Monday, April 30, 2012


Nearly 12 months of beautiful weather...........but not today. I went to bed on what felt like a warm summers evening and awoke to a tropical rainstorm! At 4 am I felt like going back to sleep instead of venturing out into this deluge. This was going to be many things but  'fun' was not high on the list.
Getting ready to go
       Right, I thought, change your state, take a deep breath and make a decision...........I was going to embrace today and make it happen no matter what........and with that I was up and out of bed.
       Arriving at the start were 250 rather sad and damp looking figures..... and we hadn't even started!
Going up the first climb
  The gun went off at 7 am and up into the storm covered mountains we went. If this sounds crazy, try doing it because its completely insane. I felt quite sluggish for about and hour which is not good when climbing a mountain in the rain. At this point I thought 'How am I going to do this ?' Its just so hard but I just kept moving, eating gels, electrolytes, S-caps, Cliff blocks. Mentally, its exhausting because on this technical terrain of rocks, roots, loose stones, one slip and thats it, especially on a steep descent.
       For  some bizarre reason here I was doing a French ultra and yet I was surrounded all day by Italians ! Go figure. They never stopped talking (not to me of course, as me no parle Italiano), no Brits , no Yanks, and so it was just me alone with my thoughts. This made it a very long day as in these wet mountains there were no spectators. All I could think about were the logistics of staying on my feet, keeping dry and remaining focused.
      To be honest I'd felt better on my training runs but maybe it was all those carbs and associate water retention.........or maybe I'm just slow. The fact that I knew the course was both good and bad. Good, in that I could prepare and plan when to run fast or slow down, therefore enabling me to control my energy resources and refueling strategy; but bad in that I knew how far and how difficult it was.
Le Pic De L'ours on a sunny day (not today)
    Physically I had trained hard to deal with the mountains so I knew I had the stamina but after many hours your leg muscles begin to tire and ache. As with all races you always get the unexpected. This time a fall on the first climb, pulled my left hamstring, I managed to run it off but later on that pain would return. Half way up the second climb, the Pic de L'ours, (Bears Peak) I slipped again as the ground on the side of the hill just gave way and my right leg was suddenly 3 feet lower than my left.....a little scary. I was now 2 hours into the race and miraculously the rain had stopped which was great because now we were in the mist........couldn't see much but thats okay.
      I kept passing and then being overtaken by the same group of Italians......this went on for hours. I think the problem for me in these ultra's is that I'm so worried about the distance and the time it will take that it leaves me feeling quite negative and unable to 'enjoy' the experience fully. Maybe this is normal but in this race with the terrain being so difficult you have to concentrate the whole time and its mentally fact its true what they say about Ultra's, its all mental. For those who have never done one its quite hard to explain. At 2 or 3 hours, you still have maybe 8 hours still to go of the same relentless takes a lot of discipline and focus.
       After descending into a beautiful canyon, the 'mal infernet' I jogged along quite happily, which is strange because the name means 'pest ridden' and during the middle ages they used to throw all the pest ridden people into the canyon! (not a pleasant thought). Anyway, moving on I shortly began the long slow climb up the third mountain, the Cap Roux and just before the lightly stocked aid station a man shouted out 'Bonjour Monsieur Jeremy'. Fame in the middle of nowhere!....well actually it was my local doctor who, smiling broadly, seemed geuinely pleased to see me.....either that or pleased to see me alive, not sure which, but he was the leader of the medical team in this part of the course and as we shook hands he kept saying 'Bravo, bravo, allez, allez' (go, go)'. This perked up my spirits as I had not spoken to a soul in 4 hours and I thought well if my doctor thinks I look all right then onwards and upwards.
The sun comes out on the Cap Roux
       The last part of this climb is up a scree field and its torturous. After an hour, when I finally reached the top, relief turned into panic as my knee virtually collapsed underneath me with a sharp shooting pain. This had never happened before and at the most inaccessable part of the course, (the 4 zones of danger). I then had to descend a really steep rocky path thinking 'Is this game over?' Every step hurt and I felt I needed a nice smooth path to try and walk it off....I didn't get one so I just kept going and  very, very slowly the pain eased. ( How come these things never happen in training?). Helen my physio would later explain that after all that use of the knee joint in one direction it suddenly switched to the complete opposite and that caused the joint to strain and stretch (or something like that).
       I was so relieved when it eased up that I kept moving okay and then suddenly the clouds lifted and sunshine bathed the coastline, it was a dramatic and beautiful sight and slowly it got warmer. As we descended it got very warm and so I reached for my hat........that wasn't there. Unbelievable, I hadn't needed it all day and now I'd lost it. When the rain lifts in France it can get very hot, very quickly and I knew this and had prepared for it but, shit happens.
      Finally at 6 hours I reached the sea shore and another aid stop and then, in my wisdom, decided to go on an extra one kilometre diversion. The course must have been shortened and I'd missed the turning (fatigue, heat exhaustion, stupidity), eventually I got back on track and 10 people who were behind me were now in front. I was very angry with myself as I'd turned a 52 k ultra into a 53k...Idiot.
....and down the other side.
Les Grosses Grue, the trail up......

     Another up and down and then a 2000 feet climb back into the mountains. Just at the base of the climb there is a small turn (at about the 40k marathon distance) and many times in training I'd pondered what it must feel like to be 7 hours into an ultra with a huge climb ahead, well now I knew...........bloody terrible! But, relentless forward progress is the name of the game ( with full credit to Bryon Powell of and up I went with the sun beating down on me. An  hour and a half later  and the final climb of the day, Les Grosses Grue, was nearly at an end. The last bit is nearly vertical ( thank God for my poles) and as an Italian and I reached the top  we nodded a sort of 'well done' to each other. The view was spectacular and I relaxed a little now with only 8 k's to go.
   This was the best bit of the course, a lovely open down hill track. I looked across the valley to where we had begun nearly 9 hours before, I couldn't believe I had come this far. I'm pleased to say that I had no quad or calf problems at all and so I could still run, it was just slow due to overall fatigue. One more small climb and then 5 k's down to the sea and soon, at just under 10 hours, the finish came into view.
    Sue was there and I burst into tears.(Of course).
Impossible ?
    Many years ago I had seen a picture of runners at the top of the third  mountain (Le Cap Roux) and I had said to my friend Jamie, 'Whats that?'......he replied, 'Its a race, an ultra'........'A what?' I said, 'I know those mountains, people can't run that, its impossible.'
    7 years later and at 57 years of  age I'd just done it............and I still think its impossible.


Saturday, April 28, 2012


Well here we are; all those miles of difficult climbs and scary descents. Training is done.
I've been tapering all this week with just the odd gentle jog here and there plus a few walks. I reduced my mileage by about 25% per week over the past 3 weeks to give my body a rest although until this week I  kept the elevation fairly consistent, averaging about 8000 feet per week in combined runs. I wanted my legs to get used to the climbing more than the distance......hope its the right choice. As  Seneca said -

        " It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, it is because we do not dare that things are difficult."

      It seems there are some varied opinions on what the actual elevation is but its much closer to 10,000 feet of climb than I had origonally thought. To put this into perspective, the hardest 50k in the USA is the Speedgoat 50 and thats 12000 feet, so its going to be tough whatever it is. The weather forecast keeps changing but unusually for here it might be raining which presents me with some new challenges, still, it might be cooler so thats a positive.
    At the last count there were 250 runners signed up for the race and 15 (or 6%) were my age or older, so as you can see its definitely a sport for the younger generation.....but I guess we all new that anyway.
    I've spent most of this week developing our new website ''Modelplan Active' to try and keep my mind of the race but its not easy when I can see the mountains every day. I  started increasing my carb intake a few days ago. I'm still not totally convinced about carb loading; studies have shown that it improves performance and helps prevent hypoglycemia but the quantities, type, oxidisation, all seem varied depending on the individual  but I suppose its better to do it than not. The same goes for tapering, most runners taper, and the main reason that I can see, is that when you pull back dramatically on training your fitness degrades by only 1 or 2% whereas your fatigued muscles benefit a lot more from the reduced strain. I could quote countless studies but its not an exact science and therefore very difficult to prove. To me its just common sense to rest a little before a putting your body through a huge physical challenge........(I know there has been years and mountains of research on these two issues and I don't want to appear glib but its just my personal opinion.)
          Just received a new map of the course, not that its changed, its just that at the 27k point they've split it into 4 marked zones, the reasons being that 1) Its dangerous and technically very difficult and 2)Its hard for the medical services to get to you if you have a problem, so there's a special number to ring to tell them which zone you are in. Fun isn't it ?
     And, after collecting my number today I learnt that all they have at the Aid stations are water and soft drinks ! In all the other races I've done there has been some food but this race is completely self sufficient. There are no 'drop bags' and no support teams ( which means Sue can just chill out all day). The other variable is that I will have to carry all my food for the day and this of course creates a few logistical problems when it comes to hot soup and muffins.......guess I'll have to get creative. I'll let you know how that goes because I haven't figured it out Californian ultra cafe's on the UTBA.
      I am now getting the usual 'phantom pains' which I try to ignore otherwise I'll go nuts. I'm convinced I'm getting a cold, despite the fact I haven't  had one in years. For the past 3 nights I have slept in a blacked out room whilst wearing ear plugs. I've been in bed by 10:00 pm and practiced arising early to prepare myself for race day. Now to my Californian friends this is nothing unusual however my European friends think I'm crazy, especially when I told them that on the eve of the race it will be 9:30pm! I here comments like 'get a life', 'your obsessed', 'Thats just weird', etc,etc........My response is; 'You think this is strange, try running up mountains for 10 hours'. Looks of utter bewilderment flash across their faces....
        The nerves are starting to creep in now but all my gels, food (cold soup and muffins), drinks and clothes are prepared, so the goal is simply to  have a good night's sleep.........and then just get up and do it.


Thursday, April 19, 2012


     The Ultra Trail des Balcons D'azur (UTBA) as its title suggests is a series of trails that run along the mountains of the Esterel overlooking the Cote d'azur and the bay of Cannes. It is of course stunningly beautiful, the volcanic red rocks tower over the ocean and provide an incredible backdrop to the Meditteranean. In the middle of summer there will be thousands of tourists along a tiny strip of coastline and yet if you venture only 500 yards inland it is a haven of peace and tranquility. Gosh, it sounds like I work for the Riviera tourist office, anyway you get the picture.
       Over the last few weeks I've just run hills, mountains and canyons, its been relentless and quite waring. If I'm on a track and I see a particular tough climb ahead then up I go. Its not an easy decision as I'd much prefer to head down to the sea but I know if I keep doing it then it will help get me through the race. In the gym I would do mountain climbs, squats, renegade rows, split squats etc etc but over the past 5 weeks I have done virtually no gym work or cross training of any kind. My reasoning is that having built up my muscle strength I now want to get the feel of the actual terrain and elevation as well as the demands of many hours on my feet. I guess having done a lot of cross training and crossfit type work a few months ago I'm now covering all my bases. Its a combination of Tim Ferriss new school thinking and old fashioned endurance (time on feet) training.  I'll either end up with the best of both........or the opposite. Its an interesting experiment because if I hadn't developed my quads then this run would never have been possible as I would have trashed them very early on. Still, I'll found out in 10 days time.
     Despite my complaints about the terrain it is still 'better' to run on trails rather than roads. Karl Meltzer, who has won more 100 milers than anybody else says that he always feels more tired and takes longer to recover after a flatter event with lots of roads, as opposed to mountain running. The stresses are  more 'evened out' than on a road run.
       I have been focusing on how fortunate I am to be able to do this in such a wonderful place as generally the course is dry, the climate perfect, and the race well organised. They tell me that to have good local knowledge is a big advantage and I know the course backwards, literally, so I know what to expect; I have no excuses. From my house I can be at the start line in 10 minutes, so even though its my biggest ever physical test at least it's on my training ground.  I will probably never have a better opportunity to do something so epic. My mental preparation has to be 100% to get me through the day as this is going to hurt but nevertheless I am grateful for the chance to be able to attempt such a challenge; I am determined to do it. The race director of the Leadville 100 miler  once said to the runners before the start -

    ' You are better than you think you are and you can do more than you think you can'.

 I need to keep this in my head as I climb up mountain No 4 in 2 weeks time.....and speaking of which, I did a 3.5 hour run yesterday and climbed all the way from sea level to the top of it. It was hard but doable, only problem is in the actual race I will be doing that same climb after having already run for 6.5 hours! The mental and physical calculations of this are starting to send me crazy. This will be my 5th ultra in my very first year of endurance running so  I may need to have a bit of a rest afterwards and let my body recover...and my brain......and I think Sue could do with a rest as well. Maybe we should go on holiday to Silverton, Colorado in the USA, in mid July....that should take my mind off ultra's.......ooops!
 Hint; Google - Hardrock 100 :)

Thursday, April 12, 2012


      Its strange to think that 12 months ago I didn't know what Ultra endurance running was. If you had said Western States or Hardrock or asked me who Killian, Geoff, Dakota, Scott or a plethora of other names were I would have looked at you with a blank expression. Its bizarre in that we go though life living in our own little worlds blissfully unaware of so many of life's experiences. How many other people, events, passions, achievements, may exist that we know nothing of ? At 56 years of age I could not have imagined that I could have run several ultra marathons let alone climb tens of thousands of feet in the process.
     The hours of training, a brand new education on nutrition, the highs and lows of physical endurance have all contributed to quite a unique year. I read of men and women who have been doing this all their lives and whose feats of physical endurance are quite astonishing. They normalise it of course. To run 100 miles for 30 hours or more, whilst climbing the height of Everest (Hardrock) is to them just what they do. I have no idea how hard this must be; my little 50 or 60 k efforts only give me a small glimpse of what they must go through to achieve their goal. I am full of admiration, for they not only complete these distances but they race each other at the same time. In my last 50k the winners were practically sprinting the whole way and the top guys do this for 100 miles and through the night.
Half way up Climb No1
Half way up Climb No 2
       The biggest single physical challenge of my entire life takes place in a little under 3 weeks time. The distance, height, horrendous terrain, weather, etc all make for a truly daunting prospect. I am not only nervous I am utterly terrified. If, or should I say when, I complete this goal I will undoubtedly take stock of how far I've come in such a short time and a period of reflection may be in order.
    When you are in the middle of one of these things and the mental fatigue kicks in, its quite  an odd place to be. To keep going when you want to stop is pretty tough to get through and on my last 36k training run another emotion began to reveal itself.......loneliness. I am pretty happy with my own company so this was a very odd feeling. Normally I am focused on the run itself as well as the sounds, sights and smells of the incredible beauty surrounding me; this was a very weird feeling and not something I'd come across before. I have done quite a few big training runs of late and perhaps this was the cumulative effect. Its been said that ultra runners have to look within for support and motivation because there are very few spectators offering any encouragement and besides most of the training is on your own anyway . Some runners take music with them (I take nothing) and sometimes you can just drift off but normally I'm focused on every step. I hope this feeling was a one off  because along with pain, exhaustion and  mental fatigue I don't need another problem. If I sound a bit fed up it may be because I have been training intensely on hills and mountains since the 'Way to Cool 50' and these things can take their toll. I am concerned because, by my estimates, this race could be nearly 10 hours. That is a long time to be running up and down loose, hard volcanic terrain.
View to the top of Climb No 3 in the distance
A normal path!
       Now novices and 'normal' people will no doubt agree with me but for the tough 100 mile guys they will probably think I am  being pathetic. C'est la vie. During my last run  I passed a family out walking who had seen me hours before whilst they were having a picnic. They asked me if I had been running all this time and why? I think the guy's wife nearly had heart failure when I told her I'd started at 9:30 that was now 3:00 in the afternoon.
       To put this race into perspective my last ultra was 50 k and took me 7 hours and I believe I could have done it a bit quicker because in comparison to this race it was a lot flatter with long smooth paths. This is 52 k and about 7 Empire State buildings in elevation gain......but though daunting, that is not the problem.....the problem is the surface. In some of the pictures you can see the rock and stones but its like that nearly the whole way and after many hours your entire body gets 'beaten up'. This terrain plus the height could easily add another 3 hours to my time. I'm not sure if its good or bad that I know this area so well because I am acutely aware of the task.......I know some runners prefer not to know and like to run on virgin tracks and they may have a point. Alexander asked me if my last big 36k run had been fun......well I think you know the answer. I'll keep training and I will do this race and then we shall see. Ultra running is a combination of the mental, physical, emotional and the spiritual Apparently one of the goals of this type of hard core training is to toughen you up both mentally and physically........hope it works.
      After running over 6 hours in training two days ago I felt fine and then yesterday I bent over to pick up a letter and 'pulled' my lower back. Ridiculous. Anyway I decided the only way to deal with the problem was to do one hour of hill repeats......that fixed it. Well I don't know if it fixed it but I certainly couldn't feel the pain anymore!...........I think it got lost in all the other ones :)

Thursday, April 5, 2012


The third ascent out of 4 at the 30k mark
I fear this up and coming  race is going to be a real examination of my capabilities . I can see the far peak from my terrace and everyday I think that's the third ascent out of four, I must be crazy. I  did a big long training run a few days ago, 36 kilometres and climbed nearly 7000 feet of solid rock, loose shale and stone in 6.5 hours....and it was hot....and, I nearly trod on a snake, a black Viper..... now this is really getting serious! When I got back Sue asked, 'Is all this worth it ?' Well the simple answer is 'No', especially after a 6.5 hour bone shaking 'painfest'.
       In the morning I felt a little better, luckily ultra runners have terrible memories and so most of the exhaustion and mental fatigue had gone. In the real race I would still have another 16 k's to go plus another 1500 + feet of climb! This UTBA is going to be a nightmare 9 hours plus, methinks. Hopefully this and other tough mountain training runs will help but with 4 weeks to go, who knows ? I must be careful not to 'burn out' and overdo it or it really will be extremely hard......maybe thats why they call it 'Endurance running'.
      I've just been reading some of the blogs of Dakota Jones, a young elite runner, and I'm happy to say he goes through the same pain and mental torment that I do......What a relief, I was beginning to think it was just me.
     On these long runs I am often asked, 'what do you think about?'...well to be honest I'm just thinking of the next aid stop or the next hill,  my quads, salt balance, energy levels etc......or where's the next bit of shade? Sometimes, if I'm lucky I can drift off, but most of the time its a real 'in the moment thing' and I am totally absorbed by the task. This can be quite a strain mentally as well as physically because you know what you have to do. I can't kid myself that its easy because it isn't. Many ultra runners talk about 'flow' where you are moving effortlessly mile after mile, I would love to experience this as it must really help but so far I've not been that fortunate. What I do is break the race down into segments and as I finish one and start another I feel a sense of moving forward. I try not to think about all the big climbs to come because I could just become despondent and negative. As I've mentioned many times before its the negative thoughts in ultra running that will stop you, not the physical pain.
       'Why am I doing this to myself ?' is a question that keeps popping into my head, and at 8 hours into a race, with a huge mountain climb ahead and no sight of the finish, its sometimes difficult to find an answer. But thats the challenge; to overcome the mental, physical and emotional barriers in order to reach your goal.......A physychiatrist would have a field day if he cared to run along with us all....then again he'd probably quickly work out we were nuts, light up a cigarette and chill out on a rock in the sunshine.....
    But life is full of suprises and you never know, he may just sit on the rock where Mr Viper lives!
The UTBA in a storm
       Because this race is all about hill and mountain running then that is obviously what I have to train on. About 90% of this 52 K is either up or down and there is very little running on the flat. The good news is that the muscles are contracting in a variety of ways depending on the terrain and this can help in avoiding fatigue.....that's if you do it right.......if you do it wrong, the lactic acid builds up and then you are in real trouble. The key to hill running is to control your effort not your speed and the more balanced and constant the better. This can only be learnt with practice. Also some of these mountains are so tricky that poles can be a help but then thats something else to carry so its a difficult decision whether to use them or not. I prefer not to but in this race I may have to as last year I noticed about 40% of runners carried them. I only really use poles on near vertical ascents and so they are only needed for short periods and the rest of the time you  just carrying them.....which is a pain. I guess I need to keep practicing.
         We had a big storm here yesterday and somehow I found myself up in the mountains right in the middle of it and with no rain proof gear........which was slightly the end though I quite enjoyed it.....a kind of alone in the elements thing. (Very Alan Bates in 'Far from the Madding Crowd'). I even got a picture and video  just before it all turned nasty!
  Finally, on a sadder note, Micah True (Caballo Blanco) who was made famous in the cult ultra running book 'Born to Run' died a few days ago doing what he loved. An inspiration to many.