Written by Tremayne Dill-Cowdry - https://dill-runs.blogspot.com
After Western States 2017 I still felt incomplete. Yes I'd finished, yes I got a buckle but it wasn't the race I had wanted. I had reached Foresthill and completely shut down. This has happened twice now. Once at the Barcelona 24hr track race and at Western States 2017. It is a very strange situation, you are not injured, nutrition is good, well trained yet you can't run. This has played on my mind since WS I have analysed every aspect of that race trying to work out what it was. The conclusion was it was culmination of two key things, altitude and heat. I pushed too hard too soon and the lack of oxygen completely stripped my body of energy. I followed that by hitting the canyons heat and powered on regardless. My body was completely broken come Foresthill and although my brain was still focused on finishing sub 24 my sub conscious was stopping me running. My sub conscious was preventing any more damage to my body by stopping me running. I firmly believe this to be the case and had another very experienced runner concur. This wouldn't happen again bring on Western States 2019.
I felt I needed to go back. My dream in limbo. That elusive silver buckle still in Auburn. There is no way I could leave it. I thought I'd just throw my name in the hat with a 5 year plan to get back in. So year 2 and 2 tickets in the hat and for the first time in many years I didn't watch the draw. Then a message pops up on my phone from Jim Kepfer in Auburn. Gordy just pulled your name!! Shit I was in!!! I took me all of 10 seconds to decide I was going to go and within a few hours my flight was booked, hotel booked and messenger group set up with the fellow Brit runners.
I trained hard for this and under the guidance of Kim Collison got myself in to super shape. I cleared the diary of races and decided to concentrate on learning the Bob Graham route in the lakes. The mountain running and weekly leg session in the gym prepared my legs for what was to come. I planned every step of the race, my nutrition, clothes, strategy, everything ! I was ready.
The build up during race week was fun but I remained focused. I was here to race, I was here for my silver buckle! The only thing that broke my concentration was meeting my running hero Scott Jurek. Total legend and left me speechless. I had so much to say to him, so many questions about his multiple WS wins, Spartathlon wins, Badwater wins, Hardrock win, he's even done a Bob Graham!. So much to say but my tongue tied in a knot and nothing come out apart from "Can you sign my hat".
Shit FFS you meet a running legend and that's what pops out. Funny really.
Race morning arrived and all the Brits congregated to chat but I was zoned in on the race, working all the bits through in my mind. I had to wish everyone good luck and go do my own thing. I stood in the start area and soaked it in. This is it this is my moment. I completely focused on not going off too fast. If I flew up that mountain with my heart rate through the roof and panting like a over heating pug I would have just mimicked 2017. I really didn't want to do that this was key to my race plan. Just concentrate.
|Lets do this|
The gun boomed and we were off. I ran for about 50 metres before settling into a hike. I had an hour and twenty in my mind to reach the Escarpment. I hiked hard and held back from any running. The urge was there but I knew It was not in the plan. I'd been training to heart rate and was aware spikes in my heart rate were not what I needed. I controlled my breathing and worked hard enough not to lose too many positions. As we strode on I was passed by several Brits. Matt Brand, Keith James, Annabelle Stearns and Ammon Piepgrass all passed me. It was so tough not to get my racing head on.
I reached the top in just over an hour. I was a bit fast but more importantly I hadn't overly exerted myself. It was freezing at the top! I'd decided at the last minute to wear a long sleeve over my pack and I needed it. I also had a spare pair of socks as gloves. Good job too because my hands were numb.
|The high country|
I started running once over the top and kept it to a steady jog. My timings were simple, Robinson in 7hr, Foresthill in 14hr that would give me 10 hours to cover the last 40 mile. I can average 5 mile an hour in the late stages so if I had the perfect day sub 23 was possible. My first goal though was Robinson. The snow wasn't as bad as 2017 but there were banks of it everywhere over the first 6 mile. Luckily I'd choose a grippy shoe and waterproof sock which served me well. I was running well, slow but well. The air was thin and the altitude was playing its part. Every time my heart rate spiked I backed off and let it settle. That meant holding right back. I got to Lyon Ridge and felt fine I drank some coke and moved on. The snow thinned as we carried on along the ridge, the views were spectacular. I passed the spot where I had fallen in 2017 the trail is pretty rocky on the ridge and I was taking extra care this time. I paused for a few views this time instead of running flat out across rocks while trying to look round. Red Star Ridge came and went I was a little up on schedule but no dramas I was just concentrating on not falling and keeping my heart rate in check. The snow was thinning all the time with minimal snow banks now. There was one particularly steep one so I tried to show off by skiing down it. Epic fail. Crashed onto my backside and skidded down on my knee giving me a nice ice burn to think about.
As the miles ticked by I could feel the air thickening and my lungs filling with oxygen. I ran to feel and I could now step it up. I dropped into Duncan eventually reaching the icy waters at the bottom. The water was thigh deep and very refreshing, I dunked my head and felt revitalized as I marched out the other side. I ran into Robinson feeling good and about 15 mins up on my predicted time of 7 hours. This was a major stop for me. I took my time and changed shoes and socks also powdering my feet. I ate lots of fruit from the aid station to clear the sugary gel taste from my mouth. I repacked with supplies and headed out after a good 10 min stop. I was still under the 7 hours but half hour outside the 24hr pace according to their timings.
I had worked on nutrition this time knowing that it wasn't quite right last time. A high percentage of runners puke at Western States. The heat really doesn't help keep stuff down and puking is not great when chasing a tight time schedule. Once your gut has emptied you are in a world of trouble because you have to get all those calories back in your system or you will bonk but when you try to eat you feel sick again. Vicious circle. I felt sick last time and stopped eating. This time my strategy was to get 200 cals per hour in and top up at checkpoints. I was carrying mountain fuel, gu and hi 5 gels. I was to take 100 cals of either every half hour. Straight away the mountain fuel made me feel sick so I ditched it. The Gu is my rocket fuel but again it was making me feel queasy so I had to just force one down every two hours or so. My main fuel turned out to be the High 5 gels, they are pretty liquid and easy on the stomach. They are around 90 cals but don't pack a punch like a gu. I had brought enough of these to have one every half hour and topped it up with fruit, redbull, coke, mountain dew and the odd cup of soup. This was all I ate but it worked. This gave me the magic 300 cals an hour.
I ran out of Robinson and bumped into Jim my pacer for later. It was good to see him, we chatted briefly and I ran out feeling strong. I was able to run pretty well from here. The trail seems to descend for ages and its a good time to make up on the 24 hr cutoff. I ran into Millers Defeat and loaded up on ice in my hat and backpack but soon after I realized it wasn't really needed and the ice in my pack was actually burning my back so I had to stop and empty it. I kept the bits in my hat and for the rest of the day all I needed was a few cubes in there to keep my head cool. Through Dusty Corners and last chance I was really running well. I seemed to be gaining places with only the occasional runner passing me.
I reached the top of Deadwood Canyon and ran the switchbacks down. Mt quads were in good shape and the heat wasn't too intense but I descended steadily knowing what lie ahead. At the bottom I took a breath and walked round to the stream that comes down the hillside. I washed my face, dunked my hat and started the hike upto Devils Thumb. It is about 1500ft straight up with about 35 switchbacks. I hiked strong with the thought of the aid station at the top pulling me forward. I had to stop a couple of times feeling faint. I actually thought I was going down but held it together. I reached the top and breathed a sigh of relief. Matt was in there looking pretty ill. I really wanted something cold but was drawn to the soup and ended up having several cups. A nice rest from the sugary stuff. I left straight after Matt and he was doubled up puking on the trail. I so wanted to help but what can you do? A few words of advice and I pressed on almost straight back into running. El Dorado Canyon was next and it passed without incident. I hiked out the top and ran into Michigan Bluff. The reception was incredible. I picked up some supplies from a drop bag and drank a selection of cold drinks and ate some strawberries. Annabelle was in there preparing to leave and it was good to see her looking strong. I walked up the main street and the atmosphere was incredible with almost everyone of the dozens of people giving words of encouragement. My pacers Jim Kepfer and Pete Korn were there and it was great to see them. Not having ever met Pete. I took an ice cold redbull from them and drank it as we walked and chatted. My mind was now getting firmly into 24hr mode. I was feeling great and I told them we would be running for that buckle come Foresthill. As I rejoined the route a supporter said "All flat to Foresthill". Great I thought not remembering the trail.
Well that wasn't true I passed through another canyon through to Foresthill. It wasn't as harsh as the other two but a canyon all the same. I hit the tarmac and hiked up to the main road. It was around this time last time I overheard a conversation where a pacer was saying to his runner how unlikely getting a sub 24hr would be from this point would be. Well those words resonated in my head. It was happening today. I ran into the aid station and time for another main stop. Sock change, foot powder and food. Jim was expressing concerns about the time it was taking but it was 10 minutes well spent. I had reached there bang on my schedule and spent 10 minutes sorting stuff so I was now 25 minutes outside 24hr pace. This was not an issue I was going to get my buckle.
|Get me off this boat|
I explained to Pete my pacer for this section that I felt good and wanted to run to the river. I explained pace and what I wanted from him and we started running. It was an amazing section and everything felt right. Pete knew I'd be getting a silver and so did I. It was one of them moments when all the stars aligned. It was now or never I was so focused all that mattered was running. Had I succumbed to negative thoughts now I would have never forgiven myself. Pete was incredibly positive and every so often I'd pull up and he would allow me 1 minute before we ran again. Over that next 16 miles we picked up time and places only briefly stopping at aid stations for redbull or coke. At each aid station another few minutes was taken back from my 24 hr hour deficit. Darkness arrived and we donned head torches at about mile 70. We caught up with Annabelle just before the river I stopped and we exchanged positive words but it really was time to run so I wished her well and pushed forward. We were so close I preyed she would maintain her pace and get her buckle too. By the time we reached the river we were evens on the 24hr cutoff and nothing was going to stop me. We changed pacers at the river and I clambered into the boat. Willing it across as I just wanted to crack on.
Jim my trusted pacer from 2017 took over and we started the long hike up to Green Gate. I was super positive but I could tell Jim was still well aware this was borderline. He had been in this position many times and seen many fail. We ran straight after Green Gate through some undulating trail which I didn't care much for but I was getting through it. We got a good pace going and were picking off other runners. The run was massively undulating and the climb to highway 49 was a real sting in the tail when you feel the trail should be getting easier. I ran into Pointed Rocks aid station mile 94 it was around 3am, Two years previous I had reached here at exactly 5am and 24hrs elapsed. I grabbed some coke and ran through. Jim stopped for a pee but I just ran and left him to catch me up. I ran and ran to No Hands Bridge and didn't enter into the bridge party atmosphere I just pressed on. It was around now that I felt I would do it and started to well up. I pulled it together though as there is still a bloody massive climb to go to Robie Point. My body now started to shut down as it was hitting home I was going to make it. Pains in my legs came followed by fatigue and the lack of will to run. I hiked up as hard as I could.
I came out the top of Robie Point around 4:10 am and knew it was in the bag. Pete was at the top having decided he couldn't go home knowing something special was going to happen. We ran easy to the track chatting about how things had gone but my mind was elsewhere. The years of training and effort were firmly in the forefront of my mind this was it. We entered the track and Jim said they would meet me at the other side of the line. I said no way join me and cross together. A wave of euphoria hit me as I crossed the line in 23:24:59.
I was under no illusion coming into this that sub 24 was right there on the boundaries of my ability. It was no fluke. All the tiny details meant minutes on the day, that 35 minute buffer could have been lost in the blink of an eye. An extra minute in each aid station, a few too many walking breaks, puking from eating the wrong food. Coupled with a specific 16 week training program. Weekly hill reps, gym sessions, speed work, saunas it all amounted to that 35 minutes saved. I ultimately had the perfect race and hit my target. It doesn't get better than that. No complaints, no excuses.
The big question is would I go back? My philosophy has always been if you have the perfect race don't go back because you can only fall short but I love this race with a passion. It is part of me and under my skin so yes I will go back. I am a silver buckle holder and no one can ever take that away.
I just want to mention some of the other Brit runners, Matt Brand, Ammon Piepgrass, Tim Lambert, Keith James it was lovely to meet you all. Well done to Beth Pascal and Tom Evans for flying the flag for the UKs elite.
Most importantly though Ian Brazier, Richard Leahy, Annabelle Stearns and Sharon Sullivan. You guys really made it a trip to remember.
Anyone in the UK interested in a brand new Ultramarathon for 2020 check out the North Downs Way 153 on my website www.hitthetrailrunning.com it will be a future classic.
Written by Gene Beveridge - https://genebeveridge.nz
Woohoo! My first ultramarathon victory! And in no other event than the Tarawera Ultramarathon!
This stunning 50km has been my target since the start of October with a 19 week build starting after my recovery from ankle surgery, covering Kepler Challenge in December, my first delve into fasting and then finishing with a different approach to tapering. I felt fit and fresh leading into this A-goal race and was ready to give it all to see if I was making progress at these longer races.
A brief simplification of the course through my eyes:
- 0km – 15km: True single trail
- 15km – 43km: Sealed road, firm gravel road, and non-technical single trail
- 43km – 44km: Technical single trail descent
- 44km – 50km: Very firm foot path
I also had a nutrition plan below which breaks down when I planned to take on fluids, consume food and take on fluid from the aid stations based on my estimated paces. The purpose of this is to run with as little weight as possible, but still have fluids when I need them. Click to download the spreadsheet.
This planning hinges on having a fair idea of how fast I run on different trail surfaces at the planned intensity. I did an accurate pace prediction at Kepler in 2017, but my accuracy for Tarawera this year is off the charts. I predicted my finishing time EXACTLY. 4:18, on the dot, as calculated on Thursday night when I did the maths. Of course there is a lot of luck involved in this, as the early trails were slightly faster than predicted because they were so hard and dry, and I slowed towards the end slightly more than expected. But, the table below is proof that the more you pay attention to your heart rates and paces in different conditions, the more accurately you predict race day schedules, given good info on the course. I used the Strava segment times of people I know and also inspected the topo map, including counting every contour that the course crossed and looking at the type of trail on each part of the course. I’ve also looked at my previous 3 ultras to see how much I slow down as I fatigue at the end of these long races.
I started the race paying close attention to my heart rate and really taking the time to dial in to the feeling of 164 beats per minute. I pushed up to 170 to 175 on the short climbs and dropped to 145 to 150 on the descents. This was all as expected, telling me that my body is in control. I focused a lot on smoothness through the corners and over rougher patches and basked in the sense of flow on this stunning trail. The trail itself was so wonderful to glide on that I spent almost no time appreciating the forest or lake, which I expect was wonderful too. I was just wolfing up the trail for the first 15 km, but I was also eager to get into some thicker forest with more complete shade from the scorching sun.
I took 500 mL of water and 250 mL of Tailwind at the Buried Village aid station and hooned on up the road. I was still feeling invincible until 20km when I developed a strong stitch pain on the left hand side of my diaphragm, which migrated halfway up the side of my rib cage before exploding with stabbing pain. This is an old problem I haven’t had for years and I was very surprised to witness it raise its ugly head. I slowed on the downhills to alleviate the pain, but had little problem on the flat or hills. No biggie, I thought, as this slight decrease on the downhills wouldn’t ruin my race.
Apart from the minor slowing on the downhills, I dominated the next 10 km of the course. This was expected to be my strongest part, and the splits show that I put substantial time into my rivals here. The firm and flowing roads and trails allowed me to stride out with high efficiency. I think about trying to move as fast as possible without raising my heart rate. Things that help include keeping my breathing relaxed, but full and deep, keeping my stride long for a hamstring and glute-powered pull-back, but not over striding, and minimising vertical oscillations. On steep pinches I engage my calves and quads more to maintain an efficient bounce before shifting to my glide on anything less steep. I do running drills frequently to keep my brain tuned in to the subtly different gait patterns.
I kept the water coming on board and got into my second bar, at 2:30 into the race. 10 minutes later my gut was tying itself in a knot just like at Kepler. And just like at Kepler, this second bar of the race was a One Square Meal, not my preferred Awaken bars. At both Kepler and Tarawera I had found myself with only one Awaken bar left at home so picked up some One Squares Meals as a substitute. With the Green Lake aid station out of Tailwind, I was already behind on the carbs and once my gut was out of action I was a little concerned.
Over the next hour, I went through all sorts of bloating and pains, resulting in burping and finally some epic gas. Luckily I only had a third of a bar, unlike the whole one I munched at Kepler. I stuck with the water and resumed gel consumption as scheduled. Fortunately I had a back up gel to fill in for the remainder of the bar which I wasn’t going to touch.
Between the stitch and gut pains I was very uncomfortable, but going slower on the flatter second half of the race was not going to help the situation so I had little reason to slow down. I could feel my energy pick up after each gel, so I knew they were getting absorbed, unlike at Kepler where the pipes were completely blocked. With 10 km to go, I was feeling stable, but not as strong as earlier in the day. I knew what I had to do and I kept the intensity up to a level I felt was sustainable.
The final climb before descending in to Rotorua was a real enjoyment for me. I gave it a good nudge and was really happy to be moving fast enough to keep my efficient bounce up this final climb.
The last 5 km were more bleak however. I struggled a lot with the stitch, even on the flat now. I tried to focus my attention away from it, but yielded, and I settled on a slower than expected pace for this final flat section. Interestingly, I felt my energy fading in the final km, regardless of the pain in my side. This tell me my pacing must have been close to optimal, all things considered.
I crossed the line feeling jaded and wanted curl up on the ground. I held on for a brief interview with Kerry before heading away from the finish line to shove water melon down my throat and arrange my body more horizontally.
Because of the solo format to the race I had no idea that I was leading until I crossed the line. It was a surprise to beat athletes such as Sam Clark and Vlad Ixel and I’m very satisfied that my fitness has reached this level. This performance also gave me more confidence that my pacing settings are dialled in nicely for a 4 – 5 hour race.
Thanks to Awaken, I’ve been using their products for a few years for racing and general use.
Thanks to Sports Lab for the continued opportunities to learn about my own body as we work to keep the engine maintained.
Thanks to Trailblazer Nutrition for helping me get the nutrition planning sorted.
Written by James Parsons - https://medium.com/@jampars88_56611
Distance: 81.9km (50.9 miles)
Elevation: 4,001 metres
Participants: 485 sign-ups, 378 starters, 240 finishers
Wind: up to 70mph (on summits)
Official result: 13:03:05 (19th overall, 18th male).
You know the score by now — Lakes in a Day (LiaD) is a 50 mile ultra-marathon between two picturesque Lakeland villages (Caldbeck and Cartmel), with a few climbs in between. It’s what I’d been building towards all season.
I signed up to LiaD as soon as entries opened in late-2017, instantly attracted to the idea of a point-to-point adventure race from the top of the Lakes to the bottom. At the time I had zero experience of traversing the mountains of England — and couldn’t navigate my way out of the back garden. Thankfully I convinced Chris to sign up, too, so we’d enjoy the next 12 months prep together.
The early mornings, stupid distances and multiple trips to the Lakes — they were all aimed at conditioning the body to go that little bit further, falling apart a little less each time. I took part in my first proper fell race in early August 2018. Borrowdale was, to put it mildly, an ordeal. I had started off at the back, giving the occasion the respect it deserved. Worked my way through the field, thinking this ain’t so bad, powering up a couple of fells and hurtling down the scree off Scafell Pike. Then came Great Gable. The climb was okay, but people started coming past. Not a problem, I thought — I’ll get them on the way down. When I passed the summit and started the descent, however, something wasn’t right. My hips had aged at least 50 years. As I shuffled down Great Gable with seasoned fell runners bounding past, I learnt a painful lesson — my legs just weren’t up to the rigours of long-distance fell running. Oh, and note to self: don’t start LiaD like a lunatic come October.
By the end of the holiday I’d recced the entire 50 miles (and then some). Great, I thought — I know where I’m going and when the big efforts are needed. But how on earth am I going to stitch it all together come October? Fast forward two months and I was still asking myself the same question. Training over the summer had gone well, culminating with a 70km run along the north Norfolk coastline. But there were still some lingering doubts going into LiaD. And these doubts were up to 950 metres in height.
In the two weeks before the race I prayed for good weather — checking the forecasts daily, hoping beyond hope for a cloud-free day on the fells. At least a week out it was obvious this wouldn’t be the case. Callum was planning to blow his load all over us on Friday and Saturday. Bastard! It would have been easier to take if the storm had been given a double-hard sounding name. Storm Axel can do what he wants to me and I’ll come back for more. But Callum? Anyway, come the Thursday before the race I was properly shitting it.
Mum and Lena have been permanent fixtures at my ‘big’ races over the last couple of years, but this time was different. Shortly after signing up I asked Dad to come with me. He’d not been to a race before and I thought this would be a good opportunity. Obviously, I’m a big boy and do possess the ability to go to these things by myself, but love having family waiting for you at the finish line. I was a little nervous about how Dad would find it, but I needn’t have been. He was awesome and totally got it, providing great support over the weekend (thanks for the stew at 2am on Sunday morning, Dad!).
So, we went up to the Lakes a couple of days early, familiarising myself with the shite weather and enjoying a couple of pre-race beers. Chris joined us on Friday night. When I picked him up from the train station we gave a lift to a chap who was camping in Cartmel on race eve. He would be enjoying the storm before the storm in a tent. Braver than me. But more on him later…
We went and registered, picking up our race numbers and checking out the competition. We posed for photos by the route map like a couple of ultra virgins. The chap who took our photo commented, “First ultra, eh lads?”. Ha, yep.
All that was left was to go and pack the neatly laid out gear into a tiny rucksack. At least the weather meant that I would be wearing most of my clothes rather than carrying them. It was a rather nervous night’s sleep.
Race day started at 4.30am. Time to get fed, dressed and spend some time in the bathroom. The bus taking us to the start line left Cartmel not long after 5.45am. Took 90 minutes to get to Caldbeck. Bit of an anti-climax to turn up for a race and spend the next hour and a half on a bus. It should have been a good opportunity to visualise ascending and descending the mountains like a fell-running hero. Instead, I just sat there fretting and wishing I’d spent more time on the toilet.
The much-anticipated meteorological shitstorm didn’t turn up at the start of the race. It was more like steady drizzle at this stage — the type you don’t really notice once you get going. And get going we did, bang on 8am. The moment had finally arrived after 12 months of training and anticipation. It would have been easy to get carried away — but remember, I told myself, not too fast. I had no intention of smashing it up the first hill. That’s a debt you’ll repay with interest later.
Caldbeck to Blencathra (13.5km, 02:11, 53rd overall, 53rd for section)
The first climb up to High Pike (658m, 5km in) was relatively leisurely. Chatting with Chris and a chap we’d done a couple of official race recces with earlier in the year. We were passed by a good number of people during the first few kilometres, and we’d started mid-pack. Important thing was not to panic and feel like you’re getting left behind. It’s an ultra-marathon, not, err, a marathon. We settled into a natural rhythm and reached the summit pretty much on schedule.
From High Pike we made our way down to Caldew river, where we’d cross before starting the climb up Blencathra (868m, 13.5km in). We had been warned that the water level had risen steeply and that race organisers had kindly installed a rope to help us get across. We took a good line down to the river and made up a few places. The water was high and fast flowing. Getting in you immediately felt the force of the current. One slip and you’d soon be heading down river at quite a pace. I hadn’t brought my goggles, so crossed cautiously.
The climb up Mungrisdale Common to Blencathra summit is famously miserable. There’s no distinct path, but rather a slog up boggy terrain. We’d recced it twice and were cursing both times. I decided to just get my head down and climb. I’d given myself an hour on this section and stuck to the task of maintaining the prescribed pace. What was waiting for us at the top of Blencathra was Halls Fell. A legendary ridge line leading down to Threlkeld, consisting of a rocky descent and not much wiggle room. I’d recced it three times, twice in the rain, so was prepared for the worst. I reached Blencathra summit and had a little breather, looked behind hoping to see Chris appear through the mist. I guessed he wasn’t too far behind, but I had a decision to make. We had talked about sticking together until Ambleside. Here I was at the top of Blencathra and we’d already split up. There’d been chat on the event Facebook page about mates doing it together, helping each other out through thick and thin. One voice told me to wait. Another told me to get going. I listened to the latter. I knew Chris would be okay.
Blencathra to Threlkeld CP (2.5km, 00:39, 47th overall, 51st for section)
I ended up descending Halls Fell well, 10 minutes faster than the recces. The specks of blood over the moist rocks kept me honest, though. At the bottom of the mountain was the first checkpoint (Threlkeld, 16km in). The village hall was a lot more relaxed than I was expecting. I had anticipated busy runners urgently grabbing some food and liquid before shooting off. But I found people sitting down, chilling out, taking their time. Fair enough. Was my strategy of getting in and out as quickly as possible a bit naïve? Some were handing in their numbers already — their race was done. I was surprised by this. The weather to Threlkeld had been mild. Yes, I was wet, but the rain had not been sideways, and the wind slow enough to pass by a school without breaking the speed limit. In hindsight, I think some were better at anticipating what was to come and decided to quit while they were ahead. Anyway, I grabbed a couple of pastries and got going.
Threlkeld to Helvellyn, (15.5km, 02:25, 21st overall, 14th for section)
From the Threlkeld CP to the bottom of Clough Head was a few kilometres of easy running. I felt pretty good and caught up with a group of runners just as they were starting the ascent. One chap reckoned we were top 40. That’ll do me. My aim before the race, without really knowing what to expect, was top 50 and sub-14 hours. The little schedule I’d printed and laminated (NERRRRRD!) broke the route up into sections with a view to making it appear more manageable. Our climb up Clough Head followed the Bob Graham route. It was hard going, and I’d figured this might be the toughest part of the day. Boy was I wrong!
When we reached the summit (726m, 22.5km in) the weather changed dramatically. Slightly annoying rain turned to sideways sleet and where had this bloody wind come from? The weather in this next section was the worst I’d ever been out in. 70mph gusts coming at you head on. I was running with a very prominent lean just to stay upright. Still, I was moving better than others and made up a few more places. However, between Great Dodd (857m) and Helvellyn (950m) I felt myself getting colder. My base layer had become sodden and I was starting to shiver. I wanted to stop and change but felt this wasn’t an option. There was no shelter and trying to swap layers in these windy conditions could have meant lost clothing. I just carried on. My inexperience on the fells here was obvious. I was relying on my ability to move quickly, rather than an ability to handle the conditions well. How much longer would this last? I was relieved to see Helvellyn trig (950m, 31.5km in).
Helvellyn to Ambleside (14.5km, 02:56, 33rd overall, 78th for section)
Things didn’t get better, however. The passage from the top of Helvellyn down to Grisedale Tarn was the worst part of the race for me. I was getting colder, moving slowly, and felt my legs starting to suffer. This was Borrowdale repeated, just minus the sunshine. The waves coming off Grisedale Tarn were impressive. I had said to Chris previously that I wouldn’t mind a swim in there. Not today. I found enough shelter to take my jacket off and add another layer. I was soaking wet, but this would add some warmth. Arriving at the bottom of Fairfield was a relief as it meant I didn’t have to run. This would be the last big climb. I’d lost loads of places by now but was starting to think more in terms of just finishing the race regardless of position.
I had three runners above me in sight, and as I got closer it was clear that something wasn’t right. Two of them were helping the third up the mountain. On closer inspection I realised that the chap in trouble was the one we’d given a lift to the other night — he was struggling to put one leg in front of the other. At the time I didn’t stop to think whether taking him up the mountain was the right thing to do. I just put my shoulder to his arse and helped with the push. What were we going to do with him at the top of Fairfield? Was one of us prepared to sacrifice our day to get this chap to safety? Fortunately, we never had to answer this question. We met a group coming off Fairfield and they offered to take him down. Good lads, you got us out of a hole there. (I saw matey after the race and he said he was fine, and that he wished he had carried on. I told him that was never an option and that we should all be thankful to the descending group).
Arrived at the top of Fairfield (873m, 37km in) without further drama, and began the journey down to Ambleside. This section is easily underestimated, as the terrain over Hart Crag and Dove Crag is hard going and requires (from me anyway) more scrambling than running. I was struggling to find any kind of rhythm. One of the chaps with whom I’d climbed Clough Head came past and could see I was struggling. He shouted at me ‘Just get off this fucking mountain’. This became my mantra for the remaining miles into town. Just get off the mountain. Don’t think about what you’re going to do when you get there. Just get off the mountain. It was tough, but I was over the hump — literally and figuratively. I wasn’t moving particularly quickly, but the terrain started to improve. The last bit of drama was a fellow runner telling me I was going the wrong way. I disagreed and suggested we stick together. He chose a different path. Despite this seed of doubt being planted I was 95% sure of my direction. I was relieved to find something familiar from my recce and followed the path into town. Tarmac never felt so good! But I was sore, very sore.
Ambleside to Finsthwaite (22.5km, 03:17, 20th overall, 16th for section)
My plan had always been damage limitation in the first half of the race, and then hopefully be in a position to run the flats and downhills in the second half. I felt like I’d blown it, entering the Ambleside CP (46km in) with a mix of relief and frustration. Had I gone too hard? I’d tried to take things steady, but I was almost broken. Then something miraculous happened. I took my time, without sitting down and getting too comfortable. I changed into my remaining dry clothes and felt immediately better. 10 slices of pizza and half a litre of coke later, and it was time to get back out there.
I have difficulty explaining this transformation at Ambleside. Was it really as simple as a change of clothes and scoffing a medium-sized margarita? Or had I entered the CP feeling a bit too sorry for myself? Anyway, I left feeling brand new. The momentum was momentarily broken by a bit of flooding on the route out of town. The cars were struggling to pass and there were long queues. At one particular pinch point a policewoman was directing traffic. I asked her if it was okay to for me to pass — she smiled and nodded the way forward. It was a bit weird running (wading?)down the middle of the road past a load of stationary cars up to their wheel arches in water. Some encouraging words helped me on my way, and it wouldn’t be the last time I’d get wet that evening.
I was more in my element now. The rain was lighter, the wind had dropped, and I was moving relatively well. All that was left was a 35km trail run with a few ups and downs. Bread and butter. And it did feel good. I figured I’d left Ambleside just inside the top 40, and the prospect of picking off a few runners between now and Cartmel was enough motivation to keep a steady pace.
The second half of the race wasn’t entirely without its challenges, however. The route takes you along a path adjacent to Windermere. Except tonight we would be running through the lake, rather than alongside it. Not exaggerating to say that I was waist-high in water on more than one occasion. Tripped over a couple of times on some well-hidden roots, and nearly went nipples skywards on a couple of wet, wooden bridges. All part of the fun, but these obstacles would be even more lethal in the dark. I spared a thought to those runners who would be passing through here in the next few hours. Massive respect to anyone who completed this race, especially those who took the longest — demonstrating huge willpower to just keep going.
The head torch came out not long before the climb up to High Dam (67km in). I say climb, it felt more like a brisk walk considering what had come before. High Dam looks like a lovely spot, even in the dark. As I started the descent into Finsthwaite, decided I wasn’t going to stop at the final CP. From there it’s only 12k or so to the finish, and I had a bar of chocolate to get me through. It was one of the best decisions I made on the day, as I felt pretty good on the final section into Cartmel and didn’t need a break. Having a checkpoint strategy for these races is really important. It’s easy to waste time at CPs.
Finsthwaite to Cartmel (12.5km, 01:39, 19th overall, 7th for section)
Bit of a hairy moment running through the field out of Finsthwaite, though. I managed to upset a cow, who made a rather loud noise and appeared to make a move towards me. It helped me run a little quicker. Caught up with a runner a few minutes later who complained that a cow in the same field had tried to headbutt him! Sensitive beasts, those Finsthwaite cows.
Not much happened from there on in. Have to say that I was really impressed with the waymarking on the second half of the race. I vaguely knew where I was going, having recced the route, but the little yellow signs were a massive help. It was such a relief when the light from your headtorch caught the fluorescent arrow. The last tricky part of the race was running through the fields of Speel Bank (76km in) where you have to dodge sheep that look like boulders, and vice versa. Once you’re through there, its downhill all the way into Cartmel. My penultimate kilometre was the fastest of the day at a leisurely 4min 42secs. At the time it felt like I was going at the speed of an Olympic sprinter and that my quads would need to put out with a fire extinguisher.
Slowed down again to enjoy the adoration of the assembled hoards in Cartmel. In fact, I only saw one person as I ran through the village — my Dad. He was outside the Kings Arms in the rain shouting encouragement. I told him I’d be back soon. That first pint wouldn’t touch the sides.
I finished not long after 9pm. I was delighted with that. It was under my target time and good enough for 18th male, and 19th overall (congrats Katie Kaars Sijpesteijn on her win and new course record). I’d made up a fair bit of ground in the second half of the race and still wonder whether I’d be better suited to lumpy trail running than this mountain stuff. I won’t be giving up on the fells quite yet, though.
It was great to see a friendly face in Liz Aitken at the finish line and have a chat about the race. With her determination and endurance she’ll make a great Lakes in a Day competitor.
Liz told me that Chris was either still in Ambleside or his tracker had given up. I’d received a text from Chris when he reached Ambleside a couple of hours earlier, and there was no mention of any problems. I wasn’t worried in the slightest, he knows how to get through tough times. The man himself texted me a bit later, ETA of approximately 1am. Time for the best shower in the world and a couple of pints then! I was chuffed to see him cross the line bang on time. We’d both worked bloody hard to get this far. What a wet and wonderful day!
I was overwhelmed by the number of messages from family, friends and Freedom members post-race. Ultimately, you do these events for your own sense of achievement. No one cares more than you. That said, I feel very lucky to be surrounded by people who are genuinely interested in how you get on. You know when you’ve done well, and it’s great to have that recognised by others. If you’ve managed to read this far, it shows that you care, so thank you.
Running is such a massive part of my life now. I bloody love it and embrace the challenge of getting better. It doesn’t matter where you are in your running journey, or where you finish in a race — as long as you enjoy working hard, you’ll make gains.
Bring on the next challenge!
Written by Michael Miracolo - https://liveslowrunfar.com
August 18th, 2018
90 km, 868m gain
Sälen to Mora, Sweden
For those unfamiliar with the stats of UV90, here’s a little summary (those of you who know this already, you can hop to the next paragraph). The course measures 90k (approx. 57 miles), and has a humble 868 m of vertical gain. The course takes you through deep woods, along lakes, across swamps (but these sections are made runnable by boards) and past quaint villages. You’ll run on fun, technical trails where you get to watch your step, on fast and smooth dirt roads, on wide gravel roads, and on pavement (but just a little). The breakdown looks something like this: 60k dirt road, 18k trail, 6k gravel, and 6k pavement. The race organization provides water stations (with both water and sports beverage) roughly every 5k, and bigger aid stations with a plethora of food every 10-15k. The race is growing in popularity every year, and 2018 saw around 1100 participants, with approx. 75 % males and 25 % females. A note on the race organization: it’s truly terrific. We’ve never run a race as professionally organized and carried out as this one. Email correspondence and bib pick up before the race, aid stations during, reception at the finish line – smooth, friendly and structured. A massive A+ goes out to everyone working for the Vasaloppet Team.
UV90 was the goal of the year for us, as well as our fourth race ever, our first race over 45k – and our first ever run beyond 50k. Needless to say, we’re still beginners when it comes to racing! However, running (and running a lot) has been a part of our lives for a long time. It seems fitting to include a short recap of our most recent training, leading up to the big day. Our average weekly distance hovers around 100-120k, and a regular week always sees a long run, a fast tempo-run and a speed-work session. The rest of the runs turn into what feels right at the time. Our training log shows 14 30+k runs since April 1, and we squeezed in two sets of back-to-back 30+k. The longest run measured 50.2k (which was done in July, about 6 weeks out). We also ran the 45k EcoTrail Stockholm race in June. We started tapering when the race was three weeks out. We dropped to 80 % load the first taper week, 60 % the second and 20 % the last one. This meant we ran about 20k total over the Monday-Friday before the race day of Saturday. With no kids and a good amount of free time at our hands, we really try to also incorporate yoga, core work, daily stretching, foam rolling etc. You know – the whole shebang. Sophia is a vegetarian of 18 years, Michael is a majority-of-the-time-vegetarian-since-he-met-Sophia but does crave his animal protein every now and then. Oh, and before you wonder ‘but what about cross training?’ – we live in a house out in the middle of nowhere, where your average day includes wood chopping, working in the vegetable garden, schlepping things here and there. So no, no organized cross training.
Now, to the preparations. The week leading up to the race, we diligently got up at 6am every day, and the two days before the race, we got up at 5:30am. Obviously, everything in an effort to adjust to an early wake-up time on race day, and also to facilitate being able to fall asleep early the night before. Well – we didn’t have an issue waking up early, but we sure as heck had a hard time falling asleep. Way too much excitement going on in our bodies and minds!
We went up to Sälen on Thursday. We had rented a house in Lindvallen, only 10 min by car from the starting area. Many choose to stay in Mora, and take the early bus up to Sälen on race day. We didn’t want to do that, and didn’t mind driving back the 1 hour up to Sälen after the race. Of course, we were fortunate enough to have a ‘crew’ with us, who would transport our car along the course down to the finish and take us back. There are, however, buses that will take race participants back the same way as well. Our cabin was very comfortable, and even came with a really nice sauna. We highly recommend both the area we stayed in (Dammkölen) and the actual house (address Dammkölsringen 10A, booked through skistar.com). It came down to approx. SEK 2500/$300 for 3 nights, for a house that could sleep up to nine people (three bedrooms). We were just four, thus we had plenty of space
We had prepared all the food for the weekend in advance, in an attempt to reduce the risk of any upset stomachs on race day. We had a really bad experience during EcoTrail Stockholm, when Sophia’s stomach blew up completely – this will be described in full in the RR from that race, which is quite delayed but in the works! Thursday night dinner consisted of a Greek inspired rice-and-vegetable dish, which was topped off with halloumi (recipe will be posted soon to this website). We went to bed at 9:30pm. Friday morning, we woke up at 5:30am and had a slow first hour. A little yoga, a little stretching, a cup of coffee, before a 30 min comfortable run around the area, just to shake out the legs and move around a little. As per our breakfast tradition approx. 350 days out of the year, we hit up a giant bowl of oatmeal after that little outing, with sliced banana, raisins and nuts on top. After getting our stuff together, we killed some time by browsing some of the stores down in Sälen. As the time went on and the bib pick-up time of 12pm drew closer, the more people around us seemed to look like they fit right into the category of runners. For us, it’s so hard to not get intimidated! You know, when someone walks in all geared up, looking like they’ve done nothing but train their whole lives? We usually whisper to each other “intimidation factor high” if we spot one of those. When nervous and anxious, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking everyone else has everything under control. Is there any level of recognition out there? Anyway – back to the story. We picked up our bibs, stopped by the ICA store in Sälen By and then went home. There might have been some chocolate eating happening in the car (sport lunch for the win). Lunch consisted of fruit, yogurt, muesli, some rice leftovers and some slices of bread. All in all, a quite random spread.
The afternoon was spent preparing this and that, with zero stress involved. Our crew (Sophia’s mom and stepdad) went for a walk when we picked our outfits, mixed our sports beverage for the next day etc., and when they came back, we did a sit-down run-through with them. We had the course map laid out and went through it all, step by step. On our drive up from Stockholm, we had popped into all three aid stations they were going to be at, handing us stuff (Mångsbodarna, Evertsberg and Hökberg, all approx. 24k apart) so we were all familiar with the layouts of the places and had decided roughly where they’d be standing so we’d know where to look. This was helpful, for them as well as for us, so if you happen to stay in Sälen and you’re doing the drive anyway – pop in. When 5pm rolled around, we started prepping dinner, and sat down to eat an hour later. We had penne pasta with a white bean and vegetable sauce. This had been tried and tested the night before a long run with an early start before, so we knew this was a safe bet. For those of you thinking ‘these are some extreme people’, please don’t. It’s just that Michael is an engineer, so things do tend to end up quite streamlined in this family We went to bed – not tired at all – at 10pm and tossed and turned until midnight. We might have gotten a few hours of sleep at most, but when the alarm went off at 3am, we were wide awake and SO ready to get rolling.
And so, race day. Finally. Michael had coffee and two slices of whole wheat bread with messmör, Sophia the same but no coffee. We both did some gentle warm-up stretches (mostly dynamic ones, only a few static), rolled around on the yoga mat a little bit… and then, we were all ready to go. Our crew was equipped with all the important notes and bags worth of replacement bottles, food and extra underwear (guys, there’s no point in tabooing the fact that… there might be a case where you’ll need new underwear). We also had them carry a first aid kit, in case we needed to pop a blister or something like that, and hitting up the medical tent would just feel like a waste of time. We left the house at 4:15am, which might seem late to some but since it was chilly and we knew all we would have to do was walk into the starting line area – well, it made sense to wait inside for as long as possible. We arrived at the starting area at 4:30am, right around when it was about to get light (there is no need for a head lamp) and there was PLENTY of parking space. They have one massive field, really nicely organized, and there was absolutely no stress about finding a spot. Walking a few hundred meters to the starting line just felt good anyway. There were, however, somewhat long lines to the porta potties (Swedish: bajamaja), so we ended up skipping it – but then we spotted ladies squatting in ditches left and right, so no need to wait in line if you just have to pee. Sophia gave it a try, as a matter of fact, but no luck – the desire to pee was deemed induced by race nerves. While it was fairly chilly (8 C), it was by no means hard to handle despite wearing just shorts and tank/t-shirt. There was music playing, and the atmosphere felt pretty relaxed. The speaker got everyone emotional when talking about the history of the route between Sälen and Mora, how many people have set out on skis to complete it and how many are now going to attempt to run it. Definitely got the heart beating and the goose bumps going. And then there was a countdown, and off we went! We spotted our crew in the crowds, and it truly meant a lot to have them there to see us off.
Distance: 9.2k, Elevation Gain: 160m, Time elapsed: 52 min
We purposely started a little bit back, simply because we didn’t want to start out too fast or get stressed by those rushing up the first hill. The hill does go on for a few kilometers, but we had expected a tougher incline. It wasn’t hard to keep a good pace running and still feel comfortable. After the first long hill flattens out, it goes a little up and down the rest of this section. You start out on pavement which then turns into gravel, and in no time we found ourselves at the first aid station. Our plan was to do a 5:45 min/k pace for as much of the race as possible, and we ended up doing around 5:40 up to Smågan. We had just gotten “stuck” behind a smaller group of people, but since we had decided to not stop at all but they all did, we could pass them smoothly – and we didn’t see them again. Michael went through as 207th male and Sophia 33rd female.
Distance: 14.3k, Elevation Gain: 89m, Time elapsed: 2 hrs 12 min
We were feeling so good this section, passing people left and right and really dancing through the woods. We had to hold ourselves back from running too fast, and continued at a steady 5:40 min/k. We run mostly trails in our training, and many sections reminded us of those at home. The trails here weren’t too technical but you definitely have to watch your step. Since we’re used to roots and rocks, we felt strong and as if in our right element. The trail sections were interspersed with gravel sections, and we could tell other runners generally sped up on the gravel stretches but slowed down on the trail ones. We did pretty much the same pace everywhere. The morning sun was coming through the trees and it was really a magical atmosphere. Already at this point, we found ourselves alone from time to time, able to enjoy having a conversation and letting the kilometers and minutes just tick away. We had given our crew a 2-3 hr time window from the start to Mångsbodarna, and we came in at 7:12, 2 h 12 min into the race. We were really the only people going through the aid station at this point, so it was nice and quiet, and our bottle exchange went smoothly. We had carried 2 x 500 ml Tailwind sports beverage each, but due to the early hour and slightly chilly temps, neither of us had finished them entirely. Sophia grabbed a pouch of fruit-and-rice puree, Michael a Clif gel, and we both got 2 x 350 ml bottles with 100 kcal Tailwind in each. And off we went, cheered on by all the early risers and so energized from seeing our crew. We spent approx. 20 sec exchanging bottles, so this was really an ‘in and out’-kind of thing. And for those who might wonder – did you forget to mention what you grabbed from the aid station? No, because we didn’t take anything. Sophia’s plan was to solely rely on the pouches and Tailwind since this had been practiced and she has a sensitive gut, and Michael was going to do the same plus Clif gels and maybe a snack from a station if it seemed appetizing. But Smågan – nothing, Mångsbodarna, nothing. Trust us though, when we say this – we were quite tempted to stop by later, as finishers, just to get some more bang for our buck. Michael went through as 177th male and Sophia 24th female (this, by the way, is not information we were aware of at the time. Until we crossed the finish line, we had a very vague idea of where we were in the standings).
Distance: 10.8k, Elevation Gain: 136m, Time elapsed: 3 hrs 17 min
We continued to feel really strong and light. Conversation flowed easily and we were surprised by how fast everything seemed to be going by. We were already more than a quarter into the race? Also, we concluded that so far, the course had been prettier than expected. You really, truly feel like you’re in the heart of Dalarna. Our pace slowed down a little, to 5:57 min/k, but the technical trails explain that more so than any desire to slow down (there was also one quick stop to pee, which turned out to be our only ‘bathroom’ break the whole day). Soon after you leave Mångsbodarna, you go through a beautiful patch of woods where the ground is almost covered by rocks – big, small, sharp, smooth. Michael managed to lose his shoe, even, when it suddenly got stuck between two rocks and his momentum was stronger than the shoe laces. No harm done though, and speaking of harm – no aches and pains for either of us at this point. Just pure enjoyment, as pretentious as it may sound. The last few kilometers before reaching the next aid station, you go uphill. The ground is soft and very absorbing, so this part can get a little tiring. This year saw a very dry summer, so it’s possible that you usually get quite wet and muddy here. We passed a few people in the aid station (didn’t stop again, as per plan) and continued on. Michael is 165th male, Sophia 21st female.
Distance 12.4k, Elevation Gain: 127m, Time elapsed: 4 hrs 28 min
This section is fairly gentle on you. Some humble hills, some dirt road, some gravel road. One section runs along a beautiful lake, and you also have the pleasure of passing the marathon distance sign posting. We were doing a 5:42 min/k pace and feeling comfortable, except for the fact that Sophia had started to feel a slight ITB-pain on the outside of her left knee (that sharp, almost stabbing sensation where the ITB rolls over the outer aspect of your knee joint). Once we came into the Evertsberg aid station, she did a quick stretch, which solved the problem for her (temporarily, we should add). We had given our crew the same time window, 2-3 hrs, from when we left Mångsbodarna to when we could be expected in Evertsberg, and we came in after 2 hrs 16 min. Seeing how well we were doing with regards to our expected times was obviously great motivation. We did the same quick procedure here, where we both got a new set of 2 x 350 ml bottles with 100 kcal Tailwind in each and a new fruit-and-rice puree pouch for both of us. We still didn’t stay for more than 1 min at most, and again – didn’t claim anything from the aid station food-wise. We got the same energy boost from seeing our people this time, and from just feeling the atmosphere. There were lots of people out spectating, cow bells cheering us on as we took off. Oxberg, next up! Michael went through as 130th male, Sophia 17th female.
Distance 15k, Elevation Gain: 156m, Time elapsed: 6 hrs 1 min
Leaving Evertsberg, you run on pavement for a little bit before hitting up gravel and more woodsy areas. This starts out as an easy stretch, because it is mostly downhill or flat – and boy, it feels great passing the 50k mark (the 40k sign – the signs count down). Last 5k to Oxberg is tough though, with a lot of up and down. Things were starting to hurt a little here, approaching 60k and our longest run ever. Small aches and pains kept popping up, some would disappear, others would move around, a few would linger in the same place. It was bound to get painful, it was bound to get tough – it might have come on a little earlier than we had hoped for, but that’s okey. We had, after all, only raced three times prior to this and we concluded that you can train all you want, but race experience is something you simply can’t make up for. Do you all agree? It’s also possible we told ourselves this when out there, to make us feel better. Eventually, we did reach Oxberg though, and Sophia had somehow moved up to 14th place. Michael had polished his position into a 121st. Our pace of 6:14 min/k this stretch serves an indicator of how the rest of the race went down (a.k.a. slow). As per our plan though, we didn’t stop at the Oxberg aid station but instead just chugged onwards. So far, no stomach issues whatsoever. Such a relief for the mind!
Distance: 9.2k, Elevation Gain: 106m, Time elapsed: 7 hrs 5 min
Most of the technical trails are done by this point. This is where it started to get seriously tough for us though. The beginning was fine, but the section from 54 to 71k is ‘challenging’ with lots of uphills and downhills (and by that, we mean challenging because you’ve been out for 6-7 hours – it’s by no means anything out of the ordinary). The downhills started hurting a lot, mostly for Sophia because her ITB issues were growing by the minute and didn’t like being ignored, but the uphills were starting to feel heavy too. Around here, we did as a matter of fact walk our first uphill. We were also passing lots and lots of people running the 45k, since they had started at 9am in Oxberg. A ‘busy’ stretch, which both served as a distraction from the discomfort but also was slightly annoying since those we caught up with were fairly slow and some parts were narrow trails sections. Our pace started dropping, our conversation faded. It turned into ‘are you hanging in there’, ‘are you hurting as much as I am’ and phrases of the like. The 6:14 min/k pace made the 9k drag on and on. Coming into Hökberg was such a relief. We noted 2 hrs 37 min from the last time we had seen our crew, so still within the 2-3 hr window we had given them, but definitely less cocky than previously. Sophia had started feeling some cramp twitches in her groin and dove headfirst into the little cups of potato chips and started – against better judgement – licking the chips in hopes of getting salt into her system. Note to self: equip your crew with some seriously salty stuff. While there’s sodium in Tailwind, there was room for a salt injection for sure. We repeated the bottle replacement for the last time, Michael munched on some watermelon provided by our crew and grabbed a fruit puree pouch as well, but Sophia said no to all things sweet. Toothbrushing addict as she is, she kind of just wanted to brush her teeth to get rid of that yucky sweetness. Her stomach was a growling empty hole (it even made funny noises that people around us could hear – like a roaring lion in there) but the mind was still clear and the body still energized (how you might wonder? Us too!). Just really, really painful knees. Michael was mostly struggling with pain in his TFL, and a little bit of ITB pain was starting to creep in. We both stretched a little and took off, spent maybe 3-5 min at aid. Sophia’s mom caved in and gave us sad puppy eyes, questioning if we should really continue – you’ll have to forgive her, it was her first race and she couldn’t stand seeing us struggle, but Lasse just smacked us on the backs and said ‘see you in 19k’ and that was it. Off we went. Michael noted 128th place and Sophia 17th.
Distance: 10.2k, Elevation Gain: 66m, Time elapsed: 8 hrs 16 min
Oh, this was painful, everyone! Easy easy running though – just flat on soft ground. We did get a boost from seeing our crew in Hökberg, and while we knew our pace had dropped significantly, we still had the men’s medal time of 9 hrs and 30 min well within reach. Heck, on any given day 19k in almost 2.5 hrs would have felt like we had all the time in the world! It’s funny thinking back on that now, how long 19k felt. We managed to keep a good pace the first few kilometers towards Eldris, riding on a wave of potato chips, watermelon and sheer buzz. But that unfortunately didn’t carry us all the way in, because it got tough and painful again, and every sign marking a new kilometer elapsed felt like such a victory (but boy, those were spread far apart at this point!). We started conversations upon conversations in hopes it would make time and distance go by but nothing really managed to catch on. We couldn’t really focus on anything but the ‘one foot in front of the other’ mantra. Or, as Michael put it: “All I want to do is just go in to the woods, crawl up into a ball and cry”. That sums it up quite nicely, don’t you think? Reaching Eldris felt amazing for obvious reasons, just knowing that it was the last aid station before the finish. Sophia had cramp twitches in her right groin/adductor region again so she tried a gherkin (Swedish: saltgurka) for the first time in her life – well, never again! That was some intense stuff. Michael went through as 137th male and Sophia as 20th female.
Distance: 8.9k, Elevation Gain: 39m, Time elapsed: 9 hrs 14 min
Sophia got a boost of energy knowing how close we were to the finish, and almost felt like she could’ve booked it. Michael was still in pain and fighting off hamstring cramps, but knowing we were almost done kept the spirits up. We had 9k to go and we started dividing it into sections. We said: ‘Ok, let’s keep it up till 7k left and then let’s allow ourselves to walk a little’. So we did. And then we did the same thing for 5k, and then for 3k. But when we got to 3k, we said ‘let’s continue to 2k’ and when at 2k, Michael said ‘I just need 10 sec’ which he of course got, and then we just ran. We ran and ran and it felt like forever but really, it wasn’t. We ran and ran and it felt like we went so fast, but really, we didn’t. But the clock tower did come closer and the crowds were growing and the speaker’s voice got louder and louder. And then we pulled ourselves up the last bridge crossing and made a left onto the finishing stretch, and now tears rose in our eyes and the pain? All the pain was gone. We looked at each other as we ran, smiled at more strangers than ever before, and we ran and we ran and then we finally got to run across the finish line, after 9 hrs and 14 min out there. We came in with a solid 16 min margin down to the men’s medal time and 1 hr 46 min to spare as far as the women’s medal time. Sophia made 20th place among the females, Michael 137th among the men.
Suddenly, this one long day of running with lots of pain turned into one of the best days of our lives. We got our medals, we got the finishers t-shirts. Then, we fell into the welcoming arms of our crew, who had bounced up and down at the sight of us at every meeting point, cheered us on and clapped their hands and made us move on. There were some problems bending over. There were some moments when we needed help to get more clothes on. There might have been a scene where Sophia’s Mom actually tied Sophia’s shoes. On stiff legs, we hobbled our way to the food tent, where there were hot and salty tomato soup, bread with butter and cheese, pancakes with jam, potato chips and candy. Beer might have been spotted but we opted out. We saw our big, big idol Ida Nilsson (who placed 2nd) but we were too shy to say hello. We sat close to each other, getting colder by the minute. Repeated phrases such as ‘can you believe it?’ and ‘we did it’ to each other. After maybe half an hour, we got up (read: with great difficulty) and went to claim our race certificates. After that, our crew shoved us in the car and turned on the heat. Back at the house, we did a few cycles of sauna and cold showering to aid in recovery, and then had leftovers from the previous night’s dinner. Ended the day by finishing 2 liters (4 pints) of ice cream (although to our defense, we weren’t the only ones eating) while looking at pictures from the day. We didn’t sleep all that well, but that was as expected for us – it seems our bodies are pretty restless after a race. Woke up to some lingering aches and pains around knees and hips, and an overall soreness but nothing too crazy. We did get a few blisters but nothing too bad at all, and no chafing anywhere thanks to the best product ever, Squirrel Nut Butter (not sponsored). Packed up the house, had a massive breakfast and then left Sälen and this great milestone of ours behind. Will be back, and will go after a sub-8. Until then… some other fun races this fall and hopefully a winter full of skiing plus race planning for next season.
Ängsö Trail Run 25k, September 15th
Åre Trail Tour (7k + 24k + sprint), September 28-30th
Sörmland Ultra 50k, October 13th
Last but not least, link to Strava activity: Ultravasan 90 2018
Thanks for reading all the way until the end
Written by David Caulfield
No matter how you slice it, 127 kilometres/ 80 miles is a long way to travel in 21 hours. Mentioning that distance to anyone outside of the ultra running world will get expressions of disbelief and looks suggesting you ought to be committed for your obvious madness.
The challenge is both physical and mental and so it helps to break the distance down into smaller targets. Thus think only to the next CP and what time you need to arrive there, then to the next and so on. These smaller achievements add together quickly getting you beyond the half way point, to the three quarters way point and eventually…..to the finish.
I started 2017 injured and so was unable to run until mid March. I was recovered enough to do the Maurice Mullins half and from there I eased myself back in.
A significant birthday in 2018 raised the idea of an entry to the UTMB to “celebrate” my encroaching decrepitude. The requirement to have 15 points over a maximum of 3 races (just to enter the lottery) started the grey matter turning. I had 4 from last year’s Transvulcania so to get to 15 I would need to do two 6 point races or one 5 point and one 6 point. I settled on the Wicklow Way Race and if that went well then the Kerry Way Ultra. I was in no way sure that my recovery would continue in the face of ramped up mileage but I was about to find out.
Training over the next twelve weeks included recce’s of the course sometimes with friends but mostly on my own. Solo recce’s invariably mean an out and back thus can end up being very long sessions. Over this time I logged many long runs the longest ranging from 26 to 30 miles; recovery from these was monitored carefully and happily all went well (I swear by chocolate mile and recovery tights). I had enough time that I was able to include a few back to back long runs and was very happy to see that my injury was now almost gone.
I ran the Clare Burren Marathon at a very easy pace two weeks before. By this time I had reccied all but the last 16 miles of the WW so on the Sunday before, I ran/ walked the first 7 miles from Crossbridge towards Clonegal and back. Probably not the smartest thing to do so close to race day but it helped ease the “I might get lost anxiety”. There would only be 7 or so miles on race day that I had not covered previously.
Race Day Plan
Given my lack of running and the overall length of the race I set about dissecting its various stages and cut off times to see what flex there was in the paces I could run to allow me finish comfortably within the cut offs. Using Excel I calculated several scenarios and settled on the following (I still work in miles).
• CP1 Crone 13.75m (22km), cutoff 3am: 12 minute mile pace to arrive at 02:37.
• CP2 Glendalough 17.5m (28km), cutoff 8am: 12.5 minute mile pace to arrive at 06:31 (take 15 min rest).
• CP3 Ironbridge 15.63m (25km), cutoff 12pm: 14.5 minute mile pace to arrive at 10:42 (take 15 min rest).
• CP4 The Dying Cow 16.25m (26km), cutoff 4pm: 14.5 minute mile pace to arrive at 15:01 (15 min rest).
• CP5 Raheenakit 6.25m, (10km) cutoff 6:30pm: 16 minute mile pace to arrive at 16:51 (20 min rest).
• Finish at Clonegal 10m, (16km) cutoff 9pm: 16 minute mile pace to arrive at 19:46
The above plan put emphasis on the first two CPs, which were the tightest to make with time pressure reducing significantly by CP3. These paces were pedestrian but given the significant distances covered and my under trained state I felt they were realistic. The rest stops I included also looked very generous but when stops to change batteries, take out a jacket, take a whizz etc, are included they were again probably realistic.
Race Day Prep
I took the Friday off to try to get a few hours sleep during the day and to prepare my drop bags.
No two people will pack the same food; I included lots of drinks I like drinking since I find it hard to stomach eating during races. Small cartons of orange juice proved to be very palatable and a good energy provider. Also successful were small easy peel oranges, two per drop bag. Other food included chocolate (snickers which I didn’t anticipate I would bother eating but did), crisps, cheese nachos and small tuna & sweet corn sandwiches (one per drop bag, I ate the first sandwich and couldn’t stomach the rest), plain water in my hydration vest and gels. I also had a triple shot of coffee to be consumed shortly before the race (to give me a boot up the arse).
Notable kit included
• Black diamond z trail poles
• A small waterproof stuff sack (keeps items kept inside completely dry, weighs ounces)
• Light long sleeve running top; it was to be cold over Djouce (Richard N you were right)
• East West Map guide to the Wicklow Way
• A small power pack to charge my Garmin and phone (my watch can be charged whilst recording a session)
• Salt tablets, pain killers and deflatine
• 50 euro note (in case I needed to make quick exit)
• A couple of gels (with others dispersed over my drop bags)
• All of the above were in addition to the mandatory kit
Kit that might be worth including (much of which can be left in a drop bag)
• Change of top/ bottom
• Change of socks
• Road runners
• Motilium or crystallized ginger
I got a lift to Marlay Park with friend Liam Costello and was quickly through registration, kit check and tracker collection (race organization fantastic, thanks Jeff, Robbie, Richard, Tricia et al). My head torch is a Petzl Nao+ and it was my first time using it so I made sure to practice the settings to ensure I got the maximum time from the battery in the hope that I wouldn’t have to stop to put in the spare.
Marlay Park to Crone 21km (Climb 684m)
After a short race briefing we were off! It was good to get out of the park and up towards Kilmashogue carpark and Fairy Castle. I have run this part of the Wicklow Way many times so there was no chance of me taking a wrong turn. However the fear of my missing the first cut off ensured I kept up the pace. The weather was already proving to be wild but since much of this part of the way is sheltered it wasn’t too bad. Through the gloom sheep’s eyes reflected green, the field quickly spread out and already if felt like I was on my own in the mist, rain and blackness. I was soon over Prince William’s seat and to the nice descent that provided recovery before putting the boot down again. I made Crone at 2:32, 5 minutes ahead of schedule. It was lashing rain; thanks to the volunteers that had to stand in it. I stopped for less than a minute to grab the contents of my first drop bag and then was off again towards Djouce. Judging by the wind and heavy rain this part of the course was going to be interesting!
Crone to Glendalough 29km (Climb 868m)
I have been over Djouce on many occasions in all sorts of weather. I was there on the day of the Maurice Mullins Trail and Ultra in 2013 with the crazy weather that happened on that day. The weather tonight however trumped all that. As I passed the point that looks across to Powerscourt waterfall the wind through the trees was alarming; was I going to be flattened by a falling tree? On I went to the left turn that started the descent down to the footbridge over the Dargle. Up the other side and onto Djouce where as anticipated it was WILD. The trail was an ankle deep running river, my head torch lit just a 2 metre bubble of light beyond which there was thick mist, pitch black, torrential rain and gale force winds. I’d last been here in February so the undergrowth of green that had grown since made the trail hard to pick out.
As I ploughed on through the maelstrom I was getting a bit freaked out. I pressed on with the mantra, “it will be light soon, the rain is going to stop and the sun is going to come out again”. Then the battery went on my torch. Damn! No choice but to stop, dig my spare battery out of my pack and whilst doing that put on my waterproof legs, neck gaiter and gloves. I was cold now and needed to get moving again. Once on the boardwalk progress was a little easier and soon I was out of the worst of it and running past the Pier gates. The rest of this section was unremarkable; I arrived in Glendalough at 6:45, 15 minutes behind schedule; a lot of time had been lost on the side of Djouce.
Glendalough to Ironbridge 25km (Climb 882m)
The CP at Glendalough was like an oasis, bacon sandwiches and coffee!!! The restorative power of coffee cannot be underestimated. Thanks once again to the organisers, fantastic job.
I stayed a bit longer than I’d intended but felt very much restored. Once at the upper lake I began the long climb out of Glendalough. On reaching the top the wind was blowing strong on the board walk and it was still cold. I moved on quickly down the other side to Glenmalure and to the last significant climb of the day. The Wicklow Way from Glenmalure is quite twisty for the first couple of miles followed by a significant section on the road. I met up with a couple of fellow runners, Andreas and Paul and stayed with them for the next 20 miles or so. Thanks for the company guys. I was beginning to feel tired around this time so stopped for a couple of minutes and ate two oranges before setting off again. A check on my pace and time to the next cut off had me speed up again and soon I was on the downhill towards Ironbridge arriving at 11:12 a half hour behind schedule but still well within the cut off.
Ironbridge to The Dying Cow 25km (Climb 525m)
Another great set up; more coffee (from a coffee plunger!!), home baking and a deck chair to sit down! Luxury. Thanks guys, ye are legends. As myself, Andreas and Paul were leaving Ironbridge (50km to go) Andreas decided he would change into his road runners. I went on ahead knowing they would catch me. I made a quick phone call to my wife to let her know all was well and by the time I’d finished Andreas and Paul had caught up. This section seemed to take forever when I reccied it in April and it seemed to take forever again today. By now the rain had gone and the sun was out; the Djouce experience seemed a very long time ago now. I shed any unnecessary clothing, put on suntan lotion and connected the charger to my watch. I recorded a couple of very slow miles at this time and in hindsight I was clearly very tired. I made sure not to repeat the wrong turn I’d taken back in April in a forest section early in this part of the course. I had reccied it again in May and found the marker I’d missed behind a gorse bush (which I pruned).
We pushed on eventually reaching Cuckoo Lane and shortly after, Crossbridge. Andreas and Paul went on ahead at this point; I was slowing but didn’t feel like taking any more gels (which was probably a mistake). At about a mile and a half from the Dying Cow I came around a corner to see in the distance my brother and two nephews! My niece and sister in law were there too. What a great surprise! Hugs all round and a quick photo and then a quick dash to the Dying Cow to make the 4:00 cut off. I got there at 3:36, phew!
The Dying Cow to Raheenakit 11km (Climb 267m)
My arrival time to the Dying Cow would prove to be the nearest I came to not making a cut off. Beyond this however lay just 16 miles to the finish and 5 hours in which to do it. Surely nothing could stop me from finishing now. First I had to make the Raheenakit CP 6 miles away by 6:30. Thanks to the guys at the Dying Cow, great encouragement as I left. A last goodbye to my brother and I was off up the steep road towards Raheenakit. This section of the Way is fairly non descript and almost entirely on road (so a change to road runners is an option here). Just before the last CP came the much-vaunted Coronary Hill (a long uphill boreen with grass in the middle); I put the head down and power walked up (my poles aiding my progress). I made the last CP at 5:10; I just had to stay upright and keep putting one foot in front of the other and I’d finish.
Raheenakit to Clonegal 16km (Climb 222m)
Heeding the warning that many have taken a wrong turn in Raheenakit forest I made sure to be extra alert for the WW markers. At this point I was doing virtually no running but instead power walking. With the exception of one marker I almost missed which takes you left down a narrow grassy track, I didn’t go wrong. Shortly after I entered the last forested section which as mentioned by others is paved with very pointy rocks that are agony on tired feet. A short way in I met fellow runner Martin; I’d last seen him near Lough Dan many hours earlier. He was running on empty, the offer of a couple of oranges seemed to help and he was soon back on his feet to keep me company. A wrong turn by me cost us 10 minutes; I am very grateful to Martin for having the GPX file on his watch thus noticing my mistake; I would have walked much further in the wrong direction otherwise.
The highly anticipated Clonegal 5km road sign was at last reached. Some of the race volunteers appeared here to offer us chips! Thanks Lillian and the second person who’s name I don’t know.
Many have said it before and I will confirm it again here. This is the longest 5km I have ever run/walked/ shuffled; it seemed to go on forever. Over the majority of the race I had stayed true to my plan of power walking the uphills and running the flats and downhills. But now sadly I could only manage to run for a few metres before stuttering back to a walk. I was passed by a couple of other runners in the last kilometer but I couldn’t give a damn. I had set out with the sole purpose of finishing within the cut offs, a good time had never been a possibility so my finish place was of little consequence to me.
I could see the town in the distance! As I rounded the final bend I found myself muttering repeatedly “thank god, thank god, thank god”. Clonegal at last and the Wicklow Way sign. YES! I DID IT!!!!!
I finished in 20 hours and ten minutes, 24 minutes behind schedule. I’d been up and awake for 34 hours.
I was greeted by my wife and son, (emotional, sniff, sniff). Then Jeff appeared, congratulated me on finishing and presented me with my granite finisher’s plaque with the little yellow man. Chuffed to bits!
I am constantly surprised at what the human body is capable of. I managed to come back from injury, squash my training into a period of less than three months and finish well within the cut off. Thanks legs, heart and lungs, I’ll go easy on you for the next couple of weeks, I promise!
A huge shout out to all involved in organizing this fantastic event. An amazing job! We are very lucky to have a race of this calibre on our doorstep.
• Recce the course for peace of mind on the day (the only wrong turn I took was on the 7 mile stretch I hadn’t run before).
• Get to bed early on the nights of the week coming up to the event.
• Include variety in your drinks and food; this will improve the likelihood you will keep fueling (unless of course you are fat adapted and don’t need to eat).
• Trail poles used properly can be of great benefit in prolonging endurance.
• As with any long distance event, expect to experience “bad patches” and know that they almost always pass.