Sunday, 28 August 2011

Video on UTMB

If you ever wondered about the benefits of ultra running or in fact running the UTMB then Check this vid ;) 

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Greenlight – Round the Rock 48 – Race Report

I had been looking forward to the Round the Rock 48 for some time. It was 5 weeks before the 100km World Championships and would be a good excuse for a break away from the UK mainland and at the same time a good race / training for the Worlds.

Before you read this long winded race report, check out the race organiser’s website here - Click on their Facebook and Twitter links to keep updated on the next event. You know you want to!


The race is based in Jersey which is one of Channel Islands off the coast of France. It’s a beautiful place boasting golden sandy beaches, turquoise sea, stunning cliffs and plenty of historic forts and the like (either from England defending the island from France, France defending the island from England or the Nazis defending the island from the World!).

One of the key attractions to this race is that it takes you quite literally along the coastline of the entire island which means that you get to see some stunning views, looking over some of the best bays the island has to offer.

The course comprises about 12 miles or so on tarmac / road with the rest being forest, light trail and about 20+ miles of cliff paths stretching along most of the exposed north coast of the island.

The checkpoints and route can be broken down as follows:

  1. Start > Steam Clock, St Helier to St Catherines – 11 miles mainly on road and quite flat;

  1. CP1> St. Catherines to La Fontaine – 23 cumulative miles on hilly tarmac, hitting Rozel which then takes us onto cliff path;

  1. CP2> La Fontaine to Grosnez – 30 cumulative miles cliff paths, hilly. Short road sections;

  1. CP3> Beauport to La Fregate – 48 cumulative miles on sandy beaches, cliff paths and final part on tarmac.

The route roughly follows the popular walk that many locals follow the ‘ITEX Walk’ which can be found here

The race was marked out with red and white tape dotted along the route. Despite getting partially lost a couple of times (through no fault of the course or the organisers) the route was quite easy to follow. If in doubt, always make sure the sea is on your right! Fair enough – should be simple!

Depending on how fast or slow you ran, runners could take advantage of running on the sandy bays provided the tide was out!

Nutrition & Hydration

As with all my races I always have more nutrition than I probably need as it’s better to have too much than not enough! The race is self supported, so although the organisers provided water, bananas, coke and some sweets, runners were expected to provide their own nutrition for the day.

There were 4 checkpoints along the route at roughly around 10 miles apart. I could work out that getting to the first CP would take about 70 minutes as it was mainly on road, and the second CP would be another 70-80 minutes. The toughest part would be the longer run along the cliff paths in the north which will take a bit longer given the terrain and ascent.

As a last minute decision (i.e. the morning of the run) I decided I would take a 700ml bottle, my Elite electrolyte add in squeezey bottle ( and 2 gels for the first 23 miles (taking me to CP2).

At CP 2 I would then pick up my Salomon pack where I had cliff bars, gels and a Nakd Bar and some water with Nuun tablets. PLENTY of nutrition and electrolytes and I certainly wouldn’t need it all.

In fact, I consumed in total:

Start to CP1 - 500ml water (with Elite)
CP1 to CP2 - 500ml water (with Elite) and 1 gel
CP2 to CP3 1Nakd Bar, 1 gel, 500ml water (Nuun)
CP3 to CP4 – 1 Banana, 1 gels, 750ml water (Elite), Small cup of flat coke
CP4 to Finish – 1 gel and 500ml water (elite).

Looking at my nutrition and hydration, I backed out of filling my bladder pack (1.5 litres) and only put in 500ml – 750ml to keep the weight down. This did mean that I was without water for the last couple of miles before each CP which is never a good tactic. It did get a little warmer later on in the day, but if the day got any hotter, I would have certainly found myself in a lot of trouble. It is never worth taking risks on hydration and in hindsight I was very lucky. Silly move!

So that’s my nutrition, let’s talk about the race!

The Race

The race briefing was the night before which was essentially Digby running us through safety issues, a detailed explanation of the course (with a massive map on the wall) and information on the course terrain and what to expect.

I mentioned to Digby that the CP open times were slightly a little later than expected and I would miss them. Without hesitation Digby and the other guys agreed to open the CP a little earlier for me! Thank you to all the guys that did this as the water and human contact was much needed. Again, another example of how great the ultra running community is.

I met a local, Bryce Alford who was using the run as training for the Berlin Marathon he had entered in a few weeks time. He would run up to CP2 before retiring. This guy seemed to love to talk about running so we agreed to run together for the first couple of CPs. Great stuff. Nothing better than running with a local in a local race!

The alarm went off 4am Saturday morning and I already had all my kit prepared the night before, including water in kettle, energy drinks mixed, shoelaces undone etc.  A quick shower, a spray of magnesium on the legs, and a cup of coffee and I was ready to think about the day.

My breakfast was a raisin and cinnamon bagel, with peanut butter and honey, washed down with coffee and energy drink.

A 15 minutes stroll along the coastal line took me into the main city and by the Steam Clock. It’s great to hang about before a race, watching people’s various routines, whether that be eating, stretching, catching up with running buddies, or simply sitting in a corner on your own thinking about the task ahead.

It’s also interesting to see the various approaches people take to ultra running. Compression calfs or no compression calfs? Road shoes or trail shoes? Hand bottle or bladder packs? Gel or solids?

Leanne Rive (female winner) came up to me as she was surprised to see an Inishowen A.C. singlet in such a far away place, being Irish. I think she was equally surprised to hear an English accent!

Just before the start I met up with Bryce and we agreed that a 7.15 minute mile would be a good pace for the first 12 miles or so before we naturally dropped the pace along the cliff paths. Sounds like a plan!

5.58am and we are all waiting at the start line. We are assured that the Steam Clock will blow a horn (or make a noise) at 6am which is our cue that the race had started. 6am and dead silence. Lol. It looks like the council had decided not to make such a noise at 6am on a Saturday. Oh well. “3”, “2”, “1” and we’re off.

Bryce and I ran at the front at a good pace. The cool thing about the first 12 miles or so is that we were escorted by the police.  This certainly had its advantage as a) we didn’t have to worry about the cars (as parts were running on the road); and b) we didn’t have to worry about navigation at this stage. The problem is that it can also set the pace a bit! We were happily chatting along while running, talking about ultras, Bryce’s record he held for 24 hour running on a treadmill and our general love for running (while running! Brilliant)…

“what we doing”,
“about 6.20 minute mile”…
“hmmm that’s a bit fast. Let ‘s slow it down 

»  5 minutes later,

« What we doing now ?»
“About 6. 5 minute miles…”.

Now, there are two schools of thought on this. Some say leave some fuel in the tank especially for later in the race and maintain a steady pace and if you have something left push yourself in the second half. Running too fast at the start will slow you down at the end. Whereas, some say, you are going to naturally slow down over time, so why not give it some while you can? Me? I think it depends. If you are going to push it at a start of a race, you need to ensure you have your nutrition and hydration right, you know the terrain and elevation and where to push and when not, and feel comfortable / confident that your training will allow you to maintain a good pace throughout. I think it’s also key to know that you are going to have bad periods during the run (or several during an ultra) and accept that it will happen. The key is to keep calm and figure out why – is it my pace? Should I slow down? Do I need more electrolytes? Am I dehydrated?  Have I eaten enough? Has the terrain got harder? Has the temperature increased / decreased? Or am I just having a bad day!?

Back to the race, so we rolled in to check point 1 at St Catherine’s in 69 minutes, probably 5 or 10 minutes faster than we expected, but we were feeling comfortable, there was light rain, keeping us cool, and the CP offered much needed water. I quickly filled up my bottle adding Elite and a quick pee in the public toilet (local police were still escorting at this time ;)) and we were off.

It wasn’t long before we were hitting the beautiful harbour area with Gorey Castle on top of the rock. This was the sign that we were to come off the road and move into more rural areas of the course. The first few miles were around country lanes and farms and a couple of fields before we hit the start of the cliff paths. The fun was about to start!

I pushed up some of the hills quite hard and Bryce decided to keep to a steady pace (good decision given he was running a marathon in a few weeks) so I was running alone along the cliff paths. It was time to pay attention to the route markings to make sure I stay on route!

Well would you ‘Adam and Eve’ it, Bryce found me half way along the route looking confused. “Bryce” I shouted, “should I carry on or take the road?”. Unfortunately, there was only one tape at the junction area and I could not see another indicating which path to take. It must have been removed! That said, common sense would have suggested that I carry on along the trail path and avoid the road (this being a trail ultra and all!). Bryce confirmed it was straight on so I pushed onwards knowing that if there is a fork - always take the right. Cheers Bryce.

Again, I pushed on quite hard on the uphills and downhills, there was over 1000 metres of ascent over the course, mainly up and down some studded steps, so there was a lot to play with. Thankfully I managed to get to CP 2 without getting lost and relying on Bryce again.

[Bryce – if you are reading this. Thanks for the company and good luck with your race in a few weeks. Let me know how you get on.]

It was a great feeling to come into CP2 at La Fontaine, the support was great, friendly and very helpful. I dropped my bottle and picked up my Salomon pack. A quick munch on a Nakd bar and I was off. A short stint on the road and we were back on the coastal trail. Now, because the route is a common walking route, the hills are set up with stairs to assist with the up and downs. These stairs actually made life more difficult as they had metal studs in them and were at an odd distance apart which made the stride very long. Over time this definitely took it out on my legs.

The next section would take me to Grosnez with plenty of undulating hills to climb, some exposed areas and beautiful views. I managed to keep to a steady pace. This was the perfect section to dig in, think about life and enjoy the terrain. I quickly ran out of water and started to struggle a little but not to the extent that I noticeably slowed down too much. This was the last section of cliff path before the terrain got a bit easier so my focus was on getting to the next CP without too much hassle. I was enjoying myself so much the views over the north coast of Jersey and the generally reasonably good weather made the miles fly past. Happy days. It wasn’t long before I was hitting the next CP and getting some flat coke down me!

I spent WAY too much time at this CP, at least 3-4 minutes trying to get my hydration sorted. For some reason I was struggling with my bladder pack getting the damn thing closed and getting off. After a brief struggle I was packed and gone. The support crew were great always keen to help and get some food and water down me. This was essentially the last section of the run, a few miles of trail, a couple of short road sections and then, if I was lucky and the tide was out, a final run to the finish along the sandy beaches of St Aubin’s Bay.

It was along this route that I got properly lost. Shortly after the CP I came across a fork where one section led down to St Brelade’s Bay and the other turned off to the left. I could see some red and white strip markers at the junction but no where else.

“Excuse me, if I take these steps all the way down to the bay (and there were a lot of them), will this keep me on the ITEX walk route?”,

“Yes mate, go down the stairs, along the bay and you should see a path”.

I ran all the way down to the bottom of the stairs, hit the bay and was presented with ROCK. No path, no way out. Hmmm. Wrong way. After a massive struggle all the way back up the stairs, I ran past the couple who were as geographically embarrassed as me and gave them a little glare. It cost me a good few minutes. The funny side of it is if I had bothered to look a little further up the left hand turning, I would have seen a nice bright red and white marker flapping in the wind calling out at me!  I must admit I did panic when running up the stairs thinking that second place could be running past me and I would not know. This is a race after all, right?

Back on track, and it was nice to know that most of the route would now be flat or even better downhill. Running at a fast pace down the hills (sub 6 minute mile) to make up for the rather slow slog across cliff path, I could see St Aubin’s Bay in the distance and St Hellier where the finish line was. This gave me a bit of a lift.

I noticed that an ITV crew was following me. They would drive alongside for a bit, then drive a couple of hundred metres ahead to get a few seconds of me running past. I would also like to thank them as I was slightly of track but not off course and they guided me back on route.

I hit the promenade along St Aubin and then decided to brave it and hit the sandy beaches as the tide was out. I could see the finish line which was still a good mile and some away but I was enjoying running along the beach trying to miss the waves coming in as I had managed to keep my feet dry to this stage. I must have run about 3 quarters of a mile when I decided that this was not helping my case at all, it was slowing me down a lot and taking it out on my legs. I jumped back up to the promenade and pushed as hard as I could to get to the finish which was located by a café (which was in the shape of an upside down boat!). It was a great feeling to break that tape and come in at 6 hours and 15 minutes.

Straight after the finish it was time to pick up a medal (Gold if completed under 8 hours, silver if completed under 10, and bronze if completed under 12), a T-Shirt and an interview with ITV. As you know from my previous race report, I am not the best when it comes to being interviewed! You can see for yourself – see the ITV broadcast here:

The first 3 were as follows:

1st  Daniel Doherty – 6 hrs 15mins
2nd Michael Charlton – 7 hrs
3rd Andy Macaskill – 7hrs 4 mins


1st Leanne Rive – 7hrs 49 mins
2nd Alice Constance – 7hrs 58 mins
3rd Nicola Lockhart – 7 hrs 59 mins


This was a great ultra run, well organised, especially for an inaugural event. Is it tough? Well, any route can be tough depending on how hard you push yourself. It is certainly challenging. Thankfully the ultra running gods were looking after us on the day, but it could certainly be quite an aggressive course, there are some exposed areas in the north which if windy and rainy could make life a lot more difficult, and if hot could make hydration more challenging.

This is definitely one for the beginner to ultra running and certainly for someone who wants to make the step up to the 50m mark. But it’s also one for the more experienced runner who may want to try and break the 6 hour mark which I know can be achieved. That’s why I’ll be back next year to hit the sub 6 hour :O). See you there.

After party

The awards ceremony was later in the day at about 6.30 pm in The Yacht Club, or the Royal Yacht (I forget its name) but the organisers had reserved a room, which was really nice. I enjoyed my 1 pint of Guinness which I allow myself after an event, relaxed and enjoyed the prize giving.

The prizes were supplied by Fit2Function who supply Inov-8 products so it was great to see a load of Inov-8 stuff being given out as prizes for the top 3 and various spot prizes. Brilliant!


Adidas Shorts
Inishowen A.C Vest
Saucony Kinvara Trainers
Salomon Advanced Skin S-Lab Vest Pack

Pics to follow.