Tor des Geants 2023
330km (more like 350+km) with 24000m of ascent - 119h 13m 34s - 137th place

This was a race I saw a video about, and felt I needed to do, rather than just wanting to do it. Longer than anything else I had done before, plus a crazy amount of ascent and descent. I'd never done a race over multiple days, and didn't really know what to expect, other than it would be absolutely brutal, but amazingly beautiful. It turned out to be far beyond my expectations, and is definitely both the hardest and most amazing race I've done.

I started in the second wave of about 200 people at midday, which turned out to be pretty useful because it was smaller and far less busy to get into position before the first trail, and once I did start to work through the field from the first wave of about 1000 people, it slowed me down and helped me not get ahead of myself, and remind me that having never done anything like this before, I didn't want to race, but focus on enjoying the adventure of being out in the mountains for several days.

The mountains were relentless, initially climbing in the hot afternoon sun, then a summit at sunset, a summit with just the night sky, the black outline of the mountains, and a snaking path of head torches. Then the sunrise ahead of me as I made long descent from steep rocks, through rolling grassy hills, and down into the forest. Then, as always, up again. To high peaks of bright grey rocks and dusty paths, moving in slow motion as I climbed into the thin air. Through the clouds on winding rocky paths, past turquoise lakes with birds of prey circling above. Twisting and turning descents through the night, the sound of waterfalls beyond the trees lining the path. And never far from cheers of support, and the sound of cowbells signifying another checkpoint was near, or a herd of cows.

I needed to get my big and little toes taped early into the race as they were rubbing on my shoes during the downhills. I had come into the race having had several issues with shoes over the past few months, and I knew what I had wasn't ideal, but had to try to manage it as best as I could. This got progressively worse as the race went on, with the descents becoming extremely painful, and though I was determined to keep going, I was worried from the second day onwards whether my feet would let me. A similar challenge was sleep, I only got about half the amount I had hoped for, and at times I couldn't sleep at all because of the pain in my feet. I ended up just taking an hour or so when I really needed to.

I decided on about the third day that I desperately wanted to finish, just so that I didn't have to do this kind of a race again and deal with the foot pain and sleep deprivation. Taping my feet helped a little, but also took up more space in my shoes, so towards the end I decided I needed to just grit my teeth and run, and found I could do it, so removed most of the tape, and at that point I saw my foot and sleep issues as challenges to overcome in future races like this, rather than a reason not to do them. By the I end I was tired and my feet and legs were pretty beaten up, but I also didn't really want the race to end. The support from people along the route, but particularly on the final descent to Courmayeur, and through the streets to the finish was really incredible. It is also probably lucky it ended when it did because the day after finishing I found my toe was infected, needed proper treatment, and took a few weeks to heal.

Beacons Way 100 Miler 2023
100 miles with 6143m of ascent - 32h 06m 17s - 10th place

After the DNF at the Jurassic Extinction I wanted to make sure I could put into practice the lessons learned and make sure I had finished a race of 100 miles prior to the Tor des Geants later in the year. I wasn't aiming to be competitive, I just wanted to take it easy to make sure that I could keep going, and wanted to finish strongly. The Tor des Geants would be over a much longer time, and I wanted a bit of preparation for that.

As is often the case in Bannau Brycheiniog, and the rest of Wales, it rained. It started as soon as we did, and continued for the next 24 hours. Lightly at first and then torrentially as the day went on, and the wind picked up a lot on the higher areas too. I was struggling with grip, so switched shoes fairly early on, and with the wet, insoles creasing and folding on themselves, and my recent difficulty in finding a pair of trail shoes that was both cushioned and capable on technical terrain, I was a bit concerned about how it would go as the conditions got worse and worse. Then near the top of Pen-y-Fan, and roughly halfway into the race, my knee suddenly started hurting on descents. I've no idea what happened to cause it but I pretty much had to walk the entire descent to the roughly mid-way checkpoint. I changed clothes, put full waterproofs on, and decided to walk the next section in the hope that it would improve. It didn't, so I then ended up walking the entire second half of the race.

The knee remained really painful on descents, but was manageable on flats and uphills. The difficulty when going so much slower overnight in the wind and rain was keeping warm, but Ros was supporting me, and met me at checkpoints with kit dried out on the car fans, and a dryrobe to wear while eating or getting a few minutes sleep.

The weather got much better the next day, so it was fairly warm and sunny as I came into the finish, though my feet were still soaked, looked a bit like I had trench foot. It had taken about 12 hours to do the first half, and over 20 hours for the second half, and my knee was a bit swollen, but it was good to have kept going, and learnt to manage the difficulty of things going wrong. I had a couple of weeks off to let the knee heal, and then gradually built up training again, minimising downhill running until I was sure the knee was okay.

Jurassic Extinction 2023
120 miles with 5520m of ascent - DNF at 71 miles

This was planned as the key race in preparation for the Tor de Geants later in the year. It was hot and humid from the start, without any wind at all, which made the early hills difficult, and it was strange to climb up into clouds hoping for a bit of cool air, only for them to be just as warm as the air below. I initially progressed well, and I was feeling very good compared to how I felt early on during The Oner on the same course a year earlier.

The heat and humidity gradually made it more and more difficult to stay on top of things by the time I got to Portland, and this was combined with problems I had been having with my shoes over the past few months. It seemed I either had to have my laces very tight to manage on the technical trails but deal with lace bite and a pain at the base of my shin, or have loose laces to avoid that pain but then my foot slid all over the place inside my shoes. I had to walk an increasing amount due to both issues, and despite being in the lead for about 110 km, I couldn't see how I would continue for another 90 km, so called it a day.

It was a shame not to make it to the end, but I was happy with the decision to stop, and the key was putting into practice the lessons I learned during the 71 miles I did complete.

Jurassic Coast Ultra 2023
40 miles with 1325m of ascent - 5h 42m 00s - 1st place

A relatively flat section of the Southwest Coastal path, but will a few short and steep hills towards the end. I started near the back of the field and worked my way through, and then found I seemed to have better grip than most through the mud alongside the lagoon, so took advantage and got a bit of a lead going into the checkpoint at Portland. Felt pretty good at that point and I knew there was another flat section through Weymouth so could push on a bit around Portland. The first few hills after Weymouth were a bit of a shock to the system after the flat, and I was worried I was going to blow up, but I got into a rhythm and then started to feel a bit better, and by the time I reached the final checkpoint I knew there were only a couple more hills to go, and I managed to go for it a bit. It was possibly a course record, but it's a fairly informal race, so I'm not sure that they keep track of it really.

Atlantic Coast Ultra 2022
40 miles with 1390m of ascent - 6h 01m 00s - 1st place

I had run and walked bits of this part of the SW coastal path before, so it was good to put them together in a single go. My Garmin seemed a bit slow at the start, with the orientation lagging and I missed a turn a couple of times, so then decided to hang back a bit until I was out of Newquay and on the coastal path where navigation wouldn't be an issue. There seemed to be confusion going into the first checkpoint as me and another guy were leading over the sand dunes into Holywell Bay, only to find ourselves behind someone that thought the route went along the beach rather than the dunes. But we went ahead out of the checkpoint and it was all pretty straight forward from there. The route was a mix of rugged rocky cliffs, and a slow slog over sand dunes. I found myself a little quicker on the downs that the guy I was running with, so after about 20 miles I put a surge in up a hill, let myself go on the descent, and built up a bit of a lead over the next 10 miles, with the aim of maintaining it over the last 10 miles. I was pretty tired over those last 10 miles, and resorted to a bit of a routine where I would run, think to myself, “Yeah, this is sustainable.” Then about two minutes later I would realise it absolutely wasn't and had to walk for a minute or two, and I ended up repeating that over and over until the finish. But these are the inevitable mind games that occur during an ultra, even a shorter one like this.

Quantock Greenway unsupported FKT 2022
63km with 1849m of ascent - 7h 20m 10s

I completed this FKT following the standard figure-of-eight route. It was all good for the first 45 km, though quite a lot of road in places. The last 20 km was hard due to some navigational issues, as paths on the ground often didn't match the gpx route on my Garmin, or OS maps, and many were directly across crops and other fields without clear paths. This led to a few occasions where I ended up running three sides of a field before I could find the gate or stile to get out, which added time and was a bit frustrating.

I also ran out of water with about 10 km to go, which was a bit draining as it was a pretty hot day. In retrospect, it would probably has been wiser to complete it self-supported by leaving one or two drinks caches. My time was about an hour behind my target but it was a bit of an adventure, having only otherwise been through the Quantocks when road cycling, but given the difficulty of finding paths towards the end of the route, and the large proportion of road at the start, I don't think I'll try this route again. I think it would be more fun to adapt it to take the best bits over a shorter loop of about 40-50km.

Dartmoor Crossing unsupported FKT 2022
50km with 1127m of ascent - 5h 16m 06s

I completed this FKT route unsupported, as the main part of a slightly longer run from Okehampton Station to Ivybridge Station. I just stopped to refill water at the water fountain in the Postbridge visitor centre.

The route was harder going that expected as decent amounts of the route are across open moorland without a path, and at other times the path was really boggy, which saps all momentum. Plus, although I already knew it, the Abbot's Way, which the route uses in the southern section, is often not a path so much as a general direction, and this led to more bog, and slow progress. By the time I got to the better path in the last 10 km I was out of water and struggling the motivation to keep running.

Overall, I was glad to have done it, even if it wasn't as fast as I had hoped, but I wouldn't rush back to repeat the route, as I think there are alternatives that cover similar parts of the moor without so much bog to contend with.

The Oner 2022
84 miles with 4000m of ascent - 15h 14m 48s - 2nd place

I did this race a couple of times when I first started ultrarunning. It was run overnight on weekend close to the full moon, and it was an amazing way to experience the south west coastal path. That's the main reason I chose this as my first race since starting ultrarunning again. It now starts at noon, and the length has increased from 75 miles to 84 miles by including a loop of Portland. The direction changes from year to year I think, and I ran from west to east.

I started in a front group of about 4-5, but this spread out a bit through various early checkpoint stops, and I let the front runners go ahead as they were going a bit fast for me. By 30 km I was feeling tired, but Ros, who was supporting along the way, helped to remind me to take it one checkpoint at a time. Initially I thought I might not be able to make it, so I just focused just on getting back to the race HQ on Portland, which was about halfway. By the time I got there, I wasn't feeling worse, and actually felt about as I would expect to for having done just over 40 miles. The sun set while I was going around Portland, and I also started to move up the placings, I think just through being efficient at checkpoints as I didn't pass people on the trails. I saw Ros again as I came off Portland, and then I knew I had a decent flat section past the lagoon, so could keep going, and once I had done that I'd just have the last couple of hills left before the finish.

Early on I started to just focus on my own race, and trying to get to the finish, so it was surprising that I then found myself in 2nd place towards the end, and then I did what I could to hold that position. This was good for keeping me going, but also led to paranoid glances back through the darkness, and the slight fear of seeing a headtorch approach at a speed I wouldn't be able to compete with. But as I went to the last checkpoint, the distances between the lead runners were fairly set, and despite my stomach starting to feel awful, I knew I would be able to keep going over the last few hills.

It was a great reintroduction to ultra races, and I was happy that I had done as well as I felt I could have, and my time was actually about 30 minutes faster than when I first did The Oner in 2007 even though I had covered an additional 9 miles this time, so definitely happy with how I had been able to build my fitness back for starting racing again. I lay down, had some soup, threw it up, and had a sensitive stomach for a few days afterwards. So always things to learn, and training my stomach and optimising what to eat and drink was one of them.

Across Dartmoor via the Two Moors Way supported FKT 2022
60km with 1518m of ascent - 5h 53m 38s

I completed this FKT as part of a longer (70 km) run from Ivybridge station to The Duck at Yeoford. I had support at Holne and Bennett's Cross, plus another at the end of the FKT route at Manor Farm to get me remaining ~10 km to Yeoford. It's a really nice route to cross Dartmoor, and the paths using the Two Moors Way route are generally good compared to a lot of the routes that cross all of Dartmoor. It is also less remote than other routes as it goes up along the east side where there are some villages to pass through, however, that does mean there are more places to stop, so I've used this route or variations on it for crossing self-supported, and over a couple of days as well.