2022 Data: 1,001 hours
Swim: 26 hours (72KM)
Bike: 368 hours (9,773KM + 150,000m)
Run: 548 hours (5,350KM + 170,000m)
Gym: 75 hours
2023 Data: 970 hours
Bike: 271 hours (6,800km + 117,000m)
Run: 606 hours (5,356km + 217,500m)
Gym: 91 hours
Given the slow start to the year after "long covid" and a slow recovery after the world trail champs (dairy intolerance), I was way behind my target of 1,100 hours for the year. By the end of July I was "only" on track to do 800 hours, so I'm happy with the amount that I trained, especially with two 100 mile category races in the back half of the year. I ran the same distance as 2022,but with 48,000m more vertical gain. After hearing about Jim Walmsley's and Zach Miller's approach to UTMB in 2023 ("a load of volume, and a load of vert") I will continue to push both run volume and vert in 2024. The amount of time spent running this year was a 10% increase from last year, which I think is a sensible amount to increase by.
There were two main peaks in fitness in the year. The first was in April which I managed to keep going through the shorter distance races until World Champs. This was too long a period in retrospect as I was a bit "overcooked" at the World Champs (64kg). The second peak was after UTMB from September to November (65kg). When I was in peak shape, I scored consistently around 890 on the index systems. Those three results were happily spread across the 50km,100km,and 100mile categories, so I still have some flexibility across the ultra distances.
Trans Gran Canaria Advanced 85km. 3rd (ITRA Index 861)
Ultra Sierra Nevada Trail 60km. 1st CR (ITRA Index 890)
Veinte Leguas X Leguas 55km. 1st CR (NA)
World Mountain &Trail Running Championships 85km. 11th (ITRA Index 893)
Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc 172km.16th (ITRA Index 839)
TransLantau 140km (130). 1st (UTMB Index 888)
The year started badly having not recovered fully from what I initially thought was long covid. I tried multiple rest days, and as much training as I could handle (which wasn't at lot with 63hrs in January). I thought I was doing myself a favour by gaining back weight by eating dairy rich foods. Confusingly the symptoms of covid (inflammation, fatigue, poor sleep, brain fog etc) were all present, hence my conclusion of it being "long covid". Dairy had been "tolerable" before, but it seems that after Covid-19 I was now totally intolerant. During the spring I was eating far less dairy and consequently was able to ramp training back up. It was only when I was back down at my leanest, (world champs) that I started eating large amounts of dairy again, and symptoms started back up. It wasn't until 3 weeks before UTMB, after living with my then Inov-8 teammates (who were both vegan), that I deliberately cut out all dairy from my diet, and within days started to see an improvement in all health metrics. As a result, recovery from UTMB went much better than after worlds. Managing energy needs and eating enough while keeping it relatively healthy continues to be a challenge. Fortunately Team Hour 7 have take on the esteemed nutritionist Renee McGregor, so I am keen to do some more work on on nutrition.
The first half of the year was focused on qualifying for the GB trail team at Trans Gran Canaria, and following selection in late March, preparing for the World Champs in June. Getting selected felt extremely validating. I stuck to a routine "race prep" block of training in between races (Feb,April,May,June). There was only one 3-week block that was specifically focused on high volume "base building".
The "race prep" block consisted of 3 weeks of :
2 x Threshold runs (one on the flat, one up-hill, 5-10 reps) Tuesday, Saturday
1 x Tempo run (v600m 1-3 reps with poles) Thursday
2 x Long runs (One easy without poles, one harder effort with poles) Friday, Sunday
2-3 x Recovery rides (30-40km) Monday, Tuesday, Thursday
2 x Long ride (70-100km with 1,400-2,000m+) Wednesday, Saturday
2-3 Gym sessions Monday, Wednesday, Friday
To prepare for the specific conditions of the world champs (high vert & altitude), I spent 3 weeks up at the ski resort in Sierra Nevada. Instead of using the bike, all sessions were done as running. Sleeping at 2,300m absl combined with a 55km race at the end of the first week made for a very tough training block. I am planning on spending 4 weeks in Tignes (circa 2,100m absl) before UTMB in 2024.
The second half of the year was focused towards UTMB. I wanted to try and follow the same build up I had done before Doi-Inthanon Thailand, by building a huge base on the bike and then doing a 5 week build in run volume before tapering into the race. However the first 7 weeks after worlds felt as bad as the weeks post Covid. I wasn't able to compete in the national 100 mile TT champs as planned. The last 5 weeks before UTMB were arguably panic training. I was able to do the recce of the course in 4 days, followed by a recce of the TDS course in 3 days. In my attempt to cram training in, I got a muscle tear, two ankle sprains and two falls, one that left an egg sized swelling on my knee. The key takeaway for me was that 4 good weeks of training (even with minor injuries) was enough to get into half decent shape for UTMB. I noticed I didn't have the same top end (which is weak anyway), but the base was there, and I started the race feeling healthy, which counts for a lot in a 100M race.
I only decided to race TransLantau after I felt I was recovering well post UTMB. Training went well, and I knew I was in good enough shape to challenge for the win. Winning by an hour against some of the best Chinese athletes was the perfect way to finish off what has already been an incredible year.
My UTMB index has moved from 780 to 866. My scores are now high enough to gain free entry into any UTMB event (excluding the finals). ITRA scored the World Champs significantly higher, meaning my ITRA index is 878 (high enough to gain me free entry to Trans Gran Canaria). Overall this means I am saving £1,000/year on race entries which is great, and TransLantau paid for a flight and hotel which was another £1,000 saving!
Prize Money, Teams and Sponsorship
Despite 3 wins, and a 3rd place at some high level races, I have won £0 this year in prize money (vs £9,000 last year)! However this year has been focussed on competing at the top level, where major brands will be looking for athletes.
I was lucky enough to join the Inov-8 team for a brief period, however it turned out that the shoes weren't a long term fit for me. I also Joined Team Hour 7, a British team of elite athletes trying to make the jump up to "pro". As a member of the team I attended a training camp in Argentiere, with lactate and sweat testing, massage, psychology sessions, etc in some swanky accommodation. This worked nicely in preparation for UTMB.
During UTMB (literally on the 1st climb) I got chatting to Gediminas Grinius who is Vibram's athlete/team recruiter. Vibram are the market leader in outsole and rubber technology for boots and shoes and turn over £300mil per year, approx. I sent a proposal for £20k and they cam back with 10,000 euros. I had just started working with Capture Connect (Hannah Tyldesley) as an agent, who was talking to Asics and Sports Shoes. Although Vibram initially said they would wait to see what Asics would do (I was open about it), they soon withdrew their offer. I was kicking myself a little after things went quiet with Asics. After the win at TransLantau, though, Santara group, an agency, media and sports technology company contacted me asking if they could represent me. I had been following them for some time as they represent some of the best triathletes and runners in the world already. I decided to switch to Santara group, who have reassured me that it was wise not to have jumped at the first offer, and that trail athletes in general are being underpaid by brands. More on this in an article coming soon. For now there are proposals sitting with a few brands beginning with "N" asking for more than was offered by Vibram. Hopefully I will hear something in the new year.
Key Takeaways from 2023 :
The training you've done in the previous year is more important than the training 1 month prior to racing. Trans Gran Canaria Advanced and UTMB both only had a good 4 week period of training beforehand. I wasn't as fit as I wanted for either, but I was still able to dig out a good performance.
Peak racing weight now sits at around 65kg for me (for mountain ultra, 175cm).
Peak fitness/weight should be held for 2 months maximum. I was sick after Worlds and again after TransLantau. Too lean for too long!
The leaner I get the longer the recovery time is after racing, and seems to be when I pick up bugs and illness. I have Covid again as I write this.
Avoid unnecessary racing. Racing a 55km in the middle of an altitude block (Veinte Leguas) nearly broke me. I wasn't able to race the 100 mile TT champs in July, or the Malaga marathon in December due to illness/injury/lack of specific fitness.
Food poisoning happens as a result of dehydration in training as the weather gets hotter. (Taken 4 years for me to realise the pattern. Training with food poisoning this year resulted in gastroenteritis and a necessary course of antibiotics.)
Quite a similar format as 2023, by starting the year at Trans Gran Canaria, then a focus on the 50km distance and Europeans, before building up for UTMB again. If I don't get selected for Europeans, then there are a lot of options in the summer. Given that the World Mountain & Trail Running Champs in 2025 may conflict with UTMB, I am looking at Western States Golden ticket races (potentially Nice, or Doi Inthanon) at the end of 2024, in order to race in 2025. Both of these present challenges, as Nice is 1 month after UTMB and Doi-Inthanon is a monster.
Goals for 2024
Challenge for the podium at all races.
21 hours at UTMB.
Qualify for Western States in 2025.
600hrs running (250,000m+)
Health: See 2022 review! Total failure in 2023 to stay healthy.
Given how rubbish I felt in January, I genuinely thought that my running career could have been over before it even got going. Thinking back over the year now, it feels like a dream. This is the beautiful simplicity of endurance sport, you just have to hold on a little longer.