Come Fly With Me

Come Fly With Me

Once upon a time there was a boy called Ben who lived in Yorkshire, the biggest and best county in England. He grew up on the mean streets of a town called Elland and spent most of his time in the Hudd (Huddersfield).

Then one day he discovered something called fell running. It was a sport that took him to new and exciting places, like North Wales and the Lake District. Sometimes he even ventured as far as Scotland…but never Lancashire… he’d heard bad things about Lancashire 😉 

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Whilst on his travels, he visited a most beautiful and magical land, a country called Italy. It was here that he discovered Peroni, bresoala, truffle oil, huge mountains, epic trails, spectacular landscapes and something he’d never really felt before in England called ‘sunshine’.

It was the beginning of a beautiful relationship…

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Over the last few years I’ve become a seasoned traveller. I work full-time as a teacher in the UK from Monday to Friday, yet most weekends I’m jetting off to compete in mountain races all over Italy. Sometimes I feel like I’m living a double life!

I like to travel to different destinations for new and exciting running adventures. For me, discovering fresh trails and experiencing new races is the best possible way to explore the world. I get to see so much more than the average tourist, things that don’t always feature in a typical guidebook.

WHAT COULD BE MORE THRILLING THAN A RACE ON ONE OF THE WORLD’S MOST FAMOUS VOLCANOES?!

Take this weekend for example…tomorrow is Friday, so naturally I’ve planned another epic weekend of adventure in Italy…

After I finish work, I’ll drive to Liverpool airport, fly to Rome, eat dinner overlooking the Colosseum and spend the night in my favourite city. On Saturday, I’ll catch the train to Naples, get a lift to the Amalfi Coast from my friend Leo, and stay in his beautiful hotel in Ravello. On Sunday, I’ll compete in the Trail Del Vesuvio, a 21km race on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius. Then I’ll spend another night in Ravello, enjoy a run in the mountains on Monday morning, before flying back from Rome and returning to work in the UK on Tuesday. Admittedly, it’s a crazy and hectic travel schedule, but in my opinion a small price to pay for such an amazing experience. After all, what could be more thrilling than a trail race on one of the world’s most famous volcanoes!

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Planning such an adventure can be extremely tricky, it’s often a logistical nightmare and difficult to know exactly where to start. There’s the small matter of finding a race, before the real work begins – booking flights and trains, hiring cars, sorting accommodation, transfers etc. Everything has to be timed to perfection and sometimes I have to rely on luck rather than organisation! Despite this, I’ve managed to enjoy some amazing, action-packed weekends and now I want to help you do the same.

So without further ado, here are my top-tips for the travelling mountain runner…

1. CHOOSING A DESTINATION

Choosing a race is the first and most important decision that you’ll have to make. It can however prove quite difficult, especially as there is so much choice! My advice would be to consider a place or country that you’ve always wanted to visit and then search for a race near to that location. For example, I desperately wanted to run the Path of the Gods, on the Amalfi Coast in Italy. After doing some research on the internet, I accidentally stumbled upon the Trail Campania website which provided me with all the details about the different races in the region. I’ve since competed in 4 different races and explored much of the spectacular Amalfi Coast on foot.

Trail Degli Dei.jpgPictured above: Competing in the Trail Degli Dei race, Agerola, Amalfi Coast, Italy (courtesy of Antonio Naclerio)

There are also several other useful websites that can provide you with a list of European race fixtures, recommendations and all the other information you might need.

Here are a few that I regularly use;

www.italyontrail.com

www.wmra.ch

www.corsainmontagna.it

www.mountainrunning.net

www.european-athletics.org

www.vkworldcircuit.com

Amalfi Trail.pngPictured above: Competing in Rupert’s Trail, Amalfi, Italy

You’ll also need an up-to-date medical form in order to compete in Europe, which must be signed by your doctor. Be aware that unless you have a friend in the profession, you’ll have to pay a charge for this service. If you’re planning on competing in Italy then apply for a Runcard. It costs 15 Euros and is valid for a year.

‘FREE’ IS MY FAVOURITE WORD, CLOSELY FOLLOWED BY ‘REDUCED’ 

In addition to this, if you are training or competing on dangerous mountainous terrain, I would advise paying for specialist travel insurance. Most standard policies, especially those insurance services provided by your bank for example, won’t cover you against an accident of this type. Check the small print BEFORE you run. To be safe, it’s best to get cover for the days that you know you’ll be running/competing, or for the trip as a whole. The best company I’ve used for this is Sportscover Direct. They’re one of the few insurance companies who actually have an option for ‘mountain running’ on their online application form and it’s best to purchase specific cover just in case you do require medical care. It’s always better to be safe than sorry!!!

Video: Sentiero Spinotti e Monte Coglians, Northern Italy

2. BOOKING THE BEST FLIGHT

Before you enter the race, first check that there are flights available, and at the right price. If you’re prepared to search around and be flexible on which airports you fly to and from, then you can really find some great deals. I can recommend using www.skyscanner.net to search for possible flight combinations. Don’t forget to ‘add nearby airports’ to your search list and this will increase the number of options that you have. Sometimes it’s cheaper to fly via another place/country e.g Amsterdam, which is one of a number of European transfer hubs for connecting flights. My personal favourite airline is Lufthansa; Germany efficiency at its best. They rarely cancel flights, they’re usually on time and they always look after their customers. You even get free food and drink on the flight and ‘free’ is my favourite word, closely followed by ‘reduced’.

It’s worth knowing that in Italy, Milan and Rome are two of the easiest and cheapest places to fly into. Both cities have 2 airports and most of the mountain races I’ve competed in are accessible from either. As a starting point I’d look for flights to one of these cities, as most UK airports include them in their list of destinations.

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3. GETTING AROUND

If you’re a confident driver, then a hire car is by far the quickest and easiest way to get around and about. For a start, you can be more flexible with your travel plans and you’re not a slave to public transport. It also means you can visit and see more places in the short time that you have available. Just last year alone, I drove a hire car in 12 different countries! Personally I think the best website to search for a car rental is Zest www.zestcarrental.com (they also offer better rates to loyal and returning customers).

IF YOU CAN DRIVE ON THE AMALFI COAST, YOU CAN DRIVE ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD 

I’d recommend using sat-nav to avoid toll charges, especially if you don’t want to pay for the privilege of using faster and more direct roads and motorways. You’ll also need to remember to take your driving license and a credit card with you. The latter is required to allow a pre-authorisation block to be placed on your account, as a security deposit in the event of an unfortunate accident.

If you’re considering driving on the Amalfi Coast you might also want to wear a nappy and book additional life insurance. Only a confident and calm driver can handle the hair-raising turns, deathly switchbacks, steep drops into the sea and crazy italian drivers. It’s certainly not a travel experience for the faint-hearted, but if you can drive on the Amalfi Coast, then you can drive anywhere in the world!

Your mountain.jpgPictured above: Val Di Mello, Northern Italy

Alternatively, you can travel on trains, buses or pre-booked transfers/taxis. It’s always best to book in advance (wherever possible) to save money and in most European countries, public transport is cheap, very reliable and usually runs on time. In Italy, the FrecciaRossa (https://www.italiarail.com/frecciarossa) are (slightly more expensive) high-speed trains, operated by Trenitalia, making journeys between Italian cities as smooth and short as possible. I’s recommend using these if you’d prefer to save time and travel in greater comfort.

If you’re catching a bus in Italy, you’ll have to buy your ticket in a local Tabaccheria (Tobacconist) before you travel. You can purchase them over the counter (single or return) and you must make sure you stamp them in the ticket machine as you get on. If you don’t stamp your ticket (bus or train!), then you risk paying a fine!

It’s sometimes worth checking the price of a flight + train journey, compared to a direct flight. For example, for my latest trip to Italy, the closest airport to Mount Vesuvius is Naples. However, I’ve booked a flight to Rome and a train journey to Naples, rather than a direct flight to Naples – the difference in cost is around £250!

40602594865_c2a352b322_o.jpgPictured above: The steep descent to Deia on the GR221, Mallorca

4. WHERE TO STAY?

Once your travel plans are in place, the next step is to find some accommodation. If you’re a seasoned traveller and lucky enough to have personal connections, then you could always stay with friends in the nearby area. However, it’s unlikely that this will be an option, so the obvious place to start your search is a website like Trip Advisor. Not only can you book a room through the site, but you can see how accommodation has been rated by other guests.

Depending on the length and type of my trips, I book a standard of accommodation in relation to how much time I know I’ll be spending at my chosen destination. For a short weekend break, basic rooms at a cheap price are perfect. I choose them for convenience, rather than comfort and quality. However, if I’m going for a week or two, I’m more likely to choose somewhere more luxurious. My favourite hotel is the Parsifal in Ravello, on the Amalfi Coast. The Mansi family who run the establishment have become great friends of mine and always provide their guests with a most amazing holiday experience. Plus, if you’re fast enough to keep up with Leonardo Mansi, he might even take you for a run in the mountains and show you the best local trails.

IMG_4510Pictured above: Sentiero Spinotti e Monte Coglians, Northern Italy

I think it’s worth emailing the race organiser to ask for their personal recommendation/s. Usually they will have their own connections and their knowledge and advice could make your trip even easier and more enjoyable. If you’re an international athlete, there’s a good chance they’ll offer you free accommodation, because they’re always looking to improve the standard of competition in their race. It’s always worth a cheeky email before you book somewhere!

Another alternative is to use Airbnb. It’s not something I’ve personally tried, but comes highly recommended by many of my friends.

Of course, if you want to enjoy a running holiday without the hassle of meticulous planning and preparation, then check out somewhere like Pyranees Haven, run by fell running legend Gary Devine and his wife, Debbie. Already popular amongst the fell running community, you can enjoy a holiday in the French Pyranees with very little effort in terms of organisation. They offer shuttle transfers from the nearby airports and recommendations for flights to France or nearby Spain. For a package price, you can enjoy excellent accommodation and enjoy amazing home cooked food at half-board. There is also the opportunity to compete in some of the competitive races in the area or simply enjoy running on the local trails. As an alternative, in the winter months, you can switch to the slopes and ski! I can guarantee you’ll have a fantastic holiday and be extremely well looked after!

5. PACK LIGHT!

Choosing the right kit (especially shoes!) is essential and very important. It’s best to research what kind of terrain you’ll be running on and what the weather conditions will be like at that particular time of year. Study the course details on the race website, email the race organiser or ask someone you know that has done the race before (or something similar).

I always wear inov-8 and have shoes for every type of terrain and condition. The X-Talon 210 are suitable for trail and fell races where both grip and weight are both a priority. They are my lightweight racing shoe of choice. However, if I’m racing on dry paths and trails, then I might take the Roclite 290 as an alternative. inov-8 design and make shoes to fit all shapes and sizes of feet and for all types of terrain. So if you’re unsure of which to choose, then either contact inov-8 or myself, for a personal recommendation.

40783325814_cb814412a8_o.jpgPictured above: Putting the inov-8 X-Talon 210 to the ultimate test on the GR221, Mallorca

If you’ve booked a weekend trip or you’re really working to a budget, then you’ll need to pack light and just take hand luggage. A good tip is to stuff the inside of your shoes with running socks, undies, gloves, hats, buffs etc. This way you’ll be able fit more in your case and you’ll have plenty of room to bring back all your prizes…now all you have to do is win your race! 😉

So there you have it, my top-tips for a travelling mountain runner in one handy, helpful blog.

The Mountains Are Calling…don’t leave them waiting!

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Summer of Run

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted a campervan. The idea of being able to travel, eat and sleep in a vehicle is something that greatly appeals to me. It’s a holiday on wheels, a golden ticket to a lifetime of adventure.

I suppose my camper obsession can be traced back to the time when my Dad took us to look round a motorhome dealership. Prior to this, we’d always stayed in a caravan during the summer holidays, typically on the South West coast. So when my Dad suggested that we might finally ‘upgrade’ and buy something of our own, you can imagine how excited I was. I had this vision of us travelling around the country as a family, visiting new and exciting places every weekend. I was going to be the envy of all my friends. Unfortunately for me however, it wasn’t meant to be, especially when my Dad saw the price tag for purchasing such a luxurious commodity. So the dream was firmly put on ice, but it never disappeared from my mind.

“I’M AN IMPULSIVE KIND OF GUY”

Fast-forward 25 years and my dream suddenly became a reality. I was finally in the enviable position of being able to afford a campervan. Although, given that I have absolutely no DIY skills or practical skills whatsoever, I knew I would have to buy something that was already converted or pay someone a great deal of money to do the work for me. Now, when I say I have no DIY skills, perhaps I’m doing myself a disservice. Last year I changed a lightbulb in the kitchen and 5 years ago I also changed a fuse in a plug. So although I’m not completely useless, I still figured it was best not to attempt to carry out any work above my skill level.

So I began some extensive research into which campervan would be best for me to buy. This extensive research involved typing ‘VW camper’ into Google and then clicking on the ones that looked the best. It didn’t take me long to find one that met my criteria and a few days later I found myself driving it home, after almost having to sell one of my kidneys to pay for it. Now, if you get the impression that I’m an impulsive kind of guy then you’d be absolutely right. I don’t do forward planning, organising, researching or reading instructions. This will become even more apparent as you continue to read this blog…

Our plan for the summer was to head to Italy (shock horror!) for a few weeks as we had 3 races planned during August; the PizTri Vertikal (a VK), the FlettaTrail, both in Malonno, and Staffetta 3 Rifugi, in Collina. I was especially excited about the first two races as Malonno was somewhere I’d never been before, which is surprising, given the fact I spend around 5-6 weeks in Northern Italy almost every year. It’s also famously considered as the ‘home of mountain running’, so of course it was only a matter of time before I had to pay a visit.

BOOKED IT, PACKED IT, F*****D OFF” Peter Kay

Our holiday checklist was almost complete, I now had a van and I roughly knew where we were heading. All that was left to do now was carefully and meticulously plan our journey. So the night before (yes – the night before. That wasn’t a typo), I booked a ticket on the ferry to Calais for the following day and bought a Sat Nav from Halfords. Obviously I spent time copious amounts of time researching which was the best one to buy. Basically, I just went in the shop and bought the most expensive one that had the biggest reduction in price, figuring it would be the best. No point in messing about. Plus, time was of the essence; I still needed to finish packing and buy everything else I thought we might need for a few weeks on the road.

IMG_4326Pictured above: The beautiful view from the end of the Mont Blanc tunnel – crossing the border from France into Italy.

With our journey now fully planned (cue me typing Malonno into the Sat-Nav), we were soon on our way and heading towards sunshine and mountains. A quick stop over in France en-route, then through the Mont Blanc tunnel and into Italy. The journey was surprisingly problem free, all except for the fact that I’d not budgeted or planned on paying toll fees, for what felt like every motorway in Europe. To be fair, I’d not planned anything at all, so it shouldn’t have come as that much of a surprise. However, I soon forgot about everything the moment I took my first glimpse of the mountains. Or was it my first sip of cheap French wine? Either way, both did the trick and we enjoyed a fantastic night in the Aosta valley, near Cogne, before heading to Malonno the following day. The views of the mountains were simply spectacular and I’ll certainly visit again, although next time for more than a few hours.

IMG_4335Pictured above: A charming view on my evening run, the Cogne valley, Gran Paradiso.

Eventually we arrived in Malonno and thankfully had a couple of days to relax before our intended races. The GB representatives, aside from myself, were Kirsty Hall (VK), Heidi Davies (FlettaTrail), Jack Wood (FlettaTrail) and Karl Gray (FlettaTrail). I planned on running both the VK and FlettaTrail, as I just wanted to make the most of every experience and opportunity.

FullSizeRender 2Pictured above: The view of Malonno from our bedroom window.

The organiser Alex, who also runs the Corsa in Montagna website, made us all feel extremely welcome and we were literally treated like celebrities around the town. It was an amazing feeling, especially when we arrived at the pre-race celebration to be presented with our numbers. It can only be compared to the start of a wrestling or boxing match, with Alex doing an amazing job of introducing each one of the invited elite athletes to the stage. Check out the video below to get an idea of how a mountain race is organised in Italy… #TheBullet #JackWooooooooooooooooooood

20861800_1606778012722951_3159098109873626804_oPictured above: The elite male athletes take to the stage.

RACE NO.1: THE PIZTRI VERTIKAL

The day before the FlettaTrail, I had the small task of racing in the PizTri Vertikal. Kirsty Hall was also competing in the ladies’ race, both of us making our VK debuts. Once again we were introduced to the crowds of spectators in similar fashion, before tackling a brutal 1000m of climb in little over 2 miles. Now I love to climb, but this was something else! It made Trooper Lane look flat. I began the race at a sensible pace and for the most part I was jostling for a top 15 position, pretty impressive considering that nearly all of the Italian national team were competing.

I felt pretty good in the first half of the race, probably up until 750m of continuous ascent. Then we hit the final section and my wheels well and truly fell off. The incline ramped up more steeply than ever before and by the end I was literally clawing my way to the finish (see evidence below).

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The reward for my effort was a few pints of Bèpete BAM at the finish. At first I thought the beer pump was a mirage, but after drinking three at altitude, I knew it was the real deal. A surreal post-race experience at the top of a mountain, but one I could certainly get used to. It’s a shame I had another race to prepare for, as I’d probably still be sat at the top with a beer in my hand right now.

RACE NO.2: THE FLETTATRAIL

Glorious sunshine? ✔

Amazing mountainous location? ✔

Perfect organisation and hosts? ✔

Elite competition inc. the full Italian national team? ✔

12.5 miles of mountainous trail? ✔

4,500ft+ climb? ✔

Free food and beer at the finish? ✔

Priceless experience? ✔

I was really excited, but at the same time extremely nervous. I wasn’t well prepared, especially considering the fact I’d not run over 10 miles for months. I was however, determined to enjoy the atmosphere and the spectacular surroundings. I wasn’t going to let a few nerves spoil my day because I knew I was part of something very special. As a mountain runner it doesn’t get much better than this.

IMG_4420Pictured above: Digging deep during the FlettaTrail, Malonno, Italy.

I set off sensibly and let the main protagonists slowly disappear from sight. I had to run my own race or risk blowing up on the first climb. I’d not had time to recce the course either, so I was unsure of what to expect. Although, after studying the race profile, the first half of the race looked much harder than the last. Therefore, I worked hard on the initial climbs and placed myself inside the top 15, aiming to hold this position all the way to the finish.

IMG_4846Pictured above: Halfway into the FlettaTrail, Malonno, Italy.

My race tactic was working perfectly, I was climbing well and feeling strong. At one point I even thought I might improve on top 15. However, about 8 miles later I really began to suffer. I was desperately thirsty and in need of an energy gel or a sugar boost. By mile 11 my wheels had well and truly fallen off. I reached the last checkpoint after a long descent and just stood for a minute whilst I downed about 5 cups of water. I walked for a small section and then dug deep for the last 2km until I reached the outskirts of the town. I’d lost 4 places in the last couple of miles but it wasn’t a complete disaster. 18th was still a respectable result and considering I wasn’t anywhere near top shape before the race, I can’t really complain.

IMG_4528Pictured above: The finish line with the FlettaTrail GB team and organisers

 

RESULTS | PHOTOS | STRAVA

IT’S NOT ABOUT THE WINNING. IT’S ABOUT THE JOURNEY, THE EXPERIENCE AND THE FRIENDS WE MAKE ALONG THE WAY.

Of course the race finished in the usual fashion, with plenty of wine, beer and food at the finish, followed by a party of EPIC proportions. The Italians might be the undisputed kings of mountain running, but we proved that the English are world leaders in drinking. What began as a fairly tame evening, suddenly transformed into one of the best nights I’ve ever had. By 8pm, it was like a scene from a typical FRA annual dinner. The beer was flowing, men were dancing topless and people were being thrown around the dancefloor as it began to turn into a mosh pit. Rob Jebb would have been proud. One of the funniest moments was when Marco Filosi, AKA. The Condor, took to the stage, grabbed the microphone and belted out some unplanned karaoke to hundreds of onlookers. The carnage continued long into the early hours. I unleashed a catalogue of my finest dance moves e.g. ‘The Chainsaw”© and “The Carrier Bag”©, Jack Wood was last seen licking men’s nipples and Heidi Davies drank more in 4 hours than she has done in 4 years.

It was certainly a night to remember.

IMG_4412Pictured above: Enjoying a beer with my friend Francesco Puppinho AKA. Puppi

PARTY.jpgPictured above: Heidi with the Italian team at the beginning of the night (Pre-carnage).

It’s not about the winning, it’s about the journey, the experience and the friends we make along the way. This was another unforgettable trip that I’ll never forget and I thank everyone who made it so memorable.

Of course, I couldn’t finish this blog without a huge thanks for the man that made all this possible. Alex Scolari AKA Skola, is a truly amazing guy. The time and energy he devotes to mountain running and the passion he has for the sport is unrivalled. It’s not possible to praise him enough. The FlettaTrail is a very special and unique race, and one that I’d recommend goes on every trail runner’s bucket list.

It’s true what they say, Malonno really is the home of mountain running.

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Pictured above: Enjoying a run in the mountains on our final day in Malonno with Jack, Kirsty and Puppi.

 

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Italian adventures (Part 3)

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Friday 26th August (My Birthday)

21 pizzas and 54 Aperol Spritz later, I finally arrive in Susa for the World Masters Mountain Running Championships 2016. It’s hard to accept that at 35 years old I’m finally classed as a ‘mountain running veteran’. It really doesn’t seem right. I’m old enough by only 2 days to compete and the youngest athlete in the race.

My first impressions of Susa are good. The town is relatively small but very charming. It has easy access to spectacular countryside and is surrounded by steep, mountainous terrain. There is a constant stream of visitors because of its important Roman ruins and medieval monuments such as the amphitheatre, the Graziane Thermal aqueduct, Porta Savoia and l’Arco di Augusto. Worth a visit just to admire these impressive ancient relics

alpes--1103-.jpgPictured above: The beautiful town of Susa (photo credit)

One of the things I love most about mountain running is that it takes you to some amazing places in the world to compete. Up until a few months ago I’d never even heard of Susa yet here I am, about to find out what this beautiful part of Italy has to offer. I’m not disappointed. I’m also not surprised. I’m yet to visit a part of this great country that hasn’t left a lasting impression on me.

“THIS IS A COURSE THAT DESERVES SOME SERIOUS RESPECT…THE STEEP GRADIENT IS RELENTLESS

There’s a large contingent of GB runners who’ve also made the journey to Susa. I’m looking forward to racing but even more excited about spending the weekend with great friends. I’m 100% here for the experience and to create new memories both on and off the mountain. Needless to say my pizza and spritz tallies will have dramatically increased by Monday morning.

img_0884Pictured above: Spritz o’clock – GB crew on tour!

Saturday 27th August (RACE DAY!) For ALL Female categories and Male V55-75

I wake up on Saturday morning feeling extremely jealous that the women get to race a day earlier than the men. As Lou Roberts quite rightly pointed out to me yesterday – they get an extra day/night of drinking and we men have to prolong our celebrations until at least Sunday afternoon. It does however give me a chance to cheer them all on and get a sneaky preview of the course. Well, at least half of our course – the men’s race on Sunday is almost double that of the women’s race!

I’m carrying a full bag of bottled water up the mountain because we Brits aren’t used to racing in this heat. It’s seriously warm. Even at 9am I’ve a ‘full bead on’ (translation: I’m sweating profusely). I’m thinking if I do a good job as water-boy, then tomorrow the women will repay my kindness – well that’s the plan anyway! Although it’s very much dependant on how much they all have to drink tonight.

I slowly jog/trudge up the mountain like a cart-horse and I begin to understand why Lou has abstained from alcohol over the last few days. This is a course that deserves some serious respect. Aside from the fast flat run out on the road it’s ALL uphill and the steep gradient is relentless. Starting at 500m, it’s an 800m+ climb (6.5km) for the women and 1445m (11km) for the men. I’d best get used to the idea of climbing hard for well over 60 minutes.

Pictured above: Looking after the GB ladies and carrying out my waterboy duties.

It’s not long before the first lady appears and it’s amazing to see a GB vest at the front of the pack. Julie Briscoe is leading the way and she’s closely followed by Lou. Both are class international athletes and it’s no surprise to see them battling for the gold medal. However, what’s just as exciting is that my good friend Kirsty Hall is having the race of her life!!! She’s in 7th place and looking super strong. I urge her to jump in front of the chasing group and a few moments later she’s moved up to 3rd and pulling clear. Hard to believe that 18 months ago, following career-threatening knee surgery, Kirsty couldn’t even walk up a hill, never mind run up one! This is amazing to watch!

dy3_72363Pictured above: Lou Roberts working hard on the climb (photo credit)

dy3_72493-1Pictured above: Kirsty Hall in the hunt for bronze (photo credit)

IMG_0881Pictured above: The Golden Girls! Julie Briscoe (2nd), Lou Roberts (World V40 Champion!) and Kirsty Hall (3rd)

It’s official – a Great Britain 1, 2, 3!!! Lou Roberts is crowned the new WORLD V40 CHAMPION with Julie Briscoe in 2nd and Kirsty in 3rd!!! It’s a very proud moment and I’m absolutely thrilled for them all. The ladies have set the bar extremely high and I’m just hoping they’re not expecting the men to follow suit in the morning. I might even have to lay off the beer and spritz tonight!

Sunday 28th August (RACE DAY!) For ALL Male categories and Male V35-50

We’re gathered, shoulder to shoulder, on the start line and everyone is jostling for position. Quite funny really as there are clearly some overly ambitious people stood far too near to the front. In a race like this it doesn’t matter where you stand at this point. It’s a long way to the top and the best man on the day will always win. The mountain will ultimately dictate our fate, not a sprint start.

“THIS GUY HAS CLEARLY NEVER BEEN ON AN ALL-INCLUSIVE HOLIDAY WITH A YORKSHIREMAN BEFORE…I’VE NOT TOUCHED A SALAD SINCE JULY

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Pictured above: Calder Valley Fell Runners on tour! (L to R) Lee Shimwell, me, Karl Gray and Jason Williams.

The commentator announces my name as one of the pre-race favourites – FFS! I can’t help but chuckle to myself. This guy has clearly never been on an all-inclusive holiday with a Yorkshireman before. It’s not a pretty sight. This trip has cost me an absolute fortune but after a week I was already back in profit. I’ve not touched a salad since July. I just hope no-one has any serious money on me to make the podium because it would be a wasted bet. Now don’t get me wrong – I don’t want to come across as negative because I’m really (REALLY!) not that kind of person. As soon as that gun goes off there won’t be a single person in the race trying harder than me. I’ll absolutely destroy myself to get to the top and by the end I’ll be laid on the floor in a horrible, sweaty mess. But I’m a realist. I’ve not specifically trained for this race at all. I’m doing it because A) I can B) It’s a great excuse to stay in Italy for another week and C) The most important reason of all – I just love running up and down mountains. Time to enjoy the views (yeah right!) and embrace the pain…

We’re off!

I let the Usain Bolt impressionists sprint off as I settle into a very comfortable rhythm. I’m determined to pace myself sensibly and run my own race. I’m cruising down the only flat section of the course, saving my energy for the brutal climb. So much so that I even strike up a conversation with Karl (Gray) and we talk race tactics. Operation ‘try not to blow up before halfway’ is going well so far. In fact I’m pretty proud of myself for not going silly on the road. I must be getting sensible in my ‘old age’ – perhaps one perk of being a mountain running veteran 😉

The main problem with setting four age categories off at the same time is that nobody really has a clue what position they are in their respective race (unless you’re winning of course!). Right now I’m somewhere in the top 30 and aside from the guys directly in front of me, I don’t know who else I’m really racing – a strange feeling if I’m honest. Nevertheless, my steady start is beginning to pay dividends as I begin to work my way through the field. I’m just tapping out a constant rhythm, fully aware of how much climbing I still need to do.

“FINALLY I CAN HEAR THE THREE C’S – CHEERING, CLAPPING AND COW BELLSMUSIC TO MY EARS

It might come as a surprise to many when I say that this is the longest continuous climb that I’ve ever done in a race. 1445m of sheer ascent with no respite, aside from a very small section in the middle, before rising again sharply to the finish. It’s why I’m being overly cautious – I’m really scared of blowing up before the final ascent. Even though I’m climbing well within myself, I’m still managing to pass people and slowly but surely moving up through the order. However, I’ve still absolutely no idea how many V35 runners are in front of me and I won’t know until the finish.

final-climbPictured above: The final climb to the finish (photo credit)

As I hit the halfway point (women’s finish) I feel in surprisingly good shape so I begin to increase the pace. Unfortunately it’s a false confidence. 5 minutes later I’m back on the ropes and hanging on for dear life. The path leaves the cool shade of the trees and the route becomes exposed. The intense heat of the sun is a real shock to the system. I’m absolutely gagging for a drink. Seriously, I’d do anything right now for a mouthful of water. As if my thirst isn’t enough of a problem I’m now being attacked by flies. Lots of bloody annoying flies. I can’t even run fast enough to escape them either. This finish can’t come soon enough!

Finally I can hear the three C’s – cheering, clapping and cow bells! Music to my ears. The end is in sight. With clear daylight both in front and behind, I cruise into the finish. I’m in 12th place overall and 8th in my category. There’s no need for a sprint and I’m relieved because my legs are heavy and the tank is empty. I’m just glad it’s over. Now, somebody pass me a beer.

img_0862Pictured above: All smiles at the finish. (L to R) The legend Mark Roberts, me, Karl Gray, Lee Shimwell and Jason Williams.

Race finished and it’s time to head back to the start. We have 2 choices – wait for the hot, crowded bus or run back down the mountain on tired legs. It’s a no brainer. Now it really is time to enjoy the views. It was honestly worth all the effort in the race just for this descent – pure bliss!

img_0936Pictured above: Descending back to Susa.

The best bit of course is yet to come. An opportunity to celebrate and enjoy the occasion with friends, both old and new. A particular highlight is meeting Chris Grauch, the 2016 US masters champion. He joins us on the run back down to Susa and even treats us all to a round of beers on our return – what an absolute gent! Note to self – I must plan a trip to Colorado to pay him (and Peter Maksimow) a visit one day. It’s also a real pleasure to finally meet Francesco Puppinho who is due to compete for Italy in the World Mountain Running Championship in Bulgaria. Without doubt a future world champion in my eyes!

img_0864Pictured above: Post-race celebrations with Chris Grauch.

img_0863Pictured above: Enjoying a beer with Francesco Puppinho.

img_0865Pictured above: Sandwiched between 2 champions! (L) 3rd in the world Kirsty Hall and (R) World Champion Lou Roberts

Of course, I can’t finish this blog without another mention of our golden girls, who quite rightly stole the show. However, I can’t believe this photo cost me 49 pence! Now Lou is world champion and Kirsty is 3rd in the world they’re making serious diva-like demands! I had to take 3 pictures to get the best light and they charged me for all of them! Both have also asked me to mention that they are available for hire at public events for a very reasonable fee. I hear Lou is opening a new supermarket in Wigton next week and her new book ‘How to get faster than Mark Roberts in 5 easy steps’ is due out in time for Christmas (signed copies also available). Kirsty is currently working on a new range of sports clothing for dwarves and really small fell runners, having spotted a gap in the market. I suppose with this in mind I should consider 49 pence per photo a real bargain!

img_0872Pictured above: Sandwiched between 2 legends (L) European Mountain Running Champion, Martin Dematteis and (R) Future World Champion Francesco Puppinho.

Finally, I’d like to take this opportunity to congratulate all of the athletes, the medallists (especially the GB and Irish athletes!), the organisers for putting on such a great event and, of course, all of my teammates and friends for helping to make my first World Mountain Running Masters Championship such an amazing experience. I’m looking forward to next year’s event already!

Roll on 2017…

 

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The Italian Job

The-Italian-Job_NEW.jpgTHERE ARE MANY REASONS WHY I LOVE TO RUN. I RUN FOR THE CHALLENGE, I RUN TO DISCOVER, I RUN TO FEEL GOOD, I RUN FROM ROUTINE AND I RUN FOR FUN

Running has taken me to some amazing places over the last 12 years and I have a wealth of amazing memories to last me a lifetime. Take last weekend for example. It was the European Mountain Running Championships, held in Arco, Italy, at the head of Lake Garda. I’d been selected to run for Great Britain, by far one of the greatest achievements of my career so far. Nothing makes me prouder than competing in the GB vest, for me it’s the best feeling in the world.

IMG_4495Pictured above: The stunning view of Arco from the castle.

Alongside the Snowdon International, this was a race that was right at the top of my ‘to do list’ for 2016. I was desperate to make the Great Britain team as I love competing in Italy, the true home of mountain running. Arco is a spectacular place and the race is very unique. The 12.5km three-lap route is like no other. It’s an up-and-down course that climbs through the elegant streets of the town before arriving at the castle of Arco, one of the most beautiful medieval fortresses in the Italian Alps. What’s most interesting about this course is the diversity of the terrain – with everything from concrete steps, man-made wooden stairs that scale the castle wall, rock slabs, grassy banks and tight switchbacks. This means that the eventual winner will of course be the most ‘complete’ athlete; the type that can cope with the ever-changing gradients and a wide variety of challenging terrains. Watch this video for a sneak preview.

TEAM GB

Joining me on this Italian job was a team of outstanding athletes, some regulars in the squad and others about to make their mark on the international scene.

Team GB.jpg

Management team: Sarah Rowell (senior team manager), Mark Croasdale, Helen MacVicker (team managers), Graham Everard (team physio) and Meinir Jones (team doctor).

The men’s team, headed by Andy Douglas, boasted a wealth of experience. All four of us had competed for GB at the World Championships in Betws-Y-Coed last September and we’re really good friends. Unfortunately Alex Pilcher had pulled out of the team a few days earlier through injury but we couldn’t have asked for a better replacement in Tom Adams. Over the last few years we’ve achieved some amazing things together for Yorkshire, England and Great Britain. I was delighted to be sharing another running experience with him. I was also very happy that Chris had been selected too, especially as it meant I wasn’t the oldest in the team! At 39 years young Chris is like a fine wine that just gets better with age. He’s someone who I really admire and look up to. I hold Andy in very much the same regard – he’s Mr Cool, Mr Modest and Mr Super-talented. I was extremely proud to be part of such a strong team.

IMG_3363.JPGPictured above: The Great Britain European Mountain Running Team 2016.

“SINCE THEN SHE’S BEEN AN UNSTOPPABLE FORCE AND WITHOUT DOUBT ONE OF THE GREATEST MOUNTAIN RUNNERS THIS COUNTRY HAS EVER PRODUCED”

Great Britain has always boasted some of the finest mountain runners in the world and thankfully we’re not about to break this trend just yet. This year Emmie Collinge was starting the women’s race as the overwhelming favourite for the win and deservedly so. She made her GB debut at the World’s last September and finished second only to Uganda’s Stella Chesang. Since then she’s been an unstoppable force and without doubt one of the greatest athletes this country has ever produced. It will probably come as no surprise when I tell you that she’s also extremely modest and very humble – a true champion of our great sport.

Joining Emmie were three other athletes who are all world class. Sarah Tunstall has been there, seen it, done and won it. She’s a born leader and a really great laugh. I was also really pleased that Heidi and Rebecca had made the team too. I’ve enjoyed spending time with them both in training and at races and I was excited to see them both competing on the international stage after some fantastic performances this season.

Both junior teams were full of new faces. Prior to this event I only knew Heidi and Scarlet so I was really looking forward to meeting the rest of the team. I can honestly say that it was an absolute pleasure to share the experience with such a great bunch of people, we really bonded as a team and it made the trip so enjoyable from the very first minute.

IMG_4512Pictured above: The stunning view of the town from the top of the castle.

THE PRE-RACE BUILD UP

We had the luxury of arriving at the championships a few days before the race which meant that we had plenty of time to rest, check out the course and get acclimatised to the heat. The latter is one of the biggest problems for GB athletes as when we compete abroad we’re certainly not used to running in hot weather!

I was very grateful that we had a couple of days to prepare as I honestly felt shattered. It’s been a really frantic term at school and I’ve been struggling to juggle a full time training schedule with a very stressful and pressured job. As an elite amateur athlete it’s been difficult to stay in top physical condition for the entire season and to try and peak for the big competitions, especially when I’m so busy with work. Striking a work/life/running balance has always been my achilles heel and I was concerned with how tired I was feeling prior to the race. Thank god I wasn’t racing until Saturday – I really needed the rest!

Thursday morning began with an easy recce of the route. As far as races go this has to be one of the most original and technical courses that I’ve ever seen in my life. One of the hardest decisions we all had to make was choosing which shoes to wear as we were running on every single type of terrain. Lucky for me I’d packed about 5 different pairs! 😉

IMG_4560Pictured above: Testing the course to decide which shoes to wear (inov-8 Trail Talon 250)

My day turned out to be very productive. I managed to co-write a blog for inov-8 with Emmie over coffee and we talked about some of the races and adventures we had planned for the rest of the year. I always love spending time with her as we share the same passion for running and have a very similar outlook on life. She has to be one of the most interesting and inspiring people I’ve ever met. We were also given the task of running inov-8’s instagram and twitter accounts for the weekend but I didn’t consider the lack of internet access in the area – 4G in the mountains is a rare treat! Those of you who know me well will appreciate how difficult it was for me to cope without social media!!!

IMG_4710Pictured above: The story of our weekend – searching for signal!

The rest of our time before the race was spent relaxing, enjoying some fine italian food and swimming in Lake Garda – pretty much the same as my usual race prep back home in Elland 😉 The surroundings were absolutely breathtaking and it made me appreciate just how lucky I was to be here.

Chris also had the idea to take a photograph of all of our club vests together to say a huge thanks for all of the support our local athletic clubs have given us over the years. I/we are very grateful to all of the people involved in helping us to grow as athletes and compete at the highest level. It all starts with grass roots and I thought it was a lovely and very fitting gesture. It was also interesting to see the where we’d all come from in order to represent Great Britain. The spread of counties and countries was huge! Obviously the Yorkshire vest made an appearance so Dave Woodhead will be happy 😉 This was the pick of the photographs, taken by Josh Boyle, who I promised I’d give credit to.

13588745_1223077847711386_1584767535_o.jpgPictured above: The club colours of Team GB.

Without doubt one of the highlights of the entire trip was listening to the evening entertainment back at the hotel (unfortunately there isn’t a button for sarcasm on my laptop). I was however most pleased to see that Roy Hodgson has found a new job so soon after leaving his post as the England coach. Unfortunately he’s even less talented at singing than he is at managing players, which I’m sure you’ll all find very hard to believe.

IMG_4703Pictured above: Roy Hodgson banging out the tunes in the hotel.

By Friday the pre-race tension began to build as more teams began to arrive in Arco. I was particularly excited about attending the opening ceremony as Sarah had asked me to carry the Great Britain flag during the team parade. I considered this a great honour and was very flattered to have been asked. The atmosphere was amazing. People had lined the streets to welcome the athletes to Arco and there was a real buzz about the town.

IMG_4709

IMG_1609Pictured above: A proud moment as I carried the flag at the opening ceremony.

After spending a couple of days relaxing suddenly the race was beginning to feel very real. Quite a few people in the team began to feel very nervous and I can completely understand why. It must be so hard for someone like Emmie as she had the added pressure of being THE pre-race favourite. The weight of expectation on her was immense. At times like this it’s nice to have the support of your teammates around you. Both Sarah’s did a great job at rousing the team with pre-race speeches and their experience, along with others, really helped to reduce the tension in the room. I personally tried not to give the race too much thought. At this stage there’s never any point in wasting any nervous energy worrying so instead I took my mind off it by watching Wales Great Britain vs Belgium 😉 What an amazing result it was too! My only concern was that our Welsh team doctor, Meinir, might require medical attention herself when Wales scored their third goal! I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a woman quite as excited before…..about football 😉 It was an inspiring performance that left me in a really positive frame of mind before our very own big day of international competition.

RACE DAY!

Race day had finally arrived. It was time for us to do the business and get the job done. As the most successful mountain running team in the world the pressure was most certainly on all of us to deliver the goods. First up were the junior girls and they did not disappoint. They produced some outstanding performances and were led home by the super talented Heidi Davies, who finished in 3rd place and won individual bronze. Scarlet also had a super run in 5th and just a few seconds behind. I was delighted for them both, two really great girls with very bright futures ahead of them. Heidi also happens to be a top blogger and her account of the weekend is well worth a read! Laura rounded up the team scoring in 10th which meant that the girls had won team gold ahead of a very strong Italian team. Unfortunately Bella collapsed near to the finish so you can imagine our relief when we finally realised she was OK.

Heidi’s blog: The Piano Runner

Junior girls: Heidi Davies BRONZE | Scarlet Dale 5th | Laura Stark 10th | Bella Williams –

IMG_20160703_192059Pictured above: My favourite picture from the weekend – Heidi Davies winning bronze.

Next up were the junior boys and each and every one of them gave their best, eventually just missing out on a team medal by finishing in 4th place overall. All four of the lads should be very proud of their performances, the standard of competition was insane.

Junior boys: Ciaran Lewis 13th | Gav Bryson 17th | Jake Smith 21st | Josh Boyle 26th

IMG_3423 (1).JPGPictured above: The start of the junior men’s race.

The stage was then set for the big showdown between Great Britain and Italy in the women’s race. My money was on Emmie to win gold and with the quality of our team behind her I really believed they could beat the Italians for the team prize.

IMG_7795.jpgPictured above: The amazing Emmie Collinge working hard on the climb to the summit (courtesy of Corsa in Montagna).

I desperately wanted to watch the women’s race but we had our own run to prepare for. I managed to catch a few minutes of the live coverage to see that Emmie was leading and the rest of our ladies were all in the top 15 and packing together really well. However, the strength of the Italian team was impressive and it was turning into quite a battle at the front. As I warmed up with Chris and Tom we headed towards the finish to try and catch a glimpse of the winner. It was a very nervous wait but when we finally saw Emmie appear into full view with a clear gap behind her it was amazing – I was so happy for her. It must’ve been an unbelievable feeling to break the finishing tape knowing that you’ve just become the European Mountain Running Champion.

IMG_7922.jpgPictured above: The top 3 women (L TO R) 2nd Alice Gaggi (Italy), 1st Emmie Collinge (GBR) and 3rd Sara Bottarelli (Italy) (courtesy of Corsa in Montagna).

Heidi Dent also deserves a mention after finishing in a fantastic 7th place on her GB debut. She’s always the first to congratulate everyone else on their performance so it was lovely to see her finish so high up the field herself. Unfortunately our ladies were beaten to the team prize by a dominant Italian side but they really did an amazing job to win team silver.

Senior Women: Emmie Collinge GOLD | Heidi Dent 7th | Rebecca Hilland 13th | Sarah Tunstall 14th

IMG_3443Pictured above: The start of the senior men’s race with GB’s Andy Douglas leading the charge.

As we lined up on the start line I felt as though we were back in England rather than Italy. The rain was bouncing down on the cobbles so hard that the street looked more like a river than a road. I was delighted! It felt like the start of a fell race. Although I was dreading the first lap through the town as it was pan flat for the first kilometre and I knew the pace would be frightening. I also had a difficult choice to make – do I try and run near the front so that I don’t get held back on the super thin paths to the castle or do I pace myself, save some energy but risk getting trapped in a bottle neck? In the end I supposed I tried to do both. It was hard not to get drawn into the early pace but also I had to start strongly or risk getting trampled on. How on earth nobody got injured in the first 200m I’ll never know. It was like being at the centre of a large cycling peloton where one false move can bring down the entire field in a domino style effect.

I breathed a sigh of relief as the field finally began to string out and focused my attention on the next job in hand – the climb to the castle. As predicted it was a real battle to pass people and whenever we reached a set of steps inevitably there was a wait as the volume of runners was far too great for the size of the paths. At this point I was feeling pretty good despite having to fight for every inch of space as we hit each turn at pace.

Pictured above: Digging deep on the climb to the castle (L) and heavy traffic on the descent (R).

For the first two laps I was running with my fellow Yorkshireman Tom Adams. I was climbing and descending well but I was finding the flat sections difficult and there were plenty of them! We ran through the town no fewer than four times and I reckon there must’ve been at least 3-4km of fast flat road. By the final lap I felt drained and I was beginning to fade fast. I’d lost sight of Tom but I knew I had to dig in really deep and try to beat as many people as possible to help the team. When I race, I always race hard and if I’m racing for a team then I’d sooner collapse than give up. Every second counts and every position matters. I was on the ropes but I absolutely destroyed myself on that final climb. I’d worked so hard just to get in the team so I was prepared to put everything on the line to finish as high up the field as possible.

“IN THE FAMOUS WORDS OF EMMA CLAYTONI EMPTIED THE TANK

It was sheer relief when we finally hit the summit for the last time and began to descend back into the town. I pushed as hard as I could and it wasn’t long before I was turning into the finishing straight. There was about 200m to go and this was the moment I’d been dreading – a sprint finish! Tomáš Lichý from the Czech Republic was on my shoulder and closing in fast. I gave it everything even though I felt I had nothing left. In the famous words of Emma Clayton – ‘I emptied the tank’. She would’ve been proud (perhaps not of my race but certainly my sprint finish). It was enough to hold my position and as soon as I crossed the line I hit the floor like a lead balloon. I was completely and utterly ruined.

If I’m honest I had mixed emotions at the end. I’ve been in great form all season and worked so hard to earn my place in the team but today I really felt like I’d under performed. Not in the sense that I hadn’t tried hard, just that I know I wasn’t at my best. I can honestly say that hand on heart I’d given everything, I know that I couldn’t have physically performed any better on the day. Before the race I really felt like I was capable of a top 15 finish but I’d only managed 26th. In reality I was only really 30-40 secs off the pace but at this level you get punished for not being on top form and today it was the difference between finishing 26th and 16th – fine margins indeed! Part of me felt like I’d let the team down and everyone back home who was watching. I feared I may have cost us a medal, especially as the rest of the lads had done a great job. I was just praying that we’d managed to beat France to team bronze.

Senior Men: Andy Douglas 4th | Chris Smith 12th | Tom Adams 17th | Ben Mounsey 26th

IMG_8076.jpgPictured above: Martin and Bernard Dematteis celebrating on the podium (courtesy of Corsa in Montagna).

The race was won by Martin Dematteis who was gifted the win by his twin brother Bernard. Both great champions in every respect and thoroughly top guys. As they were representing the home nation everyone was ecstatic that they’d won the race, although I was obviously rooting for Andy. He finished in an amazing 4th place behind Turkey’s multiple world champion, Ahmet Arslam. Although I know he was disappointed to be so close to an individual medal, 4th place in the Europeans is a truly outstanding result. The level that he is competing at is nothing short of exceptional. Chris and Tom had also performed brilliantly to finish 12th and 17th respectively and I was really pleased for them both too.

“WE’D COME HERE TO WIN A MEDAL AND WE’D DONE IT – THAT WAS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING”

When the team results were officially announced I can’t tell you how relieved I was when I knew we’d won a medal. Tom’s result had been enough in the end to beat the French by 2 points, a marginal gain that thankfully we were celebrating and not them. At that moment I told myself to get a grip and to put the disappointment of my own result out of my mind. We’d come here to win a medal and we’d done it – that was THE most important thing. The success of the team far outweighs my own personal ambition and I’m old enough and experienced enough to know that you can’t always have your best race, it’s just not possible. The important thing is how you deal with disappointment. There’s always another race, always another time to shine. Besides, as a team we had won a wealth of medals and I was super proud and super pleased for everyone. This was a time to celebrate and I was going to enjoy this moment like I’d won individual and team gold. We’d ALL given everything in the race and we’d ALL done Great Britain proud.

Results | Video | Photos | Strava

IMG_4701Pictured above: A very proud moment – team bronze with an amazing team (L to R) Andy Douglas, Chris Smith, Tom Adams and me.

Our post-race celebrations were certainly worthy of a gold medal. We had such a good night socialising with each other and the rest of the teams. The Dematteis brothers are absolutely crazy and it’s hard to believe that they’re professional athletes and not a famous Italian comedy act – The Chuckle Brothers should be worried! There’s always a buzz around them and they are the heart and soul of the mountain running community. Both are very worthy champions and amazing role models.

IMG_4663Pictured above: Post-race celebrations with Martin Dematteis…and his dad (or so he tells me).

The highlight of the trip for me was most certainly the time spent with friends old and new. Thanks to Tony Tamussin, who made the journey from Collina, to see the GB team and wish us all good luck. I’ll next see him next month when I run leg 2 for a Great Britain team in Tre-Refugi, a classic relay race in Northern Italy that he organises.

It was great to chat to my friend Alex Baldaccini after the race too. He’s an italian mountain running legend and a massive hero of mine. Also a big shout out to Isreal’s Megal Atias – adopted by the GB team and someone who we all really enjoyed spending time with. Funnily enough she was probably the only person in Italy who thought that the weather was cold! Back home she has to train at 4am to avoid the intense heat during the day – now that’s commitment!

Finally the biggest thanks must go to the race organisers, my sponsors, my amazing GB teammates, our fantastic support staff and all of the people back home who sent us such wonderful messages of support throughout the competition. Without you all none of this would be possible and it certainly wouldn’t have been the same.

IMG_4702Pictured above: With the legend Tony Tamussin.

There are many reasons why I love to run and this trip reminded me of each and every one of them. It was an amazing experience and one which I’ll never forget.

MOUNTAIN RUNNING. MORE THAN JUST A SPORT. MORE THAN JUST A RACE

Heidi Davies (2016)

I couldn’t have put it better myself.

 

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Every second counts!

Every second counts

It’s 4:35am.

I’m restless. I’ve been awake for what seems like hours and my mind is working overtime. I’ve played out the race over and over again in my head. I keep asking myself if I could’ve gone any faster.  I think about parts of the course where I lost time and what I could’ve done to grab a few more precious seconds. What about that final climb? Yeah, that final climb – that was it! If I could’ve just put in more effort on that last kick to the top then perhaps I might have gained another place? Damn! I knew I should’ve pushed harder! Every second counts. I play that bit back in my mind again for what feels like the hundredth time. It’s such a clear memory I feel like I’m almost back in that exact moment. Oh God, I remember that pain. How breathless I was at the summit, how much my legs hurt and how I struggled to switch from the climb and hit the descent at pace. No, there’s nothing more I could’ve done. I guess I need to stop being so hard on myself. I try to convince myself that I did everything I could. I remind myself of how trashed I felt when I crossed the finishing line and I try and think positively. I ran a great race. I just pray that I’ve done enough for selection. Anyway, time to stop beating myself up – there’s nothing more I can do now.

The trouble is, I’m like this after every race, even when I win. I over-analyse everything, I’m always thinking of what I need to do to improve rather than taking stock of what I’ve achieved and allowing myself to celebrate success. I don’t know if it’s a good thing or not. I wonder if other runners feel like this. Will I ever be happy with a race result? I guess there’s always room for improvement. I immediately think about tomorrow’s training run. I’ll be ready for the next raceI’ll make sure I am. No excuses at the next one. I need to do well. OK, enough now. Time to roll over and try and get some sleep. STOP THINKING ABOUT THE RACE….AARGH!!!

534973672.jpgPictured above: The stunning setting of Whinlatter Forest, near Keswick (courtesy of Getty images)

‘THIS RACE IS SUPER STACKED WITH A CAPITAL ‘S’!’

12 hours earlier. 

I’ve arriveat Whinlatter Forest, near Keswick, for the European Mountain Running Championships trial race. I’m desperate to make the GB team as this year the event is being held in Arco, Italy. It looks an amazing place with a stunning course and spectacular backdrop. This one’s ‘a biggy’ – I need to do well. I remember writing it down in my diary at the start of the season. I even wrote it down with a pen so it must be important. In fact what I am talking about? I actually wrote a race down in my diary! – that’s a sure sign of importance in itself!

Strangely, I’m not actually that nervous. I’ve purposely tried not to spare the race too much thought so I don’t get too worked up about it. What will be, will be I suppose. Besides I’ve seen the start list, if I make the top 10 I’ll have had a blinder. This race is super stacked with a capital ‘S’. There are only 4 places available on the team and let’s face it, I’m gonna need a worldy run or a miracle to get selected. Yeah, top 10 – that’s the aim.

As I walk to registration I notice a few of my rivals already warming up. I do that thing in my head where I start to rank people and decide where I need to finish and who I need to beat. I start with my mate Andy Douglas, he’s clearly the favourite for the win. I mean, the guy’s unreal. He finished 6th in the World Championships last year and he’s cut from the very same mould as Robbie Simpson. There must be something special in the Scottish water. I go over for a chat and Andy, being Andy, starts the conversation by congratulating me on my win at the inter-counties two weeks ago. I explain that I rode my luck and I thank him profusely for not turning up. He politely laughs it off but I’m being deadly serious. That’s Andy all over. He’s such a modest and down to earth guy, you’d never even realise how good he is unless you knew who he was. That’s exactly why I like him so much, an extremely humble and very brilliant champion.

The same words can be used to describe the next person I bump into, the Welsh Whizzard himself, Andy Davies. The last time I saw Andy was on TV when he competed in the same GB team as Mo Farah at the Great Edinburgh XCountry back in January. It gives you a real flavour of the calibre of athlete that’s turned up today. I congratulate him on all his success over the last couple of years but he’s insistent on praising me also. I feel a little embarrassed as my own achievements pale in significance. Time perhaps to try to find somewhere quiet to warm up where I’m not freaked out by the ridiculous standard of competition.

‘AFTER SEEING RICKY I NOW KNOW THAT I’M REALISTICALLY FIGHTING FOR 4TH PLACE

I’m joined by a familiar face as I begin to jog up one of the less crowded tracks. My ex-Calder Valley team-mate Steven Bayton, winner of the Greater Manchester marathon, has turned up for the race to test his mountain legs. He’s unsure of how well he’s going to run but I know that he won’t be far off the pace (if at all!) because he’s been clocking some serious speeds on the flat. Note to self – maybe I should do more (or some!) speedwork! It’s certainly an aspect of my training that I seriously neglect. I find it difficult to work on speed when I have an incurable obsession for climbing. The thought of sprinting round an athletics track at full tilt is strangely much less appealing to me than repping Trooper Lane 10 times and climbing over 4000ft. Maybe my friends are right when they say I’m a bit weird.

With only a few more minutes before the race begins, the senior athletes are called to the start. I’ve just enough time for a quick catch up with the legend that is Ricky Lightfoot. Ricky’s a fantastic bloke and someone that everyone on the fell/mountain running scene really respects and admires. As we chat I’m quick to play down my chances of a top end finish today, despite the fact I’m clearly in form. This is after all a mountain trial and not a fell race! There’s a common misconception that the two disciplines are very much the same sport when in reality there are many differences. Today will be much faster and I’ll be racing against a different kind of athlete. After seeing Ricky I now know that I’m realistically fighting for 4th place, along with another 15-20 guys of a very similar ability. The odds of me qualifying for selection are decreasing by the second – I need to just get this race started, forget about who else is running and prove to the selectors that I’m good enough to make the team.

IMG_20160409_194344 (1)Pictured above: The race map.

The race begins and we’re off! It’s a super fast start and everyone is jostling for position. In my head I have a rough idea of my tactics and plan of attack – I’m going to hang back and pace myself. I know that many people are going to set off too fast and if I run sensibly then hopefully I can work my way through the field on the last two laps. Besides I’m pretty clueless about the route anyway. I looked at the map (above) a few weeks ago and it might as well have been written in another language – I couldn’t for the life in me work out where we are supposed to run. Thank God there’s no route choice or I’d probably end up hopelessly lost in another Lakeland valley. 

RIGHT NOW I DON’T RATE MY CHANCES OF A TOP 4 BUT ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN’

After the first short lap I’m way down the field, somewhere in the top 20. ‘Don’t panic’ I tell myself – there’s still a long way to go. We turn and hit the second climb. I can hear the unmistakable sound of Tom Cornthwaite destroying himself behind me and it’s not long before he comes past. Nobody gives more in a race than Tom – he’s famed for his commitment and effort. I really hope I’ve not misjudged this. Andy Douglas and Andy Davies are way out in front and I’m right at the back of the chasing group, headed by Ricky Lightfoot. Right now I don’t rate my chances of a top 4 but anything can happen. Despite the fact I’m working hard I’m still feeling pretty good. Perhaps it’s time to make my move…

IMG_4230Pictured above: Leading the charge on the second lap (courtesy of Debbie Martin Consani)

I watch some of the big names start to pop off the back of the chase group, clearly paying for big efforts on the first lap. I’m beginning to think that maybe I have timed this well. I start to move through the field on the climb. There’s no sudden change in my pace but I’m climbing strongly and it’s beginning to have an impact. It’s not a fast, punchy attack like cyclist Alberto Contador, more of a consistent and measured effort, Chris Froome style. We turn sharply towards the top of the steep climb to Seat How and I pass my friend Steve Bayton. He’s blown after a fast start and he urges me to press on and chase the leaders.

I quickly switch into the fast descent and I’m up to 5th. I can see Ricky just in front and I use him as a marker to aim for. I’m not sure how much climbing is still left to do. Are we running towards the finish? Do we still have a small lap? Big lap to go? Jeez I hope it’s not another big lap, that climb to the top is seriously long! I shout to Ricky in front ‘How much more climbing is there mate?‘. He shouts something back but I can’t hear what he’s saying. I think he’s probably asking me what I’ve just said. Not really the right time to strike up a conversation so I shut up and let him get on with his race.

As we reach the end of the descent we swing straight back into the climb. It’s the last lap and I quickly realise it’s a long lap. Oh crap! I’m knackered! I think I might have gone too early…I hope I’ve not gone too early! I dig in and just think of what’s at stake. Alex Pilcher comes past me and he’s climbing really well. I can’t let anyone else past. In fact, what am I talking about? I need to start passing people myself! I’m currently sat in 6th and it won’t be enough. 

IMG_4228Pictured above: Climbing hard on the last lap (courtesy of Debbie Martin Consani)

I try not to think about how much climbing is left. Instead I break each section into manageable chunks and try to keep a steady rhythm and pace. I can see Max Nicholls in front and I’m closing in fast. I can see that he’s suffering and it gives me the motivation I need to keep working hard. Just one more climb to go. I pass Max and try to distance myself from him as quickly as possible. I’m not catching Alex in front but I need to at least try. God this hurts so much. Every single part of my body is screaming for me to stop and I’m breathing so hard that my infamous wheeze has kicked in. I’m working at my absolute limit. I just need to hang on until I reach the summit. I know once I hit the descent I won’t be caught but every second counts on this climb.

I’m so relieved when I reach the top. It takes a huge effort to switch straight into the descent but I know I have to chase hard and I also know I’m gonna be chased hard. I throw myself down the steepest section and take every corner at full pace. I’m taking risks but I have to. One mistake now and the dream of another GB call up is over. I’m praying for the finish but there’s still a long way to go.

535010038 (1).jpgPictured above: Squeezing every last ounce of effort out of my body on the final descent (courtesy of Getty images)

As the trail flattens I have to work even harder now to keep a fast pace. I can see Alex in front and I’m closing in on 4th place. I start to believe I can catch him. I know there’s not long to go so I have to keep pushing till the very end. I quickly glance back to see how much of a lead I have over 6th place. My heart sinks when I see Tom Adams flying into full view. I know he’ll run down this track faster than anyone in the race, it’s a gradient and surface that perfectly suits his style of running. If I don’t hold this pace he’ll catch me before the end. So I bury myself, squeezing every last ounce of effort out of my tired limbs. As we hit the final turn I’m forced to concede 4th place to Alex. Despite closing him down near the end it just wasn’t enough but if I’m honest I’m more relieved that I wasn’t caught by Tom.

‘ANYWAY, TIME TO STOP BEATING MYSELF UP, THERE’S NOTHING MORE I CAN DO’

I’m full of mixed emotion at the end. I know I’ve had a brilliant race but I just don’t know if it’s enough. I chat to Tom and he’s in exactly the same position. Then we share a moment of joy as we realise both Andy Davies and Ricky, 2nd and 3rd respectively, are ineligible for selection as they are already included in the GB team for the World Long Distance Mountain Running Championship in a few weeks’ time. Competing in both would be too risky as it’s unlikely they’d recover in time for the Euros. That means I/we might just have done enough! Well maybe. I really hope Tom has made the team too. We’re good friends and we’ve achieved so much together over the last few years. It would be nice to add another GB appearance to the list and fly the flag for Team Yorkshire in Italy. Anyway, time to stop beating myself up, there’s nothing more I can do. I guess I’ll just have to try and stop myself from over analysing the race whilst my fate lies in the hands of the selectors – easier said than done!

StravaResults | Photos | Video

The video above, filmed by my sponsors Mountain Fuel, is well worth checking out!

DSC_0891Pictured above: (L to R) The Top 3 men. Andy Davies (2nd), Andy Douglas (1st) and Ricky Lightfoot (3rd) (courtesy of Woodentops)

DSC_0898Pictured above: (L to R) Toms Adams (6th), Ricky Lightfoot (3rd) and me (5th) (courtesy of Woodentops)

DSC_0509Pictured above: (L to R) The top 3 women. Sarah Tunstall (3rd), Rebecca Hilland (1st) and Heidi Dent (2nd) (courtesy of Woodentops)

Since writing this blog I’m delighted to announce that I’ve been lucky enough to make the GB team for the European Mountain Running Championships in Arco, Italy on the 2nd July 2016.

I made the team by 2 seconds. 2 seconds!!! The sum of marginal gains and proof that during a race EVERY SECOND COUNTS!

I can’t even begin to explain how happy and excited I am to have been selected. It makes all the effort and hard work that I put into training and racing completely worthwhile. Nothing makes me prouder than wearing the red, white and blue vest of Great Britain – it’s just the best feeling in the world.

The road to Arco starts now…

 

The full British Athletics team for the European Mountain Running Championships in Arco, Italy on July 2nd 2016:

Senior men

Andrew Douglas (Sophie Dunnett)

Alex Pilcher (self-coached)

Ben Mounsey

Chris Smith (Philip O’Dell)

 

Senior Women

Emmie Collinge

Heidi Dent (Derek Hurton)

Rebecca Hilland

Sarah Tunstall

 

Junior Men

Josh Boyle

Gavin Bryson (Garry Robertson)

Ciaran Lewis (James Thie)

Jake Smith (Brian O’Hare)

 

Junior Women

Scarlet Dale (Colin Gemson)

Heidi Davies (Chris Jones)

Laura Stark (Arthur Smith)

Bella Williams (Rob Lewis)

 

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