This was really a bonus run as I really only got the opportunity to run at the last minute. I got in very late the night before, not getting into Basingstoke until 11:00pm. The Frozen Phoenix was an event put on by Phoenix Running in Walton-Upon-Thames and a route that I was very familiar with. Today we were on the short course which is a just over 5K out and back. 8 laps make a marathon and 9 an Ultra. I had only one thing in mind today.
I also needed 30 miles to make it 3000 miles for the year total.
Well stocked aid station
Rik from Phoenix had decided on a relatively late start of 9:30 and the Frozen Phoenix lived up to its title with the temp in the car being -4. I decided on a base layer, T-Shirt and bravely shorts. Leaving Basingstoke at 8:20 I got to Walton by 9 and checked in early in the leisure center.
A big enough crowd was there and the BBC were there to film Ryan Holmes as he finishes his world record attempt to be the youngest person to complete 100 marathons at 21 years old. Also there was Nick Nicholson who was closing in on his own record 200 marathons in 2016.
A quick briefing and we were off to the start. Immediately we started and I decided today to take it easy as Portumna had been a fair effort. Settling in at 9-10 mins/mile pace, I stayed at this pace most of the day. It was cold, very cold, but bright in the sunshine and there was an eerie early mist that was coming off the Thames.
Opening Phoenix medal
This course can easily be broken into a number of sections. You start on a muddy trail that winds its way beside the river. This opens up to some yacht clubs and river fronted parks and houses as you still follow the river to the pub. Past the pub you continue on the tow path until you come to a small but steep bridge. Today this became treacherous as the thaw set it and as most people struggled getting up and down I didn't seem to have a problem. Later in the race a elderly couple fell and there was a lot of commotion helping them. After the bridge a small muddy section opens up under Walton's main bridge and you pass a coffee shop, toilets and many geese and swans to the turn around point. You then retrace your steps.
Being such a short out and back you pass everyone often and its very friendly.
Taking it steady but slow I came through 4 laps in 2:15 which was Ok and kept it going. Stopping to chat to a few like Elaine who was completing a European beating record 120+ marathons in 2016 and a few others to wile away the hours.
Laps 6,7,8 were relatively straight forward but still cold and when I came to marathon distance in circa 4:40 I was always going out for one more which was duly completed in just over 5 hours 20 mins. Few went out for the Ultra and I came third of those that did which also gave me third overall.
That brings my total to the year of 53 marathons or longer and 26 of those were Ultras. I doubt if anyone in Ireland has completed more ultras in a calendar year, but no such record is recorded (for now anyway).
This is the traditional MCI event in Portumna Forest Park organised by Ray O'Connor. I choose this event as I really don't like Howth and that was the only other option that was on today. MCI do good events and at €20 its great value. The forest is also one of my favorite routes and I have run it many times over the years.
I picked Kris up at 6am and an uneventful trip across the country got us to the park just before dawn at 8am. The early start had been delayed by 15 mins to give dawn a chance and about 50 of them headed off. I have to say that the toilet block with no lights was an adventure. We set up our own aid station on the provided tables on the route and chatted to loads before the briefing that started around 9am. After a very emotional speech by Ray, we walked the 400m to the start.
With Larry Rigney
Today we were on the short course (I presume because of works at the Marina) which meant 16 loops (no out and back section). With 50 already on the course it was busy enough. You had to keep track of your own laps which always worries me with many allegations of cheating in various races during the year made this very easy to do today (so I had my eagle eyes on, Im glad to say nothing to report). But it wasn't that hard to keep count and the Garmin was pretty accurate to 26.2 despite the trees. At 9:15 we were off. 16 laps at 15 minutes each was 4hrs and that was the pace that I went off at. There were all kinds of abilities today from international athletes and national champions to power walkers. Its a very inclusive gathering.
Mirko, Ger and Adolfo in the background
The lap could be broken down into a number of sections. From the aid station you went through a heavily wooded area to the low point of the course. Still staying in the trees you climbed up through a pretty section before the trail opened out into a wide hard gravel section. This led to a hard left turn still on wide gravel back to the start finish straight and 400m on tarmac. The aid station was well stocked with water, coke and sweets.
I quickly found my place in the race and started ticking off the laps at around 14-16 minutes spending time chatting to those I caught or caught me. Recently I have been in bad form so anything under 4:30 was what was expected. Running particularly well today was Donna and her new beau (much faster than recent years). It was great to see Ger Donohoe back after injury and he put a brave Sub 4 run in despite not thinking he would last 2 laps.
A blur of colour
I spent some time with Catherine Gutherie talking about Energia 24hr and her awesome achievement of a national medal and more of the same to come in 2017, and how she is not on the national team I will never know. I came through half way in 2:03 which was OK given my goal.
Unusual pacing strategy by Donna
I really concentrated in the second half and had long since lost Kris. I was expecting her to lap me at anytime after half way and I was delighted to get to lap 13 before she swished past in a blur of colour. Still concentrating I caught Adolfo and knew that he never gives up and if I stayed in front of him it would be a good effort. Mirko who had been in and around me all year also swept past with 3 laps to go. I would go on to nearly catch him but he took the honors today. I ran the whole way which pleased me and managed to cross the line in 4:16 (results to be confirmed).
I was looking forward to the soup that had been cooking but the early starters and faster runners had gobbled it all so I had to do with a coffee. Never mind. It was a lovely day.
That completed 52 in a calendar year which I am very proud of.
#169 Usual Suspects Day 1 30.8 miles
#170 Usual Suspects Day 2 30.8 miles
Traditional tree Photo
The weather had been particularly mild all week and the forecast for the weekend was relatively warm at 10-12 degrees with virtually no wind. This was pretty much perfect conditions. The only thing that was standing in the way was the monster that is the Samphire Hoe traditional course with its 8 nasty hills and 1500ft of climb over marathon distance.
I decided to travel down on the Friday evening and picked up both Brenda and Collette on the way. The big attraction for this particular race was the medal which incorporates all of the starters names and had sold out pretty much a year ago. Booking into our favorite Folkstowne hotel we checked out our equally favorite spoonies with the hope of a Christmas menu. Unfortunately the Christmas dinner wasn't on, but burgers, vegetarian wellington and of course the price as always was amazing.
Traviss thinking of us, had a relatively late start at 9am which meant time for breakfast. We arrived to calm, mild conditions for an efficient check in. Yearly awards were given out and we were ready to go by 9am. I havn't been in great form recently so decided to take it easy as I had a baby ultra in mind today. On the first lap however I fell in with bad company in the form of Enda Cleary who decided to rattle the first 2 laps off in 37 minutes each and kept going. Much talk of network
freezes and ancient computers kept us amused.
The conditions were nearly perfect with just the slightest of breezes. I was enjoying myself and taking it easy. Half marathon came in 2:15 and I likely slowed down after that spending much time at the aid stations stuffing my face with mulled wine and apple and cinnamon fudge (yum!). Going well today was Noel Kennan (parents from Monaghan) who did a comfortable 50K in sub 5hrs. This was the start of Noels 100 mile attempt which will be back here in July. I will be watching on with interest.
Collette and Brenda were running really strong today and were not that far behind me and came through half way in sub 5hr pace but slowed a bit in the second half, but still had good times on what was a humid day. There was much fancy dress out there which brightened everything. I came through marathon in a very modest time but had plenty of time before the cut off to go out for a 8th lap to make the ultra, and comfortably came in under 6 hrs to finish. The room beside the aid station was open with a lovely wood burning stove. This is a great facility to have together with the cafe just feet away. The medal was as expected spectacular.
Along the railway
We had been expecting Eimear Hurley over for Sunday but got the terrible news that she was fog-bound in Dublin and had cancelled her trip. We immediately decided to drown our sorrows in spoonies again, this time we were joined by Sean Smith and family. It was a lovely evening.
Sunday had us up for a deja vu, as we hit for Samphire Hoe for more of the same. Today it was Apryl Hammet and Theresa Massey's 100th celebrations and Theresa twin sister Julia was celebrating her 52 in 52 to become the first twins (probably globally) to complete an official 52 in 52. There was much excitement all day with a massive 150 field on the course. There was much cake which I seemed to miss totally as I was on the course too long.
Back in the heat
Similar to yesterday we headed off on the 3.85 mile loop. I was slightly slower today but again was not killing myself. I went through a very low period in laps 3,4 and 5 and several people stopped me to ask if I was OK. I must have looked grey. Pete Elliot also seemed to be struggling and called it a day after 5 laps I believe.
Then I started on the Coke after lap 5 and had a second wind. I immediately rationed my Coke so I had enough for the rest of the day. I felt much better. There was a great atmosphere on the course with the 100 celebrations with most b2bers going a little slower than Sat and there was much chat on the way round. Extraordinary efforts were still there however and particularly Jools who rattled off 10 laps today in fine style with his sprint finish on lap10 something to behold. There was lots of talk today on how we managed 27 laps back in July. It seems unfathomable now. It was great to meet Charlie Harwood on the course for the first time (I don't know how I missed her in the past).
Feeling much better at marathon distance (in a very slow time) I decided to make it a b2b Ultra weekend and went out for an extra lap to complete my 36th ultra. When I came in most everyone had gone including all the cake. Collette and I headed off and I dropped her at Gatwick on the way home for a very nice weekend.
This was a pretty low profile event around the Caldecotte lakes in Milton Keynes. I have done this route a few times before but had never cracked 4hrs on it, though getting close on each occasion. I havnt been in that great a form in recent weeks and the weather forecast was not good so my hopes were not high. It was as usual 7.5 laps around the lake.
The course was about 1.5hrs away from Basingstoke so it was commutable and I was able to spend all of Friday getting introduced to my new granddaughter Ivy who was only a few days old having arrived a couple of weeks early.
Chatting to Tids
I arrived early, picked up my number and hid in the car out of the cold. There was a quick race brief from Foxy and a nice presentation from Traviss to Foxy on his 250th marathon. Getting to the start line I had a chat to Noel Keenan on the eve of his birthday and he was there for the double over the weekend. No-one seemed to want to go to the front of the group so I stepped forward and led the race off to immediately be over taken by a speedy lady and the amazing Steve Edwards. I settled in for the first mile with Louise Tidbury talking about her plans for 5 100 milers in 2017 and a 200 miler. From behind there was a detailed discussion going on about 100 mile strategies with the preferred strategy being going out at 8:20 mile pace and finishing at 11 minute mile pace to give an average of 10 mins and a 16 hr finish time. Louise and I just looked at each other and our conversation was more about finishing, not giving up, crying and beating the cut off.
Anyway Louise in great form headed off into the distance and would finish in 4 hrs 20, just 10
minutes behind super Kay. Noel also flew past as did quite a few others of the faster runners. I wasn't feeling that great and just at the end of lap one had to have elongated toilet break. I continued on lapping in a leisurely 37 minutes. Half way through lap 3 I caught up with Costas and spent a bit of time talking about Greece, his impending 100 and good coffee in Reading. As we came through the end of lap 3 in 1:52 I thought I was on 4hr pace before realizing that I was a whole mile off and half way came up in a disappointing 2:15.
Finishing Lap 4 I started to feel hungry and tired. I had brought no gels with me and totally ran out of energy and less than half way through the lap I was walking and loosing many places. It also had been raining for a while and it would stay with us for the rest of the day and would get heavier and heavier.
This was a hard lap and very very slow and destroyed any chance of a good time. By the time I got to the end I had to goto the car and get a can of coke. I walked as I drank this and some water and eventually started up again. Thankfully I managed to get a pace going again. I managed to run virtually the whole lap by breaking down the lap into 500m sections. When I came round to get the bell
at then end of lap 6 I was felling strong again and my lap 7 was one of my best. I even managed to catch most of those who had passed me a couple of laps earlier and seeing Costas about 800m ahead of me with only a couple of K to go I tried my best to catch him and just managed to get him with 100m to go.
I was travelling pretty good when I crossed the line in a very disappointing 4:39.
It was great to see Martyn Ewers get his 100 shirt. I had seen a lot of him all year at many events.
I was pretty much just off the plane. Jet lagged like hell I went straight to bed and slept right through to the next morning. Up early and a quick breakfast I was at the course early. It was freezing with the thermometer showing -5. It didn't really warm up all day. A base layer, T shirt and coat had me start.
The day before I was still struggling to walk after the Quad Dipsea but the nights sleep seemed to have eased the legs up and when I started I was quite shocked at how "not" painful my legs were.
World record attempt
It was a 6.7 mile loop with 4 loops for marathon distance and 5 loops for Ultra. I needed to do 5 loops to reach 1000 miles with SVN and receive my hoody. This event was also day 6 of a 10 in 10 so there were lots of sore legs around. Amazingly, in addition, there was a world record attempt with Adam Holland attempting all 10 days in under 3 hrs. He headed off much in the lead and would finish in 2:50 something and his 6th under 3 hrs in a row. Also there was Paddy Quinn off a 3hr 40 the day before and much improvement on recent runs. There was lots going on.
At 8:30 we were off and heading east for 1.7 miles the route followed the promenade (on concrete) into Margate passing right through the town and out onto the pier. Far from good I headed off at 9-10 minute pace. Turning around the back of the shell lady statue we retraced our steps back to the start. Now heading west we followed the promenade (still on concrete) past several headlands with the sea on the right all the way. After 1.7 miles the prom finished and we returned to the start finish area for one lap. Thankfully it was flat as at the very hint of a hill my legs screamed at me. I was relatively slow with laps being around 65-70 minutes. The field spread out quickly and I found my self on my own early but running comfortably within myself. As the morning progressed the wind got up and as we traveled East to West it was into a freshening breeze. But in general it was good running conditions. It being a St Andrews Day event there were naturally lots of Tartan on show and lots of kilts. Except Traviss who was definitely wearing a skirt.
Being day 6 of a 10 in 10 there were a lot of people just getting on with it with most stopping at marathon distance. Lee went out for 5 laps in the lead and Paddy managed 6 laps to come home winner overall. Glen also went out just in front of me for 5 laps and one other just in front of me also did 5 laps. I was very happy myself to also do 5 laps in pretty much 6 hours exactly for a good day on sore legs and was awarded a super medal and the SVN 1000 mile hoody which was very hard earned over the last couple of years.
Photos David Pearse and Graham O Siodhachain
Stats for today
This is my second outing on this course which is over the famous Dipsea trail from Mill Valley to Stinson Beach just north of San Franciso. In the 35 runnings of this event it has only rained four times including my last outing in 2014. This was destined to be the fifth. The weather forecast was terrible and there had been a lot of storms passing through the area all week and a particularly bad one was due for the whole of the race.
I had been in the area all week and it being thanksgiving week there was a massive holiday atmosphere and we had a wonderful family event at the brothers place. Because of the predicted storm I decided to invest in a pair of trail shoes and picked up a bargain on Black Friday. Knowing it would be a risk running in new shoes I felt it was outweighed by the extra grip I would have got.
The predicted rain started over night before the race and effectively washed the trail away. The uphills were a river of fast flowing mud and the downhills were treacherous. Around 300 of us gathered in Mill Valley in advance of the race. Fewer than 250 would finish. At 8am we were off in damp and squally conditions. The rain stayed with us all day and got very heavy about 3hrs in for a couple of hours. In total we would climb around 10000ft which by far is the greatest of any events that I do.
One of the unusual things about this race is that within 100m of the start you start climbing up 600+ steps. being in the middle of the pack this was hiking due to weight of numbers. It was also quite slippy. Within the first mile we had already climbed over 700ft quickly getting out of the village and the big houses that skirt the route. Cresting we immediately start descending on a single track towards Muir Woods and its giant redwoods. The field was still pretty bunched and as it was still a single track you really had to go at the pace of those around you. There was a big advantage to those at the front of the field.
I nearly came a copper at the steps into Muir woods and also crossing the river (via a log). Immediately we started climbing on an area called Dynamite which was just a mud bath and steep steep steep. For the next 2 miles it was a steady climb up with a river of mud coming straight down the middle of the trail. Large portions of this were unrunnable and it was a long hard hike. Cresting at Cardiac there was a well stocked aid station before we strarted the long steep decent to Stinson beach. This included a lovely flat section with panoramic views over the pacific before entering the
section called the rain forest which leads to the steep ravine steps which are a dangerous steep set of stone steps. Eventually you exit the forest and have a decent into Stinson beach and the turn around with another well stocked aid station. I managed the first turn around at 7.4 miles in 1:45. You immediately retrace your steps back to Mill Valley passing or being passed all the time. I was well under the 2hr cuttoff at this stage. Things were equally tough in reverse with many people falling en-route and there were lots of cut knees and legs on show. Dynamite in particular on the way down was a mud slide and impossible to stay on your feet. The second leg took 1:57 and at 3:41 for half way I was still well under the cut off of 4 hrs.
I found the 3rd leg back to Stinson beach particularly hard and lost concentration. When I eventually came close to the turnaround I took a right instead of a left and took a good few minutes to realise my mistake and retrace my steps to get to the timing mat. I crossed in 2hrs 9 mins but easily lost 5 minutes due to my mistake. This gave me precisely 2 hrs and 8 minutes to make it back to Mill Valley to avoid a DNF.
I kept good concentration in this 4th leg and at Cardiac got in with a bunch of other runners desperate to make the cuttoff and we all pushed hard taking lots of risks in the mud. as we came to the last section of the steps we had 15 minutes in hand and quickly navigated them to all come in around 7:55 and under the DNF cuttoff. My last leg being 2hrs and 3 minutes. This was 19 secs slower than the first running but given most others were 30 minutes or more slower than normal I was pleased.
No medals for this event but some super little momentoes and it still remains my favourite event. Similar to the last time it takes a lot longer to recover from this event and as I boarded the plane 2 days later I was still struggling walking.
#165 100th anniversary of the finish of the battle of the Somme 6:31
Lonely (Photo: Dee Rand)
This was the sister event of the July 1st Somme event and book ended the 100th anniversary of the battle. It was back in Samphire Hoe and was the same 6hr challenge.
Over from Ireland were Craig Mills who stopped at 50K in July (for 3rd spot) and was determined to go further today. Also here was Philip McEvoy wearing his 100th shirt for the first time and a first time SVNer.
A 6am start got me the 2 hrs drive to Samphire Hoe without incident and we were checked in and ready to go in plenty of time. A few presentations (including Philip Rand's world record 200th) and a very emotional speech by co-race director Rachel and we walked the 50m to the start. Some serving paratroopers had flown in from Germany and one had lost his great grand father at the battle of Somme. A few words from him followed by the last post and a minutes silence and we were sent off to the now familiar trench whistles. It was freezing.
New WR holder
First outing of the shirt
I went off very conservatively wanting to stay out for the whole time. The field quickly spread out with Carlo, Craig and a few others going out relatively fast but there were no hares today. The wind was in the back on the way out but right in the face on the way back. It would only get stronger and stronger as the day went on.
I was wearing my newish Hoka's and had very sore feet during the first loop. It got so bad that I had to stop at the end of the loop and change into my Asics. This made my decision there and then that I may not be a Hoka's fan any more. I also picked up a pair of gloves that stayed with me all day. In fact I also stopped later for a hat change. It was freezing (particularly into the wind).
Ni well represented
Craig had gone our relatively fast and had settled into second spot. Eventually Carlo who was leading would fall back and the two of them ran together. They came through marathon in well under 4 hrs but seem to take elongated breaks before going out again. I did my best to encourage Craig to keep going and he duly lapped me and went out for lap 8 for Ultra and even a lap 9. I thought that Craig had this race sown up but inexplicably didn't go out for a 10th. Carlo did however but was barley able to walk never mind run but that was enough to win.
Meanwhile I was also encouraging Philip to do his second ever ultra in a week (after Tollymore) but he seemed happy with marathon and stopped. Also there running well was Noel Keenan who did a swift 50K before stopping. He will be back next summer to tackle 27 laps and his first 100 miles. I have no idea how I managed 27 laps of this course back in July.
My own race was very uneventful and even though the weather badly deteriorated with biting winds and freezing rain for an extended period I ploughed on. I saw a lot (more than usual) go out for 8 laps but most finished at that. I was determined to run the whole time and easily got out on lap 9 before the cut off. One of the paratroopers had also gone out for 9 and was just ahead but I don't think any other ventured out.
I eventually came in for 34.5 miles and 4th overall out of 152 finishers. Nothing dramatic, nothing stressful. I dropped Craig and Philip back to Gatwick before hitting off to Hampshire for the evening.
This was the 3rd running of the Tollymore running festival with a 10K, Half, Full and Ultra. The Half, Full and Ultra were all on the same 13.1 mile loop around the forest. It was as Linda Cunnigham reminded me at the end my home event as I could nearly see my house from the course.
The loop itself was hilly, like very hilly with approx 2000ft of climb in two very significant climbs in the middle of the loop. It also followed the beautiful Shimna river in the park for long periods and enjoyed spectacular views over Newcastle and the Mournes from various parts of the course. Being the autumn, the leaves had fallen and the colours were just stunning.
In the forest
I had decided to do the Ultra today as last year due to a septic toe I had to drop to the marathon distance. This meant 3 loops with approx 6000ft of climb. The Ultra started at 8am and the Mara at 10 and the Half at 12 and the 10K at 2pm. The way things worked out I never saw any of the other races at all as I was at the back end of the course when they started. Kris was defending her title for last year and the conditions were perfect.
A 4am start for breakfast and a jaunt up the road with a stop at McDonalds got us to Tollymore by 7:15. A lot of people followed their GPS's and got well lost and there was a lot of panic at the start. A quick youtube mannequin challenge and we were off on time. I had totally forgotten how hilly this course was and also how beautiful. I was walking early on the big hills which surprised me as I had recently been in better form than I had been last year. The hills were tough and the first part of the course was relatively warm and humid, but as we climbed it got colder and when the wind turned into the face it got very cold. Conditions underfoot were good. I was however going slow and I had hoped for a 2:00-2:05 first loop but ended up with a 2:15.
This set the tone for the day and I was approx 10 minutes a lap down from where I wanted to be. So instead of a 4:30 marathon it was 4:45. Mountain Dew and Coke were the order of the day at the bag drop which worked well and there were 3 very well equipped aid stations on the course and lots of roving paramedics. Things were organised perfectly.
The way timing worked out meant that I was on my own for long periods (hours) without seeing anyone and I was 46th overall after loop 1 and finished 43rd overall so passed few and was passed by few all day from early.
The third lap was tough and I was walking early even at the hint of an incline but I did try my best to run the downhill and flat sections. I have to say I was disappointed with a 7:31 finish as I thought I was in 7hr form but that was not happening from very early in the race.
Meanwhile Kris had a tough day as well some 20 mins down on last year and
came 23rd overall and 4th lady (some very classy runners ahead of her). She did however look amazing in her newly imported colour coordinated skort, top, gators and calf sleeve ensemble. Kate Murray also from Cru had a better day with a 1:53 in the half for 20th lady home and 119th overall in a field of 427 (kate also looked amazing). The half was won by ex Cru man Torben Dahl in a very impressive 1:24. The brother-in-law Kieran also kept his form for a very good 1:45 in the half. Everyone had gone home by the time I had finished except Marie Chapman who was 100m behind me all day similar to Dundalk (What a great Ultra runner she is). The rain started as I left the park (Phew!)
There were also some notable other runs out there today from Chris Denton and Paul Rogers in the Marathon. Paul getting revenge for a DNF in London. Also congrats to Philip McEvoy in his first Ultra after over 100 marathons and Susan Dixon and Seamus finishing in the dark with Susan also now able to call herself an Ultra runner.
My funniest moment was noticing up ahead a French "Game Of Thrones" tour dressed in Long cloakes with fur collars. I shouted as I went past "L'hiver arrive" and got a lot of chuckles from them.
All in all it was a fabulous event and as tough as any Ultra gets. I guess I am just proud to have got around.
More photos to come and video's
Strava results for today: Note GPS didnt pick up some distance and elevation because of the tree cover.