Friday, 10 August 2018

Highland Fling - 28/04/2018

Somehow my original Fling Post was deleted :-(
It was a brilliant event.  A quick start and memorable view of Loch Lomond from Conic Hill was followed by a frustrating Lochside section from which I emerged tired.  The last 15 miles were a struggle and I finished a little wobbly.  Amazing support, pipers and volunteers, what a great event!

Sunday, 5 August 2018

West Highland Way Race - 23/06/2018

"Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt" - John Muir

The WHW race is one of the longest established '100 milers' in the world having been run since 1985.  It's considered a classic by so many and is a must do for ultra trail runners from the UK and worldwide.  It covers the route of the classic hiking trail from Milngavie on the outskirts of Glasgow, heading North all the way to Fort William in the Highlands.

The race would start at 1 am on Saturday morning.  Arriving Thursday evening, we spent the night in an apartment I had rented off of Rab C Nesbitt's mother in law and hatched a plan for how my crew could meet me at the required stops and get some sleep themselves.  For the first of many times over the weekend, Ben manfully stepped up to the plate.  This time quite literally by putting away 107 portions of my homemade lasagne to ensure we didn't have the problem of disposing of leftovers.

2 Tough 2 Kill Krew - Loch Lomnd
After the last few pieces of detail were prepared, a lazy Friday was had with a brief recce of the first two checkpoints for dad and a spiffing lunch at the Oak Tree Inn at Balmaha.  Bobby and Ben came to the start as dad caught up on shut eye with a 3 am alarm set to crew me at Balmaha and Rowardennan.  I've loved the night time starts I have had in my more recent long races, the atmosphere is always buzzing, you get to tackle the difficult small hours whilst you still have plenty in the tank and you get that uplifting sunrise. 

1 a.m Milngavie - 96 miles to go
You're smiling now....
Having started way too quick and ending with an epic bonk at the Highland Fling in April which covers the first half of this race, I reigned in the enthusiasm for the first 20 miles.  They are very flat and runnable but I didn't let my watch tick under 10 minute miles.  It was sunrise as we reached the crews at Balmaha and the midgies were having a feast on our exposed legs and arms.  Dad was there right on time in the small hours refilling me and feeding me Weetabix and his amazing homemade power bars.  

Elite crew storm into action - Kind of
The long section on the Lochside was beckoning, I had such a tough time there in the Fling in April it really derailed my race.  This time I decided to conserve as much energy as possible and be patient amongst the tree roots and boulder hopping.  No crew access for hours so just suck it up and get it done.

I finally emerged from the woods at Beinglas Farm and passed through the hordes of crews to find Bobby, Ben and Dad ready with the camp chair, time for a long overdue stop after 42 miles.  It was now 9.37 am and I had gained 40 places since Balmaha.  The lochside section had been hard again but it didn't kick my arse in the same way it had at the Fling.  Bobby stepped up as usual and set about cleaning the hundreds of sweat drowned midges which were covering my arms, face and legs. Well above and beyond I'd say.  After refuelling, I left in good spirits looking forward to a day running in the spectacular scenery of the Highlands.  Its all downhill from here right?

Rolling into Beinglas

Midgies for brekfast

The next section was wonderful with sweeping views all around and perfect weather conditions for running.  As I approached Crianlarich I played cat and mouse with one runner but we were otherwise alone.  I wondered whether the gang would hike up the trail to meet me and it was ace to see them waiting for me at the deer fence as we entered the woods close to half way.  They had brought fruit and fizzy pop which went down a storm, I didn't stay long here, knowing there would be lots of chances to catch up with my crew from now on.  I was quickly heading up the hill again feeling good,  I'd become the cat once again.

Approaching Crianlarich
Arriving at Auchtertyre soon afterwards there was an obligatory weighing station which required my crew to meet me with my record card.  Our weight was being monitored throughout the event as sudden weight gain or loss can be an indicator of serious problems in endurance running events particularly with respect to kidney injuries.  But my crew were nowhere to be seen, cue panic from the marshalls there.  To be honest, I wasn't too worried, they arrived after ten minutes or so having got delayed at Crianlarich and then missed the turn off.  I wasn't chasing a time and I certainly wasn't goimg to let a little thing like this spoil my day.  They eventually arrived in somewhat of a fluster but I think they felt better when they saw I was relaxed about the whole thing.  After all they had all given up so much to be there making sure I got this thing done in one piece!

Next up, Bridge of Orchy at 61 miles where I arrived at 14.20 and would be picking up my pacer Ben.  I had a blast pacing him through the night on his first 100 back in May and now was the chance to repay the favour with strict instructions to kick my arse all the way to the finish if needed.  Dad had warmed tomato soup, and I drank it all down with bread and freshened up with a clean shirt.

Our first job was to climb the infamous jelly baby hill where we were serenaded by supporting marshalls with the Superman theme on the tin whistle.  I was feeling pretty strong, uplifted by the incredible views here.  We had a great run across Rannoch Moor on the old military road to Glencoe passing runners (all now with pacers) who had been an hour or so in front of me earlier in the day.

Still smiling somewhere near Glencoe
Dry trails and road shoes all the way!

Close to the old Kings House Hotel , I remember we disturbed a beautiful young stag eating flowers in someone's front garden.  Ben was a great pacer chatting to take my mind off the pain of my increasingly sore feet.  What an amazing thing it is to share these special moments with one of your oldest friends.

Ultra dafties

At the ski centre in Glencoe we arrived just before 4pm, 72 miles in and a marathon to go.  Dad had warmed more soup but now my stomach was less forgiving.  I managed only a little of it and I confess I was starting to feel tired.  This is the point I have found in a hundred miler when the novelty has long since worn off and the enormity of how far there is still to go sets in on a body and mind which has already taken such a kicking.

What's worse is that the infamous Devil's staircase was looming just around the corner.  It's not the biggest climb in the world but it took an age to ascend.  A sprightly looking lady runner added to my misery as she breezed past me looking fresh as a daisy.

This was my lowest moment in the race and it was an emotional moment when we finally reached the top.  I was feeling proper woozy and I forced down a gel as my guts were not in the mood for anything much more.

Deep in my paincave on the Devil's Staircase

We descended through the woods into Kinlochleven three hours after we had left the ski centre, the clouds had rolled in and it reflected my mood. I was now really tired and feeling frustrated by my slow progress even though we had hardly seen a sole for hours.

Here Ben's shift ended.  He'd covered over 20 miles with me for which I am so grateful.  It helps so much to have a wing man on a hundred, it can be a lonely experience out there.  

It was great to see Bobby geared up to join me for a section and after a little stop and being weighed again, I felt a little brighter.  I knew it was just a matter of time now, just put one foot in front of the other... 

This section started with a steep climb which I tackled well and it was great to be with Bobby as we entered the Lairig Mhor, a beautiful atmospheric valley and pass some other groups as we climbed.  Dusk was closing in properly now, and we could see car headlights miles away in the distance where a grizzly old fella with his collie had set up an impromptu drinks stop in the remote col where we both helped ourselves to Tizer and jelly babies, such incredible support thanks fella!

Last stop Lundavra where there was just enough light for my photo booth appearance, we lingered a little here by the bonfire with Kim and Ben even though we were so close to home.  I was so happy that Bobby could be persuaded to join me for the final section to the finish at Fort William, she had covered 16 miles with me by the end.

Stop pillocking around and get on with it!
The final descent from the hills to the town under headtorch light were painful, sore knees were hampering my progress.  It seemed the pain was only bearable on exactly the right slope angle, anything else meant a painful speed hike, I just tried to keep the overall pace up to 4 miles per hour towards the end.  

Sadly it meant we surrendered a few of those hard earned places in the last couple of miles before the track finally begun to flatten out and I was able to grit my teeth and trot it in. I was determined not to be passed by streams of people in the last few miles having worked so hard to gain places from the start. 

I finally arrived at the finish after 23 hrs and 4 minutes where I was weighed again and given some lovely words from Jon Kynaston, one of the race organisers who I look forward to racing with at The Dragon's Back next year.

The West Highland Way is in fact a very long way to run
Jiggered but happy

One of the big draws of the WHW race is the post race presentation.  Hundreds of runners, crew and supporters gather to celebrate the finishers and congratulate everyone from the fastest to the slowest.  Some having run through a second night to arrive only just in time.  One by one we applauded each other as we hobbled forward to be presented with our finishers goblet, a coveted addition to any trail runners collection.  The highlight was the final emotional presentation as the winner presented the final goblet to the last finisher accompanied by a standing ovation and many shiny eyes.

Never was one for the photo pose...

Yay more bling for the collection
The WHW race is legendary for a reason.  It was a great experience to share it with my friends and family.  My approach with this race was just to enjoy it.  Yes I could go faster, I lingered a little at the stops with my crew but this meant I enjoyed it more.  My less organised approach to training for this event meant I wasn't as strong as I might have been, a finish with a smile was everything I could have hoped for.

It feels great to finish another hundred, there have been times since UTMB last year where I had considered hanging up my trail shoes forever so this one feels very different, cathartic maybe, but equally special.  I really am blessed to be able to have these incredible experiences, it couldn't happen without the continuing support of Bobby, my family and friends.  Thank you all so much.

Thursday, 14 June 2018

Lowe Alpine Mountain Marathon LAMM 2018 - 01 & 02/06/2018

"You don't learn to walk by following rules.  You learn by doing, and falling over" - Richard Branson

I like to start my blogposts with a quote which resonates somehow with the race, whilst this one is a great simple message anyone can get on board with, it has a more literal meaning when I think about my experience at this event which makes me chuckle.  If you read on you'll probably figure out why.

A mountain marathon is an orienteering based race often run in pairs typically over two days in remote mountain areas.  Favoured by fell runners and outdoorsy types, these events are a curiously British phenomenon, the most famous of which have become institutions amongst the fell running community and long pre-date the import of ultra trail running to the UK.

I have read about some of the classic races such as the OMM, LAMM and Saunders and have been wanting to have a crack at one for a long time.  When Andy asked me to step in for his partner at the LAMM I jumped at the chance.  My major challenge for 2019 is the Dragon's Back Race at which Mountain Marathoners have a proven track record of success, what a perfect way to get some practice in and see what it's all about.

This would be the 40th and final LAMM which is considered by some to be the connoisseurs mountain marathon.  Martin Stone the race organiser was obviously determined to go out with a bang. He'd set himself an enormous logistical challenge of holding the race on Harris.  It would be the largest sporting event ever hosted in the outer Hebrides with around 400 pairs taking part and some of the best known faces in UK mountain running had shown up for this special last edition.  All profits from the race would go to charity which I think is just brilliant.

The twin propelled flight to Stornoway was the first amazing part of this trip with a bluebird day revealing incredible views of the mountains of the North West, Skye and the Hebrides.  Squirming around in my seat I could pick out the individual Munros of Torridon and the routes I had used to climb them with my dad over the years.

The Callanish Stones

Luskentyre Beach

Wild Camp Port of Ness

After a few days exploring Lewis and Harris, wild-camping, cake eating, beach combing and bus riding our way around this beautiful island in glorious sunshine, we finally arrived at race hq in Tarbert.  After troughing an excellent meal courtesy of the Wilf's team who had travelled from the Lakes to feed us all, we hit the hay ready for a long two days in the wild hills of Harris.

With this being my first mountain marathon there was quite a lot of new stuff to take on.  Sure I can run and navigate ok but I'm not used to running with enough kit to be self sufficient for two days out in the mountains including tent, bed and food.  I packed and repacked ensuring I had everything, including the all important titanium spoon.  Andy mocked me for taking the luxury of a clean buff for day two, those extra few grams don't carry themselves you know!

In this race, as is typical with the larger mountain marathons there were a number of graded routes requiring you to visit various checkpoints depending upon the difficulty, Elite,A,B,C and D with an additional points 'score' race with points being awarded for the number and difficulty of checkpoints visited within seven hours.  Everyone must finish the first day at the same overnight camp and then run to the same finish on the second day.  We were on course B which promised around 25km and 1,500 metres per day.

Other competitors descending from Clisham
We were treated to a first day of a tough mountain journey with the most incredible backdrop taking in a climb of Clisham, the highest mountain in the Outer Hebrides.  The ground was tough going but dry, however I still managed to locate the remaining stagnant bogs (up to the hip) with plenty of falling over scratching legs and bloodying elbows thrown in - fun!  Red deer looked down at us from the mountain ridges around, confused I'm sure by so many people disturbing their peace.  Andy managed to stay on his feet far better than me (which was not hard to be honest) he also had to contend with carrying the map most of the day as I leant hard on him for his experience and tried to soak up some knowledge.

Almost there lad
The first view of our overnight camp will live long in the memory.  One of the most beautiful beaches I have ever visited, turquoise waters and coral sand straight from the Caribbean, with an unmistakably Scottish mountain backdrop - paradise in the sunshine.  Overnight we were around 2/3rds of the way down the field.  One or two sub optimal route choices and the heat had combinef to make for a tough but unforgettable day.

Andy descending to our campsite for the night
Arriving around four pm, I wondered what we would get up to for the next seven hours. I began to understand one of the less obvious reasons for bringing a four course meal - killing time cooking!  Another amusing pastime amongst other teams was the inflation of their modelling balloon beds (no I couldn't believe it was a thing either) which whilst light, appeared to offer an equal amount of frustration and not so much comfort.  To be honest there were worse places to be stranded with nothing to do but bathe the tired legs in the turquoise ocean, relax and chat. It was great to share stories of the day with my friend Pete Wilkie who featured in my Hardmoors 110 adventure last year.

Lucky for us (or was it?) the piper had managed to drag himself, sporran and pipes somehow to this remote beach just to give us our morning call at 5.30 am.  To be honest I had been awake for hours as our accommodation was not conducive for the best nights sleep.  Turns out race tents are not designed for comfort - who knew? We both resisted the temptation 'accidentally' boot each other in the head, what good colleagues and team mates we are :-)

Look a road - run!
As we were not amongst the fastest teams on day one, we were able to choose our start time so we cracked on straight away after a breakfast of powdered milk, granola and leftover cake.  The day started again under a humid clag which then burned away for another scorching afternoon with incredible views of sea and mountains in every direction.  We made much better progress, easily keeping pace with some of the faster teams from day one which were now obvious from the numbers which they had been issued for the chasing start.  It appeared that some pairs had forgotten it was a two day event and left it all out there on the Friday.  The day was longer and contained some killer climbs, but was also more runnable.  At times though it felt like these must be the hardest 300 metre hills to climb on the planet!  

A couple of sub optimal route choices left us on rather exposed and steep terrain which really slowed progress at times.  On balance we made more good route decisions than bad over the weekend, but there's certainly room for improvement.

Selfie - just to show I wuz ere
As another scorching afternoon drew to a close, Andy got a sniff of the finish and positively bounded the last couple of downhill miles down to Tarbert fuelled by a magic Clif Blok.  We arrived sweaty and tired but well satisfied with a brilliant adventure.

Alas, our improved second day performance would not be going down in the record books.  Somehow we had missed a checkpoint and been effectively disqualified!  I think the sweat had rubbed off the pencil we used on the map to plot our route and we only realised our mistake when we logged our dibber data at the end.  In hindsight, alarm bells should have sounded when we spotted a pair much higher up on the mountain traversing when we took the much more direct route down a remote valley. We thought they had gone wrong and felt rather pleased with ourselves at the time!  We could see though, even after allowing for this small advantage we would have placed around halfway down the field for the event.  Surprisingly, neither of us seemed much bothered by this rather glaring error.  After all we'd had such a blast.

Turn back - the checkpoint is behind you!
All that remained was to have the most welcome shower ever, drink a pint in the sunshine, eat a tasty fish dinner and go about the rather grim and painstaking activity of tick extraction (more about that some other time perhaps).

Thanks for reading, here's a great little film with some lovely drone footage of the race and that amazing beach.  You can also find my shots from the trip on my Flickr account here

What a lucky guy to be invited to the last ever LAMM.  I had heard other veterans talk about the 1997 LAMM 'classic' on Jura and how this event had surpassed even that.  I'm not sure it gets any better than this, perhaps I'll quit whilst I'm ahead.  Only joking of course, already looking to recruit some pals for a crack at the OMM or Saunders next year - who's in?

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Conquest of Paradise UTMB - 01/09/2017

And now I’ll just go; and only worry about the events that lie ahead of me. Day by day, one by one. It is the here and now that counts. What comes next is uncertain in any case.
Learn from Yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. - Ueli Steck

2,537 runners and supporters cram themselves shoulder to shoulder into the square outside the iconic Eglise Saint Michele in Chamonix.  A rainbow of mountain runners in brightly coloured outfits, hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of kit and bundles of nerves.  Flags from a dozen different countries flutter above the masses as we wait under cloudy skies wondering what lies ahead for us.

The MC whips up the thousands of spectators lining the streets into a noise which seems to echo off the mountainsides which surround us.  Huge screens show the focused faces of the elites down at the front, the finest collection of trail runners ever assembled for this fifteenth edition of the most prestigious trail race in the world. 

My stomach churns, I stand for a view of the start, and realise I am stood next to Nicky Spinks one of my trail running heroes.  The first strains of Vangelis' Conquest of Paradise are heard, the hair on the back of my neck stands on end and we all know there are only seconds to go.  I think of the physical and emotional investment I've made to get to this start line and it all seems condensed in this one moment.  My eyes water and I try to keep it all under control but it's overwhelming.  The helicopter buzzes into view and then at last we're off under the arch as the anthem rings from the PA.  I have dreamed about this moment for a long time. 

Walking at first and then finally running through Chamonix as the field thins a little, the noise of cowbells and shouts of 'allez', 'bon courage' and 'good luck' in so many languages rings in our ears.  I look desperately to catch the faces of my family and finally I spot them and they spot me, one of many special moments.  This is it, I'm doing it, the greatest start at the greatest trail race in the world, what a rush! 

Seeya back here in three countries time!
The forecast had been poor all week with the first sign of trouble being a diversion of the PTL route (the longest of the races which make up the UTMB festival) during the week.  The days before race day spent in my rented chalet looking out the window at stairrods hoping for a glimpse of Mont Blanc, checking kit, drinking tea, passing time and refreshing the browser for a forecast.  I had been worried about the heat in this race and now it looked like it could be cancelled or curtailed for snow which would be gutting to say the least. 

The uncertainty did nothing for my headspace and my family (Bobby, Mum, Dad and Rach) and friends (Dave, Pip and Connie) showed amazing patience with me as I wasn't great company whilst I waited for news.  A ride to Chamonix for kit check was a welcome diversion and it was amazing to see the big race operation in full swing and rub shoulders with Jeff Browning one of the elites.

Kit checked and ready to roll!
It wasn't until the morning of the race that the news came that the route was to be changed only slightly to miss out two specific points at Pyramides Calcaires and Tete aux Vents, what a relief!  The UTMB is a mountain race after all and the route is often changed dependant on conditions and has been severely curtailed before (to only around half distance in 2010).  It was good that the challenge would be undiminished.  After the change, the route would be 104 miles (around 3 miles shorter than expected) with over 31,000 feet of ascent.   Relief then turning to a reality check, the weather forecast was -10C, wind and snow above 2,000 metres, that's cold!  An extra baselayer was added to my kit for the race.  

Chamonix to Courmayeur
First stop Les Houches and the first climb.  As everyone filed upwards I realised how far back in the field I was.  No matter, plenty of time to catch up and besides its more fun running past people than the other way round.  Pip, Dave and Connie were waiting for me in their custom fan shirts here (nice touch Rach) a quick stop for a hug and onwards to St Gervais loving every moment.

We arrived in the dark and drizzle in St Gervais after three hours or so on the forest trail to an incredible welcome with crowds out in the rain drinking and soaking up the atmosphere of the race.  I arrived with masses of others and it was pretty chaotic as people made their first proper pit stop ahead of a long climb.  The station was a scrum and I had to elbow my way in to refill my bottles and wolf down my first of many bowls of salty noodle broth before heading off into the night.

Head down now climbing, climbing for hours.  Through Contamines and La Balme climbing higher and higher focused on the first major summit at Col du Bonhomme.  As we climbed, the temperature dropped, rain turned to snow which the wind blew into clumps on our legs.  No spectators or clunking cowbells high on the mountain, just an endless snake of thousands of headtorches marching upwards. 

Taking a drink close to the summit, the altitude combined with my effervescent salt tabs and blew the top clean off my flask emptying half the contents straight into my eye!  The flask was now completely unusable as the valve was lost in the process and I was glad I had a spare waiting for me in my bag at Courmayeur.  

Soon after I reached the Refuge at 2.30 am, through my one good eye I saw two hardy souls in down jackets who scanned our bar codes and shouted at us against the wind not to rest and to keep moving down off the exposed col.  I'd climbed well to here, gaining over 800 places from the first checkpoint.

It was a relief to then drop down briefly to Chapieux before another climb back up to altitude at Col de la Seigne and the border with Italy. This had been a spectacular highlight on our hike of the TMB last year and it was a relief that the weather relented enough for the first signs of daybreak to appear over the mountains approaching 6am. 

Here for the first time the spectacular Italian flanks of Mont Blanc revealed themselves, glaciers tumbling down to us at the Lac Combal aid station in Val Veny.  Despite the cold of the morning it was a great place to rest briefly in such a peaceful, beautiful spot to enjoy more noodles and some coffee.  Over a third into the race now legs feeling good and still climbing the rankings after my slow start.  I reflected on a cold night with a fellow runner who turned out to be James Noble, a fellow Scunthonian and my cousin's chiropractor!

Spectaular as it was, it was still cold in the shadow of the mountain so I left James there as much to warm up as anything.  I could sense Courmayeur and half way where I knew Bobby and Rach would be waiting.  A hot meal, friendly faces and a change of clothes was all the motivation needed to high tail it down one of the most mind blowing trails in the world under the shadow of snow capped spires and glaciers via Mont Favre and Col Checruit to the valley floor.

Courmayeur to Champex Lac
I arrived at breakfast time in gorgeous sunshine, Bobby, Rach and hordes of families and supporters had had a very early start after a restless night to get there on the supporters buses.  I was now a little weary after the long night but the warm sunshine and friendly faces gave a big lift.  Bobby helped me change into a whole new set of clothes, lube up (oo-er!) and replace the useless bottle.  I decided to take a proper break here, take stock and get some calories in, pasta and coffee hitting the spot.  I was ahead of my 40 hour schedule and could spare a few extra minutes, in the end perhaps too long a stop at 37 minutes.

Next obstacle to head for Switzerland, starting with a climb to Refuge Bertone and down to Arnouvaz where I would see the girls again.  Feeling refreshed I headed through Courmayeur town and attacked the next climb well passing lots of runners, but trouble was looming overhead.  Dark grey clouds were building along with the wind as we headed for the famous Bonatti Hut and it was here that I broke out my overtrousers just in time for the rain.  I ran for a while with my Strava buddy Alex Cooke before eventually he left me looking strong.

The atmosphere at the aid stations was changing now as the race entered its second phase.  Excitement and anticipation had been turned for some now to gloom as the burden of weather, fatigue and discomfort combined with the knowledge of just how far there was still to go.  I was still feeling pretty good though (despite increasingly sore feet) so in some respects this helped as I moved through the stations more quickly so as not to get pulled down by other people.

All wrapped up at Arnouvaz
As the weather worsened up high, the glaciers disappeared behind the cloud and the trail became increasingly churned up and slippy. These wet conditions would continue for the rest of the race adding even more spice to the challenge.  Underneath the mud were sharks, unseen boulders which you would occasionally clip or kick giving the toes a painful battering which over time would take an excruciating toll.  Whilst we'd not been high for that long, it was a relief to descend again from Bonatti out of the cloud to Arnouvaz for another short break and to see Bobby and Rach again.

Leaving Arnouvaz and heading for the storm
It felt like they'd only just arrived but I had to say goodbye again after a quick break, this was the end of the road for them as the TMB heads high from here up to the pass at Grand Col Ferret and on into Switzerland.  You could see the clouds were clearly leaving snow on the side of the mountain and looking up at the climb it made an imposing sight.  The conditions were worsening and I wondered whether the race was at risk as exhausted runners headed into a snowstorm in one of the most remote places on the route.  I could do nothing about it but batten down the hatches, wrap up warm and head upwards into the storm.  Spectators coming from the opposite direction looking very cold shouted Forza! as we passed. Still gaining places although the climbs were biting now as the legs were feeling increasingly stiff, I eventually reached the Col in a freezing whiteout at 3.15 pm.

Then a long descent in the clag to La Fouly catching and passing Alex en route who was feeling cold. At the station I received a surprise message from one of my trail buddies Paul Brown on the big screen as I slurped down a welcome warm coffee and cookies, thanks mate what a class touch. The video and calories gave me a seventh (or was it seventeenth) wind for the next section to Champex Lac, a big milestone on this epic route and the point I truly started too believe that I might just be able to pull this off.

Crewing is hard work! The queue for spectator buses at Courmayeur...

Rachel and Bobby were having an epic of their own, fighting hard to reach me at Champex but trouble at Mont Blanc tunnel and with the buses had thrown several spanners in their works.  I was flying now and they were crawling.  The Livetrail app showed they were on schedule to miss me by 15 minutes so they text that I would see them at Trient instead.

At Champex Lac there was a great turnout of support again and we were treated to more clonking cowbells and shouts of 'Bon Courage Matthieu'. 

The aid station resembled a military field hospital, thousand yard stares abound as we all contemplated our second night out.  I always thought that this would be an important marker and the place I would be most likely to withdraw.  I now had a big objective though to get out of there and bag the next climb, to reach Bobby and Rach at Trient and surely there would be no DNF from there with less than 20 miles to go...?  I left Champex feeling tired but determined in the failing light with the next climb soon underway.

A little confidence starting to grow for the first time but that was all about to change.

Champex Lac to Chamonix
I've never been out two nights before and I had no idea how my body and mind would react in the hours to come.  As soon as it got dark I immediately felt very tired as if it was the middle of the night even though it was only eight or nine o'clock.  My memory of the section to Trient is blurry as I fought the urge to stop and sleep in the forest. 

I had a few wild hallucinations in the woods as the torchlight and shadows played tricks on my now battered mind.  Strange shaped rocks turned into animals, an old lady with a stall on the side of the trail turned out to be just a runner adjusting his pack and poles and my blood ran cold when a two legged beast straight out of a nightmare came bounding towards me which turned out to be just a runner with his headtorch round his waist so as not to blind the racers.  I remember passing through the barn at La Giete and a never ending descent to Trient but outside of that not much else.  It was a relief to get there at close to midnight, but I was in pretty poor shape, babbling at Rachel like I'd been on an all day booze session.
Bobby and Rach did a great job of patching me up here despite being exhausted themselves.  They were concerned about my state but never let it show.  I took my second long break here to try to get back on track, piling down some of Pippa's home made brownie and even more coffee. 

My feet were now quite painful and when I changed my socks I half expected to find a gore fest but was surprised to see they looked in pretty good shape despite clipping every tree root and rock since Champex.  I left feeling much better and thankfully the sleep monsters were left there too.

Climbing, climbing again still passing the odd runner but spending more time alone now as the field had thinned.  A trail zombie putting one foot in front of the other making relentless forward progress no matter how slow, but I knew only an injury would stop me now.  If there were 20 more climbs to go it wouldn't have made any difference.  Fortunately there were only two. 

Vallorcine came and went where Bobby and Rach piled more calories into me before heading off to Chamonix to sit out the remainder of the freezing night.  Despite the cold, Rach was tired enough to manage 40 winks on a park bench after both being turfed out of the only open cafĂ© in Chamonix.  For me it was another climb to Col du Montets before finally descending back into the Chamonix valley after leaving what seemed like an age ago. 

Despite being so close there was still space to squeeze in a cruel final climb up to Flegere through the woods and ski runs where my second sunrise of the race revealed a spectacular inversion.  For the first time, that incredible view of Mont Blanc and the spectacular Aiguilles revealed itself.  Only a descent through the clouds remained and I paused to savour the moment and took my only photograph of the race.

The finish line is down there somewhere!

I was proud to push all the way down to Chamonix.  The closer we got, the more people appeared on the trail out supporting the race before breakfast.  Every one of them giving words of respect and encouragement.  It was an amazing feeling to run these last few miles knowing I was going to achieve my goal.

In my mind I had envisaged finishing in bright sunshine with crowds three deep cheering me home.  But I had arrived too early for that!  No matter, the most important people were there as Pippa (pushing Connie) and Dave ran the last few hundred metres with me whooping me home.  Then the church came into view and the arch where this epic adventure would end.  Mum, Dad, Rach and Bobby were all there shouting for me and so was Sally Shelton another friend who had set her alarm early for my arrival.

Pride happiness sadness pain fatigue and pretty much everything else in that face!
I tried to drink it all in and savour those precious final few yards but after being out so long it was then all over so quickly.  It was the most incredible feeling to cross that finish line in a shade under 37 and a half hours and one of the proudest moments of my life.  It feels like every emotion possible experienced all at the same time and turned up to eleven as you round that final corner.  Experiencing these feelings is one of the reasons people run hundred milers.

After a brief pause for some piccies all that remained was to pick up my coveted finishers gilet (nearly worn out already) and sleep.  

Not another step, not even to the bed!
Thanks again for all the love and support during the race and over the last few years from so many family and friends.  It's an incredible feeling to get this done and its still sinking in.  Its been a long road from my first marathon four years ago.  I admit to feeling a little lost now with my goal no longer staring me down from the distance.  I don't know what's next right now but I'm sure another adventure will capture my heart in time.  Until then, 'bon courage' to you all whatever your challenge is....

I can just about watch this film without blubbing now...