Allow me to introduce myself, I’m Houghboy, and I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing!
I’m Chris Hough, AKA Houghboy(pronounced How-Boy). I’ve been invited to join the sales team here at the store, and am busy learning all about the products and services available. My head is spinning.
My experience in running includes 10k, Half Marathon, and Ultra Marathon, though I still consider myself to be enthusiastic rather than accomplished.
My favourite events to date have been the High Peak 40 mile Challenge, a great course around some of the nicest parts of Derbyshire, and the slightly more serious Laugavegur Ultra Marathon in Iceland, which I last completed back in 2009, and was the first brit to finish. For those of you who might be interested in taking on an ultra any time soon, these two events have many pros, with few cons. Allow me to explain.
Firstly, there’s the affordable High Peak 40, which at a reasonable £19 (add £12 for a shirt). There are frequent water stops, and loads of free food at most of the later checkpoints, courtesy of the amazing volunteers (stars). The circular course begins in Buxton, and gradually moves across the Peak District as far as Castleton, before steering you back again. On the plus side there’s a spell upon the Monsal Railway route, views across the Edale Valley as you move along Rushup Edge, and the waterside path at Cressbrook Mill (it occurs to you here that you’ve just covered a traditional Marathon, and you probably deserve the custard cream being offered you). The downside AKA ‘Challenge’ part includes the taxing ascent to Rushup Edge itself, the brutal uphill through Cave Dale, and the neverending Deep Dale1. Cave Dale actually offers plenty of scenery, as long as you can avoid stacking it while looking up at Peveril Castle over your shoulder. A great day out, for a very well organised and friendly event. Undulating terrain, mainly trails or fields, with only one feature to be careful of, the Deep Dale 2 section is a steep sided limestone gully that has to be descended steadily if you’re to avoid a tumble.
By contrast is the Iceland Ultra. A very different beast. The first thing that strikes you about this one is that it costs a small fortune. I went with an organised, all-inclusive package provided by the team at Across the Divide, which saved me putting the entire trip together piece by piece, and the they took care of everything from transport from the airport, to eating out in Reykjavik, and also provided a full obligatory safety briefing from the group’s own doctor, the day before the race. My trip cost approximately £800, with another £200 spending money gone after only 4 days, one of which was the event itself. It’s a lot, but I’d always fancied Iceland, and I was able to take in many of the sights prior to the event. It appears they’ve removed the race from their 2012 line up, but I hope to see it back again by the time I consider returning for a third go. They still offer a great range though, and are well worth a look.
Race day itself begins with a 3am wake up. In the middle of summer Iceland doesn’t go dark and it’s easy to panic when you see daylight through the curtains, and think you’ve slept through the entire thing! There’s a lengthy coach ride to the start of the course in Laugavegur, at which point you begin the first of four stages. Usually taking 4 days, the 35mile route is one of the favourites among hikers. Over the length of the run, you cover rock, mud, sand, water, fire and ice! The first stage includes over 500m of ascent, and you end up running uphill in snow for what seems like forever, losing momentum with every step. To compensate for the gruelling uphills, are views that have to be seen to be believed. Seriously. The place is incredible, like running through Middle Earth. You soon find yourself at the first checkpoint (about 80min into the race), then it’s even higher before a prolonged downhill section to stir things up a bit. After steep drops, and freezing glacial river crossings, the rocky ground gives way to a more gravelly texture (gaiters!!). The gravel goes on and on for mile after mile, and once you’ve worked your way past the final checkpoint, there’s finally a more familiar landscape, in the form of a wooded section, with a winding trail that hides the fact you’re only a short way from the end. A welcome sight when it’s been raining sideways for 4hrs straight. The Volcano, Eyjafjallajökull which erupted in 2010 and caused havoc, actually sits right next to the porsmork(pronounced Thorsmork) finish line, but luckily had the decency not to go BOOM ’til I was well out ‘the way.
I strongly recommend the Iceland Ultra to anyone in a position to have a go, not least because the bus to the airport stops at the Blue Lagoon, which lends itself perfectly.
Back here in Sheffield, my current goal is to properly understand the human foot. It seems that for already owning a pair, I really didn’t know anything about them, or how they work. That’s changing rapidly. There’s a lot that I’ve learned after only a few weeks, and with everything I come to understand, there’s something I’ve had to ‘unlearn’ as well. I’ve found out the hard way, with blisters, sores, aches and pains, all of which it appears was completely avoidable. Who knew?
With my continued enthusiasm for running, I am fast becoming a much more knowledgeable member of the team, and a better runner for it I hope! So I look forward to meeting many of you, and hearing of your adventures, see you soon.