Back on (the) Track – Soochow 24 Hour Race

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AMAZING!

INCREDIBLE!

TREMENDOUS!

ABSOLUTE PERFECTION!

No amount of superlatives, (how ever long they grow), can truly sum up the wonderful event at Soochow University, Taipei, on the 7th and 8th of December just gone. From the moment I was met at the airport by my brilliant support crew helpers Crystal and Tommy, until the moment they said goodbye at the same airport around 62 hours later, it was a simply joyous experience. No amount of vomiting, uncontrollable shaking, cramping, and intravenous fluids was going to change that!

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Frank and Ryoichi Sekiya taken at the 2010 race

I felt so fortunate, welcome, and inspired from the moment I registered for the race.

Frank Kuo is an amazing race director who puts this event together each year. He also challenges us all with other amazing challenges. In 2013 he put on a multi-day race around the whole of Taiwan, and in March 2014 he will stage a 240km single stage race which is sounds both epic and beautiful.

So after two massive amounts of good luck already. An invitation from Frank, and a pick-up from the awesome Crystal and Tommy, it was only natural that I’d completely luck out and share accommodation with World Champion and recent US 100 mile record holder (11h59m) Jon Olsen. What a pro this guy turned out to be. Simply the nicest world champion I’ve ever run with🙂

Everything continued in this vein throughout my time at Soochow. Friday was great fun and included a very social registration, technical meeting for all us ‘athletes’, and a press conference to introduce us to the masses. Little did I realise how far this would extend. The whole experience was both surreal and wondrous, but so much fun you couldn’t help but get carried along in it.

Saturday morning and I took my time to get up. Facing 24 hours of running makes me value every second in bed, funny that. I felt super relaxed heading to the start. With such names as Jon Olsen (current World Champion), Ryoichi Sekiya (2 x World Champion & Spartathlon winner), Mami Kudo (current World Champion and World Record holder), and Yoshikazu Hara (current UTMF Champion) in the field, it was easy to stay relaxed as placings did not matter. All I cared about was a big total.

A blow-by-blow account of a 24 hour race is never going to be fascinating reading. To cut a long story short, the race took three distinct states.

  • State 1: Running in 2nd gear for 18 hours, feeling on top of the world, creeping up the classification (as a by product of staying consistent and others dropping by the way side through heat/humidity exhaustion), and generally just enjoying every minute and recalculating every now and then how much I’d be just over or under a final total on 245km.
  • State 2. Legs no longer working, temperature no longer stable, stomach contents no longer inside, and a rather shaky and messy Moroz laying prone in the medical tent on IV.
  • State 3. Back on track, getting the legs moving again, and loving every moment as I milked the crowd on my way to plodding round for a nice round total of 200km.

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No prizes for guessing which ‘State’ this was🙂

I must say I preferred State 1, but State 2 was dealt with in such a great fashion by the medical team and my incredible support that it wasn’t actually too bad. I was never worried that they wouldn’t sort me out. State 3 was glorious fun. Enjoying the crowds and thanking all those that had cheered me on for so many hours was great. After being off track and in the medical tent it just got the crowd going more when I returned. They gave me so much energy again and I just plodded round with a big smile on my face.

I got to 199.6km a little early so relaxed and went the opposite way round the track to speak to people in the crowd and take some pictures. I waited to complete 200km together with ‘The Champ’ Jon Olsen. Upon completion I untagged and again, just enjoyed the show. 200km had a nice feel to it and although it was lower than I’m planned for and expected when I was at 185km after 18 hours, it was the most fun I think I’ll ever have running around an athletics track (until maybe next year🙂 )

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“Come on Jon you slacker…”

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Olsen (Team USA) and Moroz (Team GB) complete 200km

I cannot say enough good things about Jon, he was a true inspiration. He had a tough day himself but hung in there and never gave up. With nothing to prove after an incredible year he got up after his own ‘IV wobble’ and finished like a true professional. 

With so many amazing people out there it’s impossible to give thanks and heap respect on them all. I must mention Crystal Chen and Tommy (Ting Yang Chang) once again though, they were the best! Also meeting and running with the superb Deb Nicholl, Meredith Quinlan, Ivan Cudin, and Johan Van Der Merwe. So many other incredible helpers and supporters among the Soochow students too including Marta Ma, Kelly Lan, Ivy Lee, Alexsandra Lee, Jessie Tsai, and Angela. I so hope I see all of the above mentioned people again, and all are forever welcome in Hong Kong. I finish with a few more of my favourite pictures from the adventure.

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Back in the game: Rediscovering the running mojo! (Part 2)

Ahhh, how good it feels to be back…

Back once again is the desire to run. To run fast. To run in fantastic events and push myself towards complete self destruction🙂

The original idea for a mojo inducing come back came in the form of ‘Diceman’ training. This would’ve taken the guise of mimicking the exploits of fictional character Luke Rhinehart, only a little less tame (no murdering and raping!).

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I’m loving the idea and this will most definitely make up part of my training regime in the not too distant future. Something epic like a 12 hour track session, or a 50 mile trail run would come from throwing double 1 (snake eyes) with odds of 36-1, and something much more palatable like a steady 10 miler might be attached to a much more likely score of 7 with two die. The idea of having to potentially face any of the 11 possible training sessions each day would certainly keep you on your toes, and force the body to adjust to whatever is thrown at it. The excitement of leaving it all down to chance turns the whole escapade into a fun game. Fun until you roll a score of 2 one day, and 12 the next and end up running massive mileage both days🙂

Until then, a far more tried and trusted mojo raiser has come to the forefront. The good old fashioned, and highly trusted, event sign-up!!!

So it is that this coming Thursday I’ll be jumping back on the horse, and taking part in Ultra Running Limited’s ‘Severn Challenge’. As soon as my place was confirmed I could feel the excitement of event coming over me, and the trusty bicycle was banished in order to run home from a visit to my parents’ place.

Image http://www.ultrarunningltd.co.uk/

 

It is with a sense of absolute joy, (albeit with a hint of trepidation), that I look towards travelling to Worcester tomorrow, in order to get ready for this multi-day challenge which runs from Thursday to Monday. The line up of adventure reads something like this:

  • Stage 1 – Source to Severn (06:00 – 06:30 register, 07:30 depart for start line)
    Thursday 30th May 2013 – 26.4 miles.
  • Stage 2 – The Hafren Ultra (07:30 start)
    Friday 31st May 2013 – 45 miles.
  • Stage 3 – The Severn Path Ultra (07:30 start)
    Saturday 1st June 2013 – 58.4 miles
  • Stage 4 – The Severn Way Ultra (07:30 start)
    Sunday 2nd June 2013 – 58 miles
  • Stage 5 – Final leg of ‘7’ (07:30 start)
    Monday 3rd June 2013 – 26.3 miles

A total of 214 miles over 5 days, fantastic! And for anyone who fancies joining me, there are individual ultras built in you only fancy a day or two.

It’s been my pleasure to run an Ultra Running Ltd event in the past, so I know I can expect great things again. Last time it was The Thames Challenge, this event’s sister race. To have the chance to run ‘7’ is an absolute honour and to complete the double will be amazing (fingers crossed). These events are an absolute joy as they share the same incredible benefits that are common with the multi-day desert races from Racing The Planet/4 Deserts that I love so much. Those of extreme camaraderie and human spirit which come from a like-minded group of people putting themselves through the ringer together. Going through the full gamut of human emotions towards a common goal, it is impossible not to bond and will each other to greater and greater achievements. By the end you really do care about your fellow competitors successes as much as your own, and get as much joy from witnessing them cross the finish line.

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http://www.4deserts.com/

 

 

The great thing about these UK based multi-day affairs is that they’re a great way of testing the water if you’re looking to take on a multi-day desert challenge in the future, or indeed, if you’re training up for one. You get to face back-to-back-to-back heavy mileage without the burden of a heavy bag, and without the sand dunes and extreme heat. I’d recommend them as both an amazing and massive stand alone challenge, and a lovely ‘gateway’ ultra experience for all those looking to go long and sandy in the near future!

Wish me luck! 

 

Back in the game: Rediscovering the running mojo! (Part 1)

Watching Trainspotting for the first time in years the other day made me smile. When Sickboy delivers his all encompassing theory of life, how “at one time, you’ve got it, and then you lose it, and it’s gone forever”.

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This seemed to illustrate exactly how I was feeling about my running. How 3 months ago I felt like a world beater, completely invincible, and how now it feels like my shot at ultra greatness has slipped through my fingers, and it’s now a slippery downhill slope instead to ultra mediocrity!

It’s easy to lose sight of the important things, how the love of running, the sense of freedom, exhilaration, and the fun of challenging oneself to run with total abandon are the only things that really matter. Those and being part of something really special. Part of a global community of like-minded people. A community of the most supportive, caring, adventurous, driven, and welcoming people you’re ever likely to find. All chock full of camaraderie, mutual respect, and human spirit.

The last 3 months have included absolute highs, mainly landing a dream job and working towards a new life in Asia (more on this in a future blog post), but the running mojo has been lacking, plagued as my running has been with a knee injury. The tricky path back to full strength ready for the 24 Hour World Championships was far from easy psychologically.

However, with fantastic support from 2 amazing physios; Stuart Wardle and Guy Van Herp I was able to make the start line in Steenbergen feeling almost 100%. These 2 guys both deserve a massive shout out for the work they did for me, so thanks so much again guys.

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Stuart is a top physio and works with Norwich City Football Club. When I was panicking back in late March, fearing I’d miss out on the World Championships altogether I figured I need the best help possible. Who better to approach than someone working with multi-million pound footballers, who sometimes NEED to get back to playing no matter what, with the clock always against them. My intuition was correct and Stuart was incredibly instrumental in helping me make a fantastically speedy recovery!

With the Team GB vest, comes additional Imagebenefits, and I was also lucky enough to have additional help from Team GB’s Guy Van Herp. Guy has worked with numerous top athletes and runners (Mo Farah, Paula Radcliffe), and was also a massive bonus to have helping out. Both these guys have their own private businesses so if you need any help please seek them out. I can’t say enough good things about them:

Stuart: http://www.recoverphysio.co.uk/

Guy: http://www.vanherpphysio.com/

The World Championships in Steenbergen really were a mixed bag. A true game of two halves come event time, and a long weekend of two halves overall. The first half of both were amazing. The build up to the event was incredible, the atmosphere totally electric, and the team spirit was through the roof. The event even started fantastically well, perhaps too well? But after 13 great hours building a total of around 87 miles, the wheels came off spectacularly!

Once the rain had poured down, and the cold and wet had really soaked in, I never really recovered. The legs seized up once cold, and with only a very slow shuffle being achieved in the wee hours, the core temperature continued to fall until comedy-style-exaggerated-shivering were the only only movements I could make. The rest of the event and the weekend are somewhat of a blur. A blur of disappointment, and a sense of watching it all pass me by while I merely spectated.

There were so many positives to take away though, even when things went very wrong. The toasty leisure centre, which resembled a scene from MASH with all the other shivering messes, ended up being a fantastically sociable place, with those runners who’d warmed up a bit helping out the more recent arrivals. Silver foil blankets, buffs and beanies were shared around and given to whoever seemed the most needy in that moment. I met a fantastic group of Canadians in the centre after I’d got warm and we chatted about other races, conditions, and running, just like we had when out on the track.

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A special note here for amazing Estonian runner Krista Jalajas who, (unfortunately for her), had to pull out of the race early with an injury. Her misfortune was many other runner’s saving grace, as she helped so many of us throughout the night get warm and comfortable. So from myself and on behalf of all the others you helped, Krista ‘Nightingale’, we thank you dearly!

I’ll leave you with a few pics from Steenbergen. A few reminders of the positive moments that I’ll take away and use to motivate me to work harder than ever to repeat my inclusion in Team GB, and come back stronger than ever for next year’s World Championships.

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Atacama Crossing 2013: The Tale of the Tape

“Wow, what a roller coaster ride”. A term regularly used in ultra running, but in a multi day event this comes in spades. Camaraderie, characters, and amazing stories too, these are all massively exaggerated with day after day to suffer, endure, and fall apart, as well as bond, support, and soldier on. Racing The Planet’s Atacama Crossing 2013 was the absolute definition of all these for myself and many other competitors, what an amazing journey!

The short version: 50km of pleasure, 200km of pain, with massive highs and lows along the way and a massive bonus at the very end.

The longer version…

The race started fantastically well. We started at a crazy pace on Day 1 and it felt great. Loving the down hill sections in the Hokas, I managed to fly down the descent to Checkpoint 1 in first place. It felt wonderful and I was elated that the acclimatisation had worked to perfection, and I had been justified somewhat in my belief that I could be a contender in the race, early days but huge optimism engulfed me.

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Leading! Closely followed by Daniel, Vlad, Kyle, and Rich.

At Checkpoint 2 the lead group was down to 4, with myself, Daniel, Vlad, and Kyle both duelling and working together. The pace remained frenetic but we seemed like a very strong team, very even, and very focused. My focus unfortunately wavered with a forced toilet stop (due to the excessive carb-loading the day before), and I was dropped from the leading pack. Unlike the Tour de France the guys didn’t wait for me and I can’t say I blame them. With a barren desert offering no cover, it would be a far more pleasant experience for all concerned if they put some distance between me and themselves.

I tried to catch up, perhaps a little too quickly, and ended up blowing up a little. I was happy enough to arrive around 6 minutes after Daniel, Vlad and Kyle into camp and tick Day 1 off. We all agreed the pace had been crazy and that the following days couldn’t stay at that pace, although it would mainly be terrain that would control us rather than our own brains.

Day 2 started off with some great fun as we attacked multiple river crossings. The 4 of us from Day 1 were joined up front by Adam and Craig, with Zandy just narrowly behind understandably swearing loudly every time his already injured ankle was twisted and turned by the rocks both above and below the water.

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Daniel, Kyle, Vlad, Moroz, Craig

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Moroz, Craig

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Zandy show-boating between agonised swearing. Only a true pro could pull off such style in adversity!

At Checkpoint 1 we caught Adam who’d had a great little jaunt up front, attacking the leaders in the guise of a young Claudio Chiappucci or Marco Pantani. Shortly after it seemed like normal service had resumed with the usual suspects from Day 1 all back together up front, with myself, Kyle, Vlad, and Daniel creeping away from the others. It seemed like a pattern was emerging, even amongst us front 4, with “mountain goats” Daniel and Vlad bouncing up the inclines while Kyle and I suffered, only for Kyle and I to chase them down again on the declines using our weightier bodies and gravity to our advantage. It was perhaps this pattern that would lead to my downfall which was just round the corner.

After an incredibly scenic climb up to “the tunnel” and up to the summit ridge, we came to a spectacular sand dune descent. Daniel and Vlad had pulled away on the ascent so now was the time to catch them again, with this in mind Kyle and I attacked.

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Not me, but rather a picture of the sand dune we were descending

The sand dune had a sting in it’s tail however, a sting for me anyway. On launching myself down, with eyes on making Checkpoint 2 and catching the leaders, I was surprised by the make up of the sand. The first 15 or 20 steps had been soft, soft, soft, so when suddenly the sand was HARD, my left knee that had expected soft ended up hyper extending itself and it one fail swoop my race was all but over. I shuffled to Checkpoint 2, emptied the sand from my shoe, filled my water bottles, then hobbled on hoping all would be well but knowing deep down it wasn’t. I quickly gobbled down a couple of cocodamol and a couple of ibuprofen, half in desperation, and half in denial, and walked on.

Things were bad for 20 or 30 minutes. I was passed by Adam, then Craig, and expected Zandy, Andrea, Rich and Power to come past at any moment. Things were made even worse when myself, Craig, and Adam got a little lost and had to back track, but at least it was a little distraction from the pain.

I tried to shuffle and after the pain killers kicked in I found I could do around 35 paces each time before the knee totally locked, I’d then walk again to ease the pain. I used this technique for a while and after a while I caught up to a point where I could see Kyle, Adam, and Craig ahead, after all three had been out of sight for a while beforehand. At this point the painkilling effects of the 2 drugs, plus the natural adrenalin and endorphin from seeing three fellow competitors within catching distance, helped me get going again and I caught the group and myself and Craig even kicked on. Craig was fantastic to run with, although his controlled and consistent pace was vastly in contrast with what I could myself perform. Instead I’d walk for 20 paces and let Craig get ahead, then when the knee was not too stiff I’d hobble quickly for 35 to 50 paces to catch up again. Craig must’ve thought I was a complete loon and I explained much later what was going on. At the time though I didn’t really want to admit to him (or myself) that I was injured.

Craig dropped me after a while as my right quad was screaming at me. The left knee was screwed and so my new hobble meant my right leg was doing all the work. I started to feel a little sorry for myself before Zandy caught me up. As two pre-race-favourites and during-race-injured-runners it was great to combine to finish off the stage. With total respect and empathy it was impossible to feel low and we made a great team, running for 4:30, then walking for 20 seconds. We got close to catching Craig but backed off. At this point I even remarked that it was no problem, we’d beat him tomorrow, back was the belief/denial that the injury wouldn’t be severe, ahhh, such optimism…

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Relaxing in the finishers tent

We chatted and dissected the stage and waited for Kyle a little concerned. The poor guy had had a bad time on the stage and possibly suffered either with altitude or heat causing some vomiting. We were super happy to see him come in not too long after us, and gave him a big welcome after his obvious suffering.

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Moroz and Zandy cheer in Kyle

After a tough day I had all sorts of emotions bouncing around. I’d screwed my knee and I’d lost time on the two leaders Daniel and Vlad, but I’d jumped up to third at poor Kyle’s expense. My guts had been more stable, and I felt full of energy and unstressed with the heat or altitude. I went to bed again full of optimism that the injury would be short-lived and I’d wake up ready to run fast again. Just one good sleep and all would be well…

On waking it seemed as though the optimism was justified. No pain whatsoever in the knee, whoopee!!! On standing and then barely able to walk outside to the toilet, the optimism soon faded however and suddenly a huge chunk of reality bit my on the ass. I returned to the tent and moped for almost an hour, lost in my own thoughts of what to do. The desire to continue was strong, but so too was the desire not to make the injury worse and perhaps ruin my chances of running for Great Britain at The World Championships in May. In the end there was one thought that won through. I realised that the reason I do these events is about far more than simply the competition. Okay, so I hoped to come to Atacama and do well but I always told myself that however well I did that I should never lose sight of the reasons I fell in love with these events in the first place. These reasons are the camaraderie, the characters you meet, the campfire stories, the personal challenge, the beauty, serenity, and surrealism of running in the desert, and the whole caveman lifestyle feel of what we do out there. All of these aspects remained in tact, only one facet was lost, and in so losing the one of competition, I’d gain a little more in each of the others that would more than make up for it. So I told myself to go out and give it a try, and if things start getting worse in the knee, I could always pull out at Checkpoint 1.

So Day 3 began slowly and painfully but I remained positive. It was great to share time with other competitors and have the ability to talk a different brand of crap with them. One of the first up was Peter who got me through much of the first couple of hours.

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Moroz and Peter

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Walking with the knee firmly strapped

Later in the stage I had great company from another fellow Brit named David, and then caught the always entertaining Colin and Brian along with Annabel and my trusty Canadian hombre Jim Willett at Checkpoint 3. With the massively inspiring Jim, I stomped on with my patented power-limp and we made pretty good progress through a tough final section. At the end I was just massively relieved to still be in the race and it didn’t seem as though the knee was too much worse.

The least said about Day 4 the better. The knee didn’t relent all day and I really struggled to complete. On the plus side I got to chat with the awesome Ash for the first part of the day, and Steve helped me through some of the second section, but in reality I struggled throughout. A massive blow came when I arrived at checkpoint 2 and discovered Zandy had pulled out. Zandy had been amazing, battling each day despite his ankle problem, and his withdrawal really hurt. It sucked that such a great guy had been defeated by an injury, and it also kind of made withdrawing more of an option to me, “if the awesome Zandy Mangold can withdraw then so can I…”.

I tried  to convince Zandy to limp/hobble/stumble through the rest of the race with me and even offered to go back to where he pulled out (a few miles back) to continue with him. I’ll never know quite how much this was a gesture of altruism or selfishness from me, but either way I sure liked the idea of sharing the pain with a great guy who could keep me entertained. Zandy was tempted but thankfully he made the right decision. Thankfully because if he’d done any further damage I’d have felt guilty forever more.

After being beaten up all day, I was almost in tears when I crossed the line, this made even more emotional by a fantastic welcome from Zandy himself and fellow tent mates Jim, Rich, Power, Al, and Jeffa. They knew I’d had a massively tough day by the fact I’d taken so long out there, and so I thank you with all my heart for that welcome. Without such support I’m not sure I’d have been able to get up and face Day 5, the long stage.

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Start of Stage 5

Day 5 was epic. It was beautiful, varied, challenging, exhausting, and at times excruciatingly painful. I did have some great drugs though, from my own personal stash and from tent-mate Al, without which I wouldn’t have made it. The day was made incredibly rewarding and entertaining by sharing almost all of it with my good friend Jim Willett. We walked almost the entire thing and stayed strong throughout, helping each other through the odd tough moment. Without the constraint of time concerns I even managed to pick up a couple of awesome Atacama rocks for posterity and myself and Jim had the chance to use my inherited walking poles for an impromptu bout of fencing.

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We finished in a reasonable time considering and were beaten but not broken by the time we finished. Such a relief knowing the hard work was all done and that the overall finish was all but assured.

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Moroz and Willett. (poles are only fun if they’re not a medical necessity!)

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Moroz and Willett, happy it’s over!

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Bromance: Moroz and Willett

After the rest day came a delightful 8.2km victory lap into San Pedro de Atacama, the place I’d called home for almost a month and had completely fallen in love with. Using the poles again (borrowed from the amazing Jennifer Murray) I managed a speed-power-pole-induced-run/limp and was joined by Zandy who again kept my mind off the pain with fantastic stories and general nonsense. I’m sure these two pre-race-favourites-come-cripples didn’t look too smooth running along the way, and I probably let the side down again by gaining very few style points (sorry Zandy), but we got to the finish in one piece. Zandy stated that he had unfinished business in Atacama, that was music to my ears, I have unfinished business too, so put your money on a Mangold/Moroz 1-2 in 2014!

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Moroz and Mangold: watch out for those names in 2014!

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Joy, pride, relief???

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Tent 4:
Back Row (L->R) Power, Bex, Al, Rich, Blanca, Moroz
Front Row (L->R) Jim, Jeffa, Jackie

Oh yes, I mentioned in the short version a massive bonus at the very end. This came at the awards ceremony which happened in San Pedro the night of the final stage. The night saw much debauchery, with 130+ competitors, volunteers, staff, friends, and family all catching up after a week in the desert eating freeze dried meals and being limited to warm water to drink. After the usual awards for winners and age groups came the special awards which are given out at each Racing The Planet event. The ‘Spirit’ award was given to an amazing blind competitor and his guide from Brazil named Vladmi and Alex. They were incredible throughout and made amazing time in incredibly tough conditions, just so inspiring. Then came the big surprise when I received the ‘Sportsmanship’ award, I’m not sure I’ve ever been so proud in my life, especially with so many other deserving competitors in this years event.

Now I was a little tipsy by now (having not drunk in months) and so I can only try and remember, but I think the wonderful Sam Fanshawe explained that it was for my efforts during the week to carry on through the hardship of the knee injury, to stay positive though out, and to carry on supporting everyone around me during this time of physical stress. In my mind I really had no choice and I love to support everyone I can as I know first hand how much difference it can make. I wasn’t going to argue, and I thank everyone who voted for me.

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Look at my stupid face and realise that this is why I do not drink!🙂

So now it’s all about dusting myself off and recovering and training for The World Championships in May. I’m very hopeful of being back to full strength, ready to take on the World by the 11th! And as for desert races, I’ll be back as soon as I can, they’re the absolute best!

Fun in the sun in San Pedro de Atacama: Atacama Crossing 2013 build-up

Saturday the movie theme moved away from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and back to Rocky IV. I figured “If running hurts so much, then sod it, I’ll get back into the cross training to acclimatise and enjoy myself”.

Previous bike rides and the hike up Volcan Lascar totally hit the spot. Total fun, and a distraction rather than a reminder of the upcoming event. And at least the lungs/legs/heart didn’t burn as much as running!

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Road to nowhere? No, the road to Argentina, silly!!!

So I took my trusty steed out along my favourite Chilean highway, the 27-CH, aka the Paso de Jama which takes you all the way to Argentina.

Without many landmarks to gauge your trajectory, except the constant Volcan Licancabur, it is difficult to know whether you’re cycling up hill, down hill, or along the flat at times. A weird optical illusion occurs, as is also seen in the Magnetic Hills of India and the Electric Brae in Ayrshire, either way, it was a relief at times when I figured I was cycling up hill, as I was giving it everything to poodle along at 6mph.

In glorious sunshine, I took my time and just kept knocking out the distance, although when going slow it was tough with every 100 metres marked on the tarmac surface!

I made it to the 20km mark, that is, 20km from San Pedro. It had taken me ages, around 2 and a half hours, then I realised, ‘Oh shit, now I have to get back again…”

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After around 45 minutes attempting to hitch back, (not easy at a rate of one vehicle passing per 10 minutes with me carrying a bike), I finally caught a lift.

This last part is a complete lie, just checking to see how many of you really think I’ve gone completely weak out here!🙂 Hitch back to San Pedro, are you crazy? When I’ve hired the bike for 6 hours, and me being a student and all!!!😉

I carried on and made it to the 25km mark before I turned around and started on my return trip (without assistance). It was really only now that the true essence of the bike ride became evident. The sprawling desert, intersected with highway 27-CH, was now obviously a complete descent, and had been a continual climb to that point. Visually this was a great boost, but nowhere near as much as the fantastic boost from the fun of high-speed-freewheeling for the first 15km back to San Pedro! If I’d had the air in my lungs I’d have yelled “WEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE” all the way down, but at an altitude of 3000 metres it was more of a “wee”.

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The descent was only interrupted by a brief interlude to do a tiny run, and more because i spotted some cool secluded rocks and i imagined a brief Anton Krupicka impersonation. For any that don’t know the name, Anton is a total legend and a hero of most of us ultra and trail runners. He’s generally found running ‘minimalist’ in the Rocky Mountains. Usually naked bar from short-shorts, and a pair of New Balance Minimus Trail.

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I guess I need to work on the tan, the hair, and the beard. Then, and only then, will I be able to move to the “Mecca” of Boulder and run amongst the greats! I realise that even then I’d struggle as the Hokas certainly don’t fit in with the whole minimalist ethos. I have figured out one way to balance things out though, so Anton, you can kiss my ass!

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Minimalist running in Hokas!

What a great day out, and so much more fun than coughing up a lung attempting a proper run in this heat and altitude! Maybe Racing The Planet will allow me take a mountain bike into the event with me, it doesn’t mention bicycle on the mandatory kit list, but it doesn’t say you can’t… It also allows for super cool fashion statements thus: Screen Shot 2013-02-24 at 16.19.28

For any concerned that I might be losing it out here, do not fear, the cavalry is on it’s way! The fantastic Rebecca Pattinson (fellow competitor) lands in Calama in little over an hour, and will be followed shortly thereafter by her mother Gillian Pattinson (volunteer), aunt Jennifer Murray (fellow competitor), and Jennifer’s friend Bianca Fernandez (fellow competitor). We’ll all catch up and eat together tonight. Finally some like-minded company and a massive bonus of additional characters (and what characters) for future blog posts!

Ok, that’s it for now. I leave you with just a few more gratuitous photos from yesterday’s fantastic bike ride:

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Fear an Self Loathing in San Pedro: Atacama Crossing looming large…

After a couple of terrible days attempting to prepare for the big kick-off on March 3rd, the fear is starting to creep in, and by creep in, I mean I’m drowning in self doubt and negativity regarding my potential performance!

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I can even hear Hunter/Johnny urging me to ‘Get a grip, man’, but this seems to be far more physical that mental. I was so burnt out after a 14 miler on Wednesday that I had that feeling afterwards when you don’t really know what to do with yourself, a reaction usually saved for post insane ultra distances. Yesterday was just as bad if not worse, having to simply walk through the Pukara de Quitor region as running was almost impossible! I did manage to cover around 10 miles in total, but only 3 of those were running, and I’m talking painful 10 minute miles!

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One big bonus was I bumped into Daniel Rowland on my walk, a really nice guy and one of the real favourites for the race. The contrast was enormous. Daniel bounded along running with his Chilean buddy, and when we stopped to chat I was the one more short of breath from my walk! This guy seems like a massive contender, and although I’ve not met Zandy or any of the other inevitable dark-horses in the race, the smart money is on Daniel I think.

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It doesn’t even seem wrong uploading this image as I hardly recognise this guy and certainly isn’t me anymore!

Meeting Daniel and seeing him bounce along the trail with something around 5% body fat (if that) made me feel like the old fat-faced, fat-necked, wide-boy of many moons ago…

The day of revelations continued. Added to my own ineptness, combined with my fellow competitor’s obvious ability, I was also (un)fortunate enough to find some of the dreaded salt-flats. I say salt-flats and I think that’s what they were. If they were, salt-flats is a total misnomer. A more honest moniker would be something like ‘thick-evil-glutenous-mud-from-the-depths-of-hades-with-a-sprinkle-of-salt-on-top-flats’!

Anyway, I’d heard the hype, and upon seeing what I figured were the ‘bogey-man’ salt-flats I thought ‘is that it?’ Wow, they’re pretty unimpressive on the eye, much more impressive on the feet however! Screen Shot 2013-02-22 at 01.02.37

The only way I can accurately describe the sensation of walking/running in this gloop, also fits in with their visual appearance. It’s like you’ve been transported to a land of giants, and are running across a freshly made, delicious looking chocolate brownie, complete with powdered sugar on the top. The surprise comes when you realise that they’ve made the brownies wrong, and have the soft mushy thick gloop at the top, and it hasn’t set yet!

“Buy us some golf shoes… otherwise we’ll never get out of this place alive. Impossible to walk in this muck. No footing at all.”

I just hope that now I have this image in mind, that it doesn’t resurface when I’m disoriented during the event and I chow down for some badly needed chocolate/sugar hit late into the long stage!

Hoka lovers please look away now. Oh the humanity… Screen Shot 2013-02-22 at 01.02.59

So anyway, enough negativity, today is a new day and there’s still plenty of time to get used to this heat and altitude. A quick check of Garmin Connect just to reassure myself that I used to be able to run, and let’s get away from the fear and self loathing as “that’s uh, that’s uh, that’s so ugly, man!”

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Atacama Crossing Lead Up: Running around San Pedro

After running in excess of 100 miles the previous week, my first week in Chile turned out to be my first non-running week in months. Due to back problems and then filling the weekend with cycling and hiking, a grand total of zero miles were run, but I’m convincing myself that it was ideal timing.

This week I’m back in the game, back in the Hokas, and back on the road and trail. It’s hard to gauge just how much running would be ideal between now and March 3rd. How to balance last minute training to get used to running in the heat and altitude, with the need for some tapering. I’ll aim to get out most days for something. I think there’s a lot to be said for making running a natural state of play for the body, so to get out maybe every day between now and the start for around 10k might be the way forward. That was the accidental technique that saw me to my best ever performance in Barcelona, all the fault of Marcothon getting me out every day leading up to the event.

It isn’t hard to get motivated to run in these parts, this area is just chock full of natural beauty, the hardest decision is which direction to choose. P1090593So far this week it has been the road to Paso Jama, a mountain pass through the Andes between Chile and Argentina, if only I had a bit more time and could get my hands on a decent road bike!

 

The runs have initially been in the evening, I’ve been wimping out a little from the hottest parts of the day but I will resolve this! With these kinds of views though, the evening/dusk certainly continues to be incredibly attractive:

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While I was running, and setting the timer for these pics, I couldn’t help but think of the great website I’d seen earlier in the day: www.runnermuck.com  it has a selection of ‘run porn’, nothing too seedy just pictures of awesome trails etc, that us runners will drool over. It made me think that these pictures may fit that bill a little, but maybe even cross over into the realm of self-masturbation-run-porn. Is setting the timer and quickly getting into running pose as bad as those horrible self portraits at arms length you see so regularly on Facebook etc? Maybe, but I hope they also benefit from a far more laudable intention of whetting appetites for running in general, and running in Chile specifically!

In other news, an interesting development saw the latest Racing The Planet newsletter released. It looked gorgeous and if I wasn’t already out here to participate in one of the events, I’d be selling a kidney in order to get signed up to something. Screen Shot 2013-02-20 at 12.36.45The Atacama news I found particularly amusing as it lists me as one of the favourites! I guess now I can no longer stay off the radar, that’ll teach me to whore myself out on blogs, podcasts, and other shameless self-promotion!🙂

I guess I better keep an eye out for Daniel and Zandy. I don’t know much about Daniel but can remember following Zandy’s progress in last year’s event. He did great and will be a huge contender with previous course and distance experience. He also seems like a great guy which is unfortunate. It would be much easier to hate him and use that to fuel my race😉

The whole newsletter had me racking my brains for money making schemes to sign up for everything they were basically advertising. How incredible does the Madagascar event look and sound!?!Screen Shot 2013-02-20 at 12.37.14

If a miracle happened and I ended up doing really well this time round, it would be incredibly tempting to go back and have a real good go at Sahara and Gobi again too. Being here in Chile highlights the fact that each race is so very different. It’d be easy to think a desert is a desert is a desert but from what I’ve seen you couldn’t get three so completely different places as Sahara, Gobi, and Atacama. Each one magical in their own way, you can see why competitors such as Jesse Yoo who is here in Atacama for his 19th Racing The Planet event!      http://www.4deserts.com/

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Gobi March 10th year anniversary: 2 – 8 June 2013

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Hmmm, The Sahara Race now in February… sounds like a nice ‘winter sun’ opportunity😉