A year on the run

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The moment you struggle to find truffle oil in your local supermarket, is the moment you realise you’re no longer cut out for a life in England.

These days it’s no secret that I’m far more Italian than English, my transformation close to complete. I own an impressive collection of expensive shoes, drink espresso standing up and proudly wear a leather man bag. It’s only a matter of time until I move abroad. Until that day comes, I’m happy to travel and search for new adventures, exploring places that, perhaps in the future, I might one day call my home.

For my final blog of 2017, I’d like to share a collection of my favourite images, from all of my running adventures this year, in the hope that it might inspire others to seek out similar challenges and explore new and exciting places.

Here is my year on the run…

JANUARY 2017

inov-8 photo shoot, Loughrigg, Lake District, England, UK

© Dave McFarlane

Grizedale Forest, Lake District, England, UK

Testing the @inov_8 Mudclaw 300 on the wet and slippy trails in Grizedale Forest.

‘The Hebden’, Calder Valley, Yorkshire, England, UK

Joint 1st place in The Hebden (21 miles) for The KGB (Karl, Gav & Ben)

‘The Hebden’ blog

Race website

 

FEBRUARY 2017

Sharp Haw, Yorkshire Dales, England, UK

Despite being a little camera shy 😂it was a real pleasure to work with the super talented Col Morley on a photoshoot for his extremely impressive portfolio. To see more of the shoot and other work just visit his site…

© Col Morley

 

MountainFuel training weekend, Lake District, England, UK

Fantastic weekend training in Keswick with the @mountainfuel_uk team! Nothing better than spending time in the mountains with good friends.

The Northumberland Coastal Marathon, Northumbria, England, UK

Mega chuffed to win the Northumberland Coastal Marathon today (27.5 miles! – so in my eyes an ultra 😂) in a new record time of 3:11 (previous 3:15). Legs are battered now though! The new @inov_8 Roclite 290 were the perfect choice for the mud, sand, rocks and sea!

Race website

MARCH 2017

Long Mynd Valleys, Shropshire, England, UK

Nothing better than a sprint finish at the end of a 11 mile fell race with 4500ft of climb 😂

Race website

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APRIL 2017

Donard Challenge, Northern Ireland, UK

Despite taking a bad fall in the last 1km I had a cracking run. Quality fell race.

Race website

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Burgau, The Algarve, Portugal

Sunny trails, epic coastline, beautiful beaches and Pastel De Nata for breakfast. Portugal once again delivering the goods.

Sóller, Mallorca

Unbelievable mountain trails on the route of the GR 221 and some epic cycling. Highlight of the week was tackling the beast that is Sa Calobra.

The inov-8 Yorkshire 3 Peaks, Yorkshire Dales, England, UK

Huge thanks to everyone for their amazing support at the 3 Peaks fell race. Firstly all of my family and friends, my amazing sponsors @inov_8 & @mountainfuel_uk , and all those people spectating on the route offering kind words of encouragement (abuse 😉 😂- Phil Winskill) and much needed water & jelly babies. Unfortunately I didn’t quite set the world alight with my laboured effort and I was way down on my target time, but in the end I was really (really!) relieved to grind it out and finish the race. Now back to the shorter races!!!

My ‘3 Peaks’ blog

Race website

MAY 2017

Inter-Counties, Broughton Heights, Scotland, UK

ALWAYS a really proud moment to represent Yorkshire. 15th place at the Inter-Counties Fell Championship was enough to help the team to silver. As defending champion, not quite the dream result of 2016, but based on current form it was a good, solid performance. No margin for error today. A fast race with minimal time gaps. Huge congrats to Lancashire for winning the team prize by just 1 point and of course to our ladies for taking gold against favourites Cumbria. Also to race winners Andy Douglas (different class!) and Lizzie Adams. Massive thanks to Mr and Mrs Yorkshire (Dave & Eileen Woodhead) for selecting and organising the teams. Finally congratulations and thanks to the race organisers and marshals for hosting a fantastic race.

Calderdale Way Relay, Calderdale, Yorkshire, England, UK

I must be a glutton for punishment. First I ran leg 1 of the CWR with Swifty and then leg 3 with fat boy Godsman! Really proud to play a small part in Calder Valley’s CWR victory.

Trail Degli Dei, The Amalfi Coast, Campania, Italy

A return to the Amalfi coast for one of the most stunning races of my life. If you have never been then you really MUST visit! Check out the Hotel Parsifal in Ravello for the best accommodation.

Race website

 

JUNE 2017

Blencathra, Lake District, England, UK

I’ve always fancied doing the midweek Blencathra fell race, but never managed to get there in time after work. So this year I made sure I did, and I can honestly say it was worth all the effort and travelling. Only £3 to enter for a fabulous route with magnificent views and a quality field. I can’t recommend it enough; it’s everything that’s good about fell running. Great to catch up with everyone for pre and post race craic. Congratulations to super Lou Roberts for notching up yet another win and to everyone else who ran. Epic battle in the men’s race too, I just managed to get my big nose in front on the last climb and hang on for the win. Huge thanks to the organisers and marshalls for putting on my favourite race of the year so far. It reminds me exactly why I’m a fell runner.

Race website

MountainFuel Billy Bland Challenge, Lake District, England, UK

The Billy Bland Challenge Race leg 2

This leg is around 13 miles and 6000ft of ascent and covers 12 fell tops.

It was a pleasure to race with @cal_tin on the BBC leg 2 last Sunday. Taking a 5 minute lead from leg 1, we were able to extend this and in doing so also record the fastest time for leg of 2hours and 20 mins, knocking 7 mins off the previous record.

Website

© Col Morley

JULY 2017

inov-8 Get A Grip weekend, Lake District, England, UK

I’ve had the most amazing weekend in Keswick with the staff and competition winners of #TeamGetAGrip inov-8 😊Finished off with a great race on Skiddaw today. Super proud of everyone for their outstanding efforts. Makes me appreciate how lucky I am to be involved with such great people and a brilliant brand. Huge thanks to @inov_8 and @freestak for making it happen.

The Alva Games, Scotland, UK

Not the most sensible decision I’ve ever made given the fact I’m nursing a knee injury…but a strong climb meant I managed 2nd at the Alva games today. Pity I was crap on the descent but to be expected. The main thing is I picked up some vital BOFRA points and I can still walk.

Race website

 

Lingmell Dash, Lake District, England, UK

Hugely enjoyable weekend in the Lake District with friends. Saturday began with Leg 2 BG support for Andy Swift in the morning and then a win at Lingmell Dash in the afternoon. Many thanks to Stephen Wilson of Grand Day Out Photography for some cracking photos of the race.

Race website

© Grand Day Out Photography

SportShoes.com inov-8 photo shoot, Bingley St Ives, England, UK

Quality photoshoot with @sportsshoes at Bingley St Ives, modelling the new @inov_8 Autumn/Winter collection 2017. The inclement weather was perfect to test the latest range of waterproof jackets. More images and product reviews coming shortly.

AUGUST 2017

PGL 2 Centre Adventure, Mimosa and Segries, France

Beautiful morning runs around the trails of Vagnas in France, with the Brooksbank School staff and students.

Piz-Tri Vertical & The FlettaTrail, Malonno, Italy

Easily one of the best experiences of my running career so far…double dipping in Malonno. First the PizTri Vertical last Saturday for my VK debut and then the famous FlettaTrail the following day. Finishing in the top 20 of both races against the very best international athletes. Nice bonus of 2nd vet in the combined race competition too. HUGE thanks to the main man @skola14 for making it happen – Italiano leggenda! Also to the wonderful people of Malonno and the Italian national team for your warmth, friendship and gracious hospitality. Grazie mille!!!

My ‘FlettaTrail’ blog

Race website

Staffetta 3 Rifugi, Collina, Forni Avoltri, Italy

Really proud to be part of team SS Lazio today the 3 Rifugi relay in Collina. An amazing run from @maximiliannicholls on leg 1 (in 3rd place!) set us up for a top 10 finish! Huge congratulations to our Capitano @tony_tamussin_ AKA. l’Aquila 🦅 for running a PB of 21 minutes on leg 3.

Race website

Kilnsey Show, Yorkshire Dales, England, UK

The Kilnsey Show crag race, Yorkshire. Less than 9 minutes of sheer explosive speed, power and unbelievable agony. Easily the most unique fell race I’ve ever done and certainly one of the most memorable. After furiously sprinting to the summit, the infamous descent down ‘the chimney’ was over just as quickly as it started. I just tried to ignore the fact that one slip, or false move, would prematurely end my season or running career! 😜There isn’t a single moment where you can relax or take it easy. This race requires a ‘foot to the floor’, ‘eyeballs out’ and ‘FULL GAS’ effort for entire duration. But despite all the risk, the drama and the pure physical pain, it was an amazing experience and one I’ll look forward to doing over and over again. The crowds and support were amazing, the atmosphere absolutely electrifying. If you’ve never done this race before then it needs to be immediately added to your bucket list. I was happy with 7th on my Kilnsey debut, in a highly competitive field, but hopefully next year a podium spot after some specific training and a return to top form. Huge congrats to winners Nick Swinburn and my amazing @inov_8 teammate Victoria Wilkinson, who also smashed the women’s record to pieces, only a few days after doing the same at the Grasmere Guides race. What an athlete!

Race website

© Woodentops

Piece Hall photo shoot for Calderdale Council, Halifax, England, UK

I’ve done some pretty cool things during my running career, but this morning was something very special. Shooting a short ‘Chariots of Fire’ style film for @calderdale council in the amazing Piece Hall, Halifax. As a local lad, it makes me really proud to see it brought back to life after a few years of redevelopment. If you haven’t paid a visit then you really must. Cool bars, cafes, shops and restaurants, all independently owned. Lots of brilliant events planned and tons of stuff taking place in the future. Watch this space. Major thanks to @robin.tuddenham for making it happen and for organising today. Also to @craigchewmoulding_atmosphaera for capturing it all on camera. It was a pleasure and an honour to be involved.

Website

© Craig Chew-Moulding

SEPTEMBER 2017

The World Masters Mountain Running Championship, Pruske, Slovakia

Absolutely destroyed myself on the final climb to finish individual 5th and team bronze🇬🇧 in the World Masters Mountain Running Championship (M35) in Slovakia yesterday. Congratulations to everyone who competed, especially my GB compatriots who also won medals! What a great day and a fantastic way to end a summer of run. On the final day I enjoyed breakfast in Slovakia, coffee in Czech Republic and lunch in Hungary!

Race website

The Cleveland Way, North Yorkshire, England, UK

The Cleveland Way. Whitby to Robin Hood’s Bay along a stunning coastal path. Exploring another section of the beautiful North East coastline on foot. Such a beautiful part of Yorkshire, despite the biblical weather conditions. Definitely a day for merino!

Website

OCTOBER 2017

The Tartufo Trail, Parma, Italy

Italy is ace. Why am I not living here? So tempted NOT to get back on a plane home tonight. Love the people, the weather, the food and the montagna ❤️🗻
A weekend is never enough, but soooo worth the travel and effort. Parma is beautiful, Calestano on point and I’ve ticked off yet another region on my Italian hitlist. It’s been a blast. Hopefully next year I can return to defend my Tartufo Trail crown. Another successful running mission in bringing some @inov_8 love to italia. Grazie mille to Francesco Caputi and family for making it happen. I’ll be back soon to visit, that’s for sure. Paolo, @peter_barbier@_gloria_robuschi_ = 👍💪🇮🇹😜👌
It’s not about the winning. It’s about the journey, the experience and making new friends. Of course it’s also about the meat, cheese, wine and beer…and sunshine.

Always the sunshine ☀️

Race website

British Fell Relays, Llanberis, North Wales, UK

Great day out at the British Fell Relays in Llanberis, very happy with 4th place overall.

Race website

Florence, Pisa and Lucca, Italy

Beautiful Firenze 🇮🇹❤️It’s been such a long time since I last visited Italy, I was starting to get some serious withdrawal symptoms. Capturing the beauty of Florence, Pisa and Lucca in miniature and minimalistic photography. An amazing few days in Tuscany with @rachel_lumb & Brooksbank students.

Burgau, The Algarve, Portugal

Beautiful Burgau and the glorious Cape St. Vincent, Portugal. A breathtaking sunset at the most south-westerly point in Europe.

NOVEMBER 2017

Due North Events, Kettlewell, Yorkshire Dales, England, UK

Fantastic training weekend in Kettlewell, organised by @eventsduenorth 👍a real pleasure to be involved, great to meet another fantastic bunch of runners and pass on some fell running tips and techniques.

Website

Coniston, Lake District, England, UK

Winter has well and truly arrived…
What a fantastic couple of days training around Coniston, especially above the snow line. The perfect opportunity to test the new @inov_8 X-Talon 230 and the inov-8 Protec Waterproof Shell. Amazing kit!

DECEMBER 2017

Positano Wine Trail & Rupert’s Trail, The Amalfi Coast, Campania, Italy

2 races, 2 days, 2 wins! Didn’t have much left in the tank at the end of some super-tough mountain racing this weekend. Huge thanks to all my friends in Italy who made this weekend possible and so memorable. I’ll be back really soon (no doubt about that!)

Race website

Wasdale, Lake District, England, UK

Such an amazing few days running around Wasdale. Snow on the tops, glorious sunshine and unbelievable views. You never forget days like these. So glad I ran with my camera…

As always, I would like to give a huge thanks to my main sponsors inov-8 and Mountain Fuel for their continued support throughout this year. Now bring on 2018!

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Supported by inov-8 | Powered by Mountain Fuel | Timed by Suunto

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Why I Run – by Heidi Davies

So why do you run?

If you’re asking me that question, I bet 9 times out of 10 you’re not a runner yourself. To you, running is awful. You couldn’t think of anything worse than dragging your body weight around on your own two feet and trying to put your frame of muscles and bones into fast forward motion. To you, that would be a version of hell itself. Am I right?

Elan ValleyPictured above: Heidi training in the Elan Valley

“What!” I hear you exclaim “You actually enjoy putting your body through so much pain?”

“Don’t you get bored?”

“Don’t you get tired?” 

“Wouldn’t you rather just watch TV?”

“But, how do you actually enjoy running?”

Maybe you think running just isn’t your thing. I mean I don’t blame you; why would you even want to get out of breath? That’s just not any fun right? Life in your comfort zone is so much better isn’t it. At least you know where you stand, right?

WRONG!

I’m sorry to disappoint but I’m going to have to prove you wrong.

So why do I run? I’ll tell you why… let’s start from the beginning.

I run to make my younger self proud.

If you were to say to my ten-year-old self that I would become a runner, I’d have laughed before eagerly sticking my head back into the book I was reading. As a young child, sport just wasn’t my thing. I’ve always been a trier and tried and failed (miserably) to even catch a ball in Primary School; failing to even keep my eyes open when the ball came towards me. I sucked at sport and I always dreaded the PE lessons and games of rounders we were required to play. It was only natural that I would dread my first experience of running in a local primary schools’ cross country race. My young naive eleven year old self thought I was in for the worst experience of my short life so far. However, I surprised myself and actually enjoyed that initial thrill of trying to run as fast as I could around a boggy field. I found it a battle with myself as much as against the other children, which suited my slightly shy, introverted personality. This was it! I had found my true calling. I had pushed forward into the unknown on that one afternoon in my last year of Primary School and I haven’t looked back since.

Finish LinePictured above: THAT moment. Crossing the finish line to take the bronze medal in the European Mountain Running Championship, Arco, Italia, 2016

I run to discover the unknown.

For non-runners the unknown and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone can be a scary, unnerving experience. Even more so when you haven’t actually pushed yourself out of your physical comfort zone since you were a child playing tag or such like on the school yard. The unknown is something I have come to love as a runner. As a runner the “unknown” is a glorifing experience. It’s the unknown that drives me to continue to put one foot in front of the other, over and over because I want to understand how far my body, mind and spirit is willing to go. I’m still grasping my understanding of this and every run shows me new possibilities.

Running teaches me that I capable of so much more than I ever thought before. Everyday when you lace up your trainers and step outside into the open air; there is always a question mark hanging over your head. Where will your feet take you today? How far will you go? How fast will you be able to push your body today? This is a question mark that I have come to love as it ensures the running experience is constantly new and refreshing. The world is your oyster. Even more so when you run; if only you have the belief in yourself.

The unknown (1)Pictured above: Running into the unknown

I run because that is what we were born to do.

Running is the most natural form of movement for the human body. It allows us to go back to our roots as a species; to a time when running was essential to our survival. This rings true when I’m out there on the trails; jumping over rocks, floating on silent strides, the wind in my ears with just my shadow and the natural environment for company. It’s easy to feel a strong connection to our ancestors who performed this pure movement many years ago. It is sometimes in these moments that I feel as if I could run forever and never get tired. It is for these special moments that I run, because there is no greater feeling than pushing past your comfort zone and feeling free as if you are flying over the terrain. Running reminds me what a priveldge it is to be alive and to be able to move on this wonderful planet. I have been lucky enough to have had many opportunities to visit different countries and places which I otherwise wouldn’t if I didn’t run. Running truly has opened up my eyes to the world and for this I am forever thankful.

Livigno (1)Pictured above: Training on the beautiful trails in Livigno, Italia. Photo credit: Phil Gale

I run to explore.

The one aspect of running which I have truly fallen in love with, is the ability to be able to use your own two feet as a method of exploration. I think this is probably why I have found mountain running to be my niche in the sport of running during the summer months. Mountain runners are a different breed of runner. Through the nature of the sport, the focus is more on fun and development and there are no egos. Everyone is an equal and has an appreciation for the environment and world in which we live. We know we are lucky to experience this through running remote trails. It’s like that first breath of fresh air you crave after being stuck inside an exam room for hours. Refreshing, invigorating and a completely newfangled approach to enjoying the whole running experience.

Livigno 2 (1)Pictured above: Exploring Livigno, Italia

The culture of mountain running is something completely different to what I’d experienced previously. The one obvious difference is that mountain runners smile. Running in the mountains or on the trails makes people happy. How can it not when you get to scamper over terrain in breathtakingly beautiful surroundings? Yes it can hurt, your lungs can feel on fire, your legs like bricks, but it is pure enjoyment.

I run because the people and stories you make along the way are so heartwarming.

The social side of running is something I really enjoy too. I have made many friends through the sport from all different countries and the combination of running and being in beautiful places either competing or for a training camp seems to just pull us runners together. Runners can sometimes be seen as our own unique crazy species so it is only natural that if you see another runner you automatically want to share stories of your running adventures. Running is something that bonds people together to allow them to have a greater sense of purpose in life too.

friendships

friendships2 (1)Pictured above: Friends for life. The European Mountain Running Championship 2016, Arco, Italia

I run to inspire others.

I have really discovered how running can inspire others as I have been helping to inspire the next generation of runners in my local area. Seeing the children smiling and being really enthusiatic and desprate to get outside and move their body’s just because of something you have said is truly heartwarming. Even just running down the street and exchanging a word or two with a passer by and seeing them smile can make you realise how much sport and running does bring people of all kinds together. Because running is something all humans have in common even if some people dislike or cringe at the thought. Trust me, that is only a thought. Yes it may be a horrible thought, but once you get your running shoes on and get out there, you’ll probably come to love it too.

Running is so much more than just a sport. It’s more than just a race.
It’s about the inspiring people you meet, the incredible places you get to visit, the close friendships you build and the unforgettable memories you make.

I run because running is freedom to me and there is no better way to experience life’s journey.

THAT’S why I run.

You can read more about Heidi Davies and her mountain running adventures by visiting her blog.

Other related posts: Heidi Davies: The life of a teenage trail runner | Why I Run – by Lisa Tamati

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The 63rd Yorkshire 3 Peaks Fell Race

It’s been no secret that one of my major targets this year was to do well in the Yorkshire 3 Peaks fell race. I was looking forward to it for a number of reasons; firstly, this iconic event is now sponsored by inov-8 and it’s always an honour and a privilege to represent the brand; it is also a race that would serve as selection for the GB long distance mountain running team and I knew if I trained hard enough then there might be a small chance of me making the cut; and finally, I’ve always felt like I’ve had unfinished business with the 3 Peaks. I’ve competed twice before and never performed well, just thankful to finish on both occasions. Perhaps this was the year where I might finally make my mark.

18238474_10155527919897446_1076604862502096597_oPictured above: The impressive view of Ribblehead viaduct (courtesy of MountainFuel)

I was under no illusions that I’d always have my work cut out if I was going to perform well. I’ve never considered myself a long distance specialist, always favouring speed over endurance. So I set about entering longer, tougher races at the beginning of the year in preparation. I enjoyed good results at both the Hebden 22 and the Wadsworth Trog. I even entered the Haworth Hobble for training and experience, although a bout of illness before the race meant I sensibly had to withdraw. I did however, manage to get a number of long distance training runs under my belt and I knew I wasn’t in bad shape. On reflection, my training prior to the race was a little hit and miss. It lacked the consistency and quality I really needed, but I was still confident I could run well and put in a respectable performance.

MY PLAN WAS TO USE EXPERIENCED ATHLETES LIKE ROB JEBB, ROB HOPE AND IAN HOLMES AS A MEASURE

Without doubt the most surprising thing about race day was the weather. Last year I remember wading through snow at the top of Whernside to spectate. Roll on 12 months and it couldn’t have been any different! The sun was shining and the ground completely bone dry. I almost wondered if I’d turned up on the wrong date. Definitely vest weather and a day for the Roclite 290s. Record breaking conditions for sure. I had my fingers crossed that Victoria Wilkinson would do the business, especially with the blistering form she’s been in so far this season

 

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The start of the 63rd Yorkshire 3 Peaks Fell Race (courtesy of inov-8 & MountainFuel)

When the race began I tried to settle into a steady pace from the start. I had no choice but to run sensibly, after all I wasn’t in any shape to challenge for the win. At my very best, I’d hoped I could push for a top 5 place and perhaps even break 3 hours. However, realistically I knew based on current form, a top 10-15 would be a good result. My plan was to use experienced athletes like Rob Jebb, Rob Hope and Ian Holmes as a measure. These are guys who always perform well every year and know how to pace a good 3 Peaks. So on the climb up to Pen-Y-Ghent I tried to sit behind Holmesy and Jebby and let them dictate my early effort. Easier said than done as I watched the latter slowly disappear into the distance.

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Pictured above: The climb and descent on Pen-Y-Ghent 

I expected to enjoy the first half of the race. It’s not really until Ingleborough that I usually begin to suffer. But today was different. In all honesty, I felt laboured from the start. I should’ve cruised to the top of the first climb but instead I felt heavy, tired and lethargic. I knew there and then that I was going to be in for a long day. As I shuffled towards the summit, I glanced at my watch and saw I was way down on my target pace. I can’t even begin to describe how tempted I was to pull out. I just didn’t feel good. Only a week ago I’d trotted up and down Pen-Y-Ghent and felt amazing. Today couldn’t have been any different. One by one I watched people sail past and there was nothing I could do in response. I had no choice but to convince myself that things might feel easier as the race progressed, but deep down I knew I was preparing myself for a 3 hour suffer-fest.

“I HAD CHRIS BARNES’ BIG GINGER HEAD IN MY THOUGHTS ALL THE WAY ROUND”

To try and make the distance more manageable I broke the race down into smaller sections in my head. The next milestone for me was Ribblehead. On the approach, it was such a relief to see so many familiar and friendly faces as we hit the main road. I made the most of every offer of food and drink and guzzled down as much liquid as I could. In fact I swigged so much flat Coca-Cola during the race that I wouldn’t be surprised if they offered me a new sponsorship deal. The combination of that and some Mountain Fuel powered me up the steep climb to the summit of Whernside and it was easily the strongest section of my race.

18216673_10155527919902446_1733979316284418867_oPictured above: Ribblehead viaduct and the climb to the summit of Whernside (courtesy of MountainFuel)

I can honestly say that in terms of running, I really didn’t enjoy the race. But in the back of my mind I knew I had to finish. Quitting wasn’t even an option. For a start, I had too many people supporting me on the route with drinks and kind words of encouragement. But most importantly, the absolute main reason that I didn’t quit was because I knew Chris Barnes would publicly humiliate me on Twitter if I had to catch ‘the bus of shame’ back to the start.

Barnesy.jpgPictured above: Chris Barnes in his prime *note his colour co-ordinated socks (courtesy of Woodentops)

Now don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t even think twice about pulling out if I was injured or ill, or if I thought my effort would hamper my chances of doing well in other important races. However, today if I threw in the towel then I’d be doing it because I wasn’t going to finish in the time or position that I wanted. I’d be doing it out of pure selfish pride because I didn’t want to get beaten by people I’d usually finish in front of. It’s not the fell running way and it’s certainly not my style. I’d not blown up, I was well hydrated, the conditions were perfect and I wasn’t suffering from a serious injury. I had no excuses, other than the fact I was just having one of those days. I just never got going from the start. So instead, for over 3 hours (more than should be legally allowed), I just had Barnesy’s big ginger head in my thoughts ALL the way round. When the going got tough, I imagined Barnesy tweeting pictures of him driving the bus with me sat in the front seat. When Vic Wilkinson came steaming past me on the track near the bottom of Whernside, I thought about all of the interesting hashtags he’d use to take the piss on social media. And when I fell on the final descent, after swearing and crying out for a cuddle from my mum, I thought about nothing but crossing the finish line so that I could put Barnesy firmly back in his box.

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Pictured above: The descent from Whernside and the climb towards the summit of Ingleborough (courtesy of Andy Jackson, Racing Snakes & Sport Sunday)

The last few miles of the race were a real slog and they weren’t pretty. But I eventually finished, albeit a little battered and bruised, in a respectable time of 3:13:43. I can’t tell you how relieved I was to see the finish line.

I must say that one thing I did enjoy about the race was the atmosphere of this iconic event. Hundreds of spectators had turned out to support us all on the route and I was grateful to every single person who cheered, gave me jelly babies and numerous offers of drinks. The support was nothing short of amazing. It really does make a huge difference when you’re out there racing, so please consider this as my thanks to you all.

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Pictured above: Enjoying the finish and posing with my CVFR teammates Karl Gray (C) and Andy Swift (R) (courtesy of WoodentopsMountainFuel)

PRIOR TO SATURDAY, I’VE ONLY EVER BEEN ‘CHICKED’ TWICE BEFORE IN MY CAREER

I couldn’t finish this blog without praising the race winners. Firstly, Murray Strain, who demonstrated his class by beating a highly competitive field in a sensational time of 2:49:38. Also a special mention to my teammate Karl Gray, who at the tender age of 50, finished 4th and broke the V40 record in 2:56:37 – amazing!

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Pictured above: 2017 Race winners Murray Strain and Victoria Wilkinson (courtesy of Woodentops)

However, the day belonged to one person (super-woman!), Victoria Wilkinson. Prior to Saturday, I’ve only ever been chicked* twice before in my career. The first time, about 10 years ago, when I got mudged** on a long race in Northern Ireland. Then in 2008, when I got czeched*** at the 3 Peaks, and now finally in 2017, when I got well and truly vicked****. Words cannot express or signify the enormity of this result as she set a new female course record in 3:09:19, knocking over 5 minutes off the previous record set by Anna Pichrtova in 2008 (3:14:43). I can only describe it as one of, if not THE, finest ever performances on the fells by a female athlete. Vic was simply outstanding and it was a privilege to watch her in action as she ripped through the field and completely obliterated the record. She had an enormous amount of pressure on her to deliver this result and I’m so, so pleased for her. I can’t think of a more deserving, humble and talented champion. She’ll absolutely hate me for writing this, because she never allows herself to bask in the limelight, but Vic you are simply amazing.

*Beaten by the first female **Beaten by Angela Mudge ***Beaten by Anna Pichrtova ****Beaten by Vic Wilkinson

It’s safe to say that this wasn’t my finest 3 (and a bit) hours and I can confirm that I never, EVER want to run the 3 Peaks again. But it wasn’t all bad so please don’t let me put you off if you’re thinking of doing this race next year for the first time. It really is an amazing event (I promise!). I’ve tried to reflect on my experience by summarising my highs and lows from the race…

10 THINGS I LOVED

  1. The AMAZING support and atmosphere!
  2. The food before, during and after the race
  3. 3 x bottles of flat coke
  4. Pints of Mountain Fuel (thanks Rupert!)
  5. Swifty taking a dump at the bottom of Whernside
  6. Vic Wilkinson!
  7. Phil Winskill’s abuse and his jelly babies
  8. My Roclite 290s
  9. FINISHING!!!
  10. Having my photograph taken many, many times 😉

10 THINGS I HATED

  1. The climb up to the summit of Pen-Y-Ghent
  2. The descent from Pen-Y-Ghent
  3. The flat bit towards Whernside
  4. The climb up to the summit of Whernside
  5. The descent from Whernside
  6. The flat bit towards the Hill Inn
  7. The climb up to the summit of Ingleborough
  8. The descent from Ingleborough
  9. Cramp
  10. Falling pathetically near the finish

So there you have it, my 3 Peaks report before I completely erase the race and thoughts of Chris Barnes from my memory forever…

…I can’t wait till next year’s event already! Please, please, please don’t forget to remind me when the entries are out. Roll on April 2018! Training starts now!

Results | Photos1 | Photos2 | Photos3

 

 

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Why I Run – by Lisa Tamati

There’s one question I get asked by nearly everyone I meet. It’s the one thing they all want to know and the one question I find difficult to answer quickly and succinctly. It is, of course, ‘Why do you do it?’

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Those five words are really loaded. What I think most people who ask me that mean is something along these lines:
‘Why don’t you just give up when the going gets so tough most people would just lie down and cry? Why can you push through pain barriers, and beat all odds, continue on for hours or days in a state of exhaustion that most humans would never conceive as possible, through sleep deprivation, hallucinations, blisters, shin splints, inflammation, digestion problems and altered mental states? Why, after swearing black and blue you will never do it again, do you turn up at the next race all excited and ready to go?’
Needless to say, I’ve given this a lot of thought over the years. I think every ultramarathon runner would answer the question differently but there are several things that drive me to run.

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For most of us, our world today is so comfortable, so physically soft, and at the same time so terribly demanding and stressful that it can be hard to keep up with everything we feel we need to do in a day. For me, running helps regain a healthy balance between my mind, my body and my soul—that is why I do it.
It takes real discipline to train for an event, and then to give my absolute all in order to finish that race. With every race I enter, I know I am risking failure but I also have the confidence in myself to know that I will push myself to my very limits in the pursuit of success.
I love single-mindedly pursuing a goal. I find having a singular goal is quite purifying because there’s so much going on in my life in terms of commitments and expectations—the phone’s constantly ringing, emails are coming in, there are a hundred things that need doing—and I have to find a way to balance it all. But when I go to a race, I leave all that behind and I just focus on the trail.

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When I go to a race, I don’t enjoy the pain of it—absolutely not—but I enjoy the focus that it gives me. While I’m racing, my mind is constantly preoccupied with taking the next step. I know I can’t let go for a minute, especially in desert races or when I’m running through the night. I’ve got to be watching where I’m going. I’ve got to be aware of how much fluid I’ve taken in. I need to know how many calories I’ve eaten. I’ve got to be listening to my body and where the pain is. I need to know how my mates I’m running with are doing. I need to worry about whether I need to be motivating them or if they are motivating me. My whole focus the around the clock is on getting to the finish line.
It can be extremely tiring because there’s no downtime. Even in the stage races, although there’s always the relief of getting to camp when I know I’ll be spending the night there. We sit around sharing war stories about what we’ve gone through that day. But the whole time we’re all still focused on that goal of making the finish line. The rewards for all that hard work are the sense of pride, of achievement, of tired satisfaction, and of confidence that come from crossing that finish line.

Lisa
Photo credit

Another thing I love about ultrarunning is that when someone is challenged in such an extreme way, both mentally and physically, you get to see the true essence of that person. I think that’s something a lot of us want to do—to get to that point in a race, adventure or expedition where we’ve got nothing left, that we’re totalled and we’ve given everything but we somehow manage to pull something out of ourselves to keep going. That’s what most of us want to find out. Have we got that in us? Can we push it that little bit harder? What mettle are we made of?
Through the sport, I have really learned to value people who push themselves beyond normal barriers and overcome obstacles. For me, it’s not about being the fastest on the course—that doesn’t impress me. It’s the guy who is last, it’s the girl who has broken her back and has fought back and now she’s crossing the desert or the 75-year-old who’s coming back into the desert for the fifteenth time and he won’t let anyone tell him he can’t do it. Those are the stories that I really love and that’s what I love about the ultramarathon scene as opposed to the more competitive marathon and triathlon scenes. There it’s all about competing against each other. Our sport does have an element of that, but at the end of the day, most of us are in to compete against and test ourselves.
The power of running to change people’s lives, to put people’s lives back together, to help rebuild their self-esteem is another reason I do it. You go through hardships in running but that makes you tougher and shows you what is important in life. It takes you back to basics. You can’t be an ultramarathon runner and really arrogant because you’re dealing with Mother Nature and Mother Nature will always give you a hiding. She will also show you your strengths and your vulnerabilities, your extraordinary abilities, and your inherent human weaknesses.

Gobi desert documentary: 
Himalaya documentary 222km over the two highest passes in the world: 
Lisa’s career spans over 20 years of competing in some of the toughest endurance events on earth and participating in expeditions. She is the author of two best selling books Running Hot and Running to Extremes, her stories are entertaining and often at times shocking.

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A rough guide to fell running

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What is fell running and how is it different to cross country and trail running? Is there a clear distinction between fell running and mountain running?

Fell running is traditionally a British sport that shares many of the same characteristics as other forms of off-road running; cross country, trail and mountain. However, it is unique in the sense that races are so unpredictable in terms of the weather and terrain. You have to be a much stronger and hardier athlete to cope with the environment. Speed isn’t necessarily the key, but rather strength and resilience. Experience and mountain-craft also play a huge part. You need to be able to find the best lines, because often you are running on a vague trod (or not!) between two checkpoints. There isn’t always a clear path and it’s usually safer to trust a compass rather than other people in a race!

The video below shows footage from a typical Lakeland fell race (Blackcombe 2017 – courtesy of Lee Procter and inov-8).

In comparison, cross country has significantly less climbing, and is contested on runnable terrain in more controlled environments. It’s much easier to predict a winner as there are fewer factors to consider and usually no chance of anyone getting lost! (Although I should confess to getting lost at least once OK twice in a cross country race!!!)

In the UK, trail running is similar to fell running, but again there is significantly less climbing and the trails/paths are more obvious to navigate and easier to run on.

Mountain running is perhaps the closest discipline to fell running. Both have similar types of gradients (up and down) with the only difference being the terrain (see pic below). The fells are more difficult to navigate during a race, with fewer obvious paths and tracks to follow over much wetter, boggier and softer ground. I would also say that mountain runners are typically faster athletes than fell runners as pace plays a more crucial role in races.

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What makes it so special from your perspective?

Fell running is a very unique and specialist sport. It has taken me to places that I would never have imagined I’d ever visit. I’ve seen glorious sunrises, breath-taking sunsets, stunning views and beautiful wildlife. I’ve also been fortunate enough to run with the legends of the sport and shared precious moments with like-minded friends that I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

One thing that I love, across all its forms, is that the ‘superstars’ are a different breed of elite. There’s no arrogance or bravado. It makes a refreshing change given what you see happening in other sports. It accepts athletes of all abilities and encourages them to take part. The fact that it’s not elitist means you’re just as likely to share a post-race pint with the winner as you are with the person who finishes last.

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What are the key attributes from a physical perspective?

Fell running is like a drug, it’s seriously addictive. You’re not just competing against other people in the race, you’re battling against both the elements and the terrain. It’s seriously hard, both physically and mentally. There are no short cuts and no easy races. You have to learn to embrace the pain and push your body to the extreme. Your legs need to be strong enough to cope with the steep, challenging climbs and handle hair-raising descents at breakneck speed. It’s one hell of a tough sport but extremely rewarding.

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What does it give you that road running doesn’t?

Fell running couldn’t be more different to road running. The latter is a far more commercial sport. It’s also more expensive to compete and there is significantly less risk of getting lost, injured or being fatally exposed to the natural elements.

For me, I find road running too predictable, boring and safe. I like the challenge of the environment, competing against the mountain rather than the clock.

Within fell running there is also a greater feeling of camaraderie. My biggest rivals might run for different clubs but in reality we’re all part of the same team. A secret society of friends who all share a love and passion for the outdoors. It genuinely feels like you’re part of one big family and that to me is what makes our sport is so unique and special.

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How accessible is the sport to beginners and how do you get started?

Fell running encourages athletes of all abilities to take part and it’s really easy to get involved. It’s also very cheap compared to road running. A typical race costs around £5 and you can win anything from a bottle of wine, to vouchers for your local running shop. One of my most memorable prizes was a 4 pack of toilet roll, for finishing in 2nd place in the Blackstone Edge fell race! Proof in itself that fell runners compete for the love of the sport and certainly not for the money!

I ‘fell’ into the sport by complete accident (excuse the pun). After trying my hand at cross country, it wasn’t long before I was searching for another, bigger adrenalin rush. Someone I know suggested I do a fell race. It began with a steep uphill climb and finished with a wild and crazy descent. My body was working at its full capacity during the entire race, my lungs were on fire and my heart rate was off the scale! But despite the pain, the hurt and the jelly legs, it was a feeling I’ll never forget. I felt alive and free, enjoying the finest natural high in the world.

To try a fell race for yourself, check out the Fellrunner website for the full fixture list. There are also lots of fell running clubs throughout the UK and anyone can become a member.

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Explain the tactical and mental skills required – such as picking the best line, the importance of a recce beforehand etc.

Like any sport, preparation is the key to success. Races are won and lost by seconds, so it’s important to recce routes and choose the best lines. Knowing which direction to run definitely helps, but the weather is so unpredictable that no route ever looks the same on race day! I always recce my important races and train specifically for those key events because I don’t like to leave anything to chance. The more confident I am about a route and my own ability, the more chance I have of winning on race day.

Having experience helps to make you a better fell runner. You need to know how to race, judge your efforts correctly, know which lines to take and most importantly, learn how to navigate safely across dangerous and challenging terrain. Fell running is extremely tactical and unlike other sports the best athlete doesn’t always win. It pays to run smart.

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The gear required – how specialised does the footwear need to be for those starting out? What are the other key bits of kit?

X-TALON 212                                         X-TALON 225

In theory, you don’t need much kit to get started. However, if you want to improve and make marginal gains then you need to use the best equipment on the market. Shoes, for example, are the most important kit you’ll need in order to perform well. Comfort, grip and weight are essential when choosing the right footwear. I use the inov-8 X-TALON precision fit range for fell running because they’re light and provide excellent grip over the roughest terrain. The X-TALON 212 are my favourite for training and the X-TALON 225 are my preferred choice for racing.

ROCLITE 290                                         MUDCLAW 300

I use a range of specific footwear for all types of running. I favour the ROCLITE 290 for the trails and the MUDCLAW 300 for extreme fell. It’s important to wear the right shoes as they will give you the extra confidence you need on that particular terrain. Check out the video below to see exactly what I’m talking about (courtesy of Andy Jackson and inov-8).

Nothing claws through mud like the MUDCLAW 300! Read more about them here.

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inov-8 LS hooded merino base layer

In terms of apparel, the best piece of advice I can give is to wear merino.

I wax lyrical about the super powers of merino – it’s simply the best. When it comes to base layers there is no better alternative. I even wear merino underpants. However, by far the best bit of running clothing I own is the inov-8 long sleeved hooded merino base layer. Yes, it’s expensive gear, but it’s worth every penny.

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Given all of which, what makes the perfect fell runner?

 My fell running hero and teammate, Karl Gray, once told me…

‘To be the best fell runner you have to climb like a mountain goat, run like the wind on the flat and descend like a demon’.

He’s absolutely right. The perfect fell runner is someone who can do it all, over every distance. To win the English Fell Championship you have to be able to compete on all types of terrain, from anything between 3 – 25 miles and in all types of weather conditions throughout the duration of the season (February to October). It’s a tough ask. But then again, athletes don’t come any tougher than fell runners – we’re a different breed altogether.

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All photography by Dave McFarlane (courtesy of inov-8).

Related blogs: HOW I ‘FELL’ IN LOVE WITH RUNNINGRUNNING TIPS: 10 WAYS TO BEAT THE MUD

Kit: inov-8 MUDCLAW 300 | inov-8 LS hooded merino | inov-8 3QTR tights | inov-8 Stormshell jacket | inov-8 race ultra skull | inov-8 merino sock mid | inov-8 race ultra mitt

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A runner’s guide to winter survival

runners-guide-to-winter-survivalWinter.

As a runner, it’s the time of year you’ve probably been dreading. The clocks go back, the light begins to fade and the weather is inevitably on the turn. Summer is nothing but a distant memory and it becomes increasingly harder to find any kind of motivation to train. But fear not, help is at hand!

Here are my top tips for surviving the winter and embracing the cold…

dont-make-excusesIt’s ok. I get it. You’ve just finished work and you’re absolutely shattered. It was dark when you left the house this morning and it’s dark now as you’re leaving the office. It feels like you haven’t felt the sun on your face for months and it’s cold outside, really cold. When you open your front door the only thing on your mind is settling down on the sofa in front of a warm fire, whilst watching television and eating the dinner you’ve been dreaming about all afternoon. It’s only 6 o’clock and you have an uncontrollable urge to head upstairs to slip into your pyjamas. Besides it’s just started raining outside and your favourite TV programme is calling out your name from the SkyPlus box.

‘What if Daryl from the Walking Dead dies in this week’s episode whilst I’m out training? How will I ever forgive myself? I suppose I can always run tomorrow instead. Yeah tomorrow, I might even do a double session. Now where did I put that XL bar of Dairy Milk?’

Sound familiar? Trust me when I say that this is my dilemma pretty much every day of the week during winter. I always say the hardest part of training is actually getting changed and leaving the house because it’s the easiest time to give up and make excuses. I have to play some serious mind games with myself in order to get a session done. One of my best tips is to not set your central heating on a timer for when you get home. It’s best to make your front room as cold and uninviting as possible so that you’ll want to go outside just to stay warm. Plus think of all the money you’ll save! It’s a win, win situation. I’m thinking like a true Yorkshireman now – Dave Woodhead would be very proud. A quick turn around is the key. No more than 15 minutes to get sorted and changed before you head straight back out for a run. Have all your clothes and kit laid out ready to go, drink coffee standing up and DO NOT sit down on the sofa…REPEAT after me….DO NOT SIT DOWN ON THE SOFA! Now go and enjoy the tropical weather outside, your house is bloody freezing!!!

mountainfuel-34Photo taken by Robbie Jay Barratt

shine-brightlyI’m probably the least qualified person to dish out head torch recommendations. I am, after all, the guy who turned up to a night race on the Amalfi coast in Italy, wearing a £5 ‘Ebay special’ head torch with 2 used AA batteries borrowed from the TV remote in my hotel room. Admittedly not the best idea I’ve ever had.

Read more here… Italian Adventures: Part 1

IMG_4952Pictured above: Nervously waiting for the start of the Praia San Domenico night race with my £5 head torch.

During the winter months a decent head torch is an essential part of your running kit. When you’re pounding the pavements during the dark nights, you need something to light your way and make you shine brightly. Thankfully I do know someone who knows what they’re talking about…

Fell running guide to head torches

Make the sensible choice (like I’ve finally done!) and invest in a decent model.

train-as-oneFor most people, running alone in winter is a daunting prospect. Dark lonely roads and paths can be scary places, especially for women. It’s the best time of year to run with a friend or better still, in a group. Not only will it help you feel safer, it will also give you more motivation to train. Joining a club is a great way to meet new people and discover new runs. You’ll be surprised at just how many amazing places there are to run in your local area. Over the years, my friends have introduced me to hundreds of new training routes and I get VERY excited whenever I find a new trail (yes I really am that sad!).

Plus at Christmas there will undoubtedly be plenty of festive club runs and excuses to eat lots of food after you’ve finished training. If you’re really lucky, there might even be someone at your club who’s into a bit of Stravart. Check out our Calder Valley team attempt of a Christmas tree on Stoodley Pike last year…

Tree.pngPictured above: The CVFR Christmas club run 2015 led by Ian Symington.

treat yourself.pngThe best way to get motivated is to buy some new running gear. Is there a better feeling than slipping on a new pair of inov-8’s and heading out for a run? I don’t think so. Go on treat yourself, it is nearly Christmas after all.

It’s also important to remember that treating yourself doesn’t always have to be expensive. Try letting a new pair of running socks or gloves ‘accidentally’ fall into your shopping trolley. Or if that’s still too much to spend then keep it cheap and simple. All is takes to float my boat is a bacon and egg sarnie at the end of a long run, washed down with a cup of strong Italian coffee. Tough training sessions should always be rewarded.

Roadclaw.pngPictured above: From road to trail. The inov-8 Roadclaw 275 is a shoe for all seasons.

Merino.pngI’ve previously blogged about the super powers of merino – it’s simply the best. I’m all for saving money (as you’ve probably already gathered!) but when it comes to base layers there is no better alternative. I even wear merino underpants. However, by far the best bit of running clothing I own is still the inov-8 long sleeved hooded merino base layer. It’s expensive gear, but worth every penny. Try Aldi for cheaper alternatives or check out Sportshoes who always have some great discounted prices (I usually have a discount code, so if you want one just get in touch).

Whatever clothing you choose to wear, don’t make the same mistake as I did last year at Lee Mill Relays…

Bad Education

(Warning! Reading this blog make leave you feeling very cold. Probably best to wear some merino clothing whilst you read it)

challenge-yourselfSetting yourself a challenge is the best way to motivate yourself during winter. You could set a personal weekly goal for mileage and climbing, or for the entire month. You could even try running every day. The Marcothon is a perfect challenge for athletes of all abilities. The rules are simple, you must run every day in December. Minimum of three miles or 25 minutes – which ever comes first. The challenge starts on December 1st and finishes on December 31st. And yes, that includes Christmas Day. It’s not a competition, just a personal challenge.

MountainFuel-36.jpgPhoto taken by Robbie Jay Barratt

Another great idea is to challenge a friend or compete as a group. See who can do the most mileage in a week or month and the winner has to buy the drinks (believe me, there’s not much I wouldn’t do for a free cappuccino!).

Personally I set myself a target of 50 miles a week and aim to climb between 8,000-15,000ft when I’m in full training mode. I use Strava to track my progress and I always join their monthly challenges for distance and climbing.

enjoy-racingThe winter months are just about the only time I allow my body to recover. After a season of hard racing I like to get back to training and enjoy running on local trails. However, I like to use cross country races to stay fit and I love racing at Christmas. There are a number of really great races to take part in, some with optional fancy dress. These events are always well organised and VERY enjoyable.

ben-mounsey-x-keswick-x-shot-by-robbie-jay-barratt-7Photo taken by Robbie Jay Barratt

Here are my top recommendations for reasonably LOCAL races over the festive period…

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

  1. Sunday 27/11/2016 Lee Mill Relay (6.2 miles/1115ft climb – FELL RACE) @ 10:00am
  2. Saturday 17/12/2016 Hurst Green Turkey Trot  (5 miles – TRAIL RACE) @1.00pm
  3. Sunday 18/12/2016 Stoop (5 miles/820ft climb – FELL RACE) @ 11:30am
  4. Monday 26/12/2016 Whinberry Naze (4 miles/751ft climb – FELL RACE) @ 11:30am
  5. Tuesday 27/12/2016 Coley Canter (8 miles – TRAIL RACE) @10.00am
  6. Saturday 31/12/2016 Auld Land Syne (6 miles/984ft climb – FELL RACE) @ 11:30am

plan-adventuresPlan your next adventure.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s a park run or a mountain race in Italy. It’s good to have something to motivate you and train for. The next time you’re out running in the cold wind and rain, just remind yourself why you’re doing it and think about your goal. Whatever you decide to aim for, it’ll be worth all the effort when you get there.

tis-the-seasonIt’s not all bad. Running in winter can be amazing. Embrace the weather, make the most of the weekends and if it snows, then lace up your trainers and get out for a run. Think positive, enjoy yourself and don’t forget to do it with a smile. Tis’ the season to be jolly after all 🙂

13227836_220971738287021_2361841371930374055_o.jpgPhoto taken by Steve Frith

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Suunto Spartan Ultra vs Suunto Ambit 3 Vertical Review

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The Suunto Spartan Ultra – one of the most eagerly anticipated GPS watches of all time. Much has been promised and lots is expected. The question is – will this gadget live up to all the hype and is it worth the lofty price tag?

Last month Suunto asked me to trial their flagship product and I was more than happy to oblige. As I’ve only been using the watch for the last 4 weeks, this won’t be an exhaustive review. However, it should provide you with enough information about the Spartan Ultra should you be interested in an upgrade or looking to invest in your first GPS device.

When the watch arrived in the post I was most impressed with the lovely personal touch on the packaging – Suunto had obviously done their homework. I currently own a Suunto Ambit 3 Vertical blue (purchased in May 2016). Previous to this I had a Ambit 2R in black. The difference between these two models is vast so I was interested to see how much better the Ultra is compared to the Ambit 3. I use my watch primarily for running – road, trail, fell and mountain. I use the data in Movescount but I also upload all my activities to Strava as I like to engage with a wider audience and compare my efforts against those of others. Aside from basic use, the main feature I use is navigation, so much of this blog will focus on the accuracy and reliability of the GPS tracker and the ease of uploading and following routes (GPX files).

Ultimately I want to know if the Spartan Ultra is worth the extra money (RRP £599 compared to RRP £325) and how much better it is (if at all) than the popular Ambit 3.

Pictured above: (L) The Suunto Spartan Ultra and (R) The Suunto Ambit 3 Vertical Blue

Suunto’s comparison of both watches can be found here

1. FIRST IMPRESSIONS

I love my bright blue Ambit 3 Vertical but the all black Spartan Ultra is seriously nice. It’s lighter than I expected and the silicone wrist strap, like the Ambit 3, is soft, strong and very durable (this was already an improvement from the Ambit 2). The obvious difference between the two devices is the higher resolution, colour touch screen of the Spartan – a HUGE advancement in technology. The watch face is bigger than the Ambit and it’s much clearer to read and navigate through the menu. I was worried that the touch screen technology might not work that well in the outdoors, especially wet weather. However, I was surprised at how well it still operated with moisture on the screen (although when completely immersed in water you simply have to rely on the buttons to navigate the menu). The screen is also made from sapphire crystal which means it won’t scratch like the Ambit and I don’t have to worry about buying a screen protector. The bezel is made from titanium rather than steel, a more durable and superior material. Another big improvement on previous generations is the magnetic charger.

2. KEY FEATURES

Connectivity: Both watches use a bluetooth connection and I use the Suunto moves app to download my routes. I know some people would prefer a Wifi connection (like the Fenix 3) but I’ve experienced no problems with bluetooth and my runs are always downloaded and synced to Strava within minutes of finishing exercise.

GPS: The key thing for me is the quality of the GPS. The Spartan is quicker at receiving a signal (instant). Both watches have accurate GPS during exercise and I use the fastest recording rate on both which obviously impacts on the battery life. However, given that I never usually train/race above 3 hours, this is never an issue. The battery life of the Spartan is just slightly better than the Ambit – 15 hours rather than 14 in time mode.

Interface: Suunto have completely re-designed the user interface from the Ambit. The good news is it didn’t take me long to navigate the menu and it’s really clear and easy to use. There is also the ability to customise the watch face. A small improvement but one I really like.

Logbook: The Spartan Ultra gives a more complete summary of your training status on the watch. The colour screen enables much richer displays in general and more data on screen. All essential training concepts including pace, splits, rest and recovery are more clearly presented than on the Ambit.

Step and calorie count: This is a new feature on the Spartan and I have to say it’s VERY addictive. It gives you a preset target of completing 10,000 steps every day, although unfortunately this target cannot be changed manually. I’m not afraid to admit that I find myself regularly checking it throughout the day – eager to find out how many steps I’ve done. Prior to using the Spartan I was genuinely considering purchasing an activity tracker, so for me this is a key feature. There is also a calorie count, but the only thing this does is encourage me to eat more!

IMG_1026 2.JPGPictured above: The step count in action. The daily target of 10,000 steps is the blue line, which you can see has been achieved in this photo.

HR monitor: Both watches use the same chest strap, with monitor, to record heart rate. There isn’t an integrated optical heart rate monitor built into the watch, as I’m sure many people were expecting. To be honest it’s not something I’m too disappointed with. The HR strap was improved after the Ambit 2 – it’s comfortable to wear and gives an accurate recording during exercise.

Additional features: Suunto have promised many upgrades to the Spartan Ultra. ‘Coming soon’ seems to be the message, so expect some new features and software updates in the near future. See the specification for more details. I should also mention that I’ve not experienced the software problems that many other Spartan owners seem to have had. Perhaps it’s because I only use mine for mountain, trail and basic running – many of the negative reviews I’ve read are from athletes using it for other sports like swimming.

3. NAVIGATION

Navigation is another key feature for me so a ‘proper fell run’ was needed for a true test. I chose the new Castle Carr inaugural race route. Prior to this test I’d never done the race, I’d no idea of the route and without a map or guidance from a watch I would inevitably get lost. Thankfully the navigation feature, on both the Ambit 3 and Spartan Ultra, allows you to download or create a route and then follow it on the screen whilst running…

14206059_279436152440579_743139688365304502_oPictured above: (Old vs new) Gav Nav vs the Spartan Ultra on the Castle Carr race route

I needed this feature to be simple. I don’t do instructions, I’ve better things to do with my time than read through a booklet when I can just fiddle around, press a few buttons and hopefully get a gizmo to work. I wanted to see how easy it was to upload a route to my watch and just follow it. So I found the Castle Carr race route on (Race organiser) Bill Johnson’s previous Strava activities. I downloaded the GPS file to my computer, uploaded it to Suunto Moves and then synced my watch (i.e. plugged it in to my computer). 1st job done in about 1 minute! No instructions, no messing, easy to work out – route now saved and ready to use. This process is the same on both devices.

14138646_279437039107157_8625262177785166540_o.jpgPictured above: Using the navigation feature on the Spartan Ultra. The blue line is the route I’m following and the white ‘bread crumb’ line is the actual line I’ve taken.

suunto-ambit3-vertical-blue-hr_664_2_8_1393Pictured above: Using the navigation feature on the Ambit 3 Vertical. I’ve used this during races and in training and it’s a good visual aid. However, the screen is smaller and harder to use when navigating at pace.

I opened the route on my watch screen and use the navigation feature so I could find my way. A few menu choices and button presses later and, as if by Harry Potter magic, I had the route up on my display. The display is also bigger than my Ambit 3, and because it’s also touch screen and in colour, then it’s clearer to see. It shows a white trail, where you’ve been and where you are, compared to the blue line which is where you should be going.

Although both watches have the navigation feature, the ease of use and clarity of the large colour screen (when navigating at pace) is far better on the Spartan Ultra than the Ambit 3.

Video above: Once a route has been saved, uploaded to Suuntomoves and synced to the watch, it’s really easy to open and use the navigation function.

4. SUGGESTED IMPROVEMENTS

  1. Personally I really like the information that the Ambit 3 vertical provides about ascent gained. As a mountain runner I like to know how much climbing I’ve done during the week. Unfortunately the Spartan Ultra doesn’t display this information on the watch.
  2. The ability to customise screens for the chosen activity.
  3. The step count resets every day and it’s not possible to view your weekly total. (n.b. this feature has now been included since this blog was published – Dec. 2016)

5. THE VERDICT

Based on my comparison it’s clear to see that the Spartan Ultra is a better watch than the Ambit 3 – but so it should be for the price. How much better depends on what you need it for, how you use it and how often you use it. The Ambit 3 Vertical is a fantastic watch. If you already own one and it ticks all the boxes for you, then I wouldn’t say you have to rush to get an upgrade just yet. Also if you are new to exercise and are just looking to purchase a watch that tracks your GPS during exercise, then there are much cheaper alternatives serving that sole purpose.

The Spartan Ultra is a watch for the serious athlete. It’s also a gadget that would appeal to tech geeks and those who spend hours poring over training data. It looks good and feels good – far more robust than its predecessors. I love my Ambit 3 but admittedly I’d find it very hard to go back to using it now I’ve experienced the Spartan Ultra. In my opinion it’s a watch that could potentially be the difference between winning or losing a race, when precious seconds count. For me, navigation in races is vital. I would genuinely purchase the Spartan just because of the improvements of the navigation feature and the large, colour touch screen. I think it’s worth spending a bit more money to have some extra confidence in a race. That said I don’t think it should ever be solely relied upon for navigation – I use it as a back up for confidence or when I’m really really lost on the hills. Which to be honest is almost every fell race that I do!

So there you have it – my simple review of the Suunto Spartan Ultra. If you can afford one and it meets your requirements, then this could well be the watch you’ve been waiting for. Plus it looks damn good on your wrist!

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Italian adventures (Part 2)

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I’m sitting on the hotel terrace enjoying one last drink with friends before the transfer picks us up for the airport. It’s always a sad moment when something so good has to come to an end. I’ve enjoyed the most amazing holiday. It’s usually at this point where I dread having to fly home and go back to reality. This time however is very different. I have to keep reminding myself that my Italian adventure is far from over. I’ve another two weeks to enjoy in my favourite country. It’s the longest I’ve ever been away from home and I’m in danger of getting seriously used to this kind of lifestyle.

IMG_0480Pictured above: A view of Collina from the top of the valley, on the climb to Rifugi Lambertenghi

The next part of my journey takes me to Collina, a tiny village nestled high in the Carnic Alps and only a couple of miles from the Austrian border. I’ve been chosen to be part of a three-man Great Britain team that will contest the prestigious mountain relay, *Tre-Rifugi. I’m on leg 2, which climbs the infamous Sentiero Spinotti, by far the most dangerous section of the race but equally the most exciting. I’ll start at 2000m and climb another 397m over 3.8km from one rifugio to another. I’ll also have to wear a helmet because the route is so exposed and the danger of falling rock (or falling mountain runner!) is exceptionally high. I’m excited. A strange way to get my kicks you might think, but it’s these kind of experiences that I live for.

*It’s also worth mentioning that anyone can enter a team into Tre-Rifugi – you just need 3 (slightly crazy) mountain runners!

This video on Youtube shows footage from leg 2 (2014).

Pictured above: (L) Climbing Sentiero Spinotti and (R) Annie Conway approaching the foot of the climb (both photos from a route recce the day before).

Pictured above: My inov-8 GB racing helmet.

Joining me in the team is Max Nicholls, one of our country’s finest young talents and a good friend of mine. We ran together in the World Mountain Running Championships last year and this is his first year as a senior international athlete. Such is his climbing prowess that he’s already made the senior Great Britain team at this year’s event and he’s the perfect choice for leg one (uphill only with 4.5km and 739m of climb). Callum Tinnion (recommended by Ricky Lightfoot), is on anchor and has the task of throwing himself down a 871m descent in 4.7km to the finish.

“I DON’T HAVE TIME IN MY LIFE FOR REGRETS OR MISSED OPPORTUNITIES

The GB women’s team is also a serious contender for the win. World Long Distance Mountain Running champion, Annie Conway, is on leg 1, Georgia Tindley on leg 2 and finally Charlotte Morgan on leg 3. In addition, Ruaridh Mon-Williams and Euan Nicholls (brother of Max) are running as part of a GB junior team and hoping to impress on legs 1 and 2 respectively.

IMG_0484Pictured above: The mountains are calling…

We arrive late on the Friday night after a long day of travelling. We’re staying with my friend and race organiser Tony Tamussin, along with Anne Buckley (team organiser) and Triss Kenny. Tony’s wife, Maria, is waiting for us at the airport and has just driven 2.5 hours from Collina to Venice to pick us up. It tells you everything you need to know about the Tamussins. Tony is such a great guy, an absolute legend in my eyes and I’m very grateful for his family’s generous hospitality.

It’s worth the long journey because Saturday is a brilliant start to my Tre-Refugi experience. We recce the route as a team and I get my first look at what I’m about to face. Tony, had previously warned me about the severity of the climb but his description didn’t do it justice. It’s a crazy but exhilarating leg, I love it. These kind of experiences, to race on a route like this and in a beautiful place like Collina, don’t come around very often. I don’t have time in my life for regrets or missed opportunities. I’m going to enjoy this race and savour every single moment.

Video: Climbing Sentiero Spinotti on the route recce

IMG_20160820_125620Pictured above: With Annie Conway & Georgia Tindley after we’d climbed Sentiero Spinotti

Race day finally arrives and it’s a bizarre feeling having to climb 739m just to get to the start of my leg. I’m classing this as my warm up and even though I’m only walking, this activity is definitely going on Strava. I’m not climbing this high just to waste all the ascent I’ve just gained – I don’t care what Phil Winskill says!

22_Il_Lago_VolaiaPictured above: Lago Volaia with the Austrian rifigio (Wolayerseehutte) 

When we finally reach Rifugio Lambertenghi, I’m greeted with the most wonderful panoramic views. There’s a small lake (Lago Volaia) at the summit and to the left of it is another rifugio – Wolayerseehutte. Oddly enough this one is in Austria! Crazy to think that if I walk about 100 steps I’ll cross the border. I decide to stay in Italy as I don’t feel comfortable about being in a different country with less than 30 minutes to go before the start of my leg – it just wouldn’t feel right!

“IT’S A GOOD JOB I AM RACING BECAUSE I HAVEN’T GOT TIME TO THINK ABOUT HOW CRAZY THIS CLIMB IS”

As I warm up I spot none other than mountain running god, Marco De Gasperi. Oh jeez! I’m going to need more than my pre-race shot of espresso to keep him in sight. He has the very impressive record on this leg and he’s favourite to take the spoils today.

It’s a nervous wait until we’re greeted by the first glimpse of a runner. It’s Antonino Toninelli. No surprise – he’s a class act. To be honest I feel sorry for his teammate on leg 2 – he’s going to have Marco chasing him down and the guy’s an animal on this kind of climb. Rather him than me! Sure enough, a few moments later the legend himself sets off in hot pursuit when Xavier Chevrier comes home in second place. Max is in 7th and he’s had a great leg. I’m pleased that we’re in the mix for a top 10 finish and I’m more than happy to be chasing rather than being chased.

Tre Refugi_BenPictured above: The start of leg 2 with Rifugio Lambertenghi in the distance

I’m off! Straight into full race pace as the start of the leg to the foot of Spinotti is a super-fast descent. It’s also extremely rough and very technical. I’m playing catch-up but I know I can’t go too quick or I’ll risk blowing a gasket before the climb even begins. I know what’s coming and I have to hit this ascent with fresh legs or it’s game over.

I’ve paced it well. It seems I’ve also managed to claw back some precious seconds as Roman Skalsky of Czechoslovakia comes into full view. He’s firmly in my sights as I begin to climb…..and climb…..and climb. Wow! This is seriously steep! Now, you may have looked at the picture above and sniggered at the fact that I’m wearing a helmet. Well, right now I’m not laughing because a few falling rocks have just missed my head. Unfortunately they hit me on my back and I’m immediately reminded of how dangerous this race really is. Maybe I should’ve worn a suit of armour!?! I’m feeling a little under-dressed right now. A few more loose rocks fall and strike my arm as I reach out to pull myself up on the metal chains. I’m on a via ferrata. Worse than that I’m RACING on a via ferrata!… Holy S**t! It’s actually a good job I am racing because I haven’t got time to think about how crazy this climb is. The only thing I’m thinking about right now is trying to catch Roman. I take a few risks by climbing straight up the rock face rather than following the faint zig-zagged path. I’m digging my nails into the rock, spreading my weight and using every single lug on both x-talons for grip. This is completely mental. This is VERY dangerous. This is absolutely brilliant!

IMG_5628Pictured above: Sentiero Spinotti. You can see the approach from the left and a faint path up the face of the climb.

I’m exhausted when I finally reached the top. I’m not sure if it’s the altitude or the fact that I’m working on my absolute limit. Probably a combination of the two I think. My legs feel like lead and I’m drawing breath like I’ve been underwater for hours. I’m not holding anything back that’s for sure. There’s no smiling for the cameras and no time for conversation with the small group of spectators that have gathered at the top. The only thing on my mind is 6th place, and I still have some serious work to do. I don’t feel like I’m making much time on the climb but as soon as we hit a technical, rocky descent, I’m back in my element. I’ve always been able to descend well at pace and right now I’m putting this skill to good use. I manage to catch Roman on one of the more runnable sections and I make my move immediately. I jump in front and attack like a Tour De France cyclist in the Alps. I want to put as much time as possible between us so that I’m not having to battle with him all the way to the finish. It’s working. Suddenly there’s clear daylight between us and I’ve only one climb left before the final descent.

“IT TAKES ME ABOUT TEN MINUTES TO COME ROUND BEFORE I FEEL VAGUELY HUMAN AGAIN”

It’s not much of a climb but this feels seriously tough. I’m blaming the altitude again. Either that or the fact I’m fresh from a 2 week all-inclusive holiday and right now I’m regretting every single slice of pizza that’s passed my lips. It’s one of those races where I’ve not taken my foot off the gas since the start and I’m in a world of pain. I can’t tell you how relieved I am when the gradient begins to point down and I can finally see the finish.

Pictured above: The agonising sprint to the finish and the 2nd changeover.

It’s deceiving how far away the finish is. It looks within my reach but I feel like I’m in a bad dream where I’m running on the spot and I can’t go any faster. Just another few metres to go…..come on….keep going….nearly there….YES!!!! Thank god for that! Callum is off and I collapse on the floor. My work is done. I’ve gained a place and we’re up to 6th with a decent lead over the Czechs.

It takes me about ten minutes to come round before I feel vaguely human again. The hot, sugary, lemon tea that’s being served in the Rifugio Marinelli is working its magic. I’m drinking the stuff like it’s Aperol Spritz and at this rate there’ll be none left in 10 minutes. They need to have this stuff after races in the UK – this is liquid gold!

As we walk back down to the finish, news filters back that Callum has comfortably held onto 6th place, the women have finished 2nd and the juniors have won! Plenty to celebrate at the presentation – I can’t wait for that first beer.

Video above: Ruaridh busting some serious moves on the dancefloor…completely sober.

Pictured above: Partying hard in Gino’s bar (Marco still wearing his helmet from leg 2!)

The après-run celebrations do not disappoint. It’s always great to spend time with the team, Tony (absolute legend!), his family and the other italian athletes like Luca Cagnati and Marco De Gasperi etc. All I can say is thank god I didn’t have to race up Sentiero Spinotti on Monday morning.

I’m blaming the altitude for my monster hangover 😉

 

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Italian adventures (Part 1)

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It was set to be the ultimate vacation – planned to absolute perfection. Two weeks of relaxing on the Amalfi coast in the Nastro Azzurro hotel, followed by two weeks of travelling around Northern Italy and racing in the beautiful italian mountains. Firstly in the prestigious Tre-Refugi relay and then the World Mountain Running Masters Championships a week later in Susa. It’s the stuff dreams are made of and needless to say after a month of hard racing in July, my body was definitely ready for a well-earned break.

OBSESSED IS JUST A WORD THE LAZY USE TO DESCRIBE THE DEDICATED

It will probably come as no surprise to most people reading this when I say I was still planning to train whilst on holiday. Mainly because I was staying in an all-inclusive hotel and there was a real fear that my GB vest may turn into a crop top after some serious over indulging on good italian food and fine wine. There was also another reason I wanted to continue training – I just love running! Now I understand that to 99% of the world’s population, running on holiday is a criminal offence. But to me it’s a lifestyle choice – it’s also the best way to explore new places and create memories that will last forever.

Path of the gods2.jpgPictured above: Il Sentiero degli Dei (The Path of the Gods)

The night before we were due to fly I searched the internet for mountainous places to run with spectacular views. It didn’t take me long to find what I was looking for – Il Sentiero degli Dei (The Path of the Gods). The name alone filled me with excitement. Within minutes I was downloading maps, visualising routes and planning my italian adventures. Then shortly after I had a major breakthrough – accidentally stumbling upon the Trail Running Campania website and completely hitting the jackpot! Unbelievably there was a night race in Praiano (15km from my hotel) the day after I was due to arrive in Sorrento – Night Trail Praia San Domenico. My mind was working overtime – would it be possible for me to enter and take part in the race? Would I be able to master the public transport system and find my way to registration? Most importantly  – would I be able to persuade my wife to let me run? The latter obviously was the biggest and potentially the most expensive barrier in my quest to do the race. I knew it would require some serious powers of persuasion and it would undoubtably cost me money in the airport duty-free as compensation.

locandina-praiano-16.jpgPictured above: The race poster from the Trail Campania website.

I think it’s pretty obvious what happened next. My running kit and x-talons went straight into my suitcase and I emailed the race organiser, Michele, who confirmed I’d be able to race. Next mission – try not to get too drunk on Friday night (er…didn’t happen! Whoops!) and then safely attempt to get to Praiano.

“I COULDN’T HELP FEELING HOW LUCKY I WAS TO BE IN SUCH A BEAUTIFUL PART OF THE WORLD

I’d barely even unpacked before I found myself waiting for a bus, dressed in full race kit. Needless to say I got a few strange looks from the locals as I stood on the roadside praying that the public transport service wouldn’t let me down. Aside from my hangover, it was here that I faced my first problem. The local tabaccheria had no bus tickets left and it was the only shop in the tiny village of Colli Di San Pietro where I was staying. I was just going to have to hope the bus driver would take pity on us.

After a nervous wait, the bus arrived and I did my best to explain to the driver (in my finest Yorkshire/Italian) that we didn’t have tickets. Cue a few fake tears, a dash of charm and major over use of the words ‘grazie mille’.  Finally he gave in to my pathetic plea and let us both on for free. I was so relieved I’d almost forgotten about how many cocktails I’d downed the night before and started to look forward to how amazing it was going to be running on the path of the gods.

positano_main.jpgPictured above: The beautiful town of Positano (www.winewedsandmore.com)

As the bus travelled down the famous Amalfi coast I couldn’t help thinking how lucky I was to be in such a beautiful part of the world. First we passed through Positano, the area’s most picturesque and photogenic town, with it’s rows of tiny houses tumbling down to the sea in a cascade of sun-bleached pink and terracotta colours. It’s the kind of town that should be on everyone’s bucket list of places to visit. A few minutes later we arrived at our destination, Praiano,  known as the heart of the Amalfi and perhaps boasting the most romantic and fascinating views of the coast. I’ve been fortunate enough to race in some amazing places but this has to be an entry that goes straight in at number 1.

“HE’S THE FINEST RUNNER IN CAMPANIA AND THE DEFENDING CHAMPION OF THE RACE

Perhaps it was a stroke of luck that we ended our bus journey in Praiano. For as soon as we’d stepped off, the driver ploughed straight into the side of an oncoming car and demonstrated just how dangerous it is to drive on the Amalfi roads. They must get paid a fortune in danger money! We didn’t hang about to observe the carnage it caused to the traffic, as we immediately faced our next challenge – finding the start of the race. In typical fashion I’d not researched the map to see where we needed to be, I just assumed there’d be signs pointing us in the right direction (typical bloke!). I put my finest Yorkshire/Italian to good use again and asked a few of the locals where we needed to go. ‘Up’ was the answer and sure enough after a few minutes of steep climbing we found a sign that convinced us we were on the right track. Now when I say ‘up’ what I really mean is ‘steep up!’ Getting to the start was the equivalent of climbing Trooper Lane. ‘This is going to cost me more money’ I thought, as I felt an angry burning glare from my wife.

After successfully finding race registration I then had to explain to the organiser that I was the crazy English tourist who had emailed him the night before. First question in italian – Did I have a medical certificate? Er…no! Time for some more Yorkshire/Italian, a woeful ‘please take pity on me’ face and a huge reassurance that I’d run a few mountain races in the past. Phew! It worked. Now just to translate the registration form…‘Parla Inglese’? Answer: ‘No.’ Thankfully someone behind me in the cue replies ‘Si’! It’s music to my ears. Cue the arrival of the hero in my story – Leonardo Mansi. He’s the finest runner in Campania and the defending champion of the race (although I didn’t realise this at the time). Leonardo looks every inch the athlete – small, light and exceptionally lean. He’s dressed in full Salomon regalia and it’s clear from his impressive physique that this is the man to try and beat. He also happens to be the nicest guy you could ever wish to meet and extremely modest about his athletic ability.

IMG_4952Pictured above: The smile masks my fear of getting lost during the race.

With registration complete, it was now time to focus on the race and pray that my £5 headtorch from China (Ebay special) would survive the night. Or rather – pray the batteries (I borrowed from a TV remote in the hotel) would last the duration of the race!

As clearly the only foreigner in the race I stood out like a sore thumb. I began to warm up, conscious of the fact that I was being sized up by all the other athletes. You didn’t have to speak italian to know what everyone was thinking. Who is this crazy Englishman who’s turned up to compete in this tough mountain race? Why is he not sat in a bar drinking cocktails and eating pizza like all the other thousands of British holidaymakers? He’s either a decent runner or one crazy loon! I suspected that most were thinking the latter. Leonardo approached. ‘Ben. What’s your best time for a 10K?’ I replied in my best italian. Instantly the mood changed and there was lots of frantic chatter amongst the other runners. It seemed I’d just suddenly become the pre-race favourite. Oh s**t! I thought. Why didn’t I just lie?!! I’m gonna have to win this bloody race now!

I’m stood on the start line. I’m wondering if I’ve made the right decision to enter a mountain race on the first day of my relaxing 4 week holiday. I’m worried I might get lost, I’m worried about my crappy headtorch and now I’m worried about not winning. I don’t have a clue where the race goes and the finish is in a different place to the start. This could easily turn into an absolute nightmare. I know I have to start sensibly so the trademark ‘scalded cat’ start goes straight out of the window. I’m following Leonardo and I’ll see how it goes after the first mile.

As the race begins I’m caught in the middle of the pack and it’s a real fight to get to the front. I dodge and weave before eventually settling behind the lead group. We sprint through the narrow paved streets, full of twists, sharp turns and steps. Steps – I’d best get used to that word because I’ll be running up and down thousands of them before I reach the finish. There’s almost a good kilometre of fast running before we hit the first climb and begin to climb hundreds of (you guessed it!) steps which seemed to last forever. It was here that I decided to throw caution to the wind and abandon my race plan. In a moment of madness I injected some pace and quickly opened up a lead on those behind. There was plenty of doubt in my mind as I feared I’d gone too hard, too early. But it was too late now, I had to stick with my brave decision and continue to work the climb.

IMG_4955Pictured above: Working hard on the climb as I approach the ‘Path of the Gods’ (courtesy of Fabio Fusco).

THIS WAS THE MOMENT I’D BEEN WAITING FOR – THESE WERE THE VIEWS THAT HAD TEMPTED ME FROM THE COMFORT AND LUXURY OF MY HOTEL”

As I began to settle into a steady rhythm I was taking the steps two at a time and feeling pretty strong. I kept glancing back to see if there was anyone behind but to my relief I’d established a very commanding lead. My fears of getting lost were also put to rest, as the course was really well-marked with red and white tape. Leonardo had reassured me of this before the race but I wasn’t sure if he was just trying to tempt me into shooting off at the start in the hope that I might get lost. I should have had more faith in him, he is after all one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met.

Finally, the steps began to disappear (for a short time) and I turned a sharp right as the route joined the ‘Path of the Gods’. This was the moment I’d been waiting for – these were the views that had tempted me from the comfort and luxury of my hotel. Part of me wished I could’ve paused for a few minutes to enjoy the beautiful sunset and amazing panoramic views. Instead I was a panting, sweaty mess but it didn’t stop me from glancing round from time to time to appreciate exactly  where I was.

Path of the gods.jpgPictured above: The sun sets over the Amalfi coast (courtesy of Fabio Fusco).

As I reached the highest point of the race, I sensed that I was soon approaching the main descent. It was a relief because the light was fading fast and I didn’t trust my headtorch enough to solely rely on it’s beam. It was because of this I sensed the urgency to increase the pace, running so quickly downhill that I’m sure the local spectators thought I’d stolen something. The descent was a series of steep and very thin steps. I was taking some big risks. The kind of risks you shouldn’t really take when you don’t have additional travel insurance for a serious mountain race. I tried not to think too much about that but instead just focussed on not breaking a leg as I bounded down, taking 4-5 steps at a time. There were a couple of moments where I nearly lost control. There were lots of hairpin turns, sharp corners, steep rock jumps and all the time I was looking further down the path so I didn’t take a wrong turn. Although I was flirting with serious injury, I can’t remember the last time I felt so alive. It was an amazing feeling – charging down the mountain at breakneck speed. People pay good money to ride on rollercoasters and here I was getting nature’s version for free (OK aside my 10 euro entry fee). I knew then, in this moment, that I’d made the right decision to race. It was worth all the worry, the travelling and the effort to get here. I was completely in my element. This is what I’d come to Italy for.

I was disappointed when the fun finally had to come to an end. I’d descended to sea level and by now it was pitch black. As predicted my headtorch was as good as you’d expect for £5. I might as well have been running with my iphone in hand, using the glare from its screen to guide my way. Nevertheless it did make the last section of the descent a little more exciting as there was a small wooded section before the main road in complete darkness. I wasn’t hanging around either!

“I’M NOT EMBARRASSED TO SAY I WAS SUFFERING. SUFFERING BADLY.

What goes up, must come down. Or vice-versa in this case. I felt ready for the finish but a firm reality check told me there was still a long way to go with plenty more climbing to come. I glanced at my watch which read 8km. I still had another 3k to go and it was all up! This is gonna hurt! I thought. To be honest, at this point I don’t think I quite realised just how much! I felt strong on the first few flights of steps but then I quickly began to tire. Heavy legs from crazy descending and an unquenchable thirst that seriously threatened my chances of winning. I wasn’t used to this heat, even at night it was still too warm. I’d also drank the last of my water at 6km. Time to tough it out.

As a long-suffering Leeds United fan I’m no stranger to pain but this was one of those occasions where I was going so far into the hurt locker that I couldn’t see a way out. I had no idea how many more steps were left to climb and I was even glancing back to see if I could see the glare from another headtorch. I’m not embarrassed to say I was suffering. Suffering badly. I’d love to say that I felt amazing, that I blew the rest of the field away with ease. But I’d be lying, it simply wasn’t the case. I don’t think people always realise just how much elite athletes push themselves during races. Lots of my friends see me at the top of the race results and think that winning just comes naturally, that I just turn up on the day and cruise to victory. Let me just confirm that I’ve never in my life ‘cruised’ to a win. If anything I can’t remember the last time where I wasn’t absolutely trashed and completely ruined after a race. So trashed that I’m on the verge of collapsing and gasping for air, as I struggle frantically to get my breathing under control. This was another one of those occassions. I literally squeezed every last drop of energy to get the finish, used every ounce of strength I had to climb that last set of steep steps. A few of the spectators near the top were cheering me on but I couldn’t even speak or raise a hand to say thanks. I must’ve looked like the slowest, sweatiest and least impressive race winner they’d ever seen. But I didn’t care. Because as soon as I saw that finishing tape I sprinted across the line with everything I had left and collapsed on the floor, gasping for air and struggling to breath.

You might at this point be wondering if I still thought this race was a good idea? The answer is easy. Of course it was, it always is. Even when I’m on my absolute physical and mental limit, going through the worst kind of pain imaginable – it’s always worth it.

FullSizeRender (6).jpgPictured above: Leonardo Mansi (L), me and Luigi Ruocco (R)

What made this victory even sweeter was that I’d broken the course record and won by over six minutes. It seemed that the rest of the field were also suffering on that last climb. I was relieved to hear it wasn’t just me. Had I known at the time I might have walked those lastfew  sets of steps and taken it a little bit easier to the finish. Or perhaps not. Who am I trying to kid? I only have one race mode and that’s ‘eyeballs out’ all the way.

ResultsPhotos | Strava

I was really happy to see Leonardo finish in second place, followed by Luigi Ruocco in third. Luigi improved his time from the previous year by minutes and I think it’s also the first time he’s made the podium. It was the performance of the night in my eyes. After the race we chatted, we ate and we soaked up the amazing atmosphere. It was a world away from the bustling streets of Sorrento and I really felt like I was experiencing the ‘real’ Amalfi coast and not just the tourist hotspots. For me this race was all about enjoying a unique experience. I had the pleasure of running on new, spectacular mountain trails and I made friendships and memories that will last a lifetime. THIS is the reason I run.

“THE BEST THINGS IN LIFE ARE FREE

What also made the night for me was the generosity and warmth of the italian people. Firstly Leonardo who looked after us, the race organiser and his team who made us feel so welcome and finally Luigi, who gave us a lift home at the end of the night after we missed our bus. I was most grateful. Expecially as he’d travelled to the race with his young family and he’d clearly driven out of his way to take us back to our hotel. He asked for nothing in return so I offered him my prize of a one night stay in a 5* hotel in Praiano. I felt it was the least I could do to match his kind generosity. Besides, I’d also won a beautiful ceramic bowl, hand crafted in Positano, so this would serve as a perfect reminder of such a wonderful race. You’ll be pleased to know that it’s still in one piece and I haven’t dropped or smashed it…yet! 😉

 

A few days after the race I enjoyed an amazing day of running from Ravello to the top of Monte Cerreto with Leonardo, Luigi and Giovanni Tolino. I travelled over 4 hours in total that day via bus and moped but it was worth every effort. I must thank them all for giving me such amazing memories and showing me such a beautiful part of Italy that I would never have experienced on my own.

It’s true what they say…the best things in life really are free.

Leonardo’s hotel (Parsifal) is also worthy of a mention. If anyone is seriously considering a break to the Amalfi coast to relax (or run!) then this is the place to go. It also boasts one of the most amazing views I’ve ever seen from it’s terrace.

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