13 Nov 11 by James Elson


After launching the SDW100 entries yesterday, we had the usual initial flurry of quick fire registrations. One of the pre-requisites on the entry forms is declaration of previous running experience. One of our earliest entrants yesterday listed SDW80 as one of his preceding ultra finishes. 

It is a big goal of mine to create races with a real pedigree for quality and a real depth of history. What I mean by that is, I haven't set up these three races as one time opportunities. I would dearly love to be sitting here in 30/40/50 years time with each one still going strong. If we continue to put as much love and effort into them as we have for the past year (Centurion was born 12 months ago this month) then I think we can sustain and even grow from where we are. 

The Thames Path and North Downs Way have had many races staged on them, past and present. The same is true of the South Downs Way with one major difference. The core of the race we have created is not our own. 

I am deeply interested in the South Downs Way 80, a race organised for many years up until the late 1990s. I was made aware of it a good few months ago in conversation with Dick Kearn. Dick and I both sit on the trail running association committee and I used last night's post meeting dinner to pick his brains a little more about it. The race was organised by Harry Townsend and existed for 16 years attracting up to 600 runners, eventually coming to a close in the late 1990s due to lack of funding. The course itself travelled 80 miles from Queen Elizabeth Country Park to finish at Eastbourne Rugby Club.

Dick is too modest to talk about it in much detail but in 1993 he won the race and has fond memories of it, as do most of the people I talk to about it. The over-riding sentiment is that you could count on Harry to deliver a proper race day experience. Things that were raised were the depth of medical support, the regularity and size of some of the aid stations, particularly at the barn on Truleigh Hill and the care and attention of the volunteers. A lot of this, in fact arguably the framework of it has been picked up by Oxfam Trailwalker and there was conversation of Harry having passed on a lot of information relevant to the formation of that event which attracts massive numbers each year to the 100km course.

The similarities between our race and Harry's cannot yet be made. Certainly in terms of a course, ours is 20 miles longer and will take a slightly different route into the finish. The athletics track where we will end the SDW100 literally backs on to the rugby club which was the finish point of the SDW80 which is, I think, rather poignant. 

I only hope we can build as successful, well executed and most importantly, much loved a race as Harry's. I have asked Dick to try to contact him and see if he would perhaps like to be a part of it in 2012. Whether that will happen or not I don't know but I sincerely hope we can continue the legacy of long distance trail running events on the South Downs Way. 

12 Nov 11 by James Elson

SDW100 2012

Entries are now live for the South Downs Way 100, 'the big dance'. 200 places for 200 lucky runners....

Here are the details. The course is the finest in the land (biased opinion). And you get to finish on the running track at Eastbourne....

All of the above are now live at on our website

It feels good to finally close a chapter on our first race and move on with the plans for the next.

I have (what I think) are some pretty cool ideas for all 3 races next year and I'm looking forward to seeing what is possible whilst keeping the core values the same at all of the races.

A final word for my friend Hully who was badly burned in the Kimberleys during an RTP event last Friday. The incident has been posted all over Australian news but I don't think we've heard the whole story as yet. Hully had recently finished the NDW100 and had flown with me the following week to Leadville where he crewed me to my own 100 mile finish. Just a fortnight later he was off and running the RTP100 event when disaster struck and he was trapped in a gorge with 3 other competitors and an advancing bush fire. Having tried to out run it, they ended up scaling the side of the gorge to get out of the thick spinifex grass that was burning so quickly. In the end they couldn't escape far enough and were forced to run back THROUGH the fire to safety on the other side. Obviously the horrific burns that Hully and particularly the two girls he was with sustained, came about as a result of that. I'm not going to say any more for now other than that I am relieved that Hully is relatively ok. With burns to 20% of his body he will be in compression burn bandages for weeks if not months. The two girls were not so lucky and remain in a critical condition. All thoughts are with them and hoping that they pull through it.

31 Aug 11 by James Elson

North Downs Way Race Write Up

The inaugural North Downs Way Races took place over the weekend of the 13th/ 14th August 2011. As with other Centurion Running events, the series was designed to offer runners the opportunity of racing full supported, marked courses on some of the UK's most scenic and beautiful trails.

A full report will be up on the website this weekend and a link posted here.

30 Aug 11 by James Elson


A very hectic week since we returned from Leadville. I landed Tuesday lunch time and then moved house that afternoon, with a family wedding at the weekend it has been non-stop.

I have had time today to reflect a little more on the North Downs Way and begin writing a race report chronicling some of the outstanding stories amongst many that we had over race weekend. I look forward to posting that, as well as the full results and the photos later this week.

On another note I was a little saddened to see the response some of the US/ UK elite runners received in the aftermath of a whole raft of DNFs at the UTMB over the weekend.

The race was clearly as epic as ever with storms and course changes causing more havoc after the destruction of last years abandoned race. From my point of view the communication from the race management was lacking last year, but it is extremely hard to react efficiently and quickly to the volume of runners they have competing. People say 'well have less runners then' but then there would be a Western States style backlog of people desperate, but not able to run.

This year I have got to see ultras from a very different perspective, that of a true back of the packer. Let me tell you that in a head to head of racing to a fast finish and having the stress of position and splits preying on you throughout Vs fighting to make the cut at the back and being out for 150% to 200% of the leaders time, being at the back sucks way harder than being at the front. To grind out Western in a time close to the final cut, was one of the hardest things I've ever done, whereas to compete for a podium spot in one of the desert races felt psychologically much easier because you know what, if you fail to achieve your very best, you can always slow it up and bring it in for a finish.

I have received a few e mails from experience ultra runners in the last few days expressing disappointment at the failure of the top guys to finish. I have to agree with them but with a few caveats. When someone with Nick Clarks skill drops after 20 hours of running and with relatively so little of the race to eek out for a finish (let alone being in 9th position at the time) it is kind of perplexing. Surely finishing farther down the field is better than not finishing at all? Mike Woolfe fell off of the pace considerably but pushed on to the finish line. Hal Koerner went 'one better' and blew up much earlier and took what should have been a top 10 spot at the very least for a runner of his calibre, out to a 38 hour finish!!!! I have a lot of respect for him for doing that as well as for Jorge Pacheco one of the finest ultra runners in the US who will always grind out an appalling (for him) finish time rather than drop out if he can possibly avoid it. Having said all of that, I also cannot understand people who go on to the blogs of runners like Nick Clark and start ranting at him. Nicks decisions during his races are none of their business. Criticising a runner of that ilk for dropping, when he backed a sub 16 hour Western States into a podium finish at Hardrock inside of 12 days, is so pointless it defies belief. It wouldn't even be worth commenting on, except that there are quite a few people who have decided to take a pop at him following the outcome of the UTMB. Secondly and most importantly, general public/ ultrarunners have to remember that the top guys are competing at the very top in a handful of races. Winning one of them is enough to secure a sponsorship deal and we are not talking about people sitting on amassed fortunes here, most elite runners have families to look after and bills to pay just like the rest of us. If they can save it for a day when they can fly at their best again rather than taking a 2 - 3 month recovery period after a 12 hours slog just to finish then they will. Most of us aren't aware of having that decision to make. Still for me, it does make me smile thinking that it isn't just us slower guys who have bad days....

Let's be honest, UTMB is not the hardest race out there, but it is very close to it. With the international depth of field and calibre of finisher once again this year, it is obvious that no US or other European race is able to keep pace with it as a 'World Cup' of trail running. It will be interesting to see how many of the top guys make the trip again next year but I sincerely hope they all continue to do so and that their sponsors back them in to it. Killian and Lizzy as winners together are world class in all respects. However so are all of the other top guys and the Europeans creating things like this http://i.imgur.com/umsH2.jpghttp://i.imgur.com/umsH2.jpgshould really hold back because as with every other sport, it will only be a matter of time before someone from across the pond comes over and wins it just like Jez did last year!!!!!!

It's great to finally be back in the UK for a while and looking forward to seeing other people battle their demons out on UK ultra courses over the next few months.

26 Aug 11 by James Elson

Leadville 100 2011

Leadville had always been high up on my list of dream races. As it was we flew out to the mountains, the Tuesday before the race and I was beaten up from a weekend of high stress and almost no sleep at our NDW races. I had finished sweeping the course in darkness on the Monday night having run the last 17 miles with a pack and a pair of scissors clearing everything from the trail.

A good friend of mine, Hully, who had come over to London from Sydney to run the NDW, was flying out also to crew for me through Leadville After a 10 hour flight, we touched down in Denver and he drove us the 4 hours up in to the mountains. Our accommodation for this one was a huge house situated just off of the main street, which we were sharing with Drew Sheffield and Tim Adams, two British ultra runners with bags of experience. When we arrived we hit the sack almost immediately in our designated room, a huge children’s bedroom up in the loft space complete with 4 separate single beds, some kids desks, a VHS player and an 80s TV.

Leadville, Colorado, prides itself as being the highest incorporated city in America at 10,152 feet above sea level - to be honest there isn't a lot more to say about it other than that. I’d been to the Rockies twice before and struggled both times to breath during sleep the first couple of nights. This time was no different and I woke up a few times gasping for breath. It sounds dramatic but it is pretty disconcerting waking up and having to think about breathing… Hully drove Tim, Drew and I over to Twin Lakes the following day and we spent some time messing about on the stretch that serves as mile 40 – 43 and 57 – 60 on the out and back route. This section is the lowest point on the course at 9000 feet above sea level, but in the midday heat it felt very hard to get moving. Running at altitude was clearly going to be a major issue and we hadn't really left time to acclimatise properly so it was all about just going for it with everything we had. All of the pre race literature suggested coming out to Leadville for 3 weeks prior to the race but that just isn't feasible for normal humans. Out on the trails we took it really easy, made our way over and back through the knee high river crossing, as we would do on race day, and aborted the climb up Hope Pass after all of 200 yards. Thank god we didn’t go any higher as if I’d gone back to Leadville knowing what was actually in store for us on race day I would maybe have had a panic attack. After an hour or so messing about on the trails we drove up to 12,000 feet and lazed about (Drew didn’t – he hiked up to 13,000 feet) to try and help speed up the acclimatisation process.

Thursday we hit registration and weighed in, then attended a pasta dinner at which the legend that is Marshall Ulrich gave us a quick talk through some of his Leadville experiences and his book 'Running on Empty'. Marshall's most outstandingly insane feat was having completed Leadville in 21 hours, before driving to Pike's Peak to run the Marathon there the same day.  Drew managed to get him to give James Adams, a friend of ours currently just 4 days from completing the LA to NY footrace, a call on his mobile. That left only the pre race briefing for Friday which was, as usual with US 100s, way too long and overblown but gave me a chance to catch up with a few people from the Grand Slam.

It was awesome to finally be traveling to a big race with a good group of guys once again. It’s been a couple of years since we finished the 4Deserts as a team of 5 and in the interim I have travelled to the States 7 times to run 100s, mostly on my own. At each race I meet up with US runners whom I’ve got to know over the years, but sharing a big house made the whole pre race preamble that much more enjoyable.

Race morning came around and we got up at 3am. I like to leave the house at the last possible minute and was delighted to find that Tim and Drew were happy to do the same. I’m not overexagerrating when I say that we locked the front door ar 3:57am, 3 minutes before race start. We jogged to the back of the crowd, the shot gun blast came and off we went without pause. No time to get cold!

Tim shot off pretty much straight away, I don’t mind admitting that I did fear he would go too hard too early in his first 100 but he went on to totally blitz the course in an incredible debut. I knew that Drew and I would be there or there abouts all day and although we hadn’t spoken about running together we started off at a similar pace. With the help of some early bathroom breaks, we got split up within that first 13.5 mile section and cruised in to Aid Station 1: Mayqueen, just a minute or so apart. The three of us wouldn’t be more than an hour apart for the next 25 – quite incredible in a race of this length.

Those who read my Western States blog will know that I found it incredibly tough because I thrashed my quads to pieces inside the first 20 miles. On a 100 mile course with a net downhill of 23000 feet in total, that isn’t good planning. The first 13 miles of Leadville were downhill and flat but on a low grade, making time disappear. I left Mayqueen at 13.5 in about 2:25 and made my way up Sugarloaf mountain with Micah True, otherwise known as Caballo Blanco from the book ‘Born to Run’. He had a steady gait, running the hills but pacing only as fast as I could power hike. For a guy who is pushing the years now he is in great shape but man he did not smell good and after an hour or so of running with him I had to push on. A lot of people ran past me at the bottom of Sugarloaf giving me the ‘Jeez dude you’re walking NOW, there is NO WAY you will finish if you are walking here!!!!’ kind of look. Well I’m finally becoming a bit more experienced at 100 mile races (this was my 8th)  and I trusted my judgement.

Sure enough in the 4 mile climb I ate back the crowd that came past me lower down who were forced into a walk by the later stages. The descent down powerline the other side is a steep and rocky/ rutted trail but I flew down it. The confidence in my downhill running was slowly returning, it’s always been the best part of my game and is the reason I have managed my better results in steeper trail races. I cruised down into the Fish Hatchery aid station at mile 23.5 in good shape and hully met me there with some more gels and a bag of cheese cubes - pure gold. I was still eating and drinking well out on to the 4 mile stretch of road to Half Pipe Aid Station and cruised all the way into Twin Lakes at mile 39.5 after a long grinding climb and an awesome quick 3 mile descent.

Down the Hill into Twin Lake

The first 40 miles of the course had been forgiving, straight forward running in reasonable temperatures and with the help of Hully crewing me at each place, I had kept on top of nutrition and hydration. I realised I was finally starting to have a good 100 mile race, I had never had one before and I couldn’t help but smile from ear to ear.

I came down the iconic little bit of rocky trail into Twin Lakes outbound, had a quick pitstop to eat a bagel, some bananas, coke and crammed my pockets full of gels, crisps and sandwiches for the climb up Hope Pass. I also grabbed my poles. I wasn’t sure that I’d need them but in the end they were a big help in the section before I ditched them again at mile 60. On route to Hope Pass there are three water crossings and once significant river pass which soaked sore feet and left debris in our shoes. I pushed on and began the ascent of Hope which runs from 9000 – 12,600 feet in the space of 4 miles or so. Up and down is where I do best and I was immediately disappointed to find that on a stretch that everyone was forced to power hike, I lost ground to the dozen or so people around me. I couldn’t work out what was going wrong but I think on reflection that the altitude was finally starting to bite me a bit. The climb up Hope begins in the woods before breaking out into Mountain meadows at the top as you creep above the treeline and I knew I was nearing the aid station ‘Hopeless’ just shy of the summit, when I saw a runaway llama, used for fast packing the aid equipment up to the summit being chased by a volunteer. I came into the aid station and grabbed the same level of food as I had at Twin Lakes and moved straight on up the grinding last 600 feet to the top of the pass. Up here were just scree slopes and falling grass. Everything looked exactly as the photos of Hardrock do and it made me realise how much I want to run that race. The altitude really came in to play up here though and it was noticeably even harder to breath up there than down at the Lakes.

Just before I crested the mountain Ryan Sandes the men’s leader and eventual winner cruised back down the hill, paced by Anna Frost and we made way for them as they streamed away from us. Roughly 9 very hilly miles up on me by then it was actually a much better situation than I’d expected on no training. The descent into Winfield was totally unexpected and brutal. The pitch of the slope that side of Hope is something people don’t warn you about. It drops hard and fast and is pretty technical in places. At the bottom we were spat out on to the road for a 2 mile dusty run into Winfield Aid Station at mile 50, which I reached in around 11 hours. A great foundation to build on.

Winfield Mile 50: More Cheese

To think as I weighed in at that point, that I had to travel back to the point at which I’d started wasn’t anywhere near as horrendous as I’d anticipated and preapared for. I felt shitty for sure but I had a good feed, visited the gents, ate two more bananas, headed out onto the road and began the run back down to where we came off of the mountain. Leadville’s sting in the tail is the fact that it is an out and back and the climb back up the near side of Hope was twice as severe as the front side, made worse by the fact that it had begun to rain and I was getting cold. I was passing a lot of people still headed towards Winfield at this stage. The cut off to get there was 14 hours and some were cutting it fine.

The climb broke me twice on the way back up the mountain. I pushed as hard as I could without red lining but it was almost impossible to stay under the threshold and keep moving at any kind of pace. I wasn’t in a hurry but I didn’t want to labour up something that would slow burn my reserves. I did reach a balance but whether psychological or otherwise, I was struggling to get my breathing rate down by the top of the pass. Down the other side once again I pushed straight through Hopeless and ran most of the way down the back side of Hope towards the rivers and Twin Lakes once again, this time at Mile 60.

I came in to Twin Lakes in significantly worse shape than when I’d left it earlier but was still eating and drinking well and felt like I had gas in the tank for the last 40 miles. My one issue was that I was without a pacer and ideally wanted one for the long night ahead. As soon as I began climbing the short rocky ascent out of Twin Lakes, a huge bearded runner in a chequered shirt stormed up behind me with a pacer bib on. I asked him where his runner was and he mentioned he didn’t have one so was just headed off on his own accord. I asked him if he’d perhaps want to stick with me and to my utter delight he responded yes. The guys name was Brian Ricketts and he’d just come off a finish at Tahoe Rim Trail 100 and wanted a long training run before Wasatch in 3 weeks time. I’d struck gold much as I did with my pacer Jeff at Western States in that Brian had paced here before. We climbed up out of Twin Lakes and burned at a great pace all the way down to Half Pipe and Mile 70. I had to take a pit stop on route but other than that we ran pretty much the whole thing and I felt great.

Things only started to unravel once we hit Half Pipe, I quite quickly fell nauseous and just as we pulled in to the mile long stretch of people parked up watching runners come through, I started hurling. I puked most of the stretch whilst continuing to walk, silencing a lot of the clapping and cheering, but once I’d finished I said sorry to everyone and got a huge cheer which was pretty nice.

Brian and I ground out the 4 mile road section into Fish Hatchery Mile 76.5 and dropped the mile or so to the base of Power Line, the final climb in the story. Power Line is a brute of a hill, it is steep, rutted, uneven and worst of all has 4 false summits pushing you on higher every time you think you’ve finished the climbing. At the top I felt ropey and it was with a grimace that we shuffled down the other side. I noticed at this point that Brian was easily able to keep up with my running pace by walking but I stuck it out, tried not to look across at him and kept up the ultra shuffle. We then hit the single track and dropped down to May queen with just 13.5 left to go. I was very cold by this stage and knew that I had to get my core temperature up otherwise I may just manage to mess all the hard work up in the final throws. I grabbed some blankets and a chair and hully got me massive plate of pancakes and syrup and some hot coffee. I knew I had no hope of busting 25 hours at that point but also that I’d finish in good time so I spent about 20 minutes there getting back on track. I don’t think I’ve ever been at an aid station for as long (without being held back medically) so it felt weird and wrong but so good at the same time.

Pancakes at May Queen. The stuff of dreams

Brian and I pushed on around Turqouise Lake which seemed to be neverending in the dark. When we finally came back out on to the road we could see a trail of headlamps back 6 miles behind us. We hit a steep descent where inexplicably the organisers had a photographer out at 5am in the pitch black shooting us coming through, and then began the slow climb from the 95 mile marker up to the finish, ascending all the way on dirt roads that we’d left town on 26 hours ago. We crested the final summit and could see the finish line back on the main street of the town ahead. I was trying to look out for Hully at that point so that we could finish the three of us together, but he was nowhere to be seen. It turns out we ran straight past him and he waited an hour and a half after I’d finished before coming back to the house to find us there. Whoops. Brian and I crossed the line in 26 hours 29 minutes to a small crowd and a very loud speaker. Finally done and a good race in the bag.

I loved this race – but primarily because I felt so good for 71% of it ( I can be precise because the nausea and vomiting came on very suddenly and undid everything as usual!). Much like Western it is a runners course and the 30 hour cut is a tough one to meet. In the end I finished 114th out of about 627 starters. Only 50 finished for a 56% finisher rate and 100 of them were in the final hour. Drew and Tim both squeezed in under the 25 hour barrier for a three from three.

I owe this one to Hully, Brian and Tim and Drew, a great trip and thoroughly recommended. One word of warning though, we had blue skies almost throughout. If it had rained, this race would have gone from very hard to almost impossible. This isn’t Western States or Vermont, this is a mountain race and the weather can turn fast. All through the night preceeding the race we were in a huge thunderstorm with driving rain and freezing temps. Thank the lord we raced Saturday instead of Friday….

In case anyone is wondering, I would say on edge that Western States is slightly harder than Leadville, but there is very little to choose.....

For now that's it for my racing season. I have been injured for 8 months and need to give my body a decent recovery period so that I can get back on track for 2012. I would like to say it has been a total disaster of a year, but being able to finish both WS and Leadville in one summer is as much as I could have hoped for given two stress fractures and almost zero run training. It has been a year to remember in as much as I have learned a lot once again but am very grateful for being able to do what I have this year despite everything.

12 Jul 11 by James Elson

South Downs Way Race 2011 & 2012

This past weekend I had a blast managing the 3rd Checkpoint on the South Downs Way 103 mile trail race from Eastbourne to Winchester. I have helped out at a few races over the years but never at a 100 mile (++) event and I have to say I was pretty humbled. I like to think that as a runner I am pretty gracious to the volunteers when I come in to an aid station, taking the time to thank them for spending 2/ 12/ 24+ hours standing out in all conditions with really one simple aim, of helping runners to reach their goal of finishing. Paul, another volunteer and I, set up in Washington Car Park, mile 49 on the course, at 3pm in the sunshine  and awaited our first runners to come through. We had quite a simple arrangement as there were 45 starters to worry about and not a marauding mass of 100s of 10k runners, so we put up a gazebo, a half a dozen chairs in the shade underneath and a long table across the front which we adorned with standard ultra fayre, 50 odd cups of coke and our aid station speciality cheese and ham wraps. At around 4pm Jen Jackson, the race director, arrived in the car and Paul and I went to get some extra water from the other side of the A24 where there is a tap right on the SDW trail. Then we sat around chatting and eating the aid station food waiting for our first runners.

At about 5:35pm Nicola Golunska rolled in, so a little over 8 and a half hours to around half way. It isn't exactly par for the course for a female to be leading a 100 mile race at the half way mark but clearly Nicola was on a mission and had pretty much killed her pacer in getting to us so quickly. Just as she left to carry on to Amberley, 7 miles up the track another runner Mark Collinson came through stopped and chatted for a minute whilst we filled his bottles, grabbed some food and went on his way also. And so the pattern continued. I hope and think that for our part we were pretty good at getting the runners what they needed, filling bottles, packs, grabbing food and drop bags and generally just trying to offer some encouragement but the response we got back from all 42 runners who came through Washington was fantastic. People seemed to respond well to the set up despite the fact that they had faced 49 miles of hilly terrain into a 20mph headwind and a blazing sun. In the end, 40 of the 42 made it out of the aid station and an incredible 37 of 45 starters finished the race. It made it a thoroughly rewarding experience and exemplified exactly why I got involved with ultras in the first place.

The race was only its second year and managed by Jen Jackson whom I have come to know from various trail events and from my recent appointment to the Trail Running Association Committee, which Jen also sits on. For some time, Jen has mentioned that she would like to move on from managing the SDW race in the future as it is simply too time consuming amongst the hundreds of other commitments in life. When I first decided to put on our first 100 back in August of last year, I looked at the South Downs Way as my logical first choice. It is the trail on which I have done most of my running and racing and quite frankly I just love the whole track although particularly the heart of it from Amberley up to Ditchling Beacon in daylight as well as at night. There was no way I was going to double up with Jens race however, one 100 miler on a national trail is enough after all, so I moved on to other locations and struck upon the North Downs Way and the Thames Path which we have up and running and we look forward to our first event in exactly a months time.

When Jen mentioned she wanted to hand the race over to somebody a few months ago I messaged her and explained how much I would love to take the South Downs Way Race on from 2012. To my delight, Jen has decided to hand it on to us to manage in the future.

Not much will really change as quite frankly, I didn't hear a single bad word said about the race this year and from end to end it was a resounding success. There are things that I like in 100s that I will probably look to add for 2012 but I will take nothing away. So, in short, in a few weeks time we will go live with entries for the continuation of the South Downs Way Race: 2012 Edition. I am overwhelmingly enthusiastic about this trail and I have little doubt that will end up rubbing off on the event and the communication for which I make no apologies! In the meantime, any questions can always be directed to me at racedirector@centurionrunning.com and I will post a little more when we have done a proper hand over with Jen and are ready to go.

So I guess really it's just left to say thanks to Jen for setting this race up and for throwing an unbelievable amount of time, energy and love into the race. Hopefully we will be able to continue to build on her hard work and turn this in to a long standing, well organised and significant UK 100 mile trail race.

For our part that will be 3 x 100 milers and I am not underestimating the amount of work that will be for our small team. I have a plan in my mind for a 4th 100 but not for some time yet and that will very definitely be all that we take on. As with limiting the number of runners for each event, we also want to make sure we limit the number of events themselves so that everything remains well organised, well executed and with runners safety and enjoyment at the top of the list of priorities.

Exciting times ahead but we have a very tough act to follow.

Oh and we just had our buckles for NDW100 mile finishers delivered. Pretty awesome I hope you'll agree....

100 miles one day (sub 24 hour) and Finisher  (sub 32 hour) Buckles

29 Jun 11 by James Elson

Western States 100 2011

In the race manual it gives 'Trashed Quads' as one of the main reasons for not finishing Western States 100. I had never really had trashed quads before but let me tell you it hurts bad. I recommend doing some running before doing WS and particularly, doing long downhills to get your legs used to being battered by descending.... sadly I hadn't run downhill since early February. I guess this was really an experiment in whether I could finish a tough 100 on just cross training and some mental stones.

I spent the Friday morning before race day going through runner registration involving signing the usual liability waivers, picking up a medical card, having a photo and short video clip taken for the webcast and then picking up the free race swag (Mountain Hardwear Pack, calf and arm sleeves, 2 race t shirts, fleece etc - all in all $$$s of free stuff). Then followed the medical check where they took our blood pressure, pulse and weight. The weight thing is good but annoying, they check us regularly throughout the race and if our weight differed by more than 3% up or down of registration weight, we may be asked to wait at an aid station to drink/ eat/ pee until our weight normalised before we can go on. If our weights differ from that at registration by 7% or more we would be pulled from the course on medical grounds (either dehydration or hyponatraemia).

I was one of the few people there without designated crew or pacers but I didn't mind, given that there were 24 aid stations over the 100 miles plus 10 places you could leave drop bags. Unfortunately I realised I had forgotten the gels GU had sent me for the race, plus my headlamps and cap so I went outside and found the GU rep who I kind of begged to help me out by giving me replacement gels (thank you GU rep) and then bought the other stuff. I spent the rest of the day chilling out with Ian Sharman, discussing his race strategy for at the least, breaking the top 10 again and then later with David Snipes (Sniper) a friend of mine from VA going for the Last Great Race this year (Old Dominion, Western States, Vermont, Angeles Crest, Leadville and Wasatch Front all in one summer).

I got up the following morning at 3am, drove the car back up to Squaw Valley and climbed out into the freezing morning air. When I got back to the check in it was packed with runners and their crews mostly eating and forcing that second morning movement pre race. At  0455, I lined up with 400 other runners and watched the clock click down the last few minutes to 5am and race start.

Obviously I had no idea how things were going to go. My one goal was to cross the finish line in Auburn. To have presumed I was capable of achieving anything more than that on a stress fracture and a total of 11 running miles in the preceeding 6 weeks would have been naive to say the least. Whilst I am by no means an elite runner I do usually make the top 10% of the field at most races so I made sure I forced myself to wait back of the bulk of the field at the start and to try to stay there as much as possible to make sure i didn't get swept up in racing anybody.

The first 4.5 miles of WS climbs from the base of Squaw Valley and winds up gravel paths under the ski lifts all the way to the escarpment and over the top of the mountain. There is no downhill or flat in this section, just a slope which varies in pitch from runnable to a steep hike. When the gun went I could see the front runners streaming away up the path, I ran maybe 300 - 400 yards and then settled in to a power walk up the hill. The first 3 miles went by quickly as the sun started to come up and from there we turned left to go directly up the ski slope which was still covered in thick snow.

It was here that I first realised how bad my road shoes were going to be at gripping on snow with an icy crust on top. I slid around a lot but made it up and over the top of the climb in around an hour. The views across Lake Tahoe behind were incredible as everyone told me they would be.

(language warning in almost all videos....)


Once over the summit, we hit a smooth downhill trail which led us straight into a forest where the snow was at its thickest. The going for the next 9 miles through that stuff varied between runnable snow and sliding on hands and arse down steep icy slopes ie. between 0.5 and 7 miles per hour. I went over hard over a dozen times and by the time we had descended far enough to get out of the snow, my arms were killing me from arresting so many falls.


I went through Talbot aid at Mile 13 in 3 hours exactly, had a couple of gels and refilled my water before making quick work of the next 7 mile section down to Poppy at mile 20, hitting that in 4 hours dead. By this time my quads were already sore. Anybody who has run Western States before will know that if your quads are sore by mile 20 you are in serious trouble, because you have about 20000 feet of downhill to contend with after that point. I knew I was in pain because I had done no running, I was asking my legs to do work that they were just not used to. The fact that I knew this would happen coming in to the race made me better equipped just to block it out and get on with it.

The short section between here and Duncan Canyon at mile 23 was stunning, all single track winding through trees around the edge of a lake and crossing small streams. From Duncan Canyon followed a long downhill descent on trail and then road, before a steep climb in the now building heat back up to Mosquito Ridge at Mile 31. This was the first time in the day I felt like I'd gone too hard. People had started to pass me on the down hills where I was already in pain but on the ascents I made all that time back and more with pretty strong climbing legs. At Mosquito Ridge I caught up with Sniper and we ran the 4 mile loop at the top together, grabbing snow from the trail to dump under my hat which helped cool me back down from overheating temporarily. I let Sniper go once we went through Millers Defeat at 35 and the next 3 miles were on what should have been a lovely winding, easily runnable descent. Unfortunately I was getting overtaken again by everyone I'd just cruised past because my quads felt like they were being jarred out of my legs. If I'd know what was to come I would have started to panic, luckily I was blissfully unaware.

The next section of WS, the canyons, should be reasonably straight forward but cause many to come unstuck. Over the next 20ish miles (38 - 56) you descend deep down into a canyon and climb back up the other side, repeat 3 times. It is this section that most runners do in the heat of the day and there is no air down there. Luckily we only had 90 ish degree temps rather than the usual 110 to 120. The first canyon drops steeply from Last Chance at mile 43 all the way down to a creek at the bottom before climbing back up the fabled Devils Thumb at mile 47. If you had gone on a nice trail run and your legs weren't trashed already, the descent would be one of the most enjoyable running experiences imaginable with lots of sweeping switchbacks. My quads were so battered however that I was forced to walk most of the descent and every step was causing more and more pain. At the bottom, I spent some time stretching my legs out and had already lost a lot of the flex and bend. The climb up Devils Thumb is intense. 1500 feet in a mile or so with 36 switchbacks. It is the kind of climb where you look up above you and the runners ahead look like they are perched on a cliff directly above you. When I got to the top at mile 43 I felt totally spaced out and my weight was down 4 lbs which was right on the limit. I had again passed everyone that had cruised past me on the descent but I'd overdone it and let my HR climb too high for too long. I forced some food down at this point and just kept moving so as not to let my legs seize up. Into the next canyon was a repeat performance, although less steep the descent was again horrific and the climb back out to Michigan Bluff at mile 55.7 was long and hard too.

I realised I had a chance of making Forest Hill at Mile 62 before dark and wanted to do so to give myself a boost psycologically. Apart from my quads everything else was pretty ok, no chaffing, blisters bad but manageable and i'd been eating and drinking well. I head out of the aid there and went on my way with two of the medic sweepers that are out running sections of the course throughout the day. I got chatting to those guys and one of them really kindly offered to go ahead the last mile into Forest Hill and find me a pacer. I made good time on this section and got to Forest Hill at mile 62 before it got dark in 15:22. Slow by any normal standards but good going for me all things considered.


Everyone tells you pre race to 'save some running in your legs for after Forest Hill - it gets much easier'. Well that's all well and good but if your quads are shot to pieces there is nothing you can do to recover them. I tried everything, snatching sticks out of the bushes to push down my legs and try and run the lactic acid out, stretching. Nothing worked.

At Forest Hill I picked up my pacer, Jeff which the medic had kindly sorted out for me (i offered him a free spot in the TP100 for helping me out). Jeff was amazing. He had been waiting for a friend to come through Forest Hill from where he would pace him to the finish. Unfortunately his friend had dropped earlier in the race and that was to my benefit. Jeff just got it straight away. I told him my expectations at that point were just to finish and not kill myself doing it given that Vermont was three weeks away. Was it possible to go sub 24 still? Probably, but to find out might put me so far into the red that it could take months to get back out again like Badwater last year. I said 25 - 26 hours seemed reasonable and that I just wanted my shin to hold up and he agreed. Jeff lives for these trails. God knows how many hours he has spent on the Western States trail over the years but he knew every nook and cranny. He had also paced somebody last year from the same point. To have someone in a race when it's getting dark and you've been on your feet for 16 hours already, telling you exactly how long the next climb is or how far to the next runnable section is invaluable. Not only that but his help at the aid stations was out of this world. As we approached I would let him know what i needed ie. how much powder to put in to the water bladder, what i needed from the bag, food etc etc and he just did it allowing me to either stretch, puke or just stand at the food table eating everything I could.

I say puke because over the next 10 - 15 miles I started to get pretty nauseous. We ran down the Cal Street trail until it got dark and made ok time through the aid station at 65, then on to Peachstone at mile 70. At this point though I tried to put a cup of coke, a quesadilla and 2 ibuprofen in my mouth at the same time, starting chewing and blew everything all over the side of the aid station. It came hard and fast and I missed Jeff by inches. What followed was a total evacuation of everything I had in my system. Retching really hard made me pull my stomach muscles but once it was all out I felt tons better. We proceeded on through the dark trails and got to the river crossing at mile 78 around 1am.

The American River is usually crossed on foot at this point but it was almost in flood this year with all the meltwater. At Rucky Chucky - Mile 78, Jeff and I donned life jackets and climbed into a raft for a quick journey across to the other side. It would have been spectacular had I not been freezing cold and in pain but despite that it was still an experience I'll never forget.

When we got to the other side I changed socks for the first time and found all the skin had come away from the bottom of my feet. There was a foot guy there but I just placed the socks over the flaps of skin and pressed down into my shoes to get it to all stay put. We began the 2 mile climb up to Green Gate at mile 80 and the going was slow but steady. The next 10 miles or so we tried to keep a pace of between 3 and 4 mph over all terrain, the trail just winding through the woods was great and again any other time would have been incredible running but with quads this sore it was hard to enjoy that much. The light started to come up just as we hit Browns Bar at Mile 90 which was an experience....


Once through Browns Bar we had roughly 3 x 3.5 mile sections to go and plenty of time in the bag. I had gone a little quiet but Jeff knew it was just the pain in my legs causing that. He kept pushing me to eat salt and drink a little as my hands were pretty swollen and my weight still up 3 or 4 pounds at the previous weigh in. We got down to Highway 49 crossing and went straight on through the aid station. They don't tell you that this last 10 miles is almost all straight up or straight down but it is. Nothing severe but pretty rough going actually. It was getting to the point where I was having real trouble negotiating the descents now at any speed. I felt pretty sick with the pain and didn't want to puke again so just gutted it out as best I could but we were really crawling along. From mile 93.5 we made the climb up and then the steep descent down to No Hands Bridge at 96.5. This should have been really enjoyable again but it was a death march. This being the last downhill however, I started to lighten up a little. Across No Hands, we then made the climb up to Robie Pt at mile 98.9 out of the trail and the heat and on to the last mile to the track at Auburn. Tim Twietmeyer came past at this point the other way down the trail and said well done which was flattering considering he's run WS 25 times, all in under 24 hours.

The last mile to the track was a gentle stroll. I couldn't have cared less about the overall time at that point, I had 2 hours to do a mile so we just ambled in with Jeff trying to get me to 'loosen up my quads' to run round the track at the end. When we got there the reception was fantastic, people cheering all the way round the 300 yards. Sniper, who'd finished a couple of hours before, got up and jogged the last 200 with us across the finish line as John Medinger the announcer read out my name. It felt good to cross the line, total time 28:25.


I was elated that I'd got it done. Mentally it was my strongest ever performance. Not once did I even come close to contemplating taking extended time at an aid station, let alone sleeping/ stopping or just dropping out. Ordinarily I would be disappointed with a crappy death march to the finish but to have expected anything else would have been insane. As a result I did what I could and I was lucky enough to be allowed to make a 100 mile journey last weekend. And what's more my shin lasted the distance. Western States lived up to everything it is pertained to be. Yes the organisation is fantastic albeit a little fanatical but mostly it is the trail itself that holds this race up there at the top. It is simply an awesome track.

As soon as I crossed the line a medic took my pulse and told me it was 121 so high. I had just covered 100 miles and run the last 300 yard section in to the finish. No shit my pulse was high. Then I made my way over and got a sports massage. Two people clamping me to the table basically pushed as much crap out of my quads as possible and it was excruciating. I lasted about 10 minutes under their care and it was deeply painful but ultimately beneficial. Sniper, John his pacer and I took a long drive back to Truckee after and grabbed some lunch but we were all falling asleep at the table having been up for 38+ hours so hit the sack shortly after.

I have to say thanks to Lisa Smith-batchen who coached me through the worst period in my running career. In short, Lisa got me through this race by training almost entirely on a stationary bike, stepper and strider. Not too many people could have got me to a place where i could even start on that basis, let alone finish with time to spare. Joe and Mike at the EIS who were able to finally diagnose my bone issues and set me on the straight and narrow deserve the reward of this finish also. Jeff Egolf, I am deeply indebted to you my friend you are one hell of a pacer.

So what's next? Well that was race 1 of the 4 in the Grand Slam. Vermont is next in just 3 weeks time (16th July) which is not a lot of time to recover. Of 32 who stared the slam at Western States, 8 DNF'd there so we are down to 24 already. On the way home my feet swelled up to horrendous proportions and my blisters and quads are going to take time to heal but with the right preparation and lots of rest I should yet be ok for Vermont. The only blocker will be if my shin shows any residual damage when the swelling in my legs goes down. I have made no secret of the fact that in order of priority, Western States and then Leadville came top for me so if Vermont will force me from Leadville I won't start there. It's one day and one race at a time this summer. Who knows what could happen, I got through that one ok!

9 Apr 11 by James Elson

Badwater Redux

The best thing about finishing races is being able to look back on them and wince. I hadn't ever seen these shots form Badwater before, they were on a camera in the car which my buddy Rich used to shoot some extra shots as and when the mood struck. Looking over them now it's obvious he managed to capture just how painful a journey that 39 hours was because I wasn't aware of the camera being there. I haven't forgotten it and I don't expect I ever will. WHAT a race this is, I will go back one day and make it right, albeit I am very proud of finishing that monster.

Early Pit Stop
On the road to Furnace Creek Mile 17
Stovepipe Mile 42: 8 hours 28 to this point, totally ruined my race
by starting too quick.
I spent most of the Darwin to Lone Pine section (mile 90 - 122)
going less than 2mph. The chaffing I suffered was horrific and
turned the race into an almight slog. When I stopped to meet the crew
was the only respite I could get from the burning blistered skin. I sat down
twice for less than 5 minutes for fear of not getting going again.
Lone Pine. 13 miles and 5000 feet to climb. Head down, one foot in front of
the other. 

13 Mar 11 by James Elson

Thames Path 100

Al and I finally got our act together and launched the new website this week. It is so much better than the previous one in terms of communicating the details of each race to potential runners and allowing them to stay in touch with race news and progress.

As part and parcel of that we sent registrations live for the Thames Path 100 at the same time. A 100 mile non stop run from Richmond in London to Oxford.

We have worked very hard to make sure we don't clash with any existing race dates and particularly to stay clear of the excellent races put on by Go Beyond (Country to Capital 45 mile and Thames Trot 50 mile) always in Jan and early Feb each year. A big part of that is that selfishly I intend to keep running those races myself every year!!!!

In the end I went for the first week of March. My frustration as a runner is that there are no early season long ultra courses available in the UK. As such I have flown to the States twice to run Rocky Raccoon because I like to race often and stay fit rather than have a big gap over Christmas. It gave me that early season opportunity to get a good 100 mile trail run under my belt. For experienced runners it will also provide a gauge of where they are in terms of fitness and of how difficult some of the longer or more challenging 100 mile plus races are going to be for them during the true long ultra race season of May to September. The TP100 will form an excellent platform for major races across the summer. I include in the category of major races: GUCR, WHW, Badwater, Spartathlon, Lakeland 100, UTMB, Western States, Leadville, Hardrock etc etc. 

It is always going to be a balancing act putting on new events. We will always incur some criticism for either clashing with existing race dates or putting races on, on courses or national trails that are already covered by existing events. In my opinion there is room for 3 things: 
1. An early season long course. 
2. A race that offers first time 100 milers a chance to complete the distance under the simplest possible conditions, after all the distance itself is enough of a challenge. 
3. Another 100 mile option to UK runners at an affordable price. 

I'm sure also, as per the NDW100, that we will receive a backlash against the cost of the TP100 entry, which I have set at £85. The cost is £85 for two reasons. 1. That is the minimum I have worked out we can charge runners and not lose money. That is based on reaching a certain reasonable but optimistic number of entries which I will keep to myself bearing in mind we are including buckles for all finishers, easily the most expensive part of staging this race but crucial in my eyes, to give people something they can take away and be proud of apart from the sheer pleasure of simply finishing and having the memory of doing so. 2. Because I personally consider £85 for a 100 mile/ 30 hour fully supported marshaled and marked race with proper medical back up, good value for money. The cheapest 100 I have entered to date is Rocky Raccoon and the early entry cost for that is $130, or, you guessed it..... £85. 

The cost has always been the most difficult thing to get right for me. I am extremely confident I or rather we as a team can give people an awesome race day experience, because frankly I intend to put on my ideal race as a runner, leaving as little as possible and preferably nothing to chance. Things will go wrong in our first events but the mistakes will be minimal and there will be plenty of capable people around on race day to ensure that we correct any mistakes swiftly and properly. I guess I feel a little vindicated in our costings given that we are up to 57 runners for the NDW races, 5 months from race date, and the fact that 6 people signed up within 24 hours of the TP100 going live, 12 months prior to race date. 

Last thing to be aware of really is limiting numbers in case the races turn out to be so popular that we get out of control. I have put reasonable limits on all the races, a number that I feel we can properly manage in our first year. There has to be an element of 'testing the water' and in my eyes to unleash 100s of runners on to new race courses, is irresponsible. This after all is not Western States which I understand will have 1400 volunteers this year for under 400 of us runners. Insane.

So thanks to those who have supported us already and I promise we will do everything that we physically can to blow you away before, during and after race day. 

For those that follow the misery of my running career at the moment, I am currently spending between 2 and 3 hours a day cycling in the gym, wearing a cast on my left foot. Im not joking. Some of the looks I've been getting are priceless. It is mind numbing and not in the least bit enjoyable but hopefully I can retain some level of fitness for the Grand Slam. There is one bonus, I get to watch a shed load of TV ( mounted to the bike frame). Today I watched 3 back to back episodes of Jamie Oliver cooking tapas on Channel 4, whilst burning 1100 calories. I have to wear this thing for between 4 and 8 weeks. Oh JOY!!!!!