In TV land there is saying, don’t work with children or animals, because these are things you can’t control, lols. In running the golden rule is don’t try new things on race day. Well, I have worked with both Children and animals, to varying degrees of success but no harm came to either or me on those shoots. The same can’t be said, now about the running rule!

The 2023 “A” race is Lavaredo Ultra trail. 120km in the dolomites, with 5800m+ and a 30 hour cut off. This will be my longest mountain race to date in a place I have wanted to visit for a while. Training has been pretty steady so coach and I decided that a decent training race would be good for late April/early May. Something to test me and find out where I was at.

With Gif and Dorota just before the start.

The Maverick X series Exmoor Ultra has been on my “I want to do” list for a while. For two reasons, the course looked amazing with a mixture of coast paths, moorland and enchanted woodlands. Plus it would tick off another national park in my “do a race in every Uk National park challenge”. The event is 58km, with around 2700m+ in hills but only has a 10 hour cut off. On paper it’s roughly half the distance and half the elevation of Lavaredo and 6 weeks out, perfect! The cut off being tight though, meant I would have to keep moving, even though I wasn’t racing.

There were some key things I wanted to practice/test on the day.

Fitness, in general and on hills.

Nutrition, I haven’t put an effort in longer than 4.5 hours for a while.

Equipment/kit, I have some new poles, a new WP jacket etc.

Let’s go in reverse order. Kit wise, last year I purchased a set of ultra light Leki poles, that I decided would be good for the summer mountain races. The black diamond ones I have are getting a bit worn but are still great for the winter events, where you need gloves under the loops (yes I know you can get warm Leki gloves but that’s more expense). I also found the BD poles harder to get back in my quiver which was causing me to keep them out and thus change my running economy and reliance on them for the downhills early in races. These Leki ones are super thin and seemed to slip and out of the quiver so much easier. The plan was to use them on climbs of 200m or more, then put straight away after the top. This worked out to about 6 or 7 of the climbs on route. Getting the little glove things fitted was a bit of a faff to start but once I managed the tension right, they were ok. The snap in and out mechanism for connecting them was great and meant I didn’t need to remember which pole is left or right as they are the same. I found the action of using them a little different as the sizing is a little bigger but after 3 uses my shoulders got used to it and they are so very light, I mentioned this before but it’s true, effortless in the hands and I loved the cork style handles too. Getting them out and putting away was also a dream, apart from when my hands were sweaty but I figured out a trick on that. The button release is super easy too. A worthwhile investment imo. RRP they are £200, which is crazy, but I found  this pair for £130 (thanks to a friend) and it seems the average price you can find them for is £140-£150, which is still a lot but I feel it was worthwhile.

The other bits of kit I tested out, were the new montane phase nano goretex jacket. This is actually bought for the spine challenger but when we left the BnB, it was raining quite a lot. The initial forecast was for heavy rain in the morning, so thought this would be a good test to see how it felt and worked when running. It kept me bone dry for the hour waiting to start and the first 10mins, then went in the bag as we had pretty good weather the rest of the day. So not a full test yet but positive signs. I also had a shoe dilemma as I heard there would be quite a bit of compacted path, a bit of Moreland and some lovely woodland trails. So I brought shoe options with smaller lugs. I had run 2 ultras in 2022 in the La Sportiva Jackal, so knew how they would handle this but another shoe I purchased last year was the Arc’teryx Novan LD3. These are a similar fit to a Salomon sense ride but a bit more cushion and more importantly a Vibram mega grip outsole. I thought it was worth giving these a shot as they have plenty of cushioning and could be an excellent back up to another shoe I plan to use in Lavaredo. This turned out to be an excellent choice as an all rounder. Yes it was pretty muddy (because of the heavy rain) on a fair bit of the course but these shoes actually did pretty well, the fact I didn’t fall over is a testament to that. I also felt pretty good on the downhills too, although not too rocky. At the end of the race my feet felt fresh too. They will definitely be in my drop bag as a back up!

Early doors on the coast path

Now to fuelling.

My plan was to use, gels, Veloforte chews, a cheese and pickle wrap and some aid station snacks like Jaffa cakes, fruit and maybe some crisps. Now, usually I work out a nutrition plan and write it in a Google sheet but for some reason I just guessed this race would take 8 hours, so packed 8 gels and 2 Veloforte packs.

I started well, taking in a couple of gels and grabbing said food from the first aid station in the first couple of hours. By two hours later though I realised I had made an error as my stomach was bit messed up. I realised I wouldn’t be able to eat my wrap as it would probably send me straight into a bush and tbh, there really wasn’t an option for a bush dive, of the squatting variety! At the 3rd aid station I decided to try a PH gel. I had never had one before but I knew I needed to ration the SiS ones I brought with me. I knew it would be a risk but was willing to take it and see what happened. We had the biggest climb of the race ahead of us, around 450m, which is small by most standards but still enough. Once up and over the climb and trucking along a fire road, I felt the sickness, I stopped and had to dry retch for a minute. I felt rubbish but at least I hadn’t thrown up the nutrition. I took another of these gels at the next aid station and had no issues but I was definitely feeling less energy towards the end of this section. I think the lack of real food was hitting me. I had one SiS gel left at the final aid, so took another PH to use in emergency. I took the SiS one half way up the penultimate hill, that kept me going but then the final hill was a steep road one and half way up I felt so week. So I took the PH one, took a min to let it settle, then climbed the rest of the way. At the top though, I threw it and all the water I had just had up into a bush. I was so thankful this was about 3km from the end though as I knew it would be ok.

1.5km from the finish and I am done, lols

It was annoying that I couldn’t take the bigger real food due to stomach risk but more annoyed I hadn’t brought enough gels with me and thus had to risk the unknown. It’s obvious the PH ones don’t agree with me so that’s one to cross off my list. I’ll definitely have a full plan for Lavaredo, with bonus gels available. If this had been a longer race,I would have been in trouble.

Fitness, where am I at? How has the last block adapted me? I had a bit of a stumble, with a hamstring strain which meant I missed a full week and bit of training, followed by a lighter come back week intensity wise but I got lucky. Coming into this race, I had a feeling my hill legs were missing something though. Fast hiking up has always been my super power, even on the last big climb of CCC I was still over taking people. This is a different race though. The longest climb is around 450m but otherwise it’s more like death from 1000 cuts, hills wise. They all add up and I certainly felt it a bit in the last 3rd. Maybe I ran the first half a bit quick but I was conscious of the cut offs and keeping nicely ahead of them but it meant I couldn’t really dawdle and faff in aid stations. The first half of the race I felt pretty comfortable though, trucking along passing friends and enjoying the scenery. I did ponder about dropping down to the marathon distance but PC had said it was worth sticking to the ultra for the route and he wasn’t wrong. After the split somehow I naturally fell into a group and we all seemed to be moving at a similar ish pace for a while, which was nice. We were comfortable 2hours ahead of the cut off. Over the next few hours people came and went in the group but I managed to stick with James and Kate. Plenty of banter was had but I was aware of the fuelling issue. It was starting effect my performance. Coming towards the 50km mark, I let them go on and went to my own pace. Took a few extra minutes at the final aid station before heading out to tackle the last 8km. This is where it went wrong really. As I mentioned before, my fuelling was off, so the energy was down. It became a sufferfest, when really it shouldn’t have. It had two main climbs to tackle but plenty of runnable bits too. I walked, way too much here to be honest. I was done and done. The lack of food and throwing up just meant I wanted to get to that finish line and have a shower. Before I started, I guessed it would take me between 7 and 8 hours. I finished in 8hrs 43mins. I think if had had a better last 10km, it would have been closer to 8hrs15 but otherwise pretty happy to accept it’s a beast of a course and I wasn’t racing.

Sorry to be so down as the course is ace. It has coastal paths, great views (when the clouds lifted), a technical rocky section, woodland trails, moors, waterfalls, rivers, goats, horses, sheep and cows. The volunteers were top notch as always on maverick events. Bringing good vibes to my slightly down beat mood. The weather was also pretty good, it didn’t rain again after stopping, even got a bit warm and muggy at times. I even had apply some sun cream, thanks to James as I noticed my arms getting a little pink!

A sign of a good training race in my book is that by Tuesday I was able to run an easy 40, with no issues and have a solid recovery week with no ill affects. Now it’s time to focus on the vert and and race planning. Dolomites, I am coming for you!

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