The last "run" five days before the ultra

The last “run” five days before the ultra

A lot of preparation has gone into getting myself ready for the CCC tomorrow. The CCC is the little sister of the ultra-tour du mont-blanc (UTMB) – a mere 101km and 6100m of climbing. (The 6100 of downhill will be the difficult bit of course.) This is more than enough for me. I feel fit, strong and have no idea how fast I will go. I hope I’ll finish it of course.

They say that success in running ultras can be boiled down to winning the “ultra-eating” competition. One can expect to burn about 700 calories an hour. The body can absorb up to 300 calories an hour if one eats as much carbohydrate as possible. Competitors frequently suffer from nausea or vomiting, and this can lead to exhaustion if they cannot hold food down.¬†

So nutrition is a problem for everyone, but particularly for me given the added complication of diabetes. I know how much sugar an hour I need to keep my blood glucose in a safe range. But my experience is capped at ten hours running. This race may take twice that long and I have no idea how my body will cope after fifteen hours of running. The aid stations on the course are legendary in the spread they have on offer, but it’s a bit more stressful for me because I will have to take a risk with estimating carb content of anything I don’t have experience with eating. On the other-hand, I have to eat at the aid stations because carrying all my food for the race would result in too heavy a bag. Luckily runners are allowed to meet a “crew” at the 50km mark, so my long-suffering wife will be there to re-supply me with Jelly babies.

Another challenge I have is “humility”. In my first, and only other, ultra I didn’t know if I would finish. I came fourth. In the London Marathon, I didn’t think I could break the Guinness World Record. I did. So in the back of my mind I’m thinking that I’m going to do well tomorrow. I keep having to repeat to myself not to set off too fast, to run my own race, and that I may not even finish. Diabetes, tiredness, injury or anything else might prevent that.

My taper has been poor but unforgettable

There have been no proper controlled studies on how to taper for an ultra marathon. And athletes do all kinds of different things. So with no real advice to follow other than “keep frequency and intensity of training the same, decrease volume”, I have tapered. In my great wisdom, I increased the intensity, increased the volume, and decreased the frequency. So I’ve spent the last few days with extremely stiff legs and am only starting to feel back to normal with one day to go. I also spent a small fortune on “compression sleeves” to go round my calves. These are like tight socks which are given to elderly people and athletes. There seems to be some evidence that they help recovery from long runs and at this stage I’m willing to try anything, including looking stupid and being broke as a consequence.

I ran 10 miles in 60 minutes a week ago. It actually felt fairly easy. I even knew at the time, however, that whilst it was a good session for my ego it was a terrible one for my legs. On Saturday I went for a walk with two three-year olds – that was manageable. On Sunday I ran the last 17km of the course. It was beautiful and definitely worth doing to remind my legs what its like to run downhill and to get to know that section which I will certainly be running in the dark tomorrow night.

Our accommodation at 2700m. Not a bad place to wake up.

Our accommodation at 2700m. Not a bad place to wake up.

The real mistake was to then drive to Italy and climb 1000m to a small bivouac hut with Emily, sleep there and then do an epic all-day walk on Monday. I did it for several reasons though – sleeping at 2700m may help with acclimatisation for the race and if my legs could recover in time they would be stronger. I have been heavily influenced by Richard Askwith’s new book. He convinced me that sometimes it’s just not worth getting that extra 2% of performance. Normal people like me aren’t going to win many races anyway, so I may as well take the time to enjoy life. Hence the adventure with Emily.

We had an great scramble along a rocky ridge. The picture below is on the final section.


We then came face to face with a large herd of mountain goats complete with lethal weapons attached to their heads. We felt a bit like we were about to ascend into Scar’s lair, protected by the pack of jackals!


I started up the final section with some trepidation. As I neared the top, the goats started to retreat, as I’d expected. What I wasn’t expecting, was for their curiosity to get the better of them as I got to the top. First a plucky adolescent started to walk over, only to be roughly head butted by an older goat. The the nightmare began – a baby came over to us! We both knew what happens when one comes across a baby bear – the mummy bear gets angry! Standing face to face with about a hundred horned animals on the side of a cliff was a pretty unnerving experience, and I found myself clipping myself back onto the wire, knees shaking, whilst Emily whispered loudly in my ear “don’t show them any fear”. “But I’m about to be head butted to an early grave a thousand feet below us!” I wanted to scream.

Scary or what?!

Scary or what?!

To cut a long story short, we presently realised that they were inquisitive and friendly, and once we figured¬†that they weren’t going to stick their horns through our stomachs we relaxed (a bit) and enjoyed the most wonderful and surreal experience I have ever had on a mountain peak.

Our favourite goat. He must have been called Rafiki.

Our favourite goat. He must have been called Rafiki.

The goat "selfie"

The goat “selfie”

This one almost ate my camera.

This one almost ate my camera.

We would walk down a bit, and they would stand looking at us. Then they would charge en-masse down the hill towards us. Head butting each other as the went and streaming around us on all sides.

We would walk down a bit, and they would stand looking at us. Then they would charge en-masse down the hill towards us. Head butting each other as the went and streaming around us on all sides.


If I had done the conventional taper, this would never have happened. I’m very, very pleased to have risked that extra 2% to have gained such wonderful memories.

Wish me luck for tomorrow!

My race starts at 9am tomorrow. We went to the finish line at midday today where competitors from the TDS were finishing (well done, Ben!). They had been running for 29 hours non-stop. Some were finishing with their partners or children running alongside. One guy finished with his grandchildren! It was pretty emotional seeing it all. It’s an incredible achievement to finish such a massive challenge, and I hope I’ll be crossing the line tomorrow (or much more likely, in the early hours of Saturday morning).

If you’re in anyway interested, you can follow my progress by following me on twitter (@casteltoncollin), or by going here and typing my name into the search box on the top left-hand side. My time and position at each of the ten checkpoints will be tweeted automatically by the race organisers.

Phil and I at the finish line. We won't be looking so fresh next time we're there!

Phil and I at the finish line. We won’t be looking so fresh next time we’re there!

One final picture…

As if our goat day wasn’t surreal enough, it had started by Emily pointing to a small sandwich bag (of which I have many – mainly containing emergency jelly babies – my medicine of choice) in the bivouac hut. “Is that ours?” It wasn’t ours, and contained what could only be ecstasy pills. We left them there for some other lucky hikers destined to have the night of their lives in a tin hut between the valley and the stars.





Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s