Thursday, 17 September 2015

Till Next Time

This has probably been the longest delay I have ever had in putting up a blog post but that does not mean I have not been doing anything. Rather the opposite. The past month has been stacked with great ridge scrambles , pacing , crewing and racing. It was so long ago that I posted that I don't really know where to begin with what has been going on. I have a ton of pictures that will do most of the talking but I have some other more personal things to talk about in this post.

Tough day on Mt Elbert and Mt Massive
The awesome Gore Range
Now so far this trip has been brilliant. I swear this place especially southern Colorado can't be beaten for ridges , scrambling and just general trail running. I have been lucky to squeeze in a few things that were on my must do list and there are loads of things left for me to play on another day. In one week I will try and run 100 miles at The Bear 100 in Utah. It will hopefully be my third 100. Excited? Kind of. Nervous? Terribly. This summer and even last winter I have put a lot of days on my legs to get them strong but in my head I just do not feel they are strong enough this summer for another 100. Most people I know keep telling me I said that last year and the year before but I beg to differ. Granted at Leadville in 2013 I had no idea what to expect and genuinely had no idea if I could go that distance but somehow I did.

Ice Lake - San Juans
High above Ice Lake on Vermillion

More San Juan epicness! Lookout Peak
Last year I really did feel strong and fit before Run Rabbit Run and even wrote on here how strong I felt. I still knew there was no guarantee of a finish but I was just more confident than ever before without being too cocky and it all paid off with a very strong run.

Sawtooth Ridge

Long day out to the Vestal Basin but rained off of Wham Ridge
This summer since I stopped work in June there has been a lot of running. I should feel stronger than 2014 but somehow I just don't. I am not trying to play down my chances at The Bear to gain praise. For sure I believe my mind and body are strong enough for the distance but I just cannot seem to understand why on earth I am feeling so negative this summer. This running and racing thing is meant to be fun right?

San Juan Accomodation
Exactly why I run!
The past week or so has been a real mix of emotions. Partly my doing and partly others. It has made me loose a little focus on the 100 but then again am I too focused on it! Have I been running so much that all I seem to care about is myself and going out running. I love running , that is no surprise to anyone but I love running in great areas and not just plodding streets for the hell of it. I have become so focused on trying to find the best spots to run , the best ridges to scramble that I feel I am losing touch of actually why I do it. I have been running and exploring in the mountains for well over ten years and as time goes by and especially this summer I don't feel I am losing my love for it but I feel I have lost the real reasons I do it.

The Rut VK
The Tetons - Wyoming
I remember many many years ago going running in Glencoe to scramble routes and just go out playing and having fun. No focus on any race or goal at the end just the pure enjoyment of it. This summer my best days have also been the ones where I have gone out to do a ridge route and not thought about an up and coming race or a past one where I felt I should really have done better.
With all this in my mind I have decided this will be my last blog post for a very long time. Maybe forever. I have no pressure to write this blog at all and over the years have really enjoyed noting down my adventures.

Crested Butte race. 1st female for Lauren and a GoPro!
Guides Ridge - Crested Butte(not the race line!)
I will continue to post up race results but as far as any reports go I am just going to take a back seat and forget about it. I really don't want to sound like I am trying to be some running purest , running free , alone in the mountains and all that palava but I just want to go and do what I did years ago and not worry about races or worry about my fitness level and so on.  Maybe I just need to go and find a proper life and not just shut everything out just for the sake of some running.

The narrows - Longs Peak
A very icy Cables Route on Longs!!
Next year for sure my focus is again on getting into Hardrock and that focus will not change until I one day manage to run that race. I will run Glencoe Skyline and Tromso again next year as they are the two best Skyrunning course in the world but other than that I really am unsure if I will race anything else at all.

Ciao for now!

Friday, 21 August 2015

Colorado 2015 Begins

Well here I am again in the amazing CO. I landed on Sunday evening and first thing Monday morning I was up and out the door sharp to head for Longs Peak(4300m) I ran Longs last year (almost to the day) so I was interested to see just how my time up and down compared against last year when I was properly acclimatized. Last year I managed car to car in 4hrs 11mins and was delighted with it however this year I managed it in 3hrs 44mins! I felt pretty damn dizzy on the last couple hundred metres to the top but whereas last year I really slowed on the descent this year I flew back down felling really good. I was not expecting to be faster and not by this much so It was kind of a shock to see that time on my watch when I got back to the Rangers Station. It is around a 26km run with 1600m of climbing and descending with the upper section being a little easy scramble and a short exposed traverse.
Back on the summit of Longs
The following day was a 16km 1200m outing with Kim , Will and Phil up Rosalie Peak which sits at just under 14'000ft. I then headed off on my own up to the high country and after a nights sleep in the car I headed for La Plata peak via Ellingwood Ridge. It was last year driving over Independence Pass I noticed an awesome ridge line going all the way up to this peak and knew I had to return to get it done. It's a rather long day of around 21km with 1500m of ascent. The route starts off on the normal trail to the summit and then quickly veers off into trail less terrain up through dense forest. Once out of the treeline it was a long slog up a huge boulder/scree field to hit the start of the ridge. The ridge is about 5km long and consists of a ton of easy/moderate scrambling , incredible little narrow ridge spines to run and some sketchy down climbing. I tried to stick as true to the crest for as long as possible but a couple of times had to back track as the ridge would cliff out to an abseil point and not having a rope I had to find other ways around but it never posed any major problems at all. It continues like this for a while and once the main ridge was over it was again a bit of a slog up more scree to the summit at 4377m. The descent via the tourists path was fast and a lot of fun on beautiful smooth trails all the way to the car. The round trip took me 4hrs 35mins. Guidebook time allows 9-12hrs so I was rather pleased with this time but in all fairness guidebook times are based on walking and not running although I am sure now I have knowledge of the ridge I could get it under 4hrs next time.
Yup , up that!
Then along this!
Looking back along Ellingwood Ridge
I was up again early the next day(Thursday) and decided on a shorter morning so I headed off for the normal route up Colorados highest peak Mt Elbert(4420m) I ran Elbert last year on the longer south ridge but with Leadville pacing duties this weekend I decided to have a shorter outing. The trail is super easy to follow and is never technical at all so I managed to run most of this except from maybe the last 300m up as the altitude is still pretty difficult on the lungs right now. So another 13km with 1400m in a time of 2hrs 22mins.
Summit of La Plata looking back to the ridge
Mt Elbert summit
So far so good and I am pretty damn happy with how I am moving at these altitudes and I have not even been here a week . Once over 4000m I am still feeling it a little hard going but I should be feeling it easier in a week. I am now in Leadville and tomorrow I pace Stephen for 10 miles over Hope Pass and Kim for the last 25 miles on the Leadville 100 course. It's great to be back here now for the third year and to meet friends and enjoying crewing and helping out at a race that still means a lot to me.

Rosalie Peak with Kim
After the race I head down to the San Juans for about a week to explore my favourite place here in CO. There is an abundance  of ridges I want to do down there and I would like to run a small section of the Hardrock course but I just will not have time to do everything I want although I cannot wait to get down there.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

It's that time again!

Well it's that time again and tomorrow I fly off to Colorado. Like the past two years I could not be more excited to get back there. I will spend a couple of days alone and plan on going back to Longs Peak just to see where my fitness is compared to last year as it will be almost a year to the day that I ran car to car in 4hrs and felt the strongest I have ever have. I am totally not acclimatised for running up to 14,400ft but I will see how the legs feel anyway. I have just spent three excellent days back home in Scotland managing to get out a couple of times and both in good weather. One epic day with Scott running the Glencoe Skyline route and another with Rob in Arrochar.

Heading along to Bidian at start if the ridge loop
I will then be heading over to Leadville to pace Stephen for a 10 mile section of the 100 and then I will pace Kim later on for about 25 miles. It will be good to get a long time on my feet and in the dark. Plus returning to that race weekend is one of the highlights of my year. I just love it there.
After Leadville I will be going solo for about ten days and heading down to the San Juans. There is too much for me to see and do down there and it will be a pretty full on trip of running , scrambling and exploring the best mountain range and wilderness I have ever seen.

Glencoe. So many amazing days spent up here playing.
Woody then arrives early Sept and we head up to Big Sky in Montana. After what will be about an 11hr drive I will have a short sleep then get up to run the VK and the following day the 25k alongside Woody. Then it's back to Colorado via Yellowstone and the Tetons!
Once back in CO myself and Woody have ten days of exploring to do before we head off over to Utah to prep for the Bear. We don't know what these days will involve yet but it is sure going to be fun and we will be getting a couple of big mountain days in and then I will ease off it and start getting my mind 100 mile ready.

It really is a stunning route
September 20th we head over to Utah for the big race. I have about 3 or 4 days to scope out some sections of the course but this will involve easy jogging and hiking. I am hoping my pacers will head out and do most of their pacing sections just to get an idea of where we will be going at night. I will probably stick to scoping out as much of the first 50 miles as I can over the days I have.
So the big question is how do I feel about another 100 miler? Hmm I really don't know. I know I always say this but I feel you just cannot go into a 100 miler thinking you got the job done already. For sure mentally and physically I know I can do the distance but anything can happen on the day and I just hate to get carried away before I have even started. I am confident I can stumble my way over the line in under 36hrs but I am terrified to think what I need to do if I want to try and get sub 24. For that time I really am unsure if I am strong and fast enough. I spent almost 3 months in Colorado training last year for RRR and I felt so so strong going into that race. This year I have spent until now in Chamonix which is amazing but I don't really feel as fit. I dunno what it is. Maybe it is because in CO last summer I was heading out to new places everyday and seeing new trails and mountains whereas here everything is familiar and I step out my door to go running. I do need to remember I had one of my fittest winters doing a lot of touring and I have been out here in Chamonix a lot just running , hiking and scrambling and I have ran Transvulcania(73km) , Cerdanya Marathon(42km) , The Killer(40km) and Tromso(45km) along with shorter races like the VK's and Dolomites(22km) which were  awesome speed work. I may not have been doing massive mileage but I have done a ton of climbing and descending. I also need to remember my training is not over. I get to CO on Aug 16th , the Bear is not until Sept 25th so I have a solid month more of running to do when out there and loads of time to get acclimatised. The altitude should not be that much of an issue at the Bear as the highest point is around 9500ft which is the lowest elevation of Leadville 100. It will do me no harm though to be at altitude a lot for the next month and that is my plan for sure.

Descending off Stob Coire Nam Beith
My mind is all over the place right now thinking about the Bear. I could not be happier to have Kim , Naila and Woody with me for the race. Probably the three most perfect people to have at my side. They  know me and they can all run well and kind of understand me. Kim has paced me twice now and has always done an amazing job for me , Woody somehow got me bloody flying at the end of RRR and we run together all the time , Naila and me go out running/hiking and ski touring often however I think she might be a bit concerned and bored of me at around mile 60 when she is wondering why the hell I am not feeling fresh and able to run like her brother!

Brutal climb up to start of Aonach Eagach

The awesome Aonach Eagach

It does require care in places
As usual I want to finish. First and foremost. I need this race for my Hardrock qualifier next year so I need to finish in the time limit. If I have any niggles or problems early on then I will be going as slow as I can just so I can get to the end. It could be a very long day or two for my crew. On the other hand I would love to run under 24hrs in a 100 miler. Lot's of people pick flat 100's like Rocky Racoon or Javelina Jundred to get their fast 100 times but I seem to be looking at harder ones each year to beat my times! Plus those courses look boring as hell and I will never set foot on them. I love to run but I love to run in the mountains not doing laps of a park. I will not get carried away though as I know at RRR I was way stronger than at LT100 and at Leadville I had a seriously bad knee problem for the last 30 miles. I think one day sub 24 will happen but I just don't know when. Maybe my best shot at sub 24 is to go back to Leadville  one year. RRR may have happened last year if I had seriously thought about it from around mile 65-70 but as per usual I was too concerned about blowing up and it turned out I probably kept a little bit too much back for too long. The Bear though is a harder race than Leadville and RRR but given my last two 100 mile performances I have stepped up to a harder course and ran faster. I am not saying this is going to happen with the Bear as I have no real idea of the course but from what I see there is a lot of climbs and descents which should suit my running style. Firstly I want to finish no matter what the time but I will be asking my friends to keep an eye on my times when I near 50-60 miles to see if sub 24 might be possible and if so then I will probably try my hardest to get it. If some kind of dreaded injury pops its head up then it will be time to ease off and limp my way into the finish. Quitting is something that will never ever come into my head. The only way I would DNF is if I was going so slow I missed a cut off time but quitting for me is not ever going to be /an option.

Making our own trail in Arrochar
I am sure I will report back not long after my first few runs in CO. I will miss you Chamonix but I am sure Colorado is hopefully going to welcome me back with open arms.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Tromso Skyrace

Flying into Tromso I knew immediately that I was going to love the place. On the grand scale of things the mountains are not actually that big compared to the Alps or Rockies but the most stunning thing about the place is how they just pop straight out from sea level and some rise up to about 1400m. I am not a big fan of the sea(sailing , swimming etc..) but I do like being near it and miss that a lot in Chamonix so Tromso ticks all the boxes. It really did remind me of all the best areas of Scotland....Glencoe , Skye , Torridon , Arran. All squeezed into one place and with fjords all over the place.

First summit of race behind me
I landed on the Wednesday and after quickly checking into my hotel I was out the door in no time to go and explore. I headed up to the race start area and ran out the first 10km of the course. It was getting late in the day(10pm) but it didn't feel that way due to the 24hr daylight which was awesome. The weather wasn't that great but I got some views around and it was good to scope out the first little section of the race. I took it real easy and was out for 20km with a little over 700m of climbing but I could have stayed out a lot longer!

Heading up Hamperokken
Kilian doing his job very well
The next morning(Thursday) Kilian and some friends were heading out to mark the furthest away section of the course and asked if I wanted to go along and check it out so I jumped at the chance to scope out the most technical part of the course. So the loop we did was the climb up and along the technical ridge to the summit of Hamperokken(1404m) then down the steep couloir(epic snow descent!) off the side and back around to the car. It's a 10km loop with 1400m climb but not your normal 10km! I will explain this section more later when I get to race day but it was bloody excellent to get out with a group of people to have a laugh and mark the course.

Course marking along the ridge
Lucy enjoying the scramble
Friday was the day of the vertical km race and after much pondering I decided not to run and save my legs for the Skyrace on the Sunday(which I think was a very wise move) Instead I arrived at the start an hour early and asked if any help was needed to which I was pointed over to a ten litre bucket of water and told it was needed at the summit if I fancied it. Being the idiot that I am I picked it up and off I went  up the steep , techy climb of 1000m with what felt like a bag of lead on my back. I was absolutely pouring with sweat when I arrived to the summit but I did enjoy the way up. In hindsight my legs would probably have felt better if I had just ran the race. I took just over an hour for the hike with that weight on my back so I reckon I would have hit the low to mid forties if I had raced. The winner was in the ridiculous low 30s!

Most exposed part of the whole ridge
Last 50m to the summit
Saturday was rest day and a group of us just wandered Tromso eating , drinking and just generally being nervous thinking what was ahead the following day. On paper 45km these days doesn't really seem that far. It's never easy but it is a manageable distance.Throw in 4400m of climbing and descending , only 4km flat running(zero tarmac except 10 metres to cross a road) lot's and lot's of technical terrain , scrambling , steep and I mean STEEP forest , rough trail less mountain side , snow and multiple river crossings and you got yourself Tromso Skyrace and it is bloody amazing. Last years winner took 6 hours 40 mins to finish! Just to surprise everyone the race starts and finishes at the top of a little hill that has a telepherique up it. The catch was the race starts at 10am and the lift opens at.....10am! So the warm up was a 3-400m hike up to the start which was taken very very steadily.

On the descent off Hamperokken. Steep!
Down to the snow
I had been changing my mind constantly whether I should carry a pack or not for the race or just take my waterproof and shove a hat and gloves in my shorts. The weather was not great but it was not horrendous , it was very foggy and wet but it was not windy or that cold. As it turned out Lucy had got a nasty injury sliding on snow the day we marked the course and unfortunately she ended up not being able to race so I gave her my bag with poles and an extra warm jacket and she went to the checkpoint that I would pass at 17km and 30km to give me what I needed. So I set off with just my jacket , hat and gloves and a few gels in my pocket. My water source was the abundance of rivers I would pass on the course. Normally on 45km I would carry nothing but normally 45km on trails would take around 4-5 hours not my predicted 9-10 for this race.

Great bunch of people. Lucy , Mira , Magnus , Kilian , Mick
Just doing what he does
I hate the start of a race , finding your pace , feeling like your legs are not ready and so on and so forth but I battle on until I start to feel some kind of rhythm. The first 6-7kms went just fine. Lot's of rolling hills on some nice soft ground. Then the slow climb starts up to the summit of Tromsdalstinden(1200m) this again went just fine for me and I was on the summit sooner than I expected. This was the easy part of the race. From the summit I was pointed by race officials to the edge of the mountain with a load of snow disappearing into the mist at a rather steep angle. I had one look and turned back and shouted "down there!?" with lot's of laughter and smiles I got the response of "yup , enjoy!" Just as the snow started there was a rope put in place to steady yourself , there was steps in the snow and really the rope was not needed for getting down it but after about 50m the snow ended onto a bit of ice then onto the stupidly steep grassy , rocky , pathless mountainside so the rope was a good idea as if you had slipped on the snow then you were not gona stop even when you hit the grass. Then it was a long descent all the way back down to sea level on steep grass , more snow , a few very cold rivers to cross and then THE forest section. This was an absolute laugh. You couldn't go wrong here as the trees had been cut in to make the only way through so you just had to follow the only way you could go and by god was it steep in places. I was laughing out loud and bloody loving this bit , sliding down mud and hanging off of branches. It was so much fun and I actually managed to pass a few people down here who were being a bit cautious. After this comes the only flat section of the course. 2km in forest but with much more spaced out trees. This too was fun. Pathless soft terrain with markers on trees to keep you in the right direction. Again there was a river crossing but luckily there was a fallen down tree to use to get over it. I arrived in the 17km checkpoint feeling great and I was greeted by Lucy who was as hyper as ever. I just kept saying how much fun that was. I grabbed some water , decided to not take my bag or poles because they were not actually at the aid station for me due to a car breaking down which had all my stuff. Nothing I could do and I was not feeling cold anyway so I just had to get a move on and make sure I stayed warm.

Course map
So back to the loop I had previously run on Thursday. I was not feeling my usual self for the first 900m up but I knew once I hit the ridge I would move quicker. Once I gained the rocky ridge I felt better and got my head down and tried to pass people I knew I was quicker than on this kind of terrain. It was wet a pretty slippy but never really bothered me too much and before I knew it I was just below the summit and ready for the final 50m steep scramble to the summit of Hamperokken. It was wet and care required but it is never hard. I would say the whole ridge gets harder and harder as you go along but most of it you can do without using your hands if your comfortable on that kind of terrain. There is one very exposed narrow section but it is still just a walk albeit a walk you do not want to slip and fall to your left. The final climb to the summit I would say is Scottish grade 2 or maybe easy grade 3 due to it being wet. It is no harder than Curved ridge(grade 2) but easier than North Buttress(grade 3) If you are a runner who has never scrambled or climbed then it would certainly be very interesting but if you climb or scramble or do general mountaineering then you will just love all of it.

Running the Hamperokken ridge. Photo Philip Reiter
I would say the descent is more serious than the climb up. It was back down off the summit and then into a large loose couloir which is very hard to run on. Then onto a huge 200m patch of snow which was the scene of Lucy's accident. I slid down here pretty steadily but again if your not used to running down steep snow slopes then this would not have been fun for you. You really don't want to get out of control and go off the end of the slope into the rocks. After the snow I was feeling good running round past the small lake and then across the boulder field. It was then back down the awesome smooth trail to the checkpoint at 30km. From here you head back up the first descent to the summit of Tromsdalstilden and from the summit you take a different route back down to the finish.
So back across the 2km flat section and then fun time again. Going back up the steep forest was as fun as running down it. Sometimes I was clawing at the mud and trees to pull myself up. Just so much fun. Then back across the rivers and up up and up. The final 400m to the summit are ridiculously steep. Steeper than anything I have every experienced in a race. I was so happy when I seen the snow slope ahead as I knew it was only another 50m to the top. I hauled myself up the snow and was greeted on the summit by the happy cheering race crew. Visibility was pretty bad here and the descent down was quite  tricky as I kept having to stop and look around for the next marker as to not go off route. The course was amazingly well marked but the fog was pretty bad by now. It's was kind of a trail for the top section but very very rocky. Once the rocks started to disappear it was very runnable smooth trail and open hillside and I was feeling great and going as fast as I could down here. I reached the next checkpoint at 38km sooner than I thought. I grabbed a gel then headed off to the finish. The next 6km are lovely smooth runnable trail all the way to the finish and I managed to run all of this as it climbed up again for about 300m. I ended up finishing in 8hrs 08mins and in 30th position. I think around 200-250 were signed up for the race but only about 120 finished and I am not surprised.
Only picture I have during race. Descending off the first summit
It is a very very tough technical course. I would not recommend you sign up for this as your first race but one day everyone who runs in the mountains needs to do Tromso Skyrace. It's just amazing fun and the runners , organisers , supporters are all just awesome. I thought it would take a lot to top the Dolomites Skyrace but this totally beats it and easily. The whole  atmosphere was unlike anything I have felt at a race. There really felt like there was no us and them with normal runners and elites. Even though the gulf in class is quite apparent when you look at results(1st 6hrs - last 14hrs) everyone was just chatting and sharing stories with everyone and I really hope this race never gets so big and loses this great atmosphere but I am sure Kilian , Emelie and Raf will do everything they can to keep it the way it is right now.

Emelie pushing for the win at the VK
I struggled for sure on both of the big climbs which is worrying as I have trained a lot on climbing this summer. It was slow going but I am super happy with how I raced and that I carried minimal gear for 8hrs out in the mountains and I never got any cramp , blisters or felt too bad. I wish I could have been a little faster on the last ascent but overall I am happy with how my race went. I need to keep reminding myself that this was a Skyrunning World Series race , the competition level was very high with a lot of world class runners. Sunshine would have been nice to enjoy the epic scenery but the fog made it atmospheric to say the least.

Cheering in the last runners
I just want to put a massive shout out to everyone I hung around with over the weekend and all those who made this race really something special. Kilian , Emelie , Magnus , Raf , Stu , Dan , Lizzie , Mick it was an absolute blast. Finally a big shout out to Lucy who I know was devastated she had to pull out but she was around all day cheering people on and even at the end I hung around for hours with her cheering in the last runners and keeping spirits high. See you next year Tromso. I cannot wait.
Good times!