Mission: Podium at 40

This year I’m turning 40! And for my birthday I would like podium position at TR24. A 24-hour race where the person who runs the most 10km laps wins. I love this race. It was my first ever ultra distance and I came 7th in 2012 so moving up to podium position should be attainable. After all I’m more experienced, fitter and more knowlageble, so what could go wrong…?

First up is the 12-hour Conti Lightning run on the 1st of May. Training has been good during the winter and despite my DNF at the Thames Trot 50 I’m feeling good. 

Until a month ago when I tripped over running down hill and did a penguin belly flop sliding down the hill. My first thought was “I’m going to be sick and I don’t think lying flat on your belly in gravel and mud is the best position to be in to vomit so I got up. My knee was very sore but at this point in time it was the least of my conserns because now that I’m standing I’m feeling dizzy and I could feel the blood draining from my cheeks. The little people that lives in your brain ( you know the one’s like in the movie Inside Out) panicked. It’s bad to be sick, but it’s worse to pass out and be sick, but my knee is too sore to bend it to sit down again so: breath, focus, breath, focus…

I knew I couldn’t run and also knew that I won’t be running for at least a month. But first things first. I’m at the bottom of a hill 6km away from home. I can sort of walk/ hobble or I can try to find a phone number for the Rangers to unlock the gates to get car access but I’m already starting to cool down and I prefer not to add hypothermia to the list. I had that before and adding this to my pre breakfast list doesn’t seems too appealing!

  
Walking up the hill took forever. My knee now ballooned and felt very hot. It was just about above freezing  and the water in the muddy puddles was quite cold. In an attempt to cool my knee off I tried to some sort of downward dog to cobra stretch to get my knee dunked into this puddle. It felt great on my knee but I did think what would someone think I’m doing if they walk pass me now 😳😳😳

For the first two and a half weeks I did no training. I rested, iced my knee daily, kept it elevated as much as possible, kept my knee and muscles taped with kinesio tape and saw a chiropractor to improve my functionality again. The following week I started on a water rehabilitation and mobilisation programme, 15-min of cross trainer and upper body gym programme. I also had to change my diet. Eating to sustain 150 miles running per month is a lot different than when you’re not running at all. 

  
Last week I was ready to try my first run. I ran from the school gate to my car, approximately 100m. No pain and no swelling. The next day I ran from the gym to my car and back. Again no pain!! Whoop whoop! 

I know that I only have two weeks left before the 12-hour Conti Lightning so I’m not going to do anything to injure my knee again but I felt ready to go out for a run. Starting off I would have felt happy to do 5km. After 5km my knee felt fine so I kept going. 10km and my knee still felt fine. It was such a lovely day so I kept going. I did 15km with no swelling or pain. 

  
I’m well rested and I can run! Bring on the Conti Lightning. 

Thames Trot 50

I’m looking forward to Go Beyond Sport’s Thames Trot 50. I’ve not ran in a ultra since August last year and has work hard during the winter so is looking forward to racing. The course profile is flat following the Thames footpath from Iffley to Henley-on-Thames and although the course is not marked the way markers and course is easy to follow.

  
The weather forecast for the race is wet and windy and we have been briefed that the course is very muddy. Leaving the comfort and very cosy start line at Hawkwell House Hotel we were soon introduced to mud sliding. Now for those of you who are unfamiliar with mud sliding that is when trail running becomes less running and more “ice skating” with the difference that there’s no ice. No solid footing, a test for your core muscles to see if they can keep you upright. As horrendous as it might sound to you I don’t mind mud sliding. 

  
It started to rain. The pictures scenery seem to become even more beautiful. Every step was worthwhile until the wind came up. The chatting stopped! It was head down battling straight into the wind. I don’t mind mud and I don’t mind rain but I was not enjoying the wind. It was (wo)man vs. nature! The open river banks offered no shelter. There was no escape from the wind. Not only was I slipping and sliding but it felt as if I was moving backwards. The checkpoints was a welcome relief. It didn’t offer any shelter but the friendly marshals gave you new energy. 

  
My race plan was to check my fitness level to determine if I’m on track for my bigger races later in the year but I found this race more of a battle against Mother Nature than a test of my fitness. It was suppose to be a training run. My ultra demons was coming out. I can’t afford an injury. The demons was telling me that things hurt and although I admit “yes I had bits of my body which has felt better I wasn’t dying”. If you’ve ever ran an ultra before you will know if your mind is not in it, forcing yourself to run is hard. Mile after mile I kept telling myself it’s not that bad but the reality was I wasn’t having any fun! I run ultras for fun and personal achievement. To have an enjoyable experience in nature! But today I was not enjoying the experience. I was over halfway but decided to call it day. I had enough! Today Mother Nature won!  

Race summery:

Distance: 50miles

Difficulty level: Easy/Moderate. Despite being flat the weather plays a big roll in the underfoot. 

Organisation: Very good

Course markings: Although there are no spesific course markings there are plenty of Thames footpath way markers and it’s a very easy route to follow 

Overall: I will highly recommend this race for runners who want to start their running season early as well as to newbies who want to try out ultra running. But do check the weather before hand as winter flooding has a big influance on the course. 

UTMB count down

Beep! Beep! Beep! It’s 4:15am on a Monday morning! I’m off to London for my last altitude training session before the UTMB.

I’m happy with my training. I’ve learnt from last year’s DNF experience and although I know what I can do to improve my performance I also know that what I did manage was the maximum I can fit into my lifestyle of being a working-mum-ultra runner. I run ultras because it makes me happy. Yes for some strange reason inflicting pain, pushing my body to the limit sounds like fun! My aim is to enjoy my races not win them. Now I know that a lot of you might disagree with me but you need to choose your playing field wisely and set your goals accordingly. I’ve done a lot of ultras over the last three years but I’m still a novice in the ultra world and still needs to learn a lot but that’s the beauty of ultra running. It’s a discovery of your sole and being! If you asked me a few years ago what type of ultra runner I am I would have stared at you in confusion like a toddler. However, I now know more or less know what type of ultra runner I am. I know what I like and don’t like! Well at least for now, until I change my mind again!

Sometimes you just have to do a race for pride, ego or just to prove a point whereas other races lie close to your heart. So the UTMB is my ego race! After doing my first ultra in 2012 I saw the UTMB on Facebook and thought “it would be so cool to say I’ve run from France to Italy to Switzerland and back to France”. I was so naive that the fact that I’ve only done one ultra and has never even run a 100 miles wasn’t even bothering me. Like a toddler I wanted it and no one was going to convince me otherwise. I trained, did all the qualifying races and lined up for last year’s UTMB. At the start line I knew my chances was 50/50 but what was the worse that can happen?

I got timed out and I could give a lot of excuses but the reality was that I had no idea what I was letting myself into. I live in a area where speed humps are seen as mini mountains and if I find a hill that last longer than 30 seconds I was happy. My world is a million miles away from the near half marathon uphills of the UTMB. DNF made me stronger! I leant so much. It showed my where my weaknesses were. To become a better runner you need bad runs. You learn more from a bad run than from a good one. DNF is not something to be ashamed about. It’s a learning curve. It shows that we are human and not the super being which we create in our mind! Living a life with “oh well” is much better than a life of “what if”.

So this year I’ve improved my 50/50 chance! It’s still not 100% but my chances of survival is better. I’m less nervous and my race plan is a lot less complicated. No more spreadsheets only running. One foot in front of the other and belief that I can do it. I know that I will need to go through the mental, physical, emotional and spiritual roller coaster, but that’s ultra running! I know how scared I was last year climbing up a mountain, somewhere, just following markers. I remember the thoughts and mental images as if it was yesterday and that’s a good thing!

So with my equipment carefully selected, weighed, dry bagged and packed I’m ready to face the magnificent Mont Blanc once again!
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My 24-hour love

The once empty fields of Catton Park, Derbishire was quickly filling up with colourful runners in Wellies and raincoats putting up tents, filling up watering cans, prepping food and equipment for the weekend. Not even the summer rain could damped the nervous excitement of the runners and spectators. “Why?” I hear you ask. Well, the last weekend in July is the Adidas Thunder Run. Runners from all over the country come together with one goal: to run as many 10km laps in 24-hours as part of a five or eight person team, a pair or as a solo runner. Whoever does the most laps wins! Easy!
This year’s we had a mixed Women’s and Men’s running team with Gary Dalton and myself, Anne-Marie Lategan as team captains and the rest of the team members the competition winners, Jade Booth, Laura Bell, Alexy Dury, Dan Stinton, Paul Simons and Steve Jones. I set up base camp with Jade on the Friday night parading our camping area to ensure that our team mates would have space to camp. From 7am on Saturday morning our team mates started to arrive all smartly dressed in their sponsored Adidas gear. This was the first time we met in person. As a veteran to the event I knew that a friendly hand shake from a stranger will soon turn into a hug of friendship that will last long beyond the 24-hours. 

  
As noon approached a combination of nervous and excitement tension was filling the air. Event veterans and newbies all line up. Our team strategy was simply to have an enjoyable weekend with everyone doing what they can, no clipboard time keepers counting every 86 400 seconds. Yes there was a sign on course with this info. Probably not the best motivational quote at 1am when I read it without falling over but informational never the less. We decided to run alternating male female starting with Speedy Paul who did his first lap in an astonishing 38:50. Jade our own campsite giraffe (named after her onesie) would have her work cut out to turn up on time. 

  
In between laps, which for the mortals between us was around 50 to 70 minutes we sat around eating Jade’s homemade flapjacks and my homemade sweet potato and banana muffins getting to know each other. Things happened naturally Paul was very nervous, so to get rid of his nervous tension he had to keep the Jerry can full. Dan was the first one to take out a camera so he turned into our team’s official camera man. The rest of us walked around and support runners going on course and coming off. Before the event Adidas asked people to tweet motivational quotes and that they will put some along the course. So you could images Laura’s surprise when she got to the top of the Conti Hill to find her quote “the sooner you step away from your comfort zone, the sooner you’ll realise it wasn’t really comfortable at all” Laura Bell #allin24. 

  
By night fall we all completed one lap. The conversation soon changed from discussions about mud drying out to strategies of how to run in the woodlands in the dark comparing head torches. Where else in our normal life is comparing lumens, beam distance and burn time of head torches a normal appropriate conversation. And if you think that was boring you soon realised the importance of it when a runner approaches you from behind lighting up the way just to leave you behind in darkness silently wishing you could run their speed. I’ve been there before and was please to say that this year I was one of the night time light bearers. Now during these events as a team captain I have come to realised that the night time can be detrimental to team members who are not used to running in darkness. And to tell the truth I was very concerned about Alexy after she told me that due to her deafness she struggle to keep her balance if she can’t see. So when I woke up to find that we had no night time casualties I was ecstatic. I do think Mother Nature was kind to us this year giving us a dry warm night but I knew that was too good to be true. On my last lap it started to drizzle. Me and Steve manage to escape the rain but the heavens open on Alexy and Paul last laps. In true Thunder Run sprite they enjoyed every muddy step and finished their laps with a smile bringing the team home with 25 laps. 

    
 

The ups and downs of the Hardmoors 55

The Hardmoors 55 race takes place on the Cleveland Way. The Cleveland Way is one of the National Trail routes in England and runs through the North York Moors. The Hardmoors 55 starts at Guisborough and run down to the Helmsley, a historic market town. It is one of the ultras which I’ve always looked at but knew that I have to approach it with causation. The reason for being cautious about this race is that I know that steep downhill running is not my strong point and with 2700m of accent I am definitely going to get a few downhills.

With a chilly northerly wind from behind we set off. It seems to rain in most of my races so I’m happy that the forecast is only windy, positive thinking always helped. My winter training was good but the month leading up to the race I barely manage to get two runs in per week. Nerves got the best of me and I though of a million excuses why I should pull out. But then the ultra runner part of my brain kicks in. I know I can finish, it will be good training for my other races. Getting to the start line is the hardest part, doing the race is the reward for all your hard work.

The scenery was amazing. The views from the top of the hills was breathtaking! I was doing quite well, managing a good pace and was pleased but then I suddenly thought that I will have to do this for at least ten more hours. Any thoughts like that in a ultra is enough to make you stop and cry. I pushed on, trying to use every mental strategy to keep going. I’ve done enough ultras to know that every race has it ups and downs and that eventually you will feel better again. Now one thing which I’ve learnt very early in my running career is that my mental state responds well to food. My brain becomes a lot happier when I supply it with nutrients.

After the first ten to fifteen miles you start to see the same runners. I will pass them and then they will pass me, constantly playing a game of cat and mouse. This is the the best time to make new friends because you know as the race progress you will need the camaraderie and companionship. Having people to talk to makes the miles go by a lot faster and you focus less on your aches and pains.

The first half of the race took its toll on my sciatic nerve. It was playing up a lot when I tried to speed up running downhill. It was quite clear who was used to this type of downhill racing so I was trying to follow their feet. It’s amazing on how much you learn doing these events. Other runner has extensive amount of knowledge which they are more than willing to share. For the second part of the race I started to run with John. Talking, telling stories and motivating each other was a great mental boost. He knew the area well and I enjoyed listening to all the local knowledge of the area and the route. As the sun started to set more and more runners started to group together. A few tired minds looking at the route makes it easier to spot the route markings and prevent us from getting lost.

Leaving the last check point at mile 45 (White horse) we were greeted by very steep stairs. I knew it was there but I don’t think any training prepare you for climbing stairs after 45 miles. Feeling nice and warm after that we tried bursts of running. They didn’t last very long but every bit of running got us closer to the finish line. As the miles slowly passes by we were trying to spot Helmsely’s lights. We started guessing which colour the finishers t-shirts will be, anything just to push through the last few miles. With the sight of Helmsely’s lights we all started to run, although I’m sure it looked more like a jog but to us it felt like a sprint finish. We didn’t push too hard, we had a lot of fun so the aftermath of this ultra wasn’t too bad.

This race was so different form my other races, it gave me a mental boost. I will strongly recommend this race to anyone. It was well organised by race director Jon Steel, staffed with friendly marshals and the route has the most amazing views. For the motivational signs along the route… well you are not really suppose to like race directors too much during the race! (See picture below)20150330-080752-29272398.jpg

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XNRG Pilgrims Challenge, 66-miles over two days

It was a frosty Saturday morning at the start line of the XNRG Pilgrims Challenge, 66-miles over two days following the North Downs Way from Farnham to Merstham. My training over Christmas and January went well considering that it was all done very early in the morning in complete darkness but my aim for this race was just to enjoy the a route so close to home and get some mileage in. I estimated a 6h30 finish but decided not to look at my pace too much. That was a good thing as I didn’t get much sleep due to my daughter and the cat. At the moment I know that I can do the distance but I’m mentally struggling a lot more than what I should. Without a clear answer as to how to fix my problem I decided to just have fun and enjoy the run.

Most of the course is either up or down with the first part of Day 1 the easy section, leaving the big hills for the last part of the race. The cold weather didn’t bother me too much due to good kit selection. I was working hard but enjoying a very well organised event. I must take my hat off for all the volunteers at the checkpoints. As runners and walkers we stay warm but they have been manning the checkpoints with a friendly smile and a helping hand, despite the sleet and freezing temperatures.

Reaching the steps at Box Hill 35km into the race was an interesting experience on my legs. Mentally I kept telling myself that this will come in handy for my Vertical Rush Challenge in March. My mind wandered off to who made these steps? A giant, someone with very long legs or a random person who just randomly place them up this hill. The reason for it was that it was to big to climb up one by one and to small to get any rhythm of walking or running. They felt never ending but I knew that with every muddy step I was closer to the end. I don’t like running on roads but appreciated being out if the slippery mud when we reached some Tarmac. Reaching the finish line I felt happy and after a cup of hot soup and a hot shower I was ready to set up my bed in the hall where we would be sleeping. After dinner we got the opportunity to listen to different presentations.

When the lights turned on for the start of Day 2 a part of me was thinking “why?” Another night with hardly any sleep I stumbled to breakfast and yes I did sleep in my running clothes incase you where wondering. My knees were throbbing through the night, something I’ve never had before so the first few miles were slow. At least we started with the hard section and finish with the well somewhat easier section. The snow made everything looked pretty, peaceful and slippery!

Progress was slow. The muddy route was technical and my running soon turned into mud sliding something my poor knees didn’t like at all. I was dreading going down Box Hill steps the whole morning but was pleasantly surprised that going down them there seems to be less of them however to safe my knees I did try “crab style”. Reversing yesterday’s route you get some sort of idea as to what’s ahead however I also realise how much my brain blocks out as there were sections which looked very unfamiliar. Seeing my daughter gave me a mental boost to keep running. Only a few more miles!
I crossed the finish line happy with my achievement.

I can thoroughly recommend XNRG events. They are well organised and the staff and volunteers are great. XNRG runs a few events during the year. The next event is the Pony Express on 3 May 2015.

Find out more at http://www.xnrg.co.uk

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In search of the summit

Rain drops softy run down my arms as I glared at the descending clouds covering Mont Blanc in a blanket of clouds with Conquest of Paradise blasting out over the loud speakers. Two years of sweating, crying, victories and dreaming brought me to the thing I want most, running the UTMB (The North Face Ultra trail du Mont Blanc). Every runner got faced by their first race plan decision before the race even started – do I put my rain proof jacket on and stay dry, knowing that as soon as the race start the high humidity would make it to warm to run with a jacket or do you block out the rain but then risk going into the night, ascending 2500m with wet clothes risking the cold temperatures of the mountains. There is no right or wrong. You need to know your own abilities and weaknesses. You need to trust your training and kit selection and be able to adapt to what ever Mother Nature and the race throws at you. That is why I love ultra running! Most of the races I enter I know that my chance of completing is very high but for the first time I’m lining up knowing that the odds might not be in my favour. Unlike the elite women who can practice in the mountains months before the race, my mortal life consist mainly trying to find the right balance between work, life and the school run, oh and somewhere trying to fit all the training in too.

In it’s twelve year the UTMB offers runners a chance of doing the tour of Mont Blanc individually, non stop and in semi- autonomy. The 168km route, with 9600m ascend takes your through three countries (France, Italy and Switzerland) starting and finishing in Chamonix with a time limit of 46-hours. To enter the UTMB you have to get 7 qualifying (next year 8-points) points in a maximum of three races. In this race it’s not just the distance which you need to take in consideration but the terrain, weather and how well you’ll cope with sleep deprivation.

Despite working harder than expected far to early into the race, I was still running within my race plan. I knew that this was going to be a race against the clock, pushing myself beyond all limits. The tick-tick sound of hiking poles and runners breathing heavily was filling the cold mountain air. I was sold the dream of breathtaking mountain views but fog and darkness was the reality. The rain drops looked like diamonds when my Silva head torch shone on them, my breath vaporising in front of me made every step a conscious decision. Mentally I’ve prepared myself that uphills will last for hours not minutes, but looking up gazing at the snake of lights, runners, individually fighting their own battle, mentally and physically.

Leaving the well equipped friendly checkpoint at La Balme with the sound of you have five minutes before cut off does give you a reality check. My mind wondering off to how many of us are going to make the next cut off point in time? I tried to push hared. Below, in the gorge I could hear the sound of an angry river. As we ascend the footpath got smaller. Running on a ledge 2500m with a drop on both sides turned my legs into jelly. My question why is there less females running ultras got bluntly answer by the thought I would like to see my daughter grow up. I realise that despite all my night running, training in the Carpathian Mountains I just don’t have the skill to run or even brisk walk over this terrain. I’m feeling fine mentally and physically, but the risk was too big and I slowed down.

I felt relieved when I reach the top. With new hope I looked at my watch. I had 40 minutes left but I have no idea how far to the next check point. But my new found hope got scattered when I realised that I wasn’t brave enough to give it my all down a grade one downhill at 4am after running for ten and halve hours. As the minutes ticked by I knew I wasn’t going to make it. My decision to slow down because I was scared made me loose too much time. There was no more room for error. Meeting up with fellow runners we relaxed a bit more, defeated by the majestic Mont Blanc. I had a wonderful time and met amazing new people. The accompaniment of Sue Foot, a fellow countryman or should I say countrywoman made reflecting much easier and despite saying that I will never do it again I felt cheated. Two years of dreaming of breathtaking sunrises over Mont Blanc and all I got was rain darkness and fog…? I don’t think so. Not finishing has showed me my weaknesses but it also highlighted that the training which I’ve done was good but I need more experience. Mont Blanc I’ll be back as we have unfinished business.

Why do I want to do it?
I want to inspire people and especially mums to show them that anything is possible if you really want it. Being out on the trails gives me the opportunity to clear my mind. When I run I’m not just a mum but I’m my own person. Every decision I make is for me not the family. Training for ultra races can be hard to fit in between work and school runs and unfortunately the race numbers reflect that. Out of the 2434 runners who started the UTMB only 200 was female. Hearing “mummy I need the toilet” as I prepare to line up for the biggest race of my life is probably not the best pre race routine but I compete for experience, not to win and to have fun and I love having my daughter, family and friends with me at races so I have to factor these things in.

Organisation
The UTMB is a very well organised ultra and it has been called the race of superlatives. The aid stations are frequent well stocked and full of friendly people. The course is lined with supporters even through the night and into the early morning hours.

On a scale of one to ten, give the race an overall rating for organisation
9/10
On a scale of one to ten, give the race an overall rating for quality of the course
10/10
Difficulty level:
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Run and travel the world – the Ultrabug is alive!

I was always fascinated by different cultures and counties and spend the last 15 years traveling the world. When I travel I prefer to experience the local culture rather than to spend all my time in luxury hotels.

This love to do things outside the norm combined with my ultra running has let to the birth of ‘the Ultrabug’.

So what is an ultrabug? An Ultrabug is a person who likes meeting new people from different cultures, while running, walking or jogging. We are strangers who meets at races where we bond to make lifelong friends who supports, encourage and celebrates each other’s running, walking or hiking achievements.

So as queen Ultrabug I’ve set up our first international event:
Ultrabug’s Fundu Moldovei Ultra Marathon, Romania. A 100km fully supported race over 3 days through the Carpathian Mountains. Whether you walk, run or jog this culture rich ultra marathon will give you the experience of a lifetime!

For more info visit:
Ultrabug

76 miles in 2 days – Mont Blanc here I come!

After two years of preparing for the UTMB ( http://www.ultratrailmb.com) it’s finally a reality. My place is confirmed and I’m filled with mixed emotions of excitement and nervousness.

The question that most people ask me is how do you prepare for a 103mile race and what about sleep?! The most important thing is to stay calm and break the event up into smaller bite size chunks. During the winter I was working on a very intense strength training programme to ensue I can start the season stronger than last year. My first challenge came this year when I ran the South Downs Way 50(SDW50) on the Saturday followed by the Brighton Marathon on the Sunday, a total of 76 miles for the weekend. Now for most normal people the thought of doing this is insane but this is only the first of three mental running weekends. I knew that I was strong enough to do it but was fully aware the I haven’t done enough milage between January and March, but despite it all I worked out my race plan to do all three marathons in about five hours thirty minutes each. Without injury, strong legs and a good mental and nutritional plan this should be doable.

But there was something else on my mind. Last year the SDW50 was my first DNF(did not finish). I didn’t manage my clothing correctly and had to stop after 27 mile because I was too cold and wet to continue. So this year I planned my clothing and race strategy to perfection, or at least that’s what I thought. The night before the race when I was setting out all my stuff my heart STOPED and I said a sentence not the be repeated. I had everything and more except my shoes! How could I forget my shoes! Luckily I remembered that there was an old pair of running trainers in my car. On their way to retirement they had to work one more time, only 76 mile to go!

Racing was perfect! I felt great and was thrilled to completed the SDW50 in 10:57. Three minutes faster than planned which gave me a boost for the Brighton Marathon. Getting on the bus which transported us to the start line I could see a few people staring at my penguin walk, probably thinking how on earth is this women going to run a marathon, but I knew that I had a lot more to give and that within three miles I’ll be warmed up. I met my running friend Helen and lined up for the final marathon of the weekend. Our aim was to run together but my body only knew one speed and it didn’t like slowing down or speeding up so I set of on my own. My brain and body went into a auto pilot, the only goal to get to the finish line within five and a half hours.

The two races contradict each other so much. The green rolling hill with a single file of runners spread out into the distance vs. the the sea of people threading through sticky gel stations. On the long straight stretches I practice my ‘sleep running’. By following the white lines in the middle of the road I could almost close my eyes and switch off from everything around me. I practice this in some of my training runs and was brilliant to actually use it in a race. If you get this meditated sleep running right miles just seems to fly by.

Crossing the finish line in 5h25 was amazing. I manage to keep a steady pace over 76 miles preventing fatigue! Now on to the next long training weekend 115km over the Carpathian Mountains in Romania with two goals: one set up the route for my own ultra marathon (www.ultrabug.co.uk) and to test my treadmill mountain training in real mountains.