Thursday, 26 July 2012

Snowdon International Race win

From the gallery on the Daily Post site
I had high expectations of the Snowdon Race and it didn't disappoint. I'd seen the excellent TV coverage from previous years and heard about the atmosphere in Llanberis on race day and so was very excited to be on the start line this year running for Arc'teryx. I had lower expectations of myself. The list of names entered for the international race was strong and I just hoped to be mixing it in amongst them. Other than that, I had no real aims.

In theory, the course is fairly simple - start in a field, get up to the highest point around, get back down, fastest one wins. However, I was warned that running the race well required a little more tactics than just nailing it from start.

The race kicked off with a short flat stretch through the town lined with spectators before the gradient ramped up to something quite extreme. I didn't start well as I seemed to lose all the top girls in the muddle of it all. The pace slowed as the incline increased and I managed to pull past some fast starting men and see the group of girls that had a small gap on me. I was annoyed at myself for being out of the action so early on in the race.

Maybe that gave me a little extra drive up that climb as by the time we went through the gate and onto the mountain path I had drawn level with them. Only Sarah O'Neil was out ahead. I had expected this - fellow HBT club mate Sarah has been in amazing form on the hills but she has also schooled me in flat intervals sessions this year. The gradient had flattened out a lot and I consciously picked up the tempo. I pulled away from the other girls and closed the gap in on Sarah. I thought this was probably just the advantage of chasing someone down, so I as I drew up on her shoulder I expected a painful battle up the next bit of the climb. Sadly for her she had been struggling with stomach problems for most of the day and she wasn't in her usual climbing form. I pulled a bit ahead and got a gap but was careful not to go too crazy as we were barely half way through the 1000m of climb.

Nice to know that's how it looked!
Link to see the S4C program here.
The next stretch was the Allt Moses, the steepest section of the climb. I hadn't realised that this was going to be timed as a section and there would be prizes for this and I just kept plodding away. I prefer to keep running, even if very slow, rather than power walking. It turns out that Sarah and I ran the fastest sections here, with her pipping me by a second to this prize.

The climb didn't end there. I looked at my watch which had the altimeter setting on and about on 800m I decided to up the tempo a bit. I was feeling very good and it was the first time in the race where I had to think about doing the best tactics to try and win this. I knew my descending would be bad and I would need as big a gap at the top as possible. I think I got to the summit in a bit over 52 minutes, about 1 minute ahead of Sarah.

As I ran down, I saw the other girls coming up so I knew the gaps were quite big, but even at this point I didn't believe I would win. It was a question of when and where they would catch me. If I got past the steepest bit could I stay with them? Would I win a sprint through the town on totally ruined quads? Thankfully the descent took a bit too much concentration for me to entertain any more hypothetical thoughts and I was soon crashing down the railway line, hopping over the rocks and desperately trying to find some soft grass to run on to give my feet a break.

And then it started to dawn on me that I was basically down. I could see the gate in the distance, I hadn't dared to look back but I was told there were no girls in sight. Maybe this might be mine?! Crazy. As I high-fived a group of kids by the gate to the mountain, I set off on the last bit of real pain - that tarmac steep path. My feet slapped down painfully and I was met with an unwelcome sight - the TV motorbike waiting to follow me through the town. With both lower limbs wishing they were detached from my body, the last run through seemed to go on for ever. Looking back at it, it was amazing to run through the town like that with so many people cheering, but at the time I was desperate for the finish line!

The painful last few steps.
From the Salomon photos on Facebook.

I crossed the line to a hug from Murray. He had been fairly surprised to see me in the lead when he passed me on his descent and shouted something to that effect. But, like me, he'd thought someone would get me as I tiptoed down the hill. Then I had found out he had won too - a moment that the TV cameras caught quite well.

The next hour or so was quite a rush. I still couldn't quite believe that I had won, and it was only after finishing that I understood quite what a cool thing that was. Probably just as well. It was very hard to drag ourselves away so soon from Llanberis with the party only just starting. There were not many other places I wanted to be at that time but the Tullie wedding was one of them and ceilidh dancing the night away (or watching) was a perfect end to a pretty good day.

Some links
- Race report here (same report as featured on Mud, Sweat and Tears, Salomon site etc).

- Watch the TV coverage from S4C here (enable subtitles by pressing the 'S' button)

- Some pictures on the Fell Running Pictures website here 

- BBC Wales local news saying something I don't understand here

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Switzerland - World Champs (2 out of 4)

11th in the world - that's a nice thing to be able to say. Something that even two years ago, I genuinely never believed I would be able to say.

Photo from
See also the athlete page
The World Orienteering Championships 2012 were always going to be a bit funny for me this year. I have been totally focussed on the sprint distance as I felt that, given my other commitments (like starting to do more mountain races and starting to work full time), I'd rather focus on one distance and do it well than split my efforts and risk doing nothing in anything. Also, my lack of holiday meant that I had to make my priorities clear. I flew to Switzerland on the Wednesday before the sprint race to have a few days relaxing in Lausanne beforehand. I then returned to Scotland on Sunday and am trying to keep up to date with the results while at work this week.

The sprint qualifier could have been quite an interesting start to the day. We had seen that there were was the possibility of a really tricky sprint as the campus had 3 levels on it and lots of stairs and entrances. However, with the assurances that it would all be obvious from the map and there would be no risk of protests, we guessed that it might be an easy course. Run hard, no risks, check the codes. That's pretty much how my race went. I raced hard but not maximally making sure I was fully in control. I was pleased to qualify in 6th position in my heat. Job done.

Photo from Martin Ward
See the rest of the photos here
The sprint final was a fantastic experience. We started in a quite corner of a university campus and it was only on my way to the 3rd control did I get a hint of what I was about to run into. It seems everyone in the town had seen the start list. I wasn't just getting cheered round every corner, I was being name checked "Allez Tessa!" by everyone - marshalls, little kids, picnicking families. I then hit the arena. Now that was some noise. The second half of the course went back into the relative quietness but I was still aware of the roar in the arena as other runners ran through. Soon I was back there myself on the finishing straight as spectators hit the advertising boards and I gave everything. Then it was all over.

Although I ran well, I wasn't very happy with my technical performance. I went out too hard at the start and lost time on a tricky number 1. I seem to have lost time on number 2 as well, I think a bad route choice made in a hurry. I got into a rhythm and picked up but then made another mistake on the way to number 10 where I missed a set of stairs.

The tricky start
So I'm looking back on the race with mixed feelings. Obviously I am over the moon with the result, but it's hard to be totally satisfied when I think about my mistakes. Being realistic, I couldn't have really done much better. I've improved my sprint orienteering a lot this season, I ran 16 of the 19 controls far faster than I could have this time last year. But I haven't got it all sorted and as is often the case, an increase in the speed also leads to more mistakes.

A great day and a great result, but hopefully just another step on the ladder.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

The SkyGames with Arc'teryx

Photo from the official SkyGames website.
Last week involved a whole lot of firsts for me. My first time running for Arc'teryx was going to be at the SkyGames (the world Skyrunning championships) held in Ribagorza in the Pyrannees. It was the first time doing a skyrace and first time doing the vertical km discipline.

The Vertical KM was as crazy as expected. We started in the town and the atmosphere was fantastic. It looked liked everyone from the region had turned out and there was a fantastic buzz about the race start. TV cameras thrust in the face, journalists asking "What are you doing here?" - "I haven't a clue but it's brilliant!" It was a bit of a relief when the countdown finally ended and we set off through the narrow streets at a relatively runnable gradient. Now all I had to do was focus on getting myself up 1000m as fast as possible. Given it was 3km long, there was not much fast about it at all.

Photo from the official SkyGames website.
I settled in off the back of the leading group of Spaniards (or Catalans) wanting to run my own race. I was fully prepared to get into the hurt zone, but I was cautious that going over that would end in disaster. Unlike a normal race where you can just slow down, there isn't really a slower pace to go at - I'd just have to stop. The front runners started to string out, but I stuck in around 10th place as we went up the hair pin dirt track (the difference was we were taking the straight line and crossing it rather than running along it). We got to about half way in terms of climb, but about 2/3 distance. I chucked a cup of water over my head to cool me from the 30 degree heat and started up the grassy hillside.

The course went up the gully.
Photo from the official SkyGames website.
This was when it got steep. We joked afterwards about hitting the wall in the most literal of senses. The finish started to come into sight but I can't say it was much of an encouragement. A speedy Spaniard came past and I knew there was no staying with her as she was moving a totally different pace to me. Instead I just focussed on getting into a rhythm and ticking off those metres of altitude. I had expected the levels of support to dwindle a bit as we got higher, but it was the opposite! Spectators lined the course, cheering on every nation with very enthusiastic Spanish chants and every now and then, someone noticed the British flag on my number and shouted a very proud "hello!" The helicopter buzzed overhead sending TV footage back to the start arena. Incredible but not making it any less painful on the legs.

The finish had got closer, I reckoned about 5 minutes away. I'd been on the heels of a girl for the last bit and I decided I may as well try and make a move. I tried to find some extra power in my calves and snuck ahead. Great, but now I've got to stay there. I dug in for the next minute but I couldn't get a gap. Another minute, and I glanced behind - a little space. Nearly there. Every muscle in my body was telling me that they wanted to stop, needing more oxygen (we were at nearly 2300m above sea level), but the brain replied - the quicker I got up this hill, the sooner I could stop. The last 50m of climb were on slightly more tussocky ground not what my legs wanted. There was still a gap behind, but unlike a road race where you could cruise in, there was no "cruise" button. Just moving at my stupidly slow speed was painful and the gap was only going to stay if I kept moving forward.

The final climb
Photo from the official SkyGames website.
I crossed the finish line. Jelly legged. Unable to make the slight gradient down to the drinks point. I sat and looked at the slope I had climbed, watching the elite men finish and the rest of the field trickle in. I watched eagles soaring below me. During the race I had been thinking "never again", it wasn't long after the finish before I wondered when the next one was.

I was 11th in the race, 7th out of the international runners. I was actually more pleased about the 11th place as it seemed like a lot of Spaniards had turned out for the race and I think they lead the world in this sort of caper. In terms of internationals, I only really beat the Dutch which without wanting to be stereotypical, is possibly not an amazing achievement. My time was 49.07 which probably doesn't mean much, but I had initially thought that getting in under the 50 minute mark would be good. It tends to be the climb that limits the time rather than the actual distance so I look forward to trying to work on this on the two vertical km races that I'm doing in October and November.

So, that was the race over, but it was just the beginning of the trip. I spent the next few days with Arc'teryx, learning about their Endorphin running clothing line which they are launching. World leaders in providing high quality clothing for other mountain activities, they are now trying to get into the running market and particularly those races that need top quality equipment - like these mad hill races - where you need to be able to rely on your kit. We spent a few hours out in the wonderful scenery taking photos for their Spring 2013 line, we took a load of journalists up the Vertical KM course on Monday and I got out for a few runs of my own.

All in all, I had an amazing time. Loads of new experiences, meeting lots of new, madder people and I came back inspired for next year. I've just opened the door on a whole new world of fun.

See more photos here and a 360 degree shot from the summit above the VK course..

Friday, 6 July 2012

Switzerland (1 out of 4)

The first of 4 trips to Switzerland this year went quite nicely. I was based in Zurich for 2 days where I did lots of sprint training on nearby maps. Then I moved to St Gallen where I pre-ran the world cup sprint course.

The sprint training was good. I was mainly treated to lovely warm weather which made a big difference to logistics as I was operating out of the left luggage lockers at train stations. However, the most fun session was probably the one where I got caught in an immense thunderstorm and ended up sheltering in some kind of church choir room while their practice was going on. Bizarre.

Here are some of the legs where I went a bit wrong

10-11 took me a while to work out
12-13 caused a bit of debate as to which way was best

I was very grateful to the organisers for letting me pre-run the Post Finance sprint course. I had been in touch a few months ago as I knew that the top 40 would be impossible after not running at EOC and I was allowed to join the Swiss selection race which ran the same course before the main event started. This meant I could stay out of the forest and skip the middle distance (better for my back which still seems to have issues in rough terrain) and prepare for St Gallen properly. I ran a perfectly ok race, nothing special but nothing catastrophic.

When I finished, there were 2 main mistakes that I could think about that cost me ~10 seconds each. The first was at control 2, where there was an extra public control within the circle. I kind of knew it wasn't mine, but as it was the first I saw and I knew I was in the circle I ran to it. Luckily I knew my codes and went to the correct one in the end. I think it was taken away pretty quickly before the real race started. The second mistake was on the way to 13 where I was catching another girl and switched my attention to planning ahead and turned left one building too early.

My route in red.
I think Simone did the blue, but green doesn't look too bad either.
After going through the split times, it appears I also missed a route on the way to control 9 which cost me again about 10 seconds. 

I finished in a time of 16.22 which put me 17th= in the results. It is encouraging and hopefully means that a top 10 result at WOC is not a stupid target, but it is by no means an easy one and will take a clean run to do.