extreme2015, race reports

Hell up North and Cannock

Ali and I spent the night before the event with our friends Chris and Bethany over by Delamere Forest where we’d be doing a muddy half marathon event run by the Hell Runner team on the Saturday. Then we’d head over to Cannock for a long bike sportive.

The double weekend events have been the things that have most improved my fitness this year. Having to do a tough event two days in a row has definitely tested us as you’ve not fully recovered you find that you really have to push hard to complete the second event.

I’m prone to making some bad mistakes in terms of race day preparation and this weekend was definitely a doozy. I’d not met up with Chris for a while so we had loads to talk about; as is our way we decided to pop down to the pub for a couple of pints. These couple of pints ended up being a few pints; some wine and several double whiskeys.

Hell up North was feeling pretty bad the next day as I woke up with a hell sized hangover. Clearly this was self inflicted so I was just going to have to tough it out. Ali wasn’t going to put up with any moaning.

The race event is described:

Fancy a swift half? Bog off to that. This is the UK’s toughest half marathon where Mother Nature will deliver that sinking feeling and more. The bar in extreme mud runs is about to be set at a new level (which is incidentally chest high in “Lucifer’s Lido”). Methane-munching HellRunners are now being recruited to tackle the notorious Bog of Doom — where the heart-thumping Devil’s Disco will rock you to glory.

Epic will not describe your experience. We’ll have you in tears… pain and laughter in equal doses actually. Pyro, samba band, fun run, hose wash, fabulous finish line rewards. It just doesn’t stop… but will you?

As running experiences go, this is Heaven from Hell. Run Happy.

The run was amazing; we headed through the woods and before long were clambering up steep slopes and natural obstacles and then into the mud. There was a lot of mud. We pushed through the miles and eventually hit Lucifers Lido which was a freezing water feature. We started out waist height and then soon found ourselves neck deep. Eventually I started swimming.

Getting out of the water I found myself serious sapped of energy but still had three miles left and significant mud features to overcome.


Cannock Sportive

The next day we found ourselves in Cannock for a 55 miles sportive bike ride. We were pretty tired but went out as hard as we could. The day was tough and i ended up coming off my bike three times; once nearly wiping Ali out. Lucky for me I managed not to cause her to much trouble.

I can’t really remember much of what happened because I was so tired but there was some spectacular scenery towards the end.

A lady at the end who we’d been speaking to donated £10 towards our extreme 2015 charities which was awesome considering we’d just been chatting to her to keep our spirits up when trying to get up the last hill.

Would like to do this event again; hopefully next time i’ll not be recovering from a hangover and not have done a hellish half marathon.

Tough weekend made tougher by being a muppet.

extreme2015, race reports

Running Warrington Way Ultra

I am never, ever going to run further then 30 miles. I recall this thought vividly as I finished the Cortina trail. I was absolutely destroyed. Ali and I had been running for just over 9 hours over mountains; doing 2750m ascent and descent. Our quads, hamstrings and knees where kaput.

Two hours later I got this tweet:


The Warrington Way starts and finishes in the lovely Cheshire village of Lymm, about 5 miles east of Warrington.    The route takes in the villages/areas of Warburton, Rixton, Birchwood, Winwick, Burtonwood, Bold, Penketh, Sankey Bridges, Moore, Appleton, Hatton, Stretton and High Legh before returning to Lymm.

Hmm – I wonder if I could run 40 miles? Its flat – how hard can it be?

A couple of weeks later I’d signed myself, Ali and Andy up for this.

I really felt that we had to keep pushing ourselves; we’d done an Ultra but it seemed like we could go further and I kept thinking that the point of this year was to push ourselves as much as we could. In the end I stopped arguing with myself and just signed up.

Our training leading up to Warrington involved doing all our other events; basically – Ride London, Race the train, London Duathlon, Dam Ard Triathlon, Hell Up North and Cannock Chase Sportive and six park runs with a small number of long runs.

So when Alison said we’d not done enough long run training I wasn’t worried – i’d run a muddy half marathon with a hangover – that was tough.

Andy wasn’t convinced about getting around leading up to this but he’d had some good races he’d done so i figured he’d be fine.

The week leading up to the event was pretty stressful for me as I had a presentation at the NEC for work. Diet that week wasn’t great and along with late nights and a few beers I wasn’t in the best shape.

Mentally I felt pretty good though as we drove across to Warrington the night before; I’d had a great week; got the presentation out of the way and now could blow some steam off over 40 miles.

Dan used to live in Lymm and his parents Silvia and Roger had kindly offered to put us up.

Silvia and Roger looked after us that weekend and it was great not having to worry about going home after the ultra. We can’t thank them enough for their hospitality that weekend.

Dan and Rachel and their daughters Emily and Fran has been supporting us all this year and we’d now got Dan’s parents in on the act too along with Dan’s sister Jo. I think we must have seen them about 6 times along the way which really helped keep our spirits up.

40 miles is a long way but I figured that I could run 30 as we’d done a couple of 20+ miles runs. I figured by 30 we’d be tired and the last ten would be just a matter of dragging ourselves around.

A week earlier we’d all got together for a run and came up with our race day strategy; which was basically a run/walk strategy. Plan was to run 2 miles; walk three minutes and then repeat for the entire event. I figured that we’d be looking at 8-9 hours.

The day started off wet; I had wet feet just going into register. There were two categories of runners; a relay team who comprised 4 runners each running ten miles and the nutters doing the 40 miles.

In our briefing we discovered that there was a diversion due to utility company doing some work so our 40 miles run was expected to come in close to 42 miles.

My knee decided to to feel sore.

Andy and I decided we’d better try and stick with Ali – as the only one who can run a consistent pace she was our best bet of finishing.

We’d warned Andy that Ali and I would likely have an argument at mile 18-19 as we always seem to go through a sticky point at this stage and he said he’d force feed us if we looked like we running low on energy.

The race started in the dark and the rain but Ali and I managed to try out our Montane jackets for the first time and found them pretty good for keeping the rain out.

startlineAfter about three miles we took the jackets of as very warm and the rain had stopped. Our feet were socked from running through the puddles. It seemed pointless to try and avoid them.

Running and ultra is pretty relaxing in a way; you are going a lot slower – think we were averaging about 11 minutes a mile (including the 3 minutes walk every two miles) – so you can talk. Andy was in his element and kept the discourse varied over the next twenty miles.

In addition we had some notable people joining us at some strategic points!

Dan met us around the thirteen mile point and ran with us for quite a few miles.

At the marathon point (26.2 miles) Andy, Alison and I were crusing. We all let out a cheer that we’d done a marathon. We completed it in just under five hours and had about 16 miles left – I didn’t feel too bad. Andy had been getting worried from about 8 miles as he felt way too tired early on and started to struggle after 26. Roger joined us to run along the canal stage leading up to the third stop. Andy was really struggling and Roger pulled him along to the next stop where he was able to get some fuel. He was contemplating dropping out at this stage but after a brief respite and waving one of the marshals away started to recover.

Getting started was the most difficult point for me after each 10 miles respite; I couldn’t keep my legs from tightening up and it took me a couple of miles to loosen up again.

Despite our exhaustion the last ten miles were great; Alison got stronger and stronger and Andy was back on the pace (well after chucking up). Andy had the answer with some jelly babies and started to make a swift recovery.

At the last three mile point we met up with Rachel; who had been toying with the idea of running with us. We were unsure if she was going to though because shes only just started running; having done her first park run recently. So it was brilliant to see her as we crossed over a bridge and saw her in her running gear. She looked very clean! Her new trainers swiftly turned brown as we crossed a field. Rachel had been worried she wouldn’t be able to keep up with us but believe me that wasn’t a problem we noticed.

My garmin run out of juice around the 39 mile point (wuss); I understood how it felt but didn’t have the luxury of bailing out.


The very last mile i’d stopped for a quick call of nature and found I couldn’t get my legs moving again. I was really struggling. Rachel stuck with me and coaxed me though the next mile and I managed to scoff a few jelly babies which helped.

We met up with Emily and Fran and I ended up racing Fran through the park leading out into Lymm.

I finally caught up with Ali and Andy at the last hill; and we crossed the finish line together. This was a tough challenge and really needed the support from Silvia, Roger, Jo, Rachel, Dan, Emily and Fran to get through this. We all had rough spots and managed to work as a team to pull each other through.

Looking at our splits compared to others we managed pretty consistent times which I put down to going out slow for the first ten miles. There were quite a number of other runs who were twenty to thirty minutes quicker then us but blew up after that. Our consistent pace was definitely the right strategy and we finished in 8:24


Surname Forename Club Awards Stage 1 Stage 2 Stage 3 Stage 4 Total time
SHARPE Charlie Spectrum Striders 1st male 01:06:00 01:16:00 01:17:00 01:12:00 04:51:00
SMITH Alison Abbey Runners 01:55:00 02:08:00 02:05:00 02:16:00 08:24:00
SMITH Michael Abbey Runners 01:55:00 02:07:00 02:06:00 02:16:00 08:24:00
WICKS Andrew Abbey Runners 01:55:00 02:07:00 02:10:00 02:12:00 08:24:00
extreme2015, news, race reports

RACE RESULTS: Warrington Way 40 Mile Trail Race – 7th November

Surname Forename Club Awards Stage 1 Stage 2 Stage 3 Stage 4 Total time
SHARPE Charlie Spectrum Striders 1st male 01:06:00 01:16:00 01:17:00 01:12:00 04:51:00
SMITH Alison Abbey Runners 01:55:00 02:08:00 02:05:00 02:16:00 08:24:00
SMITH Michael Abbey Runners 01:55:00 02:07:00 02:06:00 02:16:00 08:24:00
WICKS Andrew Abbey Runners 01:55:00 02:07:00 02:10:00 02:12:00 08:24:00

Mike Smith Warrington 40

extreme2015, race reports

Treading water in a Dam Ard Triathlon

This is supposed to be a running club but here I am talking about Triathlon. Seems like everything I seem to do these days involves cycling in some form but this week its all about swimming, cycling and a spot of running.

I am not a good swimmer. That is one honest statement and something I’ve tried hard to change. In fact I’ve been trying to build up for the last year from someone who could do a single length in front crawl to well – someone who can still only do a single length in front crawl. I’ve been swimming three times a week for about the last eight months and managed to improve my technique a lot over that time but still can’t go more then a few lengths at a time.

Alison has been steadily improving; at one point she couldn’t do a single length and I was effectively alpha fish. I was slowly improving; going from 1, 2, 4, 8 up to 10 lengths and Alison was struggling with two. Now she can do 16 and that’s after putting together twenty odd laps in warm up.

So how is it that i’m getting worse and Ali is getting better. The answer is that I injured my shoulder when I was eighteen and its come back to haunt me now I’ve decided to do something interesting with it a couple of decades later. Okay so I ignored it for twenty plus years; some might say I treated it with disdain but honestly it wasn’t anything personal. Anyway – it didn’t accept my apology letter; or the flowers I sent. Man that left shoulder is a nasty piece of work.

So this has resulted in me having to reduce my swim quota to a couple of lengths at a time and limit my time in the pool to enough to wet my shins and ensure I have a damp towel.

So with my current personal best of two lengths I set out with Alison on Sunday morning for our first attempt at a Triathlon – keenly aware that yet again i’d not done enough training.

Alison is looking eager and excited and a little nervous. I’m full of dread and expecting to drown; worst case I get the kiss of life from aunt Mildred.

Alison decided that our intended Triathlon – Drax with its 400m pool doesn’t look as exciting as another one shes found call the ‘Dam Ard Triathlon’ and is described thus:

The Dam ‘ard Triathlon is a pool based Triathlon is set around the facilities of Rishworth School in the Pennines. The course will be picturesque taking in the moors, the valleys and passing many Dams on route, finishing in front of the magnificent buildings of the School.

Slightly longer than the average pool based tri expect a few inclines (after all it is the Pennines) for an end of season challenge.

I tell Alison I don’t mind as drowning in a 400m swim doesn’t seem too different to drowning in a 500m swim.

So we arrive at the start and having had our race numbers cemented to our left legs and right arm and having put numbers on every bit of kit and on every position I can think of we are directed to the pool for the start.

They check me out and decide I’m about to scarper so direct me immediately into the pool; i’m given approximately 38 seconds to say my last prayers before they start me off. The lane marshal tells me before I start that he’ll alert me when I’ve got two lengths lefts to go – “good luck with that” I think.

At 9:47 I start swimming. The first four lengths go ok; my awesome technique mastered over the last 8 months has prepared me better then I expect for the 22.72m pool lengths. I have 22 lengths to swim in total in this odd length pool. By length six i’m loosing count already as my breathing starts accelerating. I’ve gone from breathing every third stroke to every second stroke. Sometime later I guess i’m up to 14 lengths and thinking I’m going to drown. My shoulder is fine but I struggle to think as I’m breathing like i’m doing a 400m interval session (ok what I assume a 400m internal session would feel like if i every turned up to training). By 16 laps going on 250 i’m thinking that drowning doesn’t seem such a bad idea if I can stop. The pool is deep at one end and shallow at the other and i’m in the shallow section so I decide to do another length so I can properly drown myself. By 18 lengths I feel like i’m in hell and don’t know what is going on but that I should focus on my core and make sure I don’t do something I’ve already forgotten.

Lap twenty and the marshal takes pity on me and tells me i’ve done twenty laps; really i’ve only done three but he is beginning to feel embarrassed for me so lets me off easy. I finish the last two lengths with the thoughts that I’ve survived it.

Then i get out of the pool and realise I’ve got a hilly 30K bike and a hilly 8K run still to do. I pull myself out of the pool and somehow crawl out of the building; down the back steps and up to transition to my bike.

At the bike I get my race number on; pull a t-shirt on over my trisuit and drag my bike out of transition before jumping on my trust stead and pedaling hard out and up the first of the hills I’ll encounter today. The elevation is shown below.


The swim has taken it out of me; I’ve got nothing left at all. Mt hard cycling turns into a gentle pedal; walking looks appealing; my pride somehow kicks in and tells me to man up or something like that. I plod on taking one hill at a time and eventually reach the top. There follows a number of down hills; desperate breaking maneuvers and more hills before I hit the final top and bright blue sky. After a day of mist and chill this is a tonic. I take some time to look around as I pedal like crazy along the short flat stretch before heading down the last hill before coming back into Rishworth.

I’m keen to start running; well actually keen to get off my bike but my feet are frozen so I take a quick minute to put some socks on and kick off.

The legs feel like jelly after cycling; I’m running slow. Very slow. I seriously consider walking as really seems like i’ll be quicker. The first stint is straight up a hill; god I hate race directors. The run elevation is shown below.


The run is split into a couple of big hills; the worst part for me is at the 4K part. I was just finding my legs coming back to me and thinking that I could push on when I hit a set of steps which I was forced to walk up; by the time I reached the top my legs had gone jelly again. There was a water stop at the top and then I was running along the dam where I was cheered on by a family which was quite encouraging. I then hit another hill and ended up walking up to a road where I prepared to run again. It was at that time that I noticed the Pink Assassin; yes Alison came bounding up to me all smiles and asking how I was.


Alison escorted me back to the end bless her.

Alison won here age category. Not bad for her first attempt!

It has taken two days to get the race numbers off my body. Feels like I was branded in shame.

Our results are here.

Last Name First Name Bib Number Pool In Pool Out Bike Out Run Out Finish Total
Smith Alison 168 09:48:25 10:00:48 10:04:29 11:26:16 12:12:07 2h 23m 42s
Smith Michael 175 09:47:00 09:58:00 10:01:06 11:24:00 12:12:07 2h 25m 7s
extreme2015, race reports

The Extreme 2015 So Far

Thought i’d post the best bits of the extreme 2015 journey as a video for those of you who want to catch up on our progress.

So far we’ve done 12 park runs with 8 to do and a few tougher events: Anglesey Half, Grizedale night run, Belvoir Challenge (trail marathon), Dales Duathlon, Questars Adventure Challenge (two day multi adventure race), coast to coast cycle ride, Llangollen Round (Two day walk), Cortina Trail (30 Mile ultra across the Dolomites) and Prudential Ride London (100 Mile Cycle).

We still have a Race the train, Warrington Way (forty mile ultra), London Duathlon, A triathlon and a mystery event… and on new years eve the Liverbird marathon.

All contributions to the Child Growth Foundation at https://www.justgiving.com/extreme2015/ or Marie Curie Cancer Care at https://www.justgiving.com/extreme2015ybs/ would be most appreciated and will give us that last bit of effort.

Hope you enjoy this!

extreme2015, race reports

London Calling

Yes indeed we are onto the next extreme 2015 event already. Prudential ride London, a 100 mile ride in, about, through the mighty capital. Alison, I and our friend Dan had arrived at the respective start lines of our latest venture after a night enjoying the hotel Pidcock with Rachel and Dan. As always our friends had put us up for the night and made sure we were well looked after. Dan was going to drive us in to London the next morning and then we’d cycle a couple of miles to the start at the Olympic park.

The next day saw us ready and prepared for another installment of uncertainty as Alison and I set out to ride further than we’d ever done. Dan has a background on the bike, having cycled across to Germany in the past so this was going to be a ride in the park for the old boy. He is also the guy who cycled the coast to coast with us recently and had to cycle the last thirty miles with one leg after doing something he didn’t want to do to his leg.

There were approximately 25,000 riders all setting off in different waves from a number of different start points. Dan was separated out from us immediately so our first challenge was to locate him at the nearest stopping point. This was surprisingly easy, we caught up with him with a hundred metres which removed that barrier.

We were all riding road bikes and had even done a decent bit of training to supplement our meager bike skills so felt reasonably comfortable. Also it is well known that the South is flat and a lot of our training had been done Yorkshire style so we reckoned we’d be fine.

The ride was pretty cool for the first couple of hours as we took an easy pace through the bad streets of London, trying to avoid those well known streets of gold (gold being pretty slippy we needed to keep to the tarmac). The first thirty miles were awesome and I was thinking we should kick up the gears when I hit a pothole. Yes the only pothole in London and I hit it. No problems I thought after nearly falling off my bike. A half mile later I hit another obstacles, which felt like a banana skin as my back tyre slide crazily like it was drunk, i’m not letting it go into a pub again. It was in fact my tyre deflating in a rapid style – the pothole had indeed caused me a problem.

I pulled over and resigned myself to fixing it. In my recent training rides I had experienced about 8 punctures so was getting reasonably good at fixing them; in fact on one occasion i’d had three on one ride. The number of punctures had resulted in my purchase of some new puncture resistant tyres – which I was sporting. These babies would see me through the mean streets of London surely. They looked good but apparently were as soft as the locals.

I was just flinging the bike about when I was approached by a couple who had a standing pump; the guy hadn’t been able to get into the event but as a local decided to hang about with a pump to help out poor saps like me. He even gave some decent advice on fixing the tyre which I appreciated. I thanked him and set off.

Alison resisted rolling her eyes too much; she is getting a little tired of my incessant need to cycle over thorns, glass, pot holes and large cabbages. Couldn’t I avoid something for the love of god. I believe she muttered something to Thor! (probably Thor Hushovd the well know Norwegian cyclist who is widely reconfigured as the greatest Norwegian cyclist of all time) I may have misunderstood.

Hitting the road again we pushed on; before long we were out of London and into the country, riding through lanes and small villages – no idea they had those down south – maybe they were imported for the event. We eventually reached a few hills. It was great to fly past the locals as they struggled to get up these little fellas. I felt great as I rolled over the tops and thought “when is the hill going to start”. Yorkshire rocks I thought as I realised that yes I can deal with hills. Clearly the amount of work we’ve done leading up to Cortina and starting way back at the beginning of the year in Anglesey was paying off.

So we kept riding; in Alisons case – she didn’t stop even when Dan and I were waiting; “those boys are cissy’s” she probably thought as she plowed through the cyclists in front her – her bell was binging and fellow riders were desperately trying to avoid being chewed up by her mean machine. Ali was doing some big numbers and she didn’t want to stop…

Meanwhile we were wondering where she was; eventually we managed to get through to her on the trusty mobile; she was three miles up the road…

The water stops and food stops got skipped – either the food stop didn’t have food because they’d run out after the first six people turned up (they decided they didn’t want to waste any food) or we didn’t stop. It was thus by mile 70 I was getting a cranky. Some might say I had a bit of a diva moment.

After Dan and Alison made sure I had some food and I had stopped stomping my foot we jumped on our trusty steads again and pushed on. Mile after flat mile with only the occasional bump we rode; the wheels turned; the sweat steamed; gasps from the crowds as we flew crazily around corners at breakneck speed. Man we were amazing. Flying through Richmond park and under the Kingston tunnel we were met with a wall of sound. It was awesome as the crowd screamed. I was loving the appreciative crowd; just as on the other side of the road the Pro bikers rode past in the opposite direction. Sigh.

Still the pace was good and before long we were cruising through Westminster to see Rachel, Fran and Emily cheering us on. Then the short stretch along the mall and the finish line.

Awesome – it was great. We met up with the Girls and had some food and relaxed for an hour before jumping on our bikes to ride 8 miles back to our car and our journey back to St Albans.

The last mile to the car saw me get another puncture.

Man the look I got from Ali and Dan…

extreme2015, race reports

The journey to Cortina

Alison and I have finally arrived at Cortina. The biggest challenge of the year and our running career to date. It only seems like yesterday when we started the first of our events on new years day with two back to back park runs after a nights festivities. Since then we’ve run a tough trail half marathon at Anglesey, done a night run, trail marathon, our first duathlon, a two day adventure race, cycled the coast to coast and walked the Llangollen round. In between we’ve done a bit of training including our longest training run to date of twenty three miles (with hangover following the club trip 10k) swimming and a bit of biking. Having arrived at Cortina and looked at the mountains none of it feels enough.

We decide to head up via the cable cars to check out the views today in advance of the run tomorrow. The run is 47k, 2650m ascent and looking to be warm (23 degrees). You need to be self sufficient so need to carry your own water and food and have various bits of equipment stowed away in your pack. Alison and I opted for a couple of Salomon race vests. We are both excited at this stage as this has been on the horizon for about a year.

How to describe this run? Well the first 10k looks the hardest until you get to the second 10k which looks worse. After that I think it gets steadily worse until you reach the top where I expect my hamstrings will be simply destroyed. You then have to run down about 2000m which will destroy the quads. In short the entire body will be put through the mill. Looking at the view from the top of the mountain has clarified what a mountain actually is. It is big.

So having scared ourselves with the view from the top we headed back down to Cortina and went to pick up our race numbers. In the process of picking up my number I nearly pick up the wrong number – Mark Smith, but Alison noticed and saved me from running under the wrong number – clearly not something I have ever done…

On the way to get our numbers I jokingly say that I reckon I could win the top male veteran category from North Leeds – I mean how many north Leeds runners can be holidaying in Cortina. 5 minutes later we bump into a guy from Valley Striders and find out there are about twenty runners from Leeds in town. Go figure.

There are three events being run this weekend. The 20K sky race; the 47K Cortina trail and the Lavaredo trail which is a 119K. Alison first found about the Cortina trail from a work colleague called Steph who ran it last year. Steph has come back this year to run the Laverado trail – 119K, 5850m ascent with her boyfriend Paul. We meet up with them briefly before the race and they give us a heads up on the conditions. They are setting off that night at 11pm and hope it will take them about 21 hours. Yes seriously 21 hours.

That night we soak up the atmosphere and cheer Steph and Paul on before heading to bed. It is crazy thinking we’ll be asleep while they are running through the night but one challenge at a time.

We manage a pretty decent nights sleep and in the morning we are ready for the day; I’m way past the point of worrying about the race; there is nothing I can do about it now other then to try and endure and enjoy it so that is what I figure i’ll do.  Steph and Paul have already been running for about 8 hours while we tuck into breakfast so really we’ve got it easy.

The walk up to the line is a little unnerving but we are ready as we can be; we skip the warm up figuring we don’t really need to worry about it with 30 miles ahead of us to get into our stride.

The mountain is looming over us and looks ready; it just winked at me.

The pre race briefing is similar to other race briefings in that I can’t hear it over the noise of the crowd and we get ready to start.

The count down commences and before I can think about it we kick off. The first couple of miles are on tarmac until we get to the bottom of the mountain where we’ll start the first part of the ascent.

I’ve talked myself into thinking there are only two big hills and then a couple of little ones. The little ones are about 250m ascent though and turn out to be the toughest and steepest terrain i’ve ever gone up. The two big hills are about 500m and 1200m but are a little easier as they are spread out over a longer distance. By the time we’ve run 20k we would have done about 2000m of ascent. The numbers don’t mean anything to me though until i’m on the trail and appreciate how big 2650m really is.

The GoPro comes off my head after about 12K as I start to overheat and get to the point where I realise I’ll probably keel over if I try and film this. I have to stick with the basics like trying to survive it. The GoPro has actually blown up from the heat i’ve been generating and I have to take out the battery to switch it off.

The running poles are a great help on the hills and are the only things getting me up the slopes; we run along the occasional flats and find ourselves walking the hills. Even walking on the hills is leaving me breathless. When we get to the small number of descents my legs are keen to unwind and stretch out and I make the mistakes of flying down them, skipping across the rocky trails on the way down. I end up running a couple of kilometers at 5k pace and then easing back as I realize I still have a mountain to climb.

Alison has noticed that I’m flagging and berates me for not eating so I sit down for a quick gel and slug of water. I hadn’t realised how depleted i’d got and I still have 25K to go. Alison is like the Duracell bunny and keeps on going. The heat is slowly hammering down on me and I’ve drunk all my water. The next water stop is a few klicks but I manage to find a stream to fill up from in the meantime. This is the coldest cleanest water I’ve ever had and goes down like a beer.

Along the trail we cross a few more streams; Alison wades across and I skip across trying to keep my feet slightly dry. Before long both our feet are dry again from the heat of the sun cooked trail. I slap on a baseball cap to keep my head from baking and push on.

The hill is getting tougher; the effort level is constantly rising; the views are breathtaking which is awkward because I’m struggling for breath enough anyway. Along the way we run along cliff edges and through streams. We are in and out of the tree lines and eventually hit a wide valley which is being battered by the sun and does a good job of sharing its pain. Every step seems to take us up further. The altitude is beginning to be noticeable and breathing is getting tougher.

The first 2000m grind me down and we finally reach the first top. It seems like things should get easier from this point;  as we have our first check point and the chance for some real food and drinks. It is blessed relief to stop for a few minutes and I use the time to cram as much chocolate, bread, cheese and salami into my body as I can take and then wash it down with numerous cups of Pepsi. This is ultra food.

The final three ascents are killers; each hill is smaller then the previous but my god they are steep; I stop on the last one and have to get my breathing under control before I can start again. I am seriously unnerved looking at it. Alison is already fifty feet ahead and about 80 metres above me so I decide to crack on again. It is slow going; I feel like i’m climbing rather than running. I’m pulling myself up this hill but I don’t seem to be getting any closer to the top. When does this end.

Eventually; time stops functioning and my brain switches off. I just put one foot after another and reality fades out and then everything comes back into focus and I reach the top to find Ali is waiting from me. Yes we’ve completed the last ascent – we are at the top of the mountain. I don’t see the finish line? I can’t see the brass band. Oh yes we’ve still got 2650M of descent to handle and about 12K to go. We’ve run up a mountain; why? So we can run down it. What the hell are we doing.

When I visualized this event i’d always skipped the descent bit; figuring that going down hill was the easy bit. My mistake is epic in proportions as we fly down the trails, the impact my legs are taking is robbing me of what little energy reserves I have left – which frankly doesn’t feel like enough to get me to the local shop back home let alone 12K down a very steep mountain.

We keep going, and going, and going – the quads are like iron and each time I land on my heels I feel a shock through my back. I keep thinking about the core sessions I did with Liz our personal trainer and focus on keep my core tight and try as best I can to absorb the impact. I remember the hardmoors training sessions we did and try and keep my feet light and quick. I keep thinking about why we are doing this. Everything is hurting. It is so damn hot; my mouth feels like I am trying to gurgle with sand. My eyes are burning from the salt drenched sweat dripping into them. I am loving it.

Finally the trail opens up and we start cruising down the trails; they are wide and the incline is gentle and it is awesome as finally we get to look at the scenery and let our legs do their stuff. We hit the last check point and I down a keg of red bull and feel ready for the last 5K.

The last 5K has other ideas though and is a steep and technical descent through the woods; the trail is treacherous;  with slippery descents and tree roots ready to trip us at every turn. There are a lot of turns and a lot of trips ready for the wary; forget the unwary they didn’t get this far.

The quads are failing; the back has gone; my arms are dead and we still have 3K to go as we hit the tarmac again. This is the longest 3K I’ve ever experienced as we run along the side of the village. It goes on for ever. Alison vanishes and then is back again. I’m not sure if I’m quite with it at this stage as my brain starts trying to calculate how long we’ve been going for. I keep trying to multiple six by three and when eventually I do come up with an answer – not the correct answer I don’t know why I was trying to do this sum.

We finally reach the outskirts of the village and hit the last hill which is only about 5 metres of ascent but it feels another mountain; we are so done. We enter the final stretch through the village and can see the end in sight. Alison and I manage to grab hands and some how we both cross the line together.

I read somewhere that ultra runners don’t ask how long you took to run an ultra, they ask if you finished?

Alison and I had finished.

Our little excursion took us just over nine hours. We go back and get washed up and while drinking a beer we think about Steph and Paul – they are still out there running. In the end they are on the mountain for about 25 hours; two nights and a day now that is extreme.

I take one more look back at what we’ve done; it doesn’t seem real – i’m so tired the mountain seems to grins at us.

Next year it says; next year you are doing the Lavaredo boy.


The Coast to Coast Cycle

The latest extreme 2015 challenge is underway and it involves a bigger cast of adventurers this time via the artistic medium of the bike. We have our friends Dan and Chris coming with us and we are supported by Rachel, Emily and Fran.

This is a three day ride starting in Whitehaven and finishing in Sunderland and we’ve managed to get some of our friends into this on the basis that we’ll also do the Llangollen round (which is a thirty six mile walk) the following week with them as well.

The first day is glorious sun – look at the video if you don’t believe me and check out that fantastic blue sky. We meet up in Whitehaven after dropping our car in Sunderland and transporting the bikes to the start in Whitehaven. Chris is a tad miffed his Brooks saddle is damaged in transit but aside from this we are ready to hit the road.

We get cracking and before long we are cruising out and into the hills, cycling on the tracks and speeding through lanes. I manage to get some great footage from various angles along the way.

The sun is shining and we are making good time. The first day is absolutely awesome – we are all full of energy and are pushing hard along the way.

Alison really confuses the guys initially as she has a tendency to go slow on the down hills and speedy on the up hills. After a very short time it soon appears that Alison is the Queen of the Mountains as she consistently pushes past all of us on the hills and makes us look like unfit middle aged men.

Chris is the speed king – pushing hard on the down hills and hitting speeds not for the faint of heart.

Dan is the tough guy and has elected to ride a shopping trolley to make it even tougher. He is ready for any terrain and has customised it with bespoke tyres. Check him out as he soars past me on an off road section like an eagle.

I’m riding my trusty trek mountain bike which has some trail tyres which turns out to be a good compromise for the varying conditions we hit over the next three days.

Day 1 sees us reach our B&B where we hit the hay after drinking copious amount of beer and watching Eurovision. What a night!

We all wake up and realise we have another two days and 100 miles to do and after a hearty breakfast hit the road again.

Day 2 – involves hills. A lot of hills. Followed by more hills and finally a slightly flat bit and then more hills.

We arrive at the hotel and we are greeted by a welcoming committee of Nick, Jenny and Georgia Child who had heard about our adventures and come all the way from Sutton Coldfield to support all of us. After a quick shower and a really dire cup of tea we hit the bar. Apparently they’ve run out of beer. This isn’t something I want to hear but I manage to compensate. The food is great and after a late night setting the world to rights with Nick and Jenny, Alison and I decide we need sleep. Chris is asleep before 9 but he’s currently on some crazy timezone as he spent the previous week travelling around Europe so we give him a pass. I can’t even recall speaking to Dan I was so burnt out when I go to sleep.

I wake up in the middle of night thinking we’d left him in a ditch somewhere but figure he’ll be ok and crash out again (I’m a great friend…)

The next day Dan turns up for brekkie, apparently he was with us in the bar – not sure where I was then.

Day three involves going up three huge hills and then it’s all down hill from there. We waved goodbye to Rachel, Emily and Fran and the Child Family, who had quite literally gone out of their way to support us and set off on the final part of our journey.

Dan is often associated with injuries and the causing of them. In the normal run of events, a Dan Injury means an injury Dan has inflicted upon someone. This time the Dan injury is self inflicted. The first event happens when Alison who has consistently told us we only have three big hills turns out to be wrong and we hit another big hill. This is a hill too far for Dan who tears something in his knee that really doesn’t like to be teared. We are about thirty miles from the end and Dan doesn’t even look like he is even thinking about not going on. He walks the final bit of the hill and then we drag him another eight miles to a pub. He is really struggling and can’t put any weight on his leg when he goes up a hill.

Dan being the stoic type straps his good foot to the pedal and cycles the last thirty miles alternating between suffering when he uses his dodgy leg and resting one leg on the frame of the bike or stretching it behind him and pedaling with one foot.

Three hills turn into six and the last one is possibly the steepest one ever. None of us make it to the top and we end up pushing our bikes. Alison is twenty feet from the top when gravity intervenes and her bikes starts rolling backwards. It is an anti-Alison event.

We flop onto the ground at the top and try and get some breath back. It doesn’t help.

Alison is ready before the rest of us and kicks off again. Dan is dying – cycling one legged is not that easy apparently but he keeps going. The guy is a machine (slightly broken, twisted machine with a weird whirling sound).

Eventually we find out we have about twenty miles left and it actually is all downhill. This is a blessed relief and before long we are flying along.

2 miles from the end Dan manages to bump into my tyre and goes down in a heap, luckily we’d just set off again so he was doing about two miles an hour. I look back and see him playing twister with his shopping trolley. He grins, untangles himself and after three attempts manages to pick himself back up and get back on the bike. He looks a little embarrassed, then again so does the bike…

Anyway – we manage to avoid any more Dan injuries and finally find ourselves at the beach front. Most amazing of all we catch up with Fran, Emily and Rachel at the end.

Hooray we’ve finished another challenge.

Brilliant fun with our brilliant friends for a brilliant cause.

Hope you enjoy the video


extreme2015, race reports

Questars Adventure Challenge

The latest installment in our Extreme 2015 challenge was a two day adventure race run by Questars. This was held in Great Malvern and would test our skills in navigation, running, cycling and kayaking.

The weekend started with another unnecessary injury; in my eagerness to be ready to travel down on Friday I decided to pack most of the gear into the car on Thursday night. Clearly I am more than capable of putting a couple of bikes in on my own or so I thought. The next day I discovered i’d pulled a muscle in my back – not a great start to the weekend.

Friday night we headed down to Great Malvern with a car packed full of gear. I’m struggling with a dodgy back and wondering how the hell i’m going to survive the event when I can’t do my shoe laces up.

The journey down was quiet and made good time and got to our camp site before the night set in. After setting up our makeshift home we enjoyed a light lunch washed down with some beer.

The next day I vainly tried to get up. My back had decided to leave home without me and left me slumped on my sleeping mat. Alison got out the car jack and prised me out of the tent. She’d been wide awake since stupid o’clock which is lucky as she got everything ready while I staggered out into the fresh morning. After 10 minutes of watching me struggle she decided to slap me into place. I’m unclear what happened at that stage but sometime later I find myself at the race briefing where we find out how the weekend will be organised.

The plot for the weekend adventure involves navigating to a number of checkpoints in order to rack up the most points; we’ll be given a map with the locations and sent out to find them using various transport modes: running, cycling and kayaking. The catch is you don’t get the map until you get to the start line so planning isn’t possible. In my case this is a relief as map reading and planning are not two of my strong points.

We have up to five hours to travel the length and breadth of the local area and must take a mandatory 1 hour rest stop – i’m happy to do five hours rest but Alison gives me a look…

I then find out that after we won’t be done even after five hours. Later that night there is also a night run to participate in before we can consider going to sleep. The following day we’ll have a further run or cycle we can do.

All of these activities will bring in points based on the number of checkpoints you visit; with different checkpoints being rated higher depending upon the difficulty of locating or accessing them.

At this point I should mention there is a ridiculously huge hill in front of the campsite. I’m wondering how i’m going to get pass the start line as I am struggling to sit up.

Alison is looking keen to crack on though, especially as she wants to get her hands on the map and do some serious impromptu planning. This is right up her street. She loves maps, running and has energy to burn. The only saving grace I can see is that she doesn’t like off road cycling and therefore I should be able to keep up on this section (despite the spinal injuries it’ll cause).

We decide to start on the bike and as we only have 45 minutes until our kayak slot and we need to get there on our bike anyway. On the way we manage pick up a few checkpoints on the way. We jump in the kayak after faffing with the GoPro and then head out onto the river for some relaxing kayaking. The river is pretty slow and when close to the banks the wind isn’t much of a problem. We head up and down the river and pick up a few checkpoints. I’ve managed to bring along the GoPro and video most of the day. Somehow I manage to leave one piece behind which makes using it on the kayak awful. Luckily for me Alison is handling that bit of the recording.

The kayak section is pretty sedate the way we handle it but we manage to head up and down the river and pick up a few points.

Alison who is trying to paddle and direct the GoPro at the same time decides to stop paddling to allow her to record properly. I came afoul of her shoving the paddles backwards somewhere ‘safe’. She does this three times to make sure I understand the penalties of forgetting the essential GoPro bit.

Having had enough paddle injuries I direct us back to shore where we have to pull the kayak back up the slipway – an apt name as that is what I do. Before I manage to put my back through more injuries though I jump out of the kayak to push it onto land. The river is deeper then I think and I am up to my waist. I get to stand there while the landing crew decide its time for a quick pitstop.

Alison gives me that look again …

After slipping over at the top we manage to pull the kayak back up the slipway and run back (well trot back) to the bikes and head off again.

Back on the bike I pedal like a demon to warm up and dry out and along the way pick up a few more points. We are doing ok I guess since this is our first time at this. Unfortunately we take a very odd route and end up getting the wrong checkpoints and find ourselves near the start again. Rather then head out again we decide to finish with the bike section and use the extra time to focus on the running. However before we start the run we decide to take our mandatory rest.

Rest over (bacon sandwich eaten) we head out again. This time we are doing the run, which will take us up onto the hills. My back is killing me and I feel like and old man trying to move. Eventually my muscles start to warm up and I start picking up some pace. The time between feeling awful and feeling good is a very long period involving a lot of hills. The run is hard, probably the hardest toughest run i’ve done – i’m exhausted, ache all over and I’ve got no energy to face the ascent. There are some big hill here and we just run up them. I’m spent.

Hooray we are back I think. We cross the finish line. Cheered on by the lone marshal. I’m thinking that i’m happy to be back and settle down for some food and rest a little.

In the back of my mind I realise I’ve forgotten something. Alison hits me across the face with it like a wet fish. Yes we still have the night run to do. This will involve running up the same hill we have just done but in the dark.

I’ve failed to come up with a convincing reason to not go. I’m actually too tired to lie creatively.

So before I’m ready we head out again. The plan is to run for an hour because we’ll get up to another 60 points if we come back early. In the end we run for about an hour and half but pick up some good points on the hill. One of the checkpoints has a maths puzzle for Ali to crack for another 35 points – yay us!

At this stage a weird thing happens. My body decided its had enough and starts flooding my body with positive vibes and suddenly I feel great. My muscles have loosened up and I feel like a runner again as we make our way back. Alison who has the navigation thing sorted is cutting through the streets like a local and before long we are safely back.

We find out later that we came fifth overall in the first section but second in the night run.

Ali is happy; i’m happy and there is food. I eat everything I can get my hands on, drink a load of rum and hit the sack.

Morning arrives like a bad hangover. I wake up saturated; we’ve left the ground sheet exposed and the tent has flooded under my side. I manage to pull myself up and find my back is feeling a load better. Clearly sleeping in a wet tent is good for back injuries.

We have a choice of running or cycling. Cycling involves cycling up big bad hills and off road. Running is the same. We decide to run. Which will involve going up the same hills we’ve done twice already but further, faster and with a damn right attitude.

This time my body warms up a lot quicker and my muscles feel loose for the first time in three days. This is a blessed relief and i’m positively bouncing as I run. for once i’m not holding team ‘Stupid 15’ up.

The hills are awesome and apart from a slight ‘diva’ moment I have when my energy flags and I refuse to move until I’ve eaten and drunk something we have an awesome time on the tops.

Ali on the other hand has clearly used up her energy looking after me and struggles for the last couple of miles.

The hills are awesome; we have some fantastic views and I even start running up and down sections I don’t need to because they just look fun.

In total we clock up over 24 miles running, 1.5 hours on the bike and do about 5 meters in the kayak (maybe 10) – yes we are awesome kayakers.

Here are the scores on the door. We came 4th out of 8th in the mixed novice category.

Pos Stage 1 and 2 Stage 3 Stage 4 Total Time Total Score Category Pos Vets Posn
4 5:54:03 410pts 1:31:45 173 2:29:14 200 9:44:05 783 21 7

We had a great time and I think we could do reasonably well if we ever manage to both be fit.


The Dales Duathlon

The Dales Duathlon took place Saturday 5th April. We decided to do a bit of pre race preparation and went over on Friday to check out the course. This would be our first Duathlon and having read the briefing notes describing what drafting was and that we’d get in serious trouble if we did it we were ready for a bit of a view of the course. We headed on Friday morning to check out two of the three legs – the first leg was a flat road 5K followed by a twelve mile ride and then followed by  a 5K trail run. We decided to do the ride first and then the trail 5K.

The bike leg consisted of two 6.5 mile loops and we cruised through it making sure we checked out the route carefully on the first loop and then pushing the second loop a bit harder. There was a big hill mid-way through the loop which destroyed me on the first attempt. The second was easier as I made the right gear choices. Alison who is awesome on hills (in any sport) so long as going up cruised past me each time.

The bike recce complete we dumped the bikes back in the car and set of for the trail race. I was very slow with very tired legs for some reason. We finished and congratulated ourselves on the successful recce with a cup of coffee before heading back home.

We were both in good shape for a change – no injuries!

Midway home on the M62 the car broke down…

Car Injury

We still had coffee while we waited for the break down man.

An hour later we were back up and running – the car injury was diagnosed as a filter problem and we’d need to drop it into the garage.

This mean’t using our replacement car …


Yes the Micra managed to hold both our bikes and kit. What a machine!

So we headed of and arrived early Saturday morning. We were both a little nervous – this would be a new experience in terms of racing and had no idea what to expect. We registered and strapped the timing strap to our legs which would record us as we entered and exited transition.

An ideal race would enfold as follows:

We start the 5K run and run a steady but sustainable pace and arrive into transition without having spent to much energy. We’d grab our bike and ride the 13 mile  loop and then come back into transition having still something in our legs. The plan was to drop the gear coming as we came into transition to freshen our legs before kicking of hard for the final 5K.

Check out the video for a feel of the event.

This was a small event with about 80 people racing but it had a great feel to it with everyone really friendly.

The first 5K which I aimed to do in about 25 minutes turned into a mad run which I did in 21.34 and Alison did in 22.31 which was about 30 seconds of our 5K PBs so not exactly taking it easy (I could hear Jim saying – “Mike has gone of too fast again …”).

Ali and my first transition was slow – I had to swap the GoPro from my head to the bike and decided to swap into my trail shoes now rather then when I got of the bike (A wise choice I later found). Ali had to struggle with her orthotics which she swapped out into her trail shoes.

The first 5K was fast but I felt great as I hit the bike section. I cruised through the first 6.5 miles as I concentrated on a sustained effort rather than all out sprint. The hill section was painful with a lot of people passing me. I was also pretty slow on the flat and not much better going down.

The second loop was better and it looked like the people who’d passed me were beginning to regret their efforts.

I arrived at transition feeling good raced into transition and kicked off hard as planned taking two people immediately. 20 Metres later the wheels came of as my legs turned to jelly and the two runners I’d just passed cruised past me.

I was a broken runner as I pushed on – I felt like I was walking. There was nothing left in my legs – my energy was gone. I pushed on despite this and just concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other.

Half way into the run my legs started working again and I managed to start picking up speed with a decent push into the finish.

Ali came through only a few places after me having had a brilliant race.

Race Stats

Pos Forename Surname 5K T1 Bike T2 5K Total Age Gender Club
1 DEAN WATSON 00:16:49 00:00:24 00:39:24 00:00:19 00:21:06 01:17:59   25 M TRIPACKRT
13 SUSIE GIBSON 00:22:31 00:00:19 00:41:53 00:00:16 00:28:49 01:33:47   99 F HUMBER TRIATHLETES
40 MICHAEL SMITH 00:21:34 00:02:15 00:52:52 00:01:10 00:28:38 01:46:27   43 M ABBEY RUNNERS
47 ALISON SMITH 00:22:31 00:02:12 00:55:13 00:00:56 00:29:00 01:49:50   42 F ABBEY RUNNERS