Wednesday, 9 August 2017

SuperSupport Extraordinaire!!!

The Lhairig Ghru...again so soon...
With trying to keep so many balls in the air at the present time, I confess that training and racing has taken rather a backseat. I did sneak a local event in - the Moffat 15K race as it's a perennial favourite (even if I don't think so at the time when I'm dragging my carcass up the steep mile of uphill track in the middle of it), but mostly I've just been getting out into the hills and running with friends at the weekends.

At least he wasn't sprinting the descents
This has taken the form of supporting many different challenges.....the Scottish 24 hour record, several Bob Graham Rounds, a 60@60 and a Paddy Buckley Round.

Still standing (and smiling) at the finish
The previous Scottish 24 hour record was set 29 years ago by Jon Broxap when he summited 28 Munros in 23 hours and 20 minutes (though another summit was later upgraded to make it 29 Munros). Jim Mann went to the Cairngorms and set a new record of 30 Munros in 22 hours 18 minutes.

1 of his many Munros
I can appreciate just how phenomenal an achievement this was (never mind making last orders in the pub at the end) as I supported him on a leg (and 2 bits of legs). I only managed about 40miles and 9 Munros compared to Jim's 86+miles, but that was plenty for me - and it was a pleasure to be part of such a fantastic weekend.

DRC does Moffat!!
Down the neverending hill to town

A couple of days later I squeezed in the Moffat Run as it is a good local race with a big club turnout. The race starts (this time without a count down so I was actaully facing the wrong way chatting to friends) in the centre of the High Street and consists of 3.5 undulating miles along the valley floor, then a tough offroad uphill mile to the "high road", followed by 4.5 miles of constant downhill winding back into Moffat (which you can see in front of you but never gets any closer).

Finishing down the High Street
Hitting the edge of Moffat a slight incline catches out tired legs before you "sprint" back down the main street to the finish. Although my legs were definitely feeling the miles from the weekend, I was really pleased to find that I finished only 40seconds slower than last year (1s per mile of supporting Jim) despite powerwalking some of the hill, which is the first time I've not tried to run the whole way (though I still overtook some of the guys on the uphill!).

A 60@60 is an extended Bob Graham Round where the challenge (once you are 60 years young) is to "bag" 60 summits and make it back to the Moot Hall within 24 hours. David Waide was attempting to do just this, and I'd agreed to help him out with support on Leg 2, which involved a 4am start from Threlkeld so I went down and joined them at the campsite on Friday night. I didn't sleep well as I could hear the weather deteriorating and I was slightly anxious about doing the support alone as David said he preferred to get his nutrition from drinks rather than food so I knew there would be a decent amount of weight to carry.

David duly appeared, had a slurp of coffee, took a banana and we set off to ascend into the clag up Clough Head. I had a bottle for David in one hand, his half-eaten banana in the other, and everything else in my backpack. Once we got into the clag, the visibility never looked up. The ground was about the wettest I've seen it underfoot and I did end up almost thigh deep in a bog at one point quite early on in the leg. The rain got heavier and the wind picked up but we managed to keep moving along well, chatting whenever conditions permitted. Looking back on it now, it must have been a comedy sight to see me juggling the banana and water bottle, whilst trying to write down the summit timings, report the splits to David as he asked me for them, and also get out extra waterproof top and trousers out of my bag for him. Luckily I managed it all well enough without ever losing sight of him in the cloud.

We spotted the flags out to mark a race going the other way, and some race marshals (who thought we were lost) tried to get us to turn around and go the other way. It was fun to recognise and cheer on the race leaders as they passed by descending Fairfield as we climbed it, but then we got mixed up with other runners as we turned round and descended again (confusing yet more marshals as we then appeared to be choosing to go off course). Unusually for me, I was able to descend well and ran down to Dunmail ahead of Fairfield to report in and hand over to the 2 supporters on the next leg. I spent the rest of the day helping David's sons get to changeover points and helping with car shuffles and was all set to run with him along the road section to Keswick at the end. Unfortunately the weather took its toll, and although he managed to bag all of his 60 peaks within the 24hours, he missed the final road section as he'd run out of time. It was an incredibly long day for me and the Waite boys, but not half as long as it must have been for David - fair play to him!

Sally and partner Simon ready to go
The next weekend, it was back to Bob Graham duty...this time to support my friend (and GB trail teammate) Sally. I'd also roped in another mate Jon who was keen to get out onto the hills, so we headed into Keswick late on Friday night to try to get a couple of hours' sleep. We ended up being a small "crowd" that set off from the Moot Hall at 2am, as another runner joined us for the first part of the leg until his support runner caught up after sleeping in, while another guy wanted a decent run out as training for an upcoming event. Sally was fired up and tapered so we had plenty of energy for catching up as we ascended Skiddaw. The summit ridge was more difficult due to the strong winds and rainclouds (head torches in the hands instead of on the head to prevent the blinding cloud reflection) and then it was a very boggy run off across to Great Calva.
Climbing up from Mungrisdale Common

It was nice to support Sally - not only because we're good friends, but because we're quite similar in our running likes and dislikes. We enjoy climbs and aren't so fond of descents (hence we ran a lot of the race in Italy together). The route that she was following for Leg 1 worked well for me, especially in the wet as I found it easier to go slightly further but along a more runnable descent and then flat section (rather than trying to peg it down through thick heather whilst avoiding hidden ankle-twisting holes). We also went a longer way off Blencathra but could run it all rather than skidding around over slippery rocks, so again I kept up and even managed to run ahead along the final road stretch to warn them that we were coming into the handover at Threlkeld (and get to the cake first!!).
Descending off Blencathra

Jon and I ran back to Keswick, ate food, grabbed some mores rest and then headed on down to Wales for the next support job of the weekend.....the final leg of a Paddy Buckley Round. Unfortunately, just as we arrived we heard that the runner had been forced to stop due to sickness, so we (ate again...and then) turned round and disappointedly headed back north (though too late to make Sally's finish as she'd powered round in 19:37). Still, this meant that my legs weren't as tired as I'd expected them to be at the end of the weekend, so I agreed to some further support on a last minute Bob Graham attempt.

A "nicer" view from Threlkeld
A sunny ascent of Skiddaw
In total contrast to the wet, windy weather of very early on Saturday morning, the sun was shining as I drove back down to the Lakes after work on Monday. I met up with Chris and we set off from the Moot Hall at 6pm.
This time I was the lone support on Leg 1, but as the pace was a bit slower I could just relax, take some pictures and enjoy the views (the only problem I had was the late discovery of some shoulder/neck chafe from carrying Chris's pack).

Sunset across Mungrisedale Common
There were no worries about routefinding in the evening light, and so we even bounded down off Great Calva through the heather this time. Another friend came up to meet us on Blencathra to make sure we got the route of the parachute descent right, and I handed Chris on to his next leg support at Threlkeld safe and sound (well actually I had to go a bit further as the "supporter" needed to fix his leaky waterbottle and then catch up). I kept in touch with them over the night and next morning, but unfortunately he had to stop at Wasdale.


Summiting Dale Head - peak 1 of Leg 5
Back at the Moot Hall
You'd think I'd have had my fill of the Lake District and BGRs by this time, but the very next weekend, after catching up with friends in Glasgow, I found myself heading back down again. I had a slightly vested interest in supporting Robin on Leg 5 of his Round as I'd run Leg 2 with him 2 years ago but he ran out of time and stopped as Honister just as I was due to rejoin him. This time was more promising and we climbed the last 3 peaks before the sun set, descending down to the road in twilight. Another friend of his joined us for the road run in and we made the Moot Hall 21hrs and 57minutes after he left it (I reckon the sub-22 was because I wouldn't let him stop to sit down and change his shoes with 4.5 miles to go). Job done!

"Mum on the megaphone"
Andy and Josh - Go Team GB!
That is definitely it for my running support for a while....though I did have a great weekend down in London watching and cheering during the World Championship marathon. The course was a 4-lapper so we got to see the runners 8 times as I ended up standing with Callum's mum Sandra Hawkins on the Embankment where they ran out and back.

Supporting with Sandra
Callum moving up into 4th place
I shouted myself hoarse in the men's Callum ran an amazing race to record a new PB and finish 4th (A funny memory is his mother shouting at him to "Come ON!!" down a megaphone and me shouting at him to "Listen to your mother!!"). The ladies' race followed and then it was time to return home to start thinking about my own running....eek!!!

Aly in the ladies' race


Wednesday, 5 July 2017

The Lhairig Ghru

Course map and profile
The Lhairig Ghru is the best known hill-pass in Scotland, climbing to an altitude of 835m as it crosses through the central Cairngorms, one of the wildest areas in the country. For many years Deeside runners have hosted a race which starts at the police station in Braemar and uses the Lhairig Ghru to finish outside the police station in Aviemore.
As it is an isolated self-sufficient 43km point to point hill race, there are strict entry criteria of being able to run a sub-4 hour marathon and having hill experience, but this year saw a record-breaking number of participants (221) of which I was one.

I had completely forgotten that my friend Konrad has convinced me to enter it a while telling me that it was very much a "road runner's hill race". I got a reminder email from them a few days before the event and had a slight panic. Konrad's wife Jasmin told me to just relax and enjoy it as a low-key run post World-Trails, so with that in mind I headed up there (though I was still nervous on the startline...not least about going the wrong way as I really wasn't too sure of the route though I did study the map in detail).

I started relatively near the front, but as the first few miles were on tarmac and climbed steadily uphill along the Dee Valley towards Mar Lodge, they suited me and I found myself running solo nearer to the sharp end of the field. There was a cut-off at Derry Lodge (about 7-8miles in) just where the route narrowed to rougher single track and I actually reached this in 8th place overall.

The Lhairig Ghru
It did not seem like it was going to be a day for fast times (though Murray Strain put paid to this notion by setting a new CR) as there was a stiff headwind, which is never the most encouraging thing as you start as point-to-point race. The positive thing about the wind was that it meant I didn't get too hot (in fact it was touch and go as to whether to put my waterproof jacket on at it would spit with rain, then clear, then cloud over again). The negative thing about it was that my legs had already started to feel empty by the 7mile mark, and so it seemed like a hard effort going into it when it should have been easier running.

Ankle rolling territory
Despite the recent dry weather in the Lowlands, the Highlands has its own climate, so we still had to wade the Luibeg Burn. I tried to rock hop as much as possible but was passed by a couple of guys who just ploughed straight through it .A short steep climb up from the burn then took us over a spur and down into the Lhairig Ghru valley itself, where the narrow singletrack became much rougher underfoot. I managed to avoid banging my toes on too many of the rocks strewn across the path but wondered if I was going to set a CR for the number of times you can roll your ankles while still actually running.

It can be sunny at the Pools of Dee!
The weather deteriorated as the path steepend, but the roughness underfoot meant that it was impossible to let the concentration lapse for even a minute without risking a tumble. This, combined with the past pace of the race meant that taking on nutrition wasn't the easiest (so I actually ate most of my "hillfood" after crossing the finish line, only managing jelly babies en route). Although I remembered the climb being longer than the descent on the course profile, I was surprised to find myself still climbing after more than 17 miles, but when I topped out at the Pools of Dee, I regretted longing for the summit. The Pools of Dee are really several boulderfields with no obvious paths across them...and I managed to time her stumbling across this area for the arrival of a painful hail storm - nice!! How much did I curse Konrad at this point?

Boulder-hopping anyone?
It was still hailing as I started to descend and the hail/rain seemed to have done something to one of my contact lenses so I found it hard to see my exact foot placement. Many speedy men descended past me while I tried to find any form of path through the rough rocky ground, but the weather dried up and the path improved after a mile or two. At one point it appeared possible to run just to the side of the path on a grassier surface, and so I thought this would be better as it would save me from having to pick up my feet all the time to avoid rocks. Unfortunately taking this option caused me to take a tumble (how predictable) as my foot sank into a hidden grassy hole and my body carried on regardless - which led to a good faceplant and crack to the head. Slightly dazed, I picked myself up, spate dirt out of my mouth and carried on down towards Aviemore, kindly refusing help when I passed some race marshals who suggested I stop with them for a bit and recover.

A couple of miles of pretty, though rooty, single track through the woods took us down onto a wider gravelly forest road  (well, I'm told this part of the route was very pretty as my knock to the head means I only have hazy memories of it). My friend Georgia caught up to me as I went through a gate on this forest road (which did seem to go for a very long time). She was breathing heavily and said she'd been trying to reel me in all the way downhill, and so although I urged her not to let me hold her back, she said that she was starting to struggle and so seemed content to run with me as I chatted away, and before we knew it, we were turning out onto the main road at Coylumbridge.

Happiness is....a race finish!
I thought it would be nice for us both to finish together, so although Georgia kept urging me to go ahead, I dropped my pace a bit and hung back for her when I accidentally edged ahead. It was, however, several miles of very runnable flat roads and path into Aviemore and she suddenly dropped a singnificant way back from me with a mile to go. At her urging I continued, and found msyelf picking up the pace without realising it.

Having ducked under the trainline into Aviemore, the final section was a game of "dodge the tourists and the traffic"  along the High Street to where some people in High-Viz jackets marked the finish line on the opposite side of the road outside the police station.

"My" quaich
I was very happy to finish as I'd never thought I would take a win at a classic long distance Scottish hill race (20th place overall) - the winners' quaich stayed with the race organisers after presentation but at least I got to take home a nice swollen lip and developing black eye as well as some good memories!

Monday, 26 June 2017

Muckletoon Adventure Festival

"Local Legend" - not!!!
Give a girl a mic....arrrrgh!!!

It was meant to be a nice relaxing weekend when "all" I had to do was give a talk at the Muckletoon Adventure Festival in Langholm, but somehow it grew arms and legs. I was nervous enough about the talk - it's bad enough thinking that my running results are all some kind of fluke and that I've got to where I am under false pretences, but I can't get my head around thinking that anyone would want to listen to anything I have to say........ Having been billed as a "Local Legend", I could just imagine myself talking to an empty tent, but as it happened the weekend was so full-on that I hardly had time to think about it, never mind stress excessively!

My friend Richard was down from Edinburgh to visit for the weekend and we headed over to Langholm nice and early, getting there in time for the "Pre-Run Yoga Workshop". I guess that the aim is to make this suitable for everyone, but it did seem rather basic, with lots of hand and feet twirling and only one warrior pose.

Next up were the trail runs, with both 10K and Half Marathon options. Richard had entered the 10k and, as many of my Dumfries Running Club-mates started to arrive (the 10K was one of our Grand Prix races), I decided to enter and run it, not really knowing how my legs would cope after the World Trail Champs the previous weekend. I could see my speedier clubmates right at the front as we awaited the 1pm start (always a good time to run...not....but especially so on such a hot day) but I made sure I was a decent way back (behind two girls wearing thick "cat suits" and a boy wearing a dress!!!), and as there was a 15minute delay, it meant I had time for a good catchup with some other friends.

DRC pre-race
Suddenly we were off, though it initially seemed like we were running in the wrong direction. As it turns out, every event at the festival started the same way...heading towards a hillside but a sharp 90 degree bend them had you going round, across a wooden bridge out towards the main road. Some people had read the race description (technical trail) and so had trail shoes on (I confess I did, but only because I had not had any other shoes in the car), but those wearing road shoes seemed to have had prior knowledge of the course as we ran a kilometre along the road into town.

A sharp left hand turn (well supported by locals cheering) had us running between pipers....well, I say running, but it was up a rather steep road. I was filled with dread as I saw some guys in front of me heading further up a steep grassy hillside, but luckily this was the first "split point" of the routes and there was a very welcome "10k turn right" sign. As most of the men had continued on the half marathon route (more fool them up that hill in that heat), I could now see my clubmates Nicola and Lisa ahead of me. Nicola was leading the way and Lisa was tracking her step for step in her "slipstream".

We headed back down to the road out of town, then up on some very runnable wide trail, before a small section of single track descent through some woods to the main road again. The road was not closed to traffic and I clearly mistimed my appearance on the road, as I had to wait for a few cars to cross the narrow bridge before running the other way over it myself.
A short grassy climb :-)

The next section was a long sunny gravelly road, and I considered stopping on several occasions. I asked myself what I was trying to achieve by "racing" so soon, but I gave myself a good talking to and carried on as I realised that I had nothing to prove to anyone and it didn't matter how slowly I ran, as long as I wasn't injured and kept going so as to win the mental battle with myself. I passed Niall (another clubmate who often goes off rather fast and then fades a bit) and watched the ladies' battle up ahead. Nicola had pulled away from Lisa but then Lisa reeled her back in and overtook her.

I didn't stop at the water station but carried on straight up the next hill. Lisa was closing down on the leading lady (Rhiannon) and I was moving up behind Nicola. My legs were definitely tired so I opted to "powerwalk" that hill, which was definitely the right choice for me as I passed a couple of men and was still the same distance behind Nicola at the summit. The descent was another matter, as my quads felt like jelly and I really worried that they wouldn't hold me and I'd come crashing down wither on the ravel road, or the following grassy slope.

The panther presided over prizegiving
Somehow I survived and made it to the next road section. It was easy to see the road winding up the hill ahead, and Nicola and I seemed to echo the battle between Lisa and Rhiannon (Lisa and I being stronger on ascents with Nicola and Rhiannon favouring descents). A short muddy section of single track down to the creek saw me slipping and sliding a bit, but luckily I in a wooded area and so out of sight of everyone. Nicola was finding the heat and the distance (the race was actually over 10k) rather tough so I moved away from her and found myself chasing Rhiannon down (with Lisa out of sight ahead). Unfortunately the finish came just too soon for me (to be fair, it felt like it didn't come soon enough) as I finished just a couple of seconds back in 3rd place, but it was impressive work by the DRC girls (3rd, 5th and 6th overall)!!!

No way was I standing on that stage
to talk - the microphone was bad enough!

It really was a "tent talk"
Time for a quick shower, some food and then I braced myself to give my talk. There were more people than I expected, but unfortunately for me, the sun was shining brightly through the white tent walls and directly onto the screen. A lot of my talk was about where trail running could take you, and I'd prepared pictures of some of the amazing places I've visited.....but I doubt that anyone could see much of it. Still, people were polite enough not to complain and did ask a few questions afterward.

Richard soaking up the Scottish
trail lifestyle!
The monument was worth the climb
After a nice "fruit based beverage" in the sun Richard decided we should do a hill climb up to the monument....and did my poor tired legs not half feel it!! Still, despite the haze we got a lovely view out over the surrounding countryside before descending back down to the pub for dinner.

I was up bright and early the next morning for the cycle sportive. There were three options covering 30, 60 or 100 miles, but as it was my first one and I was just aiming to use it as "active recovery", I opted for the shortest route.

Swamped by guys early on
Everyone started off together (the same loop over the wooden bridge and out onto the road, as for the trail runs) and then we "processed" for a mile through town and out the other side. I know that a sportive is not a "race" but it seemed odd to have this slow mile included in the event times.

Once we were out the other side of Langholm the field spread out straight away as people started pedaling in earnest. I found myself initially cycling alone, but then started to move to and fro with certain groups of riders. They might pass me on the fast, twisty descents, but as soon as a climb continued for more that a hundred metres, I would start catching them again - I guess that I may have limited confidence in my bike skills, but I do have (hopefully) significant base fitness.
The early morning mist avoided sunburn dramas
The 30Mile route
I was so engrossed in chatting to a group of guys I'd known years ago in Carlisle, that I nearly missed my turnoff and almost carried on along the 60 mile route. I was enjoying the ride so much that I did wish I'd signed up for the 60mile option, but that was probably just a beginner's optimism! I hardly saw a soul for the rest of the ride, but just enjoyed pedalling along the beautiful undulating country roads. I did spy a man (I think he was actually on a mountain bike) not far ahead of me as I descended back through Langholm and out the other side up towards base camp, but then I was delayed into the finish as I had to wait for a few cars to cross the wooden bridge exiting the rugby club before I could cross and enter. Having now seen the results, it turns out that I finished 4th overall, which explains why I didn't see many people out on the route! I loved it, and am now tempted to try a longer one!

Chasing everyone down as we
turned off the main road

Having just got off my bike, changed shoes and eaten some food, it seemed silly (!) not to take part in the 5k trail run with Richard (at least they said it would be a lot less hilly than the 10K). By this time we were used to delayed starts and so hung around nearer the back the pen, letting several of the keener adult and most of the youngsters have a clear start ahead of us. We started along the same way as all the other events I done so far - a loop around, across the wooden bridge and then down the road towards Langholm. This time we turned off before town and headed along the pheasant pens, into some woods, and then back along a riverside path to join the end of the 10K route.

Such a beautiful day to run!
I seemed to start with jelly legs after cycling but gradually warmed up and got my flow back. The lead runners seemed a very long way ahead of me, even after a couple of K, but I gradually reeled them in, finally moving into the lead with about 800m to go. I couldn't believe the time that the clock was showing when I finished, but it was only an "approximate" distance and so a bit short. Still, I'd had my fair share of exercise for the weekend....add to that a couple of hours working for the Out Of Hours service when I got home and then painting a room...and I needed to go back to work on Monday for a rest!!!

(with thanks to James Kirby for the MTAF photos)

Thursday, 15 June 2017

There's no "I" in Team, but there is a "me"!!

If I'm honest, I hadn't been feeling at my best in the run up to this year's World Trail Championships, with a lot of work-related stress overflowing into my day to day life which impacted on my sleep, my mood and my running.
Team GB
The 2017 race was shorter than last year's - covering 49km with an elevation gain and loss of about 3100m.

It is always an honour to be asked to represent Team GB and I was still determined to be a team player to the best of my ability. In the run-up to the event, this meant getting involved in trying to help sort out flights and kit in good time for everyone, finding out information on compulsory kit and our accommodation, and keeping everyone connected and informed (no wonder I get asked if I want to help out on the management side in the future).

The monastery courtyard

Waiting for the bus "home"!
By the time we all got out to the monastery where we were staying (about 10km away from the race start/finish in Bada Prataglia, Italy), I'd put all thoughts of work away from me and concentrated on a good weekend with teammates old and new. It was certainly a beautiful place to be, and while on some gentle runs, several of us commented on how nice it would be to stay there a week and just explore the trails a bit more.

Team GB at the Opening Ceremony
Chilling at the ceremony
The opening ceremony was held on the Friday evening at Poppi castle (15k away from Bada in a different direction) - these events can seem long and tiring, but it's a chance to proudly fly the flag for GB and an excuse to catch up with friends from various other countries around the world in a more relaxed setting than while actually racing!

GB ladies set to rock the trails!
Team briefing
Despite them having checked out compulsory kit the night before, team management insisted on another check (right down to pulling our tracksuit bottoms down to show we had the correct shorts on!!!) before we boarded the 6:30am bus that took us to the start. Although the street was quite narrow and crowded by the start gantry, a cheeky recce the day before meant that we knew that the first mile and a half was a rather steep climb up into the hills, so my team mate Sally and I hung back from the initial crush and spent the first part of the race gradually passing people who'd already built up too much lactic acid in their eagerness to get going.

Leaving the first water station
Beautiful trails
The first 9K took us through beautiful shady woodland to a drinks station just above our monasterial accommodation. We dropped down a slope, popped out onto the road, were given a nice cheer and then were straight back into the woods climbing up again (I might have avoided taking on any water here, but I did manage to trip on a root right in front of a photographer though I hope that evidence remains hidden!!).

Spot the deer...
Sally, myself and another teammate Katie traded places through the next section with Sally and I preferring the climbs, while Katie ran the descents with glee. A long steep, hard, rutted, semi-cobbled downhill section saw Katie disappear off into the distance while Sally and I managed to keep in touch with each other so that we could chat, spot deer and generally enjoy the run, knowing we had 4 good teammates ahead of us.

Our "original" race route had seen us running alongside a reservoir (that looked so tempting in the hot Italian sun), but a revised course saw an extra 300+m hill to climb before the official feed station at 23K. Sally and I used this to reel in a couple of American ladies and a couple of Spanish ladies (we knew that both of these countries would be vying with us for team medals) and even managed a linked "hands aloft" picture for another photographer (again - sorry but we've not found evidence of that picture yet either!) before crossing the dam into the feed station.

Sally's partner Simon had joined the GB support team and could support her, while official management handed me my electrolyte drink and food packet (though unfortunately I did have to ask for my bottle of water and then ask for the lid to be removed so I could gulp it down).

The steps down the side can just be seen
We descended to the bottom of the dam via many, many steps (I definitely prefer losing height this way rather than via a rough technical trail) on which is was impossible to pass anyone, but then we had a kilometre of open road to get running again. This was before one of the main climbs of the day...up and down to the 35K water station. I'm not sure as to the accuracy of the distance descriptions as it seemed a very long way between these points (especially as my soft flask lid had jammed so that I couldn't unscrew it to refill it). 

Some of the trails
I had some good company along this section as I'd caught up to Corinne (a friend running for the US team - she and I had become friends on a long climb in Portugal the year before) but then she had to drop back as her quads started to cramp. I was surprised to hear someone calling my name as I meandered down the dry single track, but spotted Nikolina (from Croatia) sitting down with a marshal as she had decided to withdraw after she had banged her knees pretty badly taking a couple of tumbles. I offered her help, but she said that the marshal was sorting her out with getting down to a road and a lift back.

An impressive run profile
I didn't know what was going on at the front of the field (but had confidence in my teammates) but by the 35K waterstation, I was ahead of the 3rd US lady so I figured we weren't doing too badly. Just after this I came across Matt (our 4th GB man - unfortunately though we were 6 ladies, we only had a team of 4 men) who was having a really bad time of it. Sally had just moved ahead of me so I was confident that my time wouldn't be counted towards our team total (the times of the first three over the line count for the team event) so I took the snap decision to end my "race" and stay with Matt. I might have had a few GB vests but it was his first and I really wanted to do everything in my power to get him across the finish line (even if it meant I dropped my trail rankings and didn't get selected again...sometimes you have to put your teammates ahead of your own results).

the "safety rope"...
The next 7K was a tough, exposed, hot, sunny, uphill stretch (with rope for safety at one point) - but we walked, jogged, chatted and climbed up together - with me alternating between encouraging, cajoling, distracting, gossiping, abusing him etc. He kept saying that he wanted to stop at the next feed station when we met our last GB support crew, but I tried to get him to avoid any hasty decisions and take it each section at a time.

Good pre-race nutrition helps
We spent about 15minutes at that aid station. I chatted to a few people I knew  - IAU officials, other nationality support crew (eg the Irish) and runners who'd had to drop out - eg Nikolina had come to their to help support her teammates, and one of my teammates Julie who'd called it a day there (she could sympathise with how Matt was feeling as I think the distance, heat and terrain had taken them both slightly by surprise as it was their first European race of this nature). People kept trying to tell me to "get running" but I replied that I wasn't going on without Matt. He had some food and drink, a cheeky leg rub and although he felt really nauseated he couldn't be sick. I told him that I wasn't recording a slow time without him, so he'd have to get to the finish. Suddenly he was up and running away from the aid station, almost taking me unawares...

Into town
Happily picking up the flag
Matt definitely had the bit between his teeth as we ran the last few kms of "undulating" uphill - especially as we overtook and American couple that had also been struggling over the day and had gone past while we had been at the aid station.

 Unfortunately the last 4-5kms were a continuous descent that got steeper and steeper. It is incredibly unusual for me to be able to descend faster than anyone, let alone a man, never mind a fell runner but poor Matt's quads were shot, so I made sure to keep looking back and waiting on him, ignoring a couple of runners who passed by and tried to urge me on to the finish.

Into the Finish
The final rise to catch people out :-)
We progressed from forest trail, to rocky forest road and then finally to the last few hairpins on tarmac (which we'd started up all those hours ago). Sally and Simon handed us a Union Jack as we descended through the houses to the final corner and we held it aloft between us as we finally crossed that line.
Post-race feasting!

It was not exactly how I'd seen the race panning out when I started, but I was more than happy with my decisons on the day, and so pleased for Matt that he'd ground it out to finish what was a very tough day for him!

Go Team GB!!