Râs Yr Wyddfa

Snowdon3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sedbergh Sports

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Râs Yr Wyddfa

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

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

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

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

RACE DAY

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

IMG_4834Pictured above: The start of The Snowdon International 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_4809.JPG

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

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

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

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

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

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The Italian Job

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

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

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

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

TEAM GB

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

Team GB.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE PRE-RACE BUILD UP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RACE DAY!

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

Heidi’s blog: The Piano Runner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“IN THE FAMOUS WORDS OF EMMA CLAYTONI EMPTIED THE TANK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Results | Video | Photos | Strava

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_4702Pictured above: With the legend Tony Tamussin.

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

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

Heidi Davies (2016)

I couldn’t have put it better myself.

 

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Super Trooper

Super Trooper

6:37PM

It’s a time when most people are sitting down to enjoy their evening meal or relaxing in front of the television to watch the soaps. I can’t help but feel jealous – it’s been a long and stressful day at work. In comparison, I’m running up Trooper Lane and I’m part way through my third repetition. I’m planning on doing 10 so I’ll be here for quite some time.

Byline Robbie Jay Barratt ©

‘IT’S MY CHOICE TO BE HERE – I DON’T HAVE TO DO THIS’

To make matters worse my legs are already feeling tired from racing at the weekend and there’s a huge temptation to give up and call this my last one. Nobody else cares if I do 10 anyway, in fact no one will ever know. It’s my choice to be here – I don’t have to do this. If I set off back home I could be sat with my feet up in front of a warm fire and enjoying my dinner at a reasonable hour for a change. It would be really easy to give up now.

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Instead I have to remind myself why I’m here. I’m about to run up Trooper Lane for the 150th time this year. It’s a milestone achievement that only I will witness and appreciate. There won’t be a crowd of supporters at the top to greet me with rapturous applause and I certainly won’t win any prizes. This is a solitary and lonely task. It’s a hidden part of my world that no one else ever sees. Ironically it’s the most important part of my training and the foundation of every racing success. It doesn’t bother me that I’m alone. I haven’t got time to celebrate anyway – I’ve another 7 reps to complete.

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I’m often asked how or indeed why I run up and down Trooper Lane so many times. Admittedly it’s hardly the most enjoyable way to spend an evening, especially after a tough day at work. The thought of repping the same hill 10 times is a daunting prospect. The monotony of the task is reason enough to talk yourself out of it in the first place. As well as the obvious physical demand, it requires an enormous amount of mental strength to complete 10 reps. In fact the first thing I need to do is to trick myself into thinking I’m not really doing 10 when deep down I really know that I am.

‘I IMAGINE THAT I’M IN A RACE, EITHER BEING CHASED BY OR CHASING SOMEONE DOWN’

Byline Robbie Jay Barratt ©

It’s not all about pace either, I try and focus on form and technique. I’m more concerned with how well I run up the hill rather than how fast I can rep each one. I stay positive at all times and I tell myself over and over again that I can do this. Visualisation plays a key role in keeping me focused and motivated.I dream about running for England and Great Britain and what I need to do to earn those international vests. I imagine that I’m in a race, either being chased by or chasing someone down. If I stop or go slow for even a moment then I’ll lose so I work as hard as possible until I reach the summit. Needless to say I’ve never lost a mental battle with myself yet.

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The preparation for ascending over 4000ft takes almost as much effort as actually running it. Firstly you have to find the time to do it and usually a session like this requires a window of almost two and a half hours. Trooper Lane is 3 miles from my house so the run across is treated as my warm up and of course the return journey is my cool down. Every rep up and down usually takes between 8-10 minutes depending on the speed and intensity of each effort. It’s almost half a mile from the bottom to the top with a climb measuring over 400ft and an average gradient of 15%. I have to break down the session into manageable chunks to preserve my sanity.

‘TO DEVELOP AS AN ATHLETE YOU NEED TO ADOPT A POSITIVE GROWTH MINDSET.’

Byline Robbie Jay Barratt ©

At first I focus on 3 reps, that’s the absolute minimum I can accept as a worthwhile hill session. After this it doesn’t take me long to complete 5 and from a mental perspective this is a significant milestone. Once I reach 7 then I just tell myself it would be a shame not to hit double figures and when I eventually get to 10 I even consider doing a few more. To develop as an athlete you need to adopt a positive growth mindset. You should always try and set high expectations and work towards achieving great things. So of course the best thing about doing 10 reps is that when I do plan to run a smaller session then 5 always seems really easy!

Byline Robbie Jay Barratt ©

100 minutes of pure hill repping is a long time in which to stay focused. I make sure that on the downhill recovery I give my mind and body the break that it requires. I’m mostly visualising my next race, the physical shape I’ll need to be in and what I need to work on to improve my performance. Much of my time is also spent thinking about what I’ll be eating when I get home and most importantly what I’ll call my run when I upload it to Strava. In my opinion it would be a criminal offence to call a 10 rep Trooper Lane session something like ‘Evening Run’. I try and think of a catchy title that befits the effort I’ve made. Super Trooper or Ben 10 would be far more appropriate. However given that I couldn’t resist the urge to do an extra rep I finally decide upon ‘Legs Eleven, Trooper Heaven’.

Strava

‘IF YOU TRAIN HARD THEN RACING IS EASY.’

Ultimately what gives me the most satisfaction about a brutal hill session like this is knowing that I’m now training as hard, if not even harder, than my rivals. It gives me absolute confidence in my own ability. So when I line up at the start of the race I no longer suffer from nerves and I don’t have any regrets about not training hard enough. I know that I’ve done everything I can to prepare and I’m always ready to face any man or mountain that stands in my way. It’s important to remember that if you train hard, then racing is easy.

Top tips

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

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The main problem for me isn’t actually finding the motivation for a hill session, it’s finding a hill big enough to meet my requirements. Most of the big fell and mountain races I compete in have a serious amount of ascent and although I live in a beautiful part of Yorkshire, my local hills don’t even begin to compare to the size of those in the Lake District. It’s because of this that I’m forced to run smart and make the best use of what hills I have on my doorstep. Study what your local environment has to offer, get friendly with your own version of Trooper Lane and make it into your very own mountain. Failing that you could always come and join me on mine.

I have created a number of Trooper Lane segments on Strava and by doing them you can compare your performance over a number of weeks.

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

Byline Robbie Jay Barratt ©

All photographs taken by Robbie Jay Barratt

Kit: X-Talon 190 | Base Elite LS | Base Elite SSZ | Race Ultra Twin Short | Race Elite Windshell FZ

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Every second counts!

Every second counts

It’s 4:35am.

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

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

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

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

12 hours earlier. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_20160409_194344 (1)Pictured above: The race map.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

StravaResults | Photos | Video

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The road to Arco starts now…

 

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

Senior men

Andrew Douglas (Sophie Dunnett)

Alex Pilcher (self-coached)

Ben Mounsey

Chris Smith (Philip O’Dell)

 

Senior Women

Emmie Collinge

Heidi Dent (Derek Hurton)

Rebecca Hilland

Sarah Tunstall

 

Junior Men

Josh Boyle

Gavin Bryson (Garry Robertson)

Ciaran Lewis (James Thie)

Jake Smith (Brian O’Hare)

 

Junior Women

Scarlet Dale (Colin Gemson)

Heidi Davies (Chris Jones)

Laura Stark (Arthur Smith)

Bella Williams (Rob Lewis)

 

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If Carlsberg made athletes…

By’eck Yorkshire is famous for many things – everyone knows it’s t’best county in t’land by a mile. Anything that tastes or looks reet good has Yorkshire in its title – Yorkshire puddings, Yorkshire tea, Yorkshire stone and the Tour De Yorkshire to name but a few. Most importantly it’s also home of many of the country’s finest ever fell runners including the Brownlee brothers, Ian Holmes, Rob Jebb, Victoria Wilkinson and Nicky Spinks. No wonder it’s known as ‘God’s own county’.

Yorkshire

A few weeks ago I’d been selected to run for Yorkshire in the UK Inter-Counties fell running championship – the highest standard of competition in fell running. For me it’s always a great honour, nothing makes me prouder than wearing the vest with the white rose. Plus considering the insane standard of athletes in our county at the moment it’s almost akin to earning an international call up.

Below is the strict selection policy for the Yorkshire fell running team (as proclaimed by Dave Woodhead):

  1. Tha musta bin born or live in Yorkshire
  2. Tha must be able to speak fluent Yorkshire
  3. Tha must be able to run reet fast up’t big hills
  4. Tha must like pie and peas
  5. Yorkshire tea must be tha blood type

Thankfully I tick ALL the boxes.

ROB JEBB HAS BEEN THERE, SEEN IT, DONE IT AND WON IT (SEVERAL TIMES OVER)’ 

Joining me in the Yorkshire team was a stellar line up of fell running superstars. Tom Adams was the first name on the team sheet. Tom’s a great bloke and a good friend of mine. He’s a regular GB international and on his day is virtually unbeatable, especially on the faster, more runnable courses. The next name on the list barely requires an introduction. Rob Jebb has been there, seen it, done it and won it (several times over). He’s worshipped like a god in Yorkshire and the sheer mention of his name is enough to scare most opposition into submission. Last but not least are two young Yorkshiremen who are the future of fell running. Ilkley Harriers’ Jack Wood and Dark Peak’s Tom Saville. Jack has been winning everything in his path recently and, like Tom, is very much the real deal. Remember their names as they are likely to feature at the top of race results for many more years to come. This was undoubtably one of the strongest Yorkshire teams I’ve ever been a part of and unsurprisingly we were the pre-race favourites for team gold.

DSC_0057Pictured above: A pre-race photo with Rob Jebb (L) and Tom Adams (R) (Woodentops)

The inter-counties championship is an event which attracts a huge range of athletes from all over the country. This race is unique in the sense that the very best runners from every discipline can all compete together and the winner is always someone who is the most complete athlete. In the past many of the courses selected for the inter-counties have been more favourable to the faster trail or cross-country runners. However, this year would be different with Moel Eilio as the chosen battleground. The fact that Rob Jebb had decided to compete suggests that this is a classic fell race and not just a few hilly laps of a park. It was a race that I was also relishing. Previously my best ever finish in the inter-counties had been 7th (2015), followed by 13th and 15th. Today I was hopeful of at least a top 10 or perhaps even a top 5. I was already familiar with the route as I ran it 8 years ago when it formed part of the British Championships, finishing in 22nd place that day. I’d also taken some time to recce the final mile and steep descent of Moel Cynghorian on Wednesday with my good friend Math Roberts (CVFR) who lives in Llanberis. Preparation is, after all, the key to success. I think it’s because of this very reason that I felt very relaxed and confident at the start.

DSC_0066Pictured above: The start of the race (Woodentops)

‘I WAS RACING VERY SENSIBLY AND USING ALL OF MY EXPERIENCE AS A SEASONED FELL RUNNER

I began the race at a very steady pace and watched many of the favourites hit the front at pace. I didn’t panic. Like a bike race I could sense the others in the pack watching me closely to make a move. Instead, I held my ground and settled into a very comfortable speed and rhythm. As the gradient began to climb I started to work my way through the field, firstly into the top 10 and then up to 7th place. I was racing very sensibly and using all of my experience as a seasoned fell runner, I knew that some of the others would pay the price for a fast start on such a tough course.

DSC_0040Pictured above: The climb to the summit of Moel Eilio with Chris Farrell (Greater Manchester) just in front (Woodentops)

I felt good and as we approached the summit of Moel Eilio I’d managed to catch Tom (Adams) and I found myself in 4th position. This was a pivotal moment in the race. From here I worked together with multiple English and British champion Simon Bailey (Staffordshire). We encouraged each other to try and catch the leaders – Chris Smith (Middlesex) and Max Nicholls (Kent). It was one of those moments I’ll never forget, urging each other on, sharing water and working tactically despite being part of a different team. I remember saying ‘We can do this, these lads aren’t fell runners…we can beat them on the final descent’. To which he replied ‘I think we need to catch them on the climbs first!’. He was right. I was being very optimistic but it was the first time in the race when I remember thinking that we might actually be able to win. Chris and Max were clearly the fastest athletes, but fell running is about so much more than just pace. I knew in the back of my mind that I could descend quicker than anyone and I had a strong feeling that route choice would play a key role in deciding the fortunes of all.

We continued to chase but it was difficult to tell if we were closing the gap. The main thing was they were still in sight. I tried to catch my breath on the descent of Foel Goch as I knew we had a big climb ahead to the summit of Moel Cynghorian. It was here that made my killer move and managed to break away from Simon. We’d worked so hard together until now but I knew if I wanted to win this race then I’d need to attack at some point. I was feeling strong and I could sense a 3rd place finish on the cards providing I judged my efforts correctly – there was still a long way to go. It seemed to take forever to finally reach the top, there were a number of false summits teasing me along the way. I took a few deep breaths and composed myself before I turned to face the final descent.

‘THIS WAS GOING TO BE A REAL SPRINT TO THE FINISH – EVERY SECOND WOULD COUNT!’

I began to follow the leaders but realised they were taking a poor choice of line to the bottom. I could see that they were going too far to the right and they were heading towards what looked like an orange flag or a marshall wearing hi-vis perhaps. I knew it wasn’t the right line but it did make me question whether or not the organisers had added an extra checkpoint. Do I follow? Or do I trust my gut feeling and go my own way? I glanced over my shoulder to see which line Simon was taking. He was heading left. It confirmed what I was thinking and I quickly switched direction. I knew Chris and Max would soon realise their mistake and I knew Simon would be flying down the descent like a man possessed. This was going to be a real sprint to the finish – every second would count! I took the most direct line but it certainly wasn’t the easiest route. The ground was boggy and heavily saturated, there was a stream to negotiate and then a fierce little kick up to a track which led towards the finish. I knew I had to get there first to give myself any kind of chance of winning this race. This last mile was going to hurt real bad. As I reached the top I took one last glance behind. I didn’t have much of a gap but I knew it might just be enough. Simon was now in 2nd with Chris and Max right behind. I gave it everything I had left and tried not to look back. I was running scared and there was still a long way to go. I expected all three of them to pass me at any moment, it was like being in a bad dream and feeling like your not running fast enough. I was on my absolute limit but I knew what was at stake and I wasn’t going to roll over and concede defeat just yet. Keep working, keep sprinting I thought…you can do this. Not long to go now…jeez maybe I CAN do this!!!

13239392_217748495276012_1969911668960856083_nPictured above: The final sprint along the track – victory in sight! (Sports Pictures Cymru)

I ran as hard and as fast as I my legs and lungs could both manage and it wasn’t until the very last 100m that I knew I’d won. I couldn’t believe it! As I crossed the line I could’ve cried I was so happy, I never dreamed I’d ever win a race this big. To win the inter-counties championship whilst wearing a Yorkshire vest is quite literally a dream come true for me. It was just one of those days where absolutely everything went right and I ran the perfect race – clever, tactical and very experienced. I’d won because I was the best fell runner on the day, not because I was the fastest athlete. I found myself apologising to Chris and Max who finished in 3rd and 4th respectively. Had they not have taken a poor line on the final descent I would’ve been sat here writing about how pleased I was with winning a bronze medal. But this is one of the many reasons why fell running is such a fantastic and unique sport. To win a race at this level absolutely everything has to go right on the day. Yes you need to be fast and obviously you need to be able to climb and descend like a pro. But most importantly you need to be able to choose the right tactics, navigate confidently and, of course, have plenty of luck on your side. I’d done everything right and reaped the rewards. This had been a fell running masterclass.

DSC_0033Pictured above: The first 4 men (L to R) Chris Smith, myself, Simon Bailey and Max Nicholls (Woodentops)

I was also super pleased for Simon. We’ve battled against each other many times before on the fells but today I felt like it was a shared victory, we’d really pushed each other to 1st and 2nd on the day. I was disappointed for Chris and Max – they deserved more for their efforts but assured me they were happy with the result. They’re both really great guys and outstanding athletes. I’ve no doubt they’ll both teach me a lesson in mountain running at the next trials race!

13245418_654796408002359_1893029775781462515_nPictured above: UK Inter-County Fell Running Champions 2016! (Woodentops)

In the women’s race I was pleased to see my friend Heidi Dent (Cumbria) take the gold and demonstrate to everyone (once again!) just what outstanding form she’s in. This girl really is destined for great things. Run of the day however must go to Lou Roberts (Cumbria) for her amazing 2nd place. As a V40 she’s in the form of her life and deserves tremendous praise for all of her results so far this year. Annie Conway rounded up the top 3 to make it a clean sweep for Cumbria and showing that they really are the dominant force in women’s fell running.

DSC_0182Pictured above: UK Inter-County Fell Running Team Champions 2016! From L to R: Rob Jebb, Tom Adams, myself, Jack Wood and Tom Saville (Woodentops)

DSC_0591.JPGPictured above: UK Inter-County Fell Running Team Silver Medallists 2016! From L to R: Georgia Malir, Holly Page, Katie Walshaw, Sharon Taylor and Claire Green (Woodentops)

Unsurprisingly after such fantastic individual results we managed to defend our Inter-Counties team title which was truly the icing on a very large cake! The Yorkshire women finished in 2nd place behind a very dominant Cumbria. A fantastic day for our great county and one that will surely keep the Woodhead’s smiling until the next one!

THE finest day of my athletic career so far.

StravaMen’s Results |  Women’s Results | Team Results | Photos

DSC_0517Pictured above: Rob Jebb showing me how to drink like a Yorkshireman (Woodentops)

I may have enjoyed the rare treat of beating Rob in a fell race but when it comes to drinking he’s very much in a class of his own.

If Carlsberg made athletes…they’d be from Yorkshire and they’d be called Rob Jebb. What a legend.

 

P.S. If you’re a lover of Yorkshire like myself then it’s also worth checking out my two favourite Youtube videos…

Yorkshireman vs Predator | Yorkshire Airlines

 

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Race the train!

‘I FIND THAT THE HARDER I WORK, THE MORE LUCK I SEEM TO HAVE’ Thomas Jefferson

Running has provided me with a tremendous amount of opportunities over the last few years. I’ve been fortunate enough to represent my club, county and country at what I do best, I’ve competed in some brilliant races at home and abroad and I’m supported by three fantastic sponsors who have all helped me to achieve some amazing things. I consider myself to be a very lucky and privileged person. That said, I also know that I’ve worked extremely hard for all of my success thus far. I set myself challenging targets and do everything I can to achieve my goals. To quote the great Thomas Jefferson – ‘I find that the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have’.
 A few weeks ago I received a phone call from one of the producers of BBC TV’s programme Countryfile. He asked me if I might consider being involved in an episode that would be filmed in Snowdonia. Immediately he had my full attention. This particular part of North Wales is extremely special to me. I love the Welsh people and I love the beautiful, natural environment with its majestic mountains and stunning coastline. I have many fond memories of spending summer holidays here during my childhood but most of all, I’ve always had a natural affinity and obsession with the country’s greatest natural landmark – Mount Snowdon. I’ve climbed Snowdon many times and last year I even finished 3rd in the prestigious Snowdon International mountain race. Since then I’ve made it my personal goal to one day return and try to add my name to the history books with a memorable victory of my own.
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Pictured above: A glorious sunset over the town of Llanberis, taken after the Snowdon Twilight Race 2015
So what exactly did they want me to do?
The proposal was particularly exciting. The idea being that I would take part in a race to the summit against one of the nation’s best loved presenters –John Craven‘Brilliant!’ I said. ‘I can definitely beat him’ (I hoped!)…I mean he must be at least 70! I might not even need a warm up!. Then came the real challenge – John would hitch a ride on the Snowdon Mountain Railway and I would run to the summit. It seemed I might just need that warm up after all.
Snowdon-1
Pictured above: The summit of Snowdon (courtesy of the Snowdon Mountain Railway)

JOHN CRAVEN IS QUITE POSSIBLY THE NICEST AND HUMBLEST MAN I’VE EVER MET IN MY LIFE’

As I made my journey to Llanberis I started to feel a little anxious, especially at the thought of working with a TV legend like John Craven. But there was no need for me to feel nervous in the slightest. As soon as we met, any fears I had were immediately put to rest. I can confirm with the utmost confidence that John Craven is quite possibly the nicest and humblest man I’ve ever met in my life. In fact,  5 minutes later I’d completely forgotten just how famous he was and I thoroughly enjoyed every second of his company – what an absolute legend.
IMG_4136
Pictured above: The pre-race picture – Red vs Blue!
The morning of filming finally arrived and I woke up full of excitement. The sun was shining and the conditions were perfect – the mountains around Llanberis looked breathtaking. John was in such a good mood after watching Sunderland AFC avoid relegation the night before that I thought he might even have the energy to run up Snowdon with me! Although when he realised just how warm it was I think he was very relieved to have a ticket for the train.

‘HE (KENNY STUART) IS ONE OF MY HEROES AND ARGUABLY THE GREATEST FELL RUNNER OF ALL TIME’

I was given an Osmo camera to film my journey whilst John took the train and conducted three interviews en route to the summit with Stephen Edwards (Snowdon Race director), Ken Jones (Snowdon Race founder) and Kenny Stuart (Snowdon Race record holder and fell running legend).

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Pictured above: John interviewing myself and Kenny on the summit of Snowdon.
I must confess to being very relieved when I heard Kenny was taking the train to the top of the mountain – I was more scared of racing him than the train! At 59 years of age he is still in fantastic shape and looks every inch the athlete. One of the highlights of the day for me was getting to meet and chat with him. He is one of my heroes and arguably the greatest fell runner of all time. During his incredibly successful career he set a number of truly outstanding records, many of which will never be broken. He was also British champion in 1984 and 1985 and among the records he set in those years were 1:02:18 at Skiddaw, 1:25:34 at Ben Nevis, and 1:02:29 at Snowdon. A truly inspirational man and I was grateful for all of the advice he gave me.
IMG_4135
 Pictured above: With fell running legend Kenny Stuart – one of my heroes!
Unfortunately I must remain tight-lipped as to the result of the race but I can confirm it was a very close finish and should certainly make for good viewing.
In addition to this Top Gear style contest the episode will also help raise the profile of mountain running in the UK, showcase Snowdonia in it’s glorious splendour and highlight the effect the race has on tourism in the area. Remarkably it adds a colossal £250,000 to the area’s economy during race weekend. It’s amazing what the power of one mountain can do.
The programme is scheduled to air on BBC 1 on Sunday, 29th May 2016 at 7.00pm.
The 41st Snowdon International Race will take place on Saturday 16th July 2016 at 2.00pm and the highlights will be shown on S4C (time and date TBC).
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Pictured above: The final ascent to the summit (courtesy of the Snowdon Mountain Railway)

 

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Up The Nab

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

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

PREPARATION IS THE KEY TO SUCCESS’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pictured above: Attacking early with my trademark start.

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

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

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

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

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

The penultimate climb on video (courtesy of Simon Entwhistle)

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

IMG_4119Pictured above: Descending down the final field.

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

StravaMen’s Results | Women’s ResultsPhotos | Video

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

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

English Fell Running Championship Results Table

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

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

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

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

Other sports could learn a lot from fell running.

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

 

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The Mountains Are Calling…

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Like a drug, I need my regular fix. I can’t stay away for too long, it’s an addiction that needs feeding. Thankfully my problem is easily cured – a trip to the mountains is my only salvation.

The mountains are calling and I must go.

Ben Mounsey x Keswick x Shot By Robbie Jay Barratt-6

My love affair with the Lake District began 12 years ago. I’d been persuaded by a friend to join him for a weekend break in Keswick. It was my first experience of walking the fells and at the time I had no idea what to expect. Little did I know that this would prove to be a life-changing experience.

‘THERE STOOD BLENCATHRA, ITS SWEEPING CURVES BATHED IN GLORIOUS SUNSHINE’

My first glimpse of the impressive Lakeland peaks was from the car. As we drove down the A66 towards Keswick, the view in front quite literally took my breath away. It was a beautiful day and there wasn’t a single cloud in the sky. There stood the majestic Blencathra, its sweeping curves bathed in glorious sunshine. A little further on our left was the steep face of Clough Head, standing tall and proud at the head of the Helvellyn range. There was a stunning view in every single direction I turned. I was already getting excited and we’d not even reached our destination.

We were heading towards the tiny village of Grange, to walk up my first ever Lakeland fell, Catbells. I was promised a steep and challenging climb, with unbelievable panoramic views at the summit as my hard-earned reward.

I wasn’t disappointed. From the moment we began to rise above the valley bottom, I was in complete awe. That feeling of being immersed in the outdoors, with the sun on my back and amazing views of mountains in every direction will always remain one of my favourite memories.

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‘HE WAS MOVING EFFORTLESSLY, COMPLETELY WILD AND FREE

As we approached the summit we were passed by the lonely figure of a runner, I couldn’t believe it. Why would anyone want to run up a mountain? I was out of breath just walking! In comparison to me, he was moving effortlessly, completely wild and free. What was this strange and wonderful sport? I’d never seen anything like it in my life. It was an image I couldn’t get out of my head and when I returned home after the weekend I was determined to try ‘fell running’ for myself.

16th April 2016

Fast-forward 12 years. Today I’m making that very same journey I did all those years ago. As I head down the A66 I’m once again greeted by the ever-changing face of Blencathra and the range of impressive peaks that first helped me fall in love with this beautiful place. I can’t wait for my latest adventure to begin.

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I’ve been invited to Keswick to take part in a blogging event hosted by the outdoor retailer George Fisher, in partnership with Patagonia. The aim – to raise the profile of the organisation Fix The Fells and to make others aware of the fantastic work that they do. The event is also being held in conjunction with Patagonia’s Worn Wear tour. The Worn Wear program celebrates the stories of the clothes we wear. The company’s dedicated repair team keeps outdoor gear in action longer and provides an easy way to recycle Patagonia garments when they’re beyond repair.

I’m excited to meet the other bloggers and then embark on my own adventure for the day. It’s my choice what I decide to do today, but there’s only one thing I have in mind. I’m eager to return to the place where my fell running obsession began back in 2004.

Ben Mounsey x Keswick x Shot By Robbie Jay Barratt-56

‘TODAY, FOR A CHANGE, I CAN ENJOY THE FELLS AT MY OWN PACE AND LEISURE

After a quick meet and greet at George Fisher, I make the short journey from Keswick to Grange and begin my steep walk to the summit of Catbells. It’s a fantastic opportunity to try out all my new inov-8 gear in the environment it was designed for. There is of course another reason to climb this fabulous peak, as today, I can watch the two fell races that are taking place on this mountain range – The Anniversary Waltz and the Teenager With Altitude. Both are extremely tough challenges and not for the faint-hearted, especially the latter which has a strict selection policy for those even attempting to make the start line. I was initially planning on taking part in the Waltz, but time constraints mean that I’ll have to settle for spectating. To be honest, I’m not too disappointed, as after a few months of hard racing, my body feels ready for a break. It means that today, for a change, I can enjoy the fells at my own pace and leisure.

Ben Mounsey x Keswick x Shot By Robbie Jay Barratt-80

‘IT’S POPULARITY IS WELL DESERVED, IT’S SHAPELY TOPKNOT ATTRACTS THE EYE OFFERING A STEEP BUT OBVIOUSLY SIMPLE SCRAMBLEAlfred Wainwright

I take my time to reach the summit. Just as I arrive the sun breaks through the clouds and I’m basking in its warm golden glow. I find a quiet spot to enjoy the breathtaking, panoramic views. There is no other place I’d rather be right now. Laid before me is the magnificent sight of Derwent Water, with the mighty Skiddaw rising into full view and Blencathra in all its splendour. To the east lies the Newlands Valley and beyond it the Coledale Round, with the intimidating summit of Grisedale Pike poking majestically through the clouds. Towards the west, I admire the great Helvellyn range and beyond. I can appreciate why Alfred Wainwright described this as a firm family favourite, a beloved place where people of all ages can climb the heights together. It’s in this perfect moment that I’m reminded exactly why and how, I fell in love with the Lake District.

Ben Mounsey x Keswick x Shot By Robbie Jay Barratt-33

‘NOW IT’S TIME I GAVE SOMETHING BACK TO A SPORT AND A PLACE THAT HAS GIVEN ME SO MUCH WITHOUT RETURN’

Since that first ascent of Catbells I’ve worked hard to become one of the country’s leading fell runners. The journey I embarked on all those years ago has been very challenging, yet extremely rewarding. I’ve so much to be thankful for and the Lakeland fells will always hold a deep and special meaning to me. I’ve enjoyed running on the trails and paths in all kinds of weather conditions. I’ve met some amazing like-minded people along the way and made lifelong friends. We’ve shared experiences that have changed my life and shaped the person that I am today. Each and every visit has been memorable – the mountains are where I belong and I’m always drawn back to them. Now it’s time I gave something back to the sport and to the place that has given me so much without return.

Ben Mounsey x Keswick x Shot By Robbie Jay Barratt-73

‘FOR YEARS I’VE TAKEN THEIR AMAZING WORK FOR GRANTED’

Fix the Fells protects our spectacular Lakeland fells from erosion. Their team of skilled rangers and volunteers repair and maintain the mountain paths that are used by so many of us. It should also be noted that they receive no government funding and rely solely on income generated from donations and partners. After the heavy flooding at the beginning of this year there is much work to be done. Without our help and support it would be an insurmountable task to repair all the damage that’s been caused by nature’s powerful hand.

Ben Mounsey x Keswick x Shot By Robbie Jay Barratt-24 2

For years, I’ve taken their amazing work for granted – it’s easily done. I’ve used the fells for my own benefit and enjoyment and not once contributed or spared a thought to the great work that they do. I know I’m not alone either. Millions of people each year walk, climb and run in this beautiful environment and it’s important that we now work together to preserve the trails and paths so that we may continue to enjoy them for many more years to come.

Ben Mounsey x Keswick x Shot By Robbie Jay Barratt-43

So what can we do to help?

Everyone can help by keeping to the paths wherever possible to avoid causing erosion damage and by raising awareness of why that is important. You can of course make a donation to the organisation to ensure that they can continue their superb work – every penny counts! You could also volunteer to help with vital restorative work and improvements to the appearance and functionality of the Lakeland fells. Most importantly, we need to make sure that we publicise and support this superb organisation as much as possible. Please spread the word, encourage others to get involved, but most of all respect our beautiful environment.

The mountains need us and we must obey.

Mountains

Ben Mounsey x Keswick x Shot By Robbie Jay Barratt-4

All photographs taken by Robbie Jay Barratt

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Dare to Dream

Dare To Dream

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Black Combe to White Combe                                       

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Descent                                         

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Results / Splits / Strava

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

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

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

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

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

‘TRAIN HARD, RACE HARDER & DARE TO DREAM

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