Come Fly With Me

Come Fly With Me

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

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

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

It was the beginning of a beautiful relationship…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. CHOOSING A DESTINATION

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

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

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

Here are a few that I regularly use;

www.italyontrail.com

www.wmra.ch

www.corsainmontagna.it

www.mountainrunning.net

www.european-athletics.org

www.vkworldcircuit.com

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

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

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

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

Video: Sentiero Spinotti e Monte Coglians, Northern Italy

2. BOOKING THE BEST FLIGHT

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

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

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3. GETTING AROUND

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. WHERE TO STAY?

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

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

IMG_4510Pictured above: Sentiero Spinotti e Monte Coglians, Northern Italy

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

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

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

5. PACK LIGHT!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A year on the run

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

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

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

Here is my year on the run…

JANUARY 2017

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

© Dave McFarlane

Grizedale Forest, Lake District, England, UK

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

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

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

‘The Hebden’ blog

Race website

 

FEBRUARY 2017

Sharp Haw, Yorkshire Dales, England, UK

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

© Col Morley

 

MountainFuel training weekend, Lake District, England, UK

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

The Northumberland Coastal Marathon, Northumbria, England, UK

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

Race website

MARCH 2017

Long Mynd Valleys, Shropshire, England, UK

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

Race website

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APRIL 2017

Donard Challenge, Northern Ireland, UK

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

Race website

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Burgau, The Algarve, Portugal

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

Sóller, Mallorca

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

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

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

My ‘3 Peaks’ blog

Race website

MAY 2017

Inter-Counties, Broughton Heights, Scotland, UK

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

Calderdale Way Relay, Calderdale, Yorkshire, England, UK

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

Trail Degli Dei, The Amalfi Coast, Campania, Italy

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

Race website

 

JUNE 2017

Blencathra, Lake District, England, UK

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

Race website

MountainFuel Billy Bland Challenge, Lake District, England, UK

The Billy Bland Challenge Race leg 2

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

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

Website

© Col Morley

JULY 2017

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

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

The Alva Games, Scotland, UK

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

Race website

 

Lingmell Dash, Lake District, England, UK

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

Race website

© Grand Day Out Photography

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

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

AUGUST 2017

PGL 2 Centre Adventure, Mimosa and Segries, France

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

Piz-Tri Vertical & The FlettaTrail, Malonno, Italy

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

My ‘FlettaTrail’ blog

Race website

Staffetta 3 Rifugi, Collina, Forni Avoltri, Italy

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

Race website

Kilnsey Show, Yorkshire Dales, England, UK

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

Race website

© Woodentops

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

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

Website

© Craig Chew-Moulding

SEPTEMBER 2017

The World Masters Mountain Running Championship, Pruske, Slovakia

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

Race website

The Cleveland Way, North Yorkshire, England, UK

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

Website

OCTOBER 2017

The Tartufo Trail, Parma, Italy

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

Always the sunshine ☀️

Race website

British Fell Relays, Llanberis, North Wales, UK

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

Race website

Florence, Pisa and Lucca, Italy

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

Burgau, The Algarve, Portugal

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

NOVEMBER 2017

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

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

Website

Coniston, Lake District, England, UK

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

DECEMBER 2017

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

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

Race website

Wasdale, Lake District, England, UK

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

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

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