Tuesday, 18 February 2020

Sands Charity - Give What You Can

I was hesitant whilst thinking about moving forward with this.  I've wanted to raise funds for Sands Charity for quite sometime, although feel that we are always being asked to donate to this and that, and to sponsor people for all sorts of things. 

Well - a month or so ago, I decided to commit to trying to raise a least £2000 towards the incredible, and much needed Sands Charity (Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Charity).  Our daughter Poppy would have been 18 years old this year, and not a day goes by without her being in our thoughts.  Its a terribly sad and distressing time for the thousands of parents that go through this, and without the non-government funded help from Sands, I think many people would just never get their lives back on track.

I'm running four ultra's this year in memory of our daughter and to raise funds and awareness.  The events are:

14th March - Coast to Coast 60 miles (a personal aim to run over 4 mountain ranges with freinds, with around 18,000ft of gain, sub 24 hours)

27th June - Ultra Dolomites - 60 miles of steepup in the mountains of Cortina.

11th July - GB Beacons Ultra - 100 mile of mountains and sunshine, with around 22,000ft of gain.

5th Sept' - GB Snowdon Ultra 100 mile of mountains and harsh conditions - around 30,000ft of gain.

I guess that is otherwise know as quite a tough year (lots of training, family and work along the way!).

The link to my fundraising page is in the Just Giving icon on the side of my page there (and here: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/chris-davies81 ) - please take a peak and help if you can (a heart warming thanks in advance!).

Best wishes,


Wednesday, 23 October 2019

Another Season, Another Crazy Ride.

Time seems to slip by faster and faster, as the years come and go.  This year in-particular has simply flown.  It doesn't seem that long ago at all that I ran my first Snowdon Ultra, and now I'm reflecting on the second edition, having also ran two other ultra events this year.  After the success of the first Snowdon 100 in 2018, deciding to up the anti for 2019 seemed like such a good plan, with an eye on securing enough points to enter the 2020 UTMB lottery.  Well, the best made plans and all of that!  I also managed to slot sometime jogging over in Sri Lanka whilst away with work, which was an incredible experience - more travel plans with running are much needed - definitely mind expanding!

Some of the most incredible views I've ever had - worldwide.  Sri Lanka.

After turning my ankle for the second time back in February, I lost out on the GB Ultra Chester 50 Mile, and was absolutely gutted about that, as I was running as well as I ever have.  This was a very last minute entry, and in hindsight I probably wasn't completely ready for the distance, as I had only just got stuck into training for the season ahead.  Not to be put off track, along popped an opportunity to run the GB M2L 50 instead.  This is a crazy little race, beginning at the gateway to Old Trafford in Manchester and then running along the Trans-Pennine Trail to Aintree in Liverpool. Its a slightly industrial affair in comparison to the standard mountain jog, although a cool course with a really diverse feel (proper North West culture along the way).  The juxtaposition between the tranquillity of the rivers and trails, quiet canal ways and sunshine, coupled with motorways, arguments heard from back-gardens and kids smoking under flyovers is a recipe for an interesting run.   This is also a great course to get a 50 mile PB if your keen.

Jolly in the heat of the day, M2L 50.  

I was really hoping for sub-9 hours on this and was going super good, with a PB marathon, and a PB  55km before lunch.  This was scuppered however, with the heat of the day reaching 27degrees by early afternoon, so the speed dropped and I finished in 10hrs 29mins - not the best outcome, but I got to spend the the last 10 miles or so with Siobhan P and another guy who's name has slipped my mind, all taking it in turns to heave here and there, and to moan about the 'straight line' nature of the last few miles (just give me a hill, for gods sake.  Just anything to break it up!!).  All in though, a real 'good' feel event, and great to get a 50 in the bag for training purposes.

The focus then became the GB Beacons Way Ultra 100 (Race Across Wales), and the task of trying to squeeze in around 100,000ft of altitude training, and the chore of recce'ing 100 miles of the South Wales mountains, fells and countryside, before the race.

The Beacons Ultra 100

I'm a firm believer in the practice of getting to know the intricacies of a race course, for various reasons.  Running 100 miles is tough enough when you do know where you are going, never mind when you don't.  There will always be a time when you literally forget where you are going, and perhaps where you have been (!) due to fatigue and old age, although you have to give your self the best possible chance.  Also, and more importantly for me, I like to split my routes up into 'mentally manageable' sections.  If you are purely focused on the beginning and then the end, its so tough.  I really feel that to have four or five clearly defined sections helps so much, and until the final throws you are never truly thinking about those last few miles - you are just focused on the smaller job in hand, and what it will take to complete than task before moving on to the next one.

Recce'ing the Beacons Ultra - running well in the hills of South Wales

Unfortunately for me, I didn't quite finish the race.  My wheels fell off at mile 92 due to severe dehydration and sickness that had been plaguing me for around 60 miles.  I remember vividly thinking at mile 26, as I ate a warm beef taco from my Dads crew station, that it was probs' a bad idea. I'd made them the day before, and with the complete lack of refrigeration and a hot and sunny June day, I kinda forgot the rules of food hygiene.  Food poisoning kicked in around 3 hours later, and the rest was history.  Funnily enough, whilst I was in my 60+ mile 'pain cave' I couldn't pin-point what was causing me all of the issues.  Basically, I was bringing everything that I ate back up, and could not seem to drink at all - I simply couldn't stomach anything.

I've never wanted to be the 'Guy that People Try and Get Away From' in a race, but I was definitely in that bracket.  Despite trying not to winge about how terrible it all was, I couldn't help myself!  Running partners came and went (mostly, they went).  Luckily for me, good friend and White Giant media guy, James Hutchinson appeared on the top of Pen Y Fan to ensure I was still alive, and then heroically, top bloke Adam Groves decided he would pace me from mile 52 to 68 through the night.  Without that, I would have finished 52 miles in, so I'm forever grateful for that.

When the wheels have well and truly fallen off, and your being sick on your shoes...

I still thoroughly enjoyed the mountain sections though, despite all of this and did manage to enjoy running up the Pen y Fan range also later on the Black Mountain range (simply stunning).  These sections where the only times where I felt any kind of flow.  I feel solidly at home in the mountains, where ever I may be, and have put a lot of time into 'getting good' at technical running. It was such a breath of fresh air to be able to forget the challenges that I was facing.  Just to run freely and feel the air rush through your hair, the breeze on your face.  To embrace the environment, and to flow along the trails up in the mountains was a pure joy.  I learnt so much about my own capabilities up there.  I stopped after summiting the first two peaks at around 42 miles, and had a fit of being violently ill.  I was on my hands and knees, with darkness and the mist falling, with no-one around for miles.  I wondered for a while what would happen if I couldn't stop. It wasn't a worrying thought - just a fleeting question pondered for a second or two, up there in the fog.  I came about after that, and ran again, actually overtaking several people along the way which was quite refreshing.  The morning bought with it renewed energy for the next mountain range, and a better stomach that was able to take in basic calories.

Despite now being able to eat a small amount, it was on the leg into the final check point that I really did have to make a decision to stop.  I'd had quite an emotional phone call with my wife. Ellie, a couple of miles prior.  When your crying into your phone, surrounded by horse flies, above a climb from a country lane back into the mountains, you know that all is not well.  I was trying to find positives and to remind my self of the reasons that I had pushed so hard for over these miles.  I decided at this point that I had to make a decision for my health, although I made the vow to move through the last of the mountains, and have this as a focus for the end of my race.  During the last 10 miles, I stopped sweating, and completely dried up despite the heat.  My clothes where covered in salt deposits, so again - not a great sign of longevity.  I realised that I had been running on empty for the best part of 80 miles at this stage, and for my health the only option was to hand in my tracker.

I made it to CP 10, at mile 92, knowing that my race had come to an end.  This was my first experience of having to dig deeper than I thought possible, and despite the DNF, I was really quite proud of myself for over coming so much.  100 milers have been described many a time as 'A Year in a Day'.  This had been mine, with some extremely valuable lessons learnt.  When you have been at the bottom of the ladder, the only way is up...

GB Snowdon Ultra 100

After reflecting on the Beacons, my main thoughts where that I hadn't trained hard enough, and hadn't put myself under enough hardship on big runs as I had before the 2018 Snowdon Ultra.  I think it important before a long-distance mountain event to put yourself through some real physical and mental trials up in wild areas.  I don't think I had done enough for the Beacons, and there was no way on earth I was going to DNF again in the same year.  Doing things like double traverses of the Carneddau, running the 15 Peaks, hill repeats of Moel Eilio and Elidir Fawr at 4am (quite a few times) are activities that make you question yourself.  These training runs are exactly what you need to complete 100 miles well, in the north Welsh mountains.  Running marathons every weekend in the woods and the hills, throwing in 30 and 40 miles here and there for good measure. This is what leads to enjoying long races.

Training harder for the Snowdon 100.  Wet and cold early mornings are what is required!

So, that is exactly what I made myself do for the Snowdon 2019 - lots of things like this, in all weathers, mostly in the early hours of the morning.  People do comment on that, like  - why would you get up at 4am to go run in the rain in the hills?  I think 'why wouldn't you!'.  If I get out to run, and there are cars all over the place, and people on the tops before I get there, I truly feel that I've missed the boat.  To be the first out, up on the trails with the sun coming up on your heals is a magical thing.  If no sunshine, embracing the dawn through the rain and the clouds is also a liberating feeling.  It's so peaceful there in those moments, and I know that this for me is such an important part of why I choose to run away from the roads and the business of life.  Moving through the forests, listening to the wildlife being unconcerned with people, climbing up the mountains and running down with all of this around you is simply incredible.  Its almost shattered when you do finally bump into somebody, although a chat and a 'hello' is always kinda welcome too!

Running Solo, Day Break 

Running 100 miles is similar to this, which is why I think I like the distance so much.  When you get into the groove, and get those solo miles along the way, its a head-space like no other.  You can't look for it, or expect it to happen.  Its a peculiar thing that dawns on you after a while and by surprise, and then you realise that you are ' in it'.  I love that.  Whether you are running in a forest or around a lake by yourself in the darkness, or if you have teamed up with a few others - once that feeling has found you, it stays with you until the end of the journey.  It's funny as well, that you always team up with the right people!  Snowdon this year was full of this feeling, and these characters, and it made for such a special event.

The first 10 miles was great, although then for the next 20 I had pretty much a terrible time.  I was struggling to get into the race. and wasn't feeling 'up for it', which I hadn't expected at all.  I couldn't focus on the race, and was thinking about the last few miles before I'd even began, and also thinking about how much effort I knew it would take to make it to the finish line.  I had serious words with myself on top of the Glyderau and reminded my self that I was lucky to able to do this, that I wanted to make my kids proud and also - I really wanted to get those points for the UTMB (oh, the shallowness of the ultra!)!  Importantly - I very much needed to prove to myself that my first Snowdon 100 wasn't just luck.  I needed to know that this was something that I could continue to achieve and finish, and that the distance for me is a constant.

Having far to much fun - not trying hard enough obviously!

Seeing family and friends at mile 30 was the turning point, as was the ascent of Pen y Ole Wen.  Most people cringe at the thought of one of the steepest trails in North Wales-  I love it!  Once you get to know the mountain, you really can enjoy this one, and moving alongside Tim, Paddy and Rhys, it was just incredible fun.  This is where I knew I would finish - 32 miles in on the side of a mountain, with a team of nutbags.  I began making mental plans then for moving on out at the half-way point.  What I was going to eat, was I going to catch 40 winks, what was my strategy for the last 50 miles.  Once the mental plans are laid, all you have to do is stick to them, so I did.

In a nutshell, mistakes where made and I did find myself on taking the wrong turn twice costing nearly two hours, despite knowing that I was making a mistake at the time (I went with it anyway - whats that all about!?).  I also really wish that I had moved faster and pushed myself more.  It was a difficult balance, as I had started the race with a view to simply finishing, although along the way that changed and I wanted to do well.  I should have ran faster more often.  I thought a lot about this along the way, analysing what I was doing as though I was looking into myself from a spectators viewpoint.  I was struggling to work out how much energy to use, as I wanted to ensure that I was keeping enough in the tanks for the mountains coming up over the course.  Its a difficult juggle, although I'm sure that with this experience, I know now that I can perform better - I guess you just have to learn things.  It was also nice to have spent time with Tim Welch, who I'd met at the Beacons Way CP 10 - a top guy with so many stories.

One of the high sections that got edited out due to weather.  A shame - I love this section!

As I said earlier - fate has quite a hand in 100 mile races, and we just seem to fall into step along the way.  It was nice to see the finishing line in, although Tim - I'm sure that I came in a few minutes before you!?  To have got in within my planned time of 36 hours would have been icing on the cake, but at the end of the day, just to finish was amazing in itself.  The bright lights of Betws Y Coed where also way to much after so much time on the trails and one of the longest nights ever.  Its a funny thing to adjust to, coming to the end of an experience like this, although also a wonderful thing to embrace.

Thanks so much to all of the volunteers and the marshals to where up longer than I was, and who spent an incredible amount of time up on the mountains tops directing lost souls.  Also, to the A-Team crew, Ellie and Adam and Tom (impossible without you guys!) and to my parents for catching up along the way.  Pot Noodles rock, and so do Yorkie biscuits.  Time to plan the next trauma.

Monday, 11 March 2019

Another Year, Fresh Goals.

It's been a fair while since my last blog, as life has been busier than usual (if that was even possible!).  It was hard for me to get back up into the mountains after the 100, mostly to do with 'real-life' kicking in and also the Welsh winter coming about.  I dedicated a huge amount of time to prepare for the Snowdon Ultra, and I think I held quite a lot of things at bay whilst training.  It was inevitable that once the race was ran, all would come crashing back in, ten-fold.

Running became quite sporadic, with sometimes 10 miles a week, other times 30.  Also - distances where all over the place. My longest run a month after the ultra was 18 miles, although that was a complete mistake.  I miscalculated the distance by 80% (how!?).  I kept the distances low after this, as on that run, I felt really weak mentally.  I remember being at mile 10, and realising that I had another 8 miles to run.  I could just about manage it, as I had a major wall that I just could not shake off until the final mile.  When your surrounded by mountains, and the only way back to the car is to move, that is not a great place to be.

Up above once again, on a dawn run.  Foel Grach with Tom.  Photo.  Tommy Belle Hughes

I took it easy for a month or so after this building up again to 22 miles in the hills, as I needed the time in my head to think about what I was doing now.  You read a lot about people that have ran a major ultra, and then fallen off the radar.  I was concerned that I might fall into that bracket.  The 100 had been such a focus that now it was done, would I still have the drive and the focus to enjoy not only the easy sunny days out, but also the hard work days - the sessions that leave you drained and cold.  It was quite a question, and I thought about that a lot.  As it happens, it was just a case of needing time - this was my first 100 miler, and a brutal one at that.  I wasn't really aware of how much it would take out of me, although all good things come back around in time.

The Wall.  Not feeling it towards Crimpiau, 10 miles in.  Only 8 miles out on my guesstimation.  Ouch!
To get things back on track (no pun intended!), I figured the best port of call was to focus on new challenges, which is what I have always done really, in all aspects of my life.  I began by entering the premier 100 mile 'Beacons Way Ultra', and also the 2nd edition of the Snowdon Ultra 100 (like, why not right?).  It just felt like the right time for me to get running and training again.  The Snowdon Ultra should be awesome this year, and I'm planning on running this with my partner in crime, Tommy, who paced me last season.  We are also running the Welsh 1000's, GB24 and I'm also thinking about the UTS 50 (just for the training)..

Its always helpful for my motivation to have a date in the calendar, as without this, it's just to easy to meander on aimlessly.  The GB races now have ITRA points attached to them, and my aim for 2020 is to try and get through the ballot to run the iconic UTMB.  Between the 100's I should get 12 points, so I'll need another 50 miler during the summer somewhere.  The UTS has 4 points attached to that, so this could be the one.  I'd also love to run the Lavaredo Trail, but we will see (wallet and all that!).  I just really feel that I need to get more experience under my belt in organised, although unmarked Ultra events, so that I can plan some of my own solo adventures overseas, for 2021.  That's the attraction for me.

A beauty of a hidden old trail, right on the stomping ground.  A mini-adventure of about ten minutes or so, but magical despite the limited duration.
Mileage is now being ramped up slowly using the schedule below.  The shorter miles are mostly road  and short (steep) fell, with the longer (10 plus) being mountain and forest based. Its massively important to replicate the terrain as close as is possible (running the course sections over and over,if you have access).  Again, this time of year, the forestry here in North Wales is so handy as its more accessible in bad weather, and you can get good running miles in, as well as some good gain.

Back on it, shortly before a grinding turn to the ankle two weeks ago.  Always good when your a fair hobble away from the vehicle.

Nothing beats the actual mountains though, and it's beginning to feel like they are opening up again once more.  With some good steep runs in this week (especially today's Carneddau jog at 14 miles with a good amount of altitude gain) it is all falling in to place and I'm slowly feeling stronger, and also getting faster in the mountain ranges.

Tommy leading the way.  Lovely weather jogging up along Llyn Bochlwyd.  Come on Sunshine!

So, I guess watch this space.  Along with the official events, I have a few plans for some awesome solo ultra challenges.  Tom has also cooked up some 50+ mile craziness with over 16000 ft of gain, which should come about towards the end of the spring.  I keep looking at the map of the route, and shudder each time - I already know how it is going to feel - I can already sense the Doom that will show its face here and there I'm sure!

Onward and upwards, 'Run Steep, Run Steeper' is this years moto.

*footnote:  So I totally fucked my ankle two weeks ago (I wrote this two weeks ago and forgot to publish!).  I'm back running, although have missed two weeks training and am stuck on the roads and forestry for another three week, until I get back to full straighten.  I've a 26 miler planned for the weekend, but will have to stay in the valleys and the woods.  We'll see how that goes!

Dawn speed walking, hoping to heal rapidly!  Nearly there now - another three weeks.

Thanks to New Balance, Patagonia and Ombraz Sunglasses for the support.

Friday, 5 October 2018

GB Snowdon Ultra 100.

03.00am, Betws y Coed, Mile 53.

I was sitting in a green camping chair, with my head in my hands.  Inwardly, I was battling with the decision of whether to head back out and to carry on with the next 50 miles, or to call this quits.  I had my crew (Ellie, Adam and Tom) offering advice, options and food choices; none of which I could really take in or begin to process.  I was tired and confused, cold, nauseous and had no idea what to do.  I remember vividly a piece of pasta on a fork in my bowl, and remember wondering how I should go about eating it.  I found the same fork in the boot of my car, three days later.  The piece of pasta was still on it, although I had decided to move on.


It's always the same with my long runs.  I'm concerned all week, and then when I wake up on the day, I always feel very calm.  The first 18 miles went really well, chatting along the way and finding pace.  Enjoying the atmosphere and generally thinking about how strange it was to have other people to run alongside.  Usually I run long-distance solo (or with Tom), so this was bizarre.   After coming up and over Heather Terrace and getting a good, fast and fun decent down to PyG, with a busy time up on Snowdon, it was nice to make it to a far quieter section of the Miners Track, with just a few spread out runners dotting the trail, in-between downpours.

Someone at work asked me if this run was flat.  Here's a collection of maybe a third of the lumps that we ran over.

Its incredible how much you focus on the two meters in front of your feet.  Looking down as you run along tough terrain for hours at a time requires some concentration.  I'd had some news the previous day, and suddenly found myself letting a single thought creep in.  I was heading down to PyG from Pen y Pass at the time, and all of a sudden I caught my toe at speed, and found myself flying through the air, waiting for the inevitable impact on the rocky path below me.  The impact was as painful as I'd anticipated, with an instant deep pain to the knee, with white 'something' exposed through the skin.  I could also see blood under my waterproof to my elbow, and decided not to investigate.  Sitting in the stream that had formed down the path, I assessed the damage, as I was sure that I had shattered something.  All I had in my mind was 'No - this is to soon into the day to have to bail', so I got up, and tentatively began firstly weighting my knee, then walking, before carefully jogging to a run.  I was up and off, and onto the next section - the Glyderau to the Carneddau.  Sometimes, you just need to deal with it.

I took it easy up to the Glyders, hiking with two guys that I'd met earlier on the way up Snowdon (Jasper and Steph) along with another small team.  Its quite a slow section up to the top here, although I love this initial area.  Not much in the way of running to be had, although when you reach the tops, and then the decent to Llyn y Cwn, that's a pretty cool 'down'!  Running on loose scree and marbles, down to the top of Devils Kitchen is always a fun ride, made all the more enjoyable this time around by having Preet Johal with his chocolate balls to hand just before the decent (amazing impromptu aid station!).

A good run along the shores of Llyn Idwal led to the CP before the dreaded (although awesome) ascent up the SW face of Pen Yr Ole Wen to gain entry into the Carneddau.  I was met with amazing support from the crew here (Ellie, Adam and my Dad), with a foot dry-out, vaseline and a dry pair of socks (lush!).  A couple of Beef Tacos later, it was time to hit P yr Ole Wen.  I had my first dark moment around half way up the mountain side here.  This was the first time I began to feel a bit tired (maybe 30 miles in), and for some reason I let myself think about the second loop, before I'd even finished the 50.  I'd ran with quite a few 50 mile runners that day, and was starting to really feel the severity of the undertaking.  These guys would already be done, way before my real race had began.  I really had to have words with myself here, dig deep, stem the self pity, eat and move on.  I hadn't trained for so long, and for so hard, to give up now just because it was 'getting a bit difficult'.

On the way up PyG, shortly before coming back down with a painful crash!

The ascent was short lived, and once at the top, it was run time!  Moving quickly along and up Carnedd Dafydd with Steph ( a superb marathon runner), and then around the majestic rim of Ysgolion Duon, to the semi-ascent of Carnedd Llewleyn, before trending rightwards along the contour to hit the descent ridge to the peak of Pen Yr Helgi Di.  It was nice to get a bit of speed, as I was hoping to have beat the darkness before the scramble up to the final peak of the first 50.  Unfortunately, darkness came quite swiftly, along with thick mist and far colder conditions.  There was some confusion amongst quite a team of runners that had converged at the base of Yr Helgi Di, with the majority choosing to go lower, along the Braich trail.  I knew that this wasn't the course route, so lit with the headtorch, I opted to climb the 50 metres or so of scramble above the ridge to the peak (along with Jasper, Steph and Christian Maleedy).  Slightly gnarly (!), but good solid fun none the less!

Getting back to the road after a nice jog down, was where the first dry heave hit.  I made headway to the CP where the volunteers here amazing as always, and Ellie and Adam where there to sort me out once again.  I really needed hot food now, so at 21.30, chicken soup was a dream as was the pasta.  It took a long time before I could get any food down, so took it bit by bit, until things straightened out.   Moving off and leaving Ellie was tough, but once out of the CP (Gwern Gos Isaf), I finally hit pace, got some tunes on and began the run along the old A5 into Capel Curig and up towards the lakes.  It was here that I met Gareth.

Gareth was walking at this point with about 10 miles to go of the 50.  He had a proper speed-walking pace on, and we got talking.  He was unsure of the route to Crafnant, so I decided (as I was in no hurry really), team up to the first lake, via Crimpiau.  It was quite nice, as Gareth was fully focused on his own mental battle, so I carried on with music and just said to him to let me know if he wanted to talk.  After making it to the lake, I moved on as I'd visualised running along Crafnant solo, with Orbital on the headset.  I like sticking to a plan, so busted a 9' along the lakeside, enjoying the darkness, the wind and the light reflecting off the lake.  It was a full moon by this point, which was just amazing.  It's not very often that you are absolutely in the moment in life, although this was it - nothing at all, but moving.  No thoughts, no issues.  Just moving - plain and simple, and I was loving each and every second.

That didn't last long though, as  I had a bit of a moment after the CP here, and went the wrong way for 1.5 miles, as I just drifted off following another runner (who was ranting to himself in the night).

I clicked after a bit that I was off course, so cursed myself for my complacency, and ran back down hill for 1.5 miles, and finally to the entry point to the Geirionedd path, where once again, darkness surrounded me into the woods, before the the secondary lake appeared, along with Gareth, who had caught me up due to my additional miles issue!  It just made sense at the this point to walk it in, to enjoy the conversation and to see Gareth run across the finish line.  It was really cool to see his wife and kids' relief as he finally appeared after a proper long day out, after such a proud and hard effort on his behalf.

I had now lost a 4 hour lead time by now, and was on hour 21, mile 53.  I was pleased to be back in Betws and to see the crew, but the reality of the next 50 came seeping back in, to then hit me mentally full force.

After taking an hour here with Ellie and Adam getting me to eat, chatting with Tom, and grabbing 40 minutes sleep I woke up feeling clear, and focused.  I packed my running vest, topped up gels got my fresh trainers on and it was time to hit the trails.  I was feeling great as we ran into the new day rising, despite the cold rain. It was good to be moving again at a decent jog, and on making it to the CP at Trefriw, to have a chat with such a cool couple of volunteers was brilliant (Martin and Paul I think?) - peanut butter sndwiches for breakfast - wicked.  The climb up to Cowlyd Dam Road was a chore, but again - once you reach it, the run down is a cracker.  Cowlyd was as beautiful as always; with the sun filtering through the clouds, the rays seemed to stem hope for the day ahead and all of a sudden it was very clear to me I would finish this race for sure.

There's life out there Tom, but not as we know it.  Deep in thought at mile 60 something.

Arriving at Gwern Gos Isaf CP was great.  Despite my moment of clarity by the lake, it was great to see Ellie again for a hug, fresh coffee, and also - so glad that she had convinced me to let her pack my Hierro's just in case.  I'd pulled my flexor tendon and needed more mid-foot support.  I got these on, ate some foot, and then Tom and I (Tom was support running with me - awesome!) got our full winter kit on to bail into the mountains.  It was at this point that Adam (Gallimore) informed us of a route change due to fierce weather up on the tops. I was really mixed about this - both relieved and gutted at the same time.  I've ran up there in full winter conditions, so couldn't see the issue and had committed mentally, but also was grateful of a low level alternative.  To be honest, I find mountain running easier, and the thought of the long there and back stretch between Gwern Gos' and Bethesda didn't really thrill me (16 miles of slate trail and tarmac - grrrrrr!).

A nice break from the low level tarmac challenge on the Slate Trail from Ogwen Cottage to Gwen Gos Isaf,  Give me the high route any day of the week!

It was nice to see the other 100's along the way, with Ben and Craig having come down after completing the original Carneddau route (only four in total - I'm jealous guys!), and Dave, Christian, Matthew, Rodney and Marcus also along for the long ride to the distant finishing line.  It was only at this point did we (Tom and I) find out how many had dropped from the race, and that i was in  with a chance of doing quite well.  Wonders never cease.  There was a bit of confusion back at Gwern', where we where informed that we had to go back up towards Foel Goch to make up a couple of miles off the original route.  Mentally, after having prepared to run straight to Crafnant from here, I was kinda' destroyed by the news.  Beating a path to straight line it up was a killer psycholigically as I simply had not planned for this.  I had to really will myself to turn this around or lose the plot.  I took a second to reflect that i really lucky to be able to be doing this right now, and that despite it being a push to gain the 2000ft, it was actually a nice spot to be in for a bit.  Once I'd done that, I really enjoyed the run down, to rejoin the trail to Capel, and then onto the final loop of the lakes.

I found an incredible second wind on the way to Crafnant and much to Tom's suprise, burnt off into the distance (I was quite surprised myself).  Once past the final CP, we headed on to Geirinonedd, with which all of a sudden real fatigue kicked in. The last 7 miles over routes and stones, forestry roads and trails was just so difficult.  I think that as I was so close to finishing, mentally everything began to shut down, with my physical self following behind. I couldn't work out if I was running up hill, flat or down at one stage, and had to keep asking Tom if I should be working hard or not.  At mile 97, along the trails by the river into Betws, my mind was going haywire.  I've never been into hallucinogenics, and dabbles with Welsh mushrooms rarely went well in my youth.  I was seeing trees turning into witches, who began staring at me as I ran.  Smiling elfish faces on the stones under my feet, and my breath was freezing in front of my face and forming all sorts of weird shapes as I ran through the pines.  Tom was keeping me sane here, although also taking the piss big style!

Losing the plot in the woods.  Tommy taking the piss, and freaking me out did not help matters.  It was bit dark at this point.

The final mile, we ran.  Passed by Craig, Ben and Matthew despite trying to retain the pace (all way stronger than me!), we got in at bang on 40 hrs.  I had so many emotions, it was hard to recall how I felt.  Happiness, relief, pride, emptiness - so much going on in a head that had been so focused for so many hours.  On a basic level - it was overwhelming, although it was done - my first, brutal 100 mile ultra. Simply incredible.

I'd like to thank Ellie and Adam for the hours of dedicated support - best crew ever.  Tommy for running with me from half-way to the finish line (his first 50 mile run!!). My dad for his aid stationing on my solo, long training runs in the mountains and basically everyone for dealing with my obsessive nature over the last few months.  Thanks and respect to all of the volunteers throughout the event (most of  which must have been awake as long as the runners!), and to Wayne Drinkwater for organising such an incredible race.  GB Ultras (http://www.gbultras.com/) do such an incredible job. 

Also - a huge shout out to Graham and Nick at New Balance, for ensuring my feet where always well cared for along the countless training miles, and the race itself.  Shameless plug - grab yourself a pair of Summit Unknowns - 50 miles straight out of the box?  No problem!  Man - what a ride. What to do next??!!

The Buckle (sorry - THE BUCKLE!).

Monday, 2 July 2018

Solo 46.

So, I figured that if I couldn't run 50 miles solo by now, then I had no place aiming to run 100 in similar terrain in September.  With just 10 weeks of training left to go, it was time to test the metal.

I plotted the route out, which follows (pretty much) the last 50 miles of the GB Snowdonia Ultra, although attempting to be kind to myself I left out the final climb up Heather Terrace, which runs up and along side of Tryfan, Ogwen Valley.  My maping/route plan told me 49.84, and I figured that would be just about on the money.

I'd been stressing about the run all week, although I think that this was to do with a very busy work schedule, trying to be at home with the family, money worries etc. It all has an impact when your preparing for quite a physical and mental challenge, so I wasn't really in the best head space to be honest.  I kept thinking about the 9000ft of gain, the heat, the darkness in the forests with such an early start.  After getting through a pile of admin and seeing the kids off (thanks Ellie for arranging a sleep over for them!), I could finally concentrate on the task in hand.  Turning off the laptop, locking away thoughts of general life, i began sorting through and arranging my kit for the day.

A few hours later, I was eating my pre-run food, having a brew and reading before getting a few hours sleep (I'm currently reading 'North' by Scott Jurek - amazing!).  I always enjoy waking up at the place where I run from, so another car camp  and 4 hours sleep later, I was brewing coffee at 3am, on the edge of the Gwydir Forest.  Funnily enough, I slept solidly and woke up totally calm and ready.  Breakfast eaten, coffee chugged, it was time to head off into the woods and up onto the mountain tops.

I absolutely love starting a long run at this time of day. Getting out into the mountains, without a soul in sight - it's like the world has been put on hold for you, like you have been personally granted the chance once again to escape the masses, uninterrupted.   I always feel, that if I see the someone else to soon on, I have missed the boat and I've started my day to late on.

Waking up on the fringe of the Gwydir

Breakfast of Champions
I felt incredible that morning.  To ensure that I felt top form, I'd tapered as i had done for the Welsh 1000's, so with fresh legs after 102,000ft of training gain over the last three months, I knew I was up to the job.  The miles from Betws to Trefiw, up, down and along Llyn Cowlyd, before heading back to Capel Curig, and into the Ogwen just flew.  The power hike up Pen y Ole Wen was steep as it usual, but felt much less arduous.  Continuing through to Carnedd Gwenllian via Dafydd and Llewelyn was incredible.  i had such a hard time here maybe two months ago (both physically and mentally) whilst running the 15 Peaks, it was such a huge relief that this felt so good, and such a confidence builder.  You hit mile 26 pretty much around the peak of Berw Bach, on the decent down to Bethesda.  What a milestone, as you can look right back to where you have come from here, and also you can see the next huge leg of the journey ahead.

Stopping at the peak of Berw Bach for a bit, I remember having being asked 'what do you think about?'.  To be honest, I have no idea.  Thoughts come and go, you focus on your breath, your feet falling, moving forward and staying in the moment.  Time just comes and goes, as do the miles.  I like the simplicity.

Looking back over the last 26 miles.  Stunning.

Knowing that the climbing for the most part is done here was a boost. As I ascended down in to Bethesda to begin the run back into the Ogwen, the heat decided to turn itself up.  I had been going so well, with the first 28 miles in the bag within 6 hours, that I assumed this would be done under 11.  No such luck.  I was running in pretty much 28 degree heat, with no shade, which slowed things quite considerably.  making to Ogwen Cottage at mile 31 was a huge relief!  My dad had rocked up in the form on an aid station, so food and cold coca-cola was heavenly.  Unfortunately I puntered the intake, and ended up with 5 miles of heartburn (I actually convinced myself I was having a heart attack here, although realised that its probably quite difficult to move for 5 miles with that going on!).  Without my dad doing this, it would have been such a long time to go without any support - big ups man!

Again, due to the heat, and blowing the nutrition (so much to learn about nutrition!), the last few miles where so much slower with walk/run strategy to combat the sun, and the dry heaving.  I stopped to chat for a while with a couple of local ultra-runners, who mentioned that they where doing the Porthmadog-Conwy 50 Race the following week.  It was good to get my chain of thought broken up, and to have only my second conversation of the day was really nice.  It's also good to know that not everyone is looking at you like you are crazy!!  Getting to the final 3 miles through the woods was incredible, although quite hard work.  It was extremely frustrating, as my mind and legs felt in top condition, although the stomach issues where a complete hindrance.

 All in all, this took me around 12.5 hrs, and nailed 46 miles.  It's funny, as with all of my years of climbing I was never that competitive (well maybe a bit!), but with my running; if I know that i should have done better, and that a faster time was possible, I get really annoyed.  All going well, this should have been sub-11hrs.  So, I'm going to do it again in a couple of weeks, just to prove a point to myself.  Its such a beautiful run, why wouldn't you?!

A Brief Upate!

Its been a while since I last wrote, due to work, family, training etc.  Its been a particularly busy couple of months since the 3000's, although training has continued as always!

Sleeping in the wagon, the view the night before the 1000s Fell Race.  Incredible that the course runs up there!

A few weeks back, I ran the Welsh 1000's fell race, as a pair with Tom, which very nearly went incredibly well.  The aim was to get within the top three, although due to Tom suffering really badly from thigh cramps for around 10 miles (10 miles!), we had to move slightly slower finishing in 6th overall (which is still pretty good going, and a proud effort of Tom's behalf!).

The first climb out of Aber up to Gwenllian

The race takes in all of the Welsh peaks that sit over 1000 metres, over an incredible 21 miles, with around 9500ft of altitude climb along the way.  The route is a killer, and renowned as one of the hardest UK fell races - I'd like to think they don't come much more difficult!  I had a fantastic run to be honest, as I'd taken a 5 day rest from my 100 training schedule  - man, this gave me wings!  I'd been running tired for around 16 weeks, so to take 5 was just amazing.  Nutrition did need further dialing, but for the most part it was great to see the training pay off.

Sky Running.  The last hurdle up to Crib y Ddysgl - stunning.
The race finishes on the top of Mt Snowdon, leading to a further 5 mile jog down to the village of Llanberis, giving a great mountain based marathon for your efforts (and a nice medal!).  A great day out, with some nice people along the way.

After a week of shorter runs here and there, it was nice to get back into the mountains for a couple of back to backs, beginning with a great 21 mile section of the Snowdon Ultra, around Llyn Cowlyd, from Trefriw, and up and around the Carneddau. It was absolutely boiling temp wise, so good training although sitting in rivers along the way was called for - the IPA once home was a just reward for sure!  

Hot and Sweaty on the Cowlyd 21 miler. Incredible all of the way this one!

The following day, a earlier start was called for, with a 12 mile killer.  Tom devised a cracker of a route from Beddgelert, up the Watkin to Snowdon peak, Crib y Ddysgl, back up Snowdon, down and around to the top of Lliwedd, before bailing back to the car via a particularly un-runnable descent back down to the right of Craig Ddu (seriously, this is a crazy one!).  

The run up to Snowdon via the Watkin Path.  Lliwedd just behind me, with the descent being the slope down from the peak.

We actually decided along the way down to maybe direct a new event; Cirque of the Un-Runnables.  We seem to do a lot of them (never planned!).

Ilkey Moor in the heat. Fern hell!

As always, work leads the way and fortunately for me, came in the shape of a few days in Scotland.  I drove up via Yorkshire,and despite not having a huge amount of time, it was amazing none the less.  Vowing to get out each day, whatever the weather (!) reaped huge benefits, as the trails along the way where just incredible.  The first was along Ilkley Moor.  Despite the heat, it was great to get a blast in between driving and meetings.  Always a treat.  I'd only ever bouldered here in the past, so it was a good trip down memory lane running passed boulder problems I'd long forgotten about.  Leading through to an early morning jog up in Edinburgh, before heading off up to Inverurie.

The last section of Mither Tap, Rowantree.

The trails above Inverurie are incredibly beautiful.  I chose to run up Mither Tap, Rowantree.  It's a pretty short one at 10km, although just amazing.  With wind and mist, despite the warm temperature it was just perfect.  The paths are so well maintained, the speed that you can get up to on the descent is brilliant (still lots of jumping and twisting along the way!).

The last port of call was up to Moray, namely Elgin.  This sits just a few miles from the coast nr. Lossiemouth, so a quick jog in the wind seemed a great idea, before the 500 mile journey home.  I di think it seemed slightly windy, and wondered what all of the camera buffs where doing out and about.  With the choppy see making waves, sea spray cooling my skin as I ran, I headed off.  The miles back around where pretty tough, due to the wind in my face and on tuning into the local weather once sheltered in the car, I discovered Storm Hector was the culprit.  Next time around, I'll check out the weather report, or maybe watch the news!

Storm Hector, Lossiemouth Coastal Trail.  Must watch the news in the future!

Saturday, 26 May 2018

Welsh 3000's Challenge

At mile 31, I couldn’t even manage a power hike up to the summit of Carnedd Llewelyn.  It’s a flat summit, and I couldn’t see the need in it being there.  I also couldn’t see the reason for the previous peak, or indeed any peak at this point.  It’s safe to say, on the way up Llewelyn, as the Welsh 15 Peaks was drawing to an end, that I had had enough of mountains, running, and indeed any thought of being capable of executing 100 miles on similar terrain.  As the Americans would say, I had ‘bonked’ big time, and my ‘quads where totally blown, man’.

The reason I had decided to take this on, is that my training schedule told me I needed to run 55km to finalise the first 16 weeks of my conditioning programme.  I’ve never met the person that wrote this, and don’t recall their name.  Therefore, I was being dictated to by a piece of paper on my kitchen wall, covered in Sharpie notes.  I was thinking a few hills, and some flat to ease the pain.  My running partner Tom, decided that the 3000’s was the way to go and road to road (as opposed to peak to peak), would give me the required distance.  And that was that.  One 4am start later, again my right foot hit the rhyolite, and the journey began.  32 miles, 14,000ft of gain, in under 10 hours.

Sometimes, I wonder whether to refer to the ranges in North Wales as hills or mountains.  Some days, they just don’t seem that mountainous.  When you have been overseas, in say Austria or Switzerland, and you return home, I would say they were large hills.  Other times, when the sky is a pristine blue, I would say mountains.  This is when, as you gaze towards the ridges, peaks and skylines, that the mountains resemble high resolution cardboard cut-outs.  Almost too perfect and panoramic to believe.  On this run, they were definitely mountains.  Being up there when the sky is perfectly clear, and you are the first out, the Welsh mountains are beautiful, and so very wild. 

The View from Elidir Fawr.  Such a killer in the heat!

Most walk the course, with an aim to finish within 24 hrs (peak to peak), or maybe take a couple of days.  Or a long weekend.  The record for running the route is 4.19hrs, set by Colin Donnelly in 1988 (my new hero!).  We were looking at trying for under 10hrs, on the hottest day of the year.  The heat was a huge issue for the most part, made all the more trying as most people that we came across where lying down in the heather, looking at the sky, eating, chatting or sleeping.  I felt that I wasn’t allowed to stop, because I’d started.  The joy of running.  Physically (for the majority of the ‘run’), I felt above capable of the distance and the terrain.  Mentally, I learnt a huge amount along the way.  Minor doubts came and went. For instance, on the ascent of Elidir Fawr, we took our own route.  The steep contour tugged at the soles of my feet relentlessly, which were soaked from the boggy, sphagnum riddled slope.  Repeat 1 zillion times.

Coupled with relentless heat, dark thoughts first crept in here.  It was a tough hike, with not much in the way of a jog.  All in though, this was a short lived ‘mental dip’, and once at the summit, with a clear running phase down, around and up to Y Garn (via Foel Goch), it lifted and led to quite an elative feeling as opposed to the ‘doom’ experienced on the way up.  I had another one of these fleeting issues up on Tryfan, the final 3000 of the Glyderau Range.  Such a beautiful and exposed environment to have a ‘moment’.  You would think that the moonscape of Castell Y Gwynt, and the stunning views from Tryfan would hold these sorts of negative thoughts at bay.  Again, all of this was momentary, and personally all to do with doing entering into a physical and mental unknown with the wrong food.  I stumbled across an old friend on the summit (Hello, Andy Cave!), which was a much-needed distraction.  Running with Tom also makes times like this a lot easier.  He has a great sense of humour, which also helps in these scenarios.  Again, once on the down, with some real running and good pace, the brain came back around.

Running high above the clouds.  Castell Y Gwynt, Glyderau.  Stunning.

The final push up into the Carneddau was hard.  Simple as that.  We had been fortunate enough to have had a top aid station in the form of my dad’s van at the Ogwen Cottage.  Real food, Coco-Cola, dry shoes and a general re-calibration and we were good to go.  Up on Tryfan, I was debating internally whether I should carry on.  The moment you set foot to ascend Pen Y Ole Wen, you are locked in it.  It’s sometimes that simple a decision.  The time to dip out has gone, and you have entered in this case into the final leg of the task in hand.  Despite having to take time due to the temperature, once at the top, running came about again and moving up and over Carnedd Dafydd, towards the dog-leg of Yr Elen was pretty rapid, and there was still gas in the physical tank.

Looking back to where we had come from.  Such an amazing view from the summit of Pen Yr Ole Wen

It was here though, that I began learning quite a bit about my capabilities, and that everything began slowing down.  Mentally, I entered into a quite a difficult place.  I know enough to keep it in the moment, and to not think about the distance remaining.  To not think is the key, and to let thoughts drift in and out.  One foot in front of the other, repeat.  Take in the positives and the beauty of it all and remind yourself how lucky you are to be able to do this.  None of this worked this time.  With each step, I was digging deeper, with the only thought being how much I needed this to be over.  At mile 30, all I could focus on was the 100 mile race and how unprepared I was for that.  Entering the 1000’s as a training run became a ridiculous idea – what was I thinking!  Despite trying and knowing my own mind very well – I was quite stuck at this point, so close to the finish, with the gloom and nausea running wild.

As with anything, darkness passes, and things do come to an end.  In the clear light of day, on reflection, everything falls into perspective.  I’d convinced myself on the hill that I wasn’t capable, therefore I wasn’t.  I knew at the time that this was all due to nutrition and the lack of it, causing the mental failings, which in course led to physical hardship.  In all reality, with some proper food another 20 miles would have been more than possible.  The entire experience was needed, with a focus ahead on the Snowdonia 100.  Without tests like this, it is impossible to get stronger.  You need to be able to gauge yourself in real-time, in real situations to assess your capacity.  To be able to admit your short fallings and to learn, is key to growth in distance running.  It only took until morning coffee the following day, until I began to analyse what had happened, what I could improve on, and how I would change the route for next time to get a faster, more efficient time.  The 1000’s is back on, as is the GB Snowdonia 100.  A new plan for the Paddy Buckley has also hatched and been voiced.  The next 18-week cycle of training is underway.  I just need to run fast, eat slow, learn and enjoy.

Saturday, 31 March 2018

Stretching the Distance.

Gazing off into the misty green of the Gwydir Forest, today feels different.  Contemplating how this run is going to go, and focusing on how I'm feeling, trying to tune in; do I feel anxious, am I confident, how is my body reacting to my mental perception of how difficult this might be.  All of this in a timely fashion, before taking a deep breath and the first step.  Once my right foot (always my right foot), strikes the ground all of those thoughts pass and I'm running.  I'm in it for the long hall.  My first 30 mile mountain run begins.

My legs felt heavy from the outset.  Whilst warming into pace, I reflect that it maybe wasn't such a good idea to have ran the 6 miles up Helgi Ddu a day earlier, with a 6 mile run in the forest the day before.  That can't be helped, I told myself - just get on with the job and stop thinking so much.   For me, it's important to stay in the moment on long runs.  To focus on being as aware as possible as to what is going on around you.  Listening to the birds call to each other, the wind through the trees, the changing colours as the sun filters through the canopy, the sky, the clouds, and my feet as they move over rough forest trails.  This always takes a few miles for me.  Maybe 4 miles in, my mind is where it needs to be, my pace falls into place, my lungs engage and again - I'm just running in my own, uninterrupted space.

Gwydir Forest, finding pace.  Photo: Adam Groves 
I love running through the wooded area at the tail end of Crimpiau.  Looking over towards Lliwedd, the first leg done.  Mile 7, and the forest comes to an end.  The terrain changes here, as you head onto the old A5, with 4 miles stretching out in front of you.  Its easy to get psyched out here, as if you look to far up the trail as you run, it gets seemingly further away, as opposed to closer.  I centre my attention instead on the beauty around me, and looking up at Pen Yr Ole Wen, the Glyderau and Carneddau, I imagine running the tracks up there, and wonder how the weather is - is there still ice and snow, or should I get up there sooner rather than later.  How do the trails fit together, what will the sections feel like, how will I feel up there...  Drifting off, the section is done, and I'm crossing over to run the Ogwen lake trail.  The last few weeks, this has been so wet.  Calf deep in water, no chance of dry feet.  

Drifting off, checking out the higher realms.
Today, as luck would have it, I can run faster than usual here, as the streams have dried out into trail.  I think to myself, 'I'll come back this way' as I'm feeling that I can make the distance now.  Instantly, those heroic, preemptive thoughts creep in; shall I go for 35 today, and add in more altitude gain and so on.  I stop and again tell myself to 'take a knee', stop thinking and stick to the plan.  Once done, I'm having so much fun, leaping over rocks, getting some good speed and enjoying the trail.  If you have never ran this route - do it!  It's amazing at speed, and keeps you on your toes.  

Mile 13, and I arrived at Ogwen Cottage.  Changing layers, windproof on, ready for the climb up Yr Garn.  Getting ready to run up a further 2110ft of hard ascent felt quite daunting.  Stopping to chat to a team of northern mountain bikers helped, and took my mind off the fact that things where about to get cold and steep!  Fuelling up, and feeling warm now, I moved on through Cwm Idwal, and up towards Y Garn.  The climb up is a tough one, and keeps on coming.  Rounding the boulder strewn climb up, and running past Llyn y Cwn, before the final hike up to the peak.  

Llyn Y Cwn, just before the final push up Yr Garn.
I was pretty elated at this point, now 16 miles in with one of the best views in Wales.  I kinda made the mistake of allowing myself to think ahead to the Snowdonia 100, and got focused on staring out the trail up the SW face of Pen Yr Ole Wen.  Man - that it steep!  After bringing myself round, and shaking off the feeling of now being tired and daunted from the thoughts of running 100 miles,  I began the run down the ridge back into the Cwm Idwal, and over to the join the Ogwen Trail once again, 4 miles below.  The run down the steep ridge back into the cwm is fast and incredible fun!  In no time at all, I was over half way at 21 miles, ready to take on the final 9 back to where I began.

Miles 21 to 24 where pretty difficult.  I was low on food, and hadn't really spoken to anyone for a while.  I couldn't work out whether music was a good idea, so didn't bother trying.  I took the road from Ogwen Lake trail to Capel, as I was becoming aware that time constraints where creeping in, and I needed to get this finished.  My legs where getting pretty tired, and I was trying to work out why.  Last weeks 26 miles had felt relatively easy, and I was only on mile 23 and things where feeling difficult.  Again, my mindful line 'take a knee' popped into my head, so I stopped for a while, taking in the mountains, looking back to where I had come from, hoping to find some energy to carry on.  Staying in the moment is so important at these points for me.  Once I had managed to eradicate thoughts of time, and having informed myself that I totally had this, I was running again, back through the familiar territory of Crimpiau, and up and over into the forests once again.

Its a beautiful thing, when you the realisation hits you that you have ran through the day, and into dusk.  Over 6 hours on my feet now, hyper-aware  of the noises of the forest, the waning light and the shift in my perception; I had succeeded in what I had set out to achieve.  Rounding off and over the Afon Llugwy, feeling the power of the water rush by, the final mile back into Betws Y Coed.  30 miles, my first solo Ultra distance, job done.

Monday, 12 March 2018

Patagonian International Marathon

I've been meaning to write about my experience over in Patagonia for some time now, but as is the way - time keeps on moving on, and its all to easy to get caught up and carried away. I had a message from Javi, over at Ultra Paine not to long ago, which reminded me to sort myself out and get my thoughts out there (thanks Javi!).

I first thought about travelling to run the 63km race in the Chilean Patagonian mountains after reading a blog written by Matt Flaherty, from the 2014 edition of the Patagonia International Marathon.  Matt's account was so beautifully written, that alongside the images of the area, I was inspired to run.  From the outset, I felt compelled to experience the tranquillity of running somewhere so isolated and wild for myself; I had to travel, and so it began.

Initially I had wanted to run the 63k, although having not ran a marathon before, I began thinking that this was a little bit 'out-there'.  As luck would have it (or not?) the 42km was the longest duration for 2017, so that was decision made.  Fast forward 7 months, and I was ready to fly, and began the 8500 mile journey to Chile.

Before the race, I spent a few days based in Puerto Natales, which is a beautiful frontier port city, surrounded by the Seno Ultima Ezperanza.  It was such a beautiful place, with lazy dogs lounging around the streets, really freindly people, and the most amazing chicken Empanada.  The only shock was the temperature, which was around -10, so figured that if it rained on the day, it could a long run!

Escaping the tour guide.  Hilarious, as I said 'I'm just going to have a quick look over there'!

I took a tour into the Torres Del Paine National Park, just to get a feel for the area.  The actual marathon runs to the south of the main park boundaries, so to get up and close to some of the towers, and the wildlife was just stunning.  With guide that I was with, we actually came within 20 metres of a family of Puma feasting on an unfortunate Guanaco on the side of the trail.  I was absolutely blown away by this experience.  The majesty of the animals was just so commanding, it was beautiful.  Its so rare to see a single Puma, but to see a family still hunting and eating together is unheard of, and was such a good omen for the race.  I did make a note to myself to run fast, and not to be last - maybe I would be the next feast!!  This was just a small taste of just how wild and untamed Patagonia is; there is just so much space, so little pollution and just so much peace.

His eyes are saying 'Just give me half the chance, and you are next'!

I took a small run to just outside of the city boundaries to push away slight 'cabin fever' and feelings of loneliness a couple of days before the run.  I hadn't really spoken to anyone fully for a week or so, so it was good to feel I was doing something familiar, and also needed to remind myself why I was there - it's quite a long way form home, my Spanish (despite really trying to learn) sucked for the the most part, so it was really hard to join in with any conversation, so it felt pretty cool to run along the shores of the sound - it kept it real.

A 5 mile jog, to ease the Cabin Fever.

I only felt slightly anxious the morning of the race. No rain, but 70 - 100kph winds where forecast!  Getting to the start of the race was so cool - I met with some really inspirational people (huge thanks to Rajesh Jinabhai and Nuno) and also really cool to meet with Laura Jones who was undertaking her second of a Worldwide 7 marathons (another Welsh kid on the start line!).  This made the entire thing so much easier.  As with any race, or long training run, once you cross the start line, everything falls into place, and you just move.  The scenes that we passed through where so incredible, that the first 12 miles or so just flew by.  At the base of the main ascent, the winds did finally rise, and there where no half measures.  I'm not talking gusts, but instead a continuous blast of up to 100kph - totally head on.  Runners where literally being blown over, so this added a fair challenge to the run, but in a weird way, seemed to enhance the environment and the experience (a sucker for punishment obviously!).

The A Team

Rajesh, who I had ran with for the first 16 miles or so, developed a pretty bad knee, so after talking we decided on me moving on ahead, and I then entered into a totally different head space.  One thing that you need to understand about this marathon, is that it is not just a race.  Its a complete experience.  There are no crowds handing out jelly babies.  Instead you can run for miles without seeing anyone.  Its just so cool!  I rounded a corner during the last 4 miles, into a more wooded area.  The wind suddenly dropped away, and the silence was unlike anything I had experienced on a run before.  I took time here, just to drink it all in - no sound, no time, no need to move - just peace.  I could have stayed forever.

I ran for towards the end with Vanessa de Matta (which was super nice - such a great person!) before again moving forward to the finish line.  It was so exhilarating to cross the line at the end - I couldn't quite believe that my aim had come to full circle.  From reading Matts blog in January, to finishing my own race was a really emotional experience.  One thing that surprised me - I had so much more left in the tank.  I felt could have ran forever.  I stopped just before the final decent to the hotel finishing line, as I didn't want the experience to end.  Taking a final look around before running down to the field and crowd below, the one realisation that I had, was that I had to get stronger, I had to run further and I had to experience how far I could push myself as a runner.  Quite simply, I have Patagonia to thank for igniting the passion for running in wild places, and for realising what I am capable of right now.

Me, looking pleased as punch.  Would'a thought that 5 months later, I would just be ' nipping out' to run 26 miles! So Cool!!

Sitting here writing this has been quite difficult.  It took a while on returning from Patagonia to realise what I had learnt about myself.  It is so much more than just a marathon, even if it happens to be your first.  It is a fully encapsulating experience.  If I could, I would run this each year, as I know that each time, I would see the same places, although have the time and capacity to see each and every one in a different light.  One thing that I know for sure, is that this is where the seed of inspiration was sown to run Ultra distance.  Not long now.