2016: Highs and Lows

It's that strange time of year around Christmas and New Year, when every day feels like a Sunday and you wonder just how much more cheese you can eat. In short, a perfect time to write a blog. And at the turning of the year, 2016 seems the obvious subject, and it's been an interesting year! There's nothing new here though, so I'll keep it brief and try to include some good photos.

Please also forgive me for being selfish; this blog is already too long without mention of the amazing achievements of others in 2016, including British Champion Rhys Findlay-Robinson, Nicky Spinks' double Bob Graham round, my brother's epic Frankfurt marathon experience, and all the great achievements of my team mates at events throughout the year. Well OK, only that much mention of them. Cheers for the inspiration.

Here we go then...
Sunny valleys in the early season
Last January I was living and working near St Martin de Belleville in the French Alps. The snow conditions weren't great for skiing, but this meant I got to do a lot of running. I had some great runs out in the mountains in the early part of the season, and made some good summits.

Finally reaching the top of the Pointe de Diallant
I didn't do much racing over the Winter, but at the end of the season I took part in the Defi l'Olympe race, a short uphill only race under the cable car from Brides les Bains to Meribel les Allues. The race went pretty well and I had a good battle with the eventual winner, but couldn't quite stay with him towards the end and finished second.

Hanging around in the sun after the Defi l'Olympe
Our winter season was brilliant, we had a fantastic time and I learned a bit about Ski Mountaineering and Touring as well as running. Skimo is something I hope to do some more of in the future...

Ski touring - my best new sport of 2016!
After an awesome winter we made our way back to the UK. After a few months at altitude I hoped I'd be pretty fit, I didn't get to race while I was back in the UK but got some solid training in while living with my Sister-in-law in Herefordshire.

Misty mornings in Herefordshire
I also managed a quick trip back to the Peak District to have a go at repeating Pete Simpson's 26 trigs, which was a fantastic, if wet and horrible weather-wise plod around the Dark and White peaks. I was chuffed to take 7 minutes off Pete's record, an add a trig point to his route (though there's a bit more to it than that - see the blog!)

In June, we headed back to the Alps. We were in Chatel this time, with theoretically less work and more time off. I started with a race, the Scott Trail des Cretes du Chablais. This time, there had been loads of snow at the start of the season, and the race was actually shortened slightly and re-routed, but it was still an amazing experience. I had a reasonable race, but the alpine locals are pretty good in their backyard. The race was truly incredible: I remember traversing a steep snow-covered slope under bright moonlight, with a little rope to hang on to and an undefined drop down below me. But over this type of terrain, I was slow relative to the locals and lost lots of time. I finished 10th, looking forward to what I could learn about alpine running over the summer.

At the 3am start of the Trail des Cretes du Chablais
The rest of the summer went by in a bit of a blur, a blur of ascent, mountain summits and stunning views in all directions. I few times I pushed myself further than I have before, and scared myself a few times in the process, but I also had some of the most enjoyable running experiences of my life.
It was particularly great to do some running and reach some great summits with Lorna, including Mont de la Grange (2432m).

Lorna descending Mont de la Grange
There were a number of highlights over the summer, including a new FKT for the Chatel 3 peaks, my first "official" sub-60 minute vertical kilometer, a medal in the bike race up the Col de Bassechaux, and a fantastic overnight run around the Portes du Soleil. However, the real highlight and probably my best run ever, was the ascent of Haute Cime, at 3259m the highest of the Dents du Midi.

The Dents du Midi (Haute Cime on the right)
This was a bit of an epic - 36km and 3222m from Chatel to the summit, and 34km / 1200m on the way back. It took just over 11 hours but was an incredible experience all round. I made a quick video on the way round, which is still available here.

Despite having a lot of time off, Saturdays were a busy day over the summer, so unfortunately I wasn't actually able to race all that much. Towards the end of the season I did manage to get to an event though, and had a decent second place in the Trail du Bellevue. I was pleased with this race, and felt that my running had progressed since the Trail des Cretes du Chablais in June. I was more comfortable on the tricky technical stuff and had no problem with the ascent.

Soon it was September and time to come back to the UK, and back to Herefordshire for a few weeks. After this we moved to Litton in the Peak District. Here we lived in a little holiday apartment, it was another great place for running and we were blessed with some amazing autumnal weather. Litton also saw the arrival of our second rescue dog, Maggie.

Outside our little apartment in Litton (Old dog Acer hiding, new dog Maggie showing off)
While we were in Litton I took part in my first UK race, the inaugural Peakrunner Dark Peaks 30. It was a great event, and I was chuffed to win. It was also a beautiful day and a great reminder that although perhaps sometimes less spectacular than the Alps, the Peak District is a stunning place. Another awesome run out from Litton a few weeks later (including a huge cloud inversion over the entire district and a brokenspectre on Lose Hill) served as a good second reminder!

Win Hill Cloud inversion: Incredible.
While in Litton I also started my little charity, Runners against Rubbish. The aim of the charity is to remind people that leaving rubbish on the hills, in the countryside, or in fact anywhere, is totally unacceptable. It's going well and we currently have around 100 members. Membership costs £2 and includes a badge and a car sticker to help spread the word. We've also started some more proactive action and have recently been litter-picking in Peak District. This will be happening more over the spring and summer, but even if you don't want to come out litterpicking you can help us spread the message - we'd love to have you on board!

A Runners against Rubbish membership pack
While in Litton it was also time to embrace some realities - while Lorna and I vowed to keep our Alpine mindsets, it was also time to get a job. This probably took a little longer than I hoped, and during this time I struggled a bit with motivation and self esteem, but I am really pleased that I now have a new research job at the University of Sheffield. I'm very happy to be returning to the University where I have had so many great experiences over the years, and pleased to be working on renewable energy again.

Unfortunately I also seem to have picked up a little injury from somewhere, and have pain in my adductors. Coach Stu Hale also tells me that my running style has changed and that I overuse my quads in favour of my glutes, possibly caused by all that ascent over the summer, which I thought was making me stronger, not weaker! The timing of this injury is a shame as I've just received a pair of Scott Supertrac RC shoes, which are the shoes I've been wishing Scott would make for a while. They are basically the child of a pair of Kinbalu Supertrac (great grip and upper, but a bit heavy) and the RC (superlight racers, but a more trail-y sole), so they are light and grippy. Perfect for the Peak District, particularly at this time of year!

Scott Supertrac RC. Awesome, but really annoying if you're not running!
So, with these shoes waiting in my porch, and after a few weeks of only light duties over the Christmas and New Year period, I am now raring to go again and can't wait to get stuck into 2017.

Writing this blog has reminded me of a few things - firstly how much I enjoyed our time in the Alps, but that I don't need to be on foreign soil to enjoy racing or take on some serious epics, and secondly how grateful I am to my coach Stu Hale and everyone at the Accelerate Performance Centre for their help, and to Scott and the Accelerate shop for their amazing support (and Scott for making my dream shoe!). There have been times this year when I have justified this support, and times when I have not, but you have all stuck with me and I'm really grateful to you for having faith in me. I will try harder than ever to repay some of this in 2017.

Happy New Year, and bring it on :)


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