Sunday, 30 October 2016

2016 World Trail Championships

Trail World Championships 2016
Peneda-Gerês, Portugal
Also known as the World flag-spotting championships. Something to keep you occupied whilst chipping away the miles. Well, it beats train-spotting, right?
So how did this one go for me? It’s always a bit tricky to gear up for a late-season race. Peaking in the spring or summer seems easier and more natural. By the 29th of October the year had already been a long one for a lot of the runners towing the start-line at these championships, and I was no exception. June to July was probably when I hit peak form this year and since then and particularly after the utmb failure, I’ve not really been too focused. Don’t get me wrong, this was my first GB vest (just England vests until now) and I wanted to do it justice, but at the same time I was fully aware that I wasn’t in the physical shape that would be required to battle right at the front, medal-end, of this race. So the tactic was a simple one: Be prudent. So I set off steady and enjoyed running for the first couple of hours with team-mates Tom Payn and Kim Collison, neither of whom I really knew very well before coming out here. I know the French team much better than the Brits these days!
The tomato red T-shirts of the 2016 GB trail running team:
As daylight started to hit the rocky slabs above Vila do Gerês, I was cruising up the hill with American Alex Varner. So we chatted a bit of politics and flag-spotting. I learnt all sorts of interesting facts, such as that his fourth-grade project was on the Nepalese flag, the only non-rectangular one around (we had just overtaken a Nepalese runner). I’m pretty embarrassed about the state of British politics at the moment (leaving the EU on a conned decision, building expensive and nonsensical nuclear power plants, airport runways, shale gas,.. the list could be long), but hey – conversing with an American always puts things into relative perspective!
Cruising into the final kilometers
The scenery was varied and spectacular. At times it reminded me of running back home in the UK, but with the weather conditions of the south of France. Late in the morning heat became a major factor and the rising mercury took a lot of runners down. The Peneda-Gerês long-horned cows seemed little phased by the warmth however. "What funny creatures" - Who thought that? The runners or the cows?
(for the record – I did not run this race with poles, or horns)
Re the running: Over the course of the last couple of months my priority has been to get fresh and speedy again, so I’ve done quite low mileage, virtually no long runs and I’ve concentrated more on accumulating a good set of speed sessions. It felt like this approach was paying dividends, as I was quite fresh and relaxed for the first two thirds of the fifty mile race. Having started in around 30th position, over the middle climb I was picking off a lot of places, I moved into the top 10 and even thought top 5 might potentially be feasible, peut-être. But I needed to be wary and not get carried away, as I really wasn’t convinced I’d have the strength to close it out. And that’s exactly what happened – by 55km I had pulled though to ninth place, and that’s where I was to stay all the way to the finish-line. In the later stages  my legs started shutting down and the final 20km were a little complicated. I made a final effort to speed up over the closing 5km to out-run a German chap, but it was a risky thing to do, as with a few hundred meters to go all the muscles of my legs clubbed together for a harmonious cramp-style shut-down! Any earlier and it would have been really messy.
A not-too-frequent sight - me and a Union Jack. Unfortunatly there were no European ones to hand :-)
So, in conclusion: great course and exactly what trail running should be, very happy with a top ten, tactics worked a treat, but I’d have to be fitter and stronger to fight for a higher place in the future.
Results: Top 10 men 


(action photos : iRunFar)

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Trail de Saint Didier

La course à pied est certes un sport plutôt individuel, mais il n'est pas non plus un sport anti-social !*
*pas comme la chasse par exemple
Ce matin j'ai emmené d'autres touristes anglais (oui, je suis bien un touriste: un touriste permanent même :-) au petit village de Saint Didier. Et voilà une grande partie de la famille Symonds / Manning sur les collines vauclusiennes :
Toute en famille, on a pu partager ce lieu splendide, les superbes sentiers du Luberon, les gorges, les roches et la végétation épaisse ainsi que l'ambiance avant et après course. On va également partager les bouteilles que nous avons pu ramener chez nous à Lagnes :-) Ma sœur gagne chez les femmes, moi chez les hommes et ma mère fait première V60 (et 5ème F).
What a great way to spend a Sunday morning !

Sunday, 11 September 2016

TBV 2016

J'ai ouvert le four hier après-midi, pour me retrouver dans les Dentelles de Montmirail !
C'est vrai qu'il faisait bien chaud (32°C selon ma montre), mais honnêtement je ne me plaindrai jamais des conditions climatiques. J'ai quitté une douche quasi-permanente il y a quelques années (le nord de l'Angleterre), justement pour retrouver ce soleil fracassant. J'assume mon choix !
En jetant un oeil sur mon historique de courses, je constate que j'ai pris l'habitude de courir à Beaumes tous les deux ans (2012, 2014, 2016) et si je reviens sur ce trail c'est parce qu'il me plait bien ! Les Dentelles sont certes un petit massif montagneux, mais le terrain pourrait être celui de la grosse montagne - des crêtes, des roches, de l'escalade même sur ce parcours. D'où les chronos relativement modestes pour un parcours de trente kilometres.
Je ne cache pas mon avis sur la chasse et le Trail de Beaumes (TBV) est encore un exemple de l'impact de cet occupation bizarre, barbare et franchement plus de notre temps. Le TBV est donc obligé d'avoir lieu un samedi après-midi, car le dimanche matin c'est l'ouverture de la saison de chasse - le moment où ces paysages magnifiques perdent leur tranquillité pour se transformer en terrain de guerre. En conséquence le trail a souvent lieu sous un soleil qui tape fort, plutôt que le matin, à la fraiche.
Toujours content de ramener une ou deux belles bouteilles ! (oui, j'avoue que je participe aux coures locales pour maintenir du stock au cave :-)
Voilà pour les résultats - top 10 H.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

utmb (Cham to Champex only, unfortunately)

[EN]
I confirm - to complete the hundred (rather mountainous) miles of the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc is no easy task! Yesterday was my first attempt at this famous race, and I tried and I failed to get all the way round it. Hard to know exactly what went wrong, no doubt a combination of factors, but the simple answer is that my legs just weren't up for it on the day. I knew from the first climb that I wasn't fresh enough, the following descent was abnormally uncomfortable, and from then on it was a question of pushing on and seeing what happens. It's not completely unusual to feel poor at the start of a race and then to pull through, but yesterday there was no miraculous change in form on the go. It was on the climb up the Grand Col Ferret where my quadriceps finally give in, at which point I was in forth position, just a minute or so behind the second and third placed runners. By the top of the col I'd started loosing ground and through the course of the long descent down to La Foully the gap rapidly expanded. By the time I reached the valley floor I was struggling to even run on the flat, and it was at this point that getting to the finish line was starting to look dubious. Damn it! I really did want to complete this race, giving up is not an option I normally allow myself (I think the last time was five years ago at Cavalls des Vent ?) But by Champex, 124km in, I was left with no choice. It was hard to even keep up with Carole and Steph walking slowly by my side into the aid station. So a day I called it. Such is sport! It's only a big game anyway, right?! Some games you win and others you loose, even if it's not easy to accept at the time. But games are to be replayed and this one is not one I'm willing to abandon entirely! I learnt a heap of stuff out there during the course of the sixteen hours that I ran. I'll be wiser next time and hopefully fresher too. So, yes, utmb or a different one - we'll see, but I'll certainly be having another crack at the hundred mile distance, with the intention of completing! But that will be next year now. Just one more competition left in 2016 for me - the World Trail Championships in Portugal, nine weeks away. Between now and then - rest then some speed work, because that race in Portugal won't by a slow jog or a survival exercise! I need to remind myself how to run fast.. So it's sadly (?!) time to stash the poles away in the garage until next season. In any case, a massive well done and respect to all those that did complete the full circuit back to Chamonix - hats off! And especially incredible was seeing people rolling into town this morning, after a second full night out on the mountains, whilst we enjoyed a coffee in the sun, having had a full night's sleep - these people who complete in forty hours are the hardiest!
Huge thanks to Yo Stuck and Christophe Clerc for providing the perfect race support - driving many miles and loosing a night's sleep just to get my cheese & marmalade sandwiches and bowls of rice & jam to the assistance points in time and in condition! Thanks also Carole and Steph for providing the support for the race support :-) and obviously for the encouragement out on the race course. Also thanks to TorQ France for your support out there, and obviously the rhubarb & custard energy gels :-)

Thanks finally to all those who sent or posted or shouted messages of encouragement out there, before, during and after the race. Really appreciated!

See you for more #UltraStupidity next year :-)


[FR]
Dans l'utmb il y a vraiment beaucoup d'abandons, et maintenant je comprends pourquoi !! 170km avec 10,000m de dénivelé - ce n'est effectivement pas facile ! Je l’ai tenté hier et j’ai été malheureusement contraint à rajouter mon nom sur la longue liste de “Did Not Finish”. Pourquoi ? C’était sans doute dû à une combinaison de facteurs différents, mais assez simplement je n'avais juste pas des bonnes jambes hier. Je l'ai senti dès les premières montées et surtout dans la première descente jusqu'à Saint Gervais. Le moteur ne tournait pas de façon fluide. J'ai continué tout de même, en croisant les droits que cela passe, mais au bout de 100km il n'y avait plus rien à faire, les quadriceps étaient cassés. Je n’aime pas arracher le dossard avant franchir la ligne d’arrivée, et j’étais prêt à me faire très mal aux jambes pour y arriver, mais honnêtement au bout de seize heures de course je ne pouvais simplement plus faire autrement - je n'arrivais plus à avancer du tout ! C’était dommage et c’est sûr que c’est un peu frustrant sur le coup, mais je n’oublie pas que ce n’est qu’un grand jeu et que les jeux se passent parfois bien mais parfois mal aussi. Mais surtout - les jeux sont là pour être retentés ! Mon histoire avec les cent miles ne terminera pas là :-) !! Je ne sais pas si ce sera à l’utmb où ailleurs, mais prochainement j’ai très envie de me retester sur cette distance, car je suis convaincu que cela peut se passer beaucoup mieux ! Il faut dire aussi que j’ai encore appris un tas de trucs pendant la course hier, comme sur toutes mes experiences en ultra cette année. Mais pour 2016 il est temps de faire une pose sur les ultra-ultras, sur les courses de distances (complètement) ridicules, afin de me concentrer sur une seule dernière épreuve - les championnats du monde de trail, au Portugal, fin octobre, qui se dérouleront sur une distance (presque) raisonnable - un petit 85km.

J’en profite pour remercier Yo Stuck et Chris Clerc qui se sont fait une nuit blanche pour m’offrir une assistance de formule 1 ce weekend - les kilometres qu’ils ont dû faire en voiture juste pour assurer que j’aie mes sandwiches fromage / marmelade et mes bols de riz / confiture à temps. Merci également à Steph et Carole - d'avoir assuré l'assistance de l'assistance :-) et d'avoir été là pour me soutenir ! Merci aussi à TorQ France pour le soutien sur le parcours et pour les gels rhubarb & custard (entre autres :-)

Finalement un énorme thanks à tous ceux qui m’ont encouragé avant, pendant et après la course. J’apprécie.

Hasta la próxima !

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Sky Running World Champs / Buff Epic

Last long training run before the UTMB. Well that was the idea - but the thing about 105km races in the heart of the Pyrennees that go more up 'nd down than they go flat is, well, they kind of rip you to pieces no matter how "easy" you try to approach them!
Here is a completely non-exaggerated race profile! :
So, yes, the idea was to use this race as a long day in the hills, - a real leg strengthener on a beautiful course - and also to use it to practise ultra-eating and ultra-poling. So I ate as much as I could during the 13 hours, and I did something I've never done before - yes I raced with er, poles - SORRY !!! I know, I understand if you're now instantly unsubscribing from my blog. Truefully I couldn't personally bear to use them on the first climb, for fear of blinding the poor bloke behind, in the long snake of runners going up and out of Barruera. But I'm not going to deny that they were pretty useful later on. At the end of the day, if you're out for 13+ hours on very steep terrain then you are going to be race-walking a fair bit, and this is where poles are handy. This and to prevent people overtaking you on the latter stages of the race: - good luck if you want to overtake me now!! :
So my "steady away" tactic went generally really well. Luis Alberto broke away off the front around 40km in. I let him go, rather than trying (and most certainly failing) to chase - that guy is strong! Then I got into a nice, steady pole-kind-of rhythm. And there was no sign of anyone behind, perfect. That is until the last summit. As I crested the final peak I glanced back to see the blue vest of Javier Dominguez, a Spanish runner who's known for his fast finishes. Oh no!! Back into race mode! So there was no choice but to bomb down those last 15km to the finish line! That I did. And I think it's the reason why my legs are so sore today!!
But anyhow I held off any last-minute charges from behind. And I didn't even have to use any pole-spinning barrier techniques to do so :-)
Chuffed to get round this course in one piece. It's a monster! What a difference from the undulating, wide trails of the Lavaredo Ultra Trail four weeks ago! But after all, this is Sky Running, and the "Sky" bit means real mountains and the rough and narrow paths that navigate them. Well, that's one difference!..
Here's the results. Now it's time for some holidays in the Pyrennees :-)


Sunday, 26 June 2016

Lavaredo Ultra Trail

Well it was a mission getting to the start, but it was well worth it!!
My original plan was pretty simple and on paper it looked pretty efficient and non-stressful. Drive 45 minutes to Marseille, jump on a plane to Venice, pick up a hire-car to finish off with a 2-hour drive up into the Dolomites. I'd be there in no-time! Well that's what I thought...
French air traffic controllers however had different ideas! Somewhat annoyed by the unthinkable idea of relaxing working regulations - you mean you want to change something, you want to evolve the law?!! - they did what all good French workers do - SHUTDOWN! 
So, as I packed my little suitcase on Wednesday evening I got an email and a text message from the airline saying that "regrettably my flight had been cancelled". Great! So I had a dilemma: find another way of getting there, and most probably risk more strike disaster, or ditch the entire plan and stay at home and chill. After chatting it through with a few friends and Carole (my wife), I took the plunge and purchased a second flight, a less direct one and a much more expensive one, but one that would only add a couple of hours to the original travel plan. So late on Thursday morning I set off from home to Marseille Airport. Plan B involved a short flight connection in Lyon, and this is where plan B turned into plan C. A 30-minute transfer, a last-minute gate change and some confusing sign-posting meant that I missed the Lyon-Venice flight. My bag made it on board, but I didn't. So now I got quite annoyed! At the Air France ticket desk I was offered two options - 1. go home, or 2. take a late-evening flight to Bologna - "it's only a couple of hours south of Venice!" To be honest I was ready to call it a day. Pretty wiped out to start with (sleep deprived from organising RunLagnes last weekend) and not really feeling in particular race form, I was really quite keen on the idea of going home, chilling with the kids and getting some sleep! However Carole thought I should go for the Bologna option! And so Plan C kicked in, and half a day later I found myself in a very random hotel half an hour up the road from Bologna. As you do.
And there I slept. For 10 hours. I just hoped that that was going to be enough to make up for some of the recent deprivation! A breakfast and a few hours in the car and by early afternoon on the Friday I finally made it to the beautiful town of Cortina in the heart of the Dolomites. It was a nice sight to finally see that start line! I picked up my race number, filled my bag with a dozen gels and some drinks flasks with a little energy powder, and then tried to get some more z's. Ten hours last night was apparently enough however, because there was no way my brain was switching down! Oh, the joys of 11pm starts! You lie there trying as best as you can to nod off, but it's just not natural and at best you might get a few minutes of sleep. Going through your mind at this point are thoughts such as, "what a silly thing to do", "why the heck did I sign up for this", "I think I'll stick to shorter races in future", etc...
But once you get going it's ok, right?! Off we went at 11pm. For the first 10km my concerns of general fatigue and non-freshness were confirmed, I had heavy legs and I was convinced I was going to struggle to get to the end of this mighty 120km. But the thing about ultra-running is that it's so damn long that these feelings can change, all experienced ultra-runners know this! Good patches and bad patches. So plod on and see what happens. Up and over the first climb the front end of the race was together in a big group of about 30 runners. On the way down I looked behind to see an impressively long snake of headlamps weaving down the switchbacks through the forest.
And at about twenty to thirty kilometres in I started to feel a bit better. We hit some downhills and then some mud and I quickly found myself off the front of the field. "I like downhills and I like mud", I thought to myself. (You see I live in France, but I keep some of the British fell-running DNA :-)
Coming out of the muddy section I couldn't see anyone behind me, - I think I must have built up a couple of minutes lead. Well that wasn't the plan! The idea had been to go with the flow for at least half to three-quarters of the race, and then reassess and attack if feeling good. At three hours in I was already off the front. Oh well, travel plans can change, so can race plans!
Keeping it relaxed I got into a really good groove. With a bit of Pink Floyd and some other classics in the headphones I was really enjoying the course. The terrain was really runnable, mainly big wide paths, but the views were incredible. The Moon was big and it lit up some of the gigantic mountain cliffs that the Dolomites are famous for. Now this is worth not going to bed for! Remember this next time you're lying in bed in the afternoon wondering what the hell you've let yourself in for!
Several hours later I was still feeling good and my lead had obviously expanded as there was absolutely no sign of anyone behind. But I had no updates on the course, so I could only guess and hope that the gap was big! I had been thinking on the go that if I could get to about the 80km mark with legs not too damaged then the last 40km should be doable, even if a bit of "grin and bear it" was required. On the map the last section looked like the most spectacular in terms of scenery, so I judged that this would help pull me through and distract from any leg pain. And funnily enough it was with about 30-40km that my legs started to tire. Well I'm at least three-quarters of the way through - nearly there! This kind of logic works in shorter races, but does it transfer to ultras, when a quarter of the race is still as long as any "normal" race distance? The race I organised last weekend was shorter than what's now left, and many told me it was too long!
With twenty or so kilometres to go I was told I had about a 15-minute lead, which was nice to know! So I steadied off a little and focused on just getting to the finish, with no major bonks, cramps or falls! The last downhill felt quite long, with my legs starting to tire - but what do you expect?! But it was all so worthwhile - changing travel plans, missing a night's sleep, etc. - to roll down Cortina highstreet and break that finish-line tape first!
Here's the top ten. An international field! But is that first guy European?! He certainly thinks so!
Now, let's hope the travel home goes smoothly :-)

Monday, 6 June 2016

Trail des Maures 2016

Petit saut dans le Sud-Est pour un weekend dans le Var ! Avec à l'agenda : châteaux de sable et baignade à la mer, une piscine à Collobrières attirante mais toujours un poil fraîche, de la glace au marron, un trail, du soleil et quelques bières - au marron aussi. Quoi de mieux pour se dépayser en 48 h ?!
J'avais participé au Trail des Maures en 2015 et j'en avais gardé de bons souvenirs. Après un départ du village mené par une cavalière, on plonge des le cœur de la Forêt des Maures et ses collines non-hautes mais raides et surtout sauvages. Il n'y a pas grand monde qui passe par là ... !
Pour la première longue montée on a couru ensemble avec un habitué du soleil et une star locale, Julien Navarro.
Mon idée était de maintenir un bon rythme mais sans forcer sur les pattes. Je ne voulais pas me mettre dans le rouge (et c'est justement facile de bien exploser sur ce genre de parcours !). Je gardais donc en tête mon prochain objectif important, le Lavaredo fin Juin, et pendant la course je me demandais si ce serait possible de courir à la même vitesse sur 115 km.. (la réponse est non, je pense !)
Aujourd'hui les jambes répondaient bien et c'était facile d'avancer de façon décontractée. J'ai pu profiter de la nature sauvage du parcours, même si cette année je n'ai pas pu croiser d'ami sanglier sur mon chemin (comme l'an dernier).
Atmosphère relativement fraîche au départ, au bout de trois heures de course le soleil commence à se manifester ! - donc voilà ma joie de croiser ma femme et nos enfants avec des gourdes de rechange ! :
(pour info, sur 4h15 j'ai bu 1l de TorQ et 0,5l d'eau)
Et une heure et demie plus tard, encore mieux que de l'eau - une bière à la châtaigne ! Les organisateurs ont tout bien compris ! J'ai du attendre 0,2s avant que cette boisson si rafraîchissante soit confiée à ma main droite :-)
Et voilà pour la photo du podium :
Et les résultats : Finalement je me surprends un peu à réduire mon chrono établi l'an dernier d'une dizaine de minutes.
 
Ma prochaine course est donc le Lavaredo. Un 115km dans les Dolomites fin juin.
Certes ils sont forts en glace les italiens, mais connaissent-ils celle au marron ?!


(crédit photos : F Mourgues)