Summer of Run

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

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

“I’M AN IMPULSIVE KIND OF GUY”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RACE NO.1: THE PIZTRI VERTIKAL

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

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

RACE NO.2: THE FLETTATRAIL

Glorious sunshine? ✔

Amazing mountainous location? ✔

Perfect organisation and hosts? ✔

Elite competition inc. the full Italian national team? ✔

12.5 miles of mountainous trail? ✔

4,500ft+ climb? ✔

Free food and beer at the finish? ✔

Priceless experience? ✔

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

RESULTS | PHOTOS | STRAVA

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

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

It was certainly a night to remember.

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

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

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

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

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

 

If you enjoyed reading this blog then please SHARE and FOLLOW on social media.

Facebook | Twitter | Strava | Instagram

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

Advertisements

The 63rd Yorkshire 3 Peaks Fell Race

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

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

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

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

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

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

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

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

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

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

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

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

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

10 THINGS I LOVED

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

10 THINGS I HATED

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

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

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

Results | Photos1 | Photos2 | Photos3

 

 

If you enjoyed reading this blog then please SHARE and FOLLOW on social media.

Facebook | Twitter | Strava | Instagram

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

The Hebden

the-hebden

THE HEBDEN IS ESSENTIALLY THE CALDER VALLEY’S GREATEST HITS

The Hebden, is an LDWA event for both walkers and runners, with a choice of competing on either the 15 or 21 mile route. Such is its appeal, I’ve raced it for the last six consecutive years and I’m not about to give up anytime soon. Technically speaking, it’s not actually a race, it’s a long distance walking challenge that also allows runners to compete. It’s a low-key event and there are no prizes or medals at stake. Nobody really cares if you win, least of all the organisers. It’s purely for enjoyment, a chance to share an experience on the hills with other like-minded people and the reward of completing a long distance challenge in often tough and wintry conditions. The Hebden is essentially the Calder Valley’s greatest hits – a stunning collection of the very best views and landmarks that the local area has to offer. From the beautiful woodland paths of Hardcastle Crags to the imperious Stoodley Pike Monument, which dominates the moors of the Upper Calder Valley. This is a race that has it all and it’s easy to see why it’s become such an iconic and popular event amongst the running community.

I first ran The Hebden in 2011 by complete chance because that particular year it was included in our Calder Valley club championship. At the time there was a strong feeling of animosity between some members of the club because many were concerned we would be ruining a walking event by turning it into a race. I could understand their point but I strongly disagreed. Mainly because the organisers, Alan Greenwood and Carole Engel, were extremely welcoming and very happy that we’d chosen their event as one of our long distance counters. There was, and still is, no reason why the route cannot be shared and enjoyed by both runners and walkers alike.

Pictured above: The walkers and runners all gather in the church hall to register and fuel up before the race (Photos courtesy of Nick Ham).

Quite often before a race begins there is a tense atmosphere with people full of nervous energy. However, at the Hebden everyone is calm and relaxed, chatting about the route and enjoying the plethora of food and drink that’s on offer. I usually eat a light breakfast at home because I know that when I get to the church hall for registration, I can have as much coffee and toast as I like before the race gets underway. I particularly enjoy being mothered by the wonderful Carole and her army of helpers. They cannot do enough to make you feel welcome and looked after. The kitchen is a hive of activity, with a constant stream of happy, smiling people queuing patiently as they wait to be served. The food and hospitality are reason enough to compete in this fantastic event.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPictured above: Chatting with Alan before the start of the race (Photo courtesy of Nick Ham)

I look forward to this race because it never fails to disappoint. Alan is an excellent race organiser – always in control, unflappable in a crisis and genuinely just a really great bloke. He always sends me an annual race reminder so I don’t forget to enter, and he regularly updates me on how the money raised from entry fees has helped to improve the paths and tracks on the route and around the valley. His team puts a tremendous amount of work into the race and the upkeep of the local area. Part of the reason I like to support this event is to help raise its profile and encourage more of this positive action to happen.

Hebden map.jpg
Pictured above: A basic map of the route (anti-clockwise) with the start and finish indicated by the green dot.

This year is much like any other. I’m running with my training partners, Karl ‘The Legend’ Gray and Gavin ‘Mad Legs’ Mulholland, and we’ve all signed a peace treaty by agreeing to race together. We’ll obviously run hard but this is essentially a training exercise and our journey will be filled with good conversation and quality banter. I’m pretty relieved to be honest, as I no longer have to worry about being dropped by either of them – Karl’s impressive training schedule is usually a pre-race concern. I’m also relieved that I’ve managed to get to the start line on time. A few years ago I actually missed the beginning of the race because I was queuing for the toilet. When I came outside everyone had already set off and it took me at least 2 miles to catch up with the leaders!

“I’M DREAMING ABOUT GIANT SLABS OF TIFFIN AND MONSTER SLICES OF CAKE

The route circumnavigates the picturesque market town of Hebden Bridge, which lies at the heart of the Calder Valley. It begins with a fast run out on a woodland track parallel to the railway line, before competitors turn and face the challenging climb of Brearley Lane. A few moments later this effort is duly rewarded with spectacular views and much of the route can be seen across the valley.

Pictured above: The climb to Old Town (L) (Photos courtesy of Nick Ham) and arriving at the first checkpoint in Old Town with Joe Crossfield & Gav Mulholland in 2014 (R) (Photo courtesy of Geoff Matthews)

I find it difficult to hold back during the first few miles of the Hebden because I get carried away with setting a fast pace. I have to force myself to slow down so that I have something left in the tank during the final stages. I glance behind and Karl gives me ‘that look’. His diesel engine takes a bit longer to warm up than mine (usually about 10 miles) so I take my foot off the gas a little. He doesn’t need to say anything. I know the legend well enough by now. A raised eyebrow speaks volumes. Instead, my thoughts turn to the first checkpoint at Old Town. I’m dreaming about giant slabs of tiffin and monster slices of cake. Forget everything I’ve already mentioned about this race, the food stations on the way round are THE best bit! There isn’t a single event on my calendar that has this many opportunities to eat DURING a race! I know that Gav is just as excited as me, and when we reach Old Town I grab the biggest piece of tiffin I can find. I don’t have a problem with eating and running at the same time because they are both my two favourite things in life – don’t ever let it be said that men cannot multi-task. If Shaun Godsman was here now he’d be in heaven. In fact he’d probably just sit here all day and finish off the rest of the cake before the next runner arrives.

10714054064_0a0c76aac3_c.jpgPictured above: The Wadsworth War Memorial above Midgehole (Photo credit)

Stoodley.jpg
Pictured above: The view to Stoodley Pike with Heptonstall Church in the foreground (Photo credit)

I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve run on this route, but what amazes me is how different it always looks when I do. I always see something new that I’ve never noticed before. For example, it took me 4 years to spot the Wadsworth War Memorial above Midgehole. It looks like a mini version of Stoodley Pike, except it doesn’t stand as prominently on the horizon because it’s well hidden by the trees. It’s worth a visit if you’ve never seen it before, although you may struggle to find it! The view across the valley to Heptonstall and Stoodley Pike is also a treat, although today I don’t really have time to appreciate it.

8272066059_aeec9e14e8_b.jpgPictured above: Gibson Mill (Photo credit)

The route continues beneath the monument as it joins the Calderdale Way (leg 4 in reverse). Descending towards Midgehole is both fast and technical but once you hit the road then it’s a long runnable slog to Gibson Mill, through Hardcastle Crags. I always know that if I reach the mill in sub 50 minutes then I’m running well. I glance at my watch – 49 minutes. We’re bang on target. That means we can spend a bit more time stopping for food at the next checkpoint as a reward 😉

“THIS IS A MAGICAL PART OF THE CALDER VALLEY. A SECRET SANCTUARY OF FLORA AND FAUNA THAT EXUDES TRANQUILITY AND CALM

Upon reaching Gibson Mill we opt for the stepping-stones instead of the bridge as they’re not covered in ice or submerged underwater. A couple of years ago (after the floods) we didn’t have the luxury of choice, it was either swim or take the bridge!

30119948953_bd1560a876_b.jpgPictured above: The stepping stones at Gibson Mill (Photo credit: Paul Norris)

After crossing the stream it’s another long climb through the woods before we reach Heptonstall. Unfortunately, the route doesn’t take us past the church or through the charming cobbled streets of the main village, but I’d seriously recommend a visit if you’ve never been before.

The good news for me is that I know there’s another checkpoint at the top of the climb and it usually has lots of jelly babies. When we arrive I’m not disappointed. Both my mouth and bumbag are quickly refilled.

5649663467_f7bc1195f9_b.jpgPictured above: The church of St Thomas in Heptonstall (Photo credit)

From here we continue to follow the Calderdale Way (in reverse) until we reach Blackshaw Head, before descending back down the valley towards Burnley road. This downhill section of the course, through Jumble Hole Clough, is my favourite by far. I always feel like I’ve accidentally stumbled onto the set of The Hobbit and I’m being chased through the woods by an army of Orcs. This area forms the old boundary between Yorkshire and Lancashire. So if I do happen to spot any Orcs then they’ll probably arrive from Tod’Mordor’- the dark side of the valley 😉 Perhaps these feelings are heightened further because my tiny companions look just like hairy hobbits, especially Gav, who could easily be used as a body double for Bilbo Baggins. Jokes aside, this is a magical part of the Calder Valley. A secret sanctuary of flora and fauna which exudes tranquility and calm.

14760013922_54b6b9f65f_bPictured above: The remains of Old Staups Mill, Jumble Hole Clough (Photo credit)

My favourite descent is swiftly met by my favourite checkpoint. It’s like an Aladdin’s cave stacked full of sugary and savoury treats. There’s so much choice that we have to stop for couple of minutes just to make sure we don’t miss out on anything delicious. I’m offered a coffee on arrival and I’m very, VERY tempted to say yes but decide it won’t be the easiest thing to drink on the steep climb towards Stoodley Pike. Instead I grab a beef pate sandwich and another monster slab of tiffin (rocket fuel!). I chuckle to myself as I spot a pile of beef dripping sandwiches and wonder how many other races in the world offer this kind of food halfway round!?! I’m just waiting for the year that Gav (the herbivore) eats one by mistake!

Pictured above: My favourite checkpoint near Callis Bridge (Photos courtesy of Nick Ham)

The climb to Stoodley is the longest and steepest ascent in the race but today Gav is making it look easy. I exchange glances with Karl and we wonder if he’s on performance enhancing drugs or whether he really did eat a beef dripping sandwich by mistake. Either way he’s got far too much energy so I put him back on his lead, just in case he tries to run off and leave us. Besides, in another 2 minutes the KGB (Karl, Gav & Ben) will need to be camera ready for SportSunday so we can pose for team photos. It feels a bit like Groundhog Day because every year the lovely Laura and David Bradshaw stand in the same place taking images. The only difference being the weather, and today we’ve been very fortunate.

HEB 1_0002 (1).jpgPictured above: With the legend Karl Gray (C) and Mad Legs Mulholland (R) (Photo courtesy of SportSunday)

“THERE IS NOWHERE TO HIDE ON THE KILLER STEPS. IT’S DEATH OR GLORY

Although the route doesn’t travel directly past Stoodley Pike, Calder Valley’s most famous landmark dominates the skyline from start to finish. Very rarely does it disappear from sight and it looks impressive from every angle. The monument is almost within touching distance as we reach the summit of the climb but we immediately turn left and head in the opposite direction towards Erringden Moor. A few years ago we got lost in the mist whilst crossing the moor but thankfully there’s no chance of that happening today. Gav leads the way and within minutes we begin to quickly descend through Broadhead Clough towards checkpoint 4. This marks the point where the 21 mile route leaves the 15. In the past I’ve been sorely tempted to switch direction and just complete the shorter race. However, today I’m feeling good and another piece of tiffin helps persuade me to carry on.

4703293289_6e90bd9c21_b.jpgPictured above: Stoodley Pike standing tall and proud. The Hebden route can be seen in the top right hand corner of the image (Photo credit)

In my opinion, the climb out of Turvin Clough to the top of the valley is the crux of the race. After 15 miles, it separates the men from the boys. My legs feel heavy and I’m beginning to tire. Unfortunately for me there is nowhere to hide on the ‘killer steps’ – it’s death or glory. Survival mode kicks in and I’m forced to dig deep. I know once this climb is over I can make it to the finish. It’s a huge mental achievement. Gav skips up them effortlessly and I just try and hang on to the back of him. I can hear Karl behind me trying to do the same. Surprisingly, at the top I actually feel ok. In fact, I’ve not only survived them but I’ve somehow discovered a second wind. I decide it’s a good time to give Gav a taste of his own medicine so I push the pace to the next checkpoint. I think it’s the thought of more tiffin that spurs me on.

Steps of death.jpg
Pictured above: The ‘killer’ steps (Photo courtesy of Brian Fisher)

The route briefly rejoins the Calderdale Way (Leg 1) before descending sharply down towards Cragg Vale. Then, just before we hit the main road we turn once more, back uphill to Hollin Hey Wood and the final ascent. Now, as much as I hate the killer steps, they don’t even begin to compare with how I feel about this climb. It absolutely fills me with dread. I can’t EVER remember enjoying it and I ALWAYS struggle to run up it without wanting to stop. But not today. Today I’m determined to put my demons to rest as I prepare to launch one final attack. I take a deep breath and give it everything I’ve got left in the tank. It’s very rare that I ever run faster than Gav on a climb so I must be going well. You can imagine my relief and excitement as I sprint the final few steps to reach the top. It’s only taken me 6 YEARS to finally conquer it! Thank God it’s all downhill from here.

I check my watch as we begin to descend and I know we’re on for a sub-3 hour finish. I’m happy with that. We cross the line in 2:56, just 3 minutes outside of the record. Not bad considering all the time we spent pausing for food.

Strava | Photos 1 | Photos 2 | Results

The only way to finish a good run at the Hebden is to eat, shower and then eat some more. So I kick off the post-race celebrations with pie and peas (Yorkshire style), mint sauce on top and not a slice of beetroot in sight (take note Lancastrians). Apologies to Caroline Harding who has to witness me eating inhaling it in less than 20 seconds. After a (very) brief pause it’s straight on to the rhubarb crumble, countless mugs of tea and finally, all washed down with some glasses of mulled wine. I think at this point you can safely say I’ve got my money’s worth from the entry fee. Unfortunately the quality of the showers aren’t quite on par with the standard of the refreshments. I can confirm that the cold water does nothing to help revive Gav’s #PRP!

IMG_2510.JPGPictured above: The amusing race report in the Halifax Courier

kgb.jpgPictured above: The KGB (From L to R – in that order) with the wonderful Carole Engel (post-race).

So there you have it – the full Hebden experience. If you, like me, are a fan of running, eating, and spending a day on the hills with other like-minded people, then this is the event for you. But be warned – this race sells out quickly and there are only a limited amount of places available for both the 15 and 21 mile challenges. Keep an eye on SiEntries for the 2018 edition of the Hebden and other LDWA events.

Finally, I’d like to extend my sincerest thanks and appreciation to Alan, Carole and their amazing team for all their hard work and organisation. Without you it wouldn’t happen and it certainly wouldn’t be the same. See you again next year!

If you enjoyed reading this blog then please SHARE and FOLLOW on social media.

Facebook | Twitter | Strava | Instagram

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

suunto-logo

A runner’s guide to winter survival

runners-guide-to-winter-survivalWinter.

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

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

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

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

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

mountainfuel-34Photo taken by Robbie Jay Barratt

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

Read more here… Italian Adventures: Part 1

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

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

Fell running guide to head torches

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bad Education

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

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

MountainFuel-36.jpgPhoto taken by Robbie Jay Barratt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

plan-adventuresPlan your next adventure.

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

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

13227836_220971738287021_2361841371930374055_o.jpgPhoto taken by Steve Frith

If you enjoyed reading this blog then please SHARE and FOLLOW on social media.

Facebook | Twitter | Strava | Instagram

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

suunto-logo

Suunto Spartan Ultra vs Suunto Ambit 3 Vertical Review

31f9e29c78058608fad36d3c21db8314.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

Suunto’s comparison of both watches can be found here

1. FIRST IMPRESSIONS

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

2. KEY FEATURES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. NAVIGATION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. SUGGESTED IMPROVEMENTS

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

5. THE VERDICT

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

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

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

suunto-logo

Italian adventures (Part 3)

Title.jpg

Friday 26th August (My Birthday)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

img_0873

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

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

We’re off!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

img_0936Pictured above: Descending back to Susa.

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

img_0864Pictured above: Post-race celebrations with Chris Grauch.

img_0863Pictured above: Enjoying a beer with Francesco Puppinho.

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

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

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

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

Roll on 2017…

 

If you enjoyed reading this blog then please SHARE and FOLLOW on social media.

Facebook | Twitter | Strava | Instagram

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

Italian adventures (Part 2)

Adventures part 2.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pictured above: My inov-8 GB racing helmet.

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

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

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

IMG_0484Pictured above: The mountains are calling…

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

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

Video: Climbing Sentiero Spinotti on the route recce

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m blaming the altitude for my monster hangover 😉

 

If you enjoyed reading this blog then please SHARE and FOLLOW on social media.

Facebook | Twitter | Strava | Instagram

Supported by inov-8 | Powered by Mountain Fuel