Episode 182 – John Kelly and Damian Hall

Episode 182 of Talk Ultra brings you an in-depth interview with John Kelly, winner of the 2020 Spine Race and Damian Hall who set a new winter FKT in the UK.
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00:49:37 DAMIAN HALL
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01:56:35 JOHN KELLY
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03:27:22 SHOW LENGTH
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Mount Toubkal and the Atlas Mountains in Winter

Located just 75-minutes’ drive from Marrakech (approximately 40-miles) the Toubkal National Park and Jebel Toubkal(4167m) is the highest peak in the Atlas Mountains. It is also, the highest peak in North Africa and the Arab World.

 Toubkal has two-seasons, Winter and Summer. In winter, summiting the peak brings new challenges as it is completely covered in snow. Winter mountain skills are required, and the use of crampons is essential.

I wrote an in-depth article about visiting Toubkal in summer months HERE and some of the information from that article is repeated below.

PRACTICALITIES

The gateway to Toubkal is Marrakech which is less than a 90-minute journey away from Imlil via taxi or private car. Imlil is the starting point for any adventure in the Atlas Mountains with a small village of restaurants, shops and hotels.

Flights to Marrakech are abundant and many budget airlines offer great prices, particularly if one can travel on a weekday.

If you have not been to Morocco before, I strongly recommend staying in Marrakech for several days before and after any trip to the Atlas. Even now, after multiple trips to the region, I still enjoy a pre/post stay in a Riad (local traditional hotel) to help provide some luxury and RnR either side of a strenuous hiking/ climbing period. There are many Riads in Marrakech all offering something unique and prices vary considerably, my favourite is the Dixneuf La Ksour which has only 6 rooms.

If you have been to the region before and want to maximize time, it is of course possible to land in Marrakech, get a taxi at the airport and be in Imlil within 2-hours. Riads in Imlil are very inexpensive and I have stayed at the ‘Riad Atlas Prestige’ on all my trips – it is inexpensive and offers great food.

A taxi to Imlil will be approximately 40 euro and a private car, usually arranged by your Riad will be 80 euro. 

TOUBKAL and the ATLAS MOUNTAINS

If you have not been to the region before, it would make sense that you visit the area in the non-winter months when hiking/ climbing is much easier and very predictable.

Please note! You now MUST have a guide for any treks/ climbs in the region. This was a rule imposed in late 2018. There are currently three passport checkpoints on the way to the refuge. This in time will change with one new police checkpoint that is currently being constructed just before the entrance to the National Park.

Our guide, Mustafa

The refuge at Toubkal is a great place to plan a booking as you are able to arrange a guide and a bed at the refuge all in one email. Hamid is my contact who is always helpful.

refugetoubkal@gmail.com – Liaise with Hamid.

Refuge Tariffs (Jan 2020):

  • 34.5 euro per person per night full board (Dinner, breakfast and lunch)
  • 29.5 euro per person per night half board (Dinner and breakfast)
  • 19.5 euros per person per night (without meals) 

The refuge can also arrange the following for you:

  • Transport from and back to Marrakech
  • Accommodation in Imlil
  • Mountain Guide 

A guide will be approximately 50-80 euro per day and is payable in Euro (cash only).

CLIMBING and TREKKING

Toubkal is considered an entry level 4000m peak and as such it is a great place for training and gaining experience, particularly in summer.

In winter, it is still considered an entry level 4000m peak, however, far more equipment is required and some exposure to harsh winter environments would be strongly recommended.

In summer one can usually wear shorts and t-shirts during the day but it is essential to have trekking pants, a warm upper layer, waterproof jacket/ trousers, hat and gloves at a minimum for any summit treks. Poles are for many an essential item too!

Winter is completely different, and the environment can be very harsh and dangerous. One needs to be prepared for conditions that can be below -20 with very strong winds, thick snow and a great deal of ice.

At a minimum you will need:

  • Merino base layer, top and bottom.
  • Trekking pants.
  • Mid-layer thermal top.
  • Down or Primaloft upper insulation.
  • Gore-Tex or equivalent out layer, top and bottom.
  • Very warm gloves. Probably with inner Merino layer.
  • Very warm socks, usually two pairs made up from inner Merino and outer mountain sock.
  • Climbing boots suitable for harsh winter than can take a mountain crampon – La Sportiva G5 as an example.
  • Crampons.
  • Ice Axe.
  • Poles.
  • Pack.

Sleeping bag (the refuge is usually quite warm (in the sleeping dorm), so, with a merino base layer, a bag with comfort to -5 should be ok). 

ROUTE TO THE REFUGE

 Imlil to the refuge is designed to introduce you to the terrain and slowly adapt you to the altitude. Imlil is at 1800m and the ‘Les Mouflons’ refuge is at 3207m. Depending on experience and adaptation, Imlil to the refuge can take 3-6 hours.

Leaving Imlil, you have a narrow trail that rises quickly to a road and then the village of Aroumd. Here you will meet the first passport control and then you cross a floodplain before starting the climb to the refuge. The terrain is rocky and rough but not dangerous. Chamharouch is the next passport control and here you will see a large white rock that is a Muslim Shrine. Here it is possible to by water, food if required and soft drinks such as coke.

Depending on the time of year and how harsh the winter has been, snow may already be present on the trail. Usually, just wearing trekking shoes or boots is fine to the refuge, however, it can be possible to need to add crampons in a harsh year, so, make sure they are easily accessible from your pack when you leave Imlil.

Passport check point

The path now climbs steeply and gently reaches upwards, once again the terrain is rocky. You will arrive at two disused building that now sell drinks and here is the 3rd and final passport check. Before you know it, you will arrive at the refuge located at 3207m.

Depending on what you have arranged with your guide, you will have a meal at the refuge and then you will stay in a shared dorm with all the other climbers. These dorms are often unisex, so be prepared. You also need to be self-sufficient in terms of sleeping bag, additional clothes and warm layers. Everyone usually sleeps by 8/9pm. Bring wet wipes/ toilet roll as this is not provided at the Refuge.

Dinner is typically served at 1830 and offers soup, bread, a carb rich main meal with protein, fruit dessert and tea. A shop is available to purchase soft drinks, water, chocolate and other items.

Breakfast is bread, mixed jams/ honey, soft cheese and a selection of drinks. Depending on one’s plans, breakfast is often served from 0400 through to 0900.

Lunch is served on request.

ROUTE OPTIONS

TOUBKAL

The standard Toubkal summit day will typically start at 0400 with breakfast and the intention will be to start the climb asap. Sunrise is approximately 0810 (+/-) in winter, so, depending on your projected speed, the guide will advise on a departure time so you can climb from 3207m to 4167m and arrive at the correct time to experience sunrise.

Note – It is dark for pretty much all the climb and very, very cold. How cold depends on many factors but be prepared! Ambient temperature may be -10 but in the wind chill this can easily be beyond -20.

The trail goes straight up often zig-zagging to ease the gradient. The snow and ice can be unpredictable, and crampons are essential. The use of poles is highly recommended and the carrying an ice axe is in my opinion compulsory. You may very well not need it, but better to have one just in case.

 Once at the saddle, the trail goes left and right. Here you go left for a final push to the summit. On a clear day, the views are magnificent and if you time it correctly, the sunrise can be truly magical. The terrain here is not as steep but depending on route options, it can be a little more technical.

Most arrive at the summit between 0745 and 0900 to experience the winter sunrise. Depending on the day, hanging around is usually not an option; it is too cold. Of course, you may want to take a photo? Be careful! Removing gloves at the summit in -20 is not a good idea. Be sensible.

 Descending becomes easier from an altitude perspective, with every meter you go down, the easier it will become to breathe. Rely on your crampons on the descent, they provide great security and often, depending on conditions, it is possible to take a more direct line. Let the guide dictate, they know all the route options and will keep you safe.

Once back at the refuge, many take a break for lunch and they will look to descend back to Imlil in the afternoon via the exact same route they went up the previous day.

The above scenario is the classic Imlil-Toubkal-Imlil mini-trek that is ideal to do over a weekend, Friday to Sunday or as a mid-week adventure. If possible, I always recommend mid-week, far less people!

FAST OPTION:

If you are experienced or want a challenge. Imlil-Toubkal-Imlil can be done in one day. I have done this twice now, once in Winter and once in Summer. Depending on one’s speed and ability, it is possible to leave Marrakech at 0530, meet a guide at 0700 in Imlil, summit at midday/ early afternoon and then be back in Imlil before dark.

The above is not for everyone, but for me, it was an ideal opportunity to fit an action-packed day between holiday days, before and after in Marrakech.

ALTERNATIVE OPTION:

Once you have summited Toubkal it is possible to take another route down. This is a more challenging descent with some exposure, very lose scree and lots of technical rocks in summer. In winter, you would need an experienced guide who understands the route and weather conditions and you personally would need a greater level of skill. The route rejoins the main trekking path and you then have an option to go left and return to Les Mouflons refuge or go right and return to Imlil. 

OUANOUKRIM ROUTES

Located high above Les Mouflons refuge, Ouanoukrim offers the 2ndTIMZGUIDA’ and the 3rd, ‘RAS’ highest peaks of the Atlas range. These two peaks are often neglected due to Toubkal being the highest peak, but these two are just a fraction lower at 4089m and 4083m and they offer much more challenging and technical climbing.

Leaving Le Mouflons, one heads up the mountain, Toubkal is to the left and you take the valley leading to the peaks ahead. The out and back trek/ climb is longer than Toubkal and the early gradients are less severe. However, as one moves up the climb the terrain becomes increasingly challenging and steeper.

At the saddle, you can decide to go left for RAS or right to TIMZGUIDA. TIMZGUIDA is higher and a more challenging climb that in winter requires more advanced scrambling skills, the need for an ice axe and a level head. It’s a stunning route that is perfectly achievable, even for a novice climber, as long as you have a good guide and the correct equipment.

After several scrambling sections, the mountain opens up with one last scramble to the summit.

The return is via the way you arrived, so, constantly ask yourself on the way up, ‘Am I happy down climbing these sections?’ – It is always easier to climb up than climb down. Exposure to the elements is a factor that you must consider, especially in the final 100-200m where the mountain is exposed. On my most recent trip, we had thick snow which made trekking up and down hard, we had snow flurries, thick mist, fog and very, very cold temperatures.

Of course, it is possible to do RAS and TIMZGUIDA in one day.

OTHER ROUTE OPTIONS

AFELLA 4043m and AKIOUD 4035m are two other route options from the Toubkal refuge.

AFELLA is to the west of the refuge with more complex faces. The majority of the winter lines are on the south face and are accessed by a narrow ravine. The east face requires ice climbing.

AKIOUD is accessed from the south via the ‘Assif ait Maine.’ The climb can take 3 hours based on conditions and it is possible to ski down following a south east direction.

Other route options exist that can be made up of multiple days. 

EQUIPMENT:

As suggested previously, summer on Toubkal and you can get away with standard running apparel with the addition of a warm layer (PrimaLoft or down) and water/wind proof top and bottoms for the climb and summit. Gloves, beanie, buff and so on are also essential.

In winter, you need very specific equipment which I will list below with links. Climbing boots are large and heavy and I strongly suggest you use a much lighter approach shoe or run shoe for the trek from Imlil to refuge and back.

 Base layer:

RAB Forge leggings and top

Mid layer:

RAB Shadow hoody

Insulation:

RAB Xenon Jacket (Stratus insulation) 

Pants:

RAB Torque and Winter Torque

Gloves:

RAB Forge liner glove and RAB Xenon Mitt

Hat:

RAB Shadow Beanie 

Waterproof layer:

inov-8 Stormshell

Shoes:

La Sportiva Mutant (used for Imlil to refuge) 

Boots:

La Sportiva G5 mountaineering boot 

Crampons:

Petzl Irvis Hybrid

Ice axe and Poles:

Petzl Glacier and Black Diamond Distance Z Carbon

For extreme cold:

RAB Neutrino Pro Jacket

RAB Aragon Pants (down)

Sleeping Bag:

RAB Neutrino 600

Other:

Make sure you have good sunglasses and I found goggles essential in winter conditions.

Make sure you apply sun screen.

I recommend you have an emergency tracker, I use a Garmin InReach for all outings. 

TIME OF YEAR:

Summer:

August for me is perfect. Marrakech is hot but has less tourists. Expect 30-40 degrees during the day. Imlil to the refuge, temperatures will be somewhere between 15 degs at 0700 and 30 deg in the afternoon.

Winter:

January through to April provides excellent winter conditions and snow/ ice levels will vary depending the usual weather variations. I have climbed in January and April. January provided more extreme conditions with much colder temperatures. 

RETURNING TO IMLIL

The way to return to Imlil is via the trekking path used when coming out. There is no need or requirement to visit the control points and show your passport.

This January Toubkal and Atlas Mountain trip was undertaken in preparation for a 2020 expedition to Nepal for the ‘Three Summits Expedition‘ – read more HERE

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RUNNING and INJURY

Humans are designed to move, there is no question about it and moving by putting one foot ahead of the other is a rewarding exercise that can be done anywhere at any time. Walking in itself, is an essential part of day-to-day life as it allows us to just function and get around. Running, allows us to cover more ground quickly and it is here that we progress to exploring, racing and seeking to improve.

Improving in anything requires training, you need to train to be a doctor, you need to train to be an artist and in sport, no matter what sport, training is required to improve and progress. By definition, *’Training allows the body to gradually build up strength and endurance, improve skill levels and build motivation, ambition and confidence. Training also allows athletes to gain more knowledge of their sport as well as enabling them to learn about the importance of having a healthy mind and body.’

In running, it has often been said, there are three types of runner:

  • The runner recovering from injury.
  • The runner that is injured.
  • The runner that is about to be injured.

The above is a pessimistic look at a runner, but there is some truth. You see, runners get injured because our bodies are only capable of so many miles or hours. Push too much, too hard, too often and the body breaks.

Sports injuries are commonly caused by overuse, direct impact, or the application of force that is greater than the body part can structurally withstand. Common injuries include bruises, sprains, strains and joint injuries. ******

Training in itself is designed to stress the body so that it adapts. The body breaks down on a cellular level (bone cells and networks of cells deform) with long-running, fast-running, climbing, descending, whatever it may be specific to your chosen discipline. The magic happens when we rest. So, the first lesson is to embrace rest. Rest is not a dirty word; rest is essential to make the training stimulus work.

’Experts recommend training is varied and tailored to specific individual needs; this helps keep motivation and establish individual goals. Athletes should take care to rest fully between training sessions; this will help to prevent overtraining, which can have negative effects on performance and contribute to injuries… Sessions should not be too easy or too demanding; they should be pitched at the appropriate level to facilitate improvement but prevent injury and a lack of self-confidence.’ **

Finding the balance is hard. The stress-v-rest equation is a tough one and difficult to get right. You see, running, and most sports in all honesty are addictive.

‘Sports addiction sounds paradoxical, because we usually reserve the word ‘addiction’ for things that are recognizably bad for us, such as illicit-drug use or alcoholism, but there really is a sense in which you can become addicted to exercise. Even modest athletes can relate to the famous ‘high’ after exercising, triggered by the release of ‘happiness hormones’ such as dopamine and endorphins, which have mood-altering effects.’ ***

It makes sense, just as a drug addict needs a fix of ‘x,’ we as runners need a run to get that kick of endorphins. When we don’t run, we get low, our mood changes and well, we can be a little difficult to be around. But, let’s be clear, the positive and psychological effects of an active lifestyle are proven. Improved fitness, stronger heart, better weight management, increased life expectancy, clearer mind, stronger bones and the list goes on. But like in all things, we need balance.

Irrespective of ability, runners need balance. If you are new to running the balance will be different to the experienced runner who is maybe looking to run a personal best. One thing is common though, all training places stress on the body.

Let’s say you are new to running and looking to go from the Couch to 5km. A week may look like this:

  • Monday – 30 min walk
  • Tuesday – Rest
  • Wednesday – 30 min alternating between 5min walk/ 5 min jog
  • Thursday – Rest
  • Friday – Gym working on strength and core
  • Saturday – 30min walk
  • Sunday – 45 min broken down as 5min walk/ 10 min run and repeat

By contrast, an experienced runner looking to break 3-hours in a marathon, may have a week that looks like the following:

  • Monday – 40 min easy run at 90 secs per mile slower than MP
  • Tuesday – 50 min run as 10 min easy, 30min at Marathon Pace, 10 min cool down
  • Wednesday – 90 min endurance run, 1min slower per mile than MP
  • Thursday – 15min war up, hill reps 10 x 2min efforts (85%) on 90 sec recovery, 15 min cool down
  • Friday – Rest
  • Saturday – Park Run
  • Sunday – 2hr 15min run as 90min 1min per mile slower than MP, then 30min at MP followed by 15 min easy to cool down

There is a huge difference between the training plans above. Each applies stress in its own way, and both require rest or easier days to allow the body the strength to train hard when required.

Read about OVERREACHING HERE

So, planning is key in a training plan. Runners require a rest day and easier days in a training week, and importantly, they need easier weeks in let’s say, monthly training blocks. A good strategy is building for 3-weeks and dropping down on week 4, so, 8-weeks training in hours (just for illustration) could  look like:

  • Week 1 : 6 hours
  • Week 2 : 8 hours
  • Week 3 : 10 hours
  • Week 4 : 6 hours

 

  • Week 5 : 8 hours
  • Week 6 : 10 hours
  • Week 7 : 12 hours
  • Week 8 : 6 hours

If a runner never gets injured, one could arguably say that they fall in one of two categories:

  1. They have a superb training plan that balances stress, stimulus and rest.
  2. They are not training hard enough and not adding any stress.

Some coaches actually say, that injury is just part of the process and we need to be prepared for it. In a way, I agree, but that does not mean we must not try to avoid injury… On the contrary.

NSMI provide the following information to avoid injury:

  • Warm Up
  • Use the correct equipment (in our scenario, appropriate footwear)
  • Use the correct technique (run style and technique for gym/ weight training)
  • Do not over-reach (Listen to your body, know your limits)
  • Remain hydrated
  • Cool down

The above is a simple bullet list of points that provides a great starting point. But running is a harsh sport that creates great impact and stress, so, maybe we can be a little more creative.

Diet – Food is fuel and it provides us with energy to undertake training and importantly it allows us to recover. So, think about the food you eat and consume good quality calories from a variety of sources.

Cross-Train – Just because you are a runner, you don’t need to run every day. In all honesty, a good cross -training regimen is essential in my opinion to keep the body healthy and the mind healthy. One or two sessions per week in a gym on a stepper, elliptical or rower all increases fitness and gives the ‘running’ body a break. Weight training, core training and yoga are all positives to running.

Treatments – Having a massage every week or every month is a great way to have an overhaul of the body. It’s like taking your car to the garage to make sure that everything is working okay… A good sports therapist seen on a regular basis is a great way of nipping potential niggles before they become injuries.

Get a coach – A good coach will take into consideration your targets, available time, family and life stresses and provide you with a plan that balances stress and rest. In addition, they are a sounding board for your concerns, and they will keep you honest. They will push you when you need it and they will tell you to rest.

Variety – Don’t always run on the same routes. Mix up terrain so that it provides not only physical stimulus but mental stimulus. However, don’t lose sight of the reason why you are running. For example, if your target is a road marathon, you need specific road training. Equally, if you are running a trail 100-miler with loads of vertical, don’t do too much running on the road.

WHAT IF YOU GET INJURED?

The secret is noticing injury early and doing something about it. Runners are historically bad at this and I get it. We all have runs with some level of pain or discomfort and the secret is, in time, understanding what is just training discomfort (stress) or an injury waiting to happen. Simply. When in doubt, do not run.

RICE has often been used as an option in the 24/48-hour window:

  • Rest – At least 48 hours of rest for the injured area
  • Ice – Apply ice packs to the affected area for period of between 10 and 30 minutes. Be sure to place a towel over the injured area before applying the ice pack as direct contact with the skin can cause an ice burn.
  • Compression – In order to reduce swelling and also to restrict movement, compression bandages can be used.
  • Elevation – By raising the injured limb to a comfortable and elevated position, swelling can be reduced, and the limb will be at full rest.

As mentioned above, having a coach or getting regular treatment will help here, as you have at least two avenues to explore and discuss your problem with.

But shit happens and that ‘one extra run’ or not listening to your body is when the scales tip over and injury occurs.

See a professional. Don’t guess, do not go on social media and ask your peers what is wrong. Pick up the phone, get an appointment and start on the right path to a healthy body from the beginning.

There is no one type of injury and of course some injuries can be resolved in a week with some RnR and treatment, whilst others may see you sidelined for weeks, or months.

This is where cross-training in a training plan may well have been a god send. Remember we said early on, runners (all sports people) are addicted to an endorphin kick; we are addicts. So, while you may not be able to do the thing that you really, really want to do. Doing something is always better than nothing! Cross training is almost always given by a sports professional to help you on the road to recovery, so, embrace it.

Rest. Yes, if you have not already realized it. Rest is one of the key disciplines of any training plan. Embrace the rest days.

As an injury progresses and heals, be sensible. The urge to rush out the door and pick up where you left off is not a good idea. Ease the body back in, start slow, be progressive. Add stress, rest a great deal and slowly but surely increase time on feet and avoid any hard sessions. Once the body starts to feel good again, you can start to introduce other training stimulus such as speed and hill work.

Naturally, prevention is better than cure and there are many things that should be advised to professional and amateur athletes alike in order to avoid chronic muscle pain and injuries. Proper alimentation and stretching are key. A diet rich in proteins, vitamin C and A, and zinc, will help rejuvenate muscle tissues and prevent any damage and long-term injury. Making sure enough calories are consumed on a daily basis is also crucial to help maintain the body’s ability to repair itself. Perhaps also counterintuitively, the athlete also has to consume enough fat: an optimal level of fat has been proven to help reduce the inflammation process. Finally, it is recommended to eat within two hours after a workout, as it has been demonstrated that muscle tissue heals faster during these 2 hours-window frames. Stretching exercises are equally recommended by sports specialists in order to help increase flexibility and avoid muscle sprains. Warm-up stretches in particular serve to increase body temperature and prep the body to perform each activity. *****

Finally, learn from the process. Sit down and look at the training that lead to the injury. Try to see markers or key points that you can pinpoint and then moving forward, plan accordingly.

References:

* Here – ** Here – *** Here – **** Here – ***** NSMI – ****** Better Health

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Toubkal, Morocco Jan 21-25, 2020. Mini-Adventure – Anyone want to join me?

Anyone fancy a mini-trip to Morocco, Jan 21 to Jan 25th?
I am happy for 1-3 people join me.
*****
Plan is to climb and summit Mt Toubkal (4167m) three times in three days! Basic experience of snow climbing from 3000m refuge to summit and back. The climb from Imlil (1800m) to the refuge (3100m) is just trekking.
You will need to be self-sufficient (meals at refuge) and you will need good winter climb boots, crampons and ice axe.
*****
Plan:
  • 21st-  Fly to Marrakech and transfer to Imil, overnight Imlil.
  • 22nd – Imlil to summit and back to refuge with overnight at refuge.
  • 23rd – Early summit for sunrise and back to refuge.
  • 24th – Early start, summit, refuge and then return Imlil for overnight stay.
  • 25th – Back to Marrakech and flight back to London.
*****
If you fancy a mini-adventure please use the contact form below.
You can read about Toubkal HERE

Monte Rosa AMA VK2 – Summary and Images

The weather in the mountains can never be guaranteed, and this weekends Monte Rosa Skymarathon was today postponed one-day, to allow bad weather to disappear and hopefully provide an incredible day’s racing – albeit one day late!

However, the sister event, the AMA VK2 did take place as it did not reach the high points of Monte Rosa. However, the start was delayed from 0830 to 1000 to allow for a better weather window.

The race takes place on mountain trails with demanding uphill sections, exposed areas, steep pastures, scree and snow fields. Severe environmental and weather conditions plays a huge factor in the race. Starting in Alagna, the race covers 2000 vertical meters and concludes at an altitude of 3,260m.

It was a day of mood and atmosphere as the mist and clag moved in an out. The 30com of snowfall from the previous night making conditions wonderfully challenging.

VK specialist showed the whole race a clean pair of heals powering over the 2000m in 1hr 42 min (tbc). Behind was Givanni Bosio and Milesi Davide taking 2nd and 3rd place.

In the women’s race, Iris Pessey had a very tight battle with Corinna Ghirardi and Ilaria Veronese – the trio finished all within 1-minute – a really epic battle.

VIEW THE FULL VK2 IMAGES HERE

Tomorrow the Monte Rosa Skymarathon will go ahead with a revised start time of 0530 (originally 0600) and currently, the plan is the race will have a full route. Temperatures are expected to be very warm as the day progresses and of course this may impact on snow conditions.

Race website HERE

Race Facebook page HERE

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Ultra Trail Stara Planina 2019 Race Summary – Serbia skyrunning

Stara Planina which roughly translates to ‘Old Mountain’ is known to many as The Balkan mountain range which is in the eastern part of the Balkan Peninsula. The highest peaks of the Balkan Mountains are in central Bulgaria. Botev at 2,376 m the highest. On the border between Bulgaria and Serbia, the Balkan range runs 560 km from the Vrashka Chuka Peak eastward through central Bulgaria to Cape Emine on the Black Sea.

Stara Planina, one of the most beautiful and most authentic nature reserves that hides the highest mountain peak in Serbia – Midžor at 2,169 meters above sea level. Endless stretches of untouched nature, vast mountain pastures and forests rich in forest fruit and herbs, picturesque villages and interesting folklore.

Ultra Trail Stara Planina kicked off on Friday at midday with the 130km race which has a whopping vertical gain of 5870+. It was a race which was enveloped in mist and rain, but the relentless rain and storms that were forecast, thankfully did not appear.

On Saturday at 0700 three other races that make up Ultra Trail Stara Planina started from the Stara Planina ski resort – 36km with 2370+ the 57km 2350+ and 94km 3890+. The latter race would run till the early hours of Sunday morning and all other races would conclude on Saturday.

Saturday was a mixed bag of weather with dense fog and mist lasting through to midday and then an afternoon of glorious sunshine that allowed the amazing landscape that this area has to offer to finely shine through.

400 runners from over 25 countries assembled to experience Ultra Trail Stara Planina.

This area is a hidden gem. It’s remote, beautiful and wild. To run here, one feels truly remote and isolated from the outside world. The only glimpses of life coming from remote villages where time has stood still. Gostuša talking to a woman in her late sixties, she had never ventured from her village – she told me of how a now derelict building was once a disco. It’s hard to imagine that some 50-years ago a disco was required in a small isolated village. What was a local shop, now boarded up, closed and crumbling to the ground – the demand for supplies making the shop redundant as over the years, villagers have moved away leaving just 20 residing.

To experience the ‘real’ life of a place, one gains an insight into a journey. If it wasn’t for running and adventure, maybe these gems of Serbia would disappear completely?

Posters pasted on walls notify the passing of loved ones and it’s hard not to feel a little sad that in year’s to come, no posters will be posted as the locals, the core of the community will have all disappeared leaving ghost towns in the mountains.

Green lush vegetation with winding trails interweave through this area providing relentless challenging terrain that continuously goes up and down.

Then the arrival of a village, refreshment, a chance to stop, replenish and refuel before heading back out to experience more of the wilds of Serbia.

This area is very inaccessible by vehicle, just 10km’s can take over a hour by a 4×4 vehicle – the runners therefore are truly privileged to experience a testing and challenging journey with the experience of summiting the highest peak of Midžor at 2,169 meters above sea level. To get there though, this year, they had to experience dense mist and snow on the course.

Topli Do a hidden gem like Gostuša but there is more life here, the village is bigger and although much is falling down and wasting away, it has a raw and natural beauty.

Runners here arrive from different directions with Marshalls ever vigilant to ensure that they go in the correct direction.

A highlight, depending on which race you are running, is a technical descent from Midžor or equally, a technical climb for the 130km runners.

In the village of Gostuša an old hall is used as a major aid station where drop bags, a change of clothes and warm food is available.

Finally, for all races, Plaža signifies the final section of the race with stunning views over the mountains and for those who have time to stop, they can look back and trace the journey they have travelled.

Stara Planina ski resort, for all races signifies the end of a truly epic day or days in the heart of the Serbian landscape. The journey of 36km, 57km, 94km or 130km over.

Results:

130km

1 – Nedjalkov Balazs
2 – Jovica Spajić
3 – Danijel Loncarević

WOMEN RESULTS
1 – Nela Lazarević
2 – Ivona Velimirović
3 – Ivana Stanković

94km

1 – Dusan Bazic
2 – Duško Momić
3 – Mariya Nikolova

WOMEN RESULTS
1 – Mariya Nikolova
2 – Cecilia Papay-Sar
3 – Kristina Radović

57km

1 – Dejan Todevski
2 – Filip Todorovski
3 – Dimitar Todorovski

WOMEN RESULTS
1 – Snezana Djuric
2 – Agata Labedzka
3 – Tatjana Jovanović

36km

1 – Srdjan Mate
2 – Marko Popin
3 – Marko Ilic

WOMEN RESULTS
1 – Marija Djordjević
2 – Alana Munnik
3 – Lidija Radulovic

FULL RESULTS HERE

IMAGE GALLERIES AVAILABLE HERE

*****

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Ida Nilsson to join The Coastal Challenge 2019 #TCC2019

The Coastal Challenge reaches new heights in 2019 celebrating 15-years of amazing racing.

The 14th edition completed in February 2018 at the stunning Drake Bay on the Osa Peninsula, was a record breaker! Yes, course records were broken daily and Tom Evans and Ragna Debatselevated the overall CR’s to a new level obliterating the 2017 records set by the UK’s Tom Owens and New Zealand’s Anna Frost.

Time never stands still and to make the 15th edition of TCC extra special, race director’s Rodrigo Carazo and Sergio Sanchez have confirmed a new incentive for the 2019 edition of the race.

A reward purse totaling $8000will be up for grabs as the race gets underway from the stunning beaches of Quepos, Costa Rica.

Each day, $250 will be up for grabs should the stage course records be broken by the fastest male or female. For example, in 2018, Tom Evans broke every stage record, that would have been rewarded with a $1500 payout! 

Should the overall course record set in 2018 by Tom Evans or Ragna Debats be broken in 2019, $2500 will be on offer. Should the male and female record go, that is a payout of $5000.

Feel like a fast start to 2019? It comes no faster than the 15th edition of The Coastal Challenge! 

Following on from the announcement of Lucy Bartholomew (HERE), we now announce the incredible Ida Nilsson to the line-up of the 2019 TCC. Ida is the two-time champion and course record holder of the iconic Transvulcania on the island of La Palma.

Ida’s ability to run fast over mixed terrain is a huge advantage and is what sets her apart from the competition. Costa Rica and the TCC will be a challenge though… This is the first multi-day race on foot and coming from a snow/ cold climate, the adaptation to heat will be a challenge. 

One thing is for sure, when the terrain is flat and fast, Ida will push the pace making the other runners suffer as they try to keep up!

Over the coming days and weeks, we will introduce you the elite runners that will toe the line of the 2019 TCC by asking them the same fifteen questions:

What attracts you to Costa Rica?

I have never been to Central America and Cost Rica has always been a dream because it’s amazing nature.

This is the 15th edition of the TCC, a special one – what do you know about the race? 

I have mainly just seen pictures from people who previous ran the race. I know it’s a stage race along the coast with variation of flatter to more technical terrain with elevation.

Heat and humidity will play a major factor in the race, how do you plan to adapt?

My strategy will be to do it quickly once I arrive. I will come straight from Norwegian winter and unfortunately, I don’t have a sauna, otherwise that could have been an option. 

Ragna Debats and Tom Evans set incredible course records in 2017. There is prize money available for a new CR in 2019 – does that motivate you? Can you break the record?

Yes, I feel that the record and the stage records are motivating, but this year there are so many of us who could win a stage and the whole race, so I feel that the competition in itself is more motivating than the times from previous year. 

Multi-day racing brings many different challenges to a single-stage race – what are you most looking forward to? What are you most fearful of?

This will be my first stage race, so that will be interesting! I think that all the others have done something similar before, so I look forward to finding out how I will handle six days in a row. I think it’s really nice to have the opportunity to arrive to a different camp site each night. What I fear most is to get some kind of injury during the race.

The elite line-up is incredible for 2019, you will need to be in the best shape, does that excite you? 

Yes, it will be tough since I never do much running in the winter, but hopefully, I will be in good shape from skiing and exited to run in shorts again!

February is early in the season, what will your winter training look like, so you will be ready for February?

Mainly skiing, but I will throw in some runs as well to have my running legs prepared.

TCC is a tough race that suits a rounded athlete. You need to be able to climb, descend, handle technical trail and run on the flat – where will your strengths be?

Compared to the others I think my strengths will be on the flatter parts of the race.

What experience do you have of multi-day racing?

None in running. Pierra Menta in skiing (4-days) which is an iconic race. 

Racing starts very early in Costa Rica, with the sun! An early finish allows for relaxation on the beach, you can even have a beer – combining racing and relaxation is a key of TCC. It is a ‘Pura Vida’ race – tell us about your hopes and desires for the 2019 edition.

Yes, that’s the best of everything I like to do. Exploring and racing for some hours in the morning and then swimming, eating fruits and drinking beer in the afternoon.

What three music choices would sum up your racing style?

Wow, I have never thought of that! I don’t even know if I have a racing style? But two songs I listen to before Transvulcania are ‘The Dreamer’ from The Tallest Man on Earth and ‘Piece of My Heart’ by Janis Joplin. And I feel they work well for me and resonance with my feelings. 

Tell us about your nutrition and hydrations strategies for the race?

Yes, hydration is probably the key and then to fill up with food after each day to have energy for the whole week.

Tell us about key equipment such as shoes and apparel that you will use? 

I think I will use the Salomon Amphibia for this race, which is developed for swim runs and still works very well if it’s wet and muddy. Other running apparel I haven’t really planned yet!

Feel free to tell us something, anything! 

I’m very happy I got invited to the 2019 TCC.

Tell us about your greatest achievements?

1) Zegama 2018

2) Transvulcania 2017

3) Ultravasan 2017

4) Lidingöloppet 2018

5) Transvulcania 2018

6) TNF 2017

7) Swedish x-country 4 km 2018

8) Swiss Alpine 2017

I really look forward to this opportunity to discover a new country with stunning nature and trails. I also look forward to the stage race experience and share it with the other participants.

 *****

TCC as it is affectionately known is a multi-day race starting in the southern coastal town of Quepos, Costa Rica and finishing at the stunning Drake Bay on the Osa Peninsula. It is an ultimate multi-day running experience that offers a new challenge even to the most experienced runner. Taking place over 6-days, the race hugs the coastline of Costa Rica, travelling in and out of the stunning Talamanca mountain range. Even the strongest competitors are reduced to exhausted shells by the arrival of the finish line due to the combination of technical trails, dense forest, river crossings, waterfalls, long stretches of golden beach, dusty access roads, high ridges and open expansive plains.


You can read and view images from the 2017 edition HEREand the 2018 edition HERE

 

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The Coastal Challenge

Facebook HERE

Website (UK) HERE

Website (Global) HERE

 

#tcc2019 #thecoastalchallenge #tcc19 

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High Trail Vanoise Ultra and Face de Bellevarde VK 2016 Race Preview – Skyrunner® World Series


Skyrunning and the 2016 Skyrunner World Series arrives in France this weekend for an action packed double bill of VK and ULTRA. On Friday, the Face de Bellevarde VK kicks off in Val D’Isere to take on the steep slopes that lead to the summit way up in the sky.
Marco De Gasperi, Skyrunning legend has the record of 34:51 set on this course many years ago and this year, up and coming rising star, Remi Bonnet will be looking to set a new benchmark. The young runner won’t have it all his own way though, Ferran Teixido, current leader in the SWS rankings will be looking for a strong performance and the ever present, Urban Zemmer will push the young gun all the way to the summit. Marco Moletto, Hannes Perkman, William Bon Mardion and Pascal Egli will make up the main contenders in an impressive field.
For the ladies, Christelle Dewalle is the current SWS leader and ultimately the one to beat! Elisa Desco, Emily Collinge and Serena Vittori will push the French lady hard but can they beat Laura Orgue’s time of 40:52?
In both races, an incentive is on offer. Should a male or female break the old course records they will receive a cash prize of 2000 euros. If the runner is French, the opportunity to have a new BMW car is available for one year!


High Trail Vanoise is the main event of the weekend and it harks back to the golden days of when Giacometti, Brunod and climbed Monte Rosa and paved the way for this modern phenomenon called Skyrunning. Ice, snow, glaciers, altitude, the High Trail Vanoise has it all. Crossing the iconic Col D’Iseran at 2764m is merely just a taster, the high point of the course is the impressive Grande Motte at 3653m. It’s a tough race, 67km in length, runners will climb (and descend) 5400m to reach the finish line.


Cristofer Clemente heads up there men’s field after an impressive top 10 at Transvulcania and victory at Ultra SkyMarathon Madeira. Nicolas Martin, Nuno Silva, Jan Bartas, Dimity Mityaev and the ever-present Fulvio Dapit will look to take top honours and maximum SWS points.


Gemma Arenas fresh from victory in Madeira will be looking to consolidate maximum points and set herself up for a good chance of winning the 2016 SWS. Local French lady Anne-Lise Rousset may well have other thoughts though! Anna Comet has been fighting injury issues but a finish in Madeira and some quality RnR will hopefully set her up for a strong run in France. Travelling from the USA, Kristina Pattison will be looking to repeat her top 10 performance from Madeira and work her way up the rankings ahead of the RUT in the USA.


Just as in the VK, prize money is on offer and the respective winners can expect 3000 euros or French runners will receive 1000 euro and a BMW for a year.
Alpina Watches, sponsored of the SWS will also offer a male and female watch for the Alpina Smart Time.

600 runners will take part in a stunning weekend of high intensity action.


Thanks to the support of our Partner Migu Xempower, Sponsor Alpina Watches and Official Pool Suppliers, Scott RunningCompressport and Salomon.

About Skyrunner® World Series
Skyrunning was founded in 1992 by Italian Marino Giacometti, President of the International Skyrunning Federation which sanctions the discipline worldwide and sports the tagline:
Less cloud. More sky.

The Skyrunner® World Series was launched in 2004 and has grown to represent the peak of outdoor running defined by altitude and technicality. In 2016, the Series, composed of four disciplines, features 23 races in 15 venues on three continents.

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Skyrunning Ice Trail Tarentaise 2015 Race Preview #ITT2015

 

©iancorless.comIMG_0945The stunning alpine village of Val d’Isère is the official home of the next two races in the Skyrunner® calendar, the Ice Trail Tarentaise which is the Skyrunning Continental Championship for the Ultra distance and the Bellevarde Vertical Kilometer the first VK in the Skyrunner® World Series.

Val d’Isere is a haven for alpinists wanting to test themselves on the iconic slopes of Meribel, Val Thorens, Courchavel; it is affectionately known as the ‘Le Trois Vallees’. The Ice Trail Tarentaise (ITT) starts and concludes in this beautiful mountain retreat.

The ITT has over 60 km’s above 2000m altitude and with a highest point of 3653m at ‘Grande Motte.’ In just a couple of years, the race has gained a reputation for being one of the most ‘extreme’ races in the Skyrunner® calendar, it is a race not to be taken lightly!

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Traversing glaciers, ascending and descending summits such as ‘Aiguille Pers’ at 3386m, ropes, ladders, way markers, peaks at over 3000m and 5000m +/- ascent and descent guarantees that not everyone will see the finishing tape. The ITT is very true to the heritage of Skyrunning and it harks back to the late 80’s and early 90’s when ISF President, Marino Giacometti pioneered a new form of Alpinism.

 

Who is running?

Men

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ITT has always had a high quality field assemble and 2015 is no different. Luis Alberto Hernando heads up the men’s field after his recent victory at Transvulcania Ultramarathon and placing 2nd at the IAU World Trail Championships. Luis ran ITT last year but pulled out whilst in 2nd place. I am convinced that we won’t see that happen this year and for me, Luis is the hot favourite for victory. He is without doubt in his element on tough courses (with snow) between the 50-100km distance.

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Manuel Merillas is a rising star in Skyrunning and had an incredible 2014. He placed 5th at ITT in 2014, which will most definitely provide him with a great deal of experience coming into the 2015 edition. The recent Transvulcania Ultramarathon did not go well for Manuel; he looked primed for the podium in the first half of the race but then struggled in the latter stages to finish outside the top 10. He showed amazing powers of recovery by bouncing back just 1 week later at Zegama-Aizkorri and placing 2nd. One to watch!

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Fabien Antolinus had a great race in 2014 and placed 2nd behind Francois d’Haene. He does however seem to blow hot and cold and can be a little unpredictable. For sure, he has all the skills and talent required to perform at the highest level. He may well be a podium contender but I don’t see him toppling Luis.

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Pablo Villa shot to our attention in 2014 when he had a great run at Transvulcania Ultramarathon. Shifting sponsors (now Salomon) he backed that performance up with 8th at the 2015 edition of the race. Pablo is a top 10 contender and should he have a great day, the top 5 may well be a possibility.

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Fulvio Dapit has all the potential to make the podium at ITT. On his day, he is a superb mountain runner and he excels when the terrain is ‘challenging.’ He placed 4th at ITT in the last edition. Recently though he had a tough performance at Lavaredo, however, he did pull out and that may well have saved his ITT performance.

French champion (2013), Sebastien Spehler had victories at TTN and 6000D in 2014. His recent form is a little unknown but he may well make the top 10?

Benoit Cori placed 13th at the IAU World Trail Championships and won Templiers in 2014. The ITT course is far removed from both those courses but Benoit obviously has speed.

Marcin Swierc is another runner who will make his presence felt in the top 10. He placed 8th at Mont-Blanc Marathon and 9th at Templiers and 4th at the recent Mont-Blanc 80km. So it is clear to see that he has speed and strength. ITT adds other aspects and his final result will very much depend on how he can handle snow, ice and additional technical running.

Christophe Perillat is not a runner I know a great deal about. However, he did place 2nd at the 2014 CCC. So with that in mind, he is no slouch in the mountains.

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Cyril Cointre may well start the race? I need to have this confirmed. If he does, he will be a contender at the front of the race. He races extensively, some may say too much but despite this, he always pulls out the results. Recently he finished ahead of Anton Krupicka at Transgrancanaria.

Franco Colle knows how to run in the mountains; look at his results at Tor des Geants. The ITT terrain will suit him but will it be too short and too fast? He certainly performed exceptionally well at Mont-Blanc 80k when he placed 2nd behind Alex Nichols.

Several other names on the start sheet jump out at me:

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Zigor Iturrieta has been there and done it in racing. I was last at a race with him in Nepal when he ran Everest Trail Race (he placed 3rd) and he always manages to pull out the stops for strong consistent results.

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Pavel Paloncy is a renowned adventure racer, 2-x winner of the UK’s Spine Race and recently raced The Dragons Back and would have placed well overall had it not been for a bad fall on day 1. Pavel is a strong and gritty runner. I do wonder though if this race may be too short and too fast for Pavel?

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Stuart Air from the UK has run well at ITT before and top 10 would be a great result.

Ones to watch:

Daniel Garcia, Jessed Hernandez, Robert Niewland, Pawel Dybek,

 

Ladies

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Emelie Forsberg has won ITT 2 x and I have no reason to doubt or question that she will do it again. It’s a course she loves, the terrain suits her and she has great memories. Last weekend she won and set a new course record in Alaska at Mount Marathon. It was 50-minute race but just today (Tuesday) she said her legs are tired! I think they will be okay for the weekend. Her performance and victory (off ski’s) at Transvulcania Ultramarathon in 2015 confirms that Emelie is the one to beat!

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Anna Comet Pascua is on fire at the moment. I witnessed Anna win Everest Trail Race at the end of 2014 and she said then that she planned to race the Skyrunning circuit in 2015. A podium place at Transvulcania Ultramarathon and then a follow up podium behind Mira Rai at Mont-Blanc 80km confirms that Anna is doing something right. Just as in La Palma, I don’t think Anna has the race to beat Emelie but anything can happen?

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It will not be an easy ride for Emelie and Maud Gobert will make sure of that. Maud placed 2nd at ITT in 2014 and although she races lees now than in the past, on her day she can still make her presence felt.

Anne Lise Rousset placed 4th at the IAU World Championships and although she has great potential for top 5 or maybe even the podium, I don’t see her coming close to Emelie on a course like this.

Magdalena Laczack however may well prove to be the dark horse of the race and is my top tip for 2nd place and should Emelie falter, Magdalena could possibly take the victory? Her 3rd place behind Emelie and Frosty at the Skyrunning World Championships (80km) in Chamonix confirms this.

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Nuria Dominguez is an ever present on the Skyrunning circuit and always gets the job done. She has placed top 10 at Transgrancanaria, Zegama-Aizkorri, Dolomites SkyRace, Trans D’Havet, Limone Extreme and so on. Top 5 is a distinct possibility and most certainly a podium contender on a good day!

Beth Cardelli is one of the strongest runners in the Southern Hemisphere and won one of the shorter races at ITT in 2013. Climbing and long distance running is her forte and I am sure if she is making the journey from Australia she will be fired up for a great run. Recently she placed 4th at Mt Difficulty and 3rd at Buffalo Stampede when Landie Greyling topped the podium.

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Ester Alves seems to be running everything at the moment. I would say ‘too much’ for her to have any potential for the podium at ITT but she may well make the top 5 and top 10 should be guaranteed if all goes well. Recently she placed 2nd behind Stevie Kremer at Ultra SkyMarathon Madeira.

Ones to watch:

Ragna Debats, Frederica Boifava, Anna Strakova, Sarah Vieuielle and Virginie Govignon.

*****

The Ice Trail Tarentaise weekend is also renowned for the Bellevarde Vertical Kilometer, which was reintroduced in 2014.

The course is a tough one, which may include snow although this looks unlikely after recent high temperatures throughout Europe. This race may well prove to be very exciting, as Francois Gonon will run after his recent excellent CR on the vertical slopes in Chamonix.

Ones to watch:

Men

  • Francois Gonon
  • Nejc Kuhar
  • Marco Moletto
  • Ferran Teixido
  • Xavier Teixido
  • William Bon Mardion
  • Eirik Haugsness
  • Remi Bonnet

 

Ladies

  • Laura Orgue
  • Stephanie Jimenez
  • Emelie Forsberg (tbc)
  • Azara Garcia
  • Therese Sjursen
  • Erika Forni
  • Serena Vittori
  • Ekaterina Mityaev
  • Zhana Vokueva

Follow the racing in images and words on this website, on Facebook.com/iancorlessphotography on Twitter @talkultra and on Instagram @iancorlessphotography

Race Tweets will come to you via @skyrunning_com and on the Skyrunning Facebook page.

Sir Ranulph Fiennes to run the 2015 Marathon des Sables – Interview

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Ranulph Fiennes (March 7th 1944)

 Sir Ranulph Fiennes has been called, ‘The World’s Greatest Living Explorer.’ It’s a difficult statement to argue. Sir Ranulph’s list of achievements is quite incredible. 

Born in ‘44’ he was educated at Eton, served in the Royal Scots Greys for eight years and progressed to the Special Air Service (SAS) where he specialized in demolitions. In 68’ he joined the Army of the Sultan of Oman where he was decorated for bravery after leading several raids deep into rebel territory.

Sir Ranulph Fiennes Portrait 2012_militaryspeakers

Sir Ranulph Fiennes Portrait 2012_militaryspeakers

Sir Ranulph married his first wife, Virginia (Ginny) in 1970 and between them they lead expeditions all over the world. Ginny was awarded the Polar Medal in ’87.’ Sir Ranulph has raised incredible sums of money for Marie Curie Cancer Charity as his wife, mother and sister all died from the disease within 18 months of each other (2004.)

Currently, Sir Ranulph is the only person alive to have to have travelled around the Earth’s circumpolar surface. Continually a pioneer, Sir Ranulph is ever present at pushing boundaries.

The first explorer to cross the Antarctic Continent unsupported, Sir Ranulph has come a long way since leading a British Expedition on the White Nile in ’69.’

Ran, as he likes to be known, may perhaps be best known after travelling to the North Pole unaided. Dr Mike Stroud has figured heavily in Ran’s career and amongst many expeditions, two stand out! A 97-day trek across Antarctica in ‘93’ and running seven marathons in seven days on seven continents (2003.) The latter was undertaken just four months after a triple heart bypass.

In 2000, Ran attempted to walk solo to the North Pole but his sled fell through thin ice. Exposure to the ice-cold water resulted in severe frostbite and some months later, the famous ‘finger’ incident.

Having been to both Poles and participated in over 30 major expeditions, Ran summited the Eiger in 2007 and at the age of 65 (2009) he pushed the boundaries once more to be the oldest Briton ever to climb Everest after two failed attempts in 2005 (he had a heart attack) and in 2008 when he ‘went a little too quickly’ and exhaustion foiled his attempt.

After 5 years of planning, in 2012, Sir Ranulph set off on his latest expedition, ‘The Coldest Journey’ leading the first team on foot, across Antarctica during the southern winter. The expedition was brought to a sudden halt for Ran when in training he removed a glove to attend to a ski binding. Ran was evacuated for frostbite and treatment but the expedition continued without him.

In 2015, Ran will attempt the 2015 Marathon des Sables.

*****

Ranulph Fiennes Interview undertaken by Niandi Carmont at ‘The Druid Challenge’ 2-day race in November 2014. An event both Niandi and Sir Ranulph were using as preparation for Marathon des Sables in 2015.

NC: Welcome Sir Ranulph

RF: Many thanks for the invite and showing an interest.

NC: You hold multiple records, I am a little overwhelmed. You were in the army for many years, did that ignite a passion for adventure?

RF: Well when I was in Germany it was the Cold War. We had 60 70-ton tanks facing the German border waiting for the Soviets to attack… but they never did attack. So the soldiers got bored. So, we were made to run, canoe or whatever it may be. I was told I would be the running officer. I wasn’t asked, I was told! I became an expert in a week. I started to train 600 soldiers. We got to be 5th best regiment out of about 80 regiments after 4-years. All the races were 6miles though.

NC: Wow an interesting beginning and somewhat unique. What was it like to be the first person to visit both poles?

RF: Well, it was my late wife Ginny (married 38-years) who motivated me. Before we married we had done various hot expeditions in the Sahara, the Nile and Arabia. In the 70’s the British press were no longer interested in media for hot expeditions. So, no sponsorship equals no expeditions. Ginny decided we should go to cold environments. We looked at a globe and we decided that nobody had gone vertically between the poles. There was only one route!

NC: How long did this take?

RF: It took 7 years to get sponsorship. We had 1900 sponsors and raised 29 million pounds. This was in the 70’s! Nobody paid us to get sponsors so we had to work at weekends in pubs to make a living. Eventually Jennies dream was ready to go… we had a team of 52-people who had given up everything. Engineers and so on… we got a 40-year old Norwegian vessel and set off from Greenwich and arrived back 2.5 years later. We were the first to go around the earth surface vertically around the world ever and nobody else has repeated this. More people have been on the moon! So in all, 10 years!

NC: Amazing that the record still stands. So remarkable! You were the first person to cross Antarctica on foot?

RF: That was the Antarctic Continent? Antarctica changes all the time… I did coastline to coastline: Atlantic to Pacific. We completed the first crossing in ‘79’ but we used skidoos, nonetheless the first crossing side-to-side. But when we crossed the Continent that was 20-years later and that was unsupported. So, what we carried on day-1 was enough for 2000 miles without resupply. That was somewhat problematic but we did do it and we were in a bad way at the end!

NC: Problematic?

RF: We ran out of food! I started at 15.5 stone, at halfway I was 9-stone despite eating 5000 calories a day. So we had a daily deficiency of 3500 calories per day. So, we were officially starving. Mike Stroud thought this was fascinating… he is Europe’s top physiologist studying in starvation and muscle cannibalisation, so he was able to study this first hand. It had only been possible to study something like this previously at Auschwitz!

NC: You had frostbite. Many have heard the stories about you cutting your fingers off. Are they true?

Fiennes_standard.co.uk

RF: I got frostbite on a solo expedition to the Arctic Ocean. If I had had a doctor with me he would have pulled me out and got the tent out with a cooker on and avoided the frostbite. As it was, because I was alone by the time I had got out of the water… the damage was done. I was too cold too pitch a tent, start a cooker and so on. It was -48. Think about it, it was pitch black on a semi frozen sea, so I went back to the start to find land again and sent a radio message. An amazing Canadian ski pilot landed in the dark on the edge of the coast and he saved me. I was taken to hospital. I had special pressure treatment for 60-hours to lengthen the living part of the fingers on one hand. They cut off about 2-inches of the five fingers on one hand. The other hand recovered. My insurers refused to pay unless the operation was in the UK. I tried to find someone in the UK who knew something about frostbite. Navy divers are susceptible to the bends and apparently they can lose fingers. Apparently they don’t amputate until after 5-months to allow for some recovery. Five months is a long time. Every time you touch something with mummified fingers it hurts… after 2 months my wife and I decided to cut them off. We went to the garden shed. We got a Black & Decker workbench and micro saw. It took 2 days and lots of tea. Apparently a physio in Bristol said I did a great job but my surgeon was less pleased.

NC: Did it take courage and did it hurt?

RF: No, if it hurt or started to bleed I just moved further away and just made sure the bit I was cutting off was dead. It doesn’t hurt!

NC: In 2009 you summited Everest at the age of 65-years; what impact did age have on you if any?

ranulph-fiennes_mpora.com

RF: This was my 3rd Everest attempt. My 1st attempt had been somewhat risky from the Tibet side and I had a heart attack on the last night after 2-months of acclimatizing. Bad timing eh but I survived! I said I would never go back… but I was told that was a rubbish idea and that I should go from the other side.

So my 2nd attempt was from the Nepal side; which is easier. But we still failed as we passed a load of bodies including the father of my Sherpa. We passed a Swiss climber too who had summited without Oxygen but died on the way down with hypoxia.

In 2009 it was easy… I guess I understand why I had failed the first and second times. I had been trying to catch up with my British guide the second time. Competitiveness can be a bad thing. When you have had a heart attack you must obey your surgeons advice and not exceed 130bpm. So, in 2009 I took it easy and it all came together.

NC: You are obviously endurant and resilient?

RF: When I was in my 50’s I enjoyed running a great deal and I had success. In my 60’s running was no longer an option… I was jogging until about 69-years of age and that was okay, not that I ever went in for races in that decade. Jogging became shuffling and that is very annoying! Avoid geriatric status at all costs.

NC: I agree 100%. You have a great collaboration with Mike Stroud – 26-years?

RF: Mike comes up with all the ideas. For the last 5-years we have been working on an idea that involved Antarctica. Mike unfortunately had a hip problem. In the last couple of years his other hip went, it wasn’t as easy as the first one so Mike took on all the scientific side. In many ways this is more difficult and that is what he is in charge of now. We are still doing things. There was a time when Mike and I didn’t do expeditions; this was after the Antarctic crossing. We did running races. Mike led an Eco-Challenge team, which must have been one of the first in British Columbia in the Whistler Mountains. That was very enjoyable… it was a team of five and it included Rebecca Stephens the first the British lady to summit Everest, his Father who was over 70-years, the editor of Runners World and an SAS man, David Smith. Mike put the team together and introduced all of us back to running in 1995. We have also done many events as a pair such as the 7-marathons on 7-continents.

NC: He is also a friend, It’s more than running surely?

RF: You don’t choose people for expeditions because they are friends. We chose Mike Stroud in the very beginning because I was already in the Arctic. The man I was with was recalled to London and I was left with nobody. I rang my wife in England and said, ‘I need someone in 3-days who is completely ‘polar’ trained.’ Dr Mike Stroud had been a reserve on another expedition and had only just returned from Antarctica after 1-year away. Somehow he pulled it off… he managed to come away on a 3-day turnaround.

NC: You obviously relied on your wife a great deal.

RF: Absolutely! Since my wife has passed away, Mike has taken on the ‘idea’ role.

NC: Can we discuss the 7-marathons in 7-days on 7-continents?

RF: Mikes’ idea again! The New York marathon club considered themselves the best marathon club in the world. The only non New Yorker as part of this group was Dr Mike Stroud. They swore him to silence that they thought it may be possible to run 7-marathons on 7-continents in 7-days. Mike kept his word and 2-years later, Mike approached American Airlines and they said they couldn’t schedule the flights. (You need jumbo jets and 5-hours in each continent.) Delta said they couldn’t do it. United said they couldn’t do it and now 6-years had passed. It was 2003 and Mike had still kept the secret. I called Mike in 2003 about another expedition. He said great, I’ll ask the boss. They told him he could only have 1-week’s holiday as he taken so much time already. Mike phoned me and said, I can’t do your expedition but I want you to do mine! So, Mike asked me to contact British Airways and within 2-months they phoned back and said they had cracked it! They said we had to finish with New York and not Asia. Asia would need to be in the middle. Also, if we were a minute late ever they would fly without us. They wouldn’t keep passengers waiting. So, they provided 2 free first class beds and food (this was our only opportunity to rest) and yes, it was all systems go! It all went well to Argentina. We were suppose to be running on King George Island (Shetland), the night before we were due to run the ‘Argies’ blocked the landing on King George with their own planes. So we had a team meeting, Mike and myself, BBC news, a reporter from The Times and a photographer: 6-people in total. When we suddenly arrived the whole thing had been cocked up, the BBC bloke said, “I’ve got a very good friend in Santiago, I will ring him now and get him here and he will fly us to one of the other Antarctic Islands.” So we had to run one of the South American marathons locally. That night we ran a marathon and we had officials to make sure we ran an official marathon in 3:45, which was extremely stupid. The next morning we get on this plane without a worry of which island we would go to. Apparently the only island to run on would be the Falklands. You may know, but you are not supposed to fly from Argentina to the Falklands without 6-months notice. So we slept on the plane. Mike woke me up and we looked out of the plane window. We had two Tornado jets on either side of us… they made us do a force landing on a military airstrip on the Falklands. We were marched to the CO who was furious. He told us we had no permission and that we could all face prison. At this point, one of the reporters went forward and said, “Did they realise that the news and the papers would make this not look good for the army!” There was a fairly quick turnaround…

“You can run your 26. something miles locally and we will watch them every step of the way,” The CO said.

They never saw us off. Funny really.

NC: This seems extremely stressful. Running, logistics, last min changes and so on.

RF: The BBC and The Times did all that for us.

NC: Yes, but it must have been stressful.

RF: The 7x7x7 challenge was sponsored by Land Rover and they did everything for us. It was incredible. They did all the work for us and they had cars waiting for us at anytime. Land Rover and British Airways made this all possible. They had the contacts.

NC: Before the 7-challenge you had a heart attack and a double bypass. It’s amazing that you would undertake this.

RF: I was on a drip for 3-days and nights, they decided to cut me open and do a double bypass. They just decided to do this! It took 13 attempts to revive me after they sewed me up. When I woke up my late wife said, “Ran you had a heart attack 3-days ago” but I still can’t remember anything!

NC: You aborted your most recent expedition, is that the end of cold journeys for you now?

RF: We aborted the crossing but we kept the team (all 5 of them) not Mike and not me through frostbite, but we kept all the team for 8-months at 11,000 feet above sea level doing scientific work on each other. It has delighted the Royal Society and all the scientists, we raised 2.3 million dollars for blindness in Bangladesh and I went with Joanna Lumley to Bangladesh to see what they were doing with the money. For £19 they could remove cataracts from babies. Quite remarkable! For £9 they could provide spectacles to children. This means they can go to school and have opportunities in the future. We really need charity PR people to get behind us, the more money we make, the more people we can benefit.

NC: What does the future hold for you?

RF: Well, I am not allowed to talk about this until I get the nod, but I will be going to Marathon des Sables in 2015. And I am also writing another book. One book actually came out last week.

Marie Curie Logo

Get involved and support Sir Ranulph! Text RUN and a message of support to 70007 to donate £5, or you can visit his Just Giving page here:http://bit.ly/1xUB298

Find out more about Sir Ranulph and his Marathon des Sables challenge:http://bit.ly/1wvffi8

NC: Can you tell me about Agincourt, your most recent book?

Agincourt

 

Book on Amazon HERE

RF: A historian would normally write a book like Agincourt… but it turns out that I am related to Robert Fiennes from the village of Fiennes in the Pas de Calais.

NC: What an amazing story?

Niandi speaks French to Sir Ranulph and he is taken aback. He also speaks French and they enter into a short dialogue. 

Sir Ranulph comments that he could hear an accent in Niandi’s voice but not French! Niandi explains that she is South African born…

NC: So you lived in South Africa?

RF: Yes, my relatives live in South Africa. I spent the first 12-years of my life in SA.

Anyway, we digress. I decided to go to Fiennes and find my French cousins. They were wiped out at the battle of Agencourt and I found out how. One of them was part of an 18-strong commando group with the specific aim of killing King Henry V in the battle. One of them, maybe not Robert Fiennes, got to knocking the crown of his head… Two of King Henry V’s generals, one was a sheriff of Kent in Sussex. He was corrupt man; so corrupt that Henry V1 made him into the Chancellor of the Exchequer. When soldiers came back from France, 20,000 of them attacked London. The King gave the Chancellor of the Exchequer to the mob and they killed him… nasty business!

NC: I guess we are going to have to read the book. Sounds like a fascinating story. Looking at modern day adventurers, what are your thoughts on Uli Steck and Kilian Jornet?

RF: Uli is amazing, incredible… I do not understand how you can go up the Eiger in 2-hours or something ridiculous like that. He is unbelievably amazing. Both of them are just incredible.

NC: And what about your new book, what is it called?

RF: My new book will be called HEAT. Nice contrast to my other book, COLD.

“Physically I’m going to be a wreck pretty quickly.” But these challenges are fought in the mind, he says. “There’ll be a voice in my head saying I’ll have a heart attack, I’ll get hyperthermia, I’ve got a family, it’s stupid to carry on. That sort of wimpish voice tries to appear logical, finding reasons for stopping. You have to fight it. I’ve had it so many times.”

-BBC News, Tom de Castella

 

Cold

On Amazon HERE

Sir Ranulph Fiennes will participate at the 2015 Marathon des Sables. An announcememt will be made on January 8th. We hope to have follow up interviews with Sir Ranulph to help document this exciting journey.

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AWARDS

In 1970, Fiennes received the Sultan’s Bravery Medal.

He has also been awarded a number of honorary doctorates, in 1986, 1995, 2000, 2002, 2005, 2007 and 2011

Fiennes received the Royal Geographical Society’s Founder’s Medal.

Fiennes was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1993 for “human endeavour and for charitable services”

In 1986 Fiennes was awarded the Polar Medal for “outstanding service to British Polar exploration and research.”

In 1994 he was awarded a second clasp to the Polar Medal, having visited both poles.

In 2010 Justgiving named Fiennes as the UK’s top celebrity fundraiser, after raising more than £2.5 million for Marie Curie Cancer Care.

In September 2011 Fiennes was awarded an honorary Doctorate in Science from Plymouth University and

In July 2012 he was awarded an Honorary Fellowship from the University of Glamorgan.

In October 2014 it was announced that Fiennes would receive an honorary Doctorate of Science, from the University of Chester, in recognition of “outstanding and inspirational contribution to the field of exploration”. 

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Links and credits:

‘I am not a madman’

http://www.theguardian.com/theguardian/2007/oct/05/features11.g21

Fiennes climbs to Everest summit

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/8060649.stm

Ranulph Fiennes pulls out of Antarctic journey

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2013/02/25/ranulph-fiennes-antarctic-journey/1946571/?AID=10709313&PID=6156889&SID=w7wk81lnnmpn

The world’s greatest living explorer

http://www.militaryspeakers.co.uk/speakers/sir-ranulph-fiennes.aspx

Interview with TIME

http://content.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1900969,00.html?imw=Y

Ranulph Fiennes – Wikipedia

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ranulph_Fiennes

Who, What, Why: Is it harder to run in the Sahara Desert or the North Pole?

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/blogs-magazine-monitor-30716727