Les Galopades de la Forêt - Sunday 4 August
Our annual trip to France would not be the same without representing the AFF in the Les Galopades de la Forêt. A local event hosted by Jogging Club in St Hilaire. A superbly organised race with 3 race distances on offer. 7.4km, 14km or a half marathon (or semi as they call it). I fancied a semi. Mrs H didn’t so opted for the 14km. The course was 3 laps, predominantly flat. I decided to tuck in behind the 1.30 pacer although not in 1.30 shape. You can imagine how pleased I was when he ran the first mile in 6.22. After 3 miles I re-evaluated as I was breathing through my feet. I eventually trundled home in 1.34.30 finishing in 27th out of 238 finishers. Mrs H in preparation for the Chester Metric ran 1.31.27 for the 14km
Bob Graham Round - 17/18 July
This was my second attempt at doing a sub 24 hour BGR. This time I snuck in by less than half an hour. Over the past 80 years about 2500 runners have done the course in less than 24 hours with another 5000 attempts failing. For a course that is only 105km this seems like an unusually high attrition rate. However, with 42 fells to go up/down, about 8300m of climbing and some fairly rough terrain to negotiate the Bob Graham Round has become a classic fell running challenge. I left Keswick at 7pm on a cool but dry evening with the first of my three pacers/navigators to do the first few mountains. By the time the head torches came on we were 15 minutes ahead of my 23 hour schedule and I was feeling pretty good. However, driving rain and thick cloud for the next 6 hours dampened spirits and made rapid descents a bit tricky. Nevertheless on reaching the second road crossing at 3.30am I was still on schedule. Next came the Landgdale Pikes and the Scafell range. Moving at speed across rocky terrain is probably my weakest suit when it comes to fell running and doing so in the rain is my worst nightmare. As such to be only 15 minutes down when we dropped into Wasdale at 10am was something of an achievement. Two years ago, this is where my run fell apart as I could no longer keep food down me. This time around, I had planned my nutrition more carefully with 250 calories of intake an hour starting with solid food and migrating towards gels and sweets. Here on in it was a struggle to stay strong – my pacer gave me an update at each peak as to how far behind I had slipped. However by the time we ticked off the last peak, we had about 2 hours to do one descent and 7 miles back to Keswick and so for the first time in the day I started to relax and take it easy as we jogged/walked back to finish off the round at Moot Hall for a burger, a couple of pints and then a long sleep. Prior to this I had in my mind that once the BGR was out of the way I might give the Welsh and Scottish equivalents a try. However, since these are typically 1-2 hours longer than the English version, I think I might have to either put that idea to one side or improve my rock running skills.
Phil Wolstencroft - 23:33
Dragons Back Race - 20-24 May
I completed the Dragon's Back Race (Mon 20th - Fri 24th May) and came 94th from 402 starters, in a total time of 58:56.34hrs.
The Dragon's Back Race is a multi-day mountain running event which sees competitors cover 200 miles from Conwy to Llandelio and ascend 15,500m over the rugged spine of Wales. I originally entered in May 2018 after some serious base building and finally realising that if I didn't try, I would simply never know what I was truly capable of. The event is not a trail race, the organizers provide a recommended route, but competitors are free to travel between mandated checkpoints via any route they deem appropriate. The five days of mountain running cover all of the Welsh major summits and also see runners traverse some of the harshest terrain Wales has to offer. Since it's debut in 1992, this is only the fifth iteration of the event; the sheer logistics make the organisation particularly difficult and, given its technical, physical and mental demands, there has been around a 50% attrition rate for all those who have entered over the years. While I trained hard for this event in a build period which lasted approximately 18 months, there was absolutely no guarantee on completion and I was acutely aware that mountain-craft, personal administration and going into the event uninjured, were of the most significant things on my checklist.
Day 1: The Carneddau, Glyderau and Snowdon Massif. 34 miles, 3990m - 120th in 11:43.52hrs. At 0645 on 24th May, a Welsh male choir echoed around the grounds of Conwy Castle, an international field of 402 willing runners had assembled to begin an unique journey in the hope they could complete the infamous Dragon's Back Race. At 0700 we nervously and trepidly began a steady ascent over the castle battlements; an eerie mist covered the northern Welsh hills which lead to the ice carved and rocky plateaus of the Carneddau. We descended off Pen Yr Ol Wen into the halfway point and I'd run steady, but well. The reality had finally hit and I sat in the Day 1 Support Point (SP) in slight shock and fear. The following ascent to Tryfan was long and hard going, followed by the rough scree slopes towards the Glyders. Once near the Cantilever stone, I pulled myself out of a mental block and progressed to the infamous Snowdon Horseshoe which includes the stunning but exposed grade 1 scramble of Crib Goch. The weather was perfect and it was a joy to traverse. I made good progress around the entire horseshoe stopping briefly at the summit and joining with a similar paced runner (who would subsequently become my partner all week). We descended off Snowdon to the welcome sight of the day 1 campsite with the realisation that the effort would now become harder and the daily distances longer - this was clearly going to be a matter of damage limitation should we have a chance of success.
Day 2: The Moelwynion and the Rhinogydd. 37.2 miles, 3290m - 117th in 12:34.17hrs. Starting as close to 0600 hrs as possible, we almost immediately began the steep ascent up to Cnicht which reveals stunning vistas out towards the Llyn Peninsular. From here we rode the skyline and then down and up across the Moelwyns with their rutted paths and steep but grassy backs. This eventually led to the Vale of Ffestiniog and some relief. Short lived however, it was now on to the notorious Rhinogydd; unrelenting, brutal, rough and widely considered the hardest ground throughout the course. Frustratingly we took a poor line off the back of Rhinog Fach which slowed us and caused unnecessary energy wastage, this served to highlight the importance of awareness and constant navigational focus was needed. With one more summit in the form of Diffwys, it was then on towards the Day 2 campsite which actually had hot showers (even if the queue was an hour long). Day 2 was really tough, the sun warmed us and there is little escape in the hills, the ground was also unforgiving, we managed to finish the final 5 miles however with a steady run along the homebound roads, toll bridge and tracks into camp. The overall difficultly was of course exacerbated by the raw fatigue, cold stamped into our legs by the brutality of Day 1, there is so little recovery time, but of course, the Dragon's Back had plenty more to offer.
Day 3: Cadair Idris and Pumlumon Fawr. 44.3 miles, 3596m - 110th in 12:55.12hrs. Previous Dragon's Back races have shown that participants who complete Day 3, are statistically more likely to complete the entire race, a fact that was in the front of my mind the second I woke on that frosty morning. We initially made our way to the often overlooked range of Cadir Idris and the Summit of Penygadair; it's a stunning sight, however, we approached in a cold mist and stiff winds, it was therefore as swift an ascent and decent as we could manage. We then departed southern Snowdonia and progressed across to the Cumbrian Mountains of Mid Wales, via a shop raid in Machynlleth. This was followed by the miles of wooded areas and open remote expanses that led to the climb of Pumlumon Fawr. The views were breathtaking and the decent a relative pleasure. I became slightly energized and a little emotional once I'd crossed the Day 3 finish line knowing that I'd completed more than half of the race. I eventually attempted to keep focus - this wasn't over by a long way.
Day 4: The Elan Valley and Drygarn Fawr. 44miles, 2275m - 124th in 12:11.51hrs. A day I knew very little about although a quick appraisal of the map told me all I needed to know; this day was seriously remote, full of rolling tussock filled hills and would be hard won. It immediately became apparent that my ever increasing hamstring issue would cause me suffering. Much of the ground through the Elan Valley was laden with marshy bogs and tussocks which provided slow and painful progress for everyone, even the elites. There were also several road sections which while increasing our pace, brought about a new form of torture due to the heat. Oh the heat. Temperatures rose on this day and there was little reprise. Sourcing water en route became a priority while managing effort and hydration was critical. We finally arrived at the SP and I slumped into a heap in some shade. Emotions high, I found it hard to gather myself, fuel and prepare to depart. The final half of the day was my physical and emotional low point of the entire race, it felt like a death march. For reasons beyond my comprehension, I finally recovered from my funk and we arrived at the long and winding reservoir road which saw me pick up my feet and run the majority of the way into the Day 4 camp. Somehow, a weight had lifted from me and the depths of despair I felt were gone. We finished strong knowing that with only one day remaining, the possible completion of this race was now a serious option.
Day 5: Carmarthenshire and The Black Mountain. 39.7miles, 2000m - 53rd in 9:31.22hrs. Right from departing the start line, I knew this day would be good. I immediately felt that my legs were full of running and wanted to make as much progress as possible. The same however could not be said for Ian, my now week long partner. His calfs were seizing up on the flat and he'd lost speed on the decent sections. We arrived at Llandovery but Ian needed a long pit stop; while we were well ahead of any cut-offs, it was clear today might be slow, especially as the road sections were long. To make the day even more frustrating, I'd finally picked up a phone signal and had calls from solicitors and work with significant news updates that needed action. I ran ahead and spent a significant portion of time successfully rectifying some issues but hadn't realised that by the time I was done, I'd put a 10 min gap between myself and Ian. I got to the final SP and waited for him at which point he suggested I go ahead and that he was fine and would certainly finish, but I needed to run it out (a very selfless act it was indeed). With a heavy heart, but renewed focus, I began the second half strong, and pushed through stronger. I ran more in that section that I'd done so all week. I felt smooth, full of bounce and on the whole, certain that I was in sight of the end. There was of course The Black Mountain to negotiate and several other smaller summits, despite these however, I bared down into every hill, poles charged and passed people with a surprising frequency. I even began to target them as mini challenges to help section off the remaining 20 or so miles. It wasn't without pain, a superb flying superman trip up or being passed by some of the elites, but I eventually neared the site of Carreg Cennen Castle (the finish location of the original 1992 race). From here, my spirits went into overdrive. Energy levels, toenails, hamstrings, blisters, the lack of sleep, it was all irrelevant. I flew down that final road and burst through to claim my status as a Dragon Slayer, something I hadn't even thought I could actually achieve.
The dust has now settled and I'm slowly hobbling about trying to piece together what that incredible race meant to me. In all honesty, I'm not quite sure. I think it gave me the direction and drive to achieve something that was beyond my belief. I hope my new born son will one day consider giving it a try, I hope it defines me as a runner with resilience and commitment but if nothing else, it means I've seen a stunning country in such a way that many will never and I'm incredibly grateful that I was able to, despite the physical and emotional cost, it was 100% worth it. I think the bottom line is this, if you don't give yourself the opportunity in life, how can you possibly know what you're truly capable of?
Scott Huntley -Dragon Slayer
Edinburgh Marathon - Sunday 26 May
6 months in the planning I made my way north of the border for my first visit to Scotland. I was joined by Richard Pillinger and to assist with translation Glasgow’s finest George Arbuckle. A leisurely 9 hour drive saw us arrive at our accommodation just in time to fulfil our 7pm restaurant booking. On race day a well rested Richard Pillinger was up first as the half marathon kicked off at 8am. Myself and George made our way down to the marathon for a 10am start. The weather forecast predicted Scottish summer, 30mph gusts and torrential rain. The heavens opened as the race started and off we went. Quickly into a nice rhythm we descended from the city center towards the coast. There was a big drop within the first mile before the course levelled out with the odd incline but predominantly flat. A further drop saw us hit the coast. Just after the 5 mile point a calf niggle that had interrupted my last 3 weeks of training resurfaced and I had to stop. I stretched it out and moved to plan B (no, not the rap artist). Could I manage a PB. I adjusted my stride and attempted 7.35 pace. This also proved to be uncomfortable as I was unable to toe off. So plan C, could I squeak under 3.30. At mile 9 I reached Musselburgh (finish point) where unfortunately I saw George who had decided to drop out due to his achilles. We had a chat and George attempted to jog along side me but within 200m had to stop. I decided to plod on. By mile 14 the adjustments in stride had taken their toll and my legs were complaining. At mile 23 disaster struck as I found myself licking the pavement after taking a tumble. My face/shoulder stopped my fall so the modelling career is on hold. Not quite sure what happened but some fellow runners put me in the recovery position (no reclining armchair and big cigar) and asked me my name. ‘Pause my Garmin’ was not the response they were expecting. I assured the medic I was ok and said with only 3 miles to go nobody was stopping me from finishing (hero I know). 3 miles of cramp and high 5’s followed. Delighted to finish and clocked 3.45.52 where I was presented with a medal (not sure if anyone else received one or just the heroes).... The race didn’t quite go according to plan but the post race beers duly delivered as we washed down The Haggis neeps and tatties. If anyone fancies a quick marathon then Edinburgh is the course for you.
Phillip Horan - 3:45:52
Corfu mountain trail - Sunday 5 May
We ran this race as our usual Kassios Dias run in early May was brought forward to mid April due to the CMT event changing date. So we made the decision to run at Messonghi towards the south of Corfu. I use the word run lightly. The event had over 3300 feet of climb and at times it was a climb up rocks and steep earth banks. The weather was shall we say a tad wet from not too long in to the race with torrential rain as we hit clouds. Eventually the sun came out near the end and it was a quick finish for the last 1K along the coast road. We have both earned our first ITA point for entry in to harder and longer races! This truly was a test and Denise used poles for the first time and she found this really helped her particularly on the difficult mud and stone descent. A great race, very understated with no spectators apart from the finish crew and other runners! We revert to the Kassios Dias next year as they are organising it for early May again!
Last Updated: Tuesday, 06 August 2019 09:34