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There is No Map in Hell

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How would YOU like to do TWO marathons with over 16,000 feet of climbing, EVERY day for a week?

Ever since Dan Kimball dragged me into doing OtillO and Rockman, he’s gotten me involved in 50K trail runs and thinking about other crazy adventures. So, with that said, I’ve picked up books here and there about other folks taking on really crazy challenges.

Back in 1986, a guy by the name of Joss Naylor ran all 214 Wainright fells (a fancy Norse term for mountain) in the Lake District of the United Kingdom.  He accomplished this 300 miles (or so) in 7 days and 1 hour.  Everyone thought it was a record that would never be broken.  Enter Steve Birkinshaw.  His book, There is No Map in Hell, recounts his attempt to break this record, complete with how he prepared, how the attempt went and gives you insight to what some would call a crazy mind.

I had only one question for Steve.

Marcus: If you were to change anything, what would you do differently in planning a Wainwrights challenge again?

Steve: Looking back at my run around all 214 Wainwright fells it is amazing how many things went well.

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Initially the key thing was selecting a good route. Looking at the map of all 214 Wainwright fells and picking the route with both the least distance and climb was a major task but an enjoyable one. I spent many happy hours plotting various routes before I was satisfied I had picked the best route. After that the key job was trying to get together my support team. Jane Saul looked after all the logistics, and I had about fifty other people helping out on the fells and at the road support points. I sorted out who was doing which section with me as much as I could before I started, but once I was on the move Jane had to sort out all the many, inevitable changes to the plan.

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For me as I was going round, I felt the following things were a success:

  • The campervans and the support runners were in the correct place to meet me at the end of every section. It was great to be able to rely upon this as I was usually in desperate need by the time I arrived at each stop.
  • There were at least two support runners with me on every section, who were carrying essential supplies and also kept up my morale.
  • I did not miss any peaks and went to the correct Wainwright summit on each one.
  • I was never lost, and in total I lost less than thirty minutes in six days and thirteen hours, from taking the less than optimal lines.
  • Whatever food or drink I wanted was always available. This included gels, bars and ‘normal’ food.
  • I always had dry, clean clothes and shoes to wear. I’d change at every support point; being able to have fresh socks so often was so crucial to my comfort.
  • I had a quick wash at the end of every stage and stopped at three friends’ houses for showers on the way round.
  • I had regular massages and work on my feet to help prevent injury.
  • I was always (or at least I think I was) grateful and thanked my support team and never got cross with anyone even when I was incredibly tired and desperate.
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So what would I do differently? The short answer is very little. The thing that lost me most time was the blisters on my feet and tendonitis at the front of one leg above the ankle. At every support point from the third day onwards the dressings on my blisters were removed, Nurse Mel treated them and then put on some more dressing. This meant that instead of a stop of twenty minutes I was often taking up to an hour. My running speed was also slightly slower because of the pain of running on the blisters. However, the hour-long stop meant I was eating a lot of food at the support points. As Billy Bland said when he reviewed the book, ‘I actually think Steve’s blisters might have been a blessing, as they caused him to slow and rest and stopped him running himself into the ground’. Similarly the tendonitis slowed me down but was kept under control with massage treatment from Jim and Phil Davies.

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So could I have done anything differently, to avoid the blisters and tendonitis? I am not sure I could have. Beforehand I was very worried about blisters – although I have never had bad blisters before – as I knew they could prevent me from finishing the Wainwrights. So I made sure I had twenty pairs of new Berghaus running socks and various different shoes, and I knew the sock and shoe combinations did not cause any rubbing. I also changed my shoes and socks at every support point. But because of the heat and humidity and the twenty-hour days on my feet, blisters started causing me problems from the third day onwards. So would different socks, different shoes or pre-emptive taping of my feet have helped? I do not know and I will never know. I would need to do three twenty-hour days in similar weather conditions over similar terrain trying different things and see if I got any blisters…!

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Another thing that caused me issues was being violently sick towards the end of day one. I think this was caused by the amount I needed to drink because of the heat and humidity I was running in on that day. I was sweating profusely, but the sweat was just dripping off me rather than evaporating and keeping me cool. I think I drank about ten litres of liquid in the twelve hours before I was sick. In hindsight, I probably should have gone slightly slower and then I wouldn’t have sweated so much and so not needed to drink as much, and so perhaps not been sick. In the moment I was really keen to stay on schedule, whereas I now know that I could easily have taken a little more time from my schedule and picked it up later. However, the fact that I was sick did not really make that much difference, as by the morning of the second day my stomach was back to normal and hardly caused me any problems for the rest of the week.

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A bigger problem was that I really struggled to sleep on the first three nights. The first night I was planning on a two-hour sleep and then I planned on four hours’ sleep on nights two and three. But in those three nights the only deep sleep I had was the last two hours of the third night. The rest of the time I was lying down but awake, in quite a lot of pain as my knees throbbed. If I could have avoided this problem I would have been much more refreshed during the day and the sleep I had ‘banked’ would mean I would have needed less sleep later in the week. I had a very similar problem on the Dragon’s Back Race, so I was not really worried about it but just frustrated, as I knew more sleep would have helped me. I am not really sure what I could have done differently as I am not really sure what causes the problem. I think it is some sort of nerve pain with the source of the problem my lower back, so I have been doing more core-strengthening exercises since then.

When you are out running for twenty hours a day for seven days, however well prepared you are things will still go wrong. The important thing is to accept this and not get stressed when it happens, but to work out how to cope. This is when experience and a great support team helps, and for me meant I was successful in my ambition to break the record for running round all the Wainwright fells.

Marcus: Holy moly.  Whelp, folks.  If you want to know more about Steve’s adventures, check out one of the other blogs as part of Steve’s blog tour below or pickup the book.  You’ll be amazed.

 

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GUforit in Cali

Recently I had an opportunity to go to California as part of the day-job. It’s great to get to work with a bunch of REALLY cool people and with some REALLY cool technology.  It also allows me to get to see some new trails and even do a little sight seeing during my off-hours.

Whenever traveling, it’s tough to get in the biking, but swimming, and especially running is no problema.  I found some cool places to run just outside of Santa Clara overlooking Silicon Valley (pay no attention to the ugly mug, but concentrate on the background).

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I even managed to squeeze in some time to head up to ol’ San Francisco.

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The best part about being in this area, however, was getting to pop in on my longest standing sponsor, GU Energy.  Any of you that know me also know that I seek out sponsorship of products I like, not the other way around.  I’ve had a few offers by sponsors of products that, to put it mildly, I just didn’t like. No thanks.  I have to be able to get behind it.

So, here I am, partnered up with GU since 2008.  So… when I had an opportunity to pop in, I was on it like white on rice.  Heck, after I reached out to Celia, my partner-in-crime at GU, she was ecstatic that I was in town and offered up a one-on-one tour of the facilities with MacKay Gibbs, Director of Manufacturing.

Before I could go back to see where and how the magic is made, I had to get suited up.  How do you like this getup (makes me look like a scientist, looking all official):

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Don’t laugh.  They take their quality control to another level.  After all, this is a food processing facility, so there’s standards that have to met (or in their case, exceeded).  I can’t show you any other pictures inside the facility because their processes, ingredients and other intellectual property are tightly held secrets.  There are many imitators, but there’s only one GU.  If you want to see a sampling of what I got to see first hand, check out this cool vid:

Speaking of quality control, I was absolutely amazed at how much goes into making sure the best possible product gets into your hands.  From the minute the raw ingredients hit their dock to the moment the finished product ships out, it is tested and inspected continuously throughout the process. The guys and gals I met making these products are true professionals that take pride in what they’re making, all while keeping an eagle eye on every packet that goes down the line.  As a bonus, I was handed a Chocolate Outrage packet right off the conveyer while it was still warm.

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I was also equally amazed at how GU cultivates a culture that consists of employees that like sports and racing as much as I do.  I didn’t get a picture of it, but there’s a huge board where employees write their goals, the races they’re doing and when they accomplish them it’s celebrated.  Another bulletin board had countless pictures of them participating in events and races.

My jaw dropped when I got to see their gym and bike storage.  Each employee is encouraged and incented to ride their bikes to work.  Not just a pat on the back incentive, but given extra days off once they accumulate a certain number of commute days.

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It was great to meet all of the staff that not only make great products, but have a real love for sports fueling that passion.

Want to know more about GU Energy and the products they make to fuel your passion?  Then head over to their website and check em out, or hit me up anytime. No matter what you do, there’s a #GUforit.

Last Minute Stocking Stuffers for Athletes

By now you may be scrambling to find gifts for your friend or better half.  If that person is a runner, triathlete or biker, maybe I can give you a few ideas. To the untrained eye, these may seem a bit cheesy, but trust me, if you want to get them something that they need and will actually use, then think about these. Not only are they practical and show that you’ve put some thought into their love of sport, but may even add a few snickers on Christmas morning. You can find most of these at your local running or other sports-oriented store and maybe even online. I’m a firm believer of supporting local shops, so definitely try them first.  (Throughout, I’m referring to your athlete as “him”, but can be very well a “her”).

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1. Anything GU – Most athletes are in need of nutrition and can always use more. So stuff a few Stroopwafels, a few gels, a package of chews or maybe a tube (or two) of GU Drink Tabs into their stocking. The electrolyte tablets bring electrolytes to water with minimal calories (only 10) and something I use EVERY ride and on runs when I carry fluids. If you don’t know what a stroopwafel is, check out this video.  You can even get creative with the nutrition.  On our New Year’s Day run, we break out with Jet Blackberry gel on mini, powdered donuts. Now THAT’s one good jelly donut. www.GUEnergy.com

 

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2. Give them Warmth – If your runner or biker likes training in cold weather, then you cannot go wrong with arm warmers. These gems are great because they can be taken off and stowed easily during those long workouts when you start of in the cold, but the temperature rises as your workout progresses.  These are especially a favorite with ultra runners and even bikers.  Be picky with your choice and don’t go for just any arm warmer.  These arm warmers from Orange Mud are made from bamboo.  Why a bamboo arm warmer? From a sustainability perspective it’s a crazy fast growing plant that requires very little water and no pesticides to “grow like a weed”. When you chop down a bamboo plant, it doesn’t need replanting, rather it simply regrows for continual harvest. The plant is also fantastic for erosion control, and also feeding pandas. Yes, pandas. www.orangemud.com

 

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3. Elastic Shoe Laces – If you have a runner or triathlete that you’re buying for, chances are that they may already be using these handy laces that allow them to get into and out of the shoes without untying. Even if they already have them, they can use an extra pair for when they buy another set of shoes. Not only do you relieve yourself from the hassle of tying, but as you run, especially long runs, your feet tend to swell.  These beauties will stretch as your feet swell, keeping your shoes comfortable but snug.  www.locklaces.com

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4. Socks – Yep, you heard right. The same gift we used to dread getting when we were kids is a cool gift now. Well, they’re cool if you get the right socks. As long as they are for riding, then you can’t go wrong. There’s many to choose from out there, but the best ones come from DeFeet, Sock Guy, Sugoi, and Pearl Izumi to name a few. You score extra points (and laughs) if you get some with a cool saying or picture on them. Can’t settle on the funny ones? Go a little more practical with Merino wool socks from Orange Mud (great this time of year) or compression socks which aid in recovery after a long workout. Want to go with a completely American made sock? Then check out Farm to Feet.

 

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5. Get Grippy – If they’re a biker, ESPECIALLY a mountain-biker, then get them a pair of ESI Grips for their handlebars. They’re the most comfortable grips on the planet. So much so, that I ride without gloves (unless it’s cold). They come in a variety of thickness and colors, but I prefer the “Chunky” ones. On most regular handlebar grips, manufacturers put raised logos, tread patterns and all other kinds of crap that just make them damn uncomfortable. That junk belongs on tires, not handlebar grips. The whole idea of putting something on your handlebars is to 1: improve your grip and 2: keep your hands comfortable. Forget other grips that don’t put these two things FIRST. And if they’re hung up on having their “lock-on” grips, never fear, I used to as well. But the only grips that slip are the poorly made ones. ESI’s grips have their priorities straight and theses puppies won’t move once installed. So get them this gift and they’ll love you for it. www.ESIgrips.com

 

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6. Seal it up – For the mountain bikers in the bunch, there’s a good chance your loved-one is riding on tubeless mountain bike tires. If so, this is a great stocking stuffer. If not, this may motivate them to take advantage of swapping to tubeless and experience all the benefits. For you, if you’re not a mountain biker, this will score major points that you happen to know something about tubeless tires and the need to use sealant. This stuff seals up the tires making it possible to hold air without a tube. The best part is it also acts as an automatic seal should they get a puncture on the trail. Don’t settle for that sealant with some guys name on it. Instead, go with the orange stuff made from NASA technology. One 8 ounce bottle is good for a set of tires, but if you go with the 4 ounce bottle, get two. I’d recommend getting the first bottle with the injector. FYI, I’ll be riding a product review on this soon. www.OrangeSeal.com

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7. Crankbrothers Multitool – You can’t get more handy or practical than a multitool. Necessary for trail-side or road-side repair of bike foul ups and tends to work better than a MacGyver twig and rock combo. Crankbrothers has many to choose from at different price ranges. My favorite is the mutli-17 tool since it comes with a chain tool. It even comes with a lifetime warranty. www.crankbrothers.com

 

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8. Co2 cartridges – If he’s a biker of any sort, having extra Co2 cartridges handy will ensure he has a way to fix a flat. It may take a little bit of snooping to figure out if he needs the threaded or non-threaded type. Just check his current stash (usually in his seat bag or where he keeps the rest of his stuff). If you can’t figure it out, go with threaded. If it’s the wrong type, he can easily swap it out with the right ones at his favorite shop. Go with either 16oz or 20oz. www.GenuineInnovations.com or your local bike shop.

 

If you found this list helpful, please vote for me in the #RunUltraBlogger awards (please scroll all the way down to complete the vote).

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If you’re in the Charlotte, NC area, be sure to come check out our 10th Annual New Year’s Day Almost Noon Almost 10k Unorganized Group Trail Run

-Marcus

VOTE for ME PLEEEEASE

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Whelp, I’ve gone and done it.  I’ve made the short list for the 2017 Blogger Awards at RunUltra.  However, I need YOUR help to make it to the finals.  Will you PLEASE vote for me?  Of course, you could use the 2.21 minutes it would take you to vote for me in some sort of other valuable way like pondering why you’re coffee smells funny, acting like you’re actually working like your boss thinks you are or, better yet, picking your nose.  Aww, come on.  Help a fellow runner out and vote.  Please?

 

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Back in the Saddle

Whelp. I’ve been on a short hiatus for a while, taking some much needed downtime after the WC-50 race that was a fun, but tough 50k for me.  Despite what your eyes see, I was NOT wearing a skirt.  Thanks Stephanie Moore for the awesome photo.  It captures the cold of October with the steam coming off of the water a lot better than my pink legs.


I ended up in 3rd place overall. After leading the race for the first 27 miles, a couple of experienced, fast boys taught me a few things and proceeded to spank me pretty good.  I spent quite a bit of the last-half of the last lap walking. I was fried. It was still more fun than a hog hollering contest.

After a long season of some GREAT racing in 2015, including some fun, fun action in the XTERRA points series, a couple of trips overseas to do the Rockman and OtillO, I was ready for a break from training and racing. So I spent the next couple of months just doing fun stuff and stuffing my pie hole.. well… with pie.

But here we are again, time to get serious as race season is right around the corner.

If you haven’t noticed, the website has gone back to its roots and with some of the old comes a few new things, like product reviews. I figured since folks are asking about a few racing goodies I’ve picked up, I might as well share with everyone.  I also plan to blog about a bit more than just race reports. Expect a few that include tips and tricks for the new folks starting out and maybe even a review on some trails to ride.  Who knows.  And as always, I’m open for suggestions. So, pony up ya’ll and speak up on what you’d like to see.

2016 will be full of fun again. The race calendar is shaping up and includes a bunch of XTERRAs, some oldies (but goodies), some new ones, an XTERRA trail run or two and yes, a swimrun in there to keep it interesting.

It’ll be challenging, downright grueling at times and with a sprinkle of chaos thrown in for good measure, it sounds like fun, right?

Let’s get this party started.

Eats and Treats at XTERRA RVA

For those of you still on your way up for the XTERRA East Championships in Richmond, Virginia, here’s a few recommendations.  This holds especially true if you’ve never been here before.

There’s lots of places to eat, things to see and places to go.  Here’s a few favorites of ours.  With so many options, this is only a handful of joints.  We’d love to hear your favorites, too, so comment below!!

Great coffee a place to grab some healthy grub:  Elwood Thompson’s

If you’re a Whole Foods or Earth Fare fan, then you’ll love Elwood Thompson’s Local Market.  Plenty of locally grown foods and goods.  They have a great coffee bar where I first witnessed the Clover coffee machine back in 2010 (before Starbucks even knew what it was). More info.

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Where else to eat? Continue reading

Lots of Racing and Riding

So many updates, where do I start?

XTERRA Whitewater Clinic and Preride

First and foremost, we had a beautiful day for the XTERRA Whitewater Transition Clinic and Preride.  We had 10 athletes show up of varying levels of skill from all over.  “Representatives” from Charlotte, Greensboro and Myrtle Beach were present and accounted for to name a few.

We started a little late due some “cross pollination” of clinics.  Most of our attendees were intermingled with the Dirt Divas Skills Clinic by mistake.  I just happened to stop by and say high and we discovered the mixup.  After a quick roundup, we got started with the transition clinic. 

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We hit the trails to ride the 14 mile mountain bike course that would make up the bike leg of the race.  Whitewater Center Trail Guru, Lee Flythe and crew have been real busy out there building new trails and extending existing ones.  With a new mix of hand cut and machine cut trails recently added, the ride was fun and challenging.  If you missed out, I hope to see you all at the next clinic scheduled for June 22nd (you can RSVP here).  Thanks goes out to USNWC Events Manager and XTERRA Whitewater Race Director Adam Bratton.

I followed up the clinic and pre-ride with a tough EPC Multisport brick workout that damn near kicked my butt.  I barely had enough energy to cut the grass when I got home, but I managed to get it done.  Exhausting but fun, fun day.

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On the racing front, the inaugural XTERRA Knoxville was held on Saturday with what was reported as some of the best single track out there.  “One of the toughest mountain bike courses I’ve ridden; fun dry but quite treacherous wet.” said Charlie Epperson, XTERRA Pro that came in second overall just behind fellow XTERRA Pro Takahiro Ogasawara (Oga) from Japan.  He continued, “I came into T-2 maybe 4 or 5 minutes down from Oga and a minute back from Josh. I felt great running and was able to make up some ground on Oga but not enough. I’m happy anytime I’m within a few minutes.”  Josh Schaffer came in third overall and was the top amateur at the race.  He also doubled as XTERRA security since he camped at the venue.

On the ladies front, XTERRA Pro, Mieko Carey was second overall out of the water and rode with Charlie for a good portion of the bike leg.  She won the female division with Andrea Ludwig and Lucia Colbert coming in 2nd and 3rd respectively.  Full Results

As with any first-year event, however, it wasn’t without its share of snafus.  Apparently, the trails lacked enough markings to keep everyone on track and racers got off course.  First-year XTERRA racer, Jheremy Zetans came to the rescue.  He saw what was happening and decided to terminate his own race to give a lending hand by directing racers back on course.  Talk about XTERRA spirit!

Charlie went on to provide a small tidbit of advice, “I know a couple of riders and runners got lost today. Always a disheartening experience. I’ve been there. My advice is to take the extra day to arrive early to ride and run and be able to race without that element of uncertainty.”

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Oga, Mieko and Charlie

XTERRA East Championships (aka XTERRA RVA)

Speaking of XTERRA Pros Charlie, Oga and Mieko, they will be teaming up in the first ever XTERRA Pro pre-race shoot-out in Richmond.  The pros will be split up into 3-person relay teams on a very short course highlighting aspects of this weekend’s XTERRA East Championship course (Jun 15).  It’ll be fast and furious action with the winners expected to knock it out in 15 minutes.  The teams that have been made up are very interesting to say the least.  You can check out who’s on what teams at the Pro Relay Team Shoot-out webpage.

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Even better, not only can you witness this in person, but the title sponsor, Luck Stone, will be broadcasting the event live so you can view online, complete with video and GPS tracking via their website at www.luckstone.com.  If you can break away from what you’re doing, THIS Thursday, at noon (Eastern time), you should definitely check this out.  I plan on being there in person (hopefully), so keep an eye on my Twitter and Facebook feed and I’ll try to give ya another avenue to keep up on the action (and some cool pics).

 

Be a Warrior!

Marcus

 

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