Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Montane Lakeland 100 Preview and a bit about Trailblaze


Just a quick mention regarding this weekend's Lakeland 100 Ultra Trail race, probably the premier ultra trail race in the UK.  Although I am not running in it this year, (as my 100 mile ultra trail race for 2011 is the Ultra Trail Mont Blanc at the end of August), I am going up to the Lake District to watch.  Having raced against a few of this year's entrants I am taking a keen interest in how they get on.

Looking at the start list for the Lakeland 100 it looks like it will be a pretty competitive and exciting race.   Although it is likely that there will be a few runners near the front that I do not know, I suspect that the top finishing places are likely to filled by the following runners:

Terry Conway - 4th= last year. Terry has improved loads since last year.  He demonstrated this with a pretty strong run in the Highland Fling, which would have been heaps higher up if he didn't have severe cramp problems, so we can expect a strong performance from him.

Simon Deakin - A bit of a dark horse especially for a 100 mile event, but he could shock a few up near the front, if he can handle the increase in miles up to 100!  Not totally sure of his ultra trail achievements, but he ran a good 2nd place finish in last year's extremely demanding Hardmoors 55.

Duncan Harris - 3rd last year.  Duncan finished last year's race with the fastest leg 15 time.  Maybe he should read my blog and adopt the "Run as fast as you can, while you can" strategy, rather than keeping running fast until the very last leg, when it is a bit too late!  In addition he finished last year with amazing form, winning a few races, and started this year with a win in the 32 mile Wuthering Hike race back in March before I believe getting injured.  If he his back to full fitness, keep an eye out for him.

Andy Mouncey - 2nd last year.  Andy last year was unfortunate in that he suffered a pretty severe injury around two weeks before last year's race, that although I believe it didn't affect him too much during the actual race, the lack of final preparation leading into the race wasn't ideal.  So he is as determined as ever to 'nail a big one' this weekend.  Whether he can improve from 2nd last year we will have to wait and see.  I would consider this year's field to be substantially stronger than last year, however, a full-on performance with un-interrupted preparation could put him right up near the front, especially during the initial stages as  he appears to have similar views to myself of adopting a strong, fast start!

Barry Murray - A bit of a new comer to the ultra trail scene, but having run 28 miles with him during last month's recce weekend, he has the potential to give the front guys a hurry up.  He was a bit 'overcooked' due to being too keen with his training and racing preparation, at the IAU World Champs earlier in the month over in Ireland. So his performance there probably wasn't a reflection of what he can achieve.  If he has adopted a 10 day recovery, followed by a 10 day taper during the last three weeks since Connemara, (as suggested to him by yours truly), he should be all set for a good run.

Adam Perry - DNF last year.  Adam is the youngster in the group, although he has quite a bit of experience in ultra trail running.  Winner of a number of ultra trail races last year, over shorter distances though, the question is, can he handle 100 miles.  Last year he started strong and was in 2nd= place for the first 4 legs, but then the 'wheels fell off'' and he had to DNF.  If he has sorted out his preparation to handle 100 miles then he should show the oldies a thing or two!

Paul Tierney - A name probably not familiar to many of you, that is because he has only raced in Ireland.  He classifies himself as a "middle of the pack runner", but his performance representing Ireland at the IAU Worlds earlier this month was very impressive.  A bit of a youngster like Adam, but learning loads from each race, and from reading my blog!, so you should be able to expect another equally impressive performance from him this weekend.

So the above seven runners, if all run to plan should full up seven of the top ten places, leaving three places for runners I haven't met.  In which order will they finish though?  I have my views on the finishing order but I think I will keep these to myself so I don't put added pressure on any of these seven.  These seven runners are probably already less than impressed with me for 'blowing their cover' in terms of just potentially how good they can run, and are now no longer able to surprise the field with being an unknown!  All adds to the excitement of the race!

With regards to the women's field, I apologise but I am not so familiar with the key leading women runners.  However, since I have put pressure on some men runners, to be fair I will single out one women runner who I have met at a number of races and seen just how good she is.  Yes, keep your eye out for Sue Sleath.  She ran really well in last year's Lakeland 50 to finish in 2nd place.  I don't know if she has raced 100 miles before, but based on her 50 mile performance last year, and strong performances in multiple ultra trail runs and marathons over the last few years, I think she could surprise a few of the women runners, well that was before I named her here!

Looking at the Lakeland 50 men's race, the two names that stand out are Craig Stewart and Andrew James.  Andrew won last year's Lakeland 50 in a record time and was in awesome shape earlier this year.  Unfortunately he picked up an injury which resulted in a DNF at the IAU Worlds.  I haven't heard whether this is now fully recovered, but if he is on the start line then, expect another strong run from him.  Craig ran a very impressive 100km on the roads back in March at the Celtic Plate up in Perth, recording a 7:01 winning time.  Whether he can transfer this form onto the trails is however uncertain, although I have a feeling that he is due a good performance, so he won't be too far away for the front, especially if it is dry underfoot.

Overall I am really looking forward to this weekend.  I wish I was running it as well, but with UTMB only four weeks later it wasn't really possible.  However, I have already put the race down as my focus race for 2012, and will be the first to enter once the entries open later in the year!

Time to sign off with a relevant quote which I feel will be largely related to the finishing place order this weekend:
"The way we perform is the result of the way we see ourselves.  To alter our performance we need to alter or change ourselves and it is that changing that's difficult".  Gary Elliott (1983), coach to the great New Zealand women marathon runner, Alison Roe.  Hence the need for the TOTAL preparation that I keep on going on about!
To all of you out there running either the Lakeland 100 or Lakeland 50 this weekend, I wish you all the best. Enjoy the experience!


PS  Those of you who listened to my radio interview regarding the Trailblaze scheme last month, (the Radio 4 broadcast of Open Country is available as a podcast here),  may be interested to know that there was another feature on BBC South East Today programme yesterday regarding the Trailblaze scheme, and yes, again I was interviewed.  You should be able to view the two minute clip by clicking the following link: If you don't know much about the Trailblaze running scheme, go check it out on their website: There is also an opposing Trailblaze website that provides the arguments against the scheme click this link:  to see the latest updates on the controversy.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

IAU Trail World Championship Videos


I have just come across three videos on You Tube of last Saturday's race.  is of the start of the race, and  is probably around two thirds up the 442 metre Diamond Hill for the first time.  At this point of the race I am in 13th place, 34 seconds behind the leader.

I will keep you posted about the 30 minute feature that will be on Channel 4, as well as Eurosport in around 4 weeks time.  Here is a trailer for the programme! it looks like the programme will be pretty impressive!

Just to finish off, below is my 'disco move' pose, taken with exactly one kilometre to go!


Wednesday, 13 July 2011

IAU World Trail Championships - Connemara, Ireland - The Importance of Enjoying the Journey

Hi, welcome back,

Tonight I will hopefully describe last weekends great experience of running for Great Britain.  It could be another ultra effort!  I think I will start with a little bit of background first.  Not back to when I joined Hutt Valley Harriers as a 14 year old, that can wait for another day, but back to around November last year.

(I have come back to the start of this blog post after finally reaching the finish.  Yes, this post is an ultra effort!  I wouldn't recommend it, but if you were a bit short of time and wanted to skip the first section on having a plan, developing goals, etc. then you could go straight down to the bit in red where I state (Possibly start here at the start of the GB International Experience in Connemara). Only a suggestion, but be aware that you would then only get half of the message!)

It was around November time that I was planning my race calendar for 2011.  I had tried to get into the British team for the 2nd IAU World Trail Championships that took place in France in 2009.  The selection race was the 2009 Highland Fling, but unfortunately I ran off course, and only finished in 10th place.  So one of the aims for 2011 was to make another attempt to represent my new country of Britain, since moving here from New Zealand way back in 1990.

The 2011 Highland Fling race back in April also didn't quite go to plan, having a few 'tough' patches, which resulted in finishing in only 6th place, when trying to qualify for a likely GB men's team of only five runners!  Apparently Jez Bragg (2nd in the Fling) was unavailable for the team, I guess due to Western State 100 commitments, where he produced a tremendous 4th place performance.  So maybe there was some hope for selection.  Detailed selection criteria was published on the UK Athletics website, stating that other relevant performances, especially at International level, would be taken into account.  I thought that my wins at the Lakeland 100 and the Hardmoors 55 races in 2010, combined with my 22nd place at Ultra Trail Mont Blanc back in 2009 may assist me in my selection credentials.  Fortunately, my past results were taken into consideration, as although Jez was not in the GB team, Craig Stewart, who didn't run the Fling but who had run a very impressive winning time of 7:01 at the Anglo-Celtic 100km Plate back in March, was added into the team.  So, my inclusion into the five man GB team meant that the Fling fifth place getter Matt Williamson didn't make the team.

When I first found out I was selected for the GB Team, to my surprise there wasn't any elation.  In fact, there was a lack of joy of finally being selected to represent my country.  Instead there was the doubt, and even some guilt that I had been put in the team ahead of Matt, who after all had beaten me in the selection race.  Did I deserve to be in the team ahead of him?  I had never raced Matt before, and didn't know what his running credentials were, but yes, my initial response to being selected was, did I deserve my place!

So firstly I had to deal with these rather negative thoughts.  I re-read the UK Athletics selection criteria, confirming that selection wasn't all based on the Highland Fling selection race, and began to accept that if the selectors felt that I was worthy of selection, then I should feel the same way as well!  Next, then came the doubt regarding my ability as I had only just 'scrapped' into the team as the fifth member.  This was visibly reinforced when the team announced on the UK Athletics website wasn't listed in alphabetical order, but in clearly a ranking order, with Andrew James (winner of the Fling) at the top, and me right at the bottom!  How far behind would I be as the fifth member of the GB team?  How many out of the 84 men's field would I beat?  Maybe one or two, maybe ten?  The positivity just wasn't there.  A really strange feeling!  After achieving probably the greatest thing I have ever achieved in terms of my running over the last 34 years, UltraStu was definitely not feeling very Ultra!

Fortunately, upon hearing of my GB selection, there was still around seven weeks to get things sorted!  Within my posts I often talk about the importance of TOTAL preparation.  The situation I was currently in was definitely going to require immense levels of TOTAL preparation, i.e. both the mental and the physical!  So over the next seven weeks I spent substantially more time mentally preparing for the 70km trail race, than physically preparing.  Back in New Zealand I recall there being criticism often against NZ Olympic athletes for treating being selected for an Olympic team as their 'gold medal'.  And when it actually came to them performing in the Olympics, because they had already achieved their goal of going to the Olympics, their performances tended to be below standard.  I did not what to be in a position where I felt people could criticise me for this.  What performance would therefore be needed then?  I had no idea how strong the field would be, so it was difficult to think about achieving a specific race finishing position.  The idea that perhaps I wasn't worthy of my place still lingered in my mind.  Therefore the first goal was established.  I was clearly, as listed on UK Athletics, as the fifth member of the GB men's team.  If I could beat one of my other team members, then I would have proved to myself that my place in the team was justified.  Great, I was on my way to a good race performance.

Next step within my preparation, was the actual team race competition format.  The team finishing positions would be determined by the cumulative time of the first three finishers for each country.  So being fourth GB finisher would maybe justify my position in the team, but it would not actually contribute to the GB team position.  My fourth position in essence would be worthless!  Isn't it amazing just how easy it is for negative thoughts to take over!  TOTAL preparation is needed to deal with these thoughts!  So great, my goal was upgraded.  Fourth GB finisher was no good, it now had to be third!

As I was working through all of these issues, I was still doing some physical training, but in terms of factors that would influence my race performance at the Worlds, the physical training was insignificant.  What was very significant though was my strong and comfortable performance in the 35 mile Northants Ultra Shires and Spires race.  Winning quite easily, but most importantly taking 25 minutes of Andrew James's equal course record.   Remember Andrew was the chap that won the Highland Fling selection race.  Now I know conditions can vary between years, and I know that he may have got lost, or just been doing a gentle training run, but, I managed to convince myself that no matter what, even taking into account all of these possible explanations for Andrew running so slowly in his 2009 win, that me beating his time by 25 minutes was clear evidence that there was a possible chance that I could beat him in the Worlds at Connemara.  Now another possible goal was added.  Could I actually finish as the first GB finisher?  Yes, no longer, am I thinking about 'scrapping' into the team, and not being worthy of a place in the team.  Within a few weeks I had turned that around to believing that I could actually be the top GB finisher!

Now, I was feeling a million times more comfortable about being in the GB team, however, the thought that all my goals were based on beating my team mates was rather disturbing.  The focus should be on beating competitors from other countries, not on beating my team mates.  I should be encouraging, supporting my team mates.  This was not possible with my current goals, so I began to give serious thought to how many of the 84 male competitors from around the World I could beat!  You can't just pick a number out of the air, there must be a rationale, some form of evidence to justify the number.  What evidence, rationale did I have based on competing at the World level?  And then Eureka!  My Ultra Trail Mont Blanc performance from 2009, where I finished in 22nd position.  UTMB is often talked about as the strongest ultra trail race in the World.  So simple logic followed that if I could finish in 22nd place in UTMB, the 'strongest' field in the World, then there should be no problem in finishing in 22nd place at the IAU World Trail Championships in Connemara, Ireland.  Great, as simple as that!  A new goal which I felt alot more comfortable with, rather than trying to beat my GB team mates.  Yes, the goal was now to finish in 22nd place or better.  This goal further confirmed that I was more than worthy of my selection as I am now in the top 25% of the field, absolutely miles away from the tail end of the race, significantly far away from finishing near last!

The 'mental' preparation was nearing completion.  Whilst doing this extensive preparation, I continued my relaxed and rhythmical 'physical' training, although it did include a 42 mile Trailblaze run, see my Trailblaze post, and also 28mile, followed with 16mile Lakeland recce runs.  So my TOTAL preparation was TOTAL, I wasn't ignoring the 'physical', just giving it the reduced importance it demands.

The last part of the preparation was to determined my race strategy.  How fast would I start?  The answer should have been obvious, "Run as fast as I can , while I can!"  But the thought of going out fast at the start of the Worlds, leading the actual race, just didn't seem realistic.  These guys I would be racing against would be some of the best in the World!  Yes I had managed to get myself to  believe that I could finish in the top 25% of the field, but to be at the very front, that was not quite within my belief!  So for around 2 - 3 weeks I had this dilemma.  Then two weeks before race day I delivered my 95 minute presentation at the Lakeland recce weekend.  I spoke about the importance of knowing what success in a race means to you, the importance of having a clear plan, the importance of positive self expectations, and most of all the importance of enjoying the journey, not just focusing on the destination, i.e. the result.  So here I was, having spent the last 4 - 5 weeks thinking about the destination, i.e. my result I would achieve at the Worlds, without actually giving any though to the actual journey!  It all suddenly came clear, the new goal would be to simply run to my full potential, run with honest commitment, and most importantly to fully enjoy every single moment of not just the actual race, but the whole GB experience!  As simple as that!

So with the simple goal to commit fully to the race and to maximise enjoyment during the race, the race strategy also became totally clear.  Stick to the UltraStu philosophy "Run as fast as you can, while you can!"  If that means I head off out into the front leading the World Champs, then so be it, that is where I belong to be, leading the race!

WOW!!!  It always amazes me just how by sitting at the computer totally on my own, late at night, just how my thought patterns become clear.  I think that this blog, that I have now been writing for since March last year, has clearly been a significant factor in my improved race performances.  It just provides an ideal opportunity for quality reflection, to really learn from past performances and about oneself.  So please excuse me, if my posts are rather lengthy, but they need to be that length in order for me to get things clear for me!

Maybe I should stop this post here, as it is already pretty lengthy!  But hey, lets really test your ultra endurance qualities!!!

(Possibly start here at the start of the GB International Experience in Connemara)

The Great Britain Team experience started as I arrived at the check in desk at Gatwick airport.  As I arrive at the RyanAir check in I recognise Allen Smalls, who I had raced on a number of occasions.  Allen introduces me to Craig Stewart, and immediately I have a great feeling.  They are both so welcoming and friendly, and the lingering thoughts from seven weeks earlier regarding my worthiness of my position within the GB team never had a chance to surface.  Shortly later Andrew James joins us, and then Anne Wilson the Team manager, and Norman Wilson an official from the IAU, also arrive, and the really positive inclusive feeling continues.  Throughout the weekend, as I get to meet the other members of the GB Team, this really strong supportive inclusive bond is totally evident.  I think this supportive, encouraging environment from within the GB Team was a major factor in influencing the level of my performance in the race, especially considering where I had started at, in terms of such negative thoughts about my involvement within the team, just a few weeks earlier.

After a rather lengthy journey, we finally arrive at the village of Letterfrack, which is the race centre.  Within the village green, a large marquee is set up, where all the athletes are fed during the weekend, and there are many athletes walking around the village.  Immediately I am totally buzzing!

The level of excitement continues to rise on the Friday, the day before the race, as I get to meet a number of athletes from other countries who I have been in e-mail communication with leading up to the race.  Walking around the village in official GB Team kit, and seeing all of the other athletes similarly walking around in their team kit, really adds to the occasion.  We have a team photo taken (see below), although team member Julian Rendall, and Assistant Team Manager Andy Smith aren't present as they don't arrive to later on Friday evening.  There is an excellent opening ceremony where all of the athletes from all twenty countries are introduced up on the stage.  There is good quality food and excellent conversation within the marquee.  Our race feed bags for the three checkpoints are dropped off, and it is then back to our self catering cottage to try to get some sleep.

Team GB Back row from left: Anne Wilson (Team Manager), Craig Stewart, Stuart Mills, Allen Smalls, Andrew James.  Front row from left: Karen Rushton, Adela Salt, Heather Foundling-Hawker, Lucy Colquhoun.

The race is scheduled to start at 7am in front of Kylemore Abbey, about 5km from Letterfrack where we are staying.  We are bused out to the start at around 6:15am, and as the time gets closer to the race start, I am not one single bit nervous.  My TOTAL preparation has gone well.  I have a clear plan, a clear race strategy, with the goal to have total enjoyment every single moment during the journey.  The actual destination will arrive in due course, whether I achieve any of my initial goals mentioned above are secondary to the number one goal of enjoyment.  However, I have learnt from previous experiences, that if the commitment is there, the effort is evident, and most importantly the enjoyment is present, a desirable destination often results.  So confidence is high.  Focus on the enjoyment, and the performance will come!

The complete GB team get off the bus and wander to the start area.  We have a bit of spare time, and there is a sort of 'hanging around' feeling.  I decide that I need to focus on my own, not because I am nervous, or not enjoying my fellow team mates company, but my plan is to treat this race just like any other race, where I don't have team mates around me.  So I head off on my own, doing a little bit of warming up, stand in a lengthy queue for the toilets, chatting to other runners, just like any usual race.  With around ten minutes before start time, I return to the start area, fully prepared, totally excited about how the race will unfold.  Throughout the entire time leading up to the race, within the GB team there has been a tremendously supportive environment and everyone is wishing each other a good performance.  Within the team we haven't talked in any detail about specific strategies, but when the talk of my usual fast start approach is raised, I don't discard it, so there is an expectation, from some team members who are more aware, of a fast start from me.  I find this expectation, their acceptance of my fast start reassuring.  Maybe they did think I was a little crazy giving the fast start a go, but because they never expressed any negativity or doubt towards it, I accepted that as positive confirmation that all was fine, a good strategy to adopt.

The 130 runners, including around 20 within the open event, gather beneath the start banner.  A helicopter with a camera crew hovers above.  The men's GB team are gathered together, and what was a really significant moment of the whole weekend, I wished my teammates the best of luck, and I moved away from them towards the head of the gathering field.  As a result of my extensive TOTAL preparations, I felt that my place on the start line was deserving of being up at the front, ahead of all of my GB teammates.  Absolutely amazing, considering that on paper I had just scrapped into the team!  In that one moment, there was confirmation that I was not there 'just to make up the numbers!'

There is a countdown and then we are off.  I am stuck behind a few runners as I wasn't absolutely on the front line.  After around 200 - 300 metres I manage to work my way out of the pack and I hit the very front.  Just like any other race, except you don't usually have a quad bike with a TV camera focusing directly in on your face, only about a foot away!  I ask myself is this really the best thing to do, I move across to the left of the track as I hesitate and then rejoin the lead runners as we move away from the large bunch.

During races I try to focus on myself so I very seldom look behind.  So as three of us move away from the bunch, I don't know how far back they are, but it just begins to feel like a significant gap as it gets quieter.  Absolutely amazing, here I am in a tiny bunch of three, out in front from the rest of the field, not at a local club race, but at the IAU World Trail Championships!!!  It just doesn't get any better than this, absolutely unbelievable.  But the best thing of all, I am feeling totally comfortable.  The first 5 kilometres are flat.  I don't know what pace it was, but whatever it was, it felt really relaxed.  I let the other two runners move away from me, not really because I couldn't keep up, but more due to a lack of self belief regarding my current position within the field.  As we reach the village of Letterfrack after 5km I am probably around 70 - 80 metres behind the leading two runners, and maybe around 30 - 50 metres ahead of the remaining field, but as I never looked behind, I just don't know.  I will have to wait until the 30 minutes TV feature on the race comes out on Channel 4 on a Sunday morning in around four weeks time to see just what gap I had on the rest of the field.  Maybe it was only 10 - 20 metres, it didn't really matter, I was just totally enjoying every single moment of the journey so far!

We reach the start of the 400 metre climb up Diamond Hill which we navigate twice within a 7km loop, before we commence the 26km journey out, before turning and returning 26km back to Letterfrack, but fortunately not re-climbing Diamond Hill.  As I start the climb at a steady pace, it isn't long before runners start to overtake me.  I am strongly aware of the importance at this exact moment of the race.  I must keep the positivity strong.  I must not allow being overtaken to be a negative, it is a reality, after all it is the Worlds.  But I remind myself that I am finishing in the top 25% of the field, so I need to be observant of just how many runners go past me.  I up the intensity to slow the rate of being overtaken, it only slightly slows the rate down.  The key decision of the race is made at this moment, stuff any concern about overcooking it, stuff any cautiousness, this may be my only every chance of running in a World championships for Britain, remember the goal, enjoy yourself.  So I significantly increase my intensity and decide that no one else is going to pass me.  Unfortunately due to an IAU rule banning GPS watches I am not wearing my GPS/Heart Rate monitor, so I will never know what heart rate I reached.  I don't know exactly how long the climb was, probably around 10 - 15 minutes, but all I know that for the last two thirds of the climb I was near maxing out!  I got to the top with a tiny bit of worry that I would have to repeat this maximum effort again in less that 15 minutes time on the repeat climb of Diamond Hill, but this worry was totally overridden with the real joy of running to my maximum, still reasonably near to the front, amongst some of the best runners in the world.

We pass over the very top of the hill and run around the side, descending back down to the race village where we pass through checkpoint 1 at 12km.  As I am running with an inov-8 waist pack which holds a 500ml drink bottle I don't need to worry about getting anything from the checkpoint,  Within my waist pack I also have the compulsory whistle, borrowed from my son Chris, and the fantastically light and extremely compact Montane Slipstream GL Jacket, as a wind jacket was also compulsory.  I also have seven High Five gels,  two Cliff Bars, (no I'm not sponsored by either of them!), some flap jack from my University cafe, and my 'emergency blanket' being some chocolate covered coffee beans.

To my relief, the second climb up Diamond Hill is substantially slower than the first time.  I am running at a reasonably hard pace, but nothing too stupid for a 44 mile (70km) ultra race, unlike 20 minutes earlier!  I actually overtake 2 - 3 runners going up the hill and begin to feel that I have found my 'natural' position within the field, which I sort-of felt was around 20 - 25th which the results later confirm, being in 25th place at the 12km checkpoint.  After we descend Diamond Hill for the second time, we have completed 19km and we start out on the out and back section of the course.  Throughout the first 19km there is no sign at all of my GB team mates, or any of the Irish guys who I had met before the race.  Yes indeed everything was going to plan.  I was enjoying myself thoroughly, and as often occurs if the enjoyment occurs whilst being 'in the now', then somehow the destination goals just happen by themselves!

It doesn't seem long before I reach the next checkpoint at 28km.  To get there, there has been a mixture of terrain, including some pretty boggy fields and some steady gentle gravel road inclines.  As I exit the checkpoint, simply picking up a water bottle from my drop bag, leaving the other contents for the return journey, I am running within a group of around 4 runners who are then joined by Dan Doherty from Ireland.  It is nice to see a familiar face, so I start chatting to him about the course we have covered, whether he expected to be the leading Irish runner etc.  I could see that Dan was really focused and concentrating so wasn't really in a talkative mood, so rather than running quietly next to him, I decide to increase the pace slightly and slowly move away from him.

I am now totally comfortable with my position within the field, although some runners slowly overtake me, I am also slowly overtaking other runners.  This continues like this for a while, first along a gravel track for around two miles passing through some woods, before the serious climb to pass over the 729 metre summit of Benbaun Mountain.  The climb at first isn't that steep, but the boggyness of the ground makes running rather difficult.  Then just as the bog stops, the gradient substantially increases.  I am working really hard making my way to the top, both overtaking runners and being overtaken.  As I start the drop down the other side, as I pull by foot out of some mud, by heel comes out of my shoe.  I had tightened my laces of my inov-8 Roclite 295s that little bit tighter today to prevent this from happening, so it was impossible for me to get my heel back in.  I have no option to sit down on the ground, untie and retie my shoe laces before getting back into the race.  Although, I lost three places while sitting down, I vividly recall now that I didn't get one tiny bit angry.  It was really strange there wasn't one single bit of negativity, I remained totally positive!

The drop down of the mountain was first rocky, before getting even steeper down over slippery grass slopes/tussocks.  It was probably the steepest terrain I had every tried to run down.  Again it didn't seem long before I reached checkpoint back on the flat at the 40 km mark.  The photo below was taken shortly before checkpoint 3 at 40 kilometres.  A quick top-up of Coca cola and water, and I was on my way.

The next section was a reasonably flat 4km over mainly gravel tracks but the occasional firmer footing grass.  It was a good opportunity to get back into a good quick running rhythm.  I was looking forward to meeting the lead runners so I could establish my position and also how far behind I was from runners in front, but also how far behind other runners, including my GB teammates were, who I still hadn't seen!  The lead runner is a really fit looking guy from Canada.  In fact pretty well all of the runners looked extremely fit.  I check the time on my watch, which I recall showed 4:04, and then at the 44km turnaround, reached at 4:11, I calculate that I am around 14 minutes down.  But the really surprising and exciting revelation was that I am in 13th place!

As I start the return journey, first the 4km back to checkpoint 3, I am wondering just how longer it will be until I meet Dan from Ireland again, and then my GB team mates.  It is only three minutes as I meet Dan still heading out to the turn, so he is around 6 minutes behind.  Then it is another additional five minutes before I encounter Julian Rendall, so around 16 minutes behind, and then shortly after I meet Allen Smalls closely followed by Craig Stewart.  There is sincere encouragement exchanged between us as we pass each other.  I am feeling pretty good, the results later show that this 8km flattish stretch between the checkpoints 3 and 4 was my best section, running the 6th fastest time overall for this section.  It felt like I was running strong, and so I pretty well knew then that I wasn't going to lose 16 minutes to runners behind me.  This was really great, as it meant I could forget totally about the destination, in terms of thinking where I would finish, whether in front of my GB teammates.  I could go back to simply enjoying every moment, and a totally positive approach was definitely what was required in order to re-summit the even steeper face of Benbaun Mountain.

As I start the the climb back, rather gentle at first, my positivity is further increased, as I meet Lucy Colquhoun, a member of GB women's team.  During the previous two days I had really enjoyed Lucy's company and she is an absolute ball of positive energy.  She is quite small in size, but the amount of positive energy she radiates out is huge!  Although she has just transversed over an extremely demanding mountain, you wouldn't know it, she is all smiles, and there is a great cheer as we see each other, and then we high five each other as we pass.  She has really got the 'enjoy every moment' race strategy sorted! 

As the climb initially gets steeper, I start getting really excited as there are 5 runners running reasonably close together, who all of a sudden are less than 200 metres ahead of me.  (Although the closeness of the group was actually due to the steepness of the climb.  They were probably still two minutes ahead.)  I begin to subtract 5 away from 13, my current position.  A position of eight is the answer.  This seems totally unbelievable, and looking back now, I think that this calculation was the start of me slowing down.  The focus returned back to the destination, rather than the journey, and then instead of getting a positive response for the eighth place, it was more like a negative response, in that a top ten finish was just not possible.  I must have gone too hard, I'm bound to 'die', I better run cautiously to protect this good race position I am currently in!  Yes, looking back now, it just shows that my preparation wasn't totally complete.  I needed to ignore thinking about race finish placings and needed to get back to the present moment!  I did in brief patches, but not like the totally continuous 'being in the now' that had occurred throughout the first nearly five hours of the race!

Just as I reach the top of the climb, where the gradient flattens out, I am overtaken by Dachhiri Sherpa, previous winner of UTMB, and 2nd place finisher in the previous IAU World Trail Champs back in 2009.  I simply accept that he is better than me and that he should be ahead of me, rather than relishing at the opportunity to run alongside such a great runner!  A second runner, this time from Argentina overtakes me, good he is perceived as a 'nobody' like me, so I decide to stay with him.  We make our way reasonably close together down over some rocks first, then some firm grass, then some bog, before getting onto the flatter and slightly downhill gravel track though the woods to checkpoint 5 at 60 kilometres.  I am met by a really positive, enthusiastic, but totally professional Andy Smith our Assistant Team Manager.  He is all prepared and has my contents of my drop bag ready for me.  He has a really good manner, saying the right things, giving off loads of positive energy.  I rapidly drink some Coca cola, and then we run out of the checkpoint together as I drink most of the contents of a water bottle, with the remainder going over my head, before handing the bottle to Andy so as to not litter the countryside.  Throughout the day the temperature had been ideal. Not too hot, even though the sun was frequently out, but with a cooling breeze up on the mountain tops, but not too cold that I needed to get out my 'flash' Montane jacket.

I depart the last checkpoint with the chap from Argentina directly on my tail.  For the next 15 - 20 minutes he exactly follows me over the grass fields and then up an extremely demanding boggy uphill section.  Whenever I briefly slow to a walk, he walks behind he,  When I recommence running, he does the same.  We climb over a stile onto a gravel road, for a slight gentle downhill and then some undulations for the next 3 - 4 kilometres.  He immediately attacks and runs away from me.  I am unable to stay with him, mainly because I begin to focus on the finish and my 15th place.  I soon reach a 5km to go sign, and for the first time during the race I look behind.  I have a clear view back along the gravel road for around 2 kilometres, there is absolutely no one in sight.  This has a slowing affect on me, as there is simply no reason now to run hard, as by now with only 5km to go, my focus is solely about the destination, rather than the journey.  I do what I 'preach' to others not to do.  I start counting down the kilometres to the end!  Again illustrating how my preparation was not complete.  This should not happen.  I should be better prepared than this!

The course leaves the gravel road to cross around two kilometres of fields, before the final one kilometre gentle descent along smooth paths down to the finish.  As I make my way up the final small climb I ask one of the I think around 60 Army guys who have been fantastic at marshaling the course, whether there is anyone in sight.  He confirms, absolutely no one is visible, so as I drop down into the village, passing many walkers I take in all of their acknowledgements, and simply enjoy the remainder of this most amazing journey wearing my first GB vest.  I run around the village green and cross under the finish banner in a relaxed and very satisfied state, in a time of 7 hours 10 minutes and 42 seconds, in a finishing position of 15th place.

I am welcomed in by Team Manager Anne and she is really pleased for me.  The TV cameras appear and I am interviewed.  I have no idea what I said, all I can remember saying are words like, fantastic, great, awesome!  As although there were times during the race that I lost the 'being present' enjoyment state, these moments were quite infrequent.  So overall I was extremely pleased with my performance!

Six minutes after I have finished, Julian is the next runner to finish, in 16th place (7:16:50), shortly followed by Dan from Ireland in 17th place (7:19:18).  Julian had pretty well run an exact opposite strategy to my fast start, and was really running strongly right to the finish, overtaking loads of runners coming back for the turnaround point.  You can access an excel file where I have analysed the results a bit by clicking HERE.  There were timing mats at kilometre distances of 12, 28, 40, 48, 60, and at the finish.  My race position at the 6 points in the race was: 25, 17, 12, 13, 14, ending 15th.  Quite a contrast to Julian: 48, 40, 34, 27, 19, ending 16th!  This simple data just confirms that there is not one race strategy that fits all!  You have to experiment and learn, discover what strategy works best for you!  There is some good banter as I suggest that Julian should read my UltraStu blog, as if he had started faster, he would have finished heaps higher up.  He doesn't agree, he is totally confident in his approach, and that is really all that matters.  The take home message here is that whatever you do, you must have the belief that it is the best approach for you!

Allen Smalls is my next team mate to finish, in 29th place (7:39:47), then Craig Stewart in 35th place (7:47:00).  I learn that Andrew unfortunately had to pull out of the race, due to aggravating a hamstring injury.  An extreme disappointment for him, as well as being disappointing for the whole team, as I have mentioned earlier, there was a real genuine sense of camaraderie within the GB team.  There is equally disappointment as I discover that Karen Rushton, a member of the GB women's team, also has had to withdraw from the race.

However, the whole GB team gets the great news that Lucy has moved into 3rd place and she isn't too far away from finishing.  A few minutes later, she appears in the finishing straight, still a total bundle of positive energy, complete with a massive smile.  She crosses the finish line in 3rd place (42nd overall) in a time of 7:57:20, and there are hugs all around.  The entire GB team share the enjoyment of her success!  The runners continue to finish over the next few hours, with the demands of the course being clearly evident on many, with most runners totally covered in mud.  However, what I have found common at ultra trail races, although the course is usually mega demanding and really pushes each and every runner to the limit, within minutes of cross the line, the amount of positive energy that is evident amongst the runners, totally belies just challenging the race has been.  The other two runners of the GB women's team, Adela Salt and Heather Foundling-Hawker finish in 18th (90th) place (9:36:40) and  24th (103rd) place (10:38:24) respectively.

Well, I have finally made it to the end of my IAU World Trail Championships race report.  I think the excessive length of the this report is a true reflection of just what a great occasion the whole Great Britain representation experience has been.  Whilst typing the above, I have learnt alot about myself in terms of how my mind 'works', about what motivates me, about what is required for me to be satisfied with myself and for me to experience immense enjoyment.  Reflecting on my experience has further strengthened by beliefs that the body and mind are NOT separate identities, they are totally intermixed!  Acceptance of this fact therefore reinforces the need for TOTAL preparation, in order for a satisfying performance to eventuate.  Hopefully within my rather lengthy reflections on a truly amazing experience of running for Great Britain, that there aspects that you can take out and apply to YOURSELF, to assist you in getting as much enjoyment as possible from your trail running!

Time to sign off with some thanks!  Firstly a hugh thank you to the entire GB team that I was part of at Connemara.  In no particular order, a sincere thanks to my fellow runners Allen, Craig, Andrew, Julian, Karen, Adela, Heather, and last but definitely not least Lucy!  Thank you so very much for making me feel such a welcome member of the Great Britain team, even with my Kiwi accent!  An equally huge thanks to Andy for your extremely well organised and totally professional support during the weekend.  Your ability to understand runners, to give them a gentle hurry up when needed, but to respect that runners like to do things often in their own specific way.  Your understanding, your commitment, but most of all your outflowing of positivity was very much appreciated.  To Anne and Norman Wilson, thank you very much for the much work you put in behind the scenes, to ensure that the whole trip runs smoothly.  Without this background work, the positivity and unity within the team, which contributes massively to the success of the team would not be so evident.  Although the race organisers and all of their loads and loads of helpers, are not likely to be reading my blog, but they really deserve the largest thanks of all, as without their huge commitments, the whole tremendous experience described above just would not have happened.  So a hugh thanks to you all.

Well, after making my blog read like a Grammy or Oscars ceremony, it is definitely time to sign off, and to keep tonight's post short, I will sign off without a quote!

From a very satisfied Great Britain International runner, see you at a race somewhere, sometime.  Do say hello.

Thanks for reading,


Sunday, 10 July 2011

IAU World Trail Championships - Connemara, Ireland - Quick Update


Just a very quick update on yesterday's IAU World Trail Championships that took place in Connemara, Ireland.  The race website is currently down, (now back up and working fine), however the race results can be found on the following link:  Race Results

The race was absolutely awesome, a real experience running in a Great Britain vest, as displayed in the photo above, taken by the Irish Team Manager Tony Brennan, shortly after the start of the first climb up Diamond Hill, where, when this photo was taken, I was in sixth place! 

Yes, I adopted my usual strategy, "Run as fast as you can , while you can" and was actually leading the race for a wee while, and reached the start of the first tough climb after 5 km in 3rd place.  As you can probably imagine, quite an exciting experience!  I then settled down into a more realistic pace, and just enjoyed the very demanding boggy and mountainous course.  I ended up finishing in 15th place overall, out of a total field of 131 starters.  I was the first Great Britain team member to finish in a time of 7:10:42.  Other male team finishers were Julian Rendall 7:16:50 (16th), Allen Smalls 7:39:47 (29th), and Craig Stewart 7:47:00 (35th).  Unfortunately Andrew James (Highland Fling winner) had to pull out due to a hamstring injury, aggravated as a result of an extremely boggy and slippery course.

The British Womens team was led home by a fantastic 3rd Place by Lucy Colquhoun in a time of 7:57:20, followed by Adele Salt 9:36:40 (18th), and Heather Foundling-Hawker 10:38:24 (24th),  Also, unfortunately Karen Rushton had to pull out.

Overall an amazing experience.  Race report to follow later this week.


Tuesday, 5 July 2011

This Saturday - BBC4 Trailblaze and IAU World Trail Challenge

Hi Again

Wow!  This Saturday is a 'double header'! 

At 6:07am on radio BBC4 there is a 23 minute programme titled "Trailblaze on the South Downs", part of the weekly Open Country series.  Back in April I had a post about the new Trailblaze concept that involves running along some of the National Trails, including the South Downs, with an electronic 'dibber' to see "How far can you go?".  During my Trailblaze run in April, starting at Eastbourne, I only managed to reach the 40km mark at Housedean Farm.  Such is the appeal of the Trailblaze concept, there was the desire to run further.  So around 2 weeks ago, starting early in the morning at 5:24am, I managed this time to reach the 56km mark at Devils Dyke.  You can view my results on the Trailblaze website by clicking can also see the GPS trace on GarminConnect, where the elevation profile shows that it wasn't really a flat run!

Back to the headline news, yes this Saturday BBC4 are doing a feature on the apparent controversy surrounding the new scheme!  Yes, believe it or not, but there is quite a vocal group campaigning against the Trailblaze scheme, who are fighting for the small white dibber boxers, located along the trails to be removed.  They have even set up an opposition website using a nearly identical website address.  Click to see the opposition website!

So BBC4 decided to investigate the controversy, and in order to get a balance of opinion regarding the scheme, they needed a runner.  Hence where I stepped in!  Yes, I was the example runner, totally in favour of the scheme, with the strong belief that anything that encourages more people to get out into the countryside to appreciate the amazing outdoors which Britain is privileged to posses, must be a worthwhile project.  So that is what I told the BBC4 reporter Helen a few weeks back, as she attempted to run the start of the South Downs Way, unfortunately for her up the steep climb to the top of Beachy Head.  As you would expect trying to interview me whilst jogging beside me proved a wee bit difficult, so we soon stopped, turned around, and enjoyed the awesome view overlooking Eastbourne as she continued the interview.  I can't remember exactly what we chatted about, but after standing and then walking a bit more along the South Downs Way, she took the easy option, climbed into her car, to leave me to run the short (but to her, the rather long) 4 miles along the trail, to Birling Gap, where we continued discussing the merits of the Trailblaze scheme.

So to get the full picture surrounding the Trailblaze scheme, and apparent controversy, make sure you tune in, this Saturday, radio BBC4, at 6:07am!

Will I be tuning in to listen?  No, definitely not!  As at around that exact time, I will be doing my final preparations for my first International race running for Great Britain.  The 44 mile IAU World Trail Challenge, taking place in Connemara, Ireland, which starts at 7:00am.  My preparation has gone well.  The last two weeks has been all about the TOTAL preparation necessary to perform with success during Ultra Trail races, as I talked about during my recent presentation as part of the Lakeland  100/50 recce weekend.  So I have been looking at my own presentation slides, and ensuring that my preparation is TOTAL, and that I haven't missed any key aspects.

So as I look forward to being on the start line, alongside 83 other male runners from 20 countries, I am really excited about running against some of the best ultra trail runners in the World.  I don't think that you will be able to follow the race live, however, if I can get internet access in Ireland I will put a quick update on how the race went on my UltraStu blog on the Saturday.  Otherwise, hopefully the official race website will publish the results soon after the race is complete.

Last month when I announced my selection in the Great Britain and Northern Ireland team, I mentioned that there would be a post regarding the long journey from joining Hutt Valley Harriers in 1977 as a 14 year old, to gaining international selection as an Ultra Trail runner as a 48 year old!  Many apologies, but the story of my journey will have to be now even longer, to include the 44 mile journey around Connemara!  Hopefully within the next week or so I will have time to share my experiences with you, especially including the next few days in Ireland, which should be Ultra special!

Time to sign off with some current thoughts:  "Too often it is easy to accept that one's ability is lacking, and to be comfortable with what 'cards one has been dealt'.  However, 'the hand you end up with' is totally within one's own control, and is largely determined by the ability to question, to reflect, but most of all to persevere and to look deeply within at oneself, to develop the confidence, to possess the self belief, that more can be achieved, to extend oneself beyond the norm!"

May you all develop the confidence, and possess the self belief, to excel!