Written by Fiona Ashton-Smith - https://theparttimeultrarunner.wordpress.com

The Arc of Attrition (100 miles of technical Cornish coastal path, run in the depths of winter) has often been referred to as one of the toughest Ultras in the UK. Between the weather, terrain, number of hours running in darkness and amount of elevation (not forgetting the sheer length of the race) it really is a monster, with the number of finishers each year reflecting that!

 

After following the Arc (and some particularly brave friends running it) for the last couple of years, I knew that I wanted to attempt it one day, but equally knew (deep down in the back of my mind, of course) that I wasn't ready yet. Thankfully, MudCrew must have been listening in when I wished there was a mini version - for the first time in 2019, they ran the Arc50! 50 miles of the same weather and terrain but covering just the last 50 miles of the Arc course. Who could resist such a tempting offer?

 

The first hurdle was actually getting in to the race. The Arc has always been popular, and sells out incredibly quickly, resulting in a ballot being drawn to see who has gained a place. The same process was used for the Arc50, and on the day of the drawing I was nervously watching the live video with my fingers crossed! As you might have guessed, my name came out of the hat and I celebrated by whizzing around the house and informing Jeremy that we were going to Cornwall in February (where he would have the great honour of crewing for me).

 

Fast forward 6 months and I thought I should really start planning our trip. When I asked Jeremy whether he wanted to camp or find a B&B for the race, he asked 'where is this one again?' Now I definitely ran the whole idea of a Cornish mini-holiday + race trip past him BEFORE entering this time (something I may have forgotten to do with previous races) so when he looked downright appalled at my answer of 'Cornwall!!' I had to remind him that he had agreed to this, many months ago...We settled on camping (the cost making up for the cold) and I booked a pitch at the Eco Park, where both registration and the finish line would be,

 

The next hurdle came on the journey to the race, last Thursday. We'd decided to take an extra day so we could drive down, set up camp in the daylight and then explore a little on the Friday, before the race day of Saturday. The car was packed on Wednesday night (including several last minute additions after seeing the weather forecast) leaving just the dogs and ourselves to bundle in early Thursday. Off we went! A straightforward 5 hour trip...or so we thought.

 

In a bizarre turn of events, the further South we went, the colder it got. Eventually, as we neared Truro, the light flakes of snow that had been appearing turned into a full on blizzard. Big, dry (fantastic) flakes of snow started sticking to everything, until the roads were covered and traffic became a nightmare. Despite having Land Cruiser (Lady Cru) we found ourselves stuck between two roundabouts, both gridlocked. With all 4 of us needing a toilet stop, we ended up parking up and finding a field where the boys could have a good run, and we could find a bush each!

 
 

Our straightforward 5 hour trip took us 10 in total. Thanks to the wonders of social media, I had been altered to the fact that our campsite was flooded and unusable early on, allowing me to book an emergency Airbnb just 10 minutes away from the Eco Park. We still headed to the Park so I could register and get through kit check (meaning I would get a few extra hours sleep on Saturday morning) before finding our B&B and crashing into bed, thoroughly exhausted.

 
 
 

Friday saw us waking up (after a much needed lie in) and heading to the coast for a long (and incredibly windy) walk with the boys. It really was beautiful. The snow had gone and the sun was attempting to show its face! The 100 mile race was due to start at midday, and I'd been keeping an eye of the Facebook page for updates. Unfortunately, a lot of the runners had been caught in even worse traffic than us and had either been forced to withdraw from the race, or were starting after just 2 or 3 hours sleep (serious respect to them - with 30+ hours of running ahead!) I was incredibly thankful I had an extra night to catch up and make sure I had everything organised for the morning.

 

The day came. I was more nervous than I expected as we headed to the Eco Park (where we received our trackers and safety briefing before boarding buses to the start line). I had packed everything I might possibly need (including far more food than I usually take), given Jeremy his crew list (with all the postcodes of our planned checkpoints) plus my crew bag (mostly full of sandwiches and Lucozade) - all that remained was to actually go out there and run 50 miles! While one of my aims for the year is to run a sub 12 hour 50 mile race, I took as much pressure off the Arc50 as possible and knew I'd be happy as long as I finished within the 15.5 hour cut-off. I just wanted my first race of the year in the bag! I bumped into 100 mile runner Owen at the start and was sorry to hear he'd pulled out earlier on, but glad of a familiar face and his wishes of luck.

 

We all piled onto the buses and headed off to the start. I met a lovely fellow runner called Claire and we chatted for the first part of the journey, before both nodding off. When I woke, we were nearly there and the rain had just begun. I pulled on my waterproof, thinking it better to start warm and dry at least! Leaving the buses, we had a short walk up the hill before reaching the start venue - the Minnack Theatre. It was absolutely fantastic! The outdoor theatre has been carved into the cliffside, allowing spectators to enjoy their play with an amazing backdrop of waves. I think we may have to return one summer to see a production!

 
 

I met two more lovely ladies, Zosia and Una, and we chatted away the time until we were asked to descend into the theatre! It was one of the most dramatic race starts I've seen - the music playing was highlighted by a drummer, blue flares were lit (and a number of the 'ArcAngels' wielding them were dancing around the steps) and then at 8.30am, a blaring horn...we were off! Unfortunately we had to head out the way we'd come - and getting up the steps in single file took a little while - but soon enough we were onto the Coastal path - our trail to follow for the next 50 miles.

 
 

The sun had risen and, while the wind was still present, it was nowhere near as strong as the day before. Clear and bright, the views out over the cliff tops were just spectacular, Thankfully the wind, while still present, was nowhere near as strong as the day before and the sun had now risen. The paths were very narrow, making it difficult to pass people so the first couple of miles were spent quite bunched up. I took the time to settle in and get used to the terrain (and also get rid of my waterproof, which I didn't think I was going to need after all). The ground was good underfoot, some patches of mud but nothing too awful. The rockier parts of the trail (and especially the steeper downhills) were causing a lot of runners to take their time so I found the first gap I could and started to pick up my pace - I do love a good descent and found myself feeling incredibly confident picking through the rocks at speed!

 

The first 15 miles really flew by. I tried to keep taking in the views as a I ran, but the number of rocks and steep ascents/descents meant I had to spend a lot of time focussing on not falling flat on my face! On one of the trickier sections, I shared a few words with another lady, who had injured her knee badly in that very place the previous year. Before I knew it, I had reached Cape Cornwall, and had just 3 miles to go until my first meeting point with Jeremy at Pendeen Watch, I was feeling far stronger than expected, and running more of the ups than I usually would! I trotted up the hill to where Jeremy was parked having covered the first section in around 3 hours - right on track. While Jeremy refilled my water bottles for me, I stuffed a sandwich in my face as fast as possible (ignoring Jeremy's protests that I was going to make myself sick). A hug later and I was off onto section 2 - I'd see Jeremy again at St Ives, another 15 miles down the line.

 
 

I kept what felt like a good pace up and soon caught up with small group of runners ahead of me. I quite happily stayed at their pace - knowing if I overtook them at this stage, they would do the same to me several minutes after! I was eating well (a mix of GF brownies and chocolate covered Trek bars every hour) while hiking up the steeper hills and couldn't feel any niggles or impending foot problems so settled into a rhythm and just enjoyed watching the miles tick by.

 

At some stage I overtook the group (this section of the race is remarkably hazy in my memory!) and caught up to the woman a little further ahead (who I later found out was Jen) as we ran towards a mini checkpoint, staffed by some ArcAngels. Not wanting to risk eating something Gluten-y I thanked them but continued on, pulling slightly ahead. As I ran off, I head them tell Jen 'you two are in second and third!'

 

I was dumbstruck. Second?? I actually turned around to and asked Jen if I'd heard that correctly. When she confirmed the information, I declared that I should probably slow down, and she agreed that a podium finish hadn't been her intention - she just wanted to enjoy the technical section ahead (which was her favourite) and then make it through the infamous 'Dunes of Doom' in the daylight. I realised what a good idea this was, and dropping a little behind her, decided to try and stick to a similar pace. We ran along together for a way, before Jen waved me ahead, saying that I was quicker on the ups (something I definitely owe to all the dog walking!) and I pushed on.

 

The technical section Jen had referred to was definitely the best part of the course. Hearing that I was sat in second place had added new life to my legs and I found myself pulling far further ahead than expected. I wasn't intending to pick up speed, I was just maintain a good hiking pace up and letting gravity do the work on the way down! There were a few scrambling sections which broke up the hills nicely, and more sections of mud were starting to appear along the route.

 

This was my first experience of holding a top position during an Ultra and I wasn't quite sure how to react. Part of me wanted to keep pushing as hard as I could to open the gap between Jen and I further, another part of me knew that would result in me blowing up later on. Part of me was dying to find a bush, another part of me wanted to plough on and not risk losing any time! The pressure of potentially holding a podium position felt immense - like I was being hunted down every step of the way. Instead of eating while hiking like usual, I actually ate while running one of the shallower inclines!

 
 
 
 

Coming into the St Ives Checkpoint (at 30 miles) I was still feeling good and running well. As the ArcAngels came to meet me and lead me in, they told me I was still in 2nd and not too far off the leader so I was planning another quick pit stop, with the intention of leaving St Ives before Jen arrived. Unfortunately that didn't quite go to plan...asking the Angels where crew were supposed to park didn't draw up any answers, and I quickly realised I had no idea where Jeremy was. I had no phone signal, and ran out of the checkpoint in a panic (without refilling my water) to try and find some. Luckily, I managed to get hold of Jeremy and re-route him to the station car park, which was right next to the costal path. St Ives is a very tiny place, full of little cobbled streets and narrow entrances, not the best place for a Land Cruiser covered in kit and it took a little while for Jeremy to make it through - by which point I was back in 3rd (for which I take the full blame - with hindsight, I know I should've checked google maps for the best place for Jeremy to meet me, rather than giving him the main checkpoint postcode. Rookie error!) Jeremy grabbed my water bottles and refilled them while I choked down another sandwich and assured him that it was entirely my fault, and really didn't matter. I surprised myself when I realised that I believed it - it really didn't matter. I was still so much further ahead than I had expected, but without the pressure I had been feeling for the last 10 miles or so. I could relax back into my own race, take the time to eat and just get back to enjoying myself. Another hug, and a top up of Trek bars and I set off for section 3 - just 10 miles until the next meeting point this time!

 

Now the next part of the course came as a bit of a shock to me. Continuing along the costal path, I realised I could see what must be Godrevy (the next meeting place) ahead. Godrevy was on the next clifftop, and couldn't have been more than a couple of miles away, as the crow flies. However, to get to Godrevy, I had to run around a bay and through Haynes first. Oh how I hated Haynes. The route around the bay was almost entirely tarmac, and also flat. You might think that was a godsend after all the hills and rocks of the first 30 miles, but it was absolute torture. My knees had taken a good beating speeding down the descents, and tarmac was the last thing they needed, they wanted nice spongey grass! And if there's one thing I hate more than road running, it's flat road running. I grumbled and cursed my way round, slowly losing the will to live and walking far more than necessary through sheer lack of motivation. After what felt like an age, I reached the end and found myself in the first of 3 sets of sand dunes - what bliss!

 

Back in the hills, and on softer terrain, my spirits started to pick up a little. I bumped into another Angel who told me there was only 3 miles to Godrevy, and I dubbed him my favourite person of the day! Trundling on, I hit the Dunes of Doom, and quickly realised why Jen had wanted to reach them in daylight. Twice I took a wrong turn and had to double check my GPS, and the second time, turned around to see Jen heading past. Into 4th I dropped! No matter. I hurried on to catch Jen, and we ran together until emerging from the Dunes. It was during the Dunes that we passed the sweepers of the 100 mile race, and 2 of the amazing runners who had started 50 miles before us. I ended up passing several of them on the final section and was awestruck by each and every one of them - how they had endured so many hours of such tough terrain was hard to imagine.

 

Finally, the Godrevy Car Park appeared and there was Jeremy, waiting with open arms (and another sandwich!) He made sure my red tail light was on, got me my hat and headtorch and refilled my bottles for the final time. Jen had already zoomed on ahead and I allowed myself one moment of disappointment in losing the podium. It didn't last for long - Jeremy was so proud that I was in 4th and I realised I was too.

 

The final section - another 10 miles until the finish line at the Eco Park. It went dark remarkably quickly, and I swapped staring around at the views for stargazing. I was starting to feel my earlier efforts in my legs now. Downhills were jarring my knees, while the ups were taking my breath away and refusing to give it back. I forced myself to keep on eating but my Trek bars had started to taste wrong and I was glad one of my bottles was full of orange Lucozade instead of water. I had reached that point of the race where I no longer cared where or when I finished, I just wanted it to be over (the thought of dropping out with just 5 miles to go actually crossed my mind at one point!) I started talking to myself, repeating the mantra of 'jog the downs, hike the ups, jog the downs, hike the ups.'

 

It really was the longest 10 miles I've ever run. Angels appeared out of the dark to point me in the right direction and give helpful hints - I was so glad to see them each time, as it meant I was going in the right direction! A few more sections of road went by in a blur, before the final section of coastal path and the 'double dips' an Angel had told me to enjoy (cue derisive snort). They hurt. They were some of the steepest on course, steps descending deeper and deeper into the valley, before winding their way back up again...twice! But soon they were behind me, and I headed down the final section of road to Porthtowan, catching up with the two guys ahead of me on the descent. One more Angel on the corner led us to the last footpath - half a mile of what looked like sheer cliffside. Apparently if we went up it, the Eco Park was at the top...Grumbling and swearing, the three of us set off, our way lit by green glowsticks. We summited into a dark field and wandered our way towards the sounds of life ahead. One more corner, and there it was - the finish banner. 'We should really jog, shouldn't we?' I asked, and that was it.

 
 
 

I have never been so relived to see a finish line before. And I think that shows in the photo (right, where I believe I've just caught sight of Jeremy waiting for me) I pretty much fell over the line into his arms, before remembering that I was meant to get my medal and apologising to Jane, who was waiting to present one to me! I think I said a few words to her about what a beast of a course they had created, but again my memory is pretty fuzzy! I was ushered through to take some finish photos in front of the Arc banner, before heading inside to congratulate Jen for her fantastic finish.

 

Thanking the Angels at the finish, I removed my tracker and wandered back to the car, where I think I burbled something like ' I came 4th! 4th!' to Jeremy. Wrapped in a duvet, I stuffed several more brownies into my face on the way back to our B&B, where I was forced to shower, before collapsing into bed.

 
 

In the end, I finished the Arc50 in 12 hours and 32 minutes, as 4th lady and 24th overall. I am absolutely thrilled to bits - I wasn't expecting to do anywhere near as well or to be able to push myself as hard as I did on the day. I did discover that I was just 5 minutes away from what would have been my first podium finish (a little vexing) but instead of being disappointed, I'm more excited for what the rest of the year's racing will bring! I know exactly where I lost the time, and know it was more mental and motivational than physical (though I don't know whether that will be easier or harder to fix!)

 

A huge thank you must be said to MudCrew for organising such a fantastic event, and running it seamlessly (alongside another enormous event to boot!) It really is amazing, and I would recommend it to anyone looking for a challenge. Thank you to all the ArcAngels and Volunteers who gave up their time to look after us on the route, the photographers for providing some excellent images and Omega Medics, for being there should we need them (thankfully I didn't!)

 

Thank you to Jeremy - my super crew. I wouldn't have been able to run the event without him supporting me (before, during, and after the event, through the training, and the doubting and the panicking). It was his first time crewing me through an entire race, but he knew exactly what I would need, before I needed it and exactly what to say. He didn't complain once during our 10 hour journey there (though has requested future races stay a little closer to home!) or even when I dragged him to 3 different bakeries in search of a Gluten Free Cornish Pasty on Sunday morning (yes, we did find one!)

 

And finally, thank you all for reading (if you made it this far!) Until next time... X

Written by David Caulfield - https://davidcaulfield5.wixsite.com

The Most Beautiful Running Race You've Never Heard Of

The Lavaredo Ultra Trail is an ultra marathon staged in the Dolomites covering a distance of 120 kilometres, 5,800+ metres of ascent and a maximum time to finish of 30 hours. It starts on a June Friday at 11pm from the centre of the Italian town of Cortina (home of the 1956 Winter Olympics). The route passes through what is arguably the most sublime mountain scenery the Alps have to offer.

In 2018 there were 1,608 starters, 1,188 finished.

 
 

Race Preparation

A leg operation at the start of the year meant only 100 miles of running in January and February. I did a further 500 miles in the remaining lead up time to Lavaredo, not enough.

 
 

I flew over to Italy on the Thursday (Ryanair, Treviso), collected my car and drove for two hours before arriving to my hotel in San Vito di Cadore a town 9km from Cortina. I collected my race number on the Friday morning and bought a couple of things at the expo and local outdoor shop (great variety and value for money). When I arrived back to San Vito di Cadore I fell foul of the local restaurants’ mid-afternoon closure hours. There was nowhere to eat so instead I picked up a few comestibles in the local supermarket, which was sufficient. I tried to sleep for a couple of hours but it was in vain; resting and moving as little as possible was still of benefit though.

 
 

I should point out that in the weeks approaching the race I experienced a persistent fatigue that sowed seeds of doubt as to whether I could even make the start line. It was no different on race day with my heart rate about 15 beats above normal and breathlessness. The altitude may have been a factor. I was also undertrained, didn’t have enough uphill work done and was well above ideal racing weight. In my mind to not run would have been crazy so instead I decided I would start and if necessary drop out early on. Considering all of this I reckoned it would take me about 26 to 27 hours to get around the 120km.

 
 

Cortina to CP1 Federavecchia, 33km (20.63m), 1,560m of climb, cutoff 5:30am

At 9:30pm I drove to Cortina, parked my rental in a free carpark, dropped my bag at the ice rink and made my way to the start. It was a warm night and so I was wearing a short-sleeved top that attracted a lot of stares. Clearly people thought I was underdressed, most other competitors had their jackets on. I decided they must know more than me so I layered up. People come from all over the world to take part in this race; Japan, Hong kong, China, Australia, U.S, Canada, Brazil, Finland, Poland, Germany, Ireland, GB, Italy etc., etc.

 
 

The start of the Lavaredo Ultra Trail is legendary with the famous Ennio Morricone track “The Ecstasy of Gold” playing just before the off. I waited at the back (rather by accident than design) thus resigning myself to the fact that it would mean getting stuck in the early bottlenecks in the course. The send off was one of my most memorable with the streets of Cortina thronged with well wishers cheering heartily. It didn’t take long before we’d left the town behind, started climbing and shortly after that hit the first and only real bottleneck which stopped our progress for a minute or so. The early kilometres/ miles were predominantly through forest along fire tracks; there were sections in the forest along single person tracks that made passing difficult.

 

So early on in the race it is easy to be daunted by the task ahead, so many kilometres, how can this be possible, it’s going to take so long, I surely can’t last. I banished these thoughts to the bottom of my mind. This first night was always going to be hard; mostly uphill, early doubt not yet conquered and darkness obscuring the amazing mountain views that help so much to encourage.

What struck me through these early kilometres was the numbers of people with trail poles that didn’t know how to use them; they would have been better off without. Also, there were many couples and groups of friends that would walk/ run abreast along the course, poles akimbo making it difficult for others to pass. And then there were the people who would check their watch whilst simultaneously flailing their poles dangerously, often stabbing people running alongside. Fuppin eejits the lot of them!

 
 

There was a feed station (Ospitale) 20km into this section offering a selection of food that would become familiar (and repetitive) over the duration of the race. Nuts, dried fruit, apricot biscuit cake, cheese, bananas, orange and lemon segments, thin pasta and cheese soup, white bread with olive oil and tomatoes, pasta with cheese, water, coca cola, iced tea and fruit cordial.

For almost all of the first night I was never very far from other runners and in fact for much of this time I didn’t need my head torch such was the ambient glow giving off by my fellow runners’ lights. As a result I didn’t have to change battery until very late on the second night! I arrived at the first cutoff Federavecchia at 4:30am, one hour under the time limit where I refilled my water, drank and ate a selection of the offerings and moved on glad to get away from the chaos of the feeding frenzy. 1,500m+ of climb in this first section (underfoot conditions were mostly untechnical), 4,300m left and 87km to go!

Federavecchia to CP2 Rifugio Auronzo, 15.5km (9.69m), 990m climb, cutoff 10:30am

 
 

The night had felt long and it had been very cold even with my jacket, gloves and fleece buff so I was glad when the sun rose bringing its warmth. I had stomach cramps the first 7 hours so at the side of Misurina Lake I sat down for a quick breather and took some chrystalised ginger and Deflatine. The ginger is disgusting stuff but it worked! With my stomach feeling better, the night over and a rising confidence that I should be able to finish my spirits were suddenly sky high. Without realizing it I had let a doubt hang over me in the approaching weeks as to whether I could complete this race and it was only now that I was shaking it off.

 
 

Long after leaving Misurina Lake we climbed to arrive at Rifugio Auronzo (located behind the famous Tre Cime di Lavaredo); this was familiar territory for me having been here in 2008 on a walking holiday and again in 2014. I arrived at 8:22am, just over two hours under the cutoff. The CP was in a big tent and it was here that I discovered the restorative powers of the pasta and cheese soup. I

 
 
 

hung around for way too long stripping off my cold gear and applying suntan lotion (factor 50 did the trick). The sun was well up now revealing a beautifully clear day with excellent visibility; the Dolomites were laid out all around me in their jagged and jaw droppingly stunning glory. 1,000m of climb done in this section (conditions underfoot were again mostly untechnical), 3,300m left and 71km to go!

 

Auronzo to CP3 Cimabanche, 15.5km (11m), 495 climb, cutoff 1:30pm

 
 

A short time out from Rifugio Auronzo are the iconic Tre Cime di Lavaredo which demand a stop to be admired. These are the most identifiable and photographed of all of the Dolomites and appear in the Lavaredo Ultra Trail race logo. I dallied awhile taking a few selfies before moving on. The highest point of 2,500m was passed through at this time. As I started the 1,200m descent from the Tre Cime I was feeling great, it was lovely in the early morning sun, not too hot, just perfect, and I was approaching the half way mark, 60km/ 36.5m.

 
 

The first half had taken me approximately ten hours, it would take me eighteen hours to complete the second!!! As I arrived at the Cimabanche CP at 11:40am (almost 3 hours under the cutoff of 1:30pm) I could see drop bags containing a kit change for those that decided this was a good idea. I had toyed with the idea the day before but decided I wouldn’t bother. With no means to shower before putting on clean gear, the use of valuable time to change and having two sets of smelly kit in my case going home I decided not to bother. I’m sure it would have felt great for a while but I didn’t dwell on my decision. Despite no gear change I spent at least twenty minutes in this CP, too long. 500m of climb on this section (underfoot conditions, the downhill was twisty and trippy), 2,800m left and 55km to go!

 
 

Cimabanche to CP4 Malga Ra Stua, 9.3km (5.81m), 605m climb, cutoff 3:30pm

 
 

We passed through more incredible scenery in this section and again I stopped to take photographs and video, each time falling further behind and eating significantly into my cushion of spare time. There were runners on the course now visibly struggling. I offered to help one guy that was wobbling quite badly but he had had enough and was quitting. The runners were very spread out by now and so at times it was easy to feel like you were on your own. It was hot too requiring careful attention to hydration; I took salt tablets as a precaution. I arrived at Malga Ra Stua at 2:48pm just fifty minutes under the cutoff; I had dallied way too much over the last 6 miles, I would need to be more careful. This CP had the full range of food including slices of bread with olive oil and tomato. I ate lots of that and more of the pasta soup. 600m of climb on this section, (conditions underfoot were mostly untechnical), 2,200m left and 46km to go!

 
 

Malga Ra Stua to CP5 Rif Col Gallina, 19.6km (12.25m), 1,210m climb, cutoff 9:30pm

 
 

On this section of the course I passed by a small ski hut called Malga Travenanzes (1,986m). I stopped here to gather myself and see if there was any food on offer. It was a weird little place in that it was marked as point on the course but offered virtually nothing in sustenance. I took the opportunity to layer up as it was beginning to get cold again. Around me were broken competitors lying spread-eagled on the ground. I realized at this stage that I had gotten my nutrition badly wrong and that I was now running on empty with a long distance to go to the next CP with food. The thoughts of eating a gel did not appeal which is a weakness in my mindset. I had some Tailwind with me so I took a couple of mouthfuls of that, yuck. The uphills were now a pure battle requiring me to stop often but the flats and downhills were a welcome chance to recover.

 
 

The two climbs before the next CP were a low point, a real struggle. The last few hundred metres before the CP was downhill and ahead of me a guy had a spectacular fall, spectacular because he came to no harm whatsoever. As he stumbled he somehow managed to outrun the fall enough that when he did actually go down it was reasonably gentle. I congratulated him on avoiding injury, and for the entertainment. I would meet this same guy a couple of miles later stumbling again, asleep on his feet. My arrival in Rifugio Col Gallina was at 8:07pm, one hour and twenty minutes under the cutoff. 1,200m of climb on this section, (plenty of technical stretches), just 1,000m and 26km left!!

 
 
 

Rifugio Col Gallina to CP6 Passo Giau, 7.5km (4.69m), 570m climb, cutoff 0:00am

 
 

Whilst I was sitting eating at Col Gallina I noticed a text from Ryanair; I had forgotten to check in for my flight the next day, they were going to charge me €55 if I didn’t do it now. With just enough signal I avoided the charge but used up a valuable ten minutes doing so. Food or no food I was really a spent force at this stage and so it was hard heading out again. I noticed around me a good number of runners quitting; a hard decision when you have done almost 100km! At the pace we remainers were going, the reality was another 4-5 hours before the finish line so for some this was too much. Messages of encouragement meant so much at this stage (thanks Miriam) as was my determination to get one of the finisher’s gilets! I was climbing again and ahead of me were three Italians. They stopped to let me pass and I said a couple of words of encouragement, however they had decided to quit and there was nothing I could say to change their minds.

 
 

With my brain very tired I was struggling to make sense of how far I was from the next cut off and felt that there was a real danger I could miss it. I have to say that I was in no way disappointed that I had taken so long to get this far. On the contrary, in my opinion I had maximized the time I had to enjoy the amazing surroundings. Also, the fact that I was now running a little short of time added a frission of excitement to the proceedings, could I make the next cutoff or not? I was knackered but I was enjoying myself. It was almost dark again and the stars were once more emerging. It’s a hell of a landscape to witness sunrise and sunset, a highlight of the race.

 
 

I was familiar with this part of the course having covered it in 2014 during the shorter Cortina Trail; nevertheless I couldn’t remember exactly the sequence of the climbs. My mind kept going over the possibilities and on more than one occasion I had to tell my brain to shut up you’re driving me mad! I was making reasonable time passing other “runners” and soon I was upon a guy that was swaying quite badly (the faller from earlier). He was almost asleep on his feet and in front of me stumbled and nearly fell. He then sat down saying it was time to have a sleep. I appealed to him not to take too long or he would miss the next cut off but he didn’t respond.

Each climb now was met with a sense of dread; if I went too fast I would feel weak and have to stop. The solution was to take very small steps whilst using the poles as an additional two limbs to push me forward. It was slow going but meant not having to stop so often. The downhills were not much faster as my quads were screaming in pain; I could have taken pain killers but decided not to. I had enough time to make it to the end and I didn’t want to mask pain and risk doing damage to my legs. What was great at this point were the flat sections, the only sections that didn’t cause me any pain. Sadly there weren’t enough of these.

 
 

Across the course there were race organisers with a scanning device used to record your current position, at Rifugio Averau at 9:53pm whilst being scanned I was told it was 20km to the end with 3km of that to the Passo Giau CP with its cut off of midnight. This 3km took me almost an hour (very uneven going) and I still couldn’t visualize where the CP was so my anxiety over potentially missing the midnight cut continued. I needn’t have worried; I made Passo Giau with over an hour to spare (10:46pm). I was relieved; barring a bad fall there shouldn’t be anything preventing me from finishing now. The last person in the list of retirements/ timed out eliminations made it to this CP at nine minutes past midnight, just nine minutes too late! How cruel to have gone that far and to fail by such a slim margin. I had approximately 6 hours to descend 1,000 metres and return to Cortina.

 
 

Passo Giau to the finish in Cortina, 20.7km (12.94m), 380m climb, cutoff 5:00am

The only sustenance I imbibed at Passo Giau was a cup of coca cola; I was utterly sick of the food that was on offer (a failing on my part as I probably needed the calories). In the dark, beyond the very obvious course markers it was still possible to see where I had to go by virtue of the head lamps of runners rendered as tiny specks of light ahead of me slowly going up the second last climb. I remember this one from 2014 when I had gone up it in daylight and in much better shape. This time my progress was tortuous as it was for my fellow competitors immediately in front and behind me. I employed the same small steps technique but still had to stop every so often. For a short while I kept company with a guy from Hong Kong who was also using the small steps technique. However in addition to stopping he would also sit for a minute or so before pressing on again. I decided to try this and so began a series of passing one another over and over again, one of us sitting the other plodding up. I think he was in some sort of shock as he kept saying “this is crazy”. It’s on sections like these that I realized, I may not be super super fit but I do possess an indomitable determination to keep on going. This is I think a very common characteristic of the back of the pack ultra marathoner. The “keep putting one foot in front of the other I’m never giving up” mindset.

 
 

I now know for a fact that physically I could most definitely have gone faster but subconsciously the mind held me back. The reason for this was simple; the fear of being robbed of the finish so near to the end. Thus trippable terrain was gingerly navigated, steep slippery slopes were descended carefully and my trail poles were utilized every step of the way. If it were a short race that I hadn’t prepared so long for or invested so much time in I would have been throwing caution to the wind and taking many chances of falling.

At last I now knew the sequence of climbs ahead and I was looking up at the FINAL ONE!!! Hooray!! In my physically shagged state it looked hard but it wasn’t actually that bad, a couple of hundred metres below was the last CP. I passed a large hand written sign that said “Only 10 kms to Go!!” and my reaction was WTF!!! This race was 120kms/ 75 miles long, if there were another 10kms to go that would mean I would do a total of 124kms/ 77miles!!! Aaaargh, this was not fair, I want to stop moving and go to bed……please, why have they made it longer?!?? Keep going Dave, keep going.

I’d hoped there would be beer in the last CP, there was the last time, but, there…… there was….no…b-beer, sob, not fair, feckin mean bastard organisers! And so it was bloody coca cola again; I threw a cup back and looked at my watch, 1:15am! Bloody hell, I hadn’t planned to be still up at this time and there was still another two hours before I could stop. It was now that the never give up part of my brain stepped in to establish order and trounce out the feeling sorry for myself thoughts. DRY UP YE BIG BABY, KNUCKLE DOWN AND GET IT DONE! I raised myself up, pointed myself in the right direction and started again to move.

 
 

10kms or 6ish miles to go; if I could maintain a 10 minute mile pace I was looking at just one more hour. Ha! What a laugh, no chance of such a pace. The route ahead was through a forest containing a treacherously dangerous path, very steep and very slippy, a recipe for a fall. I was glancing at my watch to monitor pace, 45 minute mile!!! FFS! I have to go faster! The pace was quickened, ETA 3am approx.

This forest went on forever, pitch black, foggy, deserted and endless, I was really spooked by it (I could be murdered here and no one would know). I'd been awake over 40 hours at that point so was clearly losing my reason. It was then that I saw the outline of another person ahead of me. I caught up and spoke to him. Disturbingly he had the look and calmness of a serial killer and when he spoke he did so in the kind of soothing tone Hannibal Lector uses just before he murders his victim! In my weakened mental capacity I freaked out, turned and sprinted down the hill through the forest not stopping for 3 minutes and every few seconds looking back to see if he was following. Of course.....he wasn't. The guy must have thought I was a complete nut!

 
 

After so many painfully slow miles it was a huge relief when the forest finally ended and I was back out to the streets of Cortina. The finish was I’m afraid a total anticlimax with almost everyone gone to bed. There was just the photographer at the end looking on. I didn’t care, I’d done it and I was happy. A couple of photos and then I got it…my North Face finishers gilet!

 
 

I finished at 3:20am one hour and 40 minutes under the cutoff. There was no feeling of euphoria at finishing, I was of course delighted to have made it to the end but to take 28 hours and sixteen minutes was very slow. I couldn’t complain too much though considering my lack of training and the decision to stop to photograph and video. If I really went for it, prepared properly and only stopped at the CPs to eat I reckon I could knock three or more hours off of my time.

I walked back to the ice rink to collect my bag and get my free beer and food. I then spent half an hour wandering the streets of the town looking for the carpark where I'd left my car! D’oh.

It was 5am before I got back to my hotel room where I packed my suitcase, showered and then slept for a solid three hours before driving back to the airport and my flight home.

 
 

Race Stats

  • 1,608 started, 1,188 finishers, 420 DNFs (26%, 72 female, 348 male).

  • 17 Irish started with 7 finishing. The first of these was Paddy O’ Leary in 13 hours 20 minutes, 6th place overall

  • I came first in my age category of M49 years and 359 days old.

  • The winner finished in 12 hours and 16 minutes.

  • The weather was ideal, cold on the Friday night, clear and sunny day on the Saturday with great visibility and not too hot.

  • This is a superbly organized race with nothing left to chance. The course marking is faultless and you are never truly alone with race stewarts in evidence across the route.

Race Tips

  • Don’t embark on this race without trail poles and make sure you know how to use them.

  • Salt tablets are worth bringing (IMO) although it is impossible to say whether it was them or some other factor that prevented me cramping.

  • Take the time to enjoy the route because nobody really cares what time you finish in and you’ve paid a lot of money to be here.

  • Take photos and make sure you’re in them.

  • Probably stating the obvious here, carry a portable charger. I carried two, one small one that I was able to stuff underneath my buff on my wrist whilst it charged my Garmin (model 630 can be charged whilst recording activity). The other to keep my phone and GoPro alive.

  • Don’t forget to practice your smile for the event photographers spread across the course. These guys know their stuff and are located at places where you will have a jaw dropping background behind you. They charge a very reasonable €29.99 for all photos taken of you; make sure your number is visible; this will save you having to trawl through multiple pages of unidentified runner photos. I prefer photos of me without my sunglasses on.

  • Carry chrystalised ginger and Deflatine for stomach issues.

  • Try to keep eating (I struggle with this one), the salty items on offer are good for giving the palate a break from sickly gels. I monitored the amount of coca cola I drank as I have found that too much raises acidity in the stomach to the point of causing gastric issues.

  • Keep an eye on the weather in the days before the event and make your kit decisions accordingly. I was very glad I carried decent gloves and hat on the cold Friday night.

  • I’m not going to advise on carrying gels (I’m just another recreational runner with only my own experience to draw on). All I will say is do whatever works for you and know that they are not provided at the CPs.

  • Try to build up your sleep in the week approaching the event and remember that whilst you may not sleep much in the hours before, lying still with the eyes closed is still of benefit.

Written by Katrin Silva - http://runkat.com/wordpress

“Remember how it felt

Throwing caution to the wind

Hanging on the ragged edge

Now it’s coming back again

Feel the cold sweat trickle down

Hot blood in your veins

A little past your prime

The rush is still the same”

(Ned Ledoux, singing about “Cowboy Life,” though it might as well be called “Ultra Life.”  This song pushed me up the Powerline climb in the freezing rain at 2 am. Ned probably does not realize he wrote a song about the Leadville 100, but I’m glad he did!)

Around 2:30 am on the third Saturday of every August, there’s a moment when I feel tempted to crawl back into bed instead of lacing up my shoes to run another Leadville 100. A little voice in my head whispers that I’m getting too old for this kind of silly adventure, that choosing to endure so much pain defies logic and reason, that there are more sensible and less self-destructive ways to add another piece of belt jewelry to my collection.

A girl can never have too many buckles.

The Leadville 100 is  an intimidating race. I’ve started six times and finished five, but every year, I wonder what kind of unpredictable trick the altitude will play on my body. Every year, the thought of climbing back over Hope Pass on the steep side after the half way point makes me break out in cold sweat

Those pointy batman ears go up to 12 600 feet.

The finishing rate at Leadville is between 35 and 50 percent. Every time I start, I wonder: will I finish this race, or will it finish me? But every year, these worries melt into a surge of pure excitement during the final countdown, when 700 GPS watches beep as one, 700 head lamps beam into the darkness, and the shotgun blast at 4 am sharp sends all of us silver buckle dreamers down 6th street at a pace way too fast for what we’re trying to accomplish. With enough luck and grit, we hope to make it back here sometime Sunday morning.

And we’re off to chase a silver buckle.

This year, Leadville feels even more daunting than usual because I am doing the Grand Slam of ultra running, meaning I tackle the four original 100-mile races in one summer. Leadville is my third 100-mile run in 56 days, with Wasatch following just 19 days after. I can still feel the lingering effects of Western States and Vermont in my quads. For the first time, the big sub-25 hour buckle is not my goal, but a sub-27 should be doable.

He finished in under 25 hours. And he completed the Leadman series. Dave Mackey is as tough as they come.

The wave of excitement fades into quiet determination as I settle into a steady rhythm down the long dirt road affectionately known as the Boulevard and then the rolling single track around Turquoise Lake as daylight inches up on the horizon. I keep my easy but consistent pace on the climb up Hagerman road and down the power lines. Dave Mackey runs right in front of me, looking strong, which makes all of us with two legs feel like slackers. This image stays with me the rest of the race, a powerful motivation.

Outward Bound, mile 25. The rain hasn’t started yet, but it soon will.

My crew, i.e my amazing ultra husband David, plus Tammy, Bobby, and Chris wait for me at Outward Bound with sunscreen and cold ginger ale. I’m well behind the overly optimistic sub-26 hour splits David has written into my pace chart, but unlike last year I continue at my sustainable pace instead of trying to make up lost time. My goal is to not just finish Leadville, but to finish Wasatch. “19 days!” becomes my mantra, a useful reminder to run smart.

The predicted rain starts right after Outward Bound and continues on the rolling descent toward Twin Lakes. My favorite section of this course feels different this year, but no less beautiful: glistening aspen leaves, the smell of wet earth. My rain shell does not hold up to the promise on its label; I’m soon soaked to the skin, but it’s ok as long as I keep moving.

Lots of positive energy at Twin Lakes.

The rain stops right before Twin Lakes, where my enthusiastic crew makes sure I’m ready for the first climb up Hope Pass. Because of the cooler weather, I actually feel hungry, my shivering body crying for calories. I have learned from my epic Western States bonk that I should listen to it, so I munch on potato chips and tortilla pieces with a little cheese. I will need the energy for the mountain just ahead.

Twin Lakes is the calm before the storm. From here, the trail leads through the Arkansas river and then straight up Hope Pass, the crucible of this race.  Because I have not done any altitude training, I feel apprehensive about the steep climb ahead. One foot in front of the other, keep breathing. Near the treeline, lead runner Rob Krar comes flying down, a blur of beard and speed on his way to almost breaking the course record.

Llamas and watermelon at Hopeless. What more does a runner need to be happy?

As it does every year, the Hopeless aid station puts a smile on my face: grazing llamas, watermelon slices, and a group of volunteers so cheerful that even those of us who have suffered mightily on the way up can’t leave grumpy. One more push to the top of the pass, where I pause and look behind me, feeling grateful. The view is dramatic – dark clouds over Twin Lakes, specks of blue sky, shadows and light. But it’s cold and windy, so I start heading down the steep, rocky Winfield side. My mantra changes form “19 days!” to “Don’t crash!”

Near the bottom, the lead woman passes me on her way back up. Two minutes behind her, a familiar face: fellow New Mexican Katie Arnold, in hot pursuit and, as I find out later, on her way to a spectacular sub-20 hour first place. Go Katie!

David, getting ready to pace me over Hope Pass: one of our most romantic dates in 25 years of marriage. Thank you, sweetie!

My only real low point comes right before Winfield, on the pretty stretch of rolling single track that adds almost two miles to the course, which feels unnecessary and mean. I reach Winfield in a crabby mood, cursing the race director and any of the other sadists responsible for the bonus mileage. But once I cross the bridge into Winfield, I shake off the irritation and feel lucky to be here, to see my crew, to have made it to the half way point. As a bonus surprise, David is ready to pace me back over Hope pass. We joke that this is the most romantic date we’ve had in months as we head on out and up.

It’s a grueling climb, but we get there eventually.

II

“No it ain’t for the money

Though money has its place

Yes it’s just a feeling

Of being in the race

Out beyond the limit

Where you’ve never been before

And when it all comes together

That’s what you’re riding for”

(Except for the line about money, which makes no sense to us at all, this song is as true for ultra runners as it must for rodeo cowboys)

David, on fresh legs, keeps dashing ahead to take pictures, which makes me feel like a superstar.  A parade of familiar faces comes toward us on their way into Winfield: Jared, John, Shana, Eric, Zach, Laura, Francisco, Toby. Words of support and encouragement pass back and forth. I realize how at home I’ve come to feel in this crowd since 2012, when I toed the line for the first time. I remember sitting at the the pre-race briefing that year, listening to Ken Chlouber and Merilee Maupin calling the entire audience their Leadville family. I remember rolling my eyes and, thinking, cynic that I am, “yeah right!”   In 2018, on my way to earn buckle #6, that pre-race speech sounds like an honest truth. Coming to Leadville feels like a family reunion, one I look forward to every summer.

Back on top!

David and I hike up the grueling, impossibly steep backside of Hope Pass, across the rock slides (how on earth did Dave Mackey negotiate those?), until we gasp for air above the tree line. Unlike last year, I don’t have to puke, cry, or stop. Maybe no altitude training is what works for me

Mile 60, almost back at Twin Lakes.

We reach Twin Lakes at sunset. Ultrahusband David, who has been injured and not running much for the last few months, looks exhausted, so I reassure him and the rest of the gang that I don’t need a pacer for the last 40 miles while they help me change into warm layers, doctor my blisters, and hand me my lights.   

It takes a village: I could not have done it without my super crew.

Daylight and warmth: two distant memories by the time I reach mile 80

Darkness falls on my favorite section through the aspens. Last year, I ran a bunch of sub-10 minute miles form Twin Lakes to Outward Bound, then blew up at mile 80 and lost my vision at mile 90. I staggered across the finish line wrecked and nearly blind, which was not fun. This year, I run smarter. The night air is cold enough to see my breath. I add another jacket to my bag lady outfit at Outward bound, but don’t spend much time at the aid station. It’s way too tempting to sit down near the heater, which is not what I need to do if I want to finish.

More rain starts falling on my Powerlines climb at mile 80 – a cold, driving rain in near freezing temperatures. It’s after midnight. I know there are five false summits before the real one, so I do what any sensible ultra runner would do: I put on some music, put my head down, and keep climbing, cold and soaked to the skin, but strangely happy, with rodeo songs in my ears and the image of Dave Mackey etched into my brain. Other than that, I am alone. The runners chasing the big sub-25 hour buckle are past May Queen by now, those who just want to finish still on their way to Outward Bound. In between, it’s down to the mountain, the rain, and me, with the power lines humming above. In the damp, dark middle of the night, I realize with a jolt of gratitude how lucky I am to be doing what I’m doing. I turn off my lights and stop for a few seconds, looking up at the jagged clouds and soaking up the magic of this moment, until the cold gets me moving again.

At the summit – the real one, finally – friendly ghosts of Space Camp offer standard and not-so-standard aid station fare, including “pretzels, potato chips, ginger ale, CBD, THC.”I’m tempted to experiment with Colorado-style pain relief, but the rational part of my brain still functions enough to stop me in time. 

III.

“Lonely is the highway

Morning sun and bloodshot eyes

Through all the aches and pain

The hunger’s still alive”

“Lonely is the highway, morning sun and bloodshot eyes”

May Queen. My Garmin has died. My quads hurt. I have no idea what time it is, and I don’t care. It’s dark. It’s cold. I have 12.5 miles to go. The hard climbs are over. The rain has stopped. This is the last time I see Tammy and David before the finish line. One last group hug. One last change of batteries. One last cup of Ramen noodles, one last handful of potato chips. I’m scraping up my last reserves of energy, determined to finish.

Nothing feels as good as crossing the finish line of a 100 mile race. Nothing.

The single track around the lake has become longer since yesterday morning, I swear it. The last steep, short downhill, the railroad tracks, then finally the Boulevard, which seems to go on forever. I keep moving at a powerhike, try to break into a shuffle here and there, but can’t keep it up for long. The sky lightens to grey, then pink. I feel pain all over – in my hamstrings, my quads, my calf muscles, my feet. Even my arms and shoulders hurt from wearing my pack for so long. Even my throat hurts, from breathing so hard in thin, cold air for so long. I know I have chafe marks in unmentionable places, plus blisters between a few toes. But underneath all the agony, joy has settled even deeper into my bones. I will  get there. I will finish Leadville for the 6th time. I am alive. I am upright. I am still moving. I have made it through the rainy, chilly night. I have made it across the mountain and back. The promise of a sunrise peeks over the horizon. I know, in my heart and every cell of my depleted body, that all will be well with life, with the future, with the world. In a nutshell, this feeling is why I love running 100s.

Ken and Merilee, doing what they do best. Thank you!

Finally, pavement, which means the finish line is less than a mile away.  A volunteer directs runners to the left. I turn right. He yells “No, THIS left!” My brain seems to have turned into mush, but I’m almost home. I run (well, ok, I shuffle) from the top of 6th street all the way to the red carpet, into the waiting arms of race co-founder Merilee Maupin. “Welcome home!” are the two sweetest words I’ve ever heard.  More hugs – David. Tammy. Chris. Bobby. Ken Chlouber. My family. My people. I’m home. I feel so happy I start crying.

Husband, pacer, crew chief, cheerleader, photographer – David Silva, just an all around good kind of a guy.

2018 was not my fastest, Leadville 100 by a long shot, but I feel human at the finish line, which I have crossed as 10th place female, in a respectable time of 26:24. The next day, I am able to climb up the podium  to accept my second in age group award, behind race winner Katie (over 6 hours ahead of me!). Now, it’s time to get ready for Wasatch. I have no idea how I will run another tough 100 19 days after finishing Leadville, but there’s only one way to find out.

A pretty addition to my buckle collection

Thank you, Ken and Merilee and everyone involved in race organization for putting on such an epic event (in spite of the two extra miles). Thank you, everyone who volunteered, cheered, and high fived along the way – you made a difference! Thank you, Tammy, Bobby, and Chris for giving up your weekend to lose sleep, hang out in the rain and cold for hours and hours, change dirty socks, and perform the other glamorous duties of a good crew member. I will owe you three for the rest of my life. And, as always, thank you, David, for being the amazing crew captain/photographer/pacer/cheerleader/husband combo model that you are. I am the luckiest woman alive.

Written by Arseny Chernov

So, I snatched the 2nd place in inaugural Pong Yaeng Trail 166 km in Chaing Mai, Thailand. I started at 10:00am on November 9th, 2018, and it took me just over 29 hours. Out of 138 males started, 50 did not finish , and in this Race Report I'll tell you how I did it.
 
image 
  
First, about me. My name is Arseny Chernov, I'm an amateur Ironman (Personal Best 10:35 in 140.6) and ultra-runner from a pancake-flat city of Singapore, and my full-time job is with Data Analytics & Machine Learning company called Databricks. Together with my wife, I run a small endurance and coaching business called Foodbuddy. We educate mentees 1x1 and speak at large corporate clients, teach cooking, and participate in AirBNB Experiences. I got a Specialist Diploma in Nutrition Science so there's a lot of cool content on our 12,500+ followers Instagram @foodbuddy , so follow us there! We also often run some giveaways and different quizes, so you'll like it.
 
Oh, by the way, if you're just interested in my set-up (gear I used, food I've eaten) - scroll down to the very bottom, there's a summary.
 
Pong Yaeng Trail 166 is International Trail Running Association (iTRA) certified track. You can download it from here . The team behind the race is always on Facebook on pyt.ru page  . I highly recommend this race, it's a Western States 100 miler qualifier, as well as 6 iTRA points towards Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB) or some other iTRA race. It's a supported race, with a lot of really kind volunteers, but not too many spectators. Here's the elevation profile of the 100-miler:
 
Screen Shot 2018 12 02 at 10.43.16 PM
 
My finisher time was 29 hours 18 seconds . The winner, Bangkok-based Thai runner, Jag Lanante, brought me almost 3 hours. Jag is quite an ambitious and well-known runner, -- you may have seen him as a featured challenger of Hong-Kong Four Trails Ultra Challenge (HK4TUC) in "Breaking 60" movie. He was focused on breaking 60 hours at HK4TUC for 3 consecutive years now. For this race report, I've asked him a few questions over e-mail after the race, so you may think of this report as our "collaboration". 
 
Oh yes, Jag's also an amateur athlete, with full-time job as a hospital worker in Bangkok. He says it was a "warm-up" before his A-race for 2018, Oxfam Trailwalker, that was just 7 days after PYT. Honestly... I don't believe him, -- he pushed really hard, and I'm proud of him!
 
Let's start with basic. Neither Jag nor me used poles over this 8000 meters total climb. Apparently, we both had same mindset: if you can't train with poles in a terrain similar to Chiang Mai, you might be very distracted and demotivated during the race. Bangkok and Singapore are flat, nowhere near to race profile, - so we both didn't bother Also, November in Chiang Mai is often quite rainy, - which was our case, so net benefit of having poles will be offset by slippery roads where you'd anyway slow down for lugs on the shoes to work.
 
Chiang Mai itself is a really old city, that used to be capital of Thailand until 18th century. Full of UNESCO heritage temples, hip cafes, vegan food options and running shops, in case you forget something. Also, check in to the BaseCamp Coffee house when you come over, it's the brekkie place for many legends travelling through.
 
The race course takes runners around so-called "Royal Projects", - vast amount of agricultural terraced fields that were built during the 20th century, during the reign of King Rama IX (the father of current King). King Bhumibol Adulyadej travelled around rural areas of Chiang Mai by foot, and convinced a lot of villagers to stop illegal farming of (...i.e. of poppies, that were used by gangs to produce opiates) so that instead Chiang Mai could develop a sustainable agricultural economy aimed at export. He invested Royal Family money in few high-altitude agriculture research stations, that race takes one through, to understand how Thailand can benefit from growing vegetables, berries and fruits at large-scale, to become a well-known exporting country of a scale that it is today. Chiang Mai is a beautiful city, an old capital of Thailand, with a massive amount of sightseeing tours, hip cafes and really great restaurants. so if you're travelling with a group that's not running, their agenda might be pretty packed while you're battling the muds of rural areas. 
 
Sunrise in November, when the race starts, is around 6:30am, and sunset is 5:50pm. Thailand is in UTC+7 time-zone, so when you travel from abroad, make sure you adjust. This year, there was no moon at all, - although in Thailand with full moon you can pretty much see anything.
 
Race starts at Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden (QSBG), and goes straight in to forests. The bag drop at Aid Station 5 allows runners to access their bag drop goods around 1 marathon distance in to the course. 166km route also has a dinner place at 60 km mark, right back at QSBG. It was somewhat demotivating for a number of runners, that after the  after 60 km mark and coming back to finish mark at night there's an additional loop of 40+ km to take, including hiking up the Doi Pui (or Doi Suthep) peak, the highest peak on entire route, with 1,676 m elevation, before starting the 60km distance made in reverse. When the loop reverses, at 121 km mark, there's again one more chance to make use of the same bag drop again. The bag drop rules prohibit leaving or picking trail-running poles. You have to carry them, if you choose to, the entire 166 km race. Mandatory equipment is quite light. What needs to be noted is that it's a cup-free race.
 
Here's the map:
 
43950572 2217005835248434 7813759801757794304 n 
 
Because the course is also used by PYT100, PYT66 and other races, the order of aids stations is a bit unusual. For PYT166, it goes like this: QSBG->A1->...->A7->QSBG junction->QSBG (dinner!)->QSBG junction->A10->A9->A8->QSBG junction->A7->...->A1->QSBG. 
 
This year, the temperature during the race ranged from +25 C high down to +12 C low, and one can always cross-check the averages at local weather station web-sites. I didn't have to use my WAA Rain Jacket, and finished all race in a WAA Ultra carrier shirt (see picture above). The rain started quite early, just about 20 km in, and developed from drizzles to solid drops quickly. While in the forests, runners are quite protected with the tree canopy, but out of the woods, Thai rain equals to taking an intensive, yet warm, shower.
 
The course is well-marked with high-visibility tape and signs. It is a a mixture of muddy forest trails, featuring ducking under barbed wire here and there:
 
010 blah 
 
...or in the night, also barbed wire:
 
 070 garmin2
 
Also, there's a number of rural roads that are re-inforced by two "tracks" of concrete, only as wide as a Toyota pickup's wheel or about that. These kind of roads give you an option, to run over hard surface, or, where possible, over the softer middle part. The catch is, during the rain, the middle part often becomes rainfall run-off, so there's sometimes a knee-deep trench. Not like on this picture, but you can imagine how it can go:
 
031 blah 
 
Here's another one, with mud covering the top of the reinforced "Toyota pickup tracks":
 
 020 blah
 
...and then, some real roads, village roads with kids, chicken, kids chasing chicken, dogs, chicken riding on top of dogs, well you know. It's Ultra in Thailand, what else you expect. Ah, actually, you can expect to see of the world's most creative garlic-smuggling traffic, like this:
 
050 garlic 
Couple of creeks and streams on the way: if you look at the map, between A8 and A7 there's a 4-5 meter wide stream that you can't really jump over. On a rainy night this time, the deepest part was maybe half-meter, but there're some stones you can hop over. There're couple of wicked bridges like this one, between A1 and QSBG, - size of a children playground's house:
 
090 pond 

Ok, enough about the roads, let's talk about the aid stations!
All aid stations had ice water, electrolyte drink and some snacks. They were, if I'm not mistaken, some dry waffle bars. I don't remember the details, but they ver very low-energy content, like 50 Cal per serving, and as they were also very dry, I didn't look at them even when I had to run A7 to A6 almost empty. Every aid-station also had some fruits: all stations had bananas, and odd versus even had guavas and oranges. That was a very important support, as 100g of guava has 228.3 mg of ascorbic acid (Vitamin C), making it one of the most loaded anti-inflammatory food choices in the world. Every second aid station had plain white rice and hot water. Again, odds versus even there were muscle coolant gels and aerosols. One thing that the aid stations didn't have were any kind of wet tissue papers or simple napkins, - so washing hands after using the coolant gels was a bit of a problem.
Plenty of villages on the way with rural shops selling coca-cola, ice-creams and whatever you may have cravings for. There are no specific regulations in the race that prohibit buying up something, if I'm not mistaken. They close up late, around 11pm or even later, but they also open late, not earlier than 10am or so.
As usual in Ultras, there is absolutely no protein on aid-stations, - vegan or non-vegan. But, here's the catch. Even in the dinner area at QSBG, in the night, there was a chance to snack with a super-deep-fried and thai-chilli-sauce chicken wing. Not really something I'd recommend on 60 km, with 100+ km to go. So... if there's one advice I can give you: don't miss out on protein. A non-athlete, on a regular day, following a "good healthy diet" would consume about 15-20% of calories from protein, that's a "common baseline" so to say. 8000 meters of elevation is a no-joke eccentric exercise, so I've been focused on loading up on protein. I used NuZest's Clean and Lean Bars and was eating 13g of plant-based protein it in 5...6 bites, each takes a bit of chewing though. I was aiming to finish the bar over 2 km total hike (I only eat uphill). Chewy but manageable:
 041 blah
 
Every aid station also works as a checkpoint. There's a bar-code both on the race passport, and on the bib. My race passport got wet almost immediately, and I didn't bother putting it in to a zip-lock, -lucky for me, the ink from all those stamps that volunteers chop on to it withstood the nasty weather quite nicely. 
In the night, most of the aid stations would have a camp-fire and coffee-flavoured candies. Not sure they work at all, but I've been overtaking a guy who was literally chewing a lot of them.Oh
Oh, almost forgot, - here's a picture of an endless cabbage field in the night, you will not be able to un-see this! It looks like a field full of snow!
080 cabbage 
 
My advices:
  • Commit to at least 1 training trip to Chiang Mai before, and hike over Doi Pui. There are lots of tracks on Strava, and a lot of trail runners hang around in the BaseCamp Coffee house
  • When running through bushy and tall grass, avoid anything with buds or spica, and move them away with your hands. Thailand has all sorts of allergens in those crops for you.
  • Train with poles long in advance for this race. As usual, it's not the hike-up that kill you, it's the quads' fatigue on descents. I didn't use poles, but if I did, I'd probably chop off at least an hour off my finish time, if not more.
  • Eat well, and ensure sufficient protein intake. Not much you will get along the way, and all the hot food options will most likely be Thai famous flavoured with spices.
  • Go light first, re-load your race backpack from drop bag, and take a lot of stuff. From 40 to 120 it's a bloody long way, including the hike over Doi Pui (orDoi Suthep) peak, so it's the only chance for you to have your planned carbs, protein supplies re-charged. I left the sunglasses and visor for the night, and picked them up in the morning. 
  • Use a larger vest. I used an 8.5L Ultimate Direction SJ 3.0 Ultra Vest and it was a bit too small for the amount of stuff to carry. I didn't struggle, - the bag did, but I'd add maybe another 2.5L of volume.
My set-up and gear feedback:
 
Like I mentioned, my wife and I run quite a popular (12,500+ followers) Instagram @foodbuddy , and we're also on Facebook @foodbuddy ! We do have giveaways once every now and then, quizes, so look forward to re-connecting there!
 
I'd be happy to answer your questions about the PYT166, leave them in comments!..

Written by Martin Bell - https://thedeterminedrunner.wordpress.com

Well where to start? Chris, John & myself were all to make the journey down south from Aviemore to take on our 1st 100 miler in the south of England. John was support crew, whilst Chris & i were to attempt to run it.

Travelling down started at 5am on the Friday & a trip to Inverness airport with a quick flight to Gatwick. Once we boarded the plane & the doors shut we found out that there was to be an hours delay before we took off due to Gatwick being busy, surely Gatwick is always busy?? We eventually arrived down in the big smoke & made our way to the car hire place which ended up being a dodgy back street portacabin with some of Del boys cousins running it. After a lengthy time & having to agree to pay an extra £50 for some ridiculous reason of bringing the car up to European standards we got on our way. We loaded the in car Sat Nav with directions to Southampton & after an unexpected trip to Morrison’s car park (thanks sat nav) we arrived at our hotel. John being the driver quickly nipped to the toilet whilst Chris & myself got out of the car, closed the doors only to find out it automatically locks, so we spent the next few minutes looking at all of our running gear in the locked car & hoping John actually had the key with him?? Thankfully he did & the mini panic could now end.

The following morning started with the alarm going off at 4am, showers, porridge pots & bananas & last minute repacking of race vests. Then a short 15 min journey to the start. We’d already registered the evening before, so it was just a matter of hanging about & soaking up the atmosphere.

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GPS’s enabled, race brief done, good lucks to each other & from John & a see you on the other side & we were off!! As with all races the 1st mile gets carried away with all the excitement & come the 2nd mile you need to reign it in a little as it’s going to be a long day. My plan was & always had been to finish in under 24hrs & i knew various pacing strategies to make this happen, so walk the ups & run the flats & downs at a conservative pace was the plan. After a few miles i heard a familiar voice from behind, it was John Samways who was also running, i had hoped to meet up & run some of the race with John so this was a good start to the day meeting so early. We had a good waffle about training,life,races,work etc etc & we both had a similar race tactic & time goal so we kept together until mile 24. I’d been feeling that the pace we were running was just a little quicker than i wanted to go & the temperature was slowly rising & i was beginning to feel it, so i warned John i’d probably fall back pretty soon, we wished each other well & off he went slowly into the distance.

At this point i was thinking, you’re doing well, keeping an eye on the pace & conscious of the heat & slowing slightly to account for it. I’d meet John at certain checkpoints & as time went on i’d mention the heat more & more to him, i was really wanting to see a river on the side of the trail & jump in! When i’d get chance i’d be soaking my buff & pouring water over my head. I’d plastered myself in sun cream at the last check point only to find a tap just afterwards & try & have a shower in it to cool down then realize i’d just washed off all the sun cream! Doh!! Coming from Aviemore you do most of your running in cold weather & throughout the winter mostly in minus temps, so running in the mid twenties with what seemed an off the scale humidity was causing me some issues & did i bring that cap i thought about bringing? No of course i didn’t! I brought about 4 of everything else but didn’t bother with a cap to keep the sun off did i??

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Pace wise i was still well on track even though i’d been struggling with the heat. I seemed to have a system for the aid stations – fill bottles, 1 with water, 1 with Tailwind, drink a mug of coke, eat some fruit & savoury food as quick as possible, don’t sit down & get going. This was working ok & you’d leave & for the next couple of miles feel good but as the race went on the feeling good time would get shorter & more of a gradual what’s going on with my stomach? would take over. By the mid 40’s miles i was eating less at the stations due to my stomach feeling worse & worse.

I arrived at Washington (mile 54) in 11hrs 19mins which was certainly on the slower end of my schedule. Forced down some pasta that i wasn’t enjoying eating in the slightest, which was a bit of a down moment as i’d originally been looking forward to this checkpoint as it was going to be serving hot food & i like to eat food!! I met John there & was hoping to change my top & sort a couple of things but he didn’t have what i wanted with him & i was starting to get agitated. We met again shortly afterwards at a crew point & by now i was getting paranoid of meeting him at points that aren’t allowed as you can get disqualified for this. So i find myself saying to him i can’t see him at that point as it’s not a designated area (the heat & lack of food were obviously starting to make me not think straight), John points out the 2 marshall’s stood right next to him & 2 others about 10 meters away & they assure me all is good. So i change my top, get my poles & cables for charging my watch on the go, say thanks & head off up a hill.

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I’d been looking forward to getting the poles for some time now as i felt i was going to need as much help as possible. As i’m going up the hill i’m trying to take some food on board as i know i’ve not been eating or drinking enough, but my stomach is in knots, i want to throw up but can’t & every time i try & put anything in my mouth even on the 1st chew i can’t stomach it & stop eating, the same went for the water, as soon as i had even a sip my stomach would be yelling at me saying it didn’t want anything. For some time now as well, when i start to run my stomach gets worse & after a couple of miles from Washington i see a bench, sit on it, work out how far i’ve got to go (44 miles) & work out if i walk a 20 min mile from that point to the finish i’d still have plenty of time before the cut offs. Walking was easier on the stomach than the pain i was feeling when attempting to run. This did mean me accepting that my sub 24 hr was probably out of reach but maybe just walking for a few miles my stomach might calm down & i’d be able to eat & drink again??

It took me 2 & 1/2 hrs to do the 7 miles to the next checkpoint Botolphs & when i got there all i could do was sit on a chair, pour water over my head & ask everyone i saw if they had anything for upset stomachs? Nobody did. I had brought Imodium & paracetamol with me but i’d tried the Imodium & it wasn’t really the right thing. So i’d start popping paracetamol in the hope that might work? The Marshall’s asked if i wanted any food or drink but again i couldn’t face it, so off i went looking at my timing sheet checking the distance to the next checkpoint. It was all about just reaching the next checkpoint by now. I started up the next hill trying to phone John to ask him to get me something, anything to settle my stomach, but either he had no signal or i didn’t. I was weak & swaying side to side trying to get up that hill with only my poles keeping me upright.

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I meet John on top of a hill somewhere, i don’t really know where? I don’t really know what’s happening anymore. He asks me with a serious voice how do i feel as i’m not looking good, i think i tell him i feel like crap. He’d bought me a sandwich from a garage which i force 1/2 of it down before putting on my headtorch & swaying off into the distance. We’d agree to meet at the next checkpoint & i remember saying to John he’d have time for some sleep as it was going to take me a while. Well between Botolphs & Housedean Farm (15 miles) it took me 5 hrs 40 mins to get there. I was a stumbling sideways shuffling wreak at this point. Now somewhere at this stage of having the time of my life an old foot injury decided to come back & say hello. The same injury that stopped me from running for 18 months a couple of years ago, oh the joys!! So it’s pitch black, your’e on your own running on uneven ground in a place you’ve never been before, you haven’t really eaten or drank properly for the past god knows how many hours? You’ve been moving forward for the past 17/18 hrs, so what’s a sensible thing to do? I’ll tell you what isn’t, see a field off to your right go & lie down in it & try & go to sleep! I was totally exhausted, i’d been running on empty for hrs, i hadn’t been able to walk in a straight line for ages, my stomach was still going crazy & now i was limping badly with my right foot swaying to the side & sreeching at me in pain with every step i take, so of course going to sleep for 20 mins in a field in the middle of nowhere will solve everything, won’t it? I lay there for what i think is no more than 10 mins but could have been any amount of time really? I couldn’t get comfortable for some reason & when i decided that this was actually a rubbish idea, i get up feeling really cold & what’s that? I can’t open my left eye! I’ve either been bitten by something or have taken a reaction to whatever i was lying on!! I stumble forward a few hundred meters before stopping to get out some warmer layers from my pack. Some runners go past asking if i’m ok? Yeah i’m fine, just a bit cold, do you have anything for a bad stomach? No? No problem, bye now.

I know how to have a good time eh?

At some point during the evening/night but i can’t remember when? I get invited into a very posh house that’s having a wine tasting evening! It’s a bit bizarre but some very friendly folk invited me in & gave me an Alka Seltzer!

Housedean Farm (i think? though it could have been another checkpoint?) eventually comes into sight, i sit in a seat listen to a very chirpy marshall ask me what can he do to help me? I ask for anything that might settle my stomach but again no. I sit in a seat & watch 2 other runners get loaded into an ambulance & told they aren’t fit to continue. So i try & look as positive as i can eat a small amount & drink a cup of tea before they tell me the same! There’s no way on earth i’m going through all of this not to finish!

I continue on, I’ve now come to look at pacing in a different light, I was working as hard as i possibly could to crack out a 20 min mile & this felt quick!! This goes on for some time, daylight breaks, i wait for the power of the sunrise to give me some extra life, it doesn’t.

I finally make it to the checkpoint with the YHA where i meet John, i tell him about the foot & ask for the deep heat, off comes the shoe & on goes the deep heat & in go more paracetamol & off i go again, i’m just wanting to get this done & not hang about.

Up another hill, down another hill both as slowly as each other, i’ve continued with my sideways shuffle with the foot swaying to one side, my left hip joined in the fun ages ago due to me trying to keep the weight off my right foot. I think it was at this point i started having a conversation/argument with my feet! ‘Why can’t you be like the left foot?? That just does what it’s supposed to do! But no you’ve got to be a pain in the arse & play up again haven’t you??’ This went on for some time…

I’ve started swearing to myself quite a lot by this point ‘keep f***ing moving’ & other such phrases that kept me moving in a forward direction. I’m getting closer now, albeit slowly but i know i’m getting closer to the finish. It’s properly light by now, probably about 8am? I’m doing my shuffle downhill steadying myself with my poles & i see a group of girls obviously on some sort of hike or D of E? They’d stopped to get something out of their packs & i glance across whilst shuffling past & realize I’ve slever dripping out of my mouth as i stumble past!! Oh my god! What must i look like???

The last couple of checkpoints come & go, i keep going past them, i’m on a mission to get to the finish as soon as i possibly can, i’ve lasted this long without food & drink, i don’t need anything now to slow me down! I’m getting a bit emotional at this point, trying to fight back some tears, ‘don’t do it it’s a waste of energy, keep going!!!’

I finally get to the outskirts of Eastbourne, it’s like running through someones back garden down a slim path with nettles everywhere, the path is too slim for me to do my shuffle & i have to put more weight on my foot, ahhhhhh.  You reach the roadside & i see another runner who passed me waiting at the crossing, i think if i cross now i won’t have to wait at the lights, so off i go across what was an empty road only to find a car coming towards me & me having to break into a 3 meter sprint! Ow! Eventually you round the hospital & find the athletics track, there’s people cheering you on & i find myself smiling for the 1st time in ages. The finish did feel pretty special, the whistles & cheers, i was going as quickly as i possibly could right to the line (last mile pace was 22:17 pace but felt like a good 8 seconds quicker!).

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I collected my buckle, my t shirt, shook some hands, had some hugs, met with John, asked how Chris was doing? How did John do? What was his time? Went inside & phoned Ingrid but had to cut the call short as i suddenly felt dreadful. Time to visit the Ambulance dudes waiting in the corner, next thing i’m getting all sorts checked & lying on the floor with my feet raised!

A few days down the line & the foots still bad, but it was all worth it. It’s amazing at what you’re capable of even when everything is against you.

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Bring on the Ring O Fire!!

Chris made it with minutes to spare, & overtook last place with 1/2 mile to go! Well done Chris 

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