Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Racing Ultras: Runfurther.com - The UK Ultra-Running Championships

Hi,

Tonight’s post was going to simply be a brief mention about the upcoming final race of the 2012 Runfurther UK Ultra-Running Championships.  However, I got a wee bit distracted when trying to find out when the Runfurther series first started.  So tonight’s post is going to be a combination of some ‘Mutterings’, but first some ‘Memories’.  (Please accept my apologies in that my memories of the Runfurther  UK Ultra-Running Championships focus on the men’s racing and ignores the women’s racing, but that is because I only experienced the men’s racing, so therefore unable to comment on what happened during the women’s race.  I have however managed to obtain both the men’s and women’s overall series race results for most years.) 

It was back in January 2007, when the idea of moving up to ultra distance trail races first appeared.  It was while on holiday in New Zealand at the time, when just by chance I ended up running over 40 miles for a training run.  Go to my "The Start of My Ultra Trail Running Journey" blog post for  further details.  Although the idea of running ultra trail races was initiated at the start of 2007, it wasn’t until the start of 2008 that I finally began to turn the idea into reality!  Having got back into more frequent racing in 2007 (I raced seven times), at the start of 2008 I was mapping out my races for the year.  Two colleagues at my work (Chelsea School, University of Brighton) were talking about running the inaugural mainly off-road London to Brighton trail race consisting of 56 miles.  This race appealed as a great introduction to ultra trail racing, being the classic journey, i.e. London to Brighton.  At the back of my mind, from my both my marathon and Ironman experiences, in that the longer the duration of a race, the better I performed,  I managed to convince myself that perhaps I could do reasonably well in this race, especially with it being a new event, so maybe not attracting any of the experienced ultra elite runners.  Yes, you can see I still needed to satisfy my competitive desire to be able to consider myself as a ‘good runner’!  Go to my "Marathon Number 1" blog post about my first ever marathon as a seventeen year old, for further details about my first need to classify myself as a ‘good runner’!

Remembering back, it was when searching for some ultra trail races as preparation for the London to Brighton race, when I first discovered the Runfurther UK Ultra-Running Championships, although I recall that back then it was known as the Vasque UK Ultra-Running Championships.  Whilst looking around the Vasque website, my ego was given a wee boost when I saw that Matt Giles had won the first two races of the 2008 series.  Before I explain why seeing that was satisfying, I will firstly briefly explain a little bit about the series for those that don’t know much about it.  If I get anything wrong, please leave a comment and I will correct it.

The Vasque UK Ultra-Running Championships was initiated in 2006, by Mark Hartell, Karen McDonald, and I also believe Si Berry.  The series consists of 12 races each year, with there being four races in each of the following race distance categories; short, medium, long.  The winner of each race earns 1000 points, and all other finishers earn points based on the percentage of the winner’s time they are behind.  So if the race is won in 10 hours, and you finish exactly one hour behind in 11 hours, you would earn 900 points, as you are 10% slower, multiplied by 10.  So if 2 hours behind, 20% slower, so earn 800 points.  A simple, but really good formula to take into account different length races over different terrains.  The series is determined by adding up the points from the runner’s four best races, provided that there must be at least one points scoring race from each distance category.

Vasque / Runfurher UK Ultra-running Championships 2006


Men
Places unknown


Women
Places unknown









Vasque / Runfurher UK Ultra-running Championships 2007


Men



Women


1st
Allen Smalls


1st
Places unknown

2nd
Martin Beale


2nd


3rd
Place unknown


3rd



Vasque / Runfurher UK Ultra-running Championships 2008
So back to 2008 and I note that Matt Giles had earned himself 2000 points by winning the first two races of the year.  Living in East Sussex since 2002, each year I had raced the Beachy Head Marathon (formerly known as the Seven Sisters marathon) and I just so happened to win it the first four times I ran it. Then in 2006, although not making any excuses, my preparation hadn’t gone to well, having been injured for 3 or 4 months during the summer.  Back then I used to believe that race performance was all determined by one’s physical training (now I know better!)  So back in October 2006, I am on the start line of the Beachy Head marathon with rather low self expectations, and as one’s expectations largely determine one’s performance, I got severely beaten into second place, with Matt Giles winning in exactly 3 hours.  Then to ‘top things off’, I discovered that he had simply run the Beachy Head marathon as part one of the three marathon challenge (that used to be possible then before Snowdon marathon moved to a Saturday), consisting of Beachy Head on Saturday, Snowdon on Sunday and Dublin on Monday.  So seeing his name on the Vasque website one and a half years later, gave me some satisfaction in that I was beaten in my local marathon by obviously a pretty awesome endurance runner, who found running one marathon a simple stroll in the park.

While on the Vasque series website I notice that one of the series races is down near me in East Sussex, and being at the end of July, the 30 mile Downland Challenge seemed a perfect London to Brighton  preparation  ultra race.  Maybe I would get a chance to have a re-match with Matt, and this time I would be physically prepared! (Yes, start of 2008, I still didn’t understand about the integration of the body and mind!)  Come race day, it is a really hot summer’s day.  In preparation for the 56mile London to Brighton, I decided that running with a hydration pack would be a good idea, so the Downland Challenge was going to be my first race wearing my newly purchased Camelbak.  Being a total novice, and knowing no better, I filled up the Camelbak with a 6% carbohydrate solution.  What’s wrong with that, many may be thinking.  I’ll explain later in this story, which looks like it is heading to mega ultra lengths!
I guess around 150 – 200 runners gather at the start of the Downland Challenge, ready for a lap around the village field before the long steady climb past the Jack and Jill windmills, to get up to the ridge of the South Downs and join the South Downs Way.  The gun goes, and everyone just jogs off.  Usually I will blast to the front, but with this being my first ever ultra (apart from the 1992 Kepler Challenge in New Zealand, but that story is for another day), I decide that these guys know best, especially with it being part of the UK series championships.  I hold myself back as we slowly complete the lap and then I am happy as the heart rate rises as the intensity increases as we make our way up the long and steady climb.  We reach the top and I am finding the relaxed pace of this ultra lark quite enjoyable.  A bit different to trail-marathon racing, as the pace feels so much slower, and guys are actually chatting.  So I join in with the conversation, and think to myself, I guess the racing starts later on.  Below is a photo of the lead group of four at around the three mile mark.  I didn’t know at the time, but I am running with Andy Rankin (620), who will get a few mentions later in this blog post, and a chap from South Africa (708).  

 Downland Challenge 30 Miler 2008
It was good chatting to the South African guy, as around seven weeks earlier he had finished the 56 mile Comrades marathon, and I was interested to hear more about this Classic ultra race.  He mentioned that his finish time was I think around 7 hours 30 mins.  I did some quick calculations and thought that didn’t seem excessively fast.  So combined with my assessment that anyone running in football style shorts, rather that proper running shorts, obviously can’t be a decent runner, I was happy to run along in the bunch, chat away, and then plan to hopefully leave them behind when the time felt right.  Yes, I didn’t know it at the time, but the fact that I had high expectations of winning, based on obviously genuine hard fact evidence, such as what shorts they raced in, and a 56 mile road finishing time (bearing in mind I had no idea of the heat or terrain of the Comrades in South Africa), was probably one of the key factors that contributed to my win that day.  Oops, I have given away what happens, oh well.
The race progresses and we reach the first check point/drink station at the A27 crossing, after around 8 miles.  As it is already quite hot, I think it was an 11:00 am start, we must be stationary at the checkpoint for over half a minute, perhaps a minute.  I do recall thinking, should we get a move on, after all this is meant to be a race, but I wait for the more experienced ultra runners.  Anyway at the 15 mile turn around point, (the race is an out and back), it is just me running with Andy.  Then as we start to return back I significantly up the intensity, I drop Andy and pretty well work hard all the way back to the finish.  I guess it is around a third of the way back, that the sugary sweet carbohydrate drink in my Camelbak, which by now is pretty warm, due to the 30 degree heat, is now undrinkable.  So by the time I get to the A27 drink station I am dying for some water.  I take on a few cups, including a few over my head, and then make my way up the tough climb back up to the ridge along the South Downs.  Two miles later I reach the top, and again dying for some water.  The heat reflecting of the white chalk path doesn’t help.  I have loads of liquid on my back, but undrinkable.  I learn my first lesson from ultra trail racing, only put water into the Camelbak and carry the carbohydrate separate from the water.  So the last few miles to the finish are quite a struggle, I am quite pleased that my first ultra trail race is only 30 miles.  Luckily I have a significant lead, so manage to hold on to the win, ahead of a pretty fast finishing team mate from Brighton and Hove Athletic  Club, Gary Woolgar, with I think Andy Rankin finishing 4th (916 points).  I earn my 1000 points, and am really happy with my first venture into ultra-trail racing.  I even win a pair of Vasque trail shoes, a real bonus.  I conclude that I could really get into this ultra trail racing!
So that was my first experience of the UK Ultra-Running Championships.  Andy would go on to finish 2nd overall in the 2008 series.  Also racing the Downland Challenge that day was Martin Beale (900 points) who had finished the 2007 series in 2nd place, and he went on to finish in 3rd place overall in the 2008 series.  The winner of the UK Ultra-Running Championships for 2008 was one of the series creators, Mark Hartell.  The Downland Challenge was the only ultra race from the series that I raced in 2008, however, I raced and won two other ultra trail races that year, the 85 mile Ridgeway Challenge and my target race for the year, the 56 mile London to Brighton trail race.
Vasque / Runfurher UK Ultra-running Championships 2008


Men



Women


1st
Mark Hartell
3873

1st
Nicky Spinks
3147
2nd
Andy Rankin
3856

2nd
Christine Preston
3095
3rd
Martin Beale
3765

3rd
Clare Kenny
2899

Vasque / Runfurher UK Ultra-running Championships 2009
The following year, 2009, I decide to potentially target the Vasque UK Ultra-Running Championships, but this would be secondary to my target race for the year being Ultra Trail Mont Blanc (UTMB).  Yes, following my three ultra successes from 2008, with two of these with 1 hour 40mins, and 2 hour 40 min wins, all of a sudden, for the first time in my life, finally after 30 years of running, I finally considered that perhaps I was a ‘good’ runner.  So where do good ultra trail runners race?  Yes, the biggest, most prestigious ultra trail race in Europe.  Yes, UTMB, my ultra journey was on a rapid upward curve, with a new belief in my self expectations!  Little did I know what would follow with this new inner confidence.
First destination for 2009 was the 53 mile Highland Fling up in Scotland, which was one of the Vasque series races.  Running the first mile in the London to Brighton 56 mile race in October 2008 in 5 mins 57 secs (See GarminConnect data) worked well, so I head to Glasgow with a simple plan.  Blast out immediately from the gun, with another sub 6 minute mile and see how many miles it will be before Jez Bragg (UK number one ultra trail runner) or any of the other elite runners catch me.  The field for the Highland Fling was particularly strong, as not only was the race part of the UK Ultra-running Championships, but also a selection race for the UK team to the IAU World Ultra Trail Championships taking place in France later in the year.  Looking back now at my race plan, it amazes me how I had the ‘cheek’ to think that I could simply run away from and beat the best ultra trail runners in the UK.  In my UTMB 2011 race report I highlighted how harmful a downward spiral could be.  But one needs to be also aware of how beneficial an upwards spiral is.  And at the start of 2009, I was in the middle of a massive upward spiral!
Well if you don’t know what happened at the 2009 Highland Fling, I’ll let Jez Bragg describe: 
The start of the race was rather bizarre as one of the runners, Stuart Mills, went tearing off into the distance as if it was a 10km pace. Afterwards he confessed that his tactics were to try and disrupt things amongst the front runners, although no one in the chasing group I was in seemed that bothered, and like me they thought the pace would not be sustainable. As it turned out, Stuart went astray very early in the race and was never able to recover sufficiently to compete like he is capable of. This was a great shame because a runner of his ability was a potentially a great asset to the race.” Jez Bragg http://jezbragg.blogspot.co.uk/2009/04/highland-fling-race-53miles-trail.html
 Highland Fling 2009 - My rapid start - Jez wearing the white cap

Yes, I took off at a pretty quick pace.  Got a good lead, out of sight within the first mile, and then went off course shortly after, losing 28 minutes, which really affected my RPE-RFE arrow, causing it to swing massively upwards, (although I didn’t know about how negativity affects performance back then).  So I attributed my struggling during the last 10 or so miles as perhaps lack of ‘talent’, rather that realising that so many other factors, apart from physiology; such as emotions, anger, negativity can massively affect performance.   However, I was beginning to question my perceive self expectations.  Maybe I just wasn’t as good as my newly instilled confidence was telling me!  I earned a lowly 855 points for the series, finishing over an hour behind Jez, the easy winner.

 Highland Fling 2009 - Finishing - Nice to see a New Zealand flag in the background

Just three weeks later I am on the start line of the next series race, the 33 mile Marlborough Challenge.  In between the two races I had been on an Outdoor Experience camp with students down in Bude, Cornwall. My blistered big toe from the Highland Fling got severely infected, and I started the race in a poor state, still taking antibiotics.  The race commences and although I am well aware that I am not in tip-top condition, I am in urgent need to put aside my disappointing performance in the Highland Fling, to allow me to re-continue along my upward spiral.  I therefore go straight to the front, but there is a lack of self-belief, as I expect that it would be a struggle today.  And as I later discover, what you expect often eventuates.  I therefore ease off and allow two runners to catch me.  I think I recognise the runners, we get chatting, and one is Matt Giles, who beat me at the 2006 Beachy Head Marathon.  The other runner is Allen Small, who had finished third at the recent Highland Fling.  Upon discovering I am up against Matt Giles, his two out of two wins in the series from 2008 convince me, that with my less than ideal physical state today, I will be no match.  The three of us run together to just before halfway, where we join the canal path.  The pace is reasonably quick alongside the canal, but not excessively quick, however, whether due to the effects of the antibiotics, or due to a lack of high expectation, I am unable to stay with them and they quickly leave me behind.
I continue, trying to remain positive, and to enjoy the journey as the course is quite scenic.  But then around the 20 mile mark I receive a massive negativity jolt.  Yes, the perceived rubbish runner from last year’s Downland Challenge, you know the guy, the one wearing football style shorts over takes me.  Even though Andy Rankin had finished fourth up at the Highland Fling, I still didn’t really rate him due to his shorts.  I have since learnt that no matter what shorts people wear they can still be pretty awesome runners (take Killian Jornet and his long white shorts as an example!)  I eventually finish in 5th place, behind Matt and Allen who happen to finish first equal, so both earning 1000 points, (I will come back to this issue of joint first places a little bit later!)  Again my points score is rather lower than I was hoping for.  With 935 points, an improvement from Scotland, but with only 1790 points from two races, I decide that UTMB will take sole priority for the remainder of the year, and I run in no more of the series races during 2009.
The Vasque UK series during 2009 was quite unique due to the introduction of a 100 point bonus.  Yes, it was decided, I presume due to the Lakeland 100 (at 105 miles) being so much further than the other races in the series (Fellsman next longest at 60 miles), or maybe to attract entries to the race, and to help establish the Lakeland 100 as the premier UK ultra trail race (as it has since become). I not really sure of the reasons, but at the time the concept seemed reasonable, that is until the final points were tallied up for the year.

As mentioned earlier, Jez Bragg was clearly the number one UK ultra trail runner in 2009.  Not only had he won four of the series races to earn 4000 points, he had also achieved a very impressive 3rd place in the iconic Western States 100 miler in the USA.  However, due to the 100 point bonus at the Lakeland 100, the UK series champion for 2009 was Andy Rankin, with 4032 points, winning only two races, but the all important Lakeland 100.  During the Lakeland 100 Andy did actually beat Jez, who finished in 3rd place.  So I don’t want to take anything away from his great performance that day, but I along with I guess Mark, Karen, and Si from Runfurther, also felt that the 100 point bonus had had too much of an influence on the series results, so for 2010 the 100 point bonus was removed.  However, come 2010, I was not aware of this until midway through the year, with this misunderstanding over the bonus, possibly influencing the final series result for 2010!
My 2009 racing picked up following Marlborough, firstly with a close second place to Andy Rankin in the Picnic Marathon over a very hilly Box Hill course.  Yes, this guy could run very well.  Unfortunately, the Picnic marathon race in June 2009 was the last time I have seen him at a race.  I heard he got injured, but all I know is that he hasn’t raced any of the UK series races during the last three years.  A big shame, as I would love to race against him again.  I next won an absolutely amazing 57 mile race titled the Classic Cliffs, put on by Endurancelife along the Cornwall and Devon coastal trail, and finished just behind Scott Jurek and Liz Hawker in 22nd place in UTMB, and then had wins in both the Beachy Head marathon and the 30 mile Doyen of the Downs ultra.
Vasque / Runfurher UK Ultra-running Championships 2009 (100 point bonus for Lakeland 100)
Men



Women


1st
Andy Rankin
4032

1st
Rachel Lawrence
3159
2nd
Jez Bragg
4000

2nd
Nicky Spinks
3146
3rd
Allen Smalls
3951

3rd
Karen Nash
3122

Vasque / Runfurher UK Ultra-running Championships 2010
Yes, during the second half of 2009, my race performances, my self perceptions and therefore my self expectations were resulting in further progression in the upwards direction of the all important spiral. The 2010 year was therefore going to be the year!  Number one focus was the Runfurther UK Trail-running Championships.  I mapped out my four races for the year, starting with the Hardmoors 55 miler in the extreme cold of mid-March.  It was here that I met and was able to chat at length with THE John Kynaston of ultra blog fame.  Yes, John is the person you should blame for these massively long blog posts.  John was my inspiration for starting UltraStu – Millsy’s Memories and Mutterings.  Therefore you will find somewhere on UltraStu, race reports for all of my races since and including the Hardmoors 55 race report.

 Hardmoors 55 2010
Anyway, although a very tough days racing, all went to plan and I got my 1000 points.  Next stop was eight weeks later, with a return to the Marlborough Challenge series race, but this time better prepared both physically, but more importantly mentally.  I had by now begun to realise what really influences performance in ultra-trail running.  My Marlborough race report pretty well explains what happened on the day, except for one factor, which I’ll expand on. As my race report explains, at around the 25 mile mark I get a few twitches from my hamstring, so decide to ease off the pace, rather than risk injury, resulting in possibly needing to walk and thereby losing loads of points.  I therefore finish in 3rd place to Allen Smalls, who wins for the second year in a row improving on his record time. However, at the time of the Marlborough race I thought that there was still the 100 point bonus at the Lakeland 100, my number one focus race of the year.  So one of the key factors that made it more of a straight forward decision to not risk potentially losing loads of points by trying to stay with Allen, was that losing a few points at Marlborough, would be totally insignificant assuming I win the Montane Lakeland 100 and earn 1100 points.  It wasn’t until checking the Runfurther website, after the Marlborough race that I realised that this year there was no mention of the bonus.  Oh well I better make sure I get at least 1000 points from the Montane Lakeland100 then, I positively concluded!
So come the end of July, the 1000 points were achieved with a win which was overall pretty exhausting as described in my race report!  My series win ambition was back on track.  I had 2985 points from my three races.  Which just so happened to be identical points to Jon Morgan, who had the same number of points from his two wins, and a second place finish in the Lakeland 50 race to Andrew James (remember that name!).
 Montane Lakeland 100 2010

My fourth race needed for the series, was the last short race of the year, the 26(27?) mile Pumlumon Challenge in mid Wales.  This was going to be the show down, as Jon Morgan was also racing!  My TOTAL preparation was complete come race day, including a solo recce of the entire course in drizzly rain.  Yes all was set for an exciting battle to decide the 2010 Runfurther UK Trail-running Championship series.  You will have to go to my blog post race report to get the full picture of what happened.  Re-reading the report now, I still feel the report was an accurate reflection of what happened.  Out of all of my now 88 blog posts, this one post still has the greatest number of comments, so important that you read the comments that follow the report as well.
 Pumlumon Challenge 2010 - Mark Hartell dark green shirt and Jon Morgan red vest and cap
To save you a bit of time in reading the lengthy race report, I finished in 3rd place, six minutes behind joint winners (again!) Jon Morgan and Ben Abdelnoor, thereby, only earning 974 points and hence unable to overtake Jon’s point tally of 3985 points.  Jon therefore was the overall winner of the 2010 UK series. 
Vasque / Runfurher UK Ultra-running Championships 2010 No bonus points this year)

Men



Women


1st
Jon Morgan
3985

1st
Kate Bailey
3556
2nd
Stuart Mills
3961

2nd
Nicky Spinks
3400
3rd
Duncan Harris
3917

3rd
Sarah Rowell
3280

One real bonus from the 2010 Pumlumon race was having a good chat with many of the ever present Runfurther/Vasque series runners.  It was great to meet and chat with MarkHartell after the race.  Being aware of his many great trail/fell running achievements, including eleven times winner of the Fellsman, Hardrock USA winner, and Lake District 24 hour record holder to name just a few.  To have finished ahead of him was a real boost to the ego!  Meeting another ever present, Martin Beale was also a real pleasure.  His series record over the years is pretty impressive, but I can’t tell you of his achievements yet, as I haven’t commented on 2011 yet.  Probably the most ever present of all Runfurther/Vasque runners is the one and only Nick Ham.  Yes, having read about Nick, and also read his blog, it was a real pleasure to meet ‘Mr Runfurther’ himself at the Pumlumon race.
In addition to the overall series winner, based on the highest points from four races, there is a second competition that is for the person that achieves the most points from as many races as they can manage.  But possibly the most prestigious of all, is achieving the Grand Slam.  That is completing all 12 races in the single year.  Bearing in mind that on frequent occasions there are two races on consecutive weekends, achieving the grand slam is a massive achievement!  Nick has achieved this impressive ultra feat twice, and on track this year to achieve it for the third time.  In total from all of the previous six years of the series, I understand that there is still less than ten people who have achieved the 12 race grand slam within a year.
Vasque / Runfurher UK Ultra-running Championships 2011 (Separate points for women)
As much as I enjoyed racing the Runfurther UK Ultra-running Championship series in 2010, I decide that the series would not be my key focus for 2011.  The focus for this year would be a return visit to Ultra Trail Mont Blanc, plus also an attempt at getting selected for the Great Britain team to compete at the IAU World TrailChampionships that was schedule to take place in Connemara, Ireland in July,  (Note; the IAU World Champs only take place every two years).  I would compete in series races when able to, so during 2011 I competed in two series races.  The first series race was, back up in Scotland, the 53 mile Highland Fling.  As back in 2009, the field was extremely strong, with it again being a UK Athletics selection race for the World champs.  My race report goes into detail what happens, but I end up in sixth place, quite some distance behind winner Andrew James, who caused an upset by beating Jez Bragg into second place (race report).  Due to finishing nearly forty minutes behind I earned a rather low 916 points.  One real bonus, which  I would have considered impossible just a few years earlier, was that I got selected to represent GB at the World Ultra Trail Champs!  Yes, the upward spiral had taken me higher than I could have ever imagined.  Amazing what a bit of positivity and self belief can achieve!

 Highland Fling 2011 - Andrew James with white cap, Jez Bragg in white with dark glasses, me in orange

 Highland Fling 2011 - Chasing Andrew James and Jez Bragg (just visible in the distance!)

In preparation for the World champs I race and win the 35 miles Shiresand Spires series race, and get my 1000 points (race report).  The race win gives me a confidence boost leading into the World Champs, and I manage to run probably my best ultra-trail race to date  in Connemara, and finish in 15th place overall, which also happened to be the first GB finisher.  Only seven weeks later, I have my most disappointing ultra-trail experience, with a DNF at UTMB.  My race report explains in detail the effect a downward spiral can have. 

With regards to the Runfurther UK Ultra-running Championship series in 2011, Andrew James had decided to target it, and by the end of May, it looked like it had pretty well already sewn up the series, with wins at Highland Fling and Marlborough, and a 2nd place at the Brecon Beacons, (all within the space of 3 weeks!), to be on 2942 points.  Unfortunately, his enthusiasm for racing, perhaps over racing, possibly contributed to a reasonable serious injury that put him out of action for the majority of the series. 

So leading into the last race of the series, the 50 mile Round Rotherham, Andrew was still on 2942 points.   There were a number of runners in contention for the overall series win prior to the Round Rotherham, many of them on the start line for series race number 12, to try to obtain the overall series win.  Apparently upon seeing Andrew James on the start line as well, and being aware of his extremely impressive performances earlier in the year, it was just assumed that their hopes were dashed, Andrew was bound to obtain loads of points and take out the series win.  Little did they know that Andrew’s preparation had been less than ideal, which resulted in him finishing in only 8th place and only earning 897 points.  When all the calculations were complete and the tallies totalled up, unbelievably, after hours and hours of racing during the year, there was only 2 points separating first and second place.  Andrew James, although finishing 19 minutes behind the ever present Martin Beale who had finished in 4th place, Andrew obtained a total of 3839 points from his four races, compared to Martin’s 3837 points from his best four races.  The closest series finish to date!  Just to illustrate the closeness of the series win.  After over 24 hours of racing during the year, if Martin had finished the Round Rotherham race only 49 seconds quicker, he would have earnt the extra two points and won the series outright, due to having more points in his fifth race (Andrew only ran four races).  The winner of the 2011 Round Rotherham race was Ian Symington (winning time of 6:47:14), earning him 1000 points for his first time.  His name will appear again when this blog post finally reaches 2012.

Looking at the results over the years, Martin Beale must without doubt be the most consistent runner.  I don't know what happened in 2006, but since then his overall series placings have been: 2nd in 2007, 3rd in 2008, 4th in 2009, 4th in 2010, that extremely close 2nd in 2011, and is currently in 4th place in 2012.  Yes, truly deserving of a special mention.

Vasque / Runfurher UK Ultra-running Championships 2011 (Separate points for women)

Men



Women


1st
Andrew James
3839

1st
Helen Skelton
3904
2nd
Martin Beale
3837

2nd
Karen Nash
3696
3rd
Jim Rogers
3805

3rd
Rachel Hill
3673

Finally I have reached 2012.  If you wish to avoid my memories of the previous years, START READING HERE for the 2012 series showdown preview!

Vasque / Runfurher UK Ultra-running Championships 2012 after 11 races

Men



Women


1st
Ian Symington
3888

1st
Helen Skelton
3949
2nd
Stuart Walker
3822

2nd
Karen Nash
3735
3rd
Chris Davies
3763

3rd
Gerry Dewhurst
3352
4th
Martin Beale
3733

4th
Catherine Bradley
3339
Only 3 races so far


Only 3 races so far


Duncan Harris
3000


Lucy Clayton
2562

Yes, similar to 2011, the mens Runfurther UK Ultra-running Championship series is going to be decided on the final race. However, the women's championship is already sewn up.  Yes no matter what happens at the last race of the series, Helen Skelton will be the series winner for the second year in a row.  With 3949 points, this is an outstanding effort.  The minor places are still up for grabs, so still plenty of interest in the women's competition.  But before I discuss this exciting finale to the series, especially the 'cliff hanging' finish to the men's championships, I will first recap my involvement in the series this year. 

My focus race for 2012 was the Montane Lakeland 100.  Because this race now sells out in a matter of days in the preceding September or October when entries open, it is no longer part of the Runfurther series.  I presume that is the reason.  It's a bit of a shame really, as the Montane Lakeland 100 is without doubt THE ultra trail race in the UK.  So the intention was to do series races when they fitted in, but it was most unlikely that I would race four of the series races during the year.  Unfortunately, I had a stress fracture in my foot at the start of the year, and combined with going to New Zealand for a few months I therefore missed the first five races.  The winners of these races included some familiar names, i.e. Jez Bragg, Duncan Harris and Ian Symington, more about them later.  My first and only series race this year was the  Endurancelife Classic Quarter 44 mile coastal trail ultra along the Cornwall coastal path, finishing at Lands End.  This race went really well, winning by nearly an hour, and is described in detail in my race report

Following this race, I improved on my winning time from 2010 in the Montane Lakeland 100, but the standard had dramatically moved on in the last two years,so I only finished in 5th place, around three and three quarter hours behind the winner Terry Conway.  I then had the misfortune of having to DNF the three day Ring O Fire ultra race due to repeatedly being sick.  So racing this year has been mixed fortunes for me.  Although I'm hoping to finish on a really positive note at the end of October in my local Beachy Head marathon, which will be the eleventh time I have raced it.

 Endurancelife Classic Quarter 44 Mile 2012

Back to the first five races of the series with familiar names of the winners.  You may have noticed Duncan Harris's name above, as getting third overall in the 2010 series.  Yes, during 2010 Duncan emerged as a force to be reckoned with.  I understand that he is a former road cyclist, so he has a background in endurance sport.  In 2010 he obtained his first 1000 points, at the prestigious 60 mile Fellsman, beating eleven times Fellsman winner Mark Hartell into second place.  I have mentioned the significance of the upward spiral and the importance of confidence on ultra trail running performance.  Well it appears to me that following this outstanding and surprising result at the Fellsman, Duncan's performances have improved dramatically.  Following the Fellsman he finished a strong third in the 2010 Montane Lakeland 100, and grabbed 1000 points at the last two races of the series, the High Peak 40 and the Round Rotherham 50 (in a winning time of 6:29:35).  Duncan started the following year, 2011, the same way with another 1000 points at the first series race, the Wuthering Hike 33miler.  Unfortunately during this race he fractured his tibia or fibula, one of these bones, which put him out for the rest of the year.  So it was great to see him back winning again in 2012 at the same opening series race.  This win was closely followed up with a win at the Shires and Spires race in May, beating my course record by 4 minutes. 

An interesting aside here, is that the Shires and Spires 35 mile race in the Northamptonshire countryside is quite a demanding race in terms of navigation, with there being many footpaths, bridleways and country lanes to locate.  Both Duncan in 2012, and me in 2011 had our problems.  Although Duncan beat my course record by 4 minutes and 33 seconds, he actually covered 0.63 miles less than me (36.11 miles versus 35.48 miles).  When looking at our GarminConnect GPS traces; mine and Duncan's, the average running times are identical at 7:13 minute mile pace, however, in terms of average running/moving time (so taking into account time stopped checking the map etc.), then I am faster by one second per mile; 7:06 pace to Duncan's 7:07 minute mile pace.  Also interesting is to see the difference in the mile splits, with me running most of the mile splits in the first half of the race quicker, due to my "Run as fast as you can, while you can strategy", and Duncan running most of the mile splits in the second half quicker.  Although Duncan officially holds the course record, I'll focus on the GPS data!

I highlighted the name of Ian Symington above as the winner of the last series race of 2011, the Round Rotherham (6:47:14).  Well, he achieved his second 1000 points with a win in the Calderdale Hike 37miler in April this year  Since these first five races of the series, Duncan has gone on to win one further series race, the High Peak 40, while Ian has continued his great form with two further series race wins; the Long Tour of Bradwell (33 miles) and the Hardmoors 60. Jez has been busy racing overseas this year, so his Fellsman win has been his only appearance in the series, and his name isn't on the start list for the last series race the Round Rotherham.  A bit of a shame, as his appearance would really spice up this race, not that it needs spicing up though!

So who is my money on?  Ian or Duncan winning the Runfurther UK Ultra-running Championship for 2012?  Both of their names are on the start list for the Round Rotherham 50 mile.  Back in July at the Montane Lakeland 100 I had the pleasure of running with both of them at various times.  For the first 50 miles there wasn't much between us.  In fact at checkpoint 7, at the end of the coach road, in the very early hours of the morning, all three of us were standing together.  Ian went on to finish fourth, I finished fifth, and Duncan DNFed at checkpoint 8.  However, I have raced Duncan on two other occasions, both in 2010, and the score is one all, so I know he is a pretty fierce racer.  Looking at the finishing times for the 2010 and 2011 Round Rotherham races, Duncan's time is nearly 18 minutes quicker, although Ian has definitely progressed significantly since October 2011.  So taking into account all of this information, sorry Ian, but my money is on Duncan.  All Duncan has to do to win the series outright is to finish ahead of Ian by either 24 seconds, (or 12 seconds depending if 0.55 of a point behind is rounded to one point behind), assuming no super speedster turns up and beats Duncan so convincingly that he earns less than 888 points.  Very, very unlikely to happen!


 Montane Lakeland 100 2012 - First and second climbs - Ian in black close behind

 Montane Lakeland 100 2012 - Second climb Ian and Duncan chasing me down
(Please excuse the copyright abuse - I purchased the prior two Lakeland 100 photos!)

All Ian needs to do to win the overall UK champs for 2012 is to finish within 12 or 24 seconds of Duncan. (I know if I was either Ian or Duncan I would be checking with Mark, Karen or Si at Runfurther finding out what is required!) If this happened, they would both finish on identical points, but Ian would then win due to the following rule: "In the unlikely event that more than one person scores a maximum, the overall championship will be determined by taking the next best scores (above 4 races)."  I wonder if Duncan and Ian are aware of what happens if they finish on equal points?  Is a tie likely?  Well there have been quite a few ties during series races in the past, so quite possible!  Which leads me nicely into some Millsy Mutterings to finish this blog post off.

When is an ultra trail race not a race?  Well to me, it is not a race when a tie takes place.  Over the last five years (I don't have results for 2006, 2007) of the Vasque/Runfurther UK Ultra-running Championships, there have been quite a few ties for first place.  Just this year, there have been ties for first place at the Shires and Spires, the Bullock Smithy, and the Hardmoors 60 series races.  What is happening here at these races?  Is there anything wrong with a tie for first place?  As I have never been involved in a tie at a race, I am totally unaware how they come about.  But here is an excerpt from Jon Morgan's 2009 Long Tour of Bradwell race report where he finished 1st equal with Allen Smalls:
"It was exciting to be alone out front for half an hour or so, but Allen caught me by the top of Padley Gorge and we ran the rest of the race together. I was slightly disarmed by the ease at which he was able to hold conversation. Very disarmed by tales of his needing to get big mileage in before long events, and running all night in a training run, before doing a days work immediately on finishing...
From Abney onwards it was ground I had been on hundreds of times, but I was paying for my speedy section along Stanage and now it was hard to get the heart rate up to 140. But it was new to Allen, so I led us down through the steep descent to Bradwell, legging it down the main street afterwards. He didn't know quite how spent I was, so I was totally delighted when he agreed to my suggestion of coming in together. A complete result for the worlds worst sprinter..."
So it appears that during a long ultra race, after two runners have spent some time running together that an agreement is made between them to finish in a tie for first, so both of them are able to 'enjoy' the satisfaction of winning the race.  Now I may be getting on 'touchy ground' here, and could possibly upset a few people, but I will continue, after all my blog isn't titled Millsy's Mutterings for nothing!  I know most people run trail races for the internal challenge, the satisfaction within, from running to their best, not specifically racing other people, but mainly racing, or better termed, challenging themselves.  Some people run trail races, simply to enjoy the countryside and the companionship.  The quickness of their time is totally irrelevant.  Then there are others who specifically do trail races, to race others, to challenge themselves against others, and use their performance in relation to others as a guide to how they performed and this performance to others is related to their enjoyment/success from the event.  Different people run trail races for different reasons, and that is one of the real strengths of the trail running community in that it is totally all inclusive.

Back to the tying for first place issue, you will never find me finishing in a pre-arranged tie for first place.  Yes, I may finish in a tie with another runner for a position lower down the field.  I am happy with this concept, as in most situations, unless it is a personal battle against a training partner, or maybe a brother-in-law, then I may not be specifically competing against that single person.  More often than not a trail race is a personal internal challenge, and finishing one or two seconds quicker, by sprinting for 15th or 115th place wouldn't massively alter my perception of my achievement.  But  I do think differently in terms of a tie for the win?  In just about every trail race I have competed in, the winner of the event is acknowledged with either a trophy or a prize, and with the extent of the trophy/prize usually decreasing in size/value in relation to 2nd and 3rd place.  Therefore the race organisers are clearly acknowledging that their event is a race, and they are wanting to celebrate / reward the winner and high place-getters.  So by runners agreeing to finish together in a tie, isn't it removing the race element from the race and depriving the race organisers, the spectators, and the other runners of the excitement and intrigue of the competitive battle?

Recently there has been quite a bit of controversy when in the Berlin Marathon the leading two runners did not compete for the win!  It appear that they had a prearranged agreement on who was going to win.  Below are some comments:



The above image is from the LetsRun.com website.  The article is copied below:

Geoffrey Mutai Wins 2012 BMW Berlin Marathon and World Marathon Major Title in Bizarre Finish

After running stride for stride for 26.2 miles and on world-record pace until the final two miles, Geoffrey Mutai edged training partner Dennis Kimetto to win the 2012 BMW Berlin Marathon in 2:04:15 to Kimetto's 2:04:16 in a truly bizarre finish. The win netted Mutai the 2011-2012 World Marathon Majors title and $500,000 and started the speculation of: 'Did Kimetto let his training partner Mutai win Berlin?'What you ask? Let him win?

Yes, that's what we wrote.  Coming down the stretch it did not look like a foot race to win a major marathon, it did not look like a foot race to win anything. Mutai was in front and Kimetto was a couple of strides behind on his left. That’s how it remained until the finish. No frantic kick or grimaces on either guy’s face.  Throw in the fact, the winner of the World Marathon Major title gets $500,000, second place gets $0*, and the speculation that Kimetto let Mutai win is even louder.

Here are some of the live reactions  that were written on the LetsRun.com message board as the race was finishing: “This was clearly one athlete letting the other one win. The least they could have done was pretend to fight it out. With drug scandals, etc Athletics takes another dive into the gutter. Would be interesting to see what odds the betting companies were offering”, “this honestly was the most fake-looking thing i’ve seen in a while. Neither even appeared to care for the last 7k they were alone together (sic)”, “I can buy that they were both hurting bad, but even so you would at least expect their body language to change as they approached the finish line. Maybe it was there and I missed it, but they seemed to approach the finish line in the same manner as they approached any other of the course markers” and “the splits don’t tell the whole story here. Kimetto did not even try to sprint, so clearly, he had more to gain by coming second than by winning.”If you don’t want to listen to someone posting on an anonymous message board, how about one of the official broadcasters of the marathon on Universal Sports saying as the finish is happening, “If anything, it may be a preplanned thing you know.” The integrity of our sport is at stake.

One of the unique aspects of sport is that there is competition.  Often it is only the competitive element that makes sport interesting.  Ultra trail racing over the last few years has grown massively in both participation numbers and in follower numbers.  Take for example the new Talk Ultrapodcast.  I don’t know what their current download numbers are but I think their first podcast at the start of this year had in the region of ten thousand downloads.  (Ian Corless if you are reading this blog post, please could you provide the latest Talk Ultra podcast statistics).  Anyway whether one thousand or ten thousand, it is a lot of people who are interested in what is happening in ultra-trail competitions around the World.  Often the podcasts consist of Ian discussing with other runners who they think will win an upcoming ultra trail race.  So there is obviously now quite an interest in who wins various races.  So just as there was outrage at the non competitive finish at the recent Berlin marathon, is it not the same for prearranged ties for first place in ultra trail races?

Yes, I know that ultra trail running is much, much more than competing to win.  But I feel those runners that are privileged to be in a position to compete for a win, should not ‘devalue’ the competitive aspect of ultra-trail racing by not ‘giving it their all’.  For a wee while when I was reading various blog posts on this year's Montane Lakeland 100, I was beginning to feel a bit paranoid, that maybe I was a bit strange.  Maybe I was wrong in enjoying the competitive element of ultra trail racing, in addition to all of the other elements.  Maybe it was improper for me to actually race the ultra trail race!  Then finally, I knew that at least there was one other person who has a similar few to mine, when I read second equal (yes a prearranged tie for 2nd place) place-getter at this year’s Montane Lakeland 100, Paul Tierney’s blog post report, on his blog titled Over trails and hills.  Here is what Paul wrote:

“... there is nothing more satisfying than running long distances in such a beautiful place. It's almost meditative. But that's why we go and do these runs outside of the races we enter. Racing is something I do because it satisfies my competitive side, as well as being a great social occasion, surrounded by like minded people. It wouldn't necessarily matter where I eventually finish the race, as long as I feel I have given my best but there is a part of me that feels I didn't do that by running with someone else. I'm not suggesting that Barry held me back or that I would have finished ahead of him but it stands to reason that if you run for that long with someone else there will be occasions when you dont run your own pace, thus meaning you haven't run as well at all times as you might have. While speaking with Ian Corless of Talk Ultra after the race Barry suggested that "we" aren't worried about racing and that "it's all about the journey". I dont feel that way. I, more than most, love to run in beautiful places like the Lake District. But I'd prefer to "race" when the time comes.”

So as this year’s Runfurther UK Ultra-running Championship comes to its conclusion at the final race of the 12 race series at the Round Rotherham 50 mile the weekend after next, I for one am interested in knowing who wins the competitive battle, and therefore who wins the overall championship.  I just only hope that the result is not another pre-arranged tie for first place, with both Ian and Duncan thinking that they would both then end up with 4000 points each and therefore be joint winners of the UK Championships.  This I feel would be an injustice to the sport of ultra trail running, and in some ways could be interpreted as an insult to not only Mark, Karen and Si and their various helpers, who put in loads of time and effort, first creating the series, and then in making it happen and prosper year after year, but to all of the other 286 runners within this year’s series who have tried there hardest to score as many point as they can. 

I think now is probably a good time to sign off, before I potentially upset some trail runners with my perhaps ‘old fashioned’ competitive views!  Instead of signing off with a quote, for a change I will sign off with a thanks.  So to all race directors and race committees, marshals, officials, etc., “I would like to express my huge thanks for all the time and effort, energy and enthusiasm you all put in, to put on ultra trail races.  It is through your massive efforts that you bring so much enjoyment to so many runners.  Thanks.” Stuart Mills

Well done to everyone that has participated in this year’s Runfurther UK Ultra-running Championships.  Thanks for contributing to the great ultra trail community.

Stuart

PS
I had an enjoyable run last Sunday.  I was aware that the Extreme Energy Vanguard Way Multistage Ultra was passing nearby to my village in East Sussex, so I decided to run along the Vanguard Way to watch them pass.  I met the lead group of five lead runners at Blackboys and they were having a wee bit of trouble navigating the route, as the Vanguard Way isn’t very well way-marked.  So I decided to join them and had an enjoyable hour or so ‘guiding’ the runners for the next seven miles, so they didn’t get lost.  Although at times I got the feeling that they weren’t overly impressed with my non-stop chatting, due to me being fresh, compared to them being half way through the second day of a pretty demanding 70 mile off-road race, and beginning to experience the effects of their strenuous efforts!

 PPS
Today being the 10th of October 2012 is a special occasion, in that it is 20 years exactly to the day, and pretty well to the hour, that I was completing the 1992 Hawaii Ironman.  Yes, prior to being an ultra trail runner, many years ago, I was an Ironman.  Digging out the photos from 1992 brought back such wonderful memories of such a great race and the great people I met on that trip.  Some who have remained lifelong friends.  So below are four photos from Hawaii Ironman, and maybe my experiences as an Ironman athlete, competing in a total of five Ironman event, will be the topic of a future Millsy’s Memories blog post.  Although it won’t be in the near future as no doubt you need time to recover from this post’s ultra effort, and likewise I need time to recover from the ultra effort in writing it!


Hawaii Ironman 1992 - At around the 8 mile mark

At the finish - Temporary disappointment displayed as a result of a slow run time!

Never ending support from my girlfriend, now my wife Frances

Hawaii Ironman 1992 - A truly wonderful experience!


7 comments:

  1. I was one of the 5 you guided last weekend during the Vanguard Way Ultra- it was certainly apreciated! There was nothing wrong with your chatting- in fact we were encouraging conversation to slow you down a bit!

    Cheers

    Simon

    ps. race report online here:http://breadsweatandbeers.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/vanguard-way-ultra-october-2012.html

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  2. Hi Duncan, I'm pleased that you are in agreement with my prediction for the Round Rotherham Runfurther Series Showdown! Ian, if you are out there reading this, how about your prediction. Who is your money on?

    One last thing, none of this finishing together for a tie! Let's see a real battle, as a tie would end up with Ian being overall series winner. Duncan you need to beat Ian by at least 12 or 24 seconds. All the best to everyone running the Round Rotherham 50 mile. Stuart

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  3. Hi Simon, Well done on your third place in the Vanguard Way Ultra. I am pleased that my guiding along the Vanguard Way was appreciated. One never knows how it is interpreted, e.g. me yaking away non stop, while others are having to focus as they are racing. As mentioned on the day, you can repay me for my guiding with a beer when we meet again at the next race sometime in the future. Stuart

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  4. Quick overview of what happened. It was great weather and a clear sky so I took no extra clothes or a headtorch, only some shot bloks and the course maps. I ran reasonably hard from the start, partly aided by Ken Sutor who is a bit of a fast starter. First half in about 3 hours. Three of us in the lead, but not Ian who is not a fast starter, then two, then after 30 miles or so I was on my own. Definitely felt the pressure to keep up the gap! Only got feedback from a relay runner that I had plenty of gap when there was about a mile to go. Despite the perfect weather it was very wet underfoot which led to some slippy ground and defintely affected the speed. My time was a six second improvement on my previous attempt which was quite pleasing. Ian caught all the others to finish second.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for the race update Duncan. Congratulations on your win last weekend and for the overall series win. I look forward to battling with you again next year in a few races. Stuart

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