Thursday, 12 September 2019

Ben Nevis 2019

First won in 1895 by Fort William barber, William Swan, in around 2 hours 40 minutes this is probably the granddaddy of all the UK runs. It is 14km and 1360m (4461 feet) of climbing. (And getting back down againing)

Andy does the overnighter and I drive up on the Saturday.  Just over 3 hours to Fort William and we catch up in the football field where it starts. Quite a spectacle – 600 runners sign up and around 500 turn up. 450ish finish due to the 1 hour to halfway cut off and 2 hours to the summit.

Others just get smashed on the rocks and have to visit the nurse and don’t get back down in time.

In terms of brutality – it is a heavyweight contender. There is no let up from start to finish.

The mile or so from the start to the base is comfortable and I am managing not to red line, keeping up with the throng. There is a cut up from here on to a 20’ incline – though this varies all the way to the Red Burn where runners head off the tourist path and take their own direct line to the summit.

From there, it is scree, boulders, scrambling, sometimes crawling – trying to get the most efficient line to the next stage of the route. I am slipping around (having chosen trail shoes – thinking large flat stones and road sections – forgot all about the scree and mud!)

I manage to get to the flatter plateau at the top. It is swarming with tourists and awkward to navigate through. It’s possible to pick up the pace a little. By the top, I feel as if I have been chewing feathers and I realise I am pretty dry. A wrist band is handed to a marshal at the cairn and then a turn around to take on the descent.

I am looking forward to this, but the shoes are just not gripping, and the downhill over the scree and boulders, hands out a serious drubbing to the quads. By the return to the Red Burn, the legs are verging on banjaxed and progress is none too swift. By this point, Andy has finished and is on his first tray of chips.

It’s a battle not to face-plant, dodging runners, tourists and some industrial sized rocks on the way back to the tarmac.

The final run on the on the road section is a real drain. I am very short on fluid and progress takes a great effort. I manage to stay ahead of the runners on the final section on the field and am glad to exit the finishing funnel.

Alan and Andy - back without plasters

Dehydrated at the end, I immediately consume 750 ml of water. 3 minutes later, I no longer contain the 750 ml of water!!

Andy continues his stay and attends the awards ceremony (Finlay Wild makes it 10 in a row) – outstanding!

I drive to McDonalds, and consume two large cokes and fries, then drive to Tyndrum and have a litre of chocolate milk followed by another half lite of salt-tabbed water.

3 and half hour later, Back in Peebles - I am showered, changed and in Wuzzies with a Guinness and a portion of spicy chicken wings. Mmmmm…
Runs like that – do take it out of you!

Andy – had a great run (though regretted stopping twice at the Red Burn for a drink) – Reckoned it cost him 21 seconds! And finished in 2.00.20.

I was following the 1875 barber’s lead and finished in 2.47

Ross Docherty was out there too and finished in 2.24

Next year – Aye…probably but will consider shoes and hydration!

(incidentally – the year I was born, the race was won by Pete Hall)

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Tiree Ultramarathon 2019

A group of Moorfoots (Colin Williams, Andrew Dancer, Simon Hammond and Scott McDonald) headed to Tiree for the annual 35 mile ultramarathon
The course was actually a bit shorter than then 35 miles claimed – how much depended on how much you decided to run in the edge of the sea or go wide to stay wider and drier on the 19 beaches it crossed, and it came with 1,300ft or 400m of climb.
We arrived after a short flight from Glasgow in Tiree (Peebles to Tiree door to door in 3.5 hours – the Oban ferry alone takes 4 hours) and picked up our hire bikes that were going to get a lot of use over the next few days being used for 8 trips back and forth the 4 miles or so between the hostel and community hall/race HQ and airport.
The weather simply got better and better on the Saturday so by the time we registered on the Saturday evening it was still with glorious sun and blue sky.
Race day wasn’t quite as kind although you could argue that no risk of heat stroke or sun burn was a good thing, however the wind and drizzle did increase over the course of the race which started on Sunday morning at 8am. The race route was actually a lot tougher than we expected for a pretty much flat course - with some seriously rough and boggy sections and soft wet sand. Some long sections of exposed beach near the finish left you fully exposed to the wind.
That said Tiree is a truly beautiful place and there was a great vibe about the race.
There was a really good showing all round with all four of us finishing in the top 10.
4              Scott      McDonald          04:51:23
5              Simon   Hammond           04:53:23
8              Andrew Dancer                05:10:40
9              Colin      Williams            05:11:50
Scott had a particular good run to finish 4th considering he is partially sighted and had a few slips and falls in the muddy sections which meant he had to hold back until the ground was better. In particular there was one comedy moment where Scott tried to take the racing line through the rocks and ended up neck deep in a pool – completely un-hurt luckily!
Where we were expecting Scott to be challenging for the podium Simon was a bit of dark horse. He started very sensibly in about 12-15th place and then worked through the field. He caught Colin at halfway moving into 8th and then picked off the next few runners including Andrew not long after until by the final beach he had Scott in distance and finished exactly 2 mins behind.
Colin caught up Andrew shortly after the third checkpoint and moved ahead slightly before Andrew pulled it together for the last two miles and regained his lead.
We had a break before the evening’s ceilidh and prize giving and a few celebratory drinks were had.
All in all a very satisfying race and an enjoyable trip altogether.

Nice flyby of the route from some one who shared it:

Album here

Friday, 6 September 2019

Ross goes long in the Alps with strong showing at the CCC

Ross Grieve was in the Alps tackling the epic CCC taking you 100km from the start line in Italy, into Switzerland and then finishing in France. Ross had an epic run (getting close to 20hrs!!) and brillant showing 29th out of M50s and 455th overall out of over 2000 starters. The race is clearly tough with over 25% not making it to the finish - 554 DNFs:

I know everyone’s had the experience of standing on a start line, not 100% , nowhere near fully recovered from an injury  and really not knowing  if toeing the line is the right call. That was my start to the 100 Km CCC Ultra Tour de Mont Blanc from Courmayeur - Champex Lac -  Chamonix last  weekend. Pressure off though  and in tourist mode, I was determined to get around in whatever way I could and totally soak up the atmosphere of what’s probably one of the most hyped mountain running events in the world. With 2500 runners starting at 9am , I positioned myself comfortably at the back of the first wave  ( so, 1000th)  and eased into the first of 5 significant   climbs on the course which would eventually accumulate 6000m of ascent. Hiking up the switchbacks was easy, the pace being moderated by the 100s of runners funnelling onto single track  and was just what my tight hamstring needed to warm up. The forest climb soon gave way to open mountain side,  blue skies and coming down from  Tete de la Tronche ( 2584m), we traversed high along the valley with one of the most exceptional panoramas one can imagine, facing the Mont-Blanc and the Grandes Jorasses. I was starting to feel confident that my leg, while sore, was going to let me move freely if I could just keep it easy.

The next climb at the top of the valley - the Grand col Ferret (2537m) marks the entrance of the race into  Switzerland. This was tough  -  the midday heat sapping energy, the altitude  increasing  breathlessness  and dampening the pace. Seemed to be the same for everyone. A quick photo at the top, then a massive 1500m descent down to a warm welcome by the volunteers at La Fouly with shouts of “bravo”, “allez” and “go Ross” ( our names and national flag were on our race bibs).

Not that I was in race mode , but with  quick stops in the checkpoints I discovered later I was now in 500th  and I settled into what was now going to be a bit of grind to maintain the pace and position I found myself in. My first low patch came on reaching the climb up to the half way point  in Champex Lac  - I don’t know who, but someone pulled the plug on my energy and  in a matter of seconds of starting the climb, my arms had no power on the poles I was using , my legs had no drive and it took me everything just to keep moving. I didn’t want to stop as I knew if I stopped once , I’d end up stopping repeatedly  up the climb.

I reached half way at 6pm on 9 hours , a bit battered and glad to take a 25 minute rest . This was the first time I’d looked at my watch and I was pleasantly surprised. 9 hours  was the split I’d aimed for earlier in the summer before I was injured  and had to re-assess my goal. Leaving Champex , I had  another pleasant surprise  - my leg didn’t hurt  anymore and I was able to run without any inhibition!! Maybe I could push a bit and try and move up the field?

The remaining 50K included three 1000m climbs  and descents  with checkpoints in between each climb so I thought it  reasonable to break  this up into two massive efforts , then hang in on the last climb/descent , using the finish line as momentum to get me to the finish.

I had a strong 2.5 hr  up and over effort, passing a fair number of runners now reduced to hiking even the runnable sections,  to arrive in La Giete at 8.40pm in 456th .I  settled into the checkpoint and fancied a chicken noodle soup. A wee bit embarrassing but within seconds of starting to drink, a rush of nausea had me vomiting under the table. I felt immediately better but not sure how I left the runners feeling who were sitting beside me( oops!).

Looking back, I guess I didn’t have the summer of training in me to withstand the push I’d just made and this started what turned into a 90 minute repeat cycle for the rest of the event  -  all I could tolerate was a third of a  banana, a slower moving pace , a gradual build up of nausea, drink water in order to vomit, feel better, eat banana, keep moving  repeat ( x 5!).

With any thought of racing squashed the 2nd of the three climb and descents  was a suffer fest. I kept moving though and   eventually  arrived in Vallorcine at midnight . I found out later that I’d continued to move up the field, now in 428th place. I suppose  I was slowing down slower than others.

Last effort . I made my way along the valley toward the last 1000m climb up to Le Flegere before a final punishing  910m descent to Chamonix and the finish. Ahead of me , I could see the line of headlights making their way up the final  climb and something  curious struck me . I was expecting  to see a zigzag line  of light. Instead , it was a straight  vertical line. Oh no ! This was going to be  punishing. I got to it, moving on fumes now, with just enough power in my legs to step up and clear the steps and ledges, keeping some momentum going and trying to stay  focused on what I can do while other runners were streaming past me.

In all, 27 runners past me in this last section ( felt like 100s). I didn’t have any fight left and started to feel unsafe navigating the technical terrain. I settled into slow and steady and eventually  finished at  4:38 am ( 19 hrs 37mins) in 455th. What I couldn’t believe is that I’d originally set a target of coming in under 20 hrs. Just out of curiosity, I checked the vet 50 category  ( 29th )!!

Oh, one takeaway -  check the photos -  I’ve finally mastered how to pack a  race vest!


You can check out Ross' race stats here with little videos :