Life after VO2Max testing & Generous people!

Originally posted on March 20, 2013 by Chris Baynham-Hughes

Getting tested is certainly one of the better things I have done. The data generated has really given me food for thought. The next day I immediately looked to apply some of the lessons I had picked up and discovered I find it incredibly hard to get my heart rate into the zones I should be training at. For me this is a problem, but it’s a temporary one and like all problems, it presents one huge opportunity.

Just the knowledge of what is happening physiologically within me as I run has empowered me. Racing at Llantysilio at the weekend I used my heart rate to convince myself I could maintain the pace and even push harder in places – powerful stuff psychologically. The result had me ahead of Adair on the fells for the first time with ~500m to go. I had 100m on him and was set to record my first victory over him but took a wrong turn following a sign and had to backtrack. I was gutted in many respects, but extremely positive in others. I know Adair wasn’t on peak form, but a win would have been a win, and certainly a sign of progress.

The key for me is that all things are pointing in the right direction and I’m getting confirmation that what I am doing is paying off. Importantly I also know I still have got some distance to grow as a runner. I’m also building a stronger belief around what I can and can’t do – I find this exciting and empowering and can’t wait to get started on my 16 week programme.

So how does one run quicker? Well before my plan came through I had decided that the only way for me is to be somewhere where I can’t subconsciously ease back on the pace whilst my mind tells me I’m pushing hard. The only place for that is the dreaded treadmill!

For me the treadmill has represented everything that is wrong about modern attitudes to exercise. Running on a rubber band going nowhere in a gym when one could be running outside in the fresh air taking in the views and feeling free. However the test made me realise that I can’t fake a pace on a treadmill and that is the key to getting my legs used to higher speeds.

Treadmills are expensive though and having gone part time I just couldn’t afford one decent enough to make it worth while. Sure I could find one on ebay for £100 but it would be terrible and only any good as a clothes stand. Even reconditioned or ex-gym ones are over a grand so I approached my physio Mark Browse at the 10 Bridge clinic and he has generously said I can use his treadmill when he doesn’t have other clients in there. Perfect!

Mark has helped me a lot over the years, fixing my niggles and constantly repairing ankles! As the former head Physio at Liverpool FC he has a perfect balance of practicality and safety when it comes to getting you back out there. More than once has he said, “well, you won’t do any more damage… it’ll hurt, but you won’t do any more damage so it’s up to you” I guess all those years of getting handsomely paid people back out on the pitch before their value drops without risking long term and real value depreciation has enabled him to walk that line. To be fair Browsey also thinks I’m a loony but was only too happy to help me find where the limits are and to push for peak performance. Browsey, I salute you sir!

The next key in the puzzle is to understand how my test results can help me understand the nutrition I need whilst on my ultras. I’m intrigued to see if I can work out on the fly how much I need to consume based upon the heart rate I am running at – knowing from my RQ how much fat and how much carbs I am burning. Further research needed for sure, but in the mean time it’s on with pushing myself to find my limits in a different way; if I can combine an increase in speed with a rock solid psychology then who knows what is possible!

Science proves I’m a quitter!

Originally Posted on March 12, 2013 by Chris Baynham-Hughes

Yes, it’s now official, I quit too early. Those of you that have read my DBR blog (well done for your dedication!) may think that science has got this one wrong, but the evidence is clear I’m afraid. Let me take a few steps back and explain what the hell I am going on about.

Recently I came across the Endurance Store and Footstrike Science as these are the fantastic people that devised and put on the Lakeland 100. Reading what Marc had to say on his blog really made sense to me. Essentially he breaks runners down into two camps, Bouncers and musclers – the Bouncers make efficient use of the energy they expend running by using more spring from tendons, releasing that energy like a rebounding spring. Musclers simply force themselves around using the brute force of their muscles. If one wants to go faster then they need to work on their technique to improve the bang for their buck; i.e., the transition of energy into forward propulsion.

Marc’s thesis is that there has been a boom in people picking up running in their late twenties/ early thirties; by this time they have missed out on the traditional coaching which sees junior runners focus on speed and gradually increase their distance as they become less able to cut it at the shorter distances. By focusing on technique we will make a bigger difference to our speed and capability than we will if we just bang out the miles. Essentially we should turn the traditional training pyramid on its head; rather than working on base miles and endurance in the winter and moving through to speed as the months progress and we get into race season, we should focus on technique and speed and gradually get longer as the months progress and we get into ultra season (of course the problem here is that there is no season and burn out is common these days as a result as the temptation is always to fit in another race).

I buy into this. When I swam I had a coach to work on my technique and as my technique got to a point where it was excellent the focus was then on training volumes – interesting point, I look back now upon the coaching I had as a swimmer and it just seems so primitive. The focus was really on volume rather than quality. We didn’t really have focused speed work – sports science has moved on a lot in the last 20+ years.

In running, everybody just assumes they can run and have done since they day made it onto two feet so making any change is very difficult. This is one of the reasons why many coaches don’t see much point in focusing on it, and there is certainly no real structure outside of the junior system to cater for this. Sure there are books and even the odd private coach that will teach you how to run in a certain style; e.g., Chi or Pose, but they are prohibitively expensive.

So how can I go about this? Well the lovely people at the endurance store run assessments and then work with people to devise a training plan. Along with the plan there is support, drills and other elements that should help drive towards a better technique. The other element is really about getting people to train in the right zones or intensity; by doing this the body will adapt and technique will improve.

Do I really want to do this? Is this really why I run? These are questions that I have asked myself time and time again recently. Of course I’d like to be quicker, but I run for self-therapy, for meditation, for freedom, for the sheer pleasure and enjoyment of it… won’t a proper strict training schedule ruin all that? Well, yes, maybe it will, but with greater efficiency I’ll be able to enjoy my running a whole lot more; less food required on the mountain, able to go for longer in the mountains and take more in; greater pride and the thrill of being more competitive… so maybe it’s worth it.

This year will bring about some big changes in my life. One of them has begun this week as I have moved to part time at work. It has been clear for a long time that I couldn’t continue as I was since the “cost” of maintaining what I do was simply too high. The impact on me and my family is far more than any reasonable person would expect and was unsustainable. As I said, running is part of my therapy and my down time so moving to a specific training regime may not work for me, but I’ve always believed that if I ask the same questions I should not expect different answers, so I’ve taken the plunge and decided to give it a go.

Ok, so back to today; all booked in but totally disorganised my confused little brain managed to eat at lunch time. 5 minutes later I read: ‘Very important – do not eat within 4 hours of testing’… damn it. I toss the idea of heading to the toilets and making myself sick, but I’m on a conference call at the time so not really the done thing. Call over I get ready and decide I should try to make myself sick. Despite almost achieving this I think better of it but am left with a reflux of piri-piri smoked mackerel. Nice.

I confess as soon as I arrive only to find that my mackerel salad, seeds and dressing + banana really aren’t an issue. Changed and ready to go I strap on the face mask and start off on a 17 minute run. The run is based around a 10K pace. I haven’t run a 10K for about 8 years so the best I can muster is my half marathon PB; at 84 minutes this makes for a 15kph bench mark time. I ran this whilst not on my finest form, but not too bad either; I have also lost about 1 minute per mile in terms of speed since the DBR so I figured this was going to be tough!

Breathing into a full face mask, not sure if I’m going to be able to manage the pace and with a treadmill that is slightly askew to the wall (so I feel like I’m not running straight) I can feel my anxiety. I know this won’t help. However I work through from 11 to 12 to 13 kph and begin to wonder if I can keep this up, sweat dripping from my face. I did of course get to fulfil a Top Gun fantasy for a split second with the mask on

I then get to walk for a couple of minutes before the test starts. I’m told that I’m an excellent fat burner – something I was really chuffed about. I’ve been working on trying to become more efficient at burning fat through training from fast each morning and only eating at the end of my session – nice to know this has paid off.

The test begins and I feel my anxiety rising again. Like the warm up I’m on an incline of 1% only this time I start with 2 minutes at 13kph, then every minute the speed increases by 1kph until I hit 16kph. After that every minute I survive the incline is increase by 1%. I manage to 5% and then half way through I feel myself slipping back off the mill. I surged to get higher up the treadmill again, but soon after I slip bag down again. I’m shouted at to get back up to the top of the mill; I try, I fail and I jump off through feat of slipping off and taking my face out on the giant sanding belt!

I am properly exhausted.

As somebody that only runs one pace metronomically I am really not used to being in that red zone. I always run hard, but I just don’t have any variance in my pace – it was the same when I swam and it’s the same now. I struggle to run slowly and I don’t have any real kick, so add this to the anxiety of having a face mask on and a possible face plant onto the mill and I think this explains my results.

My VO2 Max is just over 63 ml/kg/min. According to this site ( superior (unfortunately the highest it goes) for my age range is anything greater than 49.4 and the highest ever recorded is 97.5 by Oskar Svendsen an 18 year old cyclist. Kilian Jornet (in my opinion the world’s greatest ultra runner and without doubt one of the fittest human being’s on the planet) scores 92.5. In the same article it states that most world class running athletes clock in between 75 and 85…. So not too shabby then! However the key point in Mark’s thesis is about transition, so you can have a fantastically tuned engine, but if the tyres are only at half the optimum pressure then the car will not perform. So what else did the test tell me?

Essentially I am an excellent fat burner, manage my breathing very well and have an excellent lung capacity, I have a consistent mid-foot strike (either mid or forefoot is what I’m after) and excellent cadence ~88 double strikes per min (aiming for between 85 & 90)

… But I am a quitter!

Based upon the data I would have been expected to have gone on for another 30-90 seconds! I’m not going to lie, I find this disappointing, but I also think it tells a very strong story in its own way; for me it shows that I am simply not used to running at or above my top pace, that the other factors; i.e., anxiety, seeing my heart rate so high and the psychological game that plays, plus not being used to running on a treadmill will have contributed to the panic that made me jump off the mill.

I was taken through the results in great depth and got to chat a lot more about the various elements of my running and my goals. I now await the training plan and have already vowed to stick religiously to it. In 16 weeks time I will have real information that will tell me if I have improved or not, hopefully I’ll also be in the form of my life and ready to take on the Lakeland 100 (with more than one pace to offer).

I confess I’ve wanted to do this test ever since I read about VO2max years ago. I’d absolutely recommend it based upon what I’ve learned so far, but the proof will really be in the results and my times over the course of this year. I’ve always cursed myself for running too safely too, always managing to find a reserve from somewhere once I know the end is in sight rather than just running hard and seeing if I blow up or not. I’m excited about the plan and the future possibilities… maybe my days of running safely are over – sometimes you’ve got to just put yourself out there and try something new!

Brecon 45… well, 46 and a bit

Originally Posted on January 16, 2013 by Chris Baynham-Hughes

Back to where it all began. A year previously this had been my first official ultra. I’d run the Sandstone trail before but I’d never actually raced officially beyond the Marathon distance. The Brecon Ultra had gone extremely well for me and I’d come home in 5th position which had astounded me. I’d also beaten Adair (my running club Nemesis :)) whom I’d only really been close to overtaking once previously. I’d just been firing on all cylinders that day and it had been a true adventure.

Fast forward to 2012 and I planned to finish off the year where I had started. I’d completed so much in the year, more than I ever really thought I would and the Dragon had been slayed. The Dragon had taken a bite out of me though and had left me out of action for over 2 months. I’d been back running for about 1.5 weeks when I toed the line again for another 45 miles. I wasn’t sure if I would complete it – I knew I could if I wanted to, that’s a confidence born from the final days of the DBR; but I didn’t want to head around and complete it but be out of action again.

It was the same ‘three man army’ (our team name) that took to the tow paths, fire roads and trails around Tal-y-bont on Usk and up through the Gap (the dip between the Cribyn and Fan-y-big) on the Taff Trail. This time we split from the start, Adair was coming back from injury and wasn’t sure how he would go, but has been on incredible form this year – he set off with the leaders. Martin and I ran at a brisk but sustainable pace in no mans land; letting the fast boys go at it out of sight.

Visibility was certainly better than the previous year. The surrounding area is just beautiful; especially with the autumnal colours. As we cracked on around Martin kept me going at a faster pace than I would have done on my own. Since returning from the DBR I’d noticed I was just over 1 minute per mile slower than previous (a huge amount). The further we ran without seeing Adair the more my confidence grew that he was really in with a shout this year. Mark Palmer was there, but I just had a really good feeling about Adair.

Slowly but surely we reeled in runners. Martin and I were content at our pace and just kept the pressure on. Once we’d got around the first lap I felt like I was gaining in confidence and wanted to put in a decent performance. For me that meant running every bit I possibly could.

I’m pretty selfish in a race, even when I’m not really racing. I always want to put in a performance I’m happy/ proud of and that can mean different things on different days. As we neared the end of the canal section at the start of the second lap I spotted another person; “We’ve got him” I said as Martin and I focused in on the hunt. Moments later; “Is that Adair?” I was gutted as I realised Martin was right. There in front of us was Adair, moving reasonably well, but not quickly. We slowly ate up the distance between us.

I knew immediately that he must have inflamed his injury and really thought he should stop; there was no possibility of that. Adair refused to call it a day which I still believe would have been the sensible thing, especially as Adair does not really run these sorts of distances as he loves his racing too much. Unles you are Richie Webster, there are only so many ultras you can race in a year. Adair races week in week out with stunning results so wisely he’s stay away from the Ultras whilst he still has his speed. Continuing meant he’d probably put himself out for weeks. That said, I totally respected Adair’s reasons as he had never DNFed before in a race and wasn’t going to start here.

Selfishly I carried on. We split near the top of the first bank of hills (I’m sure they were twice as long as the first time around mind). Martin tried to keep us all together and finish as a team, but it would have meant walking the rest of the way and I needed to see where I was; also I was about ready for some time on my own to reflect on things. I jogged down the hill and jogged to the first feed station then decided to crack on. They weren’t catching, I could no longer see them and I could still run. It’s quite a personal thing running these distances and whilst I’d love to be more like Martin and see them as crazy adventures, I do love to just see what I can do.

The remained of the run was beautiful. The weather cleared further and the view of Pen-y-fan on the way up was superb. I rued the fact that the Cribyn or Pen-y-fan weren’t included in the loop; but I guess it is a beginner friendly ultra and that might push a number of people over the edge. Maybe it should be the first 20 people only or have a slightly separate course as an option to all runners with different prizes and a cut off for going up there… maybe that’s just too much of a headache to manage. Anyway, I got around and loved the section after the gap as I tried not to get my eyes poked out from the overgrown gully – pretending I was in the scene at the start of the epic Last of the Mohicans where they are hunting deer.

I ran all the way in and posted a time which was an hour slower than the previous year. I was chuffed to bits to be fair and it was great to catch up with all the boys, many of whom are coming to La Palma for Transvulcania. One more person has also joined our party for that trip – Duncan Harris will be seeing where he is against the really big boys – it’ll be a star studded line up as it’s the first Sky runner Ultra series race again this year!

The video below is the reason we signed up for Transvulcania… after seeing this we just needed to get out there and check it out!

Back to the Brecon 45 – Fantastic organisation and marshaling by the Likeys and their crew. Lovely, lovely people!

The fallow month

Posted on January 21, 2012 by Chris Baynham-Hughes

It’s been almost a month since I last wrote and pretty much since I last ran. The ankle is still swollen and the ligament is very sore to the touch. My physio sessions have run out (I get 8 in 5 weeks) and my frustration knows no bounds as a result. I’ve taken to getting out on my awesome new cross bike which is just perfect for winter. I’ve even gone back to icing my ankle again in the evening – anything to get rid of the swelling.

It’s the Helsby 4 villages (half marathon) tomorrow which I am excited about running despite the lack of training. It’s the only road race I enter all year, and I think it’s the best one too – no bias towards my clubs race of course! I feel totally under cooked and it’s very, very windy out there, but it’ll still be a great run. As usual I have set myself three progressive goals. I tend to do this to give my competitive/ self critical brain some perspective:

  • Primary Goal: Get around without tweaking my ankle or it swelling up too much afterwards
  • Secondary Goal: Sub 90
  • Tertiary Goal: Sub 84

It’s not a slow course, but it certainly isn’t flat either and with the wind blowing as it is I doubt there will be many PBs out there tomorrow. The frustrating thing is that I believe that I’m capable of achieving all three, but like last year, where I didn’t even run it because I’d badly twisted my other ankle, my injury has got in the way. That said I’ll be very disappointed not to achieve the secondary goal as I’ve done it before in training and feel my residual fitness should pull me through, despite hardly running in two months.

I’ve not been sat on my backside for the entire time though. I’ve recently been getting out on my new bike

but I don’t have the drive to do it like I do running (although I do love this bike and it has made the early mornings not quite so hard to take). My issue with cycling is that I can’t fully relax my mind because, at the very least, every junction presents a possibility of death. 20 years ago I’d ride without a helmet or fear as people seemed to look out for bikes and would not try to get in their way, now if I’m filtering I even get drivers pulling out to push me over to the other side of the road. What does a person benefit from doing that? Maybe I’m paranoid about being on two wheels when there are cars about, but they seem to be aiming for me despite being more day-glow than the 80′s and lit up like a Christmas tree. Moth to a flame or just everybody is in such a rush that they are only looking for things that pose a risk to their safety; i.e., other cars or bigger? Either way it makes riding a stressful endeavour!

Big test tomorrow, firstly if my ankle will balloon again and secondly how much fitness I’ve lost. Can’t wait!

Big thanks to Massimo Bastianon

Posted on December 29, 2011 by Chris Baynham-Hughes

Yes, I’ve never met the man either, but he is a .gpx plugin genius! As you’ll see my blog now features maps of the runs that I do. I’ll keep to the big runs otherwise this blog will get over run, but the reason why I moved to hosting this blog myself was so that I would be able to do this. I finally got the blog shifted but was then having trouble with the .gpx plugin. No excuse really, it was a stupid error on my part by not putting the file extension in, but the help and support I got from the plugin’s creator Massimo Bastianon was nothing short of first class… and over Christmas too!

Random act of kindness from Massimo – Thank you!

Brecon Beacons Ultra Marathon 2011

Posted on December 28, 2011 by Chris Baynham-Hughes

So this is where my blog should begin really as it was during this race that I thought it’d be nice to keep a track of events leading up to the DBR. This event happened more by chance than anything else and it all started with a text.

Martin Wilcock (my mountain marathon partner) sent me a text which read something like, “fancy doing something fun and free on the 19th November?” Sounded promising so I gave him a call. Two of his fellow runners had let him down so he was inviting Adair and me to take their places and do the Brecon Beacons Ultra Marathon. I said “why not!”

This was actually all very handy, I was due to be down in the area that weekend as we were visiting the outlaws. Laura was heading down earlier in the week with the boys and was going to be busy on the 19th, so I was set to get the train down and go for a run in the mountains around Abergavenny anyway. Perfect. I think Martin was a little surprised when I said yes so easily though, I guess it’s not everyday you ask somebody if they want to run 45 miles and they say yes 🙂

Things didn’t start off well. I missed the train to Chester, despite being on the platform when the train was there and knocking on the drivers window to let me in. Jobsworth. The bus saved the day and Adair, Martin and me were on out way.

None of us had run that far before in a race. I don’t think any of us had actually run that far before full stop. That said, Adair manages to run everything and Martin is a seasoned Ironman who is doing the Marathon des Sables (MDS) next Easter. I was putting in 50+ trail miles per week in the dark too, so this wasn’t three blokes down the pub that goad each other into running a marathon the next morning with no training; but then again this was unknown territory for us all.

The MDS is a 5 day stage race over the desert. Competitors must carry all their kit with the exception of water; this means the lighter one’s kit is the better chance one has. Martin had recently been taking this to extremes with paper suits that can double as toilet roll if you run out, etc. but the bulk of the weight is food. Revelation number one – champions eat cous cous!

Martin’s quest had led him to an incredible second revelation which was, in his own words, “Ainsley Harriott isn’t such a useless tosser after all!” A bold claim some might say, but Ainsley’s spiced packet cous cous manages to deliver 600 calories, is in a light foil packet which can be used to prepare it, and are actually tasty. I felt I had to put this to the test*.

We arrived at the hotel to find that we were room only. Was I glad that I found my cous cous on the way down! After a fretful night of sleep I was rejuvenated by a Moroccan spiced extravaganza of calories of the slow release variety. I believe this proved crucial to the day ahead!

Disorganised as always, we found ourselves running around trying to find the start line. We missed half the race briefing, but did arrive at the start line on time. Getting lost this early in the day didn’t spell good things, but the weather seemed to be holding and we were all in fine spirits as we eyed up other people’s rucksacks and bum bags, wondering how they had fitted all the mandatory kit in them!

We set out pretty excited as always. I have a tendency to go too hard too early and we were all conscious of how far we had to go, but we felt comfortable at the pace which was between the 6 and 6.5 minute miles. We had all agreed to run together and had a mildly romantic notion of crossing the finish line together. We’re all roughly even paced, although both Adair and Martin are faster than me. So far I had only come close to Adair once in a race and had only kept up with Martin on the RAB MM due to him having a chest infection!

The course started off along the canal which is billed as the flattest 3k you’ll find anywhere in South Wales. I had my latest GPS gadget with me (Garmin Foretrex 401 – but didn’t know how to use it) however the track and progress of my route is below – I didn’t calibrate the altimeter before I started… mainly because we were late!

[sgpx gpx=”/wp-content/uploads/gpx/Brecon Beacons Ultra 2011_Track.gpx”]

The buzz of the race and what was in store for us all was palpable. I had read the course description and had taken a very quick look at the map. It looked like there were two ascents, but they were relatively gradual. The first came immediately after the canal and from the map looked the easier of the two; in practice I found this to be the toughest.

It consisted of a long steep section broken over two hills. We trotted up this as far as we could before adopting a fell runners walk (hands on knees driving up the hill). By the time we reached the top we’d settled a bit too much and were in danger of forgetting it was a race. Martin soon fixed that and cracked on. Not before we had spotted the video camera and had made fools of ourselves. (55 seconds in).

My mind had drifted off as I was enjoying the race so much, so when Martin put on a turn of speed as we got to the summit of the mist covered hill I was pulled right back into reality. The race was on!

The next section was made up of fire roads and was essentially a long up hill with a short but rocky descent in the middle. The section tracks through a beautiful wooded area and we caught fleeting glances of the beauty around as the mist moved in and out.

There was a lot of caution in the camp, but we were holding an average of 9 minute mile pace which seemed comfortable enough, but slightly taxing given the mental aspect of the unknown and the gradual ascent. We arrived at the Taff trail in high spirits and started our ascent to “the gap”. Things were going well, we all seemed to be eating well and my home made brownies (thank you Nigella) were going down a treat.

Up until now I’d never managed to get my food right on an event. I’ve suffered some nasty “bonks” in my time so had come prepared with far too much food. This was usually the case, but my issue was remembering to get it down me. Getting my food right is crucial to completing any of these races and certain will be if I am to complete the BGR and DBR. I’d also ditched my horizontal Inov8 bladder (great to use, terrible to fill) for two 0.5 litre water bottles set in holders on my rucksack straps. I think these proved to be the best purchase ever.

I’d decided to work to a food every 30 minutes schedule and was alternating between techno-food (shotbloks) and the afore mentioned brownies. I’d also loaded up with 0.5 litres of isotonic drink and 0.5 litres of water. I had ‘zero’ tablets to make up more isotonic stuff and there were three water stops on the route. At last, I’ve found a system that seems to work, I just need to prove it on multiple occasions and events now!

Anyway, back to the gap. The track up was covered in large stones/ small rocks all set at jaunty angles. Not great for the ankles as you’re heading up the slope, but hey, it certainly sharpened the mind! We passed a checkpoint and began an horrendous descent. One of the other boys had noticed that the guy marking the check point appeared to have an automatic rifle – we pondered whether this was in fact an ultra version of the running man and the people at the back would be shot if they missed the cut off timing – never did find out!

I still hadn’t let go of “the gap” in my mind. I was convinced we hadn’t passed over it yet as the last checkpoint had seemed too easy to get to. We finally passed somebody and I asked only to be told that we’d passed it a mile previous. What a result! I knew the rest of the course now was, comparatively, undulating at best now so it was a huge relief. Little did I know that a narrow, stony dried up river bed was to follow, but hey ho.

Not long after this a chap had the indecency to pass us! He didn’t accelerate away so I caught him up and got chatting. It was Sam who, much to my delight, is now joining us on the BGR. We had a fair old chat and unsurprisingly had a fair bit in common given that we were out in the beacons running 45 miles. The more I come to know about Sam the more I like – I love his approach of just getting out there and doing it rather than fretting over things or putting up mental walls which aren’t really there. A man that decided to run home to Cambridge after the London marathon (not on a whim to be fair, but he did only start running in 2009). I suspect we’ll find ourselves at similar races from now on and I see a kindred spirit in him.

The miles flew by and I realised that Adair and Martin had dropped back so I stopped at the next village for them to catch up. The three amigos were back together! It was about this time that I realised just how good I felt. I felt like I was just starting to run and was finding it difficult to hold myself back. We also started to pass people and came up on the end of the first loop.

I realised that on distances like this you go through different stages. I was at a stage where I just needed to run at my own speed, so I was doing just that and was gradually moving away from Martin and Adair, so I was really caught mentally as to what to do, I decided that we’d keep together and no doubt they’d be on a second wind and passing me at any moment. I was straining at the leash simply because the running just seemed to flow, but a plan was a plan.

We passed another chap from Chester Tri (Martin’s club) and Martin got chatting. At the half way mark I ran back 50 yards to the boys so we were together again, but they said not to worry and to just run as I was. We started eating up the competition and were moving into single figure placings. I felt fantastic so just kept running. Adair came with me and we ran along the tow path knowing exactly what was in store for us.

Adair and I had run together in races before, so I played the same routine, one of us in front pulling the other one along. Granted it has always been Adair in front until now, but the brief spell in front I had at the British fell relay championships (anyone can enter!!!) Adair had been telling me not to let up so we continued like this.

I caught up a dairy farmer on the canal who was aiming to beat his previous time, but it was whilst I was chasing him up the hll after the canal section where Adair shouted me to go on ahead. Although we split a few times, from the first hard hill section until just by the town we pretty much ran together, stopping briefly for each other on the track up to the gap as we tripped over. I went hands down, but was quickly up as I was conscious that he didn’t really want to wait.

He had sowed the seeds early by trying to lose me on the hill, but I felt pretty determined to hang on. On the fire road section this had meant that I got my head down and probably produced my best section of running for the day. I became fixated on doing sub 9 minute miles on this very long hill section and achieved just that.

A relentless period of pressure from me gave me a significant lead on him, but poor food planning meant I had to get my rucksack off at the next section so he caught up and overtook me. As I hit the start of the taff trail I was told I was in 6th so I now had a mission to be in the top 5.

We had pretty much settled into a rhythm and Adair seemed to have fallen off the pace. I don’t look back in races as a general rule and so I wasn’t sure where Adair had dropped off, but I didn’t seem him after the fire road section. This was a great shame in my eyes, but I started to realise it was the first time I may actually beat him in a race. As the end drew near I began to believe I could complete the race in close to 7 hours. Given that I had started out with a best hope of going sub 8, this was very good news indeed.

The second loop had not all been plain sailing. I had reacted badly to a gel and just felt sick. I’d missed a feed as a result but diligently put it back in ten minutes later which threw out my timings a bit. I found my mind getting into loops and almost obsessing about certain things – time calculations, speeds on sections, body sense checks, etc. The most unnerving of which was yet to come.

I need to point out that the event marshaling and organisation was superb. Perfectly spaced water stops (roughly 8 miles apart) Marshals on all key turning points in the mountains and signs in the villages. The one place for improvement (and this is getting really picky) was the route between the little village and the canal. It was signed, but on the second time around things seemed different and I began to doubt whether I was on the right path.

Sensing he had nothing left I had put a spurt on just before the village and had left my latest running buddy behind. Lucky for me he effectively gave up at this point and let me go. Running down the country lanes I was beginning to wonder if this was lucky at all. I found myself looking back a lot and slowing at junctions to see if a sign had been torn down or moved. Finally I saw another runner behind me so figured I was still on the right track… or was he following me?

As I got to the canal I waved at some people on the other side. They shouted “he’s catching you” which I took as a joke. I turned to see he was catching me. I turned again, to check how quickly, and again when I realised he looked different. It was Adair! He was running hard and I was once again caught in two minds as to what I should do. Should I slow down and we cross together? If I slow down will he just overtake me and go for it? If he does then it’ll jut sound like an excuse to say I did slow down… in the end I decided to go for glory and see if I could hold him off.

The canal went on forever. I was running hard and refusing to look behind me. I was convinced I could hear him on my shoulder and I started to want the win more and more. I’m now in the final two miles of a 45 mile race and I’m running sub 7 minute miles, but still that bloody end won’t appear!

I finally turn the corner which reveals the end… but it’s not! I’m directed off the tow path towards the school. I’m hurting now, but have sneaked a glance behind to see that Adair is nowhere in sight. My mind had played tricks on me, but it had got me to the end alright. A final loop on the playing field got me to the finish in 6 hours, 56 minutes and 57 seconds. A mere 40 minutes behind the winner Mark Palmer* who set a new course record in the process.

To have a 6 as the first digit for my time was just awesome. To sneak one over Adair was great, but I did point out to him that whilst I had put in well over a hundred miles in the 14 days before the event, none of those had been in the last 3 days… Adair had run 17 miles the day before. As a measure of the man, he also went and rand the Conway half the next day and put in a sub 90 minute time including going over the Great Orme!

Martin came in not too far behind us. Turned out he’d got his food wrong and had bonked. He must have gone at a terrific pace one he sorted that out though a he really wasn’t far behind. His Chester Tri team mate had also made me feel a lot better when he said that Martin was chuffed when we had cracked on, commenting that we were slowly killing him. Although Martin had scheduled this as a kick off event, to most people (and I mean those that do these sort of things) it would be looked as the end of an epic season and coming off the back of illness and injury which had left him short on training miles. My aim this year is to get half as fit as Martin so I can tackle the DBR!

Back to the day, tea and biscuits were served and there was even talk of a shower. I started to shiver uncontrollably as I chatted to the winner who had not long ago completed a sub 15 hour Bob Graham Round. Lovely bloke but I was falling to bits. Adair and I went to get the car so we’d have our kit and so it would be there for Martin when he got in. We somehow managed it and went for the showers. The were cold. 😦  Still, nothing could take the smile from my face after without doubt my best ever run.

Turned out we came second overall in the team event so we even got some prizes out of the event. My thanks go to Martin for getting me involved, Adair for completing our team, the Likeys (Sue and Martin Likey – the event organisers and owners of the Sam and the Dairy farmer fella for interesting chat on the run and last but not least, Ainsley Harriet* for giving me the fuel!

Fantastic event. Fantastic people. Fantastic day out.




* Ainsley’s cous cous is the perfect mountain marathon breakfast and dinner. It’s less than a quarter of the weight of a hi-cal expedition food pack (800 cal) and delivers 200 cal in one cheap and light package. At around 75p a packet it beats the pants off £6-7 for the hi-cal ration pack. The foil packet is much lighter too so even your rubbish weighs less. Ainsley, I salute you!

Paying the price

Posted on December 27, 2011 by Chris Baynham-Hughes

Ok, so I had a fantastic Christmas in every respect… except one: my ankle. I really need to change the record here, but it’s driving me nuts and really getting me down now. As reported in my last post the run was awesome and pain free, however by Christmas lunch time my ankle had puffed up significantly.

My “all clear” from the physio was conditional. If it didn’t change my gait significantly, it didn’t hurt and it didn’t swell significantly, then crack on. Unfortunately I only managed two of the three. I’m back to the ice and the frustration. I was so frustrated I spent at least two hours cleaning my racer (not a euphemism) today. Maybe a long bike ride is what is needed to clear away the cobwebs, but I just don’t trust drivers on the roads these days so the prospect of a relaxing ride is a dream.

Next run will be on Friday for the traditional Helsby half recce. I’ll put 13 road miles in and ice regularly and see what happens. If that is ok then I guess I’m back to the slightly soul destroying road miles for the time being. 😦

Ten glorious miles

Posted on December 24, 2011 by Chris Baynham-Hughes

A perfect start to the day. A lie in courtesy of the outlaws* then a quick drive to Delamere forest for a ten miler to test the ankle. I was all over the place, holding back against my instincts to run wildly around the paths. I could feel myself straining at the leash, but better to be safe than push myself back another month.

I don’t know the trails around Delamere very well so I had a number of occasions where I thought, “Hmmm, I’ve been here before!” but every step was just fantastic. I didn’t go too easy on myself and did go off the paths onto the more disrupted trails, but the ankle gave me no problems at all. A run to the top of the hill at Eddisbury and I found myself surrounded by about 40 kids from the Vale Royal running club out which was fantastic to see.

Everything went right and the early morning sun through the trees was spectacular. I am so lucky to leave near such great trails. I’m still trying to work out how I sneak in a run on Christmas day – I want to be there when Rhys wakes up so an early morning mission is out, but maybe when the afternoon nap kicks in for everybody I’ll venture out with a full stomach and a soaring soul. Onwards and upwards!

* Laura went in to get Rhys up to be told, “Oh, I  want Grandpa!” – I get this most mornings but substitute Grandpa for Mummy.

Climbing the walls!

Posted on December 23, 2011 by Chris Baynham-Hughes

Have been climbing the walls recently needed to get out for a run. Despite the early signs of a quick recovery my ankle is still visibly swollen. I’m getting more and more irritable, the confusion is decending and the headaches returning (see running history for details). It’s not good for anybody, but…

… I’ve been given the green light for some light trail running. Still main path based and not too varied, but it means I can go for a run in the woods tomorrow and I can’t wait! I’ve got to listen to my body and alo not try to do too much too soon, but a good hour in the woods (running I must add) will clear my head and feed my soul!

Also need to find some road running trainers as the Helsby 4 villages half marathon is coming up and I want to break the 90 minute mark. I’ve done it in training, but never in a race as I only do one road race per year… this one! Time for some last minute panic training… what was that I said about listening to my body and not doing too much?  🙂

Bob Graham dates finalised… hopefully!

Posted on December 14, 2011 by Chris Baynham-Hughes

After being given an extremely clean bill of health today at a company ‘Well being screening’ I decided it was time to reveal the planned dates… ok, so Laura and I had a chat last night and agreed them.

My attempt on the Bob Graham round will commence on the 31st May somewhere between 8 & 9pm. If successful this will mean the leg I take complete in the dark will be the easiest navigationally.

Recces are planned for the following dates:

11th Feb – Legs 5 & 1 (Aim: Detailed navigation recce)

3rd-4th March – legs 3 & 4 (Aim: Detailed navigation recce)

14th April – legs 3, 4 & 5 (Aim: Test self against timings)

18th- 19th May – Legs 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 (Aim: confidence that I’m ready)

Other events planned are:

Hardmoor 55 – Entered

Fellsman – Entries open Jan 1st

Edale Skyline – Entries open in new year

Post BGR attempt I’ve got the Welsh 1000m peaks, the DBR and will finish off the year where this journey started.. the Brecon Beacons Ultra.

Totally chuffed today to confirm that my mountain marathon partner Martin will be joining me for an attempt. He’s got the Marathon des Sables to do first of course!

Now all I need to do is sort out support runners/ witnesses… no big deal then eh! Anybody up for joining me on a recce or fancies being a part of this attempt then I’d love to hear from you!