Category Archives: Endurance Events

Sky Run – Peak District


With trail and ultra running ever growing in the UK it was only a question of time before the sky running series made its way to our shores. Big in the Alps the race formats are normally marathon plus distances in the mountains with the aim of taking in peaks and ridges along the way.

At one extreme you have the Salomon sky run along the Aeonach ridge, a grade 3 scramble to others which are much less technical. This weekend was much less technical in comparison but with 29 miles and 2000m of ascent it wasn’t to be sniffed at. Especially when this height gain to distance ratio puts it in a slightly more aggressive category than UTMB or the Lakeland 100. Admittedly despite that fact being floated about, those races are a much more incredible feat of human determination and endurance.

A short recce the day before took me to the top of the first climb, Solomons Temple near Buxton with great views over the course of the following day. A final bit of race preparation was enjoying an incredible meal at the Samuel Fox inn, potentially a tad much for a pre-race meal but with this being my first outing back into ultra racing for a couple of years my aim was to enjoy the day and start getting back into it.

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Solomons Temple

 

Wondering amongst the competitors it was great to chat and hear stories of competitions completed and planned for the coming year. From quick dash fell runs to the rather more brutal races such as King Offas Dyke 185 mile race or the 268 mile Spine race in January along the pennine way.

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Pre-race kit prep

The race commenced and we made our way quickly up to Solomons Temple with short pauses as we were funnelled onto single track. Despite the forecast being of overcast conditions I was glad I had packed some sunglasses for the day with the sun beaming down on us. As we rounded the temple with a bagpiper playing up top we began to spread out as we started our decent already. This was going to set the stage for the day with every ascent marked soon afterwards by a descent and slightly demoralisingly loosing all the height just gained.

The route took a course along ridges, through moorland, bogs and of course up a number of hills.

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With a well marked course we could concentrate on the running and getting our feet in the right spot. With plenty of opportunities for twisted ankles amongst the rocky tracks being light on our feet and an emphasis on twinkle toes was the name of the game.

The only slight mistake came when chatting to another competitor about his up coming race in Oman. Taking the wrong turn we led out towards a farm building only to realise we had gone half a mile in the wrong direction. Slightly devastating as was the sight of maybe 20 odd runners who had followed on behind us. Quickly making up the ground we had lost we all made our way back into the course and meandered back down the hill side.

Running through one boggy area I came across a pair of Oakley sunglasses that had clearly dropped off one of the runners in front and were gently perched on some long grass. Picking them up I handed them into a later checkpoint. You never know when you might be in a similar situation. I didn’t have to wait long!

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About 10 mins later the course was incredibly beautiful and one I would have certainly wanted to capture more of it wasn’t for the fact I dropped my phone. Fortunately it was picked up by one of the other competitors not far behind me. A quick snap and with it firmly packed away for the remainder of the race after learning my lesson and not fancying a repeat before heading on.

The course meandered on and my pace ebbed and flowed as the terrain and distance took its toll. The three food and drink checkpoints on the route hit the spot every time. With the opportunity to refuel on chunks of banana, succulent orange slices, flapjack, soreen and of course a wide array of other goodies. I try to make these as quick as possible and continue to eat as I walk along out of the checkpoint. Partly this is to not get too comfortable and I would much prefer to finish sooner.

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Chatting with some of the fell runners it was great to see them descend in front of me. I still don’t understand how they did it so quickly other than through a bit of experience and raw tenacity to descend quickly! I envisaged face planting a rock face first if I tired the same so clearly an area I can improve on.

The route went past quiet a few climbing and bouldering spots with chalk marks on some and people clambering about in the sunshine on others. Unfortunately it would have to be  for another time.

As the day wore on I went over on my ankle. With my run going well this was pretty disappointing but deciding to walk it off for a bit I soon managed to break into a trot again. Some of the rocky ground though became much trickier to negotiate as my ankle seemed to get twisted on even the smallest of stones.

Finally the town of buxton came back into sight. I was delighted despite not being able to increase my pace a huge amount. One guy asked if we were to have a sprint finish. As much as I wanted to my legs and ankles had run out of juice. I was happy to finish the race at a plod.

Within moments of crossing the finish line I was welcome by a flat coke, my trainers coming off and my wife looking at me in a slightly sorry and apparently “grey” looking state.

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So good getting the shoes off!

Despite the ankle it was awesome getting back into the running again having been out of ultra running for a couple of years. I was remembering all the elements i had learnt about through training runs, competitions and chats with numerous runners and trainers. I finished middle of the pack which may not have been my best result ever but it was one I will certainly remember. I would certainly recommend checking out the sky running series with a greta mix of terrain and distances.

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A race to remember

Science in Endurance


Having been in discussion with the human performance lab at gsk we managed to find a slot prior to our departure for some testing at their facilities in London.

I had been on a tour of the place but it is a completely different experience being involved in the research they are carrying out. The aim of the day was to do some body composition work to understand how we adapt as a result of extreme endurance challenges like our north west passage expedition.

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The facilities themselves are incredible, used by a range of athletes from the brownlie brothers to jenson button. They include all the training and testing equipment they might use so they can do the analysis of results in house whilst the physical or mental testing is taking place. And for the day team North was in the building.
We started the session with a dexa scan.

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This machine went along the length of our body taking an image of the bone, fat, muscle and other tissues to understand our composition. Next up was the body pod which is a similar test but uses air displacement rather than an imagery technique to achieve this. One of the advantages for us was that the software calculates your calories required to maintain your body weight based on the analysis.

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The final stage was in the cold chamber for our own testing and understanding of our bodies reaction in cold climates. Now although we only got down to the equivalent of a warm day for our route at -16C it did highlight how quickly we would cool down as well as leaning more about our layering system with similar equipment to what we would be using.
Overall it did show our nutrition had enabled us to reach our target weight and composition of putting on around 7kg in fat and muscle.

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Thanks to all those at the lab as well as for the nutritional advice from PND consulting and supplies of maxi nutrition.

Food for Thought


A lot of people ask how the trip works, what we will be taking with us and especially what food we will be eating.
The expedition aims to be unsupported and unassisted. The unassisted part means we have to do it under our own power; no kites, dogs or any other method of assistance is allowed. Our dogs are being used solely for warning against possible risks from polar bears. The unsupported means that we carry everything with us from start to finish that we might need.

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To achieve this we are taking a huge amount of equipment, fuel and food. Each person will be pulling around the 250kg mark. This is the equivalent of 3 average sized adult blokes on a sled being dragged along.
Or to put this into numbers
260 freeze dried meals
650 maxi nutrition protein bars, black friar flapjack and cake
70 large packs of chocolate buttons
60 packs of Wild West jerky
Then a couple of treats like mixed nuts, wine gums or saucisson.
Drinks include hot chocolate, tea and maxi nutrition shakes.
These do vary between each team member but it gives you an idea of the quantity and volume of the food alone.
This all results in us having 2 rather plump and considerably heavy pulks (sleds) to pull each.

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This is heavy on a flat icy surface but when it come to having any fresh powder or the gentlest of slopes then it’s more like a rugby scrummage session. More of either can result in us having to shuttle our pulks along 1 at a time.
Let the pulling commence!

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Preparation for going North


Preparation, preparation preparation

Even more so compared to my previous races and expeditions this adventure has required far more planning and preparation. It’s remoteness, environmental conditions where temperatures drop to -40C as well as the 1800 mile distance to be skied make our decisions and actions critical long before we reach the start line. This has meant there has been a huge amount to learn and understand from the route, kit, nutrition and climate factors. As well as how all these will change as there is a huge shift in temperatures through the season of winter into spring. On top of this we have the physical and mental aspects.

Last bags packed to go

To conquer this we have spent many a sunny and rainy evening sitting round a table covered in an array of maps, kit, food, electronics and other assorted goodies going through it all. This has resulted in a few odd looks as we tried out some face masks whilst in a warm london pub.
Many aspects to the trip are very similar to any other race, trip or expedition, the biggest difference is that a bit like in my Atlantic row there are no shops and the volume of kit is far higher. We will each be man hauling around 250kg worth of equipment at the start with everything we need for the entirety of the trip. For the 3 of us that is almost as much as the weight of our entire boat.

Packed and ready to ship

Getting ready to pull this has meant for all of us a large part of our time being spent doing exercise and more recently eating to gain the necessary weight to be in the best possible shape to pull this. I still enjoy being able to do a mixture of sports so my training has mixed cycling, running and the gym with climbing and whilst it was warmer stand up paddle boarding.
All of this will come together for the expedition as we begin our traverse across the frozen arctic sea.

Final Reflections


With the new year, it being in the final count down before we depart onto the ice and 2 years since I departed Gran Canaria to start rowing the Atlantic Ocean, it’s a perfect time to reflect on everything, go through our final checklists and focus on what the coming months will entail.  The Team Has Landed   Since the 8 of us arrived on the shores of Gran Canaria we completed the row and since our return there have been marriages, Indian Ocean rows, adventures around the world, new jobs and countless more stories. Looking back on it all it’s really quite an impressive and broad list of achievements.  arrival As we head towards the ice we will be thinking of the little goals a long the way as we break the 1900 miles into mentally more manageable chunks. We have been putting the physical, mental and preparatory work in for a while and it’s now time to turn our attentions to the doing bit.  polar hibbert photo 2 So whether you are just starting, in the middle or coming to the end of a plan or New Years resolution all the best with it. Would be great to hear or see some pictures of your own inspiring stories before we head off on our own adventure, like all good ideas anything worthwhile is good solid work.

Chamonix with Run the Wild


It has been a couple of years since I found myself in chamonix during winter or summer. Finally I was heading back albeit for a very quick trip with Run the Wild.

Jumping on the last flight to geneva followed by alpybus a shared mini bus trip up into central chamonix. Despite the late night arrival it all worked really smoothly as I had forgotten how quick and relatively easy if is to get there.

Alpy bus has arrived!
Alpy bus has arrived!

We awoke with views out onto Mont Blanc, relatively early to get all the supplies,equipment and other bits and pieces ready a head of meeting the runners we were due to be taking out on the mountain. The plan was to meet them for a food and water stop before joining them part the way along the route to run in the final section together.

A Glacier Tumbling down the Mountain, much shorter than they used to be!
A Glacier Tumbling down the Mountain, much shorter than they used to be!

Despite it being September the sun was out in full blast, I was wishing I had some sun cream!! The views of Mont Blanc were fantastic with clouds occasionally covering the summit, known as a lenticular cloud. The weather despite looking fantastic was not to last with high whispy clouds showing the high winds at altitude and the change that would happen. For the moment though we could enjoy it! With fresh legs at the ready the gang of runners set off from St Michaels church in Central Chamonix.

St Michael's Church
St Michael’s Church

We pulled up and jogged out to get some action photos amongst the woodland. The timing was perfect as within moments they came round the corner. In good fashion a local dog also decided to join the photos.

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Running back to the food stop and we could catch up on the days running so far as we went along. The food stop had a fantastic spread with everything from gu gels to local cheeses and of course hot tea. Having not run and sampled the morning breakfast quite heavily, I found myself still pretty full.

Our first stop
Our first stop

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As they headed off we had to quickly pack up drive over to la flegere and get up the 1000m to the refuge in a pretty quick fashion! With my Aarn bag packed with some essentials and then it was straight onto the trail as we route marched past walkers enjoying the scenery whilst we flew past them. Sweat dripping down our faces and our already, or at least mine was, soaked tops. Despite this we manage to talk about what Si had been learning about on the topic of fauna for his up coming mountain leader assessment. I was trying to work out how he was managing to continue speaking which turned out he was wondering how I kept being able to ask questions.

The time remaining certainly made if quite tight with meeting them, as we got closer I was checking my watch constantly to see how much time we had remaining. As we ascended the gaps between the trees reduced till we were basking in the sun rather than the shade of the woodland. Coming round the corner we could see the restaurant marking our meeting point just as the runners heads poked above the crest of the ridge. Perfect timing. We stopped for photos, a quick drink and a chat.

la flegere
la flegere

Joining the group for the descent was a welcome change in pace and gradient. Taking the slope in our stride we began weaving down the mountain, avoiding the exposed roots and stones that littered the trail. I am always amazed at the route and how technical it is as there is a famous ultra race called the utmb which covers some 160km and around 8000m of ascent. Si who we were running with, did this race the other year and hearing the stories first hand on the brutality and beauty of the event, it was certainly inspiring whilst jogging along.

The trail was a series of switch backs all the way down the mountain some sections you could let your legs stride out where others demanded a lighter step between the obstacles. Coming round the bend we had arrived at a beautiful cafe perched on the mountain side. It was the perfect place for a quick coffee before the short descent into chamonix.

Cafe stop on the mountain.
Cafe stop on the mountain.

We reached the church where the day had begun, despite the weather due to turn against us it was still sunny. Heading back to the hotel and the spa that awaited us. After a days good running we could stretch out on the grass surrounded by mountains taking in the views before a sauna and a trip into town.

We went along to meet up with the team from Ravanel & Co which is a treasure trove for trail running equipment in the summer and no doubt in the winter equally well equipped. Not only that but the staff are all seriously impressive athletes themselves. Would definitely recommend them, next time will probably take a much emptier rucksack.

Piolet d'or (the golden ice axe award), mountaineering award
Piolet d’or (the golden ice axe award), mountaineering award

Waking on Sunday and the weather had closed in with thunder storms forecast it was not the day to be in the mountains. Instead we opted to explore the local area and head for a short walk further down the valley before heading off to the airport.

Walking in the lower valley
Walking in the lower valley

Arriving in london and it had been such a fantastic yet quick trip, certainly one that I could happily repeat. If you fancy experiencing trail running whether just breaking into it or want to be beasted on the trails in the uk or abroad then check out run the wild.

Run the Wild with Simon James


In between us both working I managed to catch up with Simon James the founder of Run the Wild which launched last year as the UK’s premier running holiday. It’s been built around the passion of running and exploring the outdoors.

Running in Chamonix
Running in Chamonix

http://www.runthewild.co.uk/

As an incredibly experienced ultra runner and mountaineer he has conquered peaks over numerous continents and run in some of the most extreme environments. I first met him a few years go whilst training for Marathon des Sables, he has gone on to do the GR20 (the toughest long distance trail in Europe) and Ultra Trail Mont Blanc considered by many to be one of the ultimate races when it comes to ultra running mixing distance (160km ) and elevation gaining more height than Mount Everest.(you can find some interesting facts in the link below http://visual.ly/ultra-trail-du-mont-blanc-utmb-all-stats-youll-ever-need-know)

Marathon Des Sables 2011
Marathon Des Sables 2011

Where did the idea of Run the Wild come from?

After being made redundant from the city I spent 2013 running and climbing full time. It was a big shock after working 12 years at the same bank, but looking back, one of the best things that has ever happened to me. Whilst I was climbing an 8,000m peak in the Himalayas (manaslu) it suddenly came to me. I love climbing because of the amazing places as well as friendships you make, but it’s not a race. I love running self sufficient style over the alps, so why isn’t the mentality of climbing in running? Running for the love of running, with a team… So “exploring places, not running races” was born and Run the Wild.

Denali Summit
Denali Summit

How did you get into running?

I used to run as a kid on the cliffs in Gower, South Wales where I grew up. But I didn’t do any running really until I was 28, when a business client challenged me one evening whilst in a bar to a 36hr walk across 54 miles of the West Highland Way in Scotland. I foolishly said “yes”. He then rang me the next day to tell me we would be running it. I was 3 stone overweight and had not run more than 8 miles in my life. We finished it in 14hrs and I was hooked. And he’s now one of my best friends.

Most enjoyable event you have taken part in?

Race – London Marathon, no one normally shouts my name like that crowd!

Trail Run – running round Mt Blanc on my own in 2.5days, self sufficient.

Maxim Bouevs Photo
Maxim Bouevs Photo

Hardest challenge you have taken on?

Running The Walkers Haute route when there is too much snow and with a broken backpack.

Best bit of trail running?

Freedom

Most important item you carry with you?

My lightweight Patagonia smock

What is your luxury item on multi day challenges or expeditions?

Jelly babies

Check out run the wild and if your a runner of any level get yourself booked onto one of the trips as they are certainly worth the experience. Until then where abouts do you normally go running? Have you got a favourite place or route?