed.  I arrived a few minutes ahead of my 4hr 13 plan, picked up a few supplies, changed bottle and pushed through.

At checkpoint 12, ice become my new best friend.  I stuffed it in my hat, my bra and a band around my neck. It was heaven, and the difference between shuffling and swaying and actually running.

Ice in my hat, bra and neck band.  Pic: Sparta Photography Club
Whenever I use ice for an injury or inflammation, placing it on my skin is always uncomfortable, but in Greece I didn't even notice.  Not only had the ice melted by the time I reached the next CP two miles later, it had dried too.  I repeated this exercise at every CP during the daylight hours.  Even the race marshalls were impressed with the places I could stuff ice.

My next mini goal was to get to CP22 at 50 miles in eight hours.  That would be 90 minutes ahead of the checkpoint.  After 60 miles, the route is very undulating and with absolutely course no knowledge, I was winging it from there.  I got to CP22 bang on 8hrs.  

50 miles down and HOT . Pic: Free Life Productions
The 10 miles after this were certainly the hottest, but I was managing it OK.  I'd pretty much lost the ability to eat, so was bonking quite a bit.  I went through 100km in 10hr12, still on schedule.  I was willing the hills to appear, just to break the motion of running. A good stomp was needed.  

It got dark just before 8pm.  I love running in the dark, so was looking forward to this.  When I got to Halkion at CP32, Marco told me that Paddy was having a rough time with his stomach and was not far ahead. Paddy is the king of pacing and strong finishes, so thought he'd come through it and sprint the final 50 miles.

With the night came the inclines, rocky tracks, ferrell dogs and wild cats with their glow in the dark eyes, rustling in the bushes, blisters and achy legs.  The Morton Stretches helped (pictured) but I opted to change into compression tights, just for the comfort factor.

Leaving Lyrkia at 92 miles, en route to the dreaded 1200 metre mountain, it was relatively flat for a few miles and I was enjoying the dark and coolness.  Then it started to climb and I was forced for hike.  The climb went on for-like-ever.  Zig-zagging.  Every time I looked up there was more. Around a corner, and more. But the time I reached the "base of the mountain" (98miles) checkpoint, most of the ascent had been tackled.

Pic by Adrian Bratty Kouyoufas
I sat down for longer than I should have.  Actually I shouldn't have sat down at all.  Sitting on the job is not something I would condone in any race, but this wasn't a race against anyone other than myself.   Plus  I wasn't exactly bouncing at the prospect of the feck off climb in front of me.

I changed socks and popped some blisters with the pin from my race number - classy lassy.   And then the GM appeared.  I was so happy to see her, as I thought I'd have company for the climb.  My brain took a while to register that we was wearing a down jacket and a very sad face, and had obviously dropped out.

I took a base layer, as stopping had caused me to chill quickly, and off I went.  I lasted about seven minutes with the layer.  The climb wasn't quite the drama I thought it would be.  As usual, mountains always look bigger than they actually are. In reality it was only a 30 minute stomp, with a few sways and couple of stumbles back.

I declined the offer of a comfy seat and blanket at the summit and headed straight down.  The descent was worse than the ascent.  A steep bed of scree and a defunct brain was not a good combo.  After sliding and toe-tripping on a few rocks, I decided to cut my loses and walk.  Looking around, everyone else had reached the same conclusion.

At the next checkpoint, I realised I'd seen the same twin lads at practically every station for over 100 miles.  I don't even know who they were supporting, but their encouragement was fabulous.  Even if they only words we exchanged were "bravo" and "thank you".

For the next few miles I was leap-frogging with a chap who was wearing what can only be described as a shell suit.  It was quite apparent that he was getting upset about getting overtaken with a female. We exchanged no words or glances, just the mutual annoyance that we couldn't shake each other off. I won.

I then went past Traci Fablo, Team USA and world 48-hour record holder.  On any given day that would be a running career highlight, but it wasn't a fair race.  She was struggling with injury and would later drop.

Arriving at Nestini (106), I saw that Paddy had dropped and joined Marco and Sharon.  I picked up some supplies and despite the fact that I was enjoying the chat and social interaction, they threw me out.

The next 20 miles were all a bit of a blur.  It started to rain.  I was still warm, so continued to kick about in my vest.   At CP53 an official seemed quite concerned and asked me if I need a raincoat to which I replied "No, I'm Scottish".  He found this so funny he took to Facebook. I couldn't work out how everyone seemed to know about it.

As I slowed, became increasingly incoherent and was soaked through, I did start to cool down.  At the CP60 I sent Marco to car the for a change of clothes.  Whilst huddled in door way, Mike Wardian's brother asked if I'd passed a skinny guy with a beard.  I did try to speak to Mike at a previous CP, but he was on another planet.  I told Mike's brother that he was really far gone and he might want to go get him.  He informed me that he would never drop out.  He was wrong.  I  later learned that he had chafing that would make every man cry at the sight of it.

There's a lot of climbing between 120 and 135  miles.  A lot, for tired legs.  I was wandering up a never ending hill along a road side.  It wasn't even a hard shoulder, just extra tarmac.  Lorries were trundling past and spraying me water, but the honking horns and howls of "bravo"  kept me awake. And smiling.  They were no race signs and I was starting to panic.  Up and up with no reassurance that I was going in the right direction.   I think I would have rather lived there than retrace my steps.  I was so relieved to finally get to a lonely CP and signs of race life.

After the climb, I was overheating inside my jacket and being on the warm side was making me slow down.  I needed some freshness so went back to bare arms even though we were being hit by a thunder and lightening storm.  Scottish, right?

The best thing about the race were the people. From Athens all the way to Sparta, the people of Greece go nuts for this race.  They love it.  Kids were out of schools high-fiving and asking for autographs, office workers were out cheering, people were hanging out of windows or out in the street taking pictures.

I can't imagine running alongside a main motor route in the UK in the dead of night, and getting positive encouragements from drivers.  I did have a few close shaves on the country roads because we were running into the traffic, but the vast majority were very respectful.

The worst thing about the race was being alone with my thoughts.  For obvious safety reasons earphones aren't aloud, so no music.    There was just no switch off.  I just had numbers - miles covered, time, distance to next CP, miles per hour, closing time, miles to go - going around in my head constantly.

Between 115-125 miles were my lowest points.  I'd worked out that if I did four miles an hours I'd finish within the 36 hours time limit.  So I stomped at 4mph.  Then an Austrian lady went passed me and I had a serious chat with myself.  And the numbers in my head.  Not only did I not want to lose placing, the idea of walking 30 miles was inconceivable.   Thankfully sense prevailed and I got going again.  

You know when you're in a race and you can cover 5 miles without even thinking about it?  Well, that didn't happen in this race.  I was aware of every single mile.  I decided to pick up my sleeves at the next checkpoint.  Not only because it was pissing down, but it meant I could also so cover my Garmin.

I got to CP68, but couldn't see Marco.  The hire car was there, but there was no sign of him.  So I started running up and down the road shouting his name.  As I was looking slightly demented and official came out to help.  Then Marco appeared from behind the rocks with a smile and a pack of baby wipes under his arm.  It's all about timing.

Sleeves on.  Garmin covered.  Don't peek.  That's got to be at least two miles... Ah 0.36 miles! Although at the pace I was moving, I was looking at 30 hours.  Considerably better than the 35 hours I was calculating at no so long ago.

The road to Sparta is very undulating and the space to run is very narrow, but I kept chipping away at it.  Walking the inclines and trying to get some life into my legs on the downhill.

At CP71  I stared at the sign trying to mentally convert 12 km into miles.  One the stewards asked if she could help and explained what I was trying to do, to which she informed me 12km was 10 miles. I just left it and pushed on.

I met Marco at the last support point with only 6 miles to go and took few sips of coke.  On paper, the last few miles look amazing.  An absolute flying finish.  But wow, my ITB and glutes were not happy about it.  In hindsight I was completely out of it.  I hadn't really taken in any calories in the last 20 miles.  In my head I wasn't hungry and I was in the final stages, so therefore I was fine. Emphasis on: In my head

I could see Sparta, but I seemed like a very long way away.  And I just knew that statue was going to be at the other side of town.  Guaranteed.  I was trying to do that positive - Just-think-about-what-you've-achieved thing, by my head was having none of it.  With 5km to go Fergie went past in the car screaming like a crazy man, just before I hit CP73 on the outskirts of town.

Some kids started to cycle alongside me, but even though got scared and fecked off.  So I shuffled at what felt like a glacial pace, but I'm probably being generous there.  I past a petrol station and a road...and then stopped.  Where to now?  There was a bridge, but I couldn't see anything past that.  Of course there were no race signs, because there was no deviation from running in a straight line!  But I wasn't of sane mind at that point.  I was trying to signal to passing cars to ask directions, but I must have looked NUTS.  Then one of the officials spotted me flapping about and came running towards me.  The final CP was hidden behind a tree covered roundabout.

I crossed the chip mat and picked up my Union Jack.  I was on my way now.  A lovely lady biked alongside me and I'll never know how she managed to keep balance at the pace I was going.  We talked about the fabulous support from the Greek people and she told me how she used to come out as a kid and run the finishers in.  I asked her how far it was to the statue and she said 1km.  I knew it was a 1.5 miles, so I don't even know why I asked.   She left me in the capable hands of a group of young children on bikes and went back to the checkpoint.

30hrs 36 mins.  5th lady, 34 overall.  First female Brit. 2nd overall
My conversation with the kids went...What's your name: "Debbie" "Beddie?" Debbie" Gebby?" "Yes".

Followed by "How far?" "Not long".  Two minutes later "How far?" "Not long".

Then we turned right into the street where the statue was waiting at the end.  I did seem like forever, but it was a great forever.  I was treated like a hero.  Even as I type this, I can still feel it and hear it.

That moment when I reached for Leonidas foot...just phenomenal.

I get it now.  It is truly special.  There's no other race like it. For the majority, it's not about time or position. The next day the only thing strangers asked was whether you finished or not.  It's all that matters.

That race I was never, ever going to do?  Well, I did it.  And it's the best race in the world.

Huge congratulations to everyone who finished, especially the British Spartathlon Team. Thank you to the organisers, stewards and the wonderful people of Greece.  Special thanks to my Mum for looking after my boy, to make these trips possible.  Last but certainly not least, to Marco for top-notch crewing.  Your turn next year.  Thankfully you'll be hard pushed to find a shitter hire car. 

Thursday 10 September 2015

The (running) tour of Arran - the return

So we did it again.  Another 55 miles run around the beautiful Isle of Arran.  
The GM and I first did this route in August 2012 and had so much fun we thought we'd do it again.

Perfect training for Spartathlon with lots of tarmac and a few cheeky hills.  Slight temperature differential, but we used it to try out our Spartathlon fancy dress outfits regardless. The GM dubbed it #fullkitwanker day.

MdA:  Toughest Footrace in the World
Strava stats here.  A sociably paced 55 miles with nearly 4000ft on bumps in 8hr:31. Average 9:18m/m

It was one of those days I wished I could bottle.  And one of those runs I will remember forever.  And for all the right reasons.

We certainly kept the tourists, cyclists and the local bus driver amused.

Friday 28 August 2015

From hills to heat

I'm quintessentially Celtic.  Red hair, green eyes, fair skin and freckles.  I don't belong in the heat.  I'm just not designed for it.  I go purple, moan like a bitch and swell up like a space hopper.  But I like a new challenge and - like most ultra-runners - thrive on pushing the boundaries.  Always searching for new levels of stupidity. 

So Spartathlon's next.  I don't have high expectations.  It's a bucket list race, and I'll be happy happy if I get to Sparta.  Ideally, on foot.   Link to British Spartathon team website 

At the start of the month, we went on a heat training camp...I mean family Croatia.  Temps were around 37 degrees every day, so it was a feet-first introduction to to the similar conditions I'll experience in Greece next month.

Wow.  It wasn't pretty.  I literally got my ass handed to me on a (hot) plate.  But I spent the first 18 years of my life in desert climates and I don't recall melting and I certainly didn't wear suncream every day, so surely it's a case of adapting to heat?  Maybe not adapting to comfortably running 153 miles in it, but just making it a little more bearable would suffice. 

That was actually my happy face ;-)
At first I did a few easy runs early morning and late evening, because it fitted better with our not-so-hectic holiday itinerary. OK, it fitted better with attacking the resort's buffet meals better.

Day three I went for a mid-day 10-miler.    Just an out and back on a cycle dirt track, without the benefit of the sea breeze.  It was relentless.  I had to lie down after four miles and I honestly didn't know how I was going to get back.   I was emotional, dehydrated and beyond melting point.

Taking relief from the heat while standing in the middle of a hotel's sprinkler system, I had a major confidence crisis.  What was I thinking? How am I ever going to move in that heat, let alone run? But backing out of it never crossed my mind. In fact the shock of that day was just what I needed.  

I learned so much and subsequent runs were much better.  

1) Knocking back the pace:  Slow isn't slow enough. Even just 20-30 per mile made a huge difference. If I'm overheating, I'm going too fast.

2) The point of no return:  I made the mistake of overheating too quickly and it was hard to back down from that.  Starting slower certainly helped keep temperature in check. 

2) Dousing myself in water whenever possible kept me cool.  Although even after my sprinkler session,  my clothes were bone dry after about half a mile.

3) The conditions were much drier than I'm used to.  Scotland is very muggy and humid.  Although I didn't think I was sweating as much, my skin was really salty and my clothes had white salt marks. 

4) I needed heat!  So I went along to heat chamber session at Napier University and I'm incorporating a few sauna sessions per week from now until race day.  

5) Saunas attract some right weirdos.  Then I remembered.  I was sitting there too. 

Thursday 30 July 2015

Lakeland 50: The stats

As per my race report, I was "hoping" to sneak in under nine hours.  In my heart I knew I could run 9:05, just stitching together race-paced runs.  Maybe I'd already let the sub-9 slide before I even started. Next time, I'll need to aim a bit higher.   Here are my goal splits v actual splits.  Close, but no cigar.

Ladies all-time top 10 race splits...just because it's interesting.  Even to me, and I don't do numbers.

Wednesday 29 July 2015

Montane Lakeland 50 race report

After running the Montane Lakeland 100 for the past two years, it was time to up my game and join the sprinters in the Montane Lakeland 50.  Actually, it fitted better with my plan for running Spartathlon in two months time, but I prefer the first story. 

Lakeland 50 was my main focus after running the World 24-hour in April.  It's no secret that I'm more competitive at longer distances, but I wanted to give it my best shot. 

I called on my friend, Centurion Running team mate and endurance coach Eddie Sutton for her help and guidance to transform me from a 24 hour plodder to something that might resemble a hill runner.

No mean feat, but after weeks of killer hill sessions and race-paced runs on the course, I was in a better place. Not just physically, but I actually believed in myself.

Using my race-paced runs as a gauge, I'd worked out a realistic race target of 9:05.  Adding some adrenaline and a bit of competition, I was hopeful I could sneak under nine hours.

In it's 8th year, the Lakeland 100/50 has grown from strength to strength.  The atmosphere is electric. Attracting a field of nearly 1000 athletes - from the super fast to the super terrified - nobody is out of their depth as the camaraderie is magical.  It's not just a race, it's a festival.  There is always a huge sense of relief at the finish line, but it's sad to drive out the campsite on Sunday afternoon knowing it's over.

Top right by Jen Regan. Bottom right pic from Susan Graham
The Lakeland 100 starts on the Friday evening and circumnavigates the beautiful Lake District. I was lucky enough to win the ladies race last year, which rates quite highly in my life's best moments.  The Lakeland 50, which starts late morning on Saturday, is basically the same route from half way. Simple, right?  Not quite.  It's a bit bumpy, boggy and baffling.  It's unmarked, unrelenting and the weather in the Lakes is unpredictable to say the least.  But if you get to the start line, you're one of the race's "Legends". And if you make it to the end?  Well, you're part of the 50% that do.

After seeing off the 100 competitors on Friday evening, I felt quite smug about the prospect of not losing a night's sleep.  Really I should have just done the race, as I had about two hours sleep after spending the night pressing the refresh button on a mac in the school hall for results.

Pic by Jen Regan
After the race briefing on Saturday morning, it was off for the long journey to the start.  Thankfully the lovely Bev and Steve (the makers of Paul) offered me a lift, sparing me the cattle bus journey. Nici and Kat - also running the 50 - were in the car too.  A mix of nerves and mild hysteria made for a jovial  journey.

The weather was perfect.  After last year's heatwave, this concerned me the most.  It was heating up a bit, but promised to be clear and dry.

The race was off at 11:30am.  A 4-ish mile loop around some hilly fields and then we hit the route for the 45 miles to Coniston.  I hadn't covered the opening section before. Thankfully it was first, as it was the only unpleasant part of the race.  A grassy underfoot is my least favourite terrain.

Like most races, go off fast and you'll get caught short.  And like most races, loads of people still do it.  I just did my usual and stuck with an effort level I knew I could maintain and was confident I could pick my way through the field.  My race plan was all about consistent momentum.

Prior to the race, I'd researched splits of previous placing ladies.  I knew I had to keep to the slower end of the spectrum if I didn't want the wheels to come off after Ambleside (35 miles).  Not that I could have recreated CR holder Tracy Dean's early times - even if the race was just to Howtown.

Arriving in Pooley Bridge (5 miles) I was in my groove - on the trails and in very familiar territory.  I wanted to jog all the hills, to keep the rhythm.  I often feel if I start to hike the hills too early in training runs and races, it's hard to break the cycle.

I got to the Howtown checkpoint a little slower than my race plan, but that was fine.  Good, even. Having not covered the first section, the time was a bit of a guess.  I dibbed in and was straight back out.  One spectator commented on "my good checkpoint action".  My plan was always to save time by topping up fluid at streams and carrying all the food I needed.  Which worked out as not a lot of food.  No shock there then.

I was also actively avoiding anyone giving me updates on Marco's race in 100. After watching the live results through the night, I knew Marco was having issues.  I was pretty sure there was going to be lots of shitting-in-bushes chat to follow.   For purely selfish reasons, I just had to focus on my own race.

Heading towards Fusedale - and the highest point of the course - the race breaks up fairly quickly.  I was passing 50 and 100 runners.   I wasn't quite sure how it would be passing runners in, essentially, another race.  I'm not sure how I would have dealt with being passed if I was in that situation.  But I really enjoyed the exchanging of mutual respect.   I have been there twice and know what that climb does with 70 miles in your legs.

Pics by Jen Regan
Fast hiking to reach the peak, everything felt like it was starting to come together.  My head was in its happy place, my legs felt light and my energy levels were tip top.   I'm not the best descender, but I passed a few chaps and then hit my favourite section of the course, along Haweswater.  I'd been given some information about race position by other competitors, which I took with a pinch of salt. When I got to the Mardale Head checkpoint, I knew Mel Varvel was about a minute ahead in second place.

Call me a race w*nker, but I'd done my research and knew who my competition was going into the race. The favourite was GB ultra trail team athlete, Sally Fawcett.  Also on my list were Mel Varvel, Kim England, Joanne Hazell and Tracy Entwistle

As I've already outed myself as race w*nker, I may as well add that If someone comes back to me in a race, I will most likely overtake them.  With Mel is my sights on the climb up Gatescarth, I gave myself the target of moving into 2nd before Kentmere.  Mel is a super endurance triathlete and has some fine ultra results, but I kinda sorta actually knew she hadn't been racing for the past two years. Sorry, Mel!

My next target was to find John Kynaston.  Over the years, John and I have had quite a few friendly race challenges.  Usually involving me winding him up and his love of competition.  I think he's still yet to win one.  If he has, no doubt he'll be the first to comment. So, the challenge was that he was going to hold me off until Ambleside.  Now, I'm shit at maths, but I was pretty sure going by his race targets and my race targets - even if they went a bit astray - that I would pass him before Kentmere. And I did.  A few miles before Kentmere.   He was so gracious about it. I think we were both just happy to see a friendly face.

Between Mardale and Kentmere was went the calf and quad cramp started.  I didn't come to much, but it was causing me great concern.  I'm not sure whether it was humidity or the intensity, but it's not something I've really experienced in a race.  I even considered not packing s-caps, as I'd never needed them before.

I got to Kentmere in 2nd place.  Phew!  As I knew Eddie would be watching the results.  I downed two cups of a coke and was out like a shot.  My legs were shooting all over the place with cramp on the ascent up Garburn, so I tried to stay off my tip toes.  Which felt completely unnatural to me.

On the descent I was trying to thud my feet down because on Planet Debs that would help clear what was causing the cramp.  Don't ask!  I added my one and only electrolyte tab to some water I'd picked from a stream and that gave me some relief for 30 minutes.  The S-Caps did nothing.

Pic by Perky:  Everyone is staring at me like I'm bonkers ;-) 
At Kentmere I was back on my race splits - to the minute - and wanted to stay that way through Ambleside.  I was in such a good place, mentally, and was loving the race.  Just enjoying the present and the great experience.

As always, the reception in Ambleside was amazing, but I didn't stay around to enjoy it.  It looked so much fun, I wouldn't have left.  I must have been so focussed that I missed running passed marshals dressed as clowns! Two cups of coke and I was off.

Video leaving Ambleside (35 miles) by Bev

Only 15 miles to go.  I didn't think about positions or finishing, just on my own personal times.  I wanted to get there with enough in the tank to run some of the hills, and I did.  Although at one point I tripped and then kicked a rock and my leg shot rigid.  No more hiking, as jogging was the only thing that loosen my legs off.

Above Ambleside.  Only 14 miles to go 
Thankfully the sight of  Matt Wilson's back along Elterwater perked me up and kept me on pace through to Langdale.  Although I got there bang on time and it pretty good shape - considering - it was the lowest point for me. Possibly for Matt too, when he spotted me approaching.

I lost a few minutes from Langdale to Tilberthwaite because of cramps, but I just kept chipping away at it.  Bryan passed me at this point.  Not quite sure where he had been the rest of the race, but he looked pretty fresh.

Prior to the race one of my mini goals was to run up the last long climb before Tilberthwaite (Fitz Steps?).  I think I did about 80% of it.  Or at least I made sure I was running whenever Matt looked back.

We ran in and out of Tilberthwaite checkpoint, with Matt a few seconds ahead.    Those steps!  And that hill!  Always a sting in the tail.  I was another few minutes down on my sub 9 schedule.  9:05 was looking my realistic.

I passed Matt, who looked like he didn't care. We exchanged a few words.  Not sure what they were though.  I passed another and then spotted Forest Bethall.  I was keeping similar pace to him, but he shot off down the hill.  Hitting the track, I was closing in on him. And he knew it.  I wasn't bothered about passing him, I was just using him to keep focussed.

Arriving in Coniston for the sprint finish, I had full on tunnel senses.  I could see people and hear people, but I was just hanging on to Forest.

I got there in 9:04:30.   If I was told when I signed up I was going to run that, I wouldn't have believed it. So, I'm not going to allow myself to be disappointed that I didn't hit the elusive sub 9.

I was second lady to the amazing and super lovely Sally Fawcett. And 10th overall.  10th!  That's the best bit. Closely followed by NINE Strava course records :-)

Mel had a cracking come back race to finish third in 9:21.  She's a little powerhouse. Once she gets her ultra legs back, so will be a force!

I managed to avoid updates on Marco, but chuffed he finished second.  And as suspected there was a lot of toilet chat.

Full results here 
My Strava overview here 

Thank you to the organisers, marshals, supporters and sponsors who brought together comedy and misery to make dreams come true.  I can't wait until next year.  But will it be the 50 or the 100? Decisions, decisions.

Which allows me to finish with a response to the question I was asked a few times over the weekend: Did I find the 100 tougher than the 50? Or vice versa?  It's hard to say.  It's like comparing a 10K and a marathon.    Both require differing levels of effort, but you still cross the finish line completely fecked.  With both, you leave a little bit of yourself on the course, but you take home pride, achievement and the knowing that you've been a part of something wonderful.

I didn't visit those dark places, destroy my feet or peel layers of skin from my back.  But I didn't have time to enjoy the ride, take in the views, share the journey with new lifelong friends, use the hills as a rest hike or even pee!  Say what you like about me "only doing the 50".  Just don't call it the fun run.

Thursday 23 April 2015

World 24 hour Championships - take three

My third visit to the World 24 Hour Championships.  Always an honour and a privilege to be part of the amazing British team and compete in such a fantastic event - even if the outcome is generally catastrophic.

Cutting the trailers, I finished 12th female (61 overall) with a distance of 221.714km.  A PB by a whopping 1677km!  But hey, a PB is a PB.  I was also the second counter on the team, which took European bronze.  

So, my fourth 24 hour and my fourth consecutive PB.  I shouldn't complain, should I?  You bet I can! I'm my own worse critic after all.  

If I was told prior to the race I was going to run 221, I would have been bitterly disappointed. But as I type, I'm satisfied-ish  Not by the distance, but it was a more dignified performance.  I didn't have the car crash last four hours, I wasn't rendered to a death march, I didn't will it to end, my stomach didn't fall apart and I wasn't tormented with negative thoughts.

I did, however, struggle with the heat for the first eight hours, felt sick for most of it and - shock, horror - take on very little fuel in the last 12 hours.  Standard practice then.

What I lost in the first eight hours I may have gained in the latter stages (maybe), as I was 70th lady at three hours and 12th when the hooter went.

Huge congratulations to the guys team who GOLD!  And to Centurion team mate Robbie Britton who  took home bronze for the World and European.  That's an impressive collection of medals.

More to follow....but, firstly, a HUGE thank you to my Brother-in-law Paul who put up with my diva demands.  And even burst my blisters!  Thank you!

Full results here

The sprint finish...OK, in my head I was sprinting...

Friday 20 February 2015

Donadea 50K

You're only as good as your last race, right?  Well, after dropping out of the Barcelona 24 (for the second time) that philosophy was hanging over me like a dark cloud.

My confidence took a kicking, so I needed a race to go right.  I'd PB-d at shorter road races, but it wasn't the same.  I needed a race with a bit more meat on the bones.  But is a 50k an ultra? That's debatable. Technically, yes, but I think it's really a marathon with a detour.

I have toyed with the idea of the Donadea 50k for a few years and have corresponded with race organiser Anto Lee a few times.  So when we on a bus going to the Blue Lagoon in Iceland, I received an email from Anto asking if I'd like to go over to Ireland for the race on February 14 I had a mini lightbulb moment.  With the World 24 eight weeks after, a 50k might just be the thing.  A tuner-upper, I'd say. Of course I managed to convince Sonic to do it too.
What better way to celebrate St Valentine's Day?

Donadea 50k is the Irish Championships and attracts a quality friend.  The cut off time of five hours speaks volumes.  But there's nowt worse than pot-hunting and it's good to put yourself among some great marathon runners.  For me, it was never about position and all about the personal challenge.  I'd never done a 50k before, so it was good get an official time.

In training, my main focus was (and is) obviously the Worlds on April 10.  Everything else is just part of the journey.  I hadn't really done any marathon specific training, but it was going in the right direction.

On race day, the conditions were perfect.  Fresh, still and a dry week meant the route around Donadea Forest was favourable for some fast running.  The course is 10 x 4.968 km loops with a 0.32km run up to the start line to make it 50k.  It's relatively flat, with some gentle incline and declines.  Enough to shift the legs, but not enough to notice.  Well until about the 8th lap.  Then you notice!

It truly is one of the nicest and friendliest races I've ever done.  The enthusiasm from the stewards supporters was amazing.  And all the runners were so kind and supportive, whether you were the lapped or lapper.  No idea what they were saying half the time, but the delivery was good ;-) It's got a nice family feel to it.  Everybody knows everybody, but we were made to feel so welcome.

Credit: Peter Mooney
Credit: Paul Daly
My race plan was a) Run even-pace b) start at 8m/m c) If I could hear myself breathing, knock back the pace d) finish happy. 

My lap splits were 25:55, 24:36, 24:34, 24:35, 24:01, 24:02, 24:15, 24:28, 24:50, 24:17, so pretty even-pace.  And I finished happy as 5th lady and 35th over

1st Mary Laverty 3:43 (20th)
2nd Dena Hogan 3:49 (22nd)
3rd Theresa Majeed 3:56 (25th)
4th Eilis Connery 4:04 (32rd)
5th Debbie Martin-Consani 4:05 (35th)

The men's field was pretty spectacular. The winner Gary O'Hanlon passed me as I set out on my third lap.  Rumour has it the leaders were clocking 4:50 miles at the start.  Although there was a 2.5 minute difference between his faster and last lap.  Maybe I should have a chat to him about pacing ;-)

Marco, Anto and 3rd place Peter Mooney

1st Gary O'Hanlon 2:57
2nd Tom Hogan 3:05
3rd Peter Mooney 3:14
4th Marco Consani 3:14
5th Mark Doyle 3:17

Full results and lap splits here