25. November 2015 · Comments Off on SPORTLIGHT on Bob Becker, Double Badwater record holder! · Categories: Sportlight on...., Ultramarathons · Tags: , ,

We recently attended a talk given by Bob Becker at the Delray Beach Running Company Bloody inspirational. I had read of Bob’s epic Double Badwater run in various magazines and websites, but I had no idea he was local to south Florida or that he is race director for two big local ultras.

Bob running in Badwater

Where even to start? How about some quick facts:

  • Bob is 70.
  • Bob ran 292 miles (470km) from the Badwater to the top of Mount Whitney and back, in July.
  • The average daytime temperature in Badwater was around 125° F (50° C).
  • Badwater’s elevation is -280 ft (-79 m) – that is to say, it is below sea level.  Mount Whitney is 14,505 feet (4,421 m). That means he climbed 14,784 feet (4,506 m) from the basin to the top.  There are additional big big climbs en route. His total climbing and descending was 23,346 feet or 7116 meters.
  • Bob set a new age record for the accomplishment.

Have you picked your jaw off the floor yet?

Bob at the top of Mount Whitney – having run 146 miles, and about to turn around to run another 146 miles back to Badwater

What running with a tyre looks like. Very hard.

Bob looks twenty years younger than he is and trains harder than any of us. He told us that he didn’t do crazy mileage while training for his Double Badwater attempt, usually running around 70 miles a week (113 km), but that he really focused on cross-training. He showed photos of him running while dragging a large truck tyre. Someone in the audience asked how long he would drag the tyre for. He said, “Maybe around 6….” I waited for him to say “minutes.” “… miles, with the tyre, and then maybe run 10 miles later in the day without the tyre.” Gulp.

As an experienced ultra runner, Bob had most bases covered going into the event.  But the unexpected can always happen. Bob developed devastating blisters under his callouses (not usually an issue for him), resulting in the need to completely tape his feet and making him run much slower than he had originally planned – but he never stopped moving towards his goal.

He completed the iconic Badwater race (135 miles to the Mount Whitney Portal), plus the additional 11 miles up to the top of Mount Whitney, in 67 hours, 25 minutes. The total 292 miles, including catching a few hours’ sleep here and there, took him around a week.

If you’re hard to impress, let me also tell you that I learned that Bob only ran his first marathon at age 57, and that he also overcame prostate cancer a few years later.  He has run the Marathon de Sables, climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, and completed Badwater several times.  He is also the race director of two local races: the Everglades Ultra (distances of 50 miles, 50 km, and 25 km) and the Keys 100, an iconic 100 mile race than runs the whole of the Florida Keys (shorter distance options are also available).

Listenting to Bob’s little talk about his Double Badwater success reminded us of why we got into ultras in the first place – the excitement, the camaraderie, the challenge, the sights. He said, only half-joking, “Multi-sport people will roll right over you in their rush to the finish line. In ultras, the leader will stop to assist a fallen runner. That’s why I love this sport.”  Ironman Florida is now a distant memory and we are definitely considering signing up for Bob’s races in 2016 – anyone want to join us?

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With Chip Corley (also a very accomplished ultra runner) and Bob Becker after Bob’s talk at the Delray Beach Running Company

With thanks to the Delray Beach Running Company for arranging the brilliant talk, and of course to Bob himself for giving it.

I couldn’t stop smiling.

A beautiful summer’s day in the mountains in Iceland.  The snow crunched under our feet as we ran, and the sun warmed our faces as the wind blew across the mountains.  The footing wasn’t easy, so I was looking down a lot.  Every time I looked up around me, my joy was palpable.  The views of the lava fields, the multi-hued mountains, the steam rising from the hot springs, the drapings of snow and ice.  Every look in every direction was just spectacular.

I had found Nirvana in the Laugavegur Trail running the Laugavegur Ultra Marathon.  Trail runners’ paradise.

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Midnight Sun

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Not yet 4 in the morning!

Race day started with a 3:45 am alarm clock in order to catch the 4:30 am bus from Laugardalur in Reykjavik. But hey, it’s really not hard to get up that early when it’s nearly full daylight outside!

21-IMG_4217With a breakfast stop en-route to Landmannalaugar, we arrived at around 8:20, with our wave scheduled to start at 9:05. This meant a very cold 45 minutes of waiting at the start, marvelling at the hundreds of tents containing runners who opted for an icy night but a leisurely race morning.

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Some pre-race acrobatics in the vain hope of warming up

 

Did I mention it was cold?

The Laugavegur Trail starts in Landmannalaugar, going directly up into the mountains with around 600m of climbing to the top at Hrafntinnusker.  It then sharply descends down to Álftavatn, then up again to Emstrur and finally down to Húsadalur in Þórsmörk.  Hikers normally take 4 days to cross the 55km, camping along the way near the mountain huts.  The perfect setting for an ultra marathon!  This year there was the added challenge of unusual amounts of snow for this time of year.

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Going by the allocated race numbers, there were around 430 runners divided into three waves.  After the usual shuffling and shivering at the start line, our wave was called, and up we went!

Landmannalaugar to Hrafntinnusker ~ 10km with 600m climbing, around 1:40

There was good reason for the wave start – we immediately headed up a single track mountain path, nose to tail.  We had been warned several times by the race organisers to take the whole of the first section very easy, not only because it was steep, but as we climbed higher into the mountains, the snow took over.

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The start of the race – photo thanks to marathon.is (all other photos are ours unless specified)

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Landmannalaugur – photo by Mattias Klum

In retrospect, I think they perhaps overly emphasised the need to take the first section of the race easy, because it meant that 1/6th of the runners had the devastating consequence of not meeting the cut-offs imposed in the later stages of the race.  Our goal from the beginning was to enjoy the race and to get around it comfortably, without actually racing it.

And enjoy we did.  Tom took a few short videos of me running through the snow, complete with questionable commentary:

I’m originally from Canada so I grew up with snow as an integral part of my life, but I left the country when I was 19 and haven’t lived there since.  I didn’t get into running properly until I was in my 30s, so…. I am most certainly not used to running in snow.  The occasional light dusting in London never meant more than a bit of slippery footing and wet feet, and it never lasted long.  So Iceland was my first real time running, and racing, in the snow.  I loved it.  That crunch!  The bit of slip, the slide!  The views!

No surprise then that this first section was my favourite of the whole race.  As we neared Hrafntinnusker, we crossed around 8km of continuous snow.

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The depth of the snow is made evident as some nearby hot springs melt a cavern underneath! (me in black waving at the camera)

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After nearly an hour and a half, the mountain huts at Hrafntinnusker came into view – the very first aid station.  A quick loo break and we refilled our water, ate a banana and set off sliding down the snow.

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Hrafntinnusker to Álftavatn ~ 12 km, with 180m climbing, 600m descending, 1:35

We continued to climb up into the snow, then slowly down the other side only to find the very best views yet. On one side we had dark mountains with a glacier in the background.

53-IMG_4334On the other side, spectacular sandy mountains with hues of red, orange, and brown and lacings of snow so beautiful and almost so unreal as to look like a painting.

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Further along, we could see the lake near Álftavatn, our next aid station and the first checkpoint.  We had to get there within 4 hours in order to be permitted to continue the race.  We began the sharp descent, and the air grew warmer until I was sweating heavily in my waterproof jacket.

And we eventually hit the valley, complete with a glacier-fed stream that we had to cross – the first of many.

We hit the checkpoint with about 50 minutes to spare, although we didn’t think much about it at the time. We refilled with water, sat down in the sunshine for a few minutes to eat another banana, stripped off a layer and headed off again.

Álftavatn to Emstrur ~ 16km, with 220m climbing, 280 descending, around 2:20

This was the hardest section of the race for me, although the terrain was perhaps the easiest.  I enjoyed crossing a few more glacial streams and rivers, and when we reached Bláfjallakvísl, we were able to change our shoes.  Given the heavy snow on the mountains, both Tom and I had opted for very heavy Salomon trail shoes, which did their job perfectly but were feeling pretty heavy on the feet after nearly 4.5 hours.  Mine were waterproof too, which had been great in the snow, but not so good once we started fording all the rivers (water goes into the shoe, but then doesn’t drain out unlike in a normal shoe).  So it was a very welcome to change to put on our minimalist trail shoes and to feel the trails beneath our feet again.  Although the new shoes didn’t stay dry for long!

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Soon we were heading across a great expanse of lava fields.  We could still see mountains around us, but the terrain was completely different from before.  The ground underneath was fine lava sand.  A moonscape.  I had read that NASA had come to Iceland to have its astronauts do a simulation moon-walk before they landed on the moon, and I could see why.  Were we really just in the snowy mountains the hour before?

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We had spent a good chunk of time at Bláfjallakvísl changing our shoes, and we were stopping frequently for photographs.  When we reached a mini aid station and refilled our water, we heard another runner ask how far it was to the next checkpoint – around 6km, they said.  I looked at my watch and realised that we were cutting it fine.  No more photographs until the checkpoint!  Time to get going!

And so we tried to pick up the pace as we headed across the lava fields, as best we could over 5 hours into a mountain ultra marathon.  We made it with just 15 minutes to spare – and what a huge relief.  I later found out that many runners were forced to retire from the race. I can’t imagine how disappointing that must have been.

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Reaching the mountain huts at Emstrur, so relieved to know that we had made the cut off.

Emstrur to Húsadalur in Þórsmörk ~17km with 380m climbing, 645m descending, 2:30

This last section of the race brought us down out of the mountains properly, although with plenty of uphill on the way down.  The pressure was off now that we knew we had made the cut offs and could just enjoy the rest of the race. Would you believe the terrain changed completely again? Suddenly we were running atop a big canyon with waterfalls and views spreading out before us that looked like a scene from the Lord of the Rings (or, New Zealand). Spectacular in a completely different way from the previous miles we had covered, and very hard to capture on my little camera.

How about this? Mountains, glacier, river, and just beyond, a waterfall…..

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Down begins to hurt as much as up, or even more, after a while.  As we headed down down down the mountains, we welcomed the occasional up as relief to our poor pounded quads.

We certainly hadn’t run this ultra fast by any stretch of the imagination, but our slow and steady approach meant that we overtook a lot of runners in this last section to Þórsmörk.  But first, more river crossings.

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Although not deep, the river had a fierce current and we were holding on for good reason.

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We knew the end was within reach.  We had enjoyed this race so much, but we were most definitely tired and ready to stop running.  Just a few more hills to go.  We grabbed some pieces of Snickers bars and gulped some flat Coke from the last aid station, and headed up the last few hills. Up the hills. Up, up, down, up, down, down. The grass grew red alongside us and we could see down into a valley full of nothing but the same short, fine red grass. Then through another river, then a stream, then a short tunnel of foliage that looked like it was straight out of England.

Then suddenly the path was littered with people cheering us on, shouting, and we could hear the finish line. Without comment, our pace increased. We came down the last hill, and we could see all the tents at the finish line. We ran together, as we had done the whole way, and passed through the finish line. Still smiling.

91-IMG_4879Total time: 8:29:07

Total distance:  55km, ~1900m climbing, 2200m descending

We placed 313th – nothing fancy, but we made it to the end, and we loved it from start to finish.

In fact….this was the best race I’ve done to date.  Most scenic, most beautiful, most enjoyable, most fun, most tremendous. If you’re thinking of running it and want more information (what? My thousands of photos here aren’t enough?) or have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me.  I mean that wholeheartedly.

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NB – The 19th edition of the Laugavegur Ultra Marathon took place on July 18, 2015.  The winner, Þorbergur Ingi Jónsson, finished in an unfathomable 3:59:13, setting a new course record!

13. July 2015 · Comments Off on From Swamp to Snow · Categories: Run, Trails, Ultramarathons · Tags: , , ,

Laugavegur Ultra is in 5 days!

If you read my very woe-is-me post some 10 days ago, you’ll know I was very unwell following the Leadville Marathon and pre-Iceland ultra.  I’m pleased to say that I am now more or less recovered… and ready to hit the snow.

Yep, snow.

The good people organising the Laugavegur Ultra have been sending us updates on the current snow conditions.  It may be well into July, but when the snow is higher than the buildings, it takes a while to melt.  They tell us that there is still heavy snow for the first 20km of the race.

These photos were taken on the trail just a couple of weeks ago:

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We have been advised to dress accordingly:

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I did mention that we have been doing all our training in flat Florida, right?  From flat swampland to snowy mountains…. gulp!

imageWish us luck!

 

30. June 2015 · Comments Off on In sickness and in health – run that by me again? · Categories: Marathons, Run, Ultramarathons · Tags: , , ,

After the absolutely amazing experience of racing the Leadville Marathon in Colorado…. I got ill.

I was ill on the plane ride back, ill upon arrival in Florida, and even ill when I wrote about the race in my last blog post, not that you would have known it.  I was in denial.  It wasn’t going to last.

It has been 10 days since I have done any running. That has taken some willpower.  To the runners out there, you know how bad that feels. Like all my hard work this past year is drifting away, like I will never run again, like I never knew how to run in the first place.  Worse yet is the fact that the Laugavegur Ultra in Iceland – my next big race – is in 17 days.  And I’m still not healthy yet.  Forget about tapering.  This is just about recuperating and desperately clinging on to any semblance of fitness.  I can’t even pretend I’m laughing about it because I lost my voice 4 days ago and it hasn’t come back yet.

But this is out of my control.  And while the Laugavegur Ultra looks really hard, really tough, and really absolutely astonishingly beautiful – it is not my A-goal race this year.  It’s probably going to hurt a lot more now than it might have.  But it’s one foot in front of the other and hopefully that will get me to the finish line.

So there is my update.  Now I’m going back to bed…..

So the London Marathon is over.  Last month’s news. It was an obsessive focal point for months and then it didn’t go as planned.  So what happens next?

FUN STUFF.

When a road race doesn’t quite work out after all that effort and work, I need to stop and think:

  • Why do I run? because I love it
  • What do I love most?  being outside. Exploring.  TRAIL RUNNING!

As I had mentioned previously, Tom and I are running the Laugevegur Ultra Marathon in Iceland in July.  It looks awesome, in the true sense of the word.  Mountains, glaciers, valleys, fording rivers, snow and ice in July – seriously breathtakingly beautiful.  The race is 55km long (34.18 miles) and covers around 2000m (6500 feet) of climbing.

The challenge is: how do we train for that here in flat hot Florida?

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The elevation profile from one of my recent long runs.

Answer:  enter another mountain race as a warm up!

We’ve been doing a lot of trail running with our friends Ben and Travis lately (they are also training for a truly epic race, the GoreTex Trans-Alpine Run, 8 days of running across the Alps through 4 countries!), and I’ve been loving it.  But there is a distinct lack of hills here and it has been a cause of concern to us all.

We were heading home from our club run the other day, which consisted of hill repeats in Okeeheelee Park – 10 times up and down the one 23m hill, and we were thinking what more can we do?  Ben’s training plan says to find a hill that takes 20 minutes to run up and down – these hill repeats were taking us 40 seconds. Then I happened to flick through Instagram and saw that one of my favourite running bloggers, Shut Up + Run, had just posted about doing a hilly mountain race in Colorado in June.  I was intrigued.

I’ve certainly been spontaneous before (flying to the Arctic Circle on standby on a whim in the middle of winter and landing there at midnight with nowhere to stay comes to mind, back in my youth…), but this still ranks up there.  By lunch time the following day the four of us had registered for the Leadville Trail Marathon, bought our plane tickets, arranged hotel rooms and a rental car. I’m still a bit in shock, and slightly terrified, but 100% excited.  Who wants to join us?

The race starts and finishes in town, with most of the race up in the mountains.

I CAN’T WAIT!!!

And in the meantime, we have been doing long runs out in the bush/jungle/scrub – whatever you want to call it. There is a great trail called the Ocean to Lake Trail (guess where it goes?).  In total it covers 62 miles. We have done roughly half of it so far.

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Don’t be fooled by that simple looking line.  Most of that trail is as wild as can be and it is very slow going despite flat terrain.  And by slow, I mean turtle slow, snail slow, molasses slow.  But it’s really fun and a great break from all the pavement pounding I was doing up until the marathon.  And it’s very pretty in a wild sort of way.

Animal tally so far:

  • 6 manatees
  • 3 alligators
  • 1 wild boar
  • maybe a dozen deer
  • 1 snake
  • many a squirrel
  • even more birds

Photo time:

1)  Riverbend to Hobe Sound (the ocean!) – 16.5 miles, took 3:15 total time!

We swam in the ocean fully clothed at the end of the run.  Can’t tell you how amazing it felt to rinse off the grime.

2)  Hungryland to Riverbend – 17 miles, took around 3:40!

3)  We’ve also been running at Apoxee Wilderness Trail, which is quite a bit easier going and good for ‘gator spotting:

Wishing you all happy trails!

*NB – if you subscribe to this blog via email, you may not be able to see the photos in galleries above – sorry about that.  You need to open the blog in your browser and then you’ll see these stunning, award-winning images of nature and incredible athleticism. Wait, maybe better you don’t look….

Why do we race?

I haven’t figured it out yet, really.  I feel awful in the days leading up to a race and I don’t sleep at all the night before.  The morning of the race, it’s the last thing I want to do.  And often during the race, I repeat to myself “I am never racing again.  Ever.  This time I mean it.”

Yet inevitably I sign up for another race.  Another, another, with hopes of going faster, longer, harder.

With my Half Ironman this past weekend, I really was adamant that I was done.  No more!  But by Wednesday I had already signed up for another race…. on Saturday.  Yup, I really don’t know what’s wrong with me.

I’m racing the Sunshine State Half Marathon on Saturday.

I don’t feel particularly fast or strong at the moment for this type of race, but I have the London Marathon in April and if I do a half now, I’ll know where my fitness stands as I get into marathon training properly.  I know it’s going to hurt, and I probably won’t get a PB, since I haven’t been focusing on speed.  But I’ll give it my best shot.

But wait, I’m not done.  I’ve signed up for something else.  Something hugely scary and massively exciting:

The Laugavegur Ultra Marathon, in Iceland.  I know I previously mentioned I was planning on it, but now it’s truly happening.  If you have a look at photos from the route, you’ll understand why I want to do this (or perhaps you’ll just think I’m crazy).  Here is a taster:

 

The ultra marathon is 55 km with nearly 2000m elevation.  I expect this will be one of the hardest events I’ve ever done, but also the most rewarding.  We will go up through mountains, across glaciers, down into valleys, and will ford rivers.  Yes, that is snow and ice in July.

Who wants to come do this with me???  I’m so excited!

I like numbers.  Data.  Stats.  I’m addicted to my Garmin (I use a 810 on my bike and a 910 for running and swimming). I log every mile (or rather, kilometre) without fail, although I have never included my bike commuting as part of that (slowly weaving my way through London traffic for 10km never really counted as cycling in my mind).

So here we have it, my 2014 in numbers, minus the bike commuting (which would roughly have amounted to an additional 2500 km):

Swim:  193.21 km I  73:24:56

Bike:  6513.00 km  I   273:17:58

Run:  2393.34   I   232:30:17

Strength training & yoga:  24:14:18

 

And now for….. 2015 RACING!!

I only started racing in 2012, but I do have a history of competing.  When I was a kid, I competed in ice skating and then in my teenage years I competed in hunter/jumper horse riding.  So when I started racing in 2012, it was no surprise to find that I absolutely loved it.  The nerves, the expectation, the goals, trying to smash those goals.  Back in my horse riding days, my coach used to say that I had a hunger for it, and I think that still holds true.

With Dream Catcher at Toronto’s Royal Winter Fair in 1997



This hunger means I train consistently and hard (yay!), with a tendency to rest less than I should (boo!) and a strong penchant for entering too many races every year (uh oh).  In 2014 it included a six week spell of London Marathon, Ironman Lanzarote and Sierra Leone Marathon (with just a week between the last two).  In 2014 I raced/participated in a total of 14 events, and 15 in 2013 (see here for more info).

 

 

Race plans for 2015, subject to change:

January:  Hits Triathlon Series Half Ironman, Naples

April:  London Marathon, UK

July:  Laugavegur Ultra Marathon, Iceland

September:  Ironman 70.3 Augusta, Georgia

November:  Ironman Florida, Panama City

 

I’ve actually entered all of these already, apart from the Icelandic Ultra (registration opens on Jan 9, and it looks awesome).  I suspect I’ll probably find a couple of shorter races to pepper throughout 2015 too.

And eep – the first half Ironman is 10 days away!

 

What was your 2014 like?

What’s your 2015 race calendar looking like?