Wednesday, 21 September 2011

UltraStu Talk in Yorkshire - Meet the Man Behind the Blog!


Just a quick announcement about a talk I am doing up in Yorkshire on Friday 7th October.

The title of my presentation is Ultra Trail Running - Enjoying the Overall Experience.  I will talk about the highs and lows of ultra running - from my win in the 2010 Lakeland 100 mile race, to the problems which led to me not completing the Ultra Tour of Mont Blanc this year.
Within the talk I will emphasize the importance of TOTAL physical and mental preparation, which if you are a reader of my blog, you will know that I see TOTAL preparation as the key determinant of achieving a successful performance in endurance trail running events.

The presentation will include photos, video clips, and race route details specific to the Lakeland 100 and the Ultra Trail Mont Blanc. In addition there will be ample opportunity for the audience to ask any questions they may have on trail running.

Details of the talk are as follows:
When: Friday 7th October 2011

Venue: Studley Roger Village Hall, Studley Roger, Ripon HG4 3AY

Time: 7.30 pm for pre-talk snacks/drinks - 8.00 pm talk starts.  A short break for more snacks/drinks at 8.45pm.  Finish 9.45pm approx.

Cost: £5.00 (including free snacks/tea coffee)

The talk is being organised by Dave Jelley from Jelley Legs Guided Runs.  We actually discussed the idea of the talk while 'racing' at the Northants Shires and Spires 35 mile ultra race back in June!

Tickets are available from Dave.  Visit and email /ring and reserve tickets.

So here is your opportunity to "Meet the Man Behind the Blog", that is if you haven't already met me before!  Hopefully, those of you that live up north, local to the area, will be able to make it to Studley Roger Village Hall, which is not far from Ripon.  It should be a really good night.  A note for any of you who were present at my talk in Ambleside back in June at the Lakeland 100 recce weekend, I promise I will get my pace judgement right this time, and not go over my predicted finishing time!

Right, best I get myself organised and get my presentation sorted.  I think the hardest thing will be deciding on what to leave out, in order to keep to time!!!


PS  To those of you that know people who are inspired by your endurance trail running exploits and want to do more running.  Then maybe the following link to a worthy charity called  The Fresh Air Fund may be of interest to you.

Each year they have a team running the New York City Half Marathon that takes place in March.  So now is a good time to encourage your work mates, partner, or any friends to go that little bit further with their running, and perhaps have this race as their goal.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

UTMB DNF: Responding to Comments


Thanks to all of you that have left on the blog and e-mailed me comments following my UTMB race.  It is pleasing to know that runners are finding my blog posts both interesting but also beneficial. Receiving feedback, it appears that there was equally disappointment amongst the readers regarding my UTMB DNF, however, before I move on to other topics I just thought I would respond to some of the comments left.

Firstly Bill.  Yes, running frequently within the mountains could be an advantage, however, I don't see this as a main factor regarding DNFs for those with less mountain running within their preparation.  With regards to my preparation, I do not do specific mountain training, in fact I don't even do specific hill training.  I simply run up hills when I encounter then during my training, but I do not specifically go out and 'search' for them.  This is mainly due to my believe that it is self confidence/self expectations that are the benefits from specific mountain training, not any actual physical benefits.  So if you are able to develop the self confidence regarding mountain running in other ways then no essential need to run within the mountains.

The key issue with this year's UTMB for me was I feel the 5 hour delay, rather than the at times wet and cold weather conditions.  When preparing for a race the key aspect of my preparation is to prepare the mind and body as one, actually the subconscious, for what it is likely to encounter during the race.  So within this preparation it is all about looking at the course details, the elevation gains/losses, the checkpoints, the terrain, likely underfoot conditions, likely weather conditions etc.  It is building up this information about the event so when you actually come to it on race day, what you encounter is reasonably similar to what you have given thought to, what you have considered, or what you have visualised during the preparation.

So running a race for the second time, can therefore be an advantage as you have more information available regarding what you are likely to encounter, so the considerations, the visualisations can be stronger, can be more accurate, more likely to resemble what you will actually encounter.  However, as was the case this year for me, and for others, having past experiences of the event can also be a big disadvantage!

Within my preparation, I was totally aware of the terrain, elevations, distances between checkpoint etc. based on my 2009 race, and from the available race information, google earth flyovers, video clips, photos etc.  I have run in wet and cold conditions many times.  I have run over trails, up hills etc. many times.  The Hardmoors 55 from 2010 springs to mind in terms of extremely demanding conditions.  Having seen video footage of the 2010 UTMB, and read race reports, I was well aware that weather conditions could be wet and cold at the UTMB.  So although I do not actually train in the mountains in unpleasant conditions I am able to visualise these situations quite clearly, so I don't see this lack of training specificity as a problem.

As I highlighted above, having run the event in 2009, I feel this ended up being a disadvantage for me due to the 5 hour delay to the start.  Within my blog post last week I commented on the cold and the rain, and how the conditions were so different to the warm night of 2009, however, this wasn't really the key issue as I had visualised running the UTMB in wet and cold conditions.  What I hadn't visualised was starting in the dark, and especially running to Les Houches and running the first climb in the dark.  As I am an 'emotional' runner, and really perform on emotion, perform due to the positivity of the event.  I had spent many hours preparing, focusing on, visualising the first 2 hours of the race, from the start to St Gervais.  For me, this was the key to the whole race.  Start well, get into a good position, get the 'buzz' from running well, being right amongst it within the first 30 or so runners, so then able to progress through the field, as others drop out!!!  Yes how ironic, that my race strategy involved moving up the field due to others dropping out.  Well this was because there is such a large drop out rate of around 40% at the UTMB.  Never, for one single milli-second, did I ever consider that I would be one of the 40%, actually ended up being over 52%!  Back in 2009, at the top of the fourth climb. Arete Mont Favre I was in 55th place.  I ended up finishing in 22nd place.  From that point in the race (69km and 10 hours 01 minutes), nobody overtook me.  I howevr only overtook 13 runners, as 20 runners who were at that time ahead of me dropped out.  Quite an amazing statistic really!  It would be interesting to see how many runners from the top 55 at the same point DNFed this year.  Probably more than 20 I would expect!

Anyway, sorry about that distraction, where was I???  Yes, I was commenting about this visualisation of the first two hours running during daylight, 'feeling' the surrounding runners around me, being in total appreciation of the beauty and spectacle of the mountains, and just taking in the whole amazing atmosphere of the competitors, the mountains, the spectators.  And then 'feeding' of this emotion, to propel me into the night, and then throughout the next day.  So this vividness, as a result of my extensive preparation was what totally threw me 'astray'.  It was just so totally different to what I had prepared for, so in essence I was totally unprepared.  I was in a situation which my subconscious had not planned for.  And looking at the photo of me on the start line, it was clearly evident then, that I was already struggling with the changed situation, even before the race had started.

I signed off my post last week with some words from Nick Clark, as he ended up having to DNF due to a similar reason. i.e the race was different to what he had prepared for.  For him, it was not the difference of being daytime or night time, but it was the route change, not going up to Bovine, and having to descend to Martigny.  Now he is one of the best there is in 100 mile trail ultras, as evidenced by his 3rd place at this years Western States 100.  Physically, an extra hour onto the race duration, and a few extra 100s of metres of climbing, isn't going to be a problem to him.  But as he highlighted "A huge part of being successful in completing these events is an understanding of what lies in front of you. (He seems to have the same approach regarding the importance of preparing the mind and body with an expectation of what it is likely to encounter during the event). Your mind prepares your body, and your body delivers an output that is sustainable for the mileage and elevation change that remains. If the mind is checked out, the body follows."

So for me, this mismatch between what I had prepared for, what I was expecting to encounter, and the actual reality of the race caused my mind and body as one, "to check out"!  And at a very early stage of the race, to some extent before the actual start, but I think mainly during that first climb in the dark!

Interestingly, from what I have read, this 'checking out' from the race, for whatever reason seemed a familiar story.  To my surprise, during the race, after I had 'checked out', climbing the fourth climb of Arete Mont Favre rather slowly, I was overtaken my Krissy Moehl, the twice winner of UTMB, including 2009, finishing in 11th place overall.  So seeing her so far down the field, and barely going any quicker than me was a real shock.  On her blog she makes the following comments:
"1). I visualize.  When possible I like to visualize sections of the course, what it looks like, time of day and how I will feel.  ...  2). I am a planner, and maybe to a fault. ... Because of 1 & 2 the nature of the race this year threw me.  With the crazy rain storm that blew in Friday night, I woke up at 10am to a text message alerting us that the race start time had been pushed back 5 hours to 11:30pm.  This changed all crew plans, clothing plans and time of day where I would be on the course.  It also created a much longer wait on Friday and we would now have to run into the second night (where before if all was going well it is possible to finish just before dark on Saturday).  We tried to see positives in the fact that our night time wouldn’t be as long the first night, that this push back helped avoid time in the harshest part of the storm, but I realize hindsight that for all my planning this really changed my head game.  ...   Funny thing is I think I normally do a pretty good job with rolling with the punches, but this time I just felt defeated.  When times got tough I didn’t have that edge that I am used to drawing on to push through."
Yes, I was really amazed as well when I read her blog post, after I had typed up mine, on just how similar our interpretations were of what went wrong.  And like her, I tend to consider myself as being able to deal with situations when they get 'tough'.  Usually the tougher the conditions, i.e. cold, or heat, or wet mud/bog, I tend to perform better, but just like her, not this time!

And also similarly like me, she knew early on, that things weren't going well:  "When the going gets tough, there has to be that something more, that something deeper that you can find to get you to the finish.  I knew it wasn’t my day when I arrived in St. Gervais (this is at 21km, after around 2 hours) - Zoe said she could see it in my eyes.  I wanted to resolve to finish no matter what.  But I didn’t have the fight."

So getting back to my race day performance, yes, one could conclude, that I was 'soft' pulling out from the UTMB this year, as after all on the 'surface' it appears that the only problem was that my race experience was different to what I had expected.  I wasn't injured, or I wasn't ill, as I was reminded by one reader: "You couldnt dictate, you were not in the area of the race you thought you would be, athletes you expected to beat were doing much better than you, and your predicted position from an elite start was not going to happen,  you pulled out WHY, were you injured, or could you not deal with a lowly finishing position,"  Hopefully above I have been able to clarify what the problem was for me.  I guess it gets down to having too much faith/belief in the inseparable link between the mind and the body, in that they act as one.  To me, this faith, this belief, is what 'makes me' the ultra trail runner I am.  And yes, it can result in things not going right all of the time, but it also does appear that two of the very best ultra trail runners in the world, seemed to have a similar problem as mine.  Maybe it could be described as being a bit soft in the head, or too arrogant to accept a lowly finishing position, but I prefer Nick Clark's description: "I had lost the mental fortitude to keep my legs from seizing up."  Yes, the mind can create amazingly fantastic experiences, but it can also create amazingly difficult experiences!  As Nick highlights, it is the mind that actually controls whether your legs seize up or not.  And usually when one is in the right state of mind, the legs just don't seize up, the mountains just don't seem steep. the running just feels totally easy, and everything just cruises along, within the flow, within the rhythm, within the joy of running.  Unfortunately UTMB 2011, for me, and for others was just not one of those days!

Well!  I thought tonight's post was going to be a quick short post, offering a quick simple response to reader's comments.  Oh well, I do feel better, for hopefully clarifying my situation.  Please excuse me!

Back to the comments.  Hi Johny, I don't know what your performances are when it comes to running, race performance is definitely not a criteria to determine whether people's comments are worthy, or are from a 'fraud'.  I welcome all reader's comments, as I know I learn so much from others, from runners of all abilities.  That is one aspect of the ultra running community that I really appreciate.  The willingness of others to share their experiences in the hope that others can gain from them.

But getting back to your comment regarding race expectations.  I see race expectations as being crucial to performing well within ultra trail running.  During the preparation stage, it is essential that you have developed clear, and confident (and realistic) expectations of what you will encounter during the event, but more importantly how you will positively respond to the different situations within the event, which will then result in a successful performance.  But the key thing to remember, and what I forgot to adhere to at UTMB, is that the focus on the expectations ONLY occurs during the preparation phase.  Come race day, the self expectation should be now well ingrained within your self-conscious, so you don't need to actually think about them.  You don't need to consider them at all.  For come race day, the key is to simply enjoy the journey, to be 'within the present moment', to simply enjoy the running, and the underlying self expectations, now at a subconscious level, they will simply 'do the business' if you just allow it to happen, without forcing it!.  I wish I had reminded myself of the above paragraph, on the Friday night, 3 weeks ago.  But, as I mentioned in last weeks post; "Everything happens for a reason", and maybe one of the key things I will learn from this year's UTMB is that the above paragraph is so important in dictating the likelihood of having a successful performance.

This moves on very nicely to the comment left my Tom (Living on the Trail).  I totally agree, absolutely one hundred percent with the comment that Tom as left.  In fact I like it so much, I think I will adopt his take home message in future blog posts:
"Maybe we can forget to trust and not separate training from the joy of racing.

Training = build the physical off the mental
Race Day = Trust and enjoy"
I already knew this message that he has left.  It has been my philosophy for the last three years of trail racing, However, it does really help when someone recognises what the issue is and spells it out so clearly.  Thanks Tom for your input.  I will remind myself come future races, "Trust and enjoy", as simple as that!

Now Andy, firstly, what's this you stating that you "don't buy into all of my ideas"!  Just joking!  It's nice to know that you have bought into some of them.  And again, I am in total agreement with what you have written.  Yes, one does have to always remember why we run trail ultras; because they are enjoyable.  Not just enjoyable afterwards, but during the actual journey!  For many, many years I focused too much on the destination.  I was focused on the finishing time, setting a new PB for the marathon, or half marathon,  Finishing in a certain position.  The enjoyment would come afterwards, from the reflecting upon the good result.  Well having this approach to my running for so many years, without knowing at the time, really restricted my running.  It prevented me from running successfully, as there just wasn't the actual joy from the running.  The joy was all dependent upon the result.  For me, for my running to be successful, I have to experience the joy of running, WHILE I AM RUNNING!

Now that doesn't mean that running can't get challenging, get tough.  In many ways, dealing with the challenges, overcoming the toughness, the difficult 'blips' in races can be extremely satisfying, and extremely enjoyable at that moment in time.  But then there are situations, like I experienced this year at UTMB where due to the state my mind was in, there was not any enjoyment.  And, yes as Andy points out, one can endure this in races, if there are only a few hours to go, however, when faced with many, many hours of un-enjoyment, the question whether to continue does arise.  Fortunately for me, I don't recall this question being asked of me very often during the last 30 years.  With the last time, when the question was answered in a yes, time to pull out, being 26 years ago, after capsizing for a second time, and being extremely wet and cold, and hence definitely not enjoying the present moment, way back in the 1985 Rimutaka Triathlon.  So yes, I am fortunate that I experience the joy of running whilst running, nearly all of the time!

Hi, Graeme.  Congratulations on completing this year's UTMB.  I am so pleased for you in that your "Dreams Came True".  Can I strongly recommend to those of you that haven't been to Graeme's "Running Dad" blog, if you want to read a thoughtful and inspirational post, then click this link.  It really sums up what ultra trail running is all about, and how the positivity that is so evident within ultra trail running can be transmitted into your own and other's lifes.  Have a read, and thanks Graeme for you comment, and your great post.

Lastly, in this much longer post than I expected, thanks Alan for your comment, and congratulations on your tremendous effort moving up from 850th place after 2 hours 1 minute into the race, to finish in 44th place overall.  You specifically ask did I have a plan B?  Well, no, I do not have a plan B, as usually for all of my races over the last three or four years, my one and only plan is to run as hard and as fast as I can, being within the moment, and enjoying the journey.  So what other plan is needed?  But you are right, I did get "caught up with the idea of feeling out of place with the elite runners".  I simply forgot my plan A, even though my signing off message from my last post prior to race day was all about enjoying the journey.  Amazing, subconsciously I was telling myself, to get my act sorted out!!!  So yes, I did probably let how other runners were performing "interfere with the ability for me to run my own race".  So thank you for your interpretations of my writings.  Sometimes, all what is needed is for someone to simply raise your awareness to what is happening, because sometimes you can be 'too close to the situation' to actually see it. With regards to running "conservatively", either fortunately, or maybe unfortunately, that goes against my philosophy.  It just doesn't work for me, as I 'live' on the excitement, the risk, of pushing myself to the limit, each and every moment!  Well that's my aim!

Time to sign off with a quote from Graeme's great post:
"You need to make your own luck and have a hand in your own future and to grab the chances that present themselves to you. Enjoy these moments when they come, savour them and embrace them and recognise the fact that you made them happen."  Graeme Reid, 2011, Running Dad: Here's to the Dreamers - God bless us all!
All the best with putting your dreams into reality,


Saturday, 10 September 2011

UTMB Race Report - Working Out What Went Wrong?!!!

Hi Again

Not sure how far I will get with this race report tonight, as I'm not really sure what the key message will be. 

(Well I didn't get that far, I guess I got around half way, (a bit like the race!), but it has now been a few days since I first started typing up this report. Maybe it will get finished tonight!)

I have given the UTMB race a wee bit of thought over the last week or so, but I find that it is not until I start typing up my blog report, uninterrupted, in the quiet of the night, that things really start to become clear.  So hopefully as I type, I will manage to identify What Went Wrong!

UTMB was my number one focus race for 2011.  Having ran it back in 2009, where it was such an amazing enjoyable experience, I had to go back, to get the same enjoyment, and to improve on my finishing time of 26 hours and 29 minutes.  So I bypassed the Lakeland 100 this year, (another great race), in order to be totally prepared for UTMB.  And come Friday morning of race day, I felt fully prepared.  I had the same sort of feeling that I had prior to the 2010 Lakeland 100, so I was expecting another positive experience.

One of the key things I work on when preparing for ultra trail races, is to spend quite some time giving thought to what I will encounter during the event.  I look in detail at information about the course, such as; how many checkpoints, the distance/likely time between them, the terrain of the course, the number of climbs, the elevation gain, likely underfoot conditions, running in daylight or at night, etc.  Although it can be useful to have recced the race route prior to race day, this is not essential, and as the UTMB course is very clearly marked there are no navigation issues.  So the reason for my expected improved finish time was more due to my improvement as an ultra trail runner over the last two years, what I had learnt over the last two years, so not really because it was the second time that I was running the event and therefore familiar with the course.

However, during my preparation in terms of considering what I would encounter during the event, I did find myself frequently remembering back to 2009, re-visualising the key things from two years ago.  The warm, sunny night, the amazing atmosphere at the start line in Chamonix, the huge crowds and the huge noise they made, not just in Chamonix, but along the course, especially at St Gervais, and at Notre Dame Gorge, the amazing scenery, the awesome snowtopped mountains, etc. 

Physically wise, training had also gone well.  Having run the 2009 UTMB on a 20 week build-up of only 34.5 miles per week average, I considered that maybe this low mileage was not sufficient in order to achieve a sub 24 hour time, which was my aim back in 2009, and was still my aim for 2011.  So over the latest two years I had gradually increased my mileage, resulting in the 20 week average prior to UTMB this year being 51.7 miles.  I increased my weekly mileage, mainly due to an underlying 'nagging' that to run a sub 24 hour at UTMB, more than 35 miles per week was needed, as I was not totally confident that 35 miles per week was sufficient, and if the confidence isn't there, then, a change is needed.  Although 51.7 miles per week was the biggest mileage average I had done for over 25 years, I felt comfortable with the amount, as the increase had been gradual over the last two years.  As I mentioned in my lengthy post titled "Training for Ultras - What's It All About?" probably the key aspect of the physical training is that it develops your self expectation of what you belief you are capable of achieving.  So, leading up to the race, it felt like all of the boxes were ticked!

So where did it all go wrong???  As with all of my blog posts, they are firstly for my benefit, a chance to clarify my thoughts, to learn from my racing and training, and secondly they are about sharing this reflecting process with others via the blog, to possibly enable other runners to learn and benefit from what I have learnt.  So I hope that readers of my blog will not feel as though my analysis of what went wrong is all about me making excuses for a poor DNF performance, or to blame anyone for my DNF.  Therefore before I progress with this race report, I just want to clarify my position on the UTMB organisation as I have seen that within some other runner's blogs there has been some criticism.  Based on what the UTMB organisers had to deal with, the variable weather, the absolutely huge numbers of runners, I think they were just amazing, the way they were able to adapt start times, race routes etc. to take into account the extreme weather conditions. My aim of my race reflection within this post is about trying to understand why I just did not perform, and to ensure that it doesn't happen again!  As I know one thing for sure, for me, pulling out of a race was definitely one very un-enjoyable, demotivating, confidence crushing thing to do, and something I hope to learn from, to ensure that it will be another 26 years before it happens again!  Hopefully I will not get too negative during this post, as after all it is only a race, and looking back of the last few years I have had such an amazing journey!

Back to race day, Friday morning.  I had arrived out in France on the Monday, and was staying at the 31 kilometre mark, at the village of Les Contamines.  I was involved with the Alpine-Oasis running camp, which was being led by Andy Mouncey (2nd place finisher at 2010 and 2011 Lakeland 100).  There was a really positive buzz within the camp, which further raised my expectations of a positive performance come race day.  During the week, there are actually four races.  The PTL had started on the Monday night, consisting of 302km.  The TDS (112km) had started on the Thursday morning, and the CCC (98km) was starting on the Friday morning.  We had watched the leaders of the TDS pass through Les Contamines on the Thursday night, and the first thing I did upon waking on Friday morning was to wander down to the checkpoint in the centre of the village and watch the last few TDS runners pass through.  This was the first I heard of the delayed start to the UTMB.  Although it was another beautiful blue sky, and sunshine, apparently snow and heavy rain were forecast, so the start was delayed 5 hours until 11:30pm.
I didn't really give this 5 hour delay much thought.  There was nothing I could do about it, so not worth getting upset about it.  I readjusted my likely arrival times at each of the 24 timing checkpoints, and I recall being a little disappointed that the delayed start would now mean that I would be finishing in the dark.  Back in 2009 I ran the last 20 minutes in the dark, as it tends to get dark at around 8:40pm.  As I was planning on a sub 24 hour finish this year, so my planned daytime 6:29pm finish, was now likely to be 10:29pm.  The now expected 10:29pm finish, and not 11:29pm finish, was due to the last section of the course being changed to avoid the last, and probably the toughest, climb.  So likely to result in the race course being an hour quicker.  Looking back now, I should have really given more thought and focus to what this five hour delay would mean to my expectations of what I would encounter during the race, but at the time I didn't!  One thing I did notice as a result of the delayed start was that I didn't know what to do with myself!  There was just a rather negative feeling of just waiting, wanting it to be 9pm, when we would head into Chamonix, and finally get ready for my key race of the year.
Back in 2009, I had my family, i.e. my wife Frances, and our two boys Robert and Chris, out in France supporting me, in addition to a Kiwi mate, Kim, who had travelled from Austria, where he now lives, to cheer me on.  This year the family stayed at home in the UK, but Kim was again going to cheer me on, especially during the night in Courmayeur, where I found it really beneficial seeing a familiar face, and having a brief chat with him at around 5am in the morning back in 2009.  So come 9pm, I headed to Chamonix, where I first dropped off my bag with spare clothing, shoes, food etc. which is taken to Courmayeur, and then headed to a bar close to the start line to get out of the heavy rain.  By this time it is a little after 10pm so still around 90 minutes to the start.  Although I was sitting with Kim and the runners from the Alpine-Oasis running camp, I found that I wasn't really 'buzzing', and therefore not that talkative.  In fact I found that I was comparing this year to two years ago, in terms of how two years ago it was a warm, sunny evening, with the streets absolutely packed with a real excitement in the air.  Tonight, it was not the same 'buzz', just a feeling of waiting for the start! 

As we waited, Kim, who I have known for nearly 30 years from when we both ran for Hutt Valley Harriers back in the eighties, and I chatted a bit about the UTMB race and my racing this year and in the past.  We spoke about my good performance at the IAU Worlds in Ireland, being the first GB finisher, which naturally led us to speculate about what place I would finish and what GB finisher I would be tonight at UTMB. So I found myself starting to think of the destination, i.e. how good it would be to finish in 'so and so' position, instead of concentrating on the journey, i.e. the actual process of running through the night, amongst the amazing scenery, the different climbs and checkpoints etc.  Although it is useful to have race goals, the goals can only really be time goals as you can not determine who turns up and how they run.  I had spent some time working out likely times at each checkpoint, but during the actual ultra trail race I try not to focus on these, the checkpoint times are for the preparation stage only, rather than getting too 'hung up' over whether a few minutes fast or down on schedule.  But here I was now just focusing on the finish, thinking about my finish place and time, rather than looking forward to the actual running of the race.

As I had been given an elite race number, I did not need to worry about going to the start line early in order to get a good starting position as the elite runners have a separate roped off area at the front of the crowds.  I therefore waited until around 20 minutes before the start to head to this roped off area.  Just prior to heading to the start line, I was in two minds on whether to put on an extra layer, or whether to put it in my back pack, just in case it got really cold up at 2500 metres.  I didn't want to carry the extra weight all the way to Courmayeur if I didn't need it, but then I didn't want to get too cold.  In the end I decided I didn't need it, but the indecision did 'play a bit' on my mind!

Finally I am off to the start line, however, I couldn't find where to show my elite number in order to gain access to the front of the runners.  I therefore had to squeeze my way through the crowds from the side and then climb over the barriers to access the elite area.  Although something like this may seem rather petty, reflecting back now it did have an impact.  It was a bit like when I entered the Elite BBQ party on the Tuesday night, a feeling of not belonging here!!!  So here I am, 15 minutes to start time and it is pouring down.  I am standing next to Liz Hawker (yellow jacket), and see that she has her number on the outside of her jacket.  Still having this feeling that I am an 'imposter' who has climbed over the barriers, I unzip my jacket to display my elite number, as if to prove that I belong here.  Thinking back now, it just shows that my mind was not in a 'good space'.  Take a look at the photo below, does this look like someone who is absolutely buzzing, really enjoying the current moment, excited by the prospect of running the most amazing ultra trail race in the whole World???  I think not!

While standing in the rain, waiting for the start, I knew I wasn't feeling right, so I tried to relax and simply enjoy the moment.  I had a brief exchange of expressions with Liz Hawker, a brief chat with a chap from Hungary (Oliver in orange with head torch behind Liz) who I had met at the BBQ, and then just before the start, I noticed Jez standing nearby, so I wished him luck, and then we were off!  My race plan was too start at a solid pace.  Obviously not 'As fast as you can, while you can' as it is a 24 hour race, but the intention was to be near the front as long as the pace wasn't too quick. 

Below are two links to videos of the start on YouTube where I am visible near the front, wearing a bright yellow Montane jacket. I am visible at 2mins 36ses into the video. 

Also   I am visible at 48 secs into the video, and around 100 metres after the start, shown below.

A few runners zoom off for the first few hundred metres, but on the whole it felt pretty 'cruisey', probably around 6min 40 sec mile pace, although hard to really gauge it due to being dark and extremely wet!  Interestingly initially Killian Jornet, two times winner and strong favourite for the race was nowhere to be seen.  He then comes pretty well sprinting past, gains a lead of around 60 metres, nobody followed him, and then started jogging until the lead group re-caught him.  It was pretty clear immediately then that everyone was pretty well running for second.  The lead group pretty well followed his move.  When he slowed down, the group slowed down.  Likewise when he sped up.  After around a mile and a half on roads, we join a trail that runs alongside the river.  The second video clip show the leaders at the start of this track.  I can be clearly seen as the third runner, as I am the only runner carrying a hand torch as well as my head torch.  At this point of the race I am feeling fine, happy to be near the front without that much effort.  The track undulates a wee bit before we enter the first drink station at Les Houches at the 7.9km mark, so without realising it a small group of around eight runners, including myself has separated slightly from the rest of the field.
Shortly after the drink station we start the first of now only nine climbs, around 760 vertical metres.  My plan was to slowly let runners overtake me going up this first climb, before finding my natural position in the field, at a slightly raised intensity, which I would then hold onto for the remainder of the climb, down into the first town of St Gervais, and then along the valley through Les Contamines, before climb number two, where I would then settle down to a 'proper' pace for a 24 hour race.
As I began the climb I noticed that runners were passing me at quite a rate.  I therefore upped the intensity a bit to try to reduce the rate at which they passed me, so I was probably working a little bit harder than I had planned to.  What was also different to what I had visualised was that it was dark and very wet!  Whilst running steadily up the first climb that lasted about 50 - 55 minutes I seemed to keep on thinking back to two years ago, a beautiful balmy night, with amazing views of the surround mountains, rather than focus on the present moment.  Tonight, it was pitch black, not only could I not see any of the surrounding mountains, I also found that I lost contact quite easily with the runners going past me.  Whereas if it was daylight, they would slowly move away from me, but still be in visual contact.  Tonight they were getting out of visual contact quite quickly due to the dark, which reflecting back now, made me feel as if I was going significantly slower than them, although in reality I probably wasn't.  In addition, I couldn't get a feeling from the runners going past.  I couldn't see their faces, sense their expressions, identify just how hard they were working.  So all I had was a feeling that I was going backwards, and everyone else was simply cruising!
As I mentioned earlier, this post is not about trying to make excuses, but about understanding what went wrong.  Yes, it could be concluded that I was foolish starting out too fast, and going backwards was what I deserved for this stupid start fast.  However, I have used a quick start many times before in ultra races, with the IAU Worlds at Connemara, and the Lakeland 100 in 2010, being two extremes where I went ridiculously fast!  However, on both of these occasions I was rewarded with a really positive buzz.  I was leading at the Lakeland 100, and I was well up near the front, and the leading UK runner at the Worlds.  But tonight, in the wet and dark of the UTMB, I couldn't even see how far behind from the front I was, what position I was in, and was unable to recognise who had overtaken me.  Totally, totally different to the Worlds in Connemara, where I slowly drifted down through the field going up Diamond Hill before settling into a steady position, and probably more significant, totally different to my extensive UTMB race preparation/visualisation I had carried out!
The first climb varies in gradient, so it is a mixture of running and 'power hiking'.  One key feature I remembered from UTMB 2009 was just how hard all of the runners attack the first climb.  For all of the other nine climbs, for the same percentage gradient, I doubt any of the runners, apart form maybe the very front would be running.  But for the first climb, for the position I am running at within the field, there is substantially loads more running than walking.  I had prepared for quite a high intensity up the first climb, so physically all was going to plan, but in terms of my mental state, so far this wasn't quite going to plan, just like on the start line, I was not experiencing the usual level of excitement/joy.
As the climb progresses, although not able to recognise any faces, I'm not sure how far up the climb, but I do notice Liz Hawker go past me.  Back in 2009 Liz finished not too far ahead of me in 18th place, compared to my 22nd.  So with a planned improvement in my finishing time for 2011, I was expecting to finish ahead of her.  As she ran past I attempted to stay with her, but there is a limit to just how much one should go 'out beyond the comfort zone' as after all it is a 24 hour race, so I simply had to let her run past, and due to the dark she was pretty well immediately out of sight, which further subtracted from my already less than usual level of positivity!
I guess we must have been around seven/eighths of the way up the climb, as I slowed slightly to consume my second gel of the night, when I hear a friendly hello from Jez Bragg.  Knowing that Jez usually tends to start rather conservatively I was expecting to be ahead of him during the first stages, but I had expected that it would not be until after St Gervais (21km), or even after Les Contamines (31km) before we would be running together.  So seeing him so early on was further disappointment!
Having just re-read the above few paragraph, again it could be concluded that all of my less than positive experiences I have outlined are simply due to me having unrealistic expectations of my ability, and simply starting too fast beyond what I am capable of!   But as I highlighted above, I had felt that my preparation, both mentally and physically had gone really well, including my last two races, so there was some substance, some evidence for expecting a high performance.  Possibly, maybe my expectations may have been too high, but I have learnt over 30+ years of endurance running that one's performances are largely set by their expectations.  For 30 years I limited my performances due to my rather limited self expectations.  Over the last three or so years, I have raised my expectations, and I believe not un-realistically.  If you had asked me four years ago "Would I be running for Great Britain at World Championships at the age of 48, beating guys that can run 29 minutes for 10km and 50 minutes for 10 miles?"  I would have 100 percent told you, don't be ridiculous, totally not possible based on my previous 30 years of running.  But then, what happened??  Well it happened!!!  How?  Simply due to heightened self expectations, as simple as that!!!  But the number one thing that has also accompanied the heightened self expectations over the last three years, has been the positivity, the excitement, the joy, simply the 'buzz' of running the best I had ever ran.  But here tonight, up this first climb, I just wasn't experiencing that 'buzz', so I was finding it difficult to run to my self expectation!
The results later show that I am the 31st runner to reach the top of the climb at Le Delevret in a time of 1:25:30, although I had no idea at the time due to the darkness of what position I was in.  Although, I was aiming for a 23:59 finish, I speculated that this finsih time would be around the 15th place for 2011.  Being quite a bit lower down the field than the seventh the same time would have been in 2009, due to the improved quality of the field.  (It later turns out that 23:59 would have been eighth place this year, but this is mainly a result of the huge numbers of runners of all abilities, including many of the top runners, not getting to the finish this year!)  Anyway, back to the race.  At the top of the climb, I am only 23 seconds behind Jez, and fortunately I can still visually see him.  (As a side note, the results also show that Liz was the 15th runner to the top in 1:21:01, so during the climb I had lost four and a half minutes to her.  Considering I wasn't really taking it easy up the climb, this level of performance by Liz, just shows what an absolutely amazing athlete she is.  It would be great to chat to her about how high her intensity is up this first climb.)
As we begin a rather lengthy and at times slippery descent down to the French village of St Gervais, it only takes a few minutes to gain the 23 seconds back up to Jez.  Now if I was my usual self I typically would have gone straight past Jez, as I have found that my descending is far superior to his.  However, tonight as I was still feeling rather negative about how hard I had to work up the first climb, largely due to the darkness making it feel like runners were simply 'leaving me for dead', I decided that I would use this opportunity to simply cruise behind Jez, and take it easy, to 'recover' from my perceived over exertion so far during the race.  So I simply do that, I switch out of 'race mode', and go into 'follow mode'.  Although we aren't actually going at too slow a pace and manage to overtake a few runners, so enter the next feed station at 21km together in 2:04:43 in 24th and 25th place.  Liz had passed through in 16th place in 2:00:59, so I had actually gained 45 seconds up on Liz during the descent.  Maybe if I had known this on the night, it would have given me a real boost, as believe it or not, although I had entered the checkpoint alongside Britain's top ultra runner, I was not thinking that I was performing well.  I didn't know what place I was in.  I didn't know that I had just gained time on runners ahead.  At that moment in time, it felt like I had 'lost' time by simply following Jez.  The crowds at St Gervais, were also absolutely nothing like what they were compared to 2009.  Which as you would expect, being 1:30am in the morning, and being rather wet and cold, there just wasn't the same street carnival atmosphere from 2009!

  At the feed station at St Gervais

Re-reading what I have just written, it surprises me that there is such a strong focus on my race performance, my position relative to others, relative to Jez, etc.  Usually during ultra trail races, I do not have this race position focus.  The focus usually is on 'the present moment', on the surrounding environment, on the actual enjoyment at that moment in time.  And the final race position just seems to 'look after itself'.  So it is surprising that it was so different for this race.  Reflecting back now, I think that it was maybe because at that present moment, it wasn't that enjoyable.  It was dark, wet, cold, no scenery.  I know this sounds a bit 'pitiful', as if I am only a warm sunny daytime runner.  As my mate Kim pointed out to me following the race; Killian Jornet didn't find the darkness, rain and cold a problem!  And that is totally true.  However, in the past I have never found rain. cold, night time to be a problem.  The Hardmoors 55 back in March 2010 is a prime example.  For those runners that ran that day, you will recall that not very often would one find tougher, wetter, colder conditions.  I didn't get negative then, so what was so different at UTMB 2011?

I think maybe the key problem is that I had run the UTMB in 2009, in fantastic conditions.  So although in my preparation I was telling/convincing myself that the weather could be bad, especially after the conditions of 2010.  The memories of 2009 seemed to override the messages I was trying to tell myself.  The actual visual memory from 2009 was dominating my visualisation.  Whereas for races that you haven't competed in before, such as Hardmoors 55, there isn't the same clear memories to override the preparations of what you could possible encounter during the event.  And the delayed start by 5 hours, altering the first climb and the St Gervais experience, further resulted in the actual race experience being quite different to what I had prepared for.  All of these different experiences, all within the first two hours of the race, just made the actual race experience that much more demanding, and seems to have contributed quite significantly to creating a negative response.
I leave St Gervais, running at a steady pace, ready to up it a bit after my perception of 'taking it easy' on the descent.  Jez and another runner are following me, and I am beginning to think, okay, lets get this race 'back on track'.  There is a small bit of road, before we rejoin a single track that mainly follows the river, but with the occasional steep excursion thrown in.  I guess I lead Jez and the other runner for around ten minutes, and then find that I am not feeling that comfortable, so decide to run in behind.  I probably run behind the two of them for probably another ten - fifteen minutes before I find the pace just too quick, bearing in mind it is a 24 hour event.  I had hoped to maintain a slightly higher intensity right through to the start of the second climb, at Notre Dame Gorge at the 35km mark, so having to ease off, and let Jez go, so early on, was disappointing.  Again, really surprising this obsessive focus on race position, rather than the actual journey, the actual enjoyment of running at that moment in time.
So two and half hours into the race, I am running totally alone.  It feels like I am running slower that I would expect at this stage of the race, so there is an overriding feeling of disappointment.  Shortly before we reach the checkpoint at Les Contamines (31km) I am running over ground that I had run over earlier in the week.  There is a short climb up from the river up to the road at the entrance to the village, and I get a double whammy of negativity!  Not only am I walking up this short climb, which I jogged up earlier in the week absolutely cruising, I am also overtaken, by a group of around six runners.  Straight past me as I walk up this pathetic, hardly steep at all, short climb.
I enter the checkpoint at Les Contamines, and am greeted by some huge support form the Alpine-Oasis runners.  This is a real boost, exactly what I need at this moment in time.  I had mentioned to the group that I would be at the checkpoint at 2:40am, and the time is 2:39am, so I am bang on schedule, another pleasing boost.  But for some reason, I choose to ignore these two sources of positivity, and tend to focus more on the negative feeling I had immediately prior to Les Contamines, absolutely 'creeping' up the small climb, and being overtaken by the group of six runners.  The results show that my time at Les Contamines was 3:10:51 (the race started at 11:29), now in 33rd place.  Jez had passed through 3 minutes 21 seconds earlier, although I didn't know that at the time, so I had lost a little over three minutes to Jez in the 40 minutes or so since he left me. 
The next section of the race, is probably where the biggest source of negativity arose.  It was a four kilometre, pretty well flat section up to the start of the second climb at Notre Dame Gorge.  I had run this section twice during the week, with once being really cruisey with the Alpine-Oasis running group.  Tonight, I was finding it really difficult to keep a decent pace going, and it definitely felt as if I was going quite a bit slower that the cruisey pace I had run with the running camp group, and I was meant to be currently racing!  As I approach Notre Dame Gorge, I find myself again remembering back to 2009, with a very clear recollection of the amazing atmosphere that was present two years ago.  The Gorge is an ancient Roman road, so goes straight up at quite a gradient.  Back in 2009, running up this half-mile section it was a bit like the Tour de France.  You would look ahead, and the path was totally blocked with screaming spectators, and then they would simply part as you approached.  Probably, the most amazing memory for me of the 2009 race.  And yes as you have gathered, again tonight, another disappointment, nothing like 2009!
Again reading what I have typed, it makes me sound like a rather 'wimpish' runner, that 'packs a sad' just because his visualisations before the race don't match up with the reality of the actual race in that it was dark when it should have been light, or that it was wet and cold, or simply because there is not the same spectator support.  Yes, I know it seems pretty feeble, but having reflected quite a bit over how I felt during this year's race over the last two weeks, what I have typed above, is exactly how I was feeling at the time.  For the last three years of running ultra trail races, I have pretty well been on a non-stop high.  Apart from the occasional going off course, everything has pretty well gone to plan, and I have performed exceptionally well, especially in relation to my previous 30 years of running.  But I have always known that I am an 'occasion' runner.  I run on excitement, I perform due to enjoyment.  If I am happy and enjoying the running, I then perform, that then makes be happier, more positive, which then leads to better performances, more happiness etc.  It has been a continuous upward spiral.
I think I have made it reasonably clear within my report so far, that during this year's UTMB, not exactly sure what started the downward direction, probably from te moment the race start was delayed, but I was definitely experiencing a downward spiral, that although I was aware of it happening, I was unable to break out of it!  I therefore struggled up the first climb to La Balme, dropping now down to 40th place at 4:22:26, and then at the top of the second climb at Refuge Croix du Bonholme (45km) I had been overtaken by more runners so now in 52nd place in 5:41:03.  At the top there is loads of snow about, however, it is a clear sky as the rain had stopped shortly before Les Contamines.  Still pretty chilly though, as there is quite a strong breeze.
It is good to get out of the wind and to make a rapid descent down to the next feed station at Les Champieux (50km).  I realise that the coldness has probably increased my carbohydrate consumption so I decide that a more lengthy stop is required in order to take on plenty of fuel, and to warm up fully.  By this time, I have become disinterested in how many runners overtake me, and just hope that I can get my race 'back into the positive' after the checkpoint.
I head off, still in the dark at a pretty cautious pace.  There is some initial gentle climbs along road, and then four wheel drive track before starting extensive zig -zags up to Col De La Seigne, around 1000 vertical metres higher than the feed station.  I am holding my own amongst the runners around me, and for probably the first time in the race since the very first few miles, I am feeling positive again.  I am thinking, great, back to my usual self.  This coincides with it getting light, so it is a nice surprise to be able to recognise the terrain that I had run over in the dark two years earlier. 
But what happens over the next section, is hard to describe.  Whether it was failing to take on enough food during this long climb up to 2516 metres. or whether it was getting cold again with the wind and the drop in temperature at the high altitude, or whether it was that I was too ready to accept that the whole race would be a negative experience, as the first few hours had been, I just do not know. During around the last half hour of the climb I slow significantly, no longer holding my own with the surrounding runners/  I only lose a few places, but begin to feel really weak in the head.  I get over the top, results show now in 59th place, and start heading down to the next feed station at Lac Combal.  The further down I go, the worse I feel.  There is a combination of weakness in the head, a strong sense of tiredness, whilst at the same time a weakness in the legs.  It feels like my legs are getting a real battering from the descent.  Then to top it all off, I start focusing on this pounding my legs are getting, and giving this attention magnifies immensely the negative experience.  So I am beginning to 'suffer' from all directions.
Now, during my last few years of racing I have found that I have hardly ever 'suffered' during a race.  I have had one or two short 'blips', which I have usually got through, but I would say the remainder of the time I have not 'suffered'.  I don not use the term suffering, I do not associate with that term, or that experience.  At times the race gets challenging, but that is what I enjoy about racing, responding to the challenge.  So here I was coming down this descent, after not even nine hours of running, and feeling as though I was suffering.  A new experience, far, far away from the positivity and joy I usually experience.  As I get nearer to the checkpoint, the situation somehow gets so 'bad' that I am reduced to walking, on a reasonably gentle downward gradient.  I just can't believe it, I just can't understand what has happened, why I am feeling so negative!  I eventually walk into the feed point, and I know at that moment in time, my race is over for the day.  The disappointment is huge.  Hard to exactly remember the feeling at that moment, but I do recall that I didn't really put up much of a battle to counteract the decision that I would voluntarily pull out of a race, for the first time in 26 years, since way back in 1985.  And I have raced literally hundreds of races since then.  So pulling out was just something I did not do.  So it still surprises me now, just how easy I was to accept pulling out at that moment in time.
Just after I have come to this decision, Richie Cunningham , who I have raced on a number of occasions, enters the feed station.  At that exact moment, knowing that I wasn't going to finish, I did not want to see anyone I knew.  I pretty well just wanted to hide.  I wanted to get out of the race.  Richie senses that I am in a bit of a 'sad state' so does his best to encourage me.  Thanks Richie, for your encouragement, just a pity you hadn't caught me up 30 minutes earlier, maybe with your encouragement then, I may have got through my amazing bout of negativity, before deciding to 'call it quits'!  Richie, well done on your achievement, for 'battling' it out through to the finish.  A fantastic accomplishment finishing in 47th place.

So having accepted that my race was over, after a pretty lengthy stop at the checkpoint I started walking towards Courmayeur.  It was only 13 kilometres and one smallish climb (around 450 vertical metres) away, and where I can be picked up by my mate Kim.  I get into a slow jog, but the moment I start the climb, it is back to quite a slow walk.  Going up the climb of Arete Mont-Favre runners pass me, but surprisingly not that many.  I pass the checkpoint at the top, the results show now in 96th place. 

There is then a very long descent to Courmayeur, losing over 1200 vertical metres of elevation.  The first section is only gently downhill so not too bad.  The last 4 kilometres after Col Chercrouit, consists of very steep zig-zags.  As before during the descent to Lac Combal, I seem to be obsessed by the discomfort within my legs.  Every step down feels very uncomfortable, again I am reduced to walking down the hill.  At least this hill was steep.  Having earlier decided that I would pull out at Cournmayeur I am running within an expressionless state.  I feel really 'down', and even though it is now warm, the sun is out, and there is fantastic mountains surrounding me, I do not actual notice any of this.  All I am thinking is that I want this unpleasant experience to be over.  If ever a run could be un-enjoyable, the 13km, only 8 miles, from Lac Combal to Courmayeur, that took me 2 hours and 37 minutes to complete, would have to be right up there amongst my most unenjoyable runs ever.  Fortunately, during this time there was such a feeling of emptiness, that I don't have any strong memories of this section at all!

So that is it!  I get to the large sports centre at Courmayeur, retrieve my drop bag, run through the centre and inform the marshals that I am not continuing.  There is just a feeling of emptiness.  No tears, no sadness, no anger, just emptiness, and I guess also a bit of bewilderment.  How could it all go so wrong?  It feels a bit like I haven't actually experienced the race at all, as if I was off somewhere else, somewhere distant, not actually present during the last eleven hours, especially the last three hours!

Well, having typed the above, I have a feeling of relief.  For the last two weeks I have being thinking about the race.  Should I have put on more clothing?  Should I have started off slower?  Should I have spent longer at the feed stations taking on more fuel, more positive energy?  Should I have been less 'hung up' about my finishing time and position?  Should I have stopped on the long climb to Col De Seigne and extensively fuelled up there rather than waiting until the next feed station, by which time, the end was near? Should I have not given in and accepted so easily pulling out?  Should I have simply had an hour off at Courmayeur and then continued, as if a new race, a new day?  Yes, many questions that have been needing answering.  Have I answered them, no not entirely, but I am now more comfortable with what happened, and am comfortable in the philosophy that I always possess "Everything happens for a reason!"  Yes, I now have this feeling of relief.  I can now move on, and return back to the pleasure I get from running, just simply running. 

Just to conclude, the actual race was very disappointing, however, the rest of my time in France was great.  The build up in Les Contamines prior to the race was excellent, and again, thanks to everyone involved in the Alpine-Oasis running camp.  Thanks for the positive energy.  Yes, the actual race, was quite an unenjoyable experience, but if ultra trail running wasn't a challenge, it wouldn't be worth doing!

As I finish this race report, it is nearly exactly two weeks since the start of the race in Chamonix.  Although, the above race report probably comes across as a bit 'over the top', and also over dramatised, as after all it is only a running race.  The fact that my reflections have come across as being as dramatic/even as sensationalised as they read, in terms of this lack of enjoyment, the suffering, the emptiness, the disappointment.  This is because I do tend to spend quite a bit of my time giving thought to running.  Running gives me immense pleasure, satisfaction, excitement.  So for the UTMB 2011 experience to then provide me with the opposite feelings, it has been quite a shock!

Looking at the results for this year's UTMB, out of the 2360 starters, 1227 of them, over 52% of the starters had the same result, a DNF!  This percentage of non finishers was significantly higher that the 40% dropout rate from 2009 and 2008.  Maybe the delayed start and the wet and cold conditions affected many other runners to the same extent as it affected me.  The spread of DNFs was throughout the field, including many of the elite including Jez, Scott Jurek, Krissy Moehl (2009 womens winner), Geoff Roes (2010 Western States winner) and Nick Clark (a Brit that lives in USA).  There were also many other British running friends who like me, DNFed, including Andy Mouncey, Nick Ham and Andy Cole.  No doubt, each and every person that dropped out has their own unique experience of why the 2011 UTMB did not result in a successful completion.  Hopefully we will all have learnt something from the experience, to take us forward as we continue to gain tremendous enjoyment and satisfaction from ultra trail running for many years to come.  One thing I know for sure, I have not finished with UTMB, I will return!

To sign off from this rather lengthy, but important and necessary race report post, Nick Clark's summary of what went wrong for him feels quite familiar: 
"As anyone who has raced an endurance event knows, especially one as demanding as a mountain 100-miler, there is a very strong connection between the performance of the mind and the performance of the body. A huge part of being successful in completing these events is an understanding of what lies in front of you. Your mind prepares your body, and your body delivers an output that is sustainable for the mileage and elevation change that remains. If the mind is checked out, the body follows. ... When I finally did make it up to the pass .... I had lost the mental fortitude to keep my legs from seizing up and the decision to drop was an easy one." Nick Clark, 2011.
To everyone that ran UTMB and the associated races, may you all have gained from your experience, no matter what the result. 

If you have managed to persevere, and get to the finish of this blog post, well done.  Hopefully, getting to the end of this post has been as worthwhile for you,as it has been for me!