Yorkshire Grit!

As a lifelong Leeds fan I’m used to dealing with disappointment on a Saturday afternoon, if anything it’s something I’ve come to expect. Today it was the Yorkshire derby against Sheffield Wednesday, a fixture I usually relish. This year however my mind was on something else…my third appearance in an England vest at the home international in Betws-y-coed, North Wales. Perhaps this was a Saturday fixture that might finally end in celebration?

It doesn’t matter how many times you get call up to represent your country, each time is as special as the last and it’s always an extremely proud moment in anyone’s sporting career.

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Pictured above: The Snowdon International Mountain Race, competing for England

Following my third place finish at Snowdon a few weeks ago confidence has been high and training has been going well. I’ve felt in great shape and done lots of climbing to prepare myself for the big event. I’m no running expert and I don’t have a coach…to be honest I even had to Google the word ‘fartlek’ a few years ago to find out what it meant. However, despite a distinct lack of coaching knowledge I do know what works for me and I am extremely hard working when it comes to training.

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Pictured above: Hill rep training on the ‘infamous’ Scammonden Steps

The past 12 months have undoubtedly been the finest in my 10 year career as an athlete. For once I’ve trained and raced consistently well and relatively injury free, using Strava as a motivational tool and to track my progress and mileage. Working to a rough plan of 50 miles a week minimum, around 10 hours a week on average and climbing around 1000ft per hour. This basic formula has kept me fit, strong and helped me enjoy a season full of success.

I’m not going to lie, when I saw the line up for the Home International (which was also the 3rd counter in the UK Mountain Running Championship AND the World GB Trial) I honestly thought I was aiming for a top 15 at best. The field was seriously stacked with the very best mountain runners in GB, Ricky Lightfoot the only noticeable absentee. It’s the strongest field I’ve ever raced against in my 10 years of competing. However, if anything I do thrive on the competition and I was well up for this one. I suppose the only thing I wasn’t happy about was the course- seriously fast, runnable and not technical at all, which really suited the speed merchants.

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Pictured above: The start of the Home International senior men’s race, Betws-y-coed

On a wet and miserable day in North Wales I set off and tucked in behind the lead group and just planned to hang in for the 3 laps knowing I would need a top 6 if I was to qualify for the World’s. The positions changed after every lap, all except 6th which I was never prepared to give up. The 3rd and final lap nearly broke me, I’ve never destroyed myself as much to protect a position in a race. With England International Chris Steele breathing down my neck on the final descent I threw myself down the track and gave it everything I had left to hang on for 6th. I don’t even think Lewis Hamilton would have beaten me on that last turn into the finish!

It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t pretty, it was just pure Yorkshire grit.

https://www.strava.com/activities/374987937

http://www.britishathletics.org.uk/competitions/mountain-running-challenge/

I was absolutely ruined at the end, I couldn’t speak for about 5 minutes and I felt like I’d just done 10 rounds with Mike Tyson. I was in a bad way after Snowdon but this was on another level. It’s taken me about 6 days to recover and finally muster enough energy to write this blog.

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Pictured above: The finish of the Snowdon International

http://www.britishathletics.org.uk/media/news/2015-news-page/august-2015/25-08-15-wmrc-team/

I didn’t think it was possible to eclipse my Snowdon result from a few weeks ago but earning selection for the Great Britain team is just the ultimate achievement for me. I’m still pinching myself to see if it’s all but a dream. I’ve made a select team of 6 alongside pro athlete Robbie Simpson (who finished 14 seconds behind Kilian Jornet the other week), Andrew Douglas, England’s Chris Smith and my fellow Yorkshire teammates Tom Addison and Tom Adams. I have to mention how pleased I am that both Tom’s have also made the team. We started the season together in the Yorkshire team, winning gold at the inter-counties and now we’ll end the year in style running for GB in the WMRC. It just doesn’t get much better than that.

I didn’t even bother checking the Leeds score.

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Peace treaty signed! Legs 1 & 4 of the IHMR with Karl ‘The Legend’ Gray

So after a sleepless night it turns out that Karlos the Jackal hadn’t checked Strava yesterday and it appeared that for a brief moment I just might escape his wrath after trespassing on his turf. That was however until I broke down and confessed my sins almost immediately after we picked him up in the car this morning to go for a run. Blubbering like a kid who’d just been caught nicking a mars bar from the local offy I just buckled under the pressure. I think I always knew he’d find out and thought my punishment might be less severe if I just told him straight.

The punishment for my Strava crime…a medium sized Latte from Costa, half a chocolate Nutri-grain bar and a 7 day ban from entering the realm of Brighouse whilst out for a run. A lenient sentence you might think but given the fact we were about to head up to the Lakes to recce Legs 1 and 4 of the Ian Hodgson Mountain Relay it was clear he’d be making me suffer on the long punishing climbs.

For those that don’t know anything about the IHMR it’s basically the best mountain relay in the country because…

a) There aren’t any other mountain relays in the country

b) It’s rock hard

c) You need to be able to run fast up and down whilst trying not to get lost (almost impossible unless you run in a purple vest)

and d) It’s the most prestigious fell relay in the country so it’s on every proper fellrunner’s ‘to win list’.

http://www.ihmr.org.uk/

The purple plodders AKA. Borrowdale win it every year, mainly because Mark ‘THE fastest OAP in the country’ Roberts knows every single blade of grass in the Lakes and always beats us on Leg 3.

2015 however is going to be different (cue Mark Robert’s yawning because we say this every year). But seriously this year we HAVE to win it because Darren Kay only signed for CVFR on the one condition that we win it (with him in the team) and most importantly because he’s dying to wear the pair of gold Oakley’s he’s bought to celebrate our achievement. So with this in mind we thought it best to recce the glory leg (yet again) just in case the clag is down on race day and we have to claw back the 10 minutes old man Roberts usually gains on leg 3.

As we were doing a quick hit and run on the Lakes in just one day we decided to do both leg 1 and 4 just for some extra miles and climb. The first ascent up to Angle Tarn is really runnable but hard graft. It usually takes Karl about 2 hours to warm up so I pushed the pace to try and make him suffer from the off. I thought it best to tire him out as early as possible so he couldn’t beast me too much on leg 4. The plan seemed to be working as every 5 minutes he was stopping for a piss but then I remembered he’s nearly 46 and bladder problems generally kick in once you hit the big 4-0. Point proven every time we stay in a youth hostel as a club, the toilet is always busier than the M62 in rush hour traffic during the night (Mr Gray obviously being the main culprit).

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Pictured above: Karl #weakbladder

To be fair to Karl he climbed well today and only I know that because I was feeling great but I couldn’t ever seem to drop him. He’s a bit like an annoying wasp that you can’t squat, plus he can always hold a conversation on the steepest of ascents. It was clear from the start I was in for a tough day on the fells.

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Pictured above: Angle Tarn (Leg 1)

The climb to Hart Crag on leg 4 is a monster. The steepest section is like the steps in Lord Of The Rings that Gollum skips up (a bit like Karl today). I looked at my Strava stats post run and the minute mile pace was 21 minutes, say no more.

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Pictured above: Karl before the steep steps to Hart Crag

After the steps it’s route choice time. We usually stay on the main path which is runnable to the summit of Hart Crag but is a dog leg to the top. The other option is to do a Ben ‘God of Quads’ Bardsley and just head straight up 4×4 style. We chose the latter today, bloody hard work and I’m still not convinced which way is the best. Any advice is kindly appreciated- except if you’re from Borrowdale cos I don’t trust any of you 😉

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Pictured above: The view to Patterdale from the summit of Hart Crag (L)  and The Master and Apprentice (R)

The final climb to St Sunday Crag is breathtaking, especially in good weather when you look down on it from Fairfield. It’s seriously runnable too which is great but it does mean you have to actually run it and after descending Cofa Pike at what feels like 50mph you’re usually in the red zone before you even hit the ascent.

We found a few choice lines today mainly because of the visability but it might well be a different story come race day. The only way we’re going to win is if we finally manage to run all 4 legs without any of us getting lost and most importantly Shaun Godsman loses a couple of stone before the start of October. Although judging by the size of him these days there’s more chance of Leeds winning the Premiership this season.

Click on the link below to see my run on Strava…

https://www.strava.com/activities/369621359

In ‘Gray’ve danger!

For those not on Strava…

What began as an innocent run turned into a perilous adventure as I crossed Strava boundaries without submitting any paperwork or consulting border control. Soon after leaving the safe zone of Elland I boldly (or stupidly) wandered into the realm of Brighouse, home of ‘The Gray’. It was clear from the start I was an uninvited guest on unfamiliar territory. Once I hit the trails of Hove Edge I was greeted by a stark reminder of those who dare to tread these paths without permission, the skulls and bones of former Stravarians who’d foolishly wandered these lands before me.

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Pictured above: The poor remains of fallen victims.

My plan was simple, to keep my head down and try not to draw too much attention to myself, the last thing I wanted to do was alert the Gray to my presence on his home soil, the consequences would surely be devastating. Picking a Strava battle with the legend would be like starting a fight in the yard with the hardest kid in school. As I ran up to the famous White House (home of the famous Karl Gray hill rep) it was as if the dark lord himself had sensed my threat and the heavens opened, rain poured down the hills and it was a struggle to run the ascents. I knew then I needed to quickly retreat to the safety of Siddal (neutral territory on Strava) if I was to guarantee my safety. Now call me brave (or stupid) it was the fear of Karl catching me running on his trails that tricked me into a moment of hot headedness as I foolishly had a little blast on one of his hills. Fortunately for me he’s not yet registered a time on this segment but even so I’m sure that he won’t be best pleased.

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Pictured above: The climb to the White House and a cheeky White House selfie

My only hope now is to pray that a) This run has gone unnoticed (an unlikely option) b) Retreat to Helmsdeep (Aldi in Elland) and strengthen the defenses on home soil before an impending attack or c) Sacrifice Mulholland to the God of Gray in the hope that he may take pity on me and be appeased by my offering. Whichever option I choose I’ve got a sickly feeling in my stomach that I may have awoken the beast.

Venice by run

Usually I’m really excited about going on holiday but this Summer with lots of big races lined up I was seriously worried about losing fitness whilst I was away. I guess this is problem only obsessive runners have! I was also worried about leaving Strava for a week- how would I cope given I spend most evening’s glued to my laptop analysing training and stats. So with this in mind the first thing to go in the suitcase was plenty of running kit and a promise to myself to try and commit to doing at least some running most days. At least I was helped by the fact that my wife Jodie was keen to do the same (although not usually!) as she is in training for the Robin Hood 1/2 marathon in late September.

Our holiday to Italy this year was set to be a busy one, staying in no less than 4 different hotels and travelling from Venice to Sirmione (Lake Garda), then on to Verona before ending our journey in Venice Lido. I needed a serious plan for where to run, especially in Venice as it’s hardly a fell runner’s paradise! However with some internet research and reading the blogs of other runners I’d found a few potential routes and was happy that I could at least do something to keep me fit and active for the next 7 days. I knew I’d also have to go easy on the ice cream, the beer, the vino and the fantastic italian food…a bigger task than the training!

I always maintain that the best way to see a city is to run the city. You just get to see so much more of the place you’re visiting and it gives you a real feel for where you’re staying. Venice is no exception, a remarkable city with something new and impressive to see at every turn. The plan was to run to the famous San Marco square, which was only a 10 minute trot from our hotel, before heading across to San Elena to complete a loop around what appeared to be the best place to run on the map. We woke up early and I was surprised by actually how many tourists were out and about at 6:30am! Although the streets were busy it’s still the best time to take any photos as after 8:30am Venice is swarming with sightseers and it’s difficult to have any view to yourself without a tourist in the way. Running early also means it’s less hot and the centre of Venice feels like you’re stuck in an oven on most days!

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I was also surprised how different and quiet San Elena was from the hustle and bustle of San Marco square. It’s clearly the ‘Central Park’ of Venice and where I expect most Venetians retire to so they can escape the madness of tourism in the heart of the city. Our pace was slow but it’s difficult to run at pace in the heat and also when you want some great shots of where you’re running for Strava and Instagram.

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So a single loop of San Elena, past the tired looking football stadium and then back to the hotel for breakfast before a busy day of sightseeing. Jodie managed to upload her run (her Garmin has wireless connectivity, much to my envy) and unbelievably one of the segments around San Elena is taken by no other than my friend Matt Wilson of Ambleside! Small world eh! (https://www.strava.com/segments/4085249?filter=overall)

So if anyone is visiting Venice sometime soon and fancies a run then I’d recommend this route. I don’t think you’ll find a better 5 miler anywhere else in the city, it’s certainly not the easiest place to run!