Râs Yr Wyddfa

Snowdon3

I knew July would be a tough month for running but I didn’t realise just how tough…

2nd July: The European Mountain Running Championships (Arco, Italy)

9th July: Sedbergh Sports (The British & English Fell Running Championships)

16th July: Râs Yr Wyddfa (The Snowdon International)

30th July: British Mountain Running National Championships incorporating the World Championship Trial (Uphill) and Senior Home Country Internationals (Skiddaw, Keswick)

It was a fixture list I was both relishing and dreading at the same time. Three unbelievable opportunities to compete for my country and one huge race that could potentially decide who would be crowned the winner of the English and British Fell Running Championships. It was also set to be an extremely busy and stressful month at work so I knew I’d be pushed to my absolute limit both mentally and physically.

First up was the European Mountain Running Championships in Arco, Italy where I was fortunate enough to represent Great Britain for a second successive major competition. Finishing in 26th place was a slight disappointment but winning team bronze more than compensated for my lack of personal achievement. It was also an experience I’ll never forget with memories to last a lifetime. The race however did leave me feeling very exhausted and the prospect of racing hard again the following week left me wondering if I’d perhaps bitten off more than I could chew.

Sedbergh Sports

At the beginning of the season, trying to win the English Fell Running Championships was never on my radar, and if I’m honest it still isn’t. However, I’m currently topping the table so it would be a real shame not to complete the series. Therefore I decided that I’d race at Sedbergh and as it was only a 4 miler it wouldn’t trash my legs too much before Snowdon. I also decided that because the latter was more important, I’d train hard right through the week and not rest up before the race. I knew I needed a top 5 finish to keep myself in contention for a medal at the end of the season. The only problem was that almost every top fell runner in the UK had turned up to earn valuable championship points.

27626325373_d7aa4e0dcf_o.jpgPictured above: Where’s Wally? Can you spot the red & white stripes of CVFR? The start of the race (courtesy of Stormin’ Norman Berry)

As the race began I did wonder if I was being overly ambitious with my aim of a top 5 – the pace at the front was frightening. Perhaps someone had told Carl Bell (above right) that it was a 400m race because he set off like a stabbed rat through the first field. Either that or the prize money on offer was clearly enough to pay off his mortgage. He was a man on a mission. I had to remind myself that although this was a ‘short race’ there was still one hell of a climb to negotiate. I could only smile as half the field sprinted past me like I was stood still. I tried not to panic about being in about 40th place but instead put faith in my climbing ability to save the day.

“IT FELT LIKE I WAS SUMMITING EVEREST. MY LUNGS WERE ON FIRE, MY HEART WAS READY TO EXPLODE AND MY LEGS WERE LIKE JELLY

As the hill rose sharply, the race began to open up and I made a bold move on the climb. My cautious tactics had paid dividends and as we hit the summit I was safely into the top 10. I was beginning to feel more confident about a top 5 finish especially as my good friend Kirsty Hall had assured me that the second climb was ‘easy’. With this in mind I’d hammered the first ascent and was all set for coasting blissfully towards the highest checkpoint.

28241762445_6447f46220_o.jpgPictured above: The steep climb to the summit (courtesy of Stormin’ Norman Berry)

Now I can only assume that Kirsty ran up a different second climb to me, OR that she’d descended too early OR perhaps she just has a really s**t sense of humour, because ‘easy’ was not a word I’d have used! It felt like I was summiting Everest. My lungs were on fire, my heart was ready to explode and my legs were like jelly. To be fair to Kirsty the gradient wasn’t actually that steep, but I was breathing so hard that I thought I might be having an asthma attack and I don’t even have asthma. I dug really deep and endured a few minutes of extreme physical torture (which felt like hours) before I finally caught sight of the summit. I drew my breath, increased my stride and made the swift transition from laboured climb to mindless descent.

SedberghPictured above: Flying down the final descent (wearing inov-8 x-talon 225)

Thankfully it didn’t take long before I was back in full flow. The steepest part of the descent allowed me to fly past Morgan Donnelly and Joe Symonds before setting my sights on the Great White Hope (AKA. Rob Hope). I passed Kirsty on the way down but I was too short of breath to shout profanities, although I had forgiven her by this point. Instead my mission was to try and catch Rob, which quickly turned into trying not to get caught myself as I realised that I was actually suffering too much to launch any kind of attack of my own. Besides, I was more than content with 5th and there was clear daylight in front and behind. Best to save my legs and energy for Snowdon next week!

Mens results | Womens results | Junior results | Photos | Strava

Râs Yr Wyddfa

At the beginning of the year I made my intentions very clear. I wanted to try and win the Snowdon International and represent Great Britain at the European Championships. I’ve been training hard over the last few months, trying to improve my climbing ability as much as possible with some tough sessions on Trooper Lane. These weekly hill reps have been the foundation of every racing success I’ve enjoyed so far this season. However, just lately I’ve been feeling less confident about my chances of winning and in hindsight I was probably running at my peak in May. I couldn’t help thinking that this race may have come two months too late.

“I ACCEPTED THE FACT THAT I MIGHT NOT BE AT MY ABSOLUTE BEST AND I TOLD MYSELF THAT WHATEVER HAPPENS ON THE DAY I’D GIVE IT 110%

The week before the big day I was still feeling tired and lethargic. I did the worst thing possible and convinced myself that I was more ill than I actually was. There was almost a point where I considered dropping out of the race but then I feared I may have to rename my blog to something more suited to my negative attitude. I had to have a strong and very firm word with myself to alleviate any self-doubt in my mind. All athletes at some point lack confidence but I wasn’t going to allow myself to suffer anymore. There was absolutely no way I was going to pull out. Instead I thought about all the hours of training I’d done to earn my England vest and that feeling of immense pride I get whenever I represent my country. I thought about all my family and friends who were supporting me either with kind words of encouragement or by travelling hundreds of miles to watch the race. Plus I’d booked my hotel now and being a tight arsed Yorkshireman there was no way I was going to cancel last minute and lose any money! I accepted the fact that I might not be at my absolute best and I told myself that whatever happens on the day I’d give it 110% and I just hoped it would be enough.

IMG_4811Pictured above: Possible name change for my blog? No chance!

RACE DAY

The stage was set for a classic showdown, with Luca Cagnati (Italy), Julien Rancon (France), Chris Smith, Rob Hope and Ricky Lightfoot (England) a few of the main protagonists. As I stood on the start line I gave myself a realistic aim of a top 5 finish. The field was super stacked but I knew I was still one of the favourites and if I could climb well then I’d be difficult to beat on the descent.

IMG_4834Pictured above: The start of The Snowdon International 2016

I sat cautiously in the middle of the pack as we ran out of the race field and along Victoria terrace. I knew only too well what lay in store for us as we began to climb steeply up the road and onto the mountain path. It would be another 4.4 miles before we hit the summit of Snowdon and there was 994m of ascent standing in our way. With an average gradient of 13.4% (and a max of 32%) it’s always wise to hold back in the first few miles or risk paying the price for overcooking the start. Unless of course you’re Andi Jones or perhaps Chris Smith, who today was clearly flexing his muscles by taking full control of the race on the lower slopes of the mountain. He set a fast but consistent pace on the climb and the rest of us could only watch in amazement as he continued to open up a huge lead by the halfway cafe. It was obvious that he was the man to beat and such was his dominance that we were clearly now contesting a race for 2nd place.

IMG_4836.JPGPictured above: Leaving the road and joining the mountain path

“I WAS HANGING ON FOR DEAR LIFE AND TRYING NOT TO LOSE TOO MUCH TIME TO MY RIVALS – THE VERY DEFINITION OF DAMAGE LIMITATION

Chasing him was a small group led by England’s Chris Farrell, with Rancon and Nicola Pedergana (Italy) in hot pursuit. I was running with Cagnati and Hope and working hard to maintain the pace. At this point I was perfectly placed for a podium finish but I was concerned about how hard I was having to work to stay in touch with the leaders. I didn’t feel great and I was breathing heavily as I laboured on the climb to Clogwyn, one of the steepest sections of the course.

13645216_10210025874346368_716936906825773174_nPictured above: Working hard (probably too hard!) on the climb with Italy’s Luca Cagnati (wearing inov-8 Trail Talon 250)

It honestly felt like I was breathing through a straw, I was forcing oxygen into my lungs and literally gasping for air. One of my friends said after the race that I was making more noise than the train and I don’t doubt it. I was completely destroying myself on the climb, on my absolute limit. In the back on my mind I knew I needed to get to the top in a decent position so I could at least try to claw back some time on the descent. It was here, exactly 12 months ago, that I’d made my move and climbed my way into 5th position by the summit, before propelling myself to a 3rd place finish. What a difference a year can make. Instead I was hanging on for dear life and trying not to lose too much time to my rivals – the very definition of damage limitation.

I’d describe the feeling of reaching the summit as sheer relief, although I think that’s probably an understatement. But there was no time to catch my breath as I was immediately forced into switching to descent mode and head straight back down the mountain. The first few hundred metres felt more like Slowdon than Snowdon. I was playing a real life game of risk as I tried to dodge and weave through the masses of people that swarmed the path before me. The inclement weather had done nothing to reduce the number of pedestrians and along with the hundreds of runners still ascending the mountain, there was little room to comfortably descend at any kind of pace. It wasn’t the other athletes who were the problem as they are always respectful towards the leading runners and fully aware of the lines we must take. However, the general public are just a walking nightmare and year after year the problem only worsens. I was jumping over dog leads, handing off children, swerving pensioners and desperately trying not to cause major injury to both myself or others. Unfortunately, apart from taping off sections of the course I don’t know what else the organisers can do to alleviate the problem as it’s not possible to close the tourist path to the public.

13692545_10154242213894088_1413546081744850188_nPictured above: One of the less congested sections of the descent (courtesy of Pete Nicholson’s Go Pro)

Further down the mountain the crowds lessened and the path opened up. I was able to get back into my stride and descend at a free flowing pace. As I approached the bridge before Clogwyn Station I caught my first glimpse of Rob Hope in 6th place. I was making good time and beginning to close the gap. I took the grassy trod to the right which avoided the mass of runners climbing the path and began to increase the pace. To be fair to Rob he was descending well and when we reached the halfway cafe the ball was firmly back in his court. I’d run out of steep and technical terrain and we were now onto the runnable section of the descent. He was back in control and I just had to keep working hard in the vain hope that he might fade towards the finish.

13659188_10210025874146363_3755834139120171514_nPictured above: Desperately trying to reel in Rob Hope on the descent.

“I ALWAYS TRY AND EMBRACE DEFEAT AS IT MAKES ME APPRECIATE WINNING SO MUCH MORE”

I remember struggling at this point last year. My feet were on fire and I’d ripped both my heels badly – the last 2 miles were pure agony. Although I wasn’t running as well today I was thankful that my feet were still OK. I was tired but I wasn’t dreading the final section on the road like I was back then. I worked as hard as I could to close the gap but Rob was running well and gave nothing away. If anything the end of the race for me was a bit of an anti-climax. I knew as I approached the final 800m that I couldn’t improve on 7th place. I’d missed out on a top 5 finish and I was only the fourth GB runner home, so I’d also missed out on a place in the Snowdon GB team that will travel to Morbegno in October to contest the Trofeo Vanoni relay. Needless to say I was disappointed with my performance. I’ve trained hard and raced hard all year with Snowdon in mind and when it came down to it I simply wasn’t good enough on the day. But sometimes that’s how it goes in sport – it’s swings and roundabouts. You can’t win every race, you can’t always run a PB and you can’t always be at your best. There have been times this season when I’ve turned up to races with little expectation, like the inter-counties fell championship and had the run of my life, and others like today, when I’ve ran well below par despite being one of the favourites to win. That’s why I always try and embrace defeat as it makes me appreciate winning so much more. Plus it wasn’t all doom and gloom, I was still part of a winning team and I have to keep reminding myself that I’ve still finished 7th in an international race. I really need to stop being so hard on myself!

IMG_4807Pictured above: The flying Englishman! A proud moment as Chris Smith takes a well deserved win for his country.

The day undoubtably belonged to my good friend Chris Smith. He had blown the rest of the field away to win in a very convincing time of 65:47 – one of the fastest times in recent years. He was obviously delighted with his win (as I’m sure you can tell from the photo above) and told me afterwards that it was the first ‘big’ win of his career. I found it hard to believe that an athlete of Chris’ calibre hasn’t won more races at this level. I’ve had the pleasure of racing in the same international teams as him over the last couple of years and the guy is seriously class, a real talent and a worthy champion. It always sounds like a cliché when people say ‘it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy’, but I genuinely mean it. I was so happy for him and if there was anyone that I would have liked to have won the race (apart from me obviously) then it really would have been him. Finally he can enjoy the ‘big’ win he so rightly deserves.

IMG_4797Pictured above: All smiles as England win the international team prize (L to R: Me, Rob Hope, Chris Smith & Chris Farrell) photo courtesy of Mark Croasdale

I was also really chuffed for Chris Farrell who finished in a fantastic second place, narrowly beating the master descender, Luca Cagnati, in a nail biting sprint finish. Chris has been threatening a top international result for the last couple of years and I just hope that now he can now go one better and make the Great Britain team at the world trial. He’s a great lad, he works hard in training and he’s earned it. I can also assure you that he was very pleased with the result despite what the picture above suggests – that is his ‘happy face’ 😉 It’s also worth pointing out that although I was the last man home for England, I do have the best tan (and yes it is real before you ask Judy Howells). Obviously just another good reason to live and train in Yorkshire.

IMG_4809.JPG

Pictured above: England women also win the international team prize (L to R: Heidi Dent, Lou Roberts & Julie Briscoe) photo courtesy of Mark Croasdale

In the women’s race Ireland continued their Snowdon domination of recent years as Sarah Mulligan won for the second time in her career. She was chased hard by my ‘2016 runner of the year’ Heidi Dent, who has had an amazing season so far. Of course I have to mention the amazing talent that is Lou Roberts, who finished in 4th place behind Scotland’s Stephanie Provan. Lou’s in the form of her life and having been on the fell running scene for many years it’s inspiring to see her at the very top of our sport at 44 years old. Finally a big well done to Julie Briscoe, who finished 8th on her international mountain running debut. She has also represented England on the road and x-country proving she is quite the all round athlete!

As ever, the race was celebrated in style with the English, Irish and Italian teams bonding over a few beers and Braulio. It was a great night and I look forward to catching up with everyone at the next international fixture. Apologies to Luca, Nicola, Marco, Paolo and Botta for my poor Yorkshire/Italian! I promise I shall practise!

Pictured above: (L) ‘Old but Gold’ Me and Chris Smith (R) Post race celebrations with the Italian team.

Finally a HUGE thanks must go to my friend and race organiser, Stephen Edwards, and his team. This international race is unique in the sense that it looks and feels like a huge commercial and professional event, yet it’s organised by members of the local community and volunteers. If you’ve never done this race before then it needs to be top of your list for 2017! I’ll certainly be back next year to have another go. Who knows, maybe one day I might just be good enough to take the top spot. For now I can only dream.

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Up The Nab

What a difference a few days can make. Last Saturday I was sitting on top of Whernside in deep snow watching the 3 Peakswrapped up in every single piece of emergency kit I own. Four days later and I’m running in glorious sunshine wearing nothing but a pair of tiny shorts and a racing vest. Only in our country is the weather so varied and unpredictable – This is England.

As I stood watching the 3 Peaks I couldn’t help but feel jealous of those who were competing. I had entered the race but decided not to run a few weeks ago. After such a good result at Black Combe in March my priorities suddenly changed with my new focus being to win the English Fell Running Championship this season – a bold and ambitious dream I know, but if you want to win big then the first step has to be believing you can do it.

PREPARATION IS THE KEY TO SUCCESS’

Up The Nab – the 2nd race in the English Championship, was set to be a hotly contested race. In a ‘short’ race counter there is no margin for error where 30 seconds can often be the difference between 10 places or even more. I knew I’d have to be on top of my game if I was to pick up some serious championship points.

Preparation is the key to success and I was keen to take a look at the course despite the fact I knew the route would be flagged on the day. Even though navigation was never going to be an issue it’s always beneficial to complete a recce as you can see the severity of the climbs and, most importantly, judge where best to make your serious efforts on the day. So with this in mind I’d arranged to meet Des Gibbons (the race organiser) who’d very kindly agreed to take me round the route. Des is an absolute diamond of a bloke, a real character and a brilliant ambassador for the sport. To be honest I was looking forward to the recce just as much as the race itself.

IMG_4113.JPGPictured above: A fantastic evening with fantastic company (Des, Caitlin and Joss the dog showing me the ‘Up The Nab’ race route)

I make my way patiently through rush hour traffic and arrange to meet Des at Glossop Rugby Club, the HQ for the race. As I sit in the car-park I’m greeted with a lovely surprise as Caitlin Rice, one of the country’s leading female fell runners, pulls up beside me. Apparently Des is worried that he won’t have the energy to talk to me on the way round so he’s invited her along to keep me distracted. I’m really pleased because Caitlin is a lovely woman and a very humble champion. It’s always a pleasure to share the fells with such good company.

We’re not waiting long. Des whizzes into the car-park like Lewis Hamilton and explains he’s only just got the train back from work and is working again tonight straight after this recce. It’s clear that he lives his life in the same way that he drives his car…very much in the fast lane! The fact he’s taken the time out of his busy day to meet me tells you exactly what kind of guy he is. I promise him a few pints on race day (afterwards of course!) and we enjoy the a fantastic recce in glorious sunshine.

‘IT’S ALL SET TO BE A CLASSIC BATTLE BETWEEN THE VERY BEST IN THE COUNTRY’

IMG_4118Pictured above: Perhaps the widest start line I’ve ever seen!

Race day finally arrives and field is stacked. There are very few of the top runners missing and it’s all set to be a classic battle between the very best in the country.

As I stand nervously on the start line I think clearly about my race tactics. The first climb is extremely runnable so I plan to attack early in my usual trademark fashion. I hit the front and work hard to try and build up an early lead. This is partly because I like to start fast and partly because I want to try and split the field early. As I approach the summit I glance back to see I’ve a few metres on the chasing group and I’m feeling strong. From here it’s a quick descent before another short climb which leads to a fast runnable track. I try and put in another effort but something’s not right – it feels like I’m missing an extra gear. I’m beginning to feel the heat already and it’s not long before I’m overtaken by all three of my main rivals – Sam Tosh, Simon Bailey and Steve Hebblethwaite. My tactic now is to try and stay with this elite group of athletes. I have to finish in the top 5 if I’m to have any chance of keeping my hopes of winning the championship alive.

Pictured above: Attacking early with my trademark start.

A couple of miles in and I’m desperate for a drink. I’m that thirsty I even contemplate licking the sweat from my arms but I don’t have time to do anything other than try and hang on to the leaders. I can hear another runner close behind and soon after I’m overtaken by none other than my good friend and fell running legend Rob Hope. My heart sinks. Rob finished 5th last weekend at the 3 Peaks and we joked about how funny it would be if he beat me a week later with ‘Peaks legs’. Well when I say ‘we joked’, what I really mean is that ‘he laughed’ and I just pretended to – it wasn’t funny then and it’s even less funny now. The trouble is it’s actually happening. I’m going backwards fast and I’ve another 3 climbs and almost 3 miles left to run. I need to save this race quickly or my dreams of becoming English champion are about to disappear before my very eyes. I’m at my limit, breathing hard, grafting like mad and desperate for a drink. Seriously, I could murder someone for just a mouthful of water. I can’t believe Des hasn’t put a water station at every mile! I mean, what kind of 4.5 mile fell race doesn’t have a water station at every mile?! Just wait ’til I finish – I’m gonna complain to the FRA.

‘THERE’S NO WAY I CAN LET ROB BEAT ME, I’LL NEVER HEAR THE BLOODY END OF IT’

It’s not often I’m praying for the end of a run but this one can’t come soon enough. Each time we hit a descent I try and claw back some time to keep myself in the mix but this race is slipping away fast. I’m in danger of dropping out of the top 10 if I’m not careful so I grit my teeth and hang in. There’s no way I can let Rob beat me – I’ll never hear the bloody end of it! He’ll be texting me all night to gloat so I’m just going to have to man up and tough it out. 

Here comes the penultimate climb…..OUCH! This hurts bad. My lungs are on fire, my mouth is bone-dry and my heart is about to explode in my chest. Well that’s certainly how it feels. Remind me again why I do this to myself? We finally reach the top and I’m right behind Rob with the 3 leaders just in front.

Screen Shot 2016-05-10 at 14.49.51Pictured above: Working hard on the penultimate climb.

The penultimate climb on video (courtesy of Simon Entwhistle)

I desperately try and catch my breath. The lads are already back in their stride after the climb and I have no choice but to follow suit. I make a bold move and jump in front of Rob. I worry I’ve gone too early. Thankfully he doesn’t respond – perhaps his ‘Peaks legs’ are finally kicking in. It’s about time surely? Just one more climb to go. I dig deep and hold onto 4th place until the summit. I’m blowing hard now and I can’t wait to start this final descent. I can see Simon and Steve in front battling for the lead but my eye is fixed firmly on Sam Tosh in 3rd. I throw myself down the hill as fast as I can. This is going to hurt.

IMG_4119Pictured above: Descending down the final field.

As I enter the final field I’m spent. I watch Simon take the win from Steve and see Sam hold on for 3rd. I haven’t got the energy for a sprint finish so I quickly glance behind. I’m relieved to see that I’ve done enough for 4th place and I’m pleased. It’s another 47 points in the bag and it’s my second best ever finish in an English Championship race.

StravaMen’s Results | Women’s ResultsPhotos | Video

‘I’M NOT MAKING ANY EXCUSES, I WAS BEATEN BY THREE BETTER ATHLETES ON THE DAY’

It takes me quite a few minutes to recover. I know I’ve worked seriously hard, I literally couldn’t have put any more into that race. This is by far the worst I’ve physically felt all season. A number of people ask me if I’m happy with 4th? To be honest it’s a question I never thought I’d ever be asked. Who wouldn’t be happy with 4th place in the English Champs? I suppose I should take it as a compliment. There’s an expectation on me to win every race now and I have to accept that it comes with the price of being a successful athlete. Obviously, I race to win but as I mentioned in my blog about Black Combe – to win a English Championship race absolutely everything has to go well. This was not my finest performance. Although I’m in form I didn’t get my tactics right at the start and I didn’t feel at my best. But I’m not making any excuses, I was beaten by three better athletes on the day and had Rob not raced at the 3 Peaks then I’m sure I would have been 5th. The main thing is I didn’t give up and I fought hard to earn a top place finish, so in many ways it’s one of my best results this year. Most importantly, this puts me in a very strong position with 4 races still to go.

English Fell Running Championship Results Table

It must’ve been a fantastic race to watch, it was an epic battle. I must also take this opportunity to praise the super talented Simon Bailey. He deserves huge credit for his win, as do Steve Hebblethwaite and Sam Tosh for their superb efforts. Before the race I predicted that all three men would be fighting for first place – they are my biggest rivals this season and it now looks likely that one of us will be crowned champion at the end of the year.

Congratulations also to Heidi Dent, Vic Wilkinson and Lou Roberts who were the top three women respectively. Heidi’s time and winning margin was unbelievable and she will be very hard to beat this season. Amazingly, Vic still finished 2nd despite racing hard at the 3 Peaks last weekend and based on this season’s results Lou really is back to her very best. 

‘WE ALL RUN FOR THE SAME TEAM, WE JUST WEAR DIFFERENT VESTS

Despite an intense rivalry between all the top athletes, what makes fell running such a fantastic sport is the friendship and community spirit between all of the runners. My favourite part of every race is catching up with old friends, making new ones and planning our next adventures together. As I said to my good friend Carl Bell after the race…‘We all run for the same team, we just wear different vests’.

Other sports could learn a lot from fell running.

Pictured above: With Carl Bell (L) and Calvin Ferguson (R)

 

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Dare to Dream

Dare To Dream

There’s no doubt about it, the pressure was on.

I think I first began to feel the weight of expectation on Thursday when a flurry of Facebook notifications began to appear on my laptop. My sponsors, Inov-8, had posted a competition to win a pair of X-Talons for the person who could correctly guess the winners of the first English Fell Running Championship race at Black Combe on Saturday.

Screen Shot 2016-03-14 at 14.25.02Pictured above: The advert for the Facebook competition.

I couldn’t resist looking at the list of entries…‘Tom Addison and Victoria Wilkinson’ seemed the most popular combination and certainly the most sensible choices. Both proven championship race winners and worthy pre-race favourites. I was also flattered to see my name mentioned as a potential winner but I tried to ignore it.

Still, the notifications kept coming, many from friends and family and I wondered if people were voting with their hearts rather than their heads. It was a romantic notion that someone who’s never won a championship race before might actually start as the pre-race favourite and even more so if they could actually do the business. It would certainly make for a good story.

‘THE TIME FOR CHEAP TALK WAS OVER. I SIMPLY HAD TO DELIVER THE GOODS – NO EXCUSES’

Then came the game changer. For a time I stopped looking at the Facebook post but curiosity got the better of me and I was in for a surprise. Dave Woodhead AKA ‘Mr Yorkshire’ had thrown in his prediction…Ben Mounsey and Victoria Wilkinson. GULP! I froze. I immediately stopped what I was doing and began to try and soak up the hot coffee that I’d just spilt on my best work trousers. All I could think of was ‘Oh S**T! I might actually have to win this race now’.

Dave’s always been someone for whom I’ve had great respect and admiration. As one half of the Yorkshire fell running management he is the man to impress if I want to earn a vest at the inter-counties this year. So as far as I was concerned when he tipped me as the race winner, then the time for cheap talk was over. I simply had to deliver the goods – no excuses.

‘I WANTED TO WIN ON ATHLETIC ABILITY AND MERIT. PROVE THAT I WAS THE STRONGEST ON THE DAY’

It’s easy for people to predict a championship race winner based on current form but in reality it’s not as simple as that. There are far too many other external factors other than form to consider – the weather, conditions, terrain, competitors, navigation and just how you feel on the day. You also need a huge amount of luck on your side. In short everything has to go your way, it’s certainly not a case of just turning up and winning – but I guess that’s what makes these races so unpredictable and exciting.

So when race day finally arrived I’m not afraid to admit that I was nervous. Don’t get me wrong – I was confident in my ability. I’ve certainly put in the necessary miles and climbing that’s required, but I was VERY worried about the thick fog that was covering the entire route. I can navigate, but not at pace, and certainly not as well some of the other top orienteers who were lined up alongside me at the start. Unlike the conditions it was perfectly clear that navigation and route choice would play a major part in deciding the fortunes of all 499 runners competing.

image_fullPictured above: The start of the Black Combe Fell Race 2016 (Photo credit to Pete Tayler BCR)

10401186_10153447762543671_7244002237652467099_nPictured above: The start of Black Combe Race 2016 from behind (Photo credit to Rupert Bonington)

Tactics – should I hold back and play it safe? Stick with someone good at orienteering? Probably the best and most sensible idea. But me being me wanted to win on athletic ability and merit. I wanted to go toe-to-toe with the fell running heavyweights and show that I was the strongest on the day. So I went out hard and I attacked the first climb. I was there to prove a point and I wanted to make my intentions clear from the start. I chose my line to the summit and stuck to it. I felt good. In fact, I ran pretty much the whole of the ascent and emerged as the leader at the top.

1st Climb.jpg

IMG_3903Pictured above: The first steep climb to the summit of Sea Ness (Photo credit to Alex Hinchcliffe)

The climb from Sea Ness to Black Combe is very ‘runnable’ by fell racing standards. I sensed my moment to attack and picked up the pace. This was my kind of gradient – living in the South Pennines I’m no stranger to the runnable climbs. I wanted to see who might respond so I could get an early measure of the competition. I didn’t have to wait long – up stepped Sam Tosh. After a few minutes he cruised past and took the lead. I was happy to sit in and follow his charge but it wasn’t long before I was breathing hard. Had this been a boxing match I’d have been well and truly on the ropes and soaking up a few punishing body blows. Except it wasn’t. This was ‘The Battle of Black Combe’ and not ‘The Rumble in the Jungle’ and unlike Ali, I didn’t have any ropes to lean against to help me deal with the pain. Needless to say I was looking forward to reaching the top of the climb.

As we approached the summit I took a moment to glance over my shoulder and was shocked to see we’d both opened up a sizeable lead over the rest of the field – there was no one else in sight. We quickly passed the crowd of supporters at Black Combe and descended back into the mist and headed towards the next checkpoint. We had a quick chat about the line we were taking as I felt we were dropping too far to the right. I was worried about losing too much height and ultimately getting lost (good job I’d done a recce!). We corrected our line but when we emerged back on the main path we’d lost the lead.

Black Combe to White Combe                                       

Pictured above: The line I took from Black Combe to White Combe in red – GPS data (mistakes highlighted by arrows).

Although we rejoined the race in 4th and 5th I wasn’t too disappointed. My prayers to the God of Nav had been answered and Lady Luck was smiling down upon me. Rhys Findlay-Robinson and Kris Jones (both Dark Peak) had now assumed control of the race. My tactics immediately changed. I wasn’t taking any chances on this tricky section and as Kris actually had his map and compass in hand I was confident that their navigation skills were good enough to trust. Sam made a different choice and he ran with Steve Hebblethwaite of Keswick, who was in 3rd place. I sat in between Rhys and Kris and just assumed that we’d dropped the pair of them. However, after analysing the splits (post-race) it turns out that they had somehow taken the lead and were the first runners to dib at White Combe! So when we arrived it was a big surprise to learn that we were only the second group through to checkpoint 3. The map above suggests that they most likely passed us where we lost the main path a couple of times (black arrows).

‘WE KNEW THEN, AT THAT EXACT MOMENT, THAT THIS RACE WAS OURS TO LOSE

Now if anyone reading this is familiar with the tactics of road cycling then you’ll understand how a breakaway works. I was now in one, and we all knew exactly what was at stake. Rhys took the perfect line to the next checkpoint (Fodder Rack) and although we didn’t know it at the time, this proved to be the pivotal moment in the race. Somehow Sam and Steve had taken a bad line and gave us back the lead. We took full advantage of their mistake and sprinted towards the final ‘killer’ climb. We knew then, at that exact moment, that this race was ours to lose. Despite running for different clubs and competing against each other, we rallied as a team, urging ourselves on to push hard for a top 3 finish. This was our chance and we weren’t about to blow it.

In my own mind I knew that this was where I needed to make my move. I was unaware of what was going on behind me in the race, yet well aware that if I didn’t work hard enough on the final climb then I might get caught by the likes of Rob Jebb. I was also worried about Rhys – he is after all one of the best climbers in the country so I couldn’t risk letting him pass me on the ascent. So I just went for it. I grafted like my life depended on it and as I looked back I could see the gap widening with every effort. I reminded myself that this is the reason why I’ve climbed over 100,000ft so far this year. This was the moment I’d been training for and I was determined to win this race on my athletic ability.

‘I WAS RELYING ON MY PLAN ‘B’ – PLAN BUCHAN’

I thought I could hear a noise in the distance but it was nothing more than a faint whisper in the wind. Perhaps I was imagining things? To be fair my mind was working overtime and I was struggling to keep my cool. I knew that the only thing that would stop me from winning now was getting lost – which believe me was still a very likely scenario! I wasn’t imagining things…I heard it again but this time much louder. Someone, somewhere in the distance was ringing a bell so I continued to head towards it.

I’ve never been so excited and relieved to see Mike Fanning in my life. As a teacher, the noise of someone ringing a school bell usually fills me with dread but today it was music to my ears. I’d made it! Just the descent to worry about now…

I was relying on my Plan ‘B’ – ‘Plan Buchan’. My good friend Helen (Buchan) was waiting nervously for me at the summit and pointed me in the right direction, the rest was up to me. I was running the ‘safe’ option which was certainly not the fastest way down to the finish (see picture below). I didn’t really care about how quickly I got down, I only cared about being the first to the bottom. There was no way at this stage of the race was I about to risk getting lost!

Descent                                         

Pictured above: The final descent from Black Combe. The quicker ‘racing’ line (black arrow) and my ‘safe’ line (red arrows)

The feeling of relief when I hit the main path was palpable. I just hoped that I’d put enough time into Rhys on the climb because I knew for sure that he’d be taking the racing line. I wasn’t wrong. Less than a minute later he appeared from nowhere, out of the mist. That was my cue to run as hard and fast as I could. I was not losing this now. I didn’t look back. It was the most nerve-wracking descent that I’ve ever experienced in my life. I fell a couple of times near the finish and at one point I nearly took the path back up to the summit of Sea Ness. I can only think the pressure and realisation of winning my first English Championship race had turned my brain to complete mush.

‘I’VE BEEN WAITING 12 YEARS TO WIN A RACE IN THIS COMPETITION’

As I entered the final field I can’t describe the feeling of winning at the end – it was unreal. It was everything I dreamt it would be. Those that witnessed my reaction to the victory knew exactly what it meant to me.

981198_1149904525053631_1419435140041429200_oPictured above: Tired, cold and wet…but VERY VERY happy at the finish (Photo credit to Pete Tayler BCR)

I’ve been waiting 12 years to win a race in this competition and there have been times when I thought I’d never see the day. I was reminded in this moment of all the hours I’ve trained, all the times when I’ve punished myself during tough hill sessions and all the sacrifices I’ve had to make to get myself in peak physical condition. It also made me appreciate just how good the top fell runners are. Here I am writing about my elation of winning ONE championship race when the likes of Rob Hope, Rob Jebb, Ian Holmes and Simon Bailey have won countless races between them. It’s the very reason they are the legends of the sport.

image_full-1.jpgPictured above: Record breaker Victoria Wilkinson storming towards the finish (Photo credit to Pete Tayler BCR)

I shared a moment at the end with Victoria Wilkinson, who only seconds earlier had won the women’s race. She knew what this result meant to me and I was just as happy for her too. In fact, she actually deserves even higher praise as not only did she win but she smashed the record in extremely poor conditions – what an athlete! She’d run the entire route on her own and perfectly navigated her way through the mist without the help of anyone which is an unbelievable achievement in itself. Special mention also needs to go to my good friend Kirsty Hall who finished 20th in the women’s race and 4th Vet 40. 12 months ago, following a serious injury, she couldn’t even walk without crutches so it’s fantastic to see her back competing with the best in the country.

Pictured above: The official race route (L), my GPS map from Strava and the GPS data of all Black Combe runners on Strava (R)

When I’d finally managed to calm myself down I switched my attention to the team results and waited patiently for a sea of red and white vests to arrive. I waited a few minutes…..then I waited some more. Daz Kay was the next man home but after 10 minutes I given up hope on the rest of them. I hadn’t realised just how utterly ‘Smithied’ some people were! In fact, many were so lost that Steve Smithies had somehow managed to navigate his way round and beat them to the finish. It was a comedy of errors and the map (above right) highlights some of the most remarkable and funniest lines that runners had taken. It’s probably a great opportunity for some people to read this fantastic blog written by one of my friends about tips for navigation in races. I’ll certainly be taking note for future reference.

I was pretty chuffed that I’d not been one of those navigational casualties for a change. The recce I’d done a few weeks earlier had definitely helped but ultimately I had Rhys and Kris to thank for getting me across the most challenging section of the course. It was obvious that I’d ridden my luck at times during the race but I also knew I’d earned this win on my climbing ability. Despite many of the big names getting lost in the mist I’d like to think that I’d still have been the victor on a clear day. If you don’t believe me then check out the race splits below and you’ll see where this race was won and lost.

Results / Splits / Strava

‘FINALLY – THE BIG QUESTION…DO I THINK I CAN WIN THE ENGLISH CHAMPIONSHIP?’

There’s still a long way to go – it’s only the start of the season. Despite getting terribly lost my money is on The Great White Hope (Rob Hope) or Simon Bailey. Tom Addison is my other favourite too as he finished 5th and that result puts him in a great position with 5 races still to go. All three men have the pedigree and the quality to go the distance. Expect Sam Tosh to win a race this season too. He’s in outstanding form and was very unlucky not to claim a top 3 finish at Black Combe and potentially even the win. Like Tom, he’s a fell running legend in the making.

Finally – The big question…do I think I can win the English Championship?

Honestly? I think it’s unlikely. Before this race I’d not even planned on completing the whole series. Black Combe was always on my radar but I’ve other major goals this season that will still take priority. The Snowdon International is my big aim for the year, as are the European and World Mountain Running Championships. However, after today I might just decide to change my plans to include another 3 counters. It would be a real shame after this result to just throw in the towel and not give it a go.

Whatever happens – expect fireworks. This is the most exciting and open fell running season for years. A chance for the young guns of fell running to try and shoot down the old masters. Could this be a changing of the guard? Only time will tell. Predicting a winner is going to be difficult. However, one thing is for certain, if I do decide to compete for the title then rest assured I’ll give it 110% and I won’t rest on my laurels. I’ll make the necessary sacrifices and I’ll live by my code…..

‘TRAIN HARD, RACE HARDER & DARE TO DREAM

This fell running performance was brought to you in association with hard work, an obsession and sheer determination. Special thanks to Strava, Trooper LaneInov-8Mountain Fuel and Back To Fitness Physiotherapy for all their help and support in making it happen.

How to become a Mountain Lion in 10 ‘easy’ steps

I was recently asked to write an inspiring and encouraging newsletter article for my beloved Stainland Lions Running Club. It seemed a bit of a shame to only share it with my teammates so I’ve decided to publish it here on my site.

Now before you read this I should state that I am not a qualified coach, a nutritionalist or indeed a running expert. I’m just a guy who likes to run. All views are entirely my own and I can only draw upon my own knowledge and experience as a practising athlete.

So here goes…

Mountain Lion

I’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy a very successful running career so far and everything I’ve achieved is the result of hard work and dedication. It’s important for everyone reading this to understand that I am not even the most talented athlete in my club. I just work harder than anyone else I know and hard work always beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard. If you don’t believe me then check out my Strava stats and you’ll see the true cost of what it takes to run at the highest level.

www.strava.com/athletes/901539

Now I know what most of you are all thinking…how can I ever run at elite level? Well the truth is that most of you won’t – despite the fact that you are probably more than capable enough. This article is not about trying to turn everyone into an international mountain runner. It’s about making you realise your potential, set yourself a personal target/s and try to help you to improve your performance. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a front runner or someone at the back of the pack – everyone is capable of achieving their goal/s. In addition to this I want to promote the sport of fell/mountain running for anyone unfamiliar to off-road running.

You’ll also have to forgive the title of this article as unfortunately nothing worth achieving in life is ‘easy’, especially within sport. That said there are some things you can do to improve that are easier than others.

So here are my top tips…

Marginal gains

This is perhaps the most important piece of advice I can offer to anyone. Understand that if you make a number of small changes in your life then collectively they will have a huge impact on your performance. The other 9 tips I’m about to share with you are all examples of how to make these marginal gains.

Hills.png

Hills. The very word is enough to frighten most runners. Don’t be afraid – hills can be your friend. The more you do the easier they get. Hills are a staple diet for any wannabe fell or mountain runner but even those who prefer the road or track can enjoy their benefits. If you incorporate a weekly hill session into your training then you will see a huge difference in your performance. I’ve never been a natural climber but I’ve turned climbing into my secret weapon by regularly doing hill sessions and slowly increasing the difficulty and speed at which I do them. It’s also good to vary the incline and terrain so that your body learns how to adapt to the changes in ascent. Remember that no hill is ever the same.

Start by choosing a hill to practise on. If you are a real beginner then you don’t have to run the full length of the climb. Set yourself a target and try to improve the distance each time you do it. You could also try a pyramid session using lamp posts as markers. I used to regularly run up and down Coldswell Hill in Stainland, starting at the bottom and running up to the first lamp post and back, then to the second and back and so on and so forth…Then when you eventually ‘top off’ and reach the final rep, work your way back down to the first until you’ve completed the pyramid.

For anyone who fancies a more difficult challenge you might also want to consider repping an incline like Trooper Lane. There are a number of segments on Strava to aim for and you can compare your performance over a number of weeks.

If you live in Calderdale then why not run over to Trooper and have a crack at these segments…

The 1 / 3 Peaks / High 5 / Magnificent 7 / Ben 10

Strava

Arguably my best tip. Strava has literally changed my life. Please be aware that it does come with a serious health warning as it can be very addictive. However if you do decide to succumb to the dark side and immerse yourself in ‘segments’, ‘badges’ and ‘Kudos’ you will undoubtably reap the rewards.

Ben Mounsey x inov-129

Equipment

I’m no expert on road shoes but I do know my mountain gear. Having the right shoes for training and competition is the easiest improvement that anyone can make.

In my opinion the best fell/trail/xc shoes for racing are the inov-8 x-talon 190

inov8_x-talon190

They’re the lightest fell racing shoes on the market and they provide both excellent grip and fit. I use precision fit because I have very long and narrow feet – if you don’t then make sure you order standard fit and go for the 200 model.

x-talon 200.jpg

For training I wear the inov-8 x-talon 212

212

They’re a very durable shoe and good over all terrains. Mine are also a precision fit shoe so go for the standard alternative if your feet aren’t like mine.

212 standard.jpg

My other golden recommendation has to be to BUY MERINO for base layers. It’s as simple as that. Merino will keep you super warm in the winter even when it’s wet – there is no better alternative.

If you want to splash the cash my personal favourite is the inov-8 hooded long sleeved race elite merino base layer.

Merino.png

It is quite simply the best top I’ve ever worn for running.

That said Aldi have been selling a really great selection of merino baselayers and I’ve tried those too. They’re not quite the same beautiful fit as inov-8 but at £15 you can’t go wrong!

Core strength

All the best runners have a super strong core. It’s what drives everything during exercise and is essential when you’re climbing the hills. If you improve your core strength then you will improve your technique and ultimately your results. I spend at least 30 minutes everyday on core exercises either in the gym or at home. If you’re pushed for time like me then opt for the latter. I try to do 200 sit ups, 100 press ups, timed planks and various exercises with resistance bands everyday after a run and before I jump in the shower. Start small and build up the amount – trust me after a few weeks you’ll be able to wash your running kit on your stomach 😉

Ben Mounsey x inov-48

fell race

If you never experienced a fell race before then you don’t know what you’re missing out on. Granted, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. Have a read of my inov-8 blog about how I ‘fell’ in love with running if you need a little inspiration…

Here are my top 5 recommendations for reasonably LOCAL fell races during March…

(see the Fellrunner site for more details and other races)

  1. Sunday 6/3/2016 Ian Roberts Memorial (6.4 miles/853ft climb) @ 11:00am
  2. Saturday 12/3/2016 Haworth Hobble (31.7miles/4396ft climb) @ 8:00am
  3. Sunday 20/3/2016 Heptonstall (15.4 miles/3169ft climb) @ 10.30am
  4. Saturday 26/3/2016 Rivington Pike (3.2 miles/699ft climb) @ 15:00pm
  5. Tuesday 29/3/2016 Bunny Run 1 (3 miles/328ft climb) @ 19:00pm

Body

It’s a fairly obvious point to make but if you look after yourself and respect your body you’ll be able to run faster, run for longer and become much stronger. Eat well, sleep well and try not to over indulge on the booze (cutting down on alcohol is massively important!). Also if you’re someone who struggles to get a good night’s sleep then go and do one of my Trooper Lane hill sessions and I guarantee you’ll be out for the count until the morning. In fact make sure you set 2 alarms or there’s a danger you might not wake up until the afternoon.

In terms of diet the best piece of advice I can give you is to eat like a king in the morning. My usual breakfast consists of a power smoothie, a pack of smoked salmon and a strong coffee. I use a Nutribullet to make my smoothie and include a banana, strawberries, blueberries, mango, natural yoghurt, porridge, chia seeds, milk and a scoop of protein. It’s the perfect way to start the day! Plus you won’t need to eat until dinnertime unless you’re like me! Snack on nuts, seeds and fruit and try to stay away from the chocolate drawer.

Over the last 12 months I’ve managed to lose a stone and it’s the main reason I’m able to compete at such a high level. Power to weight ratio is crucial in fell/mountain running and if you can lose weight and maintain or increase your power output then you will see a huge improvement in your results.

Also little tip for getting motivated to run after work is to have a double espresso and a small banana about 20 mins before a run. It’ll give you enough energy and drive to get out in whatever the weather!

Inspiration

I find inspiration by looking at what other people are doing in their training and their race results. In addition to this I use Strava as a motivational tool e.g. segments and challenges. I also read plenty of books about inspirational stories, usually about running and cycling.

My personal recommendations are…

  1. Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner by Dean Karnazes
  2. Running Hot by Lisa Tamati
  3. Feet in the Clouds by Richard Askwith
  4. Born to Run by Chris McDougall
  5. The Secret Race by Daniel Coyle & Tyler Hamilton (this one is just a great read!)

My fell running heroes are Ian Holmes, Rob Hope, Rob Jebb and Karl Gray. I’ve previously blogged about how friendly and approachable the elite athletes of fell running are. I consider myself very lucky to be able to call these four men my friends, especially Karl and Rob Hope. I’ve learnt a tremendous amount from them all over the years and my advice for you is to try and do the same. Next time you’re at a fell race don’t be afraid to chat to the guys who finish at the front. Not only are they exceptionally talented athletes but they are also extremely modest and humble people. Ask away, they’ll be more than happy to share their tips, especially if you buy them a pint in the pub afterwards!

 

Enjoy it

There’s no point in doing anything in life that you don’t enjoy. The same applies to running. I have to confess that despite being a good runner I don’t always feel fast or great when I’m training. In fact 40% of the time it’s a real struggle and I have to try and motivate myself, especially when the weather is poor outside. It’s all about having a positive mindset and I always enjoy running once I leave the house.

Run with friends, meet other like-minded people and always do it with a smile on your face. The more you run, the fitter you’ll get and the better you’ll feel. When you start seeing all your hard work paying off then you’ll enjoy every run you do and you’ll even start to love hill reps (OK I lied about this bit – there’s probably only me who actually enjoys running uphill, but it does get easier!)

DARE TO DREAM

Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. Don’t ever let yourself believe you can’t do something either. Anything is possible and if you want something badly enough then you can achieve it.

In the space of 18 months I’ve gone from a top club runner to one of the best mountain runners in the country. There were lots of people who didn’t believe I’d make it to international level but I never doubted it for a moment. Last year I made the GB mountain running team by 8 seconds.

8 SECONDS.

The sum of marginal gains.

It was worth every sacrifice I’ve had to make and every hour I’ve put into training. You can all be whoever you want to be and achieve your goals no matter what.

Life is short.

Don’t waste any opportunities or have any regrets.

Dare to dream.

Now stop reading this article, lace up your trainers and I’ll see you on Trooper Lane.