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(Not) Keeping up with Kilian!

On the 8th July 2018, history was made in England. The record for the Bob Graham Round, a fell-running challenge in the Lake District comprising 66 miles of rough terrain traversing 42 summits, was emphatically broken. The previous record set by Cumbrian fell runner Billy Bland in 1982, a blistering time of 13hr53mins, stood unchallenged for 36 years, leading many to believe that it would never be broken. Pretty lucky then that on the eve of an attempt by the best mountain/ultra-runner the world has arguably ever seen I happened to be staying just 2km from Keswick, where the challenge starts and ends…

I arrived in Keswick early Saturday afternoon, up for a few days for a family holiday. With my main target race of the year coming up in two weeks, the Snowdon International Mountain Race, I was planning a run early Sunday morning up the steep slopes of Skiddaw, a climb of similar length and steepness to the one which I will be racing up in Wales, as it would be a perfect opportunity to get in a good race-pace effort on a long, sustained climb. I knew I would have to be up early to get my run in as we had planned a family walk Sunday morning. With the run down to Keswick, going up and down Skiddaw itself and the run back to the campsite, I reasoned that I would need to be setting off around 6am to complete the 13mile/21kmish run in 2hrs or so and be back by 8am. Whilst pondering all of this in my head and dreading the early alarm, I received a message in a running group chat that Kilian Jornet, who that week had posted an image of himself ‘enjoying the fells’ in the Lakes on his instagram, was setting off on a Bob Graham Round (BGR) attempt on Sunday morning at 6am. The first summit of the BGR is Skiddaw, a 5mile/8km climb from the Moot Hall in Keswick. What a coincidence! My planned trip to the lakes had somehow come at the perfect time; I could get my tempo run up Skiddaw in whilst running with (read: behind) the best mountain runner in the world. I knew that keeping up with Kilian Jornet would be no mean feat, especially given I had heard that top-class English fell runners had been drafted in as pacers as no one else would be able to keep up; the likes of Carl Bell and Rob Jebb for example. However I thought that if he was going at a pace he would have to sustain for 13hrs, I would maybe be able to keep up for just the first 5 miles to the summit of Skiddaw if I was going all out! I decided to go for it, how often do you get a chance to run with Kilian Jornet (hell, how often do you get the chance to run with Carl Bell either!)?! I packed my running rucksack and set my alarm for 5:20am, excited for what tomorrow would bring and wondering if Kilian would actually be at the Moot Hall in the morning.

Morning came. I flew down the trail to Keswick and arrived at the Moot Hall to a small gathering of folk, maybe 15 people, with the small, unimposing figure of Kilian Jornet stood arms crossed, looking calm but eager to start. Carl Bell stood alongside, proudly sporting his Keswick vest, ready to pace Kilian around the first leg of the round from Keswick to Threlkeld, ticking off the summits of Skiddaw, Great Calva and Blencathra. The fact that England’s current best long distance fell runner (Carl won the latest round of the English Fell Running Championships, the long counter ‘Darren Holloway Memorial Buttermere Horseshoe’ fell race, by a massive 9 minutes and broke his own record in the process) was Kilian’s pacer for the first leg shows the talent he possesses, and made me seriously wonder the hell I thought I was trying to run with them!

6am came and Kilian jogged down the steps of the Moot Hall and followed Carl through the ginnel next to Sweet Temptations cake shop and out towards Skiddaw. No one followed. I waited until the camera crew had gotten their shots of the pair heading down the alleyway, and then once they had moved stormed after the best mountain runner in the world and arguably the best fell runner in England in hot pursuit, not wanting to lose them before they had even left Keswick! I caught up to them, and hung back for a bit whilst trying to decide how I was going to proceed; should I just run 20m behind them so as not to disturb of put them off, or should I go and ask if I could run alongside them? I opted for the latter option, which I saw as more polite and respectful, and found myself running alongside Kilian Jornet, a surreal experience given I have seen countless videos of him running with his effortless style in various mountains the world over. The conversation was brief, and went something like this:
Alex: do you mind if I run with you guys up to Skiddaw?
Kilian: no, come along!
Carl: alright mate!
Alex: eyup mate!

Told you it was brief. I was elated that they were fine with me trying to keep up with them, though from following Kilian online I never expected him to react in any other way; his deep passion for mountains and his enthusiasm for sharing experiences such as these with others is no secret. We covered the first kilometre in 03:57, a blistering start for a 66mile/102km run with 8,000m of climb, but then again this is Kilian Jornet and he is no ordinary runner. I was feeling good at this point and enjoying the experience of running alongside two legends of fell and mountain running, day dreaming about what it would be like if this was a race and I was competing with them for the win of a huge international race. Back to reality and we started on the first real uphill, up Spooney Green Lane as we traversed around the side slopes of Latrigg. The pace up this section was relentless, and as we went through the 2ndkm which had 128m of climb in 06:06 (Grade adjusted pace 03:32/km) my heart rate had crept up to 190bpm, AKA my full on, out and out race pace! Looking across at Kilian and Carl, I saw relaxed, composed expressions and couldn’t hear any of my strained breathing replicated. Uh oh, maybe I’d bitten off more than I could chew! Still, I hung on in well and as the trail flattened off I was breathing a little easier and my heart rate reduced to L3 effort, meaning I was still working hard but not flat out.

We reached the car park below Latrigg and were greeted with photographers and supporters, and passed a runner coming the other way who clearly had no idea of just who he had run past. I’m sure with the publicity around the attempt that came out as the day went on he must have realised at some point. We were now 4km in and I was beginning to feel it, having been in my L4/5 HR zone (read: hard/very hard effort) for a good 20 minutes with no sign of respite. I had planned on running up to the summit of Skiddaw, then perhaps giving Kilian a celebratory high-5 as he continued on what was sure to be a historic run, but this vision suddenly became a pipe-dream as we hit the start of the steep, steep path up Skiddaw. We began climbing up slopes of 20-30% grade, with this 5thkm climbing a whopping 270m. I stuck with Kilian and Carl for a couple of minutes with my heart-rate going through the roof, reaching 195bpm; for context, my maximum is 204! At about 4.3km in, the gap between me and two runners in a completely different league began to widen and it dawned on me that the rest of the climb would be a lonely affair. Perhaps the most awe-inspiring thing about the whole morning was the ease at which both Kilian and Carl could just keep moving so lightly, effortlessly and efficiently up the steepest of climb; I remember reading in the book ‘Born To Run’ about how the author had been given the advice of ensuring his stride was ‘light and fast’ before worrying about pace, and to me, watching Kilian and Carl easily pull away, they seemed the embodiment of ‘light and fast’. Meanwhile, 30m back down the hill, I was more the embodiment of ‘heavy and slow’, as I resorted to power walking up the hill. I stuck in as best I could with the intention of trying to stay as close as possible, arriving at the summit in around 55 minutes. Kilian and Carl had arrived nearly a full 4 minutes prior, in 51:17 (see Kilian’s blog here https://fastmountains.com/2018/07/10/bob-graham-round/ for all splits and his thoughts on the day). Kilian and Carl completed Leg 1 in 2hrs 7 minutes, and by the time Kilian finished leg 2 (which Carl also ran) in an accumulated time of 5hrs 38 minutes, he was well up on Billy’s record. Billy had cycled out to Dunmail Raise to shake Kilian’s hand and wish him well, highlighting the class and grace of the man.

I kept up with the attempt via social media throughout the day, where Kilian continued to make up time on Billy’s record. I went down to the Moot Hall to watch history being made, with hundreds of people clapping Kilian in as he completed the Bob Graham Round in 12hrs and 52 minutes, accompanied by an entourage of local runners, including young runners from Ambleside AC and Keswick AC, who had ran the final few kilometres with him. A truly fantastic performance from an extremely talented runner, probably the best mountain runner the world has yet to see. It was an absolute privilege to be a part of it for the first 20 minutes, and to be there as history was being made – what an inspirational day!

Running with Kilian and Carl on the lower slopes of Latrigg!

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This girl can?

12 weeks ago I sat and wrote about the journey I was going on to come back from injured to runner, to embrace a challenge of the #peakrunners LadyBower Trail Marathon. Given the last 12 months it was going to be quite an achievement: my long runs were only 7-8 miles. Not going to lie – there were some days I thought, ‘what have I done’?

I took advice Austen and Stu at Accelerate on training schedules and we developed a plan. Key thing here, I was involved in developing that plan AND I stuck to it. No diversions with the tempting local races, no sneaking in extra sessions. I stuck to it!

So, with just 4 long runs under my belt (20, 18, 20 and 21 miles), my holiday in Ibiza coincided with week 1 of taper. Morning runs exploring the trails, followed by lots of lounging around and the odd G&T/ Aperol Spritz (all inclusive hotel, plus I’m sure it helped me relax).

Friday night, before race day, panic and nerves set in. Self doubt city! Saturday morning, I woke before my alarm, still nervous. I struggled to drink my coffee…that never happens. I had a word with myself: enjoy the race, be proud you’re at the start line, you’ve achieved so much already: you got this!

Mile one done, feeling good, mile two….hmm, maybe I’m going to quickly? I reigned it back and from there, steady as she goes, enjoying the scenery on such a beautiful morning. Mile 10 appeared before I knew it and with a water refill, happily plodded on. I let a couple of people overtake me, telling myself ‘run your own race Cazza, leave them be’. Mile 14.5 and yikes the ascent loomed. Actually, this was my favourite part, scrambling in the woods! After the descent, I realised I had caught up with the two women ahead of me, then overtook them, with 7 miles to go. My race strategy worked, I was a power house, feeling great and overtaking.

At mile 21 I had a goosebumps moment. I’m going to do this and in under 4 hours. And I did! Finished 3rd lady, 3:52 and I felt amazing. I was buzzing at the end.

I’m still in shock. I achieved my goal and more, through hard work and discipline and I am so very proud of myself. HUGE thanks to the #Accelerate team, especially Stu and Austen, for believing in me and he lovely Dave at #Peakrunners and #Mountainfuel fo the event.

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Ibiza chills – Marathon prep

Sitting on my sun lounger in Ibiza, tough life! Week one of taper on holiday comes highly recommended 🙂

One week to go until @peakrunners @ladybowertrailmarathon and I think I’m looking forward it. Think!

Loved the trails and exploring San Antonio and managing to avoid that last minute “oh god I haven’t trained enough” thoughts. Back Saturday so with a week to go so there’s plenty of time for that.

 

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Ladybower return

There are so many things that I love about racing. Big races, fast races, hard races, beautiful races. The opportunity to put yourself to the test and prove to yourself that those hard hours of training have yielded the results you hoped for.

Some of my favourite races have not necessarily been the big ones, but rather those situated in stunning locations. The Cortina Skyrace, the Dorset Coastal Trail Race, Alpe D’Huez Triathlon, Ashbourne Duathlon etc. However, one particularly sticks in my mind.

Many years ago, I was allowed, as an ex-Steel City Strider, to race in their annual club championship 10k. On a beautiful Wednesday evening in mid-July, I persuaded my Dad to make a rare return to racing and come with me.

We drove out to the picturesque surroundings of Ladybower Reservoir. With not a ripple on the water, it was the perfect evening for running in this magnificent part of the Peak District.

I have wonderful memories of running that night. One of those great days when the body is perfectly tuned up and moving gracefully – a rare thing for someone who spends a lot of time hunched up on a time trial bike for large parts of the year. Probably my favourite part was jogging back up the course afterwards to find my Dad and run the last 2km with him. Enjoying a sandwich and beer at the Ladybower Inn afterwards as the sun went down over the reservoir will live long in my memory. There is something about the shared sense of endeavour with running racing that bonds people in a special way. It makes running very special for me, and will sustain me in running long after my speed has gone.

With this great memory in mind, I’m excited to be coming back to race the Ladybower Trail Marathon. It’s shaping up to be a great event with a full field ready to put themselves to the test. Training and racing has been going well for me of late, so I’m looking forward to putting myself through my paces on what looks like a fantastic course.

Best of luck to everyone who will be racing in a couple of weeks’ time. It’s shaping up to be a super day.

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‘The Basics’ – Outsoles.

 

‘The Basics’ – a regular look at the simple elements which make running gear useful to the runner. Explanations for those who don’t yet know, along with some facts to cut through the marketing nonsense out there, of which there is plenty!

Part one was Midsoles

This time – Outsoles.

The strip of material which makes contact with the ground.  Often refered to as the ‘Sole’ or ‘Grip’ of the shoe.

Its purpose…. Traction.

“these old things still have plenty of wear left”

The facts:  The Outsole should only outlast the midsole, so at most it will have been tested to withstand 500 road miles.  You may well find that the outsole still looks effective, long after the midsole has given up and no longer protects the foot from impact and potential damage.

The job of the outsole is gripping the floor enough for us to land, then push without slipping and losing drive.

There are various styles for traction over all kinds of surfaces, but no outsole can grip on everything as well as a specialised sole for a particular environment.

Sticky outsoles which grip brilliantly well, usually wear out the quickest.  Harder wearing types will usually lose some traction in favour of greater lifespan.

A flat outsole will grip a flat surface brillaintly well, due to the maximum amount of friction.  Broad flat studs will maintain a lot of contact, therefore a lot of friction.

Deepen those studs and you might find that they sink a certain way into softer ground.  And the narrower they become, the better they will sink into the ground and therefore provide traction in wet ground and wet grass, which is one of the hardest surfaces to stick to.

There is, in all cases, a trade off between grip and wear resistance for any given surface.

So road shoes (below) employ a fairly flat outsole design with a lot of contact.  They wear very slowly and evenly (unless you run on one part/the wrong part of your foot all of the time*).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trail shoes (below) have a series of broad lugs with a variety of depths and in a lot of cases, multi-directional lugs that grip in all directions.  They too will wear quite slowly, although the studs will grind down when used on tarmac, concrete or rocky trails in particular.

 

 

Fell shoes (below) have the most aggressive, spread out, narrow, long lugs which will dig into soft and loose terrain in order to allow people to claw their way up and down steep wet hillsides.  The wear might be very slow if they’re used only on soft ground, such as mud or bog.  Wet grass at the least, if not cross country on occasion.  But on anything hard, the thin pieces of soft, sticky rubber will begin to tear and shave themselves flat in no time, leaving a healthy midsole perhaps, but a complete loss of traction where it counts.

 

 

There is of course no better way than to have a collection of footwear, allowing the choice between types, according to where you might be spending the most time on any given run.  If it’s been wet, the studs will help on off-road routes.  The wet road should still allow traction, but if it seems safer than aquaplaning, take the trail shoes and have the studs press through the surface water, with space between them for the water to escape.  For outright prevention of unwanted slips ‘n’ slides, on steep ground or anything soaking wet and/or muddy, then the fell shoes ought to be the weapon of choice.

But there are a great many ‘hybrid’ shoes these days, with depth of cushion on top of a multi-directional outsole full of fairly deep lugs.  These will never be a match for the speciality shoes in their appropriate environment, but they’ll allow the ‘explorers’ out there a freedom to run anywhere within reason and get away with it.

While buying one pair of ‘do-all’ shoes might seem a cost effective move, it’s our personal and professional opinion that owning a number of pairs allows a better choice of shoe for the task in hand.  Twice as many last twice as long, if not longer for not damaging them on surfaces for which they were never intended.  Not to mention, you’ll more often come away in one piece!

If you think you might need more traction, better value for money or more confidence in your footing, then feel free to call in to Accelerate to talk footwear.

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