Sunday, 3 May 2015

After the hypothermic hiccup let the PBs continue....

This early May bank holiday weekend sees a welcome return of Des Gibbons' 3-day Glossop running festival. It's my 4th consecutive year on the triple challenge.

Sat 02/05/2015. Chunal fell race 3.25mi.

Coolest conditions I've experienced so far but the ground was still dry. The closure of The Grouse Inn meant registration in a mini tent city on the sloping starting field. Some of us were thankful for the tents' shelter from the cold breeze before and after the race.

This is one tough, steep fell race that gets the heart and lungs bursting out of your chest and gives you tunnel vision through brain starvation (I'm not joking). It's short enough to push beyond the limit from beginning to end. I did and continued my string of PBs since 2012. The 2 minute improvement was an even bigger surprise.

First stage of first climb. Start is top left of picture (labelled).

Jack Ross beat his own course record by 52 seconds.

Full photo album is here.

Sun 03/05/2015. Moorfield 5+k road race.

Overnight rain stopped in time but its passing introduced much warmer, humid conditions. The sun came out to add to the discomfort as we powered our way on the anticlockwise hilly route. The sting in the tail before the finish doesn't get any easier. I have to walk it before the gradient eases off to allow the pace to be picked up to the finish line and another PB. Don't know how many more of these I can muster.

On the starting line.

Team Glossopdale.

Winner 3rd year on the trot: 15 y.o. Alex Jackson of Stockport Harriers. He really had to work hard for the win this year.

High intensity with only one walking break mean only one in-race photo, but there are plenty of before and after. Full album is here.

Tomorrow's James' Thorn fell race promises to be spectacular as far as the weather is concerned. Another PB would be very nice.

Mon 04/05/2015. James' Thorn fell race 5mi.

I exceeded my wildest dreams. It was the usual intense suffering from beginning to end but it yielded a PB by 3 mins 22 secs! I don't know where this speed is coming from but I like it a lot and I want it to continue. Beginning with Herod Farm hill race on Wed 15 April (first evening race of the season), every race I've completed has given me a PB (Fellsman DNF excepted of course). That's an 8-race unbroken record, and counting. Next races are Rainow 5 fell race on Wed eve, Buxworth 5 road race on Thu eve then Marlborough Downs Challenge 33 mile trail race on Sunday.

Back to today. The weather rewarded us with its usual sunny warmth. Conditions could not have been better for the slog up to the top of James' Thorn hill and back down with the small loop at the top to avoid the worst of the clashes between the leaders returning and the rest of us still climbing. Race winner Simon Harding of Macclesfield Harriers was too fast for me to get the camera ready. I think the first three passed me on the way down before I began the anticlockwise loop to the top.

On the downhill I was a bit spent from the climb, but with the runners I overtook on the climb I only lost 2 places on average. Final time was 43:02, placing 46th out of 111 finishers. Not so long ago I struggled to finish in the top half of a fell race. Now it's happening every time.

A rare backward-looking photo on the climb.

Number 2 Ian Mills powers back down.

Approaching the summit from round the back.

Downhill (almost) all the way to the finish.

Winner Simon Harding.

I took a ton of photos and uploaded 105. Here's the album.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

I gambled and paid the price.....

The 53rd Fellsman. Sat 25 – Sun 26/04/2015.

I had been studying the forecast avidly in the 2 weeks leading up to The Fellsman. I knew the early summer we'd been enjoying would come to an end right on cue just to 'keep it real' Fellsman stylie, but the last forecast I saw before heading up to Threshfield on Friday afternoon suggested a big improvement with much less rain than originally predicted. It all seemed to be coming true by Saturday morning. The temperature was milder than in previous years and what little rain there had been on Friday night was little more than dampness in the air now. The dry ground would only be dampened.

With a string of recent PBs under my belt (5 in 9 days, the latest being on the Thursday evening) I harboured thoughts of making this the 6th in 11 days. I was so confident of my fitness I’d not kept my ambitious thoughts to myself (first mistake). In the interests of athletic performance (not wanting to burn up) I elected to leave my waterproof jacket and trousers in my rucksack (2nd mistake) and set off with lightweight windproof top whose only waterproofness was that offered by the waterproofing wash I’d given it. It would shrug off the wind and some light rain, which was all I was expecting. I wore no waterproof trousers and only wore leggings to avoid having to faff around putting them on at grouping time.

We were sent on our way at 08:30 from the sports field in Ingleton to begin the first climb up Ingleborough. We were soon in the cloud. The light rain or drizzle blew across in fits and starts but it wasn't too cold. When we finally summited on Ingleborough, the cloud was so thick we couldn't see the checkpoint. I followed my nose based on memory of the previous eight times. A checkpoint marshal materialised out of the murk waving his arms wildly to draw us in.

The wind blew and it was decidedly inhospitable as I stumbled onwards, making sure to keep the drop-off to my left. I was struggling to see where I was going and taking it very carefully over the rock-strewn terrain. I was reminded that the old back-up glasses I was wearing (the latest ones had broken a couple of weeks earlier) hold onto the water droplets far too well. The cloud, as well as obscuring our view in the atmosphere also deposited itself with wind assistance onto my lenses to obscure my view even further. As I stumbled clumsily like an old 'un with dodgy knees (well, I am and I have, but I was half blind now as well), fellow fell-runner, 'barefoot' Aleks Kashefi caught up. He had special dispensation from the authorities (Fellsman committee) to run without footwear.


Yes, without shoes.

Or socks.

Aleks was running The Fellsman barefoot (or minimally shod in the skimpy sandals he was wearing at that moment) as part of his training for his sponsored LEJOG in August, but he had to take proper shoes with him as well, just in case, like. ;-) He'd signed a special waiver and everything. That was a real privilege considering the strict kit rules that apply to this event (rightly so). I commend the organisers for their flexibility and understanding. I know Aleks really appreciates this unique privilege. He left me standing as he skipped down the other side of Ingleborough, full of the joys of running barefoot. I could tell by the involuntary whoops of joy he couldn't hold in. It was something special to witness.

Aleks descends Ingleborough.

CP2 at Hill Inn was passed through (cue the first electronic scan whizz-sound, which tickles my childish sense of humour every time). We were informed that the grouping time at Fleet Moss had been brought forward an hour to 18:30. Wonderful. There go my plans for getting through before grouping. Perhaps the forecast really is bad for later. Jonathan had warned us at race briefing about the forecast plummeting temperatures. I was ready for it: I had my best waterproof rolled up in my rucksack for when it does get bad.

The first heavier, thankfully fleeting, bursts of rain hit as we climbed Whernside. The second SportSunday photographer had to uncover her camera from protection to grab quick shots before sheltering it again.

Looking back while waiting to get clipped at Whernside summit.

Gaining the ridge on Whernside brought more cloud-enshrouded windblown drizzle misery. I trudged up to CP3 as faster runners came back down on their way to Kingsdale. It wasn't that mild now. I was half blinded again by my obscured glasses, which became a problem for the second technical descent. The old doddering recommenced while other runners without compromised vision sailed past me. We queued to climb the temporary ladder stile (now aluminium and no doubt much lighter to drag up there) before winding our way down the green pastures, descending out of the cloud as we did so. I could see where I was going again and put a bit of a spurt on down the soft, easy-going terrain. It became less chilly out of the wind. It was brightening a little and I envisaged an end to the intermittent rain that had been blowing in.

Crossing the dried-up riverbed to Kingsdale.

We crossed the dried-up rocky riverbed (first time I've ever seen it like that) on our way to CP4 at Kingsdale. The rain had stopped and I was comfortably warm (if not dry), so I didn't mind the fact that the latest influx had temporarily caused them to run out of tea. I just grabbed a magic home-made flapjack and continued up the third climb, making do with my water to wash it down. As I climbed I heard a "Hiya Nick" as someone caught up with me. Charlie Johnson! What are you doing here? You should be miles ahead. In the cloud he'd descended with others in the wrong direction off Ingleborough so had a lot of ground to make up.

The brightening on the descent to Kingsdale became a darkening as we climbed back into the cloud. Worse than that, the rain was starting again, the wind was rising and the temperature was dropping as we climbed the precipitous slopes of Gragareth. CP5 at the summit had been relocated to within the shelter of the walls. Not having to do the out-and-back to the trig point saved a few minutes. Once queued for tally punching by the tented torso it was over the stile and right to begin the long, undulating run to Great Coum. This is where the wheels began to fall off.

Climbing Gragareth as the rain returned.

Getting clipped by the 'tented torso' at the relocated Gragareth checkpoint.

The weather came in with a vengeance with wind and driving rain. The temperature was plummeting and the omnipresent cloud prevented any view, save for the bogs at our feet. The ground, which had been bone dry little more than 12 hours earlier, already had its bogs and mud rejuvenated to normal Fellsman standards. We stumbled and sank along the wall line. I was struggling to run/walk and my mind was becoming dulled, with one overriding priority: keep moving, keep warm.

I'd been chasing another runner with green jacket all the way to Great Coum without quite being able to catch up. He ran past the point where we climb over the wall to the checkpoint. I called him back as I climbed over.

CP6, Great Coum, clipped and off. Set compass to N and run blind to survive. I was getting clumsier and slower as I got colder. Check compass: N. Need to keep to the right of Shivery Hole but can't see a thing in the cloud. Climb down the rocky bit. Keep shuffling, need to get to sanctuary. Suddenly the ground dropped off into a gully just to my left. Spot on! Keep going to hit the wall. I was alone in a world of mental and physical haze. Others just behind me had gone too far to the left and were out of sight somewhere in the murk, but I knew where I was going even though my brain and body were shutting down. My knee was complaining bitterly, further hampering downward progress. It’s made worse by a cold body that’s suffering.

I followed the wall downwards through the bogs, emerging once more from the cloud to eventually reach the dilapidated footbridge that’s on the point of total collapse now. The other runners caught up with me at CP7, Flinter Gill. As they disappeared ahead I continued the survival shuffle down the tracks towards Dent. The rockier tracks could only be walked, such was my depleted, bumbling clumsiness.

I entered CP8 via the back entrance once again and descended the field, almost certain that a retirement was imminent. I was utterly debilitated physically and mentally through cold and wet. I was directed to the campground toilet where I could change out of my wet clothing. Off came the windproof top, sodden long-sleeved base-layer and sodden leggings. On went long-sleeved T-shirt, waterproof trousers and the proper waterproof jacket I should have been wearing from the outset. I was shivering and bordering on hypothermic. The forecast as I understood it had not come to pass. The rain was still pouring. Who knew how much longer it would last? I knew it was forecast to get even colder. I was already frozen and with only one spare dry top and no dry leggings, I decided in the interests of personal safety and not inconveniencing the organisers with an emergency to call it a day.

I grabbed a sausage roll and cup of tea and went to the communications tent to beg for a dry spot to wait for the bus of shame. I was welcomed with open arms by a caring matronly sort who chopped off my tally without ceremony to use as evidence against me and sat me down behind the operations desk next to another victim of the elements in the corner who was already swathed in blankets. I got swathed as well – they even broke out the space blankets – and got fed fairy cakes and tea. That became necessary after I splashed it all over with the involuntary shaking. As I languished, more victims piled in, including another fellow fell-runner Barny Crawshaw. Like Charlie he’d also descended off Ingleborough in the wrong direction and lost a lot of time. We were at the depths of the climactic misery in Dent. At that point, barely 24 hours after summer-like temperatures and bone-dry conditions, it was snowing a little higher up on the hills. My memories of The Fellsman are that the sun always shines in Dent and the climb to Blea Moor is the hottest part of the day. That image has been tarnished a little.

As I sat and observed the slick operations of the Fellsman machine from a third angle (1st and 2nd being ‘doing it’ and volunteering), I pondered on my 9th Fellsman and first DNF, all because of an error of judgement on starting attire. I’d fancied myself for a PB and wanted to run efficiently without burning up. Instead I froze, slowed and bailed. I gambled and paid the price, but I lived to see another race. I began to think of the upside and looked forward to witnessing the winning performances before nightfall.

Dent CP from the bus of shame.

The bus journey from Dent back to Threshfield was very long (the longest of all of them). We passed the Stone House checkpoint on the way. With nowhere to straighten my leg my right knee groaned with dull pain, forcing me to a quad-tensed standing position for long periods to get relief. I assume patella tendonitis is my problem.

Back at Threshfield I wandered up to Grassington with Barny and Duncan (another retiree at Dent) in time for the first arrivals. Adam Perry ran home for a third consecutive win in 10:23, Jez Bragg came a close second in 10:44, Konrad Rawlik came an even closer third in 10:57 and Jasmin Paris smashed the women’s record in fourth with 11:09. It was magnificent to witness, and I could not have done so had I still been on my way from Fleet Moss to Yockenthwaite Moor.

Winner Adam Perry descends through Grassington.

2nd Jez Bragg descends through Grassington.

3rd Konrad Rawlik has finished.

4th Jasmin Paris approaches the school (just look at that running form after 61 tough miles!).

My complete Flickr album is here.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

April 2014 - main event The Fellsman

I returned from China at the end of March just in time to squeeze in the Woodbank parkrun on the 29th and Lad's Leap fell race on the 30th. It was my first Lad's Leap or any other race from Crowden for that matter. Anything from there is going to be steep and tough. This one certainly was, and as proof it is rated 'AS' in the FRA ascent and distance categories. At 6 miles it still took me 1hr 11mins to complete. I may have been slowed further by something I brought back from China (I always manage to 'pick up' something there no matter how careful I am). We were blessed with sunny weather, which was ideal for the photographs. Photo album.

Nearing top of first climb at Lad's Leap.

Sat 05/04. Lyme Park parkrun followed by Chicken Run fell race.

Lyme parkrun is more like a fell run than a parkrun. It's only recently started and this was my first time on it. It's steep and intense so great fun. Time is around 2 minutes slower than for Woodbank.

Later that morning was the first running of the Chicken Run fell race from Hayfield Junior School. It's 6 miles via Little Hayfield, the shooting cabin and past the top end of the reservoir to turn around and rejoin our outward route back to the finish. Nice organisation, nice route and nice home-made cakes at the finish. A time of 0:57:58 suggests it's a little easier than last week's Lad's Leap. Photo album.

A damp day at Chicken Run.

Sat 12/04. 36th Calderdale Hike 37mi.

This was Race 3 of 12 in the Runfurther series but the first one I was able to do due to my absence in March. It was the third and final year of this route before a change for next year. Conditions were cool and ideal for running without overheating. The rain held off until around the same point as last year (between Grain Water Bridge and New Bridge for me). I had my usual slowdown after the moor crossing from Hoof Stones Height, when everyone began to overtake me. I didn't get going properly again until after Top Withins. Every year it's been the same. In the end I was pleased to get a PB by 36 minutes with a final time of 7hrs 58mins. Photo album.

Walshaw Dean Middle Reservoir.

Wed 16/04. Herod Farm Hill Race 3mi.

I always look forward to this because it's the first of the local evening races and it signifies the lengthening of the days and the beginning of summer racing. Organised by Glossopdale Harriers it was a very friendly affair once again. It is an an intense burn for half an hour (give or take) with two climbs that give you no choice but to walk. Then you get to run downhill on jelly legs back to the finish. The ground was dry (apart from a couple of stubborn bogs) and the air was balmy. We enjoyed al fresco tea and cakes afterwards in the forecourt of the Reliance Garage while we waited for the results and awards ceremony. I cannot think of a better way to spend an evening. My time was 0:33:36, which was 23 seconds off PB. Photo album.

The first climb.

Thu 24/04. Mobberley 'Round The Runway' 5.3mi.

I kept myself on the boil between Herod Farm and this with a Woodbank Parkrun on Saturday.
This was the 4th race in the inaugural Stockport Harriers race series. It was the only reason I did it. It was in the race series of a few other running clubs as well, so it was rather busy.
It was also my first visit to Mobberley, which I discovered is trapped in the middle of a maze of country lanes. I had trouble finding it and trouble getting out afterwards.
The race was novel in that it went on country lanes, tracks and paths, alongside Manchester Airport runway and underneath the runway beside the river. The easy runnability of the route (compared to that of fell races) is reflected in my time of 0:38:39. The conditions were mild and dry and could not have been better. Photo album.

Don't worry, we're not trespassing.

Sat 26 - Sun 27/04. 52nd Fellsman 61mi.

This is a tough fell race from Ingleton to Threshfield that takes in every available peak on the way. Distance is 61 miles with total ascent of nearly 12,000 feet. Much of the route is off path and requires good navigation, good kit and good survival skills. It demands respect. (Nowadays however, a 'Fellsman trod' seems to have evolved, which has become boggy in places due to the foot traffic.) This would be my 8th start and hopefully 8th completion.

We set off at a new half-hour earlier start time of 08:30 to avoid the Three Peaks Fell Race runners coming in the opposite direction off Whernside. (They would also set off half an hour later.) The air was damp and we were soon into the cloud and windblown drizzle as we climbed Ingleborough. I played cat and mouse with Brian 'Stolly' Stallwood as far as the summit, after which he was gone never to be seen again. I would struggle again with the speed. In retrospect I can never understand why this event feels so tough, but at the time it always does. Others say the same thing.

The familiar wet micro climate continued on Whernside, after which the sun made its usual appearance as we descended towards Kingsdale. On the climb from Kingsdale to Gragareth I drifted further right than ever before on the quad bike track before forking left again uphill. This took me to the top right of the rough pasture, where I discovered a gateway we could go through which I'd never seen before. I was glad I didn't have to climb the wall this time. I always felt terribly guilty about that. Around this point I noticed I seemed to be going at around the same speed as Amanda Heading as we kept re-overtaking each other.

Grough photographer waits to photograph Amanda Heading on the climb of Gragareth.

On the approach to Dent (where the sun always shines) I knew there was a footpath around the back but had never been able to find it. This time I did and took the timekeepers by surprise by arriving from the top of the field. It saves all of 30 seconds compared to going via the road.

Receiving care and attention at Dent.

On the approach from Blea Moor towards Stone House I was sad to see that 'Blue' the turkey and his guardian were no longer there. That oasis we pass through felt lonely without them. Once out onto the lane I was running quite well down towards the checkpoint, until a tractor with hay bales got in the way. I managed to overtake it eventually.

My passage was blocked by Varrmer Joiles' hay bales.

Stone House is at marathon distance. After that comes the slog up Great Knoutberry. Amanda Heading and Barnaby Crawshaw were descending as I climbed to the summit on the out-and-back. By the next checkpoint at Redshaw I was an hour down on my PB pace but a shorter stop meant I was only three quarters of an hour down at the next checkpoint (Snaizeholme fell). Barny and I had teamed up after Redshaw; this was his first Fellsman. We made haste towards Dodd Fell then Fleet Moss. A shower over Ingleborough and Whernside threatened to our right (there's that micro climate again) but it passed by with hardly a drop deposited on us.

Barny gets clipped on Dodd Fell.

On the approach to Fleet Moss I had wondered about the left-hand approach, which I did once in the early years. Runners ahead were going that way so I followed them. Mistake! The logical route on the map does not work out on the ground due to rough, unrunnable terrain and a wall that has to be climbed at its corner. It is very much the worse for wear as a result. As I waited in line for my turn I felt terribly guilty at the damage over the years. Back to the right-hand approach for me next year.

I checked my watch on the approach to Fleet Moss and realised that we were ahead of the 19:30 grouping time as stated in the 'hiker' instructions. Imagine my surprise when the marshals announced that we would be grouped. Their instructions stated 19:00 and their explanation of this fact was getting increasingly heated. They showed me the piece of paper to prove it. I wish the organisers would get this right to avoid misunderstanding and unnecessary friction. Last year it was the opposite: hiker instructions gave 19:00 and marshal instructions gave 19:30 as the grouping time. Perhaps in 2015 they'll compromise and go for 19:15 instructed to both. ;-)

I was grouped with Barny, Amanda and Mark Aldridge. This was Mark's first ultra marathon. What an event to pick for a first Ultra! We turned out to be a fantastic group and we made good progress through Yockenthwaite Moor and on to Grey Horse on Gilbert Lane, having to switch on our head torches along the way.

Heading for Yockenthwaite Moor - Mark, Barny, Amanda.

Barny and Amanda with marshal checking our grouping card at Yockenthwaite Moor.

After a rest and refuel at Cray I was unsure once again of the wall-hugging route up Buckden Pike, so we floundered and wasted time. I wished I'd taken Amanda up on her suggestion that we take the more direct route to the right of the cleft (which we had done successfully in 2009 with daylight to spare).

After the minor hiccup climbing Buckden Pike our navigation went perfectly, but speed was moderated by nausea with me and Amanda and Mark's trashed quads forcing him to walk in utter pain after Capplestone Gate. I was pleased that most of the trendy new beacons were working this year to guide our way across the fields to Yarnbury. Last year most of them had failed (defective batteries?).

At the degrouping checkpoint at Yarnbury, Mark had to stop to recover while Amanda had to stop to be horribly ill in the middle of the road. She told Barny and me to carry on but I felt guilty about leaving her in that predicament and kept stopping and looking back. A little while later as I shuffled my way down as fast as I could go, she came breezing past, much better for having emptied her stomach contents. I still worried about Mark. As we ran down to the lights of Grassington an ambulance raced up the road in the opposite direction with blue lights flashing. I immediately worried about Mark being taken ill at the last checkpoint and the marshals having to call out the emergency services.

I chased Barny and Amanda to finish 1 minute behind them at the school in Threshield. My time of 19:39 was within 3 minutes of the previous two years. How's that for consistency on an event where so many variables influence the outcome. As I gathered my senses with some restorative tea I was mightily relieved to see Mark arrive 22 minutes later, seemingly none the worse for wear. WELL DONE MARK for completing such a tough event as The Fellsman for your first Ultra. 
Photo album.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

March 2014 - New Zealand, main event Tarawera Ultra Marathon

I squeezed in another Woodbank parkrun just before going away for a month of business travel in Asia with a break sandwiched in the middle to visit New Zealand North Island once again. (In case you were wondering, it was more expensive for me to fly return from Asia than it would have been to fly return from Manchester.) The main dish would be to run the Tarawera Ultra Marathon (TUM) again but there were plenty of side dishes to keep me admirably nourished before and after. I spent most of my time in Rotorua. Ex work colleague Wayne Richards acted as excellent guide around his home town and a little further afield for things to see and do. Thank you, Wayne, for acting as such a wonderful host. You live in a beautiful part of the world.

Mon 10/03. First day was spent on an 8-mile run in the redwood forest of Rotorua before paying Paul Charteris, TUM Race Organiser a visit to help out with anything that needed doing. He needed any help he could get with the enormity of the task at hand. Photo album.

Looking out over Rotorua.

Tue 11/03. Run along part of brand new Tarawera Trail and a quick nose around the base of Rainbow Mountain (~10 miles total). Photo album.

Crater Lake at the foot of Rainbow Mountain (4-photo stitch).

Wed 12/03. Rotorua Canopy Tours, followed by a wander along the volcanically fragrant shores of Lake Rotorua to Government Gardens of Rotorua. The Canopy Tour provided my first opportunity for some zip line action (it was brilliant), to see native flora and fauna and to assist the return of the fauna to where it belongs through our entry fees. Human-introduced predators - e.g. stoats, rats and possums - wipe out the indigenous wildlife and must be trapped and removed from the ecosystem. That's what Canopy Tours do with our money. Positive results have included the gradual return of birdsong to the forest, though it's still nowhere near what it would have been.

I hired a GoPro helmet camera to capture some of our journey through the treetops but haven't had a chance yet to edit something together. In the meantime, here's the photo album to be going on with.

Zip lines through the treetops - Rotorua Canopy Tours.

Government Gardens with museum.

Thu 13/03. A leisurely day spent visiting Hamurana Springs and Okere Falls with Wayne before the first official TUM event in the evening - the 8km 'Fun Run'. Photo album.

The end of the TUM 'Fun Run' at the Te Puia geyser field.

Fri 14/03. Official Maori welcome to the Tarawera Ultra Marathon runners at Te Puia followed by race expo and registration. Warnings all week of tropical cyclone Lusi moving southwards to hit us for race day had become a certainty. However we could never have guessed now on the day before, the warm, calm, sunny weather giving no hint of what was to come.

Race Director Paul Charteris announced at the race briefing that the race had to be shortened. With high winds and driving rain forecast, later parts of the course where aid station access was by boat could not be supported reliably or safely. Paul's emotions ran high as he made the announcement that the event would be disrupted for a second year. Last year was high fire risk. This year was headed for the same until Lusi turned it into high wind and water risk instead. Photo album.

Last year's winner Sage Canaday (in green) represents the 'TUM tribe' at the Maori welcome ceremony.

Sat 15/03. Tarawera Ultra Marathon - 100km shortened to ~73km by Lusi.

Waiting to start.

The first spots of rain could be felt as we gathered in the dark at the Redwoods Visitor Centre for the 06:30 start. An emotional Paul Charteris announced that we would run a 12km loop past the water tank before turning right back to the start to begin all over again. Second time past the water tank we would turn left through Okareka to Okataina then 2km beyond to the turnaround point before returning to Okareka to finish where we did last year. For a second year running we would not make it all the way to Kawerau.

Marshal Tim Day guides us back to the start on the 12km loop.

Storm clouds gather.

Plenty of support and very busy at the aid station back at the start.

The rain just about held off for the first loop but the wind was up and the rain was driving in across the lake by the time I arrived at Okareka on the outward leg. I was thankful that we were running in the shelter of the forest for most of the time. I felt sorry for the marshals and supporters who were stuck there in that exposed location. I was slowing down by this point and Wayne and Paulo Osorio caught up with me. I ran much of last year's TUM with Paulo, where we kept each other's spirits up through our low points with stories and anecdotes. He was much faster this year and went on ahead after the next aid station at Millar Road.

Paulo, Wayne, Nick at Okareka on the outward leg.

Paulo makes a quick exit from Millar Road aid station.

A modified out-and-back course has one major advantage - we get to see the faster runners on the return leg. It makes the event more inclusive and involving and gives us a glimpse of what it's like up there near the front. My longest low point meant plenty of walking and plenty of opportunity to take photographs, until the approach to Okataina when I began to let rip on the descents.

Leader Sage Canaday heading for his second win.

Yun Yanqiao second.

Vajin Armstrong third.

Elastic band collection at the turnaround.

A very wet Okataina on the return leg.

Ross Steele on the way back to Millar Road.

Final Coke fill at Millar Road.

Like last year we were running over the toughest part of the TUM course. Apparently there is more ascent over this 73km course than there is over the normal linear 100km course, which I have yet to experience. No wonder I always seem to slow down and suffer, especially on the outward leg to Okataina. With effective fuelling I did fall into the groove by the return leg, though. It felt just like home as I ran down those narrow muddy technical trails as if on a fell race, overtaking all before me. The only unrealistic part was the warmth of the rain. With the temperature at 18 deg C I felt quite comfortable in vest and shorts while others were wrapped up in their waterproofs to protect them from this alien environment. Time splits showed my time was 3:00:55 from Okareka to Okataina and 2:49:55 from Okataina back to Okareka.

Paul Charteris presents the iconic carved wooden TUM medal.

The closing ceremony and awards presentation were held on Sunday. It was still raining.

Male winners.

Female winners.

The Tarawera Ultra Marathon isn't a one day flash-in-the-pan. It's four days of activities and a coming together of the worldwide ultra-running family in a most beautiful part of the world.

My photo album is here, and here's the official documentary by Ninmo Productions:

My final six days in New Zealand were spent sightseeing with Wayne around the Rotorua area and running the Cornwall parkrun in Auckland.