18 Aug 2014 Morzine/Avoriaz it’s been great

18 Aug 2014
Morzine/Avoriaz it’s been great

So I’m into my last few days in Morzine.  This has been the training groups training base since the 1st of June, so after 10 weeks it sort of feels like home.  It’s an awesome place at just over 1,000m Morzine is in a valley surrounded by tall mountains.  Most of the training group spent a little time at altitude, just up the mountain at 1,800m in Avoriaz.

Morzine is in the Northern French Alps, only 90mins from Geneva.  It’s a super place for training.  We’ve have the wettest summer here for many years (according to the locals), but a wee splash of rain does the trick to cool you down and compared to Ireland…. Well this place is like the Sahara desert.

I’ve clocked up a few miles since driving to Morzine with Aileen post London WTS.  In fact in total in the past 10 weeks I’ve drove just shy of 5,000miles (8,000km).  Most of this was done driving from Avoriaz to Morzine for training most days, or going to the track in Thonon les Bains, but I have cris crossed Europe for races also.  I’ll leave my car in Morzine for the next block of training/races then when the season is finished in late October have a relaxed road trip back to Ireland.

Since being posted here in Morzine 10 weeks ago I’ve raced 6 times.
2nd Bardolino, An Italian development race
16th Kitzbuhel European Triathlon Champs
(Drove to Hamburg  WTS but ended up 1st on the wait list, enjoyable 26hr round drive on autobahn)
12th Commonwealth Games Mens race
6th Commonwealth Games Team Relay
5th Tiszaujvaros WC Semi final 1
19th Tiszaujvaros WC Final

So the next 10 week block of training/racing will be an exciting stint.
The plan outlined (which will change towards the end of the season) because nothing is ever set in stone, but for now includes;
23rd Aug Stockholm Sprint WTS
30th Aug Edmonton Olympic WTS Grand Final
(Month of September I’ll be in Boulder, Colorado on a training camp)
11th Sept Las Vegas Super Sprint
3rd Oct Cozumel Sprint WC
10th Oct Cartagena Olympic WC
18th Oct Tongyeong Olympic WC
Back to Morzine to road trip it back to Ireland

So that’s the story, last 2 days of training in Morzine then we all fly to Stockholm for the race this weekend.

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13 Aug 2014 19th Tiszaurjvaros World Cup

13 Aug 2014
19th Tiszaurjvaros World Cup

If Carlsberg did World Cup Triathlon races… But if they did… TizzyWC.

It was my second time in Tizzy (as it is affectionately abbreviated to), and an amazing experience it is. Tizzy is in Hungary about 180km east of Budapest.  It’s a Sprint Triathlon World Cup but it is held in an eliminator format, semi finals on the Saturday and finals on the Sunday.

In the men’s race there were 3 semi finals with 30 men in each and the top 10 men in each semi went through to the final the next day.  I qualified in 5th place in my semi final, it was hard and fast but the key was qualifying for the finals but not to blow too much energy for the finals only 24hrs later.  I had a solid semi final doing all the basics right and qualifying comfortably.  On the Saturday there were about 15 races in all with Junior and age group races along with age group races taking place.

So Saturday evening was all about recovery and getting the body back to decent shape before the real show down in the final the next day (Sunday at 5pm).  I slept badly in the Saturday night after the race, as most probably did with the adrenaline still pumping and the humid conditions in Tizzy.  Next morning it was 30 degrees celcius by 9am and getting hotter, with our race at 5pm it was going to be a scorcher.  I did a 30min run with stretches and run drills to loosen up that morning then kept out if the heat and relaxed for most of the morning.

Pre race was the mortal routine 20min build cycle, 20min build swim.  I felt great and was ready to do a real good job in the race, then 15mins pre race, just a I was exiting the water after my swim warm up I stepped on a broken bottle that was submerged in the water, and my foot started pissing blood.  This was not good, it took about 10mins with a medic compressing my foot tightly for the blood flow to subside.  The rest of the guys were lining up for their pontoon call and I was lying on the ground with 3 medics seeing to the gash in my foot.

All said and done, the medics eventually wrapped my foot up in bandages and they advised me not to start the race as I’ve lost a lot of blood, (to be fair to the medics they had a point, there were pools of blood around where I was lying).  But I had a quick think, I was in too good a shape just to pull out, the medics had done a great job wrapping my foot, I stood up, took 2 energy gels as I was a bit dizzy for all the excitement of the cut, done a few hops, the bandages held in place and I said to myself I’ll give it a go anyway.

THE RACE


I was a bit dizzy again on the run down to the pontoon, but felt grand otherwise.  The gun shot and off we went , 3*250m laps, first turn buoy 115m away, I had a terrible start and got pumped round the first buoy.

See this vine of the turn buoy, I’m the guy dunked twice near the back, I was in the wrong place at the wrong time, if I’d have swam faster this would not have happened.
https://vine.co/v/MVQPtMWWeiP

So I exited the water way down in the 3rd pack, in fact 20 secs slower than my swim time in the semi finals.  We got a small group working together and held the 2nd pack at 15secs for 18km and then closed them down eventually with 1km to go, our group didn’t work very well together but we got there eventually, I hit T2 7secs down on the leaders, significant amount of time lost but even more so a lot of extra unnecessary effort wasted on the bike.

I ran reasonably fast to finish in 19th but my technique was shocking and I wasn’t holding good form even if I was trying, may be because I was red lined from the work on the bike, or my foot had started leaking more blood on the run or I just wasn’t strong enough… Or a combination of them all.  All in all a great race and very enjoyable and a good time had by all.

I’m sure I’ll be back to race Tizzy some time again, give it a go, highly recommended.

Final men’s results, ITU race report and race results;
http://www.triathlon.org/news/article/hungarian_men_impresses_in_home_race

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4th August 2014 2nd half of the season

4th August 2014
2nd half of the season

The Commonwealth Games were my main goal for the first half of 2014.  I did a decent job at preparing and racing there with 12th in the individual race and 6th in the team relay.  I didn’t hang around for too long in Glasgow after racing, a few days recovery in the athletes village and watching other the best swimmers and runners in the world in Tollcross pool and Hampden Park, then back to my training camp in the French Alps.

I got back into the swing of a good training block a few days after racing in Glasgow.  I’ve got some real important races coming up, probably 6/7 races in the second half of the season most of high will help towards Olympic qualifying.

For August I have the Tiszaujvaros Sprint Wold Cup on 8/9th Aug, this is a heats and finals format race, and is one of the most exciting races on the circuit.  Then I have the Stockholm Sprint WTS race on 23rd August then the French Grand Prix D2 finale in Cognac on 30th August (the home of my French Grand Prix team, “Team Charentes”)

September will mostly be a training month for me I will plan to get a 3 week solid block of training done.  I will either be based in Leicester or Boulder Colorado with my training squad, depending on which races I do.  Then race 2/3 World Cup races to finish the season sometime in mid October.

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28th July 2014 Commonwealth Games Glasgow

28th July 2014
Commonwealth Games Glasgow

Well that was one hell of a week in Glasgow.  I’m currently on the plane on route to Geneva to join up with my training squad again.  That week went so fast and what a week it was.  Some words that summarise the experience for me in no particular order…

Triathlon, Strathclyde Park, Avonbridge Hotel, Super Sprint Relay, Tropical conditions, non wetsuit swim, Beef and Chicken Fajitas, de branding kit, Tollcross Swimming pool, 1,500m freestyle, Hampden Park stadium, 5km finals, anti doping, new Irish kit, super friendly CWG staff, fast swimming, hard hill, serious security, athletes dining hall, Bamboos night club, athletes village, family and friends, Revolution, #TeamNI… Etc…etc.

Here is a wee run down of the week.

Monday 21st July
-Morning run drills in Morzine with Aileen and Jodie
-Drive to Geneva airport
-Fly to Edinburgh with Aileen and Jodie on Easyjet… Long checkin queues
-Arrive in Scotland, transferred to team base by Debbie, Avonbridge Hotel, beside Strathclyde Park
-Cycle race course, dinner with N.Irish Triathlon team, bed.

Tuesday 22nd July
-Relaxed morning, lazy breakfast
-SBR easy course familiarisations and briefings, pontoon draw.
-check all kit is race legal, physio flush out
-Team meeting about all logistics around race, dinner bed.

Wednesday 23rd July
-Early morning bike ride and run
-breakfast/chill/prepare race kit
-Lunch time swim, activation and usual race warm up.
-Physio flush out, dinner, watch opening ceremony on TV, bed.

Thursday 24th July RACE DAY 3pm (1.5k swim, 40km bike, 10km run)

-Run drills and jog early, super relaxed breakfast.
-Final race kit check
-Usual race build up, nutrition, music, stretching, getting into the zone, watch ladies race on TV
-to race site at 12noon with team mates Russell and Harry
-watch the final few KMs of the ladies run, Jodie… Gold, Aileen 6th, burnt up a few adrenaline hits from the excitement of watching/shouting at them, Awesome stuff ladies!
-1.30pm transition opens, 20min bike warm up, 20min swim warm up, get set in Athletes lounge.
-3pm and we’re off. Fast swim, hard bike, brutal heat for Scottish Standards, hard 10km run! finish 12th, satisfied.
-Randomly selected for drug testing, 2hrs straight after crossing the line, missed all family and friends.
-physio flush out that night, bed at 2am… Watched TV coverage from race.

Full race results – http://www.triathlon.org/results/result/2014_glasgow_commonwealth_games/268733
Triathlon Ireland report -
http://www.triathlonireland.com/index.php?id=107&nid=1876

Friday 25th July
-7am Breakfast with newspaper, great to relax over breakfast.
-9am Team relay briefing, S/B/R course familiarisations
-lunch at 1pm
-3hrs relaxing, Physio flush out
-diner, team relay meeting with Tommy getting us all super pumped up, bed at 10pm

Saturday 26th July RACE DAY (Team Relay) 12.30pm 4*(300m swim, 6km bike, 1.6km run)

-morning run drills and jog
-relaxed Breakfast
-to race venue at 10am, really pumped but more enjoyable build up than individual race
-normal warm ups, race order Aileen, Conor, Eimear, Russell.
-Aileen finishes to tag me in lead pack, swim, bike and run probably harder than I’ve ever done.

-I finish in 3rd place, 3 secs behind 2nd place.
-We finish in 6th place great performance from N.Ireland’s team relay team.
-catch up with my parents and friends and family for 30mins pre going to athletes village.
-Village is awesome, party with all the triathletes, family and friends in Bamboo in Glasgow City centre… Loooong night, great Craic.

Full race results -
http://www.triathlon.org/news/article/england_wins_gold_as_mixed_relay_debuts_at_commonwealth_games
Triathlon Ireland report -
http://www.triathlonireland.com/index.php?id=107&nid=1879

Sunday 27th July
-physio flush out
-track athletics, 5km final, explore athletes village
-final triathlon meeting

Monday 28th July
-watch 1,500m swim heats at Tollcross pool
-pack for leaving
-Travel to Edinburgh airport, fly to Geneva, drive 2 hours to Avoriaz, back to normal training tomorrow.

The Commonwealth Games are Awesome!

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Running analysis

I recently had my run analysis done by local Leicestershire Company; Runners High. The company is headed by Terry Withington and based in Hinckley (full details provided below).  Terry offered me the opportunity to participate in an analysis and I enthusiastically jumped at the chance knowing how relevant this knowledge would be for my continuing efforts in triathlon racing.

The website for Runners High can be found at the following link and provides a breakdown of the different services offered:

www.runners-high.co.uk

This blog is my account of my own experience under Terry’s expert guidance.

Terry’s premises are easy to find and boasts free car parking, happy customer so far, check!

Every runner is unique, I am sure Terry would agree with me on that 100%, I have been working hard for over a year now on improving my posture with a specialist biomechanist following a serious knock to my structure. The need for this arose when I was sent flying off my bike last year by a car; which messed up my alignment significantly and has been the root cause of a number of issues I now face when running.

The analysis with Terry did not take more than 10 minutes, and was designed to force me; the runner into what I would do naturally by pushing the limits past comfortable but not to become uncomfortable.

Terry took video footage from behind and from the side whilst I was walking at 6.0kph and running at 10kph.

After the analysis Terry and I were chatting about certain aspects of my posture and discussing how I could go about making some changes which would certainly improve my running efficiency. Terry kept the information concise and simple, allowing me to understand how to apply what I needed to do.

After a few days I received a full analysis report which I have included here as a sample of what to expect:

RH Athlete Report – Nic Rossell

Terry was incredibly friendly, made me feel very comfortable and provided me with a comprehensive breakdown of technique and relevant action points.

I would highly recommend Terry at Runners High to anyone interested in their technique and how to improve for faster and more efficient running.

Terry is also leading some beginners running groups in the Hinckley locality, so please contact him if you are interested in getting started with running. All abilities can be catered for, or sign posted to suitable groups/clubs.

Contact Terry –

Sparkenhoe House

Southfield Road,

Hinckley, Leicestershire, LE10 1UB

Telephone – 0752 7142169

Follow Runners High on Twitter – @Runners_High_UK

Follow Runners High on Facebook - www.facebook.com/runnershighuk

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COMMONWEALTH GAMES TRIATHLON

COMMONWEALTH GAMES TRIATHLON.

Thursday 24th July, 9.30am Female race, 3pm Male race

Saturday 26th July 12.30 Mixed relay

I’m ranked number 17 for the men’s race I aim to beat this ranking with my finishing place.

Start list
http://www.triathlon.org/events/start_list/2014_glasgow_commonwealth_games/268733

Race Preview
http://www.220triathlon.com/news/preview-triathlon-at-this-years-commonwealths/8898.html

I’ll update you all when I arrive in Glasgow.

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21st July 2014 On route GLASGOW 2014

21st July 2014

On route GLASGOW 2014

This morning I complete my last run session then fly from Geneva to Glasgow.  I’ve been doing some solid training here in Morzine and Avoriaz (1,800m altitude).  The past few weeks I’ve been on the limit, (where you should be to improve by the best percentages) and have doing the basic sensible things to stay healthy and to recovery the most effectively from all training sessions.

In Darren’s Squad there are 3 of us competing in Glasgow this week, my Irish team mate Aileen Reid, Jodie Stimpson (GBR) and I.

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12th July HAMBURG WTS

12th July HAMBURG WTS

Last weekend I travelled to Hamburg WTS from Morzine, (An epic 14hr drive), I was 1st on the wait list and thought there was a chance I would get a start if someone withdrew from the race on the last minute, sadly no one did and 45mins pre race I was off for a decent training session whilst the 65 guys on the start line of the sprint race battled it out in front of 300,000 people.

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Ultra Running In Scotland: Part Two

Ultra Running In Scotland: Part Two

Steve Pascale-Jones

Quitting the West Highland Way race two weeks ago was a very hard decision to make. It meant the loss of four vital points that I would need in my quest for UTMB qualification. Although I could not afford to lose these points, I am still new to running ultras and, although I know my body extremely well, I did not want to jeopardise the rest of my season for the sake of finishing one race.

Post WHW I have reflected on what it will take to do well at that race and other similar races. For me, races are all about RACING. Not finishing. In the same way that I love road race cycling but I am not a fan of sportives. Don’t get me wrong, I know for some people that just finishing an event is a great achievement. My youngest sister recently finished her first 5K Race For Life and I am very proud of her, more so as she set herself a goal time and achieved it. I have nothing but admiration for anyone who gets off their backside, sets a target and achieves it, but that just isn’t me. I am a RACER.

I’m not foolish enough to think that I’ll win anything just yet, but I always know what I should be able to do, what should be a tough challenge and what should be just about possible on a perfect day. All that being said, whatever you think is your physical maximum is usually about 20% of what you are capable of, so anything’s possible!

In 2013 a few intrepid runners staged the inaugural Great Glen Ultra, essentially running the course in anticipation of the 2014 event and to post some times to give us GGU runners some idea of what we were looking at. Scottish International runner Charlotte Black was first home in an impressive time of 14hours 13 minutes, some two hours ahead of two runners who tied for second and third. Based on what I knew I should be able to achieve I worked out three schedules for 14.5, 15.5 and 16.5 hours.

Great Glen Ultra

Race day came and I was stood outside Bught Park pool and athletics stadium in Inverness. Adele had dropped me off and a short wait later I was on the bus to the start line in Fort William. I was sat next to a nice chap called Richard who had come up from Leeds to race and he was clearly an experienced marathon runner with a PB of almost exactly 3hrs and several ultras under his belt. The bus ride was very comfortable and had stunning views all the way. Obviously we all knew we would be enjoying these views for a lot longer yet though!

On arrival at registration, left my ‘drop bags’ to be taken to the relevant checkpoints which were spaced about every 10 miles apart. Having read lots of ultra blogs now, drop bags seem to contain all kinds of wacky things, including booze, noodles and more. Sorry to disappoint but mine contained nothing more than the odd gel or energy bar.

After a short wait we headed out for the pre-race briefing and the start. Instructions of “Don’t fall in the canal” and “Keep the Loch on the right” seemed sufficient and at 1am off we went.

As I have said before, I love night running and frequently practice it in training. I used to enjoy night cycling too years ago, especially mountain biking. I picked out a runner who looked pretty serious and basically stuck with him from the start.

Checkpoint 1 at Clunes came around without incident after 10 miles. I had decided not to use a drop bag at this point as it was very early days, so as I ran straight through, I was surprised to see some of the stronger runners stopping so soon. My plan though was to be more self-disciplined in this race and run to my own plan, which is exactly what I did and I found myself getting a bit of a gap. According to my watch I was here at 1h32m36s. My schedule dictated that I was to arrive at each 10mile marker between 2h06m and 2h20m so I was well up. I pushed on. Shortly after, the runner I had been using for pacing came past me as I paused to double check the route. He had a really light, fast cadence of which I was very envious being the lummox that I am! It turns out this runner was Ryan MacKenzie who went on to finish third.

Between 10 and 20 miles, I thought there would be a lot more overtaking but most runners seemed to settle into a stride pretty quickly. Sure enough CP2 at Laggan came and I grabbed my first drop bag. I say ‘grabbed it’ but as I came into the checkpoint and shouted my race number the kind marshals had already sorted it for me and were ready to top up my water bottles; result! A quick check of the watch revealed that I got to CP2 with a split of 1h33m27s, only about a minute difference from my first 10miles, I was very happy with that!

I took on some nutrition and after another mile or so my tummy started to give me some problems and I was feeling really sick with abdominal cramps. I knew they would pass but it meant walking was the only option for a bit and I got caught by quite a few runners, including Richard who was running well with another guy. A bit of dry-retching later (but no sick) and a few burps seemed to relieve things a bit. I got moving again, although not really running. I knew I had a bit of time in the bag and this buoyed my spirits.

A few minutes later I got caught (and well and truly chicked!) by the amazing Antonia aka @PetiteFeetRun. I picked up the pace a little and was just about staying with her OK, when the course took a left hand turn back onto the canal towpath which seemed long, flat and straight as far as the eye could see. For me this was bad news and very demoralising. Antonia looked effortless and I wished her well as she pushed on. I had to walk a bit.

After what seemed an age of run-walking, CP3 at Fort Augustus eventually came into view. Spirits were down a bit but I checked my watch and it had taken me 2h22m30s, only just outside my goal time range, but that was easily the worst bit so far. With time in the bag I was then informed that CP3 might actually be closer to 31miles. Good news indeed! Let’s do it!

Nutrition wise I was alternating between Gu and Zipvit gels with the odd 9 Bar, all washed down with Nuun hydration drink. I was sticking with a 320kcal/hour carb intake as I knew that I could probably not digest much more than that.

All fuelled up, I hit the gas and 30-40miles flew by. Whhhaaaaatttt!!!!??? I got to the Invermoriston CP4 in no time, my watch showing 1h26m28s. I now gather that CP3 was more like 31 miles and CP4 probably 38ish miles, no wonder it flew by! By this time the World was starting to wake up too and it was nice to wish a few locals a quiet good morning as hey went to colliect the morning papers.

CP4 was the first and only time I saw any midges at GGU. Post race analysis revealed maybe a dozen or so had a feed of me, but that was nothing on the 207 epidermis perforations sustained at WHW!

Straight out of CP4 was a nice steep switchback hill, so I eased off and got some calories in. It turns out I would need them!!

“Where the f**k is that check point!!??”.

I wasn’t moving too badly but time was ebbing away on my watch like no tomorrow. After what seemed like an age I came off the trail onto a road where there was a car topping up water. “Aha” I thought, this must be the checkpoint. But it turned out to be the water station that I thought I must have tab straight by. It was scheduled for 45 miles but was at the 48 mile point. An extra 3miles seems a lot at this point when you’re low on water! At least it should only be a couple of miles to Drumnadrochit and CP5 I thought.  Wrong again Steve! the only good news was that I was informed I was ‘In the top 20″, unexpected but welcomed news!

A long road section led us downhill into what looked like the back of Drumnadrochit, but it never seemed to arrive. Eventually it did though and CP5 was very welcome, arriving with a 3h06m50s split, much, much longer than anticipated although it turns out that CP4 to CP5 was probably more like 15 miles than 10!! The marshals and volunteers at DD were nothing short of amazing though. Aware that I was still making good time, I took a conscious decision to take a proper break of 10mins and really fuel up. I craved something savoury and a peanut butter sandwich was very welcome, as was a coke and some pretzels.

Knowing that it wasn’t too far to go now I broke out my Jelly Babies for a bit of turbo power and kept them to hand.

A short bit of running along the main road over, I was back on the trail and had a runner in my sights. Every now and then he popped up and I slowly, very slowly, reeled him in. By now it was getting quite warm but I was feeling good and caught my target after maybe 10 mins of chasing.

The trail went up and up and a marker showed me that I was at the highest point of the trail. I didn’t stop to look at it though. I was, relatively, motoring with the little Jelly Babies keeping me ticking over nicely. Long stretches passed and I caught another runner. we chatted for a bit and ran together but he slowed up for a refuel and a rest. I pushed onto the final CP at Loch Laide.

I got to Loch Laide with a split of 1h44m45s showing for the 11ish miles from DD, awesome at this stage of the race! At CP6 I bumped into another runner called Andrew who had gone past me much earlier in the day. He said what a great comeback I had made which cheered me no end. He left the CP just before me but I kept him in my sights. I caught him on a long road section. at this point he was the only other runner that I had seen for quite a while. We marched together for a bit. As we came to a section of trail over a moor we spotted two other runners ahead and gave chase only to find they were hikers.

At this point Andrew started to push the pace a bit. I really wanted to stay with him, but I didn’t want to blow at this point of the race, so I wished him well as he pushed on. I could clearly see that he put in a BIG effort, probably to discourage me from chasing, a tactic that I often use myself. He certainly used it successfully this time! As I did not have GPS I was unsure as to how much further to go, so I just ran to ‘feel’ as best as I could.

Wow! There it is. A bit of a clearing revealed Inverness in the distance for the first time. Still unsure as to how far I had to go i picked up the pace again and was pleased that it was mainly downhill from here. My legs were turning over OK but, just as soon as Inverness appeared, it seemed to disappear again! Bugger!

Ah well. Keep going, not far now. A quick scoot round the back of a golf course and I was back on the canal towpath. I went past a couple of cyclists and families walking their dogs and suddenly there was someone in a high-viz jacket. I asked how far to go, expecting a response of  ’1 mile’ or something similar. The answer of “300 metres” threw me and I kicked into overdrive. I sprinted across the main road, past the guys practising their American Football and onto the athletics track. I rounded the bend onto the home straight and sprinted flat out, despite their being no-one else on the track to finish with a final split of 1h54m12s and a total time of 13h40m50s, finishing 50mins up on my best predicted schedule and faster than the 2013 winning time. My placing was 19th out of 86 finishers, which I was very happy with. even better than that was the fact that Adele had got to the stadium earlier than planned and saw me finish too!

The overall winner was Mike Raffan with an astounding time of 10h48 and Antonia was fastest lady with a brilliant 12h20 on NO TRAINING!! That girl is talented! When the results came out I was initially a bit disappointed to see that Andrew caught two runners just before the line. Maybe I could have gone that bit harder and finished a bit higher, but then I thought; No, I ran my race and did a lot better than I thought I could so I have to be happy. It was only my 3rd trail ultra too!

For the GGU I had an overall ave HR of 142bpm, a max of 170bpm (very low for me-maybe a glitch here) and burned 9791kcals

I loved the GGU and will be back in 2015 to improve on that time and performance. I would like to say a big “Thank you” to BaM Racing and all the volunteers who made the event possible.

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Steve Pascale Jones Ultra Running in Scotland: Part I

Ultra Running In Scotland: Part One

Since leaving FIT I have moved to Scotland for a quieter, more relaxing, lifestyle and to be closer to the amazing Scottish countryside which is ideal to improve my ultra running. For anyone who doesn’t know what ultra running is, it is essentially any running race that is longer than a marathon. As with any other race they can take place on road, track, xc or trail. In the last couple of weeks I have ran in two of the toughest ultras in the UK, the West Highland Way Race and the Great Glen Ultra, which was new for 2014.

West Highland Way Race

Me running the WHW came about by getting interested in another race altogether called the North Face Ultra Trail Mont Blanc. The UTMB is arguably the biggest ultra race in Europe. Unfortunately, not just anybody can enter races of this difficulty. Firstly you have to acquire points just to apply to get in, even then you go through a ballot process. Selected ultra races are worth from one to four points based on difficulty. You need eight points to enter UTMB. The WHW is worth four points, the maximum allocated.

Entry sent off I then had to justify my place in WHW and go through a ballot process here too; this shows just how tough some of these races are as if they don’t think you are up to it, you’re not allowed in (Sorry Sir, no trainers!)

So, justification complete and I was in. WHW is a 96 mile (yes, that IS right) race with 14,500ft of ascent, nearly all of it on tough trail. It is the combination of distance and ascent which make it so tough. WHW is also dependant on you having a support crew of at least two. One of which is in a car and the other is a support runner who may be asked to run with you from 50 miles onwards. At WHW there are no ‘aid stations’, merely checkpoints which can be 20 miles apart. It is your back up driver who carries spare clothing, food and water for you, although you do have to carry whatever you are likely to need short term (food, water, spare clothing etc).

So, fast forward through all the usual ups and downs in training, injuries etc and and ‘race day’ arrives. I use inverted commas as the race is so long that it has to start at 1am on Saturday morning but race day really starts on Friday. Adele and I took a leisurely drive down to Milngavie (pronounced Mull-guy) on Friday afternoon which took about 3 hours. Once arrived I registered, got weighed (a safety precaution) and had a mill about in the train station car park where all the runners where camped. I said hello to Team GB 24 hour runner Robbie Britton and had a bit of a chat, which was cool. Robbie was one of the main favourites and had come up earlier in the week to recce the course.

As time pressed on until the start the famous Scottish Midges started swarming by the million, so most people retreated to their cars, as did I. Sat in the back of our little Seat Mii, I got changed into my Racetime Events kit and relaxed before the start.

Sure enough, 1am came soon enough and I lined up with around 200 other runners. There was a lot of nervous energy about. People who have ran the race several times are probably more nervous than newbies as they know just how tough it is!

Paaaaarrrrrpppp!! The air horn sounded and off we went, leaving the Milngavie underpass and running through the small high street to cheers and the clanking of cow bells at 1am. I start mid-pack and quickly make my way through maybe 30 runners and settle into a fast rhythm. I like running with a head torch and prefer to run on ‘feel’ in the dark then revert to heart rate later on as I try to deal with all the other stresses and strains in daylight.

We had literally taken the first turn off the high street onto the trail and I saw a small crowd right in front of me. Some poor woman had taken a tumble straight away and was looking bloodied and was crying a fair bit. She was being helped though, so I pressed on and got into a good stride. The first 10 miles or so just seemed one constant long, straight hill, but perfectly runnable. It was very early days but I was catching other runners. I knew I was going a lot quicker than my overall target pace, but I like to try and get a bit of time in hand early in a race, especially one which starts in the dark.

The first official checkpoint (CP) was at Balmaha after about 19miles, but firstly there was a small CP at around 12miles at Drymen. I passed straight through and carried on. Just after this point I joined up with a strong looking runner called Tony and we ran together for a bit. He knew the course quite well so that helped too. Pushing on, we left the lower ground and started to climb. Tony eased back a bit. The path went up and up and up on fire road trail. I was till running though, so that was good. After an age it levelled off and then….. “What the f*** is that!?” Ah, that will be Conic Hill then. Conic Hill sits on top of a long, hard climb and is basically a long set of very steep steps interspersed with some mountain running. The views and scenery were epic though. I knew the hill was hard when even the Sheep seemed to be struggling!

I got to the top of the hill without too much hardship but then came the descent. Recently I have some nasty iliotibial band (ITB) issues which are worsened when running downhill. The descent from Conic Hill into the Balmaha CP was just a never ending staircase and pounded my ITB giving a lot of pain. It was treacherous terrain and I got passed by probably 15 lithe runners including a couple of the elite ladies. Teeth gritted I got into Balmaha in about 3h20mins for the 19miles. Adele was there to meet me and to help me refuel. The Midges were absolutely awful, huge swarms of them meant all the marshals and support crews were wearing head nets. Luckily Adele had got one on too.

My pitstop lasted about seven minutes, most of which was spent applying more anti-Midge spray, but that seemed about as effective as using Strawberry Jam as a Wasp repellant :-(

Onwards and my left knee was killing from the ITB issues. We were now running on the stony beach banks of Loch Lomond which was beautiful, if not tough going. At this point I tried to eat a protein bar so that I wasn’t only taking on sweet sticky carbs and to try and limit muscle damage. Bad idea. It seemed almost impossible to chew and digest. Within minutes I was retching as my body tried to digest this big chunk of gloop and run at the same time. I had to slow to a proper walk and I started to get overtaken by runners who must have had a more pleasant refuel at Balmaha.

The path moved back into woodland along the edge of the Loch. I tried to press on but my knee was very painful and, as time was passing I still wasn’t eating due to the problems trying to eat the protein bar. This wasn’t good. The next CP was at Rowardennan after approx 27 miles. I decided just to walk to there and try and recover a bit. I got there OK and it was the worst Midge-fest I have ever seen. By this point my arms and shoulders were just black with Midges eating me alive. That combined with not eating and the ITB issues really affected my morale. I came to WHW to post a respectable time (sub-20 hours) and whilst I may have recovered a bit and been able to grind out a finish, my time was doomed. Much longer than a 20-21hour run means being out a second night on the trot. I really didn’t fancy that and it wasn’t fair on my crew of Adele, Stu and Alasdair. At this point I decided to withdraw from racing. This was easier said than done though. I was at 27miles and Adele was waiting at the next official CP, Beinglas Farm, at about 41 miles!

There was a drop bag point coming up at Inversnaid though, so I carried on walking through the woodland, crossing streams, clambering over huge tree roots and boulders to get to that point.

It was still early in the morning and I knew Adele was probably trying to catch up on some sleep (can’t blame her!!!). Although phone coverage on the banks of Loch Lomond was sketchy I managed to text Adele and Stu and make them aware of my problems and intentions. I don’t like quitting, but I hate posting a crap performance even more. In two weeks I had the Great Glen Ultra coming up and I would rather think of the WHW as a good training session and finish early than drag it out, post a crap time and compromise my chances at GGU. So that is exactly what I did.

A slow walk to Inversnaid followed and eventually the back markers caught me up and the sweeper runners arrived just after I got to Inversnaid, meaning there was nobody else left on the course. The Trossachs Search & Rescue guys were based at Inversnaid and this meant their part of the day was over for the time being. Having informed me it would take Adele ages to arrive by car they said from where she was it wouldn’t take her long to get to the other side of the Loch from where I was. But how would I get there? “Ah ha”, they said. And that’s when they threw me a lifejacket and broke out the speedboat!

 

Five very fast minutes later I had crossed Loch Lomond and was sat in the Trossachs SAR van eating a much welcomed cheeseburger! Thanks so much to Grant and Stevie for their efforts on the day in looking after me!

Adele arrived in short time and we took a steady drive to Fort William where we had a hotel room booked for the end of the race. I had still been out for 34 miles and nearly nine hours, so it wasn’t like I didn’t try!

Back at the hotel and I freshened up and felt a lot better. Adele went for a sleep and I headed over to the finish line arriving just in time to see the winner, Paul Giblin of Team Nathan, smash his own course record of 15h07m from 2013 with a time of 14h20m, almost too fast for the race organisation who had only just got the finish line erected in time! Robbie Britton also smashed the 15h barrier with a 14h47m run. Conditions in 2014 were pretty perfect, Midges aside, and these two amazing runners had been pushing each other to the limit all day. Their times will probably stand for quite a while!

 

The WHW is truly an epic event, but I’m not sure it’s my kind of race. It is very technical in places meaning scrambling rather than running. Combined with the distance and all the rules and regulations on crewing, support runners etc, it might not be the race for me. Maybe I’ll be back to finish the job in the future, but probably not. I respect how tough it is but I certainly didn’t fall in love with the race, even if the Midges fell in love with me!!!!

A day or so later and all my bites had developed. A tally up gave a final score of Midges 207!!! Steve 0.

 

 

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