Posted by: Bruce Duncan | May 2, 2012

Open Adventure 2 Day – Coniston

Standing on the start line of the final stage of 5, on equal points with Team Mountain Hardware, knowing that whoever is first back is the winner. Kind of puts the pressure on a little!

Poring over the maps for the first running stage and mountain bike stage

This past weekend Nick, Nicola, Matt Martindale and myself were over in Coniston to take part in the 2 day race. A hark back to the old ACE races as put on by the legendary Phil Humphreys a number of years ago. It is a great format, 5 stages over the 2 days, a 2hr navigational hill run, a 4 ½hr navigation mountain bike stage, a 90minute night navigation run, then the next day a 90minute kayak and then a trail run to finish the race off, along with the competitors!

Saturday dawned bright, but cool. After a briefing, weather forecast, and map give out, we headed up the road to Elterwater, where we would start the 2hr running navigation stage and then the 4 ½hr mountain bike stage.

The run went really well, 15 controls to be visited in any order, with 3 of them dummies, so you couldn’t plan too much before the start. We chose what we felt was a good route, the plan was to get all controls, but with options to drop a few if we were running late, penalties would apply getting harsher and harsher the later you were.

Matt and Bruce checking the next control on the side of Loughrigg

Running well and navigating smoothly we got around one half of the map in good time, then set off around the second loop, it was looking like we could do it, but it was going to be tight. Coming off the hill I was shouting out the minutes, luckily it was all downhill, and we were going to make it. With 1 minute to spare we were finished, banking 500points plus a bonus point for finishing early. A great start to the weekend.

The mountain bike stage looked good, some great riding to be had, but also a good distance to cover. Matt had a good look at the route, and we all agreed with the plan, thinking that it was going to be close to clearable.

We set off well, but soon found that the first few controls were taking a long time, we discussed dropping a few 10 point controls, but decided to go for them. This ultimately cost us dear. As we headed south we were slow along the roads, and then lost time on some of the many technical downhills. Once we hit the south, we were committed to a set route, this again took longer than planned, and left us with a 10+km ride along the road back to Coniston. It was going to be tough with 20minutes to go! We pushed hard, but lost time, getting back 8 minutes late, costing us 25points, but more crucially we had had to miss a lot of high value controls, costing us dearly.

We found out that after the first 2 stages For Goodness Shakes (FGS), Mountain Hardware (MHW) and ourselves were very close in points, the night nav was going to be crucial. It was turning into a great battle.

Heading up to Tarn Hows as part of the tricky night navigation stage

We set off well on the night nav stage, but I messed up our second control, and was lucky to relocate close to its location. We pushed on hard, skipping a 30point control in favour of a 40point, but sadly we failed to find this, and with time running tight we had to bail out and push for the finish. Again we were slightly late back, but managed to get the top score of the night amongst the teams, meaning that overnight we lay in 2nd place, only 1 point behind FGS and 3 points ahead of MHW!!

A good nights sleep was had, and with an early start in the kayaks we got prepped before the briefing. The weather had also taken a turn for the worse. The wind had picked up and the kayak section on Coniston Water was going to be very interesting.

The teams set off at 30second intervals, MHW taking the lead, and luckily for us they led us into every control, helping us shave vital seconds off our time. FGS were sat in behind us for a while, but as the wind and waves took their toll on already tired bodies they dropped back a few minutes. Racing hard to the line we punched, knowing it was very close to the wire, finding out later that we were less than 30seconds late, -2points to us. For MHW though it was a different story, they just finished inside the time, gaining a bonus point, levelling us on points.

It was all to play for on the trail run, a tough run up over the Old Man of Coniston, Swirl How and back to the finish.

We again set off just behind the Mountain Hardware team, a target for us to aim for as we headed up to the summit of the Old Man of Coniston. Slowly we reeled them in, but they must have taken some super sweeties at the top as they took off so fast we could hardly see them.

Heading up the Old Man – A tough final trail run

The head wind along the top was amazing, blowing me clean off my feet at one point, Nicola was suffering in the wind, and it was hard work to shield her and stay upright.

We pressed on to the top of Swirl How, sheltering off the ridge from the ferocious wind, popping out on the top to see Mountain Hardware disappear off down the Band, starting the long decent back to Coniston.

The ridge was rocky, and with MHW all being pretty decent fell runners, we watched them fly off down the hill side.  As we ran down behind them, we could all see them gaining more and more time on us, and any thought of us beating them went out of the window right there.  Our race wasn’t over though, we still had FGS somewhere behind us, so we couldn’t ease off till the finish line.

We crossed the line about 7 minutes behind Mtn Hardware, they had taken a well-deserved win by about 30 points, it had been close all weekend, and the 30 points could have been found anywhere, one control on the night nav that we ditched in preference to a 40pointer we didn’t find, or any number of different routes on the mountain bike, or being back in time on the stages.

All in all it was a great weekend, good to dust of the team racing shoes again, to have a brilliant social weekend with lots of great mates, and to have a brilliant head to head competition all weekend with Mountain Hardware and For Goodness Shakes.  Its always hard to come 2nd, but we have lots to go away and think about.  Mtn Hardware have been doing a lot of team training, and it showed, so hats off to them for working so hard, and seeing it pay off.

Mountain Hardware 1st, adidasTERREX 2nd, For Goodness Shakes 3rd

Thanks to Open Adventure, Tom Gibbs, Paul Noble and countless others for putting on a brilliant weekend too.

Congratulating Tom on a brilliant race

Our sponsors were also great this weekend, providing top class clothing to keep us warm and protected in the Lake District weather, keeping us fuelled and hydrated, and able to compete for the win.

Team Overall Results

Next up is the adidasTERREX Swift Race in June.


(photos courtesy of James Kirby)

Posted by: Bruce Duncan | April 13, 2012

Fitness Frustrations

In February, just before I headed over the Atlantic to Ecuador, I was flying, feeling super fit, my body in reasonable shape, and covering the ground really fast.  I had worked hard all winter, building up my speed during many interval sessions, and getting plenty of long runs in.

However, after the crazy travels and work I have had over the past 2 months I seem to have come out the other side feeling rubbish.  I got back to Kendal, and the first training session back I felt like I was going really slowly, I took is steady as I’d just done a lot of traveling, and didn’t think much of it.

I raced at the Open 5 in the White Peak, and went OK, I had other issues, namely my pedal falling off!

The following week though I felt really slow, during the normal Helm Hill running session on The Helm I really did go through the back door.  Where I would normally be leading the group I was with, I was almost last on many of the intervals, unless I really really pushed it, which ruined my legs even more.

Kentmere Horseshoe - With Scafell Pike and the Central fells in the background

The next day Sally dragged me out to the bigger hills.  We ran/walked the Kentmere Horseshoe in fantastic conditions, and even with the amazing sunshine I still had little to give.  I think the mountain bike loop around Kentmere afterwards really polished me off.

I was planning on cycling to Denstone the next day, be decided that was a bit of a big ask really.  So I got a small loop in with Sally and Matt before heading home.  They were to do a 100miler, but Sally’s saddle fell apart soon after I left them, so they had to call for help and get a lift home.

Out biking with Aitch and Sally. Kentmere on a crystal clear day.

I had a very chilled weekend, my only real bit of exercise was winning a sack race at my friends 30th Olympic themed party.

This week I have been relaxing a lot, doing small sessions and also going to the gym to do some good stretching sessions, which should improve my often shocking flexibility and get some more energy in my body.  Having had 3 days with sessions in the sauna and steam room seemed to have helped a bit, as I had a great run over Scout Scar today.

Hopefully I’m getting back in form again, I can’t wait to be able to run and bike around with some power in my legs.  I have a big race in 2 weeks time, so not long to go till that, but I’m on the right track.

Posted by: Bruce Duncan | April 4, 2012

Sport Relief and Open 5’s

Its been a hectic last few weeks.  After returning from Ecuador, I have been to Paris, Glencoe, London, Mull, the Peak District, and spent a very small amount of time at home in Kendal.

John Bishop at the finish of his 'Week of Hell' in Trafalgar Square, London

I worked on the John Bishop Week form Hell Sport Relief Challenge, heading over to Paris for the start, and helping to guide him back on the small country roads of Northern France.  It was a great event to be involved in, to see John battle against the sleep deprivation, fatigue and distance and keep going.  I was asked to do the entire trip, which would have been fun, but I was already down to help James from Open Adventure put the controls out for the Open5 on the North Downs, the first time Open Adventure had headed that far south near London.

It was a great day putting the controls out on a lovely area, Leith Hill, Winterfold and Pitch Hill are gorgeous areas.  A really intricate network of paths and tracks, and untold amounts of un mapped paths make it very navigationally very challenging.

I popped to the finish of the Bishop Challenge, it was great to see him cross the line, and to be there for the end of event drinks, John was very humble, and personally came round and thanked everyone for helping him get to the finish line.  It was good to see that a TV personality was so genuine and friendly.

It was back to the Open 5 event on the sunday, where the weather had taken a massive turn for the worse, I’d been in shorts and t-shirts on Saturday.  It was pouring with rain and getting colder and colder as the day went on.  Soon people started finishing with mild hypothermia, and I had to help a number of people take their helmets and undoing their jackets.  I then got a phone call from my good mate Ben Roberts, he had snapped his chain, tried to mend it, and then the tool broke.  Both his and his team mate Brooner got very cold very quickly, so decided to pull the plug.  I only had space for 1 passenger though, so Brooner cycled back to the finish, and I picked up a very cold Ben.  I think it was almost the coldest weather of any Open5 event this year, who’d have thought it for the North Downs.

I then headed to Scotland to run a marathon for Wildfox Events, it was a launch of their Glencoe Marathon, I wrote a wee bit about it here.

Phil Davies heading to Angle Tarn

After this I had a few days at home!!  It was brilliant to be back in Kendal, and it coincided with my friend Matt’s birthday.  So a big mountain bike ride was hatched.  The weather was again fantastic, as we cycled out of Ambleside to Troutbeck, then Garburn Pass and the Kentmere Horseshoe, and High Street.  I hadn’t been on my bike much though, and I could tell, both skill and fitness were seriously lacking at times, and with some really technical riding involved I was happy to come away in one piece.

A big birthday meal out was then had, before I had to jump on a train to London.  I was off to do some of the pre planning logistics for the One Show 1000 mile Sport Relief Relay.

This was going to a logistical nightmare, getting 1000 individual people to the right place at the right time over 10 days was going to be tricky.  All the maps and pick up locations were worked out, and sat navs pre programmed for the route.

We arrived in Oban for the start of the event, a long journey from London, but it was going to be a much longer one on the way back! The event started in Mull, so a few of us headed over to Tobermory for the first 22miles of the 1000 to be covered.  I was due to be night shift lead for the event, but felt that Ben, who was project lead, and I should spend some time together working out how the event would run, and the only time we had to do this was on the first day.  I ended up working for about 18hrs on the first day, which was tough, but then settled into the bizarre routine which was to last for 9 more days.

It was a steady journey south, with a lot of zigzagging across the country, meeting some amazing people with some fascinating stories.  With 1000 people due to take part, there were always going to be no shows, these were often filled by other runners happy to do another mile, and on the odd occasion I got to jump out of the car and run some miles, which was a welcome relief from sitting in the car going slowly all night! I think i got in about 27miles in total, so not much, but enough to stop me from going totally nuts with no exercise.

It was a huge 10 or so days, but a mighty relief to get to the Mall in London for the 1000 mile as part of the bigger Sport Relief Mile event, the team were all pretty broken, and it has been great to get some proper sleep in a real bed.

To finish off my hectic travels I headed down to my old village of Denstone for the last in the current series of Haglofs Open 5 Races.  It was to be held in the White Peak area, around Dovedale.  A whole bunch of friends all headed to my friends house who kindly let us camp in their garden, and we got a great ride around Dimmingsdale on the saturday afternoon, followed by great tea and cake, and a cracking meal in the Bulls Head.

Sunday we set off for Alstonfield, a gorgeous wee village which was playing host to the race.  The sun was out, but it was pretty fresh to start with. The course looked great, and was going to be a testing challenge to clear it all.

The run went well for me, and I only dropped one control, I’ve not done a lot of training over the past month, and I could tell.  But i got back under 2hrs so was happy with how I had gone.  I then set off well on the bike, but messed up straight away, i’d been concentrating so hard on one loop that I totally missed an easy control, it would have to wait for later.

The wind picked up making some of the ‘easy’ Tissington Trail riding seem a lot tougher, but on the whole it was great to be out on the bike, flying along small lanes and bridleways. I was going well, and looking to clear the bike section when disaster struck, and my right pedal, which had been creaking a little gave up the ghost and came off the spine.  It meant I had to limp back during the last 1hr 20 mins only getting the controls on route. My legs had also almost stopped working, so the combination of the pedal and them was not good.

I ended up with 560 points, and was 2nd by 5 points to Phil Scarf.  I was a bit gutted to not win, but was happy all things considered, and what little I have done of late.  Its time to get back into my training and get into the shape I was in pre Ecuador.

The next month I have pretty free, so am going to concentrate on getting back into normal routine and life, and get my body back into one piece, I started that yesterday by seeing Sue Read up in Keswick, who is one of the best sports therapists i’ve ever seen, but man does she hurt!!

Posted by: Bruce Duncan | March 9, 2012

Marathon Running in the Mountains of Scotland

At the top of the Devils Staircase

On Wednesday I was up in the glorious Glencoe.  I had been asked to come up by my good friends Wildfox Events to help them launch their fantastic new event – The Glencoe Marathon.  It is a full 26.2miles from the Red Squirrel campsite to Glen Nevis, via the Devils Staircase, Kinlochleven and the West Highland Way.

With over 1600m of climb it was going to be a tough day out, and with the typical Scottish weather playing its part, sun, snow, hail, rain, wind, it was just going to add to it.

Climbing up Glencoe was stunning, amazing views, and ok weather, the short bursts of snow making me put on and take off my jacket, but it did make the mountains look truly stunning in the twinkling sunshine (when it came out)

David Fox-Pitt was also running, so I had someone to chase (he’d set off 30mins before me) and I got to catch him twice.  It was the media launch for the event, so I had to stop a number of times to get the photos all sorted, but with views like the ones in these shots, it wasn’t a problem to stop and take them in.

The marathon route

4hrs 19mins and 28 seconds later I reached Glen Nevis, it had been a hard run, with some nasty headwinds and heavy snow, but what an amazing awe-inspiring place to run, anytime you felt bad you just had to glance up at the mountains.  I love that part of Scotland, I’d even go as far as saying its one of the most amazing places in the World.

If anyone fancies doing a marathon, and wants a bit of a twist, then get involved, it’s going to be a cracking day out.
The Glencoe Marathon
Wild Fox Events


Posted by: Bruce Duncan | February 24, 2012

Huairasinchi Adventure Race Report

Above Quito, getting acclimatised on the volcano Pinchinca

Most of you will have read that we had to pull out of the Huairasinchi Adventure race in Ecuador last week.  We were not the only top international ream to have to do so, which softened the blow a little, but not by much.  Below is the report on our race, and also what happened after we had to pull out.

We got up and into the support vehicle at 4am to drive to the start in the small town of Aloisi, just off the Pan American Highway. The start was set for 6.15, and true to their word the klaxon sounded bang on time.

A short spin around the town square then we were off on the first 26km bike leg up to the base of some volcanoes, a height gain of around 1000m on the bike. It was going to be a tough start to the race.

The race maps - Start on the right, race south, then north to near the coast.

Team Ecuador set a blistering pace that no one could match, so we sat in the peleton with most of the International teams, Tecnu (USA and Canada), Merrel (South Africa) Lafuma Vibram (France), and a lot of the local Ecuadorian teams both doing the elite non stop race, and the Adventure category, where they get to do sections, but rest overnight.  A great way to get more people involved, and no more logistical issues.

The first half of the ride was flat(ish), then we hit the hill, and with the snow capped volcanoes rising high above we knew it was going to be gruelling.  The pace slowed right down, and then we started to drop back down the pack, and Bjarke really started to suffer.  I hung back for him and helped push his bike up the hill so he could recover.  Last year when he’d been racing out in Ecuador he had been fine, and he couldn’t understand why he felt so bad.

Nearing the end of the gruelling bike ride

After about 2.5hrs of riding we reached the transition.  To make the ride harder still, we had had to carry all our kit for the trek as well, due to the road being very small and there being no way our support vehicles could get up to help us at the transition.  They had to wait till all the riders had arrived, then they went up to get the bikes.

After a smooth quick transition we set off.  Bjarke was still feeling a little bad, but he thought he was ok, he just needed to get some energy inside him.  10 minutes up the hill though Thure shouted for Susanna and I to come back, we were 50m ahead. Bjarke had done some spectacular projectile vomiting, and was lying in a foetal position on the floor, it didn’t look good.

Bjarke then got up, and carried on up the hill, he seemed to be better, but weak, so Thure grabbed his pack, and I grabbed the tow, and put Bjarke onto it.  We steadily climbed up to the highest point of the race, swapping the tow and bag between Thure and I, and getting Bjarke up and over the top.

All my race food, packing into 6hour bags.

The first checkpoint was at the col, at around 4800m asl, which I think is the highest I have ever been, and boy was it hard work walking up there, especially with an extra pack on (not something I’d recommend!).  We had been passed by a number of teams on the climb, but soon began to pass them on the decent, no one seemed to be able to run down rocks and scree!

The nav after the next checkpoint was tricky, the clouds were down, and visibility was down to maybe 50m.  As we sat on a bearing getting lower down the mountain the clouds finally lifted, and we were able to get onto the correct ridge to drop down to the next checkpoint.

We were in a group of teams, but Susanna had stomach issues, and a short stop meant we lost sight of the others.  After the first section through the forest we struggled to find the next path.  The map certainly wouldn’t have troubled an OS map in a contest, and seemed to show the path going right on top of the ridge.  We found a small trod, that we thought was it, but it got smaller and smaller, and soon we were fighting our way through.  Joined by some other teams we made slow progress, and finally decided to back track, this wasn’t the path, and even though we were headed in the right direction we were going no where fast.

Heading over the col at 4800m

We headed back to where we had been maybe an hour before, and after a short look we found a flagged route to a path! We hadn’t been told that we were looking for any flags – had that have been the case we’d have known we were wrong a long time before. This was quite frustrating, to have known we had been so close to the path, but had then gone a slightly different route and lost a lot of time.

We ran down the hill to the ropes section, slipping a sliding down the muddy path, past a very remote farmstead with pigs, alpacas, sheep and a donkey, and an old lady.

The ropes section was cool, an abseil off a bridge into a cold river, although i managed to escape getting too wet by swinging, and also pulling the other guys away from the deep water. A short river walk and then scramble up out of the gorge brought us back to the transition after a short run past an amazing waterfall.

Our support team were ready and waiting, and had begun to worry about  what had happened to us as a number of teams had already passed.  We were pleased to hear that we were not too far behind them, seems that many teams had problems on the first leg.  We were very much still in the race, and with a smooth transition, and getting some proper food into Bjarke, we could start to make inroads on the other teams.

The bike leg as going to be really tough, the profile showed that it was up, up and up, with a few little downhills.  To make matters worse, the rain started to fall, soaking us as we crawled up the steep hills, past the many landslides from the steep banks of the roads.

Thure struggling with 2 packs on

At the start of the ride the team wasn’t feeling great.  Bjarke was still recovering from his sickness on the trek, he’d not eaten much, and was tired.  Susanna was still having stomach problems, and more worryingly, Thure was beginning to have breathing issues.  Initially didn’t really think too much about this, as we were climbing a lot, and Thure wasn’t slow at all.

The bike leg climbed and climbed, it was on tarmac to start with, so that was a relief.  The rain finally eased, but then the wind picked up.  This was a mixed blessing, it dried us out but got us really cold at the same time, especially as the skies drew darker as night set in.

We hit some rough roads, and decided it was time to get all the lights out.  We didn’t want to stop in the cold winds, so found a tiny hut to huddle into.  This was filled with potatoes, and we crammed into it out of the low temperatures, and got our kit set for the 12hours of darkness.

We had seen a team just ahead of us as we stopped, but they had disappeared when we came out of the hut.  We jumped back on the bikes, and our problems started, but unknown to us at the time.

We took a wrong turn on the bike, up a road that wasn’t actually on the map.  I’m not totally sure how this happened as I wasn’t navigating, but Bjarke seemed to be happy.  We continued to climb, took a right turn, after the junction we had a small chat, and Bjarke seemed happy with where we were, and then we came across a small village.  We thought we had to head south at this point, and as we did the corners seemed to match until we got to a hairpin bend.

We had quite a discussion about where to go at this stage, and ended up taking a small track, that didn’t feel right, but Bjarke, who had the map, seemed happy we were going the right way.  It then seemed to dead end, and after another slightly heated discussion, we headed back to the village to start again.  However, we thought we were somewhere different, so trying to navigate from that point was always going to fail.

We went back up the same little track, and hiked up a hill and found a bigger track.  This matched the direction/altitude of where we wanted to be, so again Bjarke was happy we were back on track.  After a short while the track went down to a single path, and a short hike up a steep hill brought us to a mountain house.  Something wasn’t right.

This whole time Thure was getting worse and worse with his breathing, having to stop every few minutes to recover his breath before pushing on very slowly. It was now about midnight, and I felt we should try and get Thure to get some rest, especially when we were unsure of our exact location.

We got into the mountain hut, a very basic stone hut with a mud floor.  No one seemed to be in the living part of the hut on the other side of the courtyard.  We settled down for an hours sleep to see if Thure would feel any better.  Upon waking he was no better, if not worse, and hanging around at 4000m asl would likely not help matters.

So after a few minutes of discussion we decided to pull the plug, Thure needed help, and we couldn’t carry on with the race.  I got the radio and phone out of my pack, and took ages getting the tape off it, then got on the phone to the race organisers to report our issue.

We gave them our co-ordinates, we couldn’t confirm them as the gps couldn’t get a fix, but we felt reasonably confident. It should have been easy then, a short drive for the medic car to come grab Thure and the rest of us.  If only…

They got the on the radio to say that they were close, and that we should be able to see/hear them. We couldn’t, but weren’t too worried as there were lots of valleys that the road went in and out of.  Bjarke set off on hie bike to lead them in, but failed to see anything.

After some shouting across the valley to get Bjarke to come back, some locals appeared out of the darkness, no torches, just the light from their mobile phones (which looked very out of place compared to the rest of their outfits), some of them shoeless, and crucially speaking not one word of English!

They seemed a little agitated, and were quite clearly wondering what the heck was going on.  I was unable to tell them anything, I tried to explain that my friend was ill, but that didn’t seem to work, and I got a bit worried they would be angry that we were using one of their friends huts to shelter in.

I asked Rodolfo, who I was speaking to on the radio, to chat to the locals, mainly to tell them what we were doing, but also to maybe see if they could help us.  We clearly were not where we thought we were, too many things didn’t add up, it didn’t feel right.

After a long conversation between the locals and Rodolfo on the radio, Rodolfo came back to me and said that they thought we were in a different grid square.  This was some 4km away from where we thought we had been, and Bjarke was not convinced with the locals, as they had been pointing at various different places on the map.

However as soon as they said where they thought we were, i knew they were spot on.  Everything fell into place, and I realised most of what we had done to get there.  The question about which track we had come up was still unanswered, but everything else totally fitted.

We quickly packed up our bags, and with an audience of the locals watching us clear out of the wee hut we’d borrowed I handed out a bag of cookies, which seemed to go down very well.  In our best Spanish we said thank you, and headed down the hill on our bikes to get picked up from the village we were only a few kilometres from.

Thure chilling - In hospital with some gas!

As soon as we arrived in the village we were met by the medic team, and Thure was quickly taken into the car and checked over, then put on oxygen.  They were happy to hear he had not coughed up any blood, and only some pretty impressive green and yellow stuff!

The race director (Santiago) arrived shortly after, and his wife acted as interpreter for Thure.  We chatted to Santiago about what had happened and we still couldn’t quite work out which track we had arrived on. This would only become clear once we descended the main road (the one we should have come up on) to see a large hairpin not on the map, and our track, again not on the map heading up the hill.

Thure needed to get to lower altitude as we were still at about 4000m asl.  The medic took Thure’s and Susanna’s bikes, but there was no space for Bjarke and I, so we rode down the hill, which was a lot of fun, until Bjarke’s light went out, and we had to ride side by side, so he could use mine – interesting when doing around 50kph.

Soon we were reunited with our fantastic support crew.  They had only had to do one transition, but Pedro and Andrea had done really well.  They packed us all up into the car and we headed back for Quito.  Thure was still pretty bad, and when we got back to Andrea’s parents house they took him into Quito to the hospital to get properly checked out.  It was a good job they did as Thure was kept in for the next 2 nights, on oxygen almost the whole time as his levels had dropped really low, and with Quito being at around 3000m asl he needed help to get the levels back up.

While Thure was in hospital, we were able to get all our kit dry and bikes clean at Andrea’s house, and also hear the dramatic stories of our support crew, who had got caught in a landslide, and almost lost the car down the side of a hill! Pablo had thrown all sorts of junk infront of the wheels to help him back out of the very sticky situation they were in.

So, a few days later, here I am back in the UK, totally recovered from our adventure.  Thure is in Denmark with the others and he is getting better much quicker now at normal altitude, but its safe to say he won’t be racing up high any time soon.

It was an amazing trip, and such a shame that altitude sickness strikes so indiscriminately.  Thure had raced the previous year in Ecuador  (in the same race) and been ok!  Many of the other top international teams had also had to drop out due to the altitude, which helps, but it still hurts deep down when you have to jack a race in, but I know we made the right decision at the right time.

As to the navigation errors.  Maybe Bjarke with his earlier illness and lack of energy wasn’t as focussed as he normally is, and I know how easy it is to fit the ground to the map when you want it to be right – I have done it myself a number of times.  When it is dark and you are tired it is so easy to make an error, and I think we both learnt a few things about relocating and when to stop and head back to a known location and try again.

The Basilica in Quito - It took 100years to build.

Quito and Ecuador were stunning. We did a small bit of sightseeing around town, involving the Basilica, and also the old town, in the middle of Carnival time!  But I’m a bit gutted to miss out on the other beautiful locations we would have raced through, maybe i’ll go back, but with the constant danger of  altitude sickness hanging over your head, you never know when it will strike, and is it worth seeing if you can get away with it or not, thats the big question?

Thanks to Team Skandia for a great (if short) race experience. I really enjoyed racing with you all – it’s only taken us 5yrs to sort it Thure!  Thanks to all our other sponsors too, adidas, OMM, Power The Machine, Exposure and Nikwax.

Until next time…


Posted by: Bruce Duncan | February 20, 2012

Huairasinchi Adventure Race, Ecuador

It is a little sad to be writing this short piece, as I should still be out with my team racing in the adventure race that we came out here to compete in.

Sadly in the early hours of Sunday we had to pull out of the race, our team mate Thure was having severe issues with his breathing, and there was no way we could continue. After a few hours we got picked up, and taken to lower altitude, as we had been up at about 4000m.

We then made our way back to Quito, where we were very kindly put up by one of our support crew´s parents. Thure then went to hospital to have some more checks, and they have kept him in, to keep an eye on him, and to get his oxygen levels back up. Had we been at lower altitude now he would have been ok, but as Quito sits around the 3000m above sea level mark its not ideal to recover from what he has been through.

It had been a great race, and I will write more later.

Time to pack the bikes up, enjoy some of the Ecuadorian hospitality, and then fly home on wednesday.

Posted by: Bruce Duncan | February 8, 2012

Ecuador Adventure Race

This coming Sunday I am flying off to Ecuador for the Huairasinchi Expedition Adventure Race. It is the first of the 2012 AR World Series races, and is run over 400km with the usual mix of running/trekking, kayaking and mountain biking, with some rope sections and other unknown elements thrown in.

I am racing with a Danish team, Skandia Adventure Team. It is through my good friend Thure Kjaer that I am racing with them, as he asked me back in 2011 if i’d like to join up and take on the race. As I mentioned in a previous post, the race is happening almost at the same time as the Patagonian Expedition Race, to which adidasTERREX is sending a team, but I wanted to try something new, race another fantastic race, (and give someone else a shot at winning in Patagonia 😉 )

The race will be tricky, it is short, so there is little room for any errors, and the fact that some sections go to over 5000m above sea level could be a major test. I have no idea how I will cope at that altitude, I think the previous highest I’d been to, doing any form of sport was about 2500-3000m asl.

There are a few top teams competing too, so the competition should be pretty hot, fingers crossed the weather is cold and wet, which would suit us better than the South Africans or French, but we are all tough in our team and will race hard.

Ant Emmet and Sally Ozanne during the Open5 at Warcop (photo J Kirby)

I have been training really well over the past few months. Kendal has been such a great base. There are so many like minded people around who are always up for getting out on the hill, on the bike, or for some kayaking. Over the winter a number of the outdoor freelancers are not working, meaning training partners are usually easy to find. I should thank Sally Ozanne for dragging me out many times when I have felt tired, or its too early, but I have really noticed the difference. The move back up here from London has just been brilliant.

Sal & I attempting the Kentmere Horseshoe in deep snow.

Last weekend, my last real bit of training consisted of a great run over Loughrigg Fell and Silver Howe. We had planned on going up Helvellyn, but with a forecast of strong winds on the summits and heavy snow we opted for a lower level run.

Arriving in Ambleside the snow began to fall, and it didn’t let up. The run was great, icy ground, heavy snow and some lovely low level views. Claire Maxted, editor of Trail Running Mag was with us too, she was keen to get out and make the most of her time in the Lakes before heading south to the flat lands of Peterborough!

One was to fuel up post training! (good work Claire)

Claire, Ant, Sal, Paul and Helen, oh and Marcy the Hound!

Post run we all headed to Bilbo’s cafe in Ambleside, anyone with knowledge of British Orienteering greats will know Bilbo, and his cafe is brilliant, a no nonsense type of place, inexpensive and comfy. Some of us had bigger plates of food than others!!

Getting back to Kendal was interesting though, the snow had continued to fall heavily, and many of the roads were rather slippery. It was a day to chortle at those in the fancy rear wheeled drive cars. We made it back, watched rugby, kept an eye out the window, and wondered if we would actually make it out to Warcop the next day to compete in the Open 5 event.

The Open 5 event is a 5hr run and bike event with navigation. We left early but got to the event with out incident, unfortunately not all were so lucky. It was a very cold morning, but slowly the sun came out and the temperature began to rise.

I’ve not done many of the Open 5 races, and didn’t realise till late on how much weight was given to the bike section. My choice to clear the run wasn’t the best of plans, but the run up over the top of the hill was magnificent.

Alex Pilkington in the distance, up above the clouds in deep snow at the Open 5

On the bike I didn’t choose a very good route, and as such finished outside the top 3, but I had had some great navigation practice, which was my main aim of the day. Results here.

Now its a case of packing all my kit for Ecuador, resting up and getting ready to take on the next big race. I’m really excited by it, and looking forward to getting out to a new country and to discover some amazing new places.

I am due to be away for a month too. I am in Ecuador for almost 2 weeks, then I get back and and doing some work for Sport Relief, then helping out at the next Open 5 event on the North Downs, before zooming north to help Wildfox Events launch their next big event, The Glencoe Marathon, which is sure to be fantastic, with a stunning, buttery tough route set and Wildfox’s mazing support work it will be a top day out come October.

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Posted by: Bruce Duncan | January 27, 2012

Fueling for Adventure

Andy with one of the trolleys of food in Punta Arenas

As February looms ever closer, and the start of my next big race comes in sight over the horizon, I find myself slipping back into the old routine.

Lists start to dominate my life, having to pin down every single thing that I will need to take away to Ecuador, both in terms of kit and also food.

There are so many different ‘sports foods’ out there on the market, all promising so many benefits, extra power, more endurance, better concentration.  However there are very few of these that I actually use. They are all designed on the whole for short duration sports, endurance seems to be about an hour in their book, not the 4 days that I need.  As a result, a lot of the energy comes from sugars, and if you were to consume these continuously for the duration of the race, my stomach at least would be in pieces.

Over the years I have worked out what seems to work well for me, and what works both for energy levels and logistically for an expedition race.  The long and short of it is that the best thing to eat I find is normal food.

With all these huge advertising budgets and promises the vast majority of the sports foods either don’t taste very good, have too much sugar, are too bulky to carry, or are very expensive!  While the bog standard everyday food you eat to survive for your normal life provides all the energy you need, with the taste you like too!

High 5 Zero

For the Patagonian Expedition Race we take only a few scientific products.  The main one being High 5 Zero, which is an electrolyte, used to prevent cramps, and to make the water taste better.  We also take Peronin, which is a meal replacement powder, a very light form of getting lots of calories in, and the last thing is For goodness shakes, which in the powder form works well as a breakfast bomb, (plastic bag, granola, fgs powder, then mix with water).

For the rest of our nutritional needs we usually get to a country and search out the big supermarket.  And it is the only time that I usually stand looking at the calorific value of all the foods I pick up.

Food glorious Food! All laid out to be sorted into bags.

The main things we go for are plenty of savoury items, sandwiches and cold pizza are brilliant for the first few days, but can go off.  For later in the race, tortilla wraps and pate are very easy to carry and keep for a long time.  This is usually supplemented with salami and other cured meats to add both protein and flavour.  The rest of the food we get is a mixture of sweet and savoury, chocolate, crisps, bars, noodles (if we know we can heat water up), tinned/boxed fruit, flavoured milk, coke, granola, and many other little treats.

The shopping trip is always a big one, often involving 2 trolleys.  This often stands out in the supermarket, but if you consider we are usually buying 5 days worth of food for 4 people, and thats 5 days continuous, which is probably the equivalent of over 2 weeks for normal consumption, at around 6000 calories per day.

Andy enjoying some tasty food in a snow storm

While we try to maximise the number of calories we consume each day, it is almost impossible to fully refuel during the race, so to counter this I try to feed up before the race, especially the few weeks before I race.  It doesn’t affect my training, as with 2 weeks to go to a race you are not going to get much fitter anyway.  It i enjoyable though, eating loads of tasty foods knowing you will burn it off while racing.

Once back at base we set about the large task of splitting the food up, into packs that will last a certain amount of time, some for water based sections, others for foot, and some for the bike. This means that when we get to a transition we can quickly grab the right amount of food we need for the next section, and we don’t have to spend any time putting food together to get what we require.

Chocolate anyone?

The food is split up, and we also place food items that we won’t carry on an sections in the bags to use at transitions, heavy items like flavoured milk, tinned fruit and other tinned food, and if the race looks like it might need it some cooking equipment to heat up some food.

It is very difficult to produce a definitive list of what we’ll need at a race, as they are all different, in different countries and climates, and with varying amounts of external food sources, like cafes/shops you can call into during the race.

The key point is variety, you often get bored with the food you are eating, so need to be able to mix up the menu.  You have to eat all the time to keep the energy levels up, and this sometimes makes eating a chore, and as such it is vital to keep things interesting and tasty to make sure you do eat.

Wheeling in some lamb for the post race meal...

And best of all, once you finish the race, you can pig out a bit, and really enjoy some tasty food, sat at a table in a restaurant, rather than huddled together in a wet damp forest!

Over time you will learn what food works for you, what is best for which climate, and what you can get in various countries.  If you have a supported race it is very different, and for the shorter races you can get away with the high sugar food as you won’t have to keep eating it for days on end.


Posted by: Bruce Duncan | January 16, 2012

Starting 2012 with an Ultra

2am and I’m standing on the start line with my good friend Thure, about to run 53km from the centre of Dublin to a distant valley on the far side of the Wicklow mountains, why does this seem a little daft??

The last few weeks have been non stop.  After a running heavy New Year I got out in my white water kayak a few times with my good friends, and also amazing paddlers, down some of the rivers nearby.

I feel like their play thing really, i’ll have a go at stuff, and when it goes wrong, which scares the **** out of me to be honest with you, they pluck me out of the water, plonk me back in the boat and we head off again.  I do love it, but there are times when I do question what I’m really doing.

Not actually me, or in the Lakes, but in New Zealand, but its an ace photo, and maybe one day...

The buzz you get when you nail a rapid though is awesome, getting the right line all the way down, not going upside down, or rescuing yourself when you almost do go over makes you feel brilliant.  It is such a social thing too, when you hit the gentle sections you can float along chatting away, and then get your head back on for the next rapid.

Sitting at the end of the river though I generally feel exhausted, both physically and mentally as I don’t seem to be able to switch off with my healthy fear of the water and what could happen if I don’t pay attention.  It really is something I’d love to do more, but with the fickleness of the UK rivers it is hard to plan it, and of course you need skilled people to be out with you, so making sure there are folk around can sometimes scupper any plans.

I have been out on foot a fair bit too.  I am training quite hard for the World series adventure race in Ecuador that I am racing with Danish team Skandia:.  It is a 4 day non stop race, taking in some of Ecuadors most stunning scenery and terrain, and with the added fact that a lot of it will be above 3000masl it could be very tough indeed.

The race is on at almost the same time as the Patagonian Expedition Race, but I felt having completed it the last 3 years that it was time for a change, there are so many amazing places around the world that I want to see, and with the chance of going to Ecuador instead it was an easy decision.  That said I’m sure when I see the pictures and read the reports I’ll be a little jealous, but I’m sure Ecuador will be equally stunning and challenging.

Maz riding in Kentmere (Taken in November)

Last weekend my girlfriend came up from London.  We went out for a bike ride on the Saturday, the first time I’d been on my mountain bike for almost a month!  Maz had some new shoes and pedals to try, so we went round the Kentmere loop in all the wet and mud that the recent weather has provided.  There were the usual issues of riding with new cleats and shoes, but Maz did brilliantly, and to celebrate we had to pop to Wilfs cafe for lunch.

On the sunday the first of the Winter League Fell Races was on Scout Scar, just out the back of Kendal.  I went up alone, Maz declining to join in, not sure why?!?.  It was fast and furious, I’m not actually sure of the time, but somewhere around 30minutes I think.  It was very muddy at the start, and I had little grip, so lost a number of places, but with a sprint to get past people before he first gate I then seemed to pass people, and then really went for it on the decent from the ‘mushroom’ to the racecourse finish, I couldn’t quite get 3rd place, and my team mate Tom was just ahead in 2nd.  I was very happy with how I went though.

A very big house in the Country

After the non stop action of the Lakes, it was down to London for a week to get out onto the North Downs to plan the Spring season of the Tri Adventure races.  I love doing these, running around a new area that is very different to the Lake District I’m used to, but still very physically challenging, and gives some tricky navigation with all the many footpaths and bridleways that cross the area.

Adam Marcinowicz came out to join me on Tuesday, and we enjoyed a great 4hr run checking various checkpoints, before finding a great, if a little pricey, pub to have some food, the kitchen had stopped serving, so we had to make do with puddings only, what a shame!  Another full day of running around followed, this time in shorts, as the mild weather was too hot for my normal winter attire, when will we get any form of winter?

The race route, from the centre of Dublin to the far side of the Wicklow Mountains

On the 13th (a friday of all days) I flew out to Dublin to meet up with friend and upcoming team mate Thure Kjaer.  We were out there to race in the Art O’Neil Challenge, a 53km run from Dublin Castle to the Glenmalure Valley, on the far side of the Wicklow mountains.  The race is tough, but compounded by the fact that it starts at 2am!

Friday felt like a very long day, wondering around Dublin, fueling up and getting kit ready.  Thure and I got to the start at 10pm, in plenty of time so we could register, then chill out and get some sleep before the start.

It was pretty fresh at 2am, but we soon warmed up running out of Dublin at a fair old pace under a crystal clear sky.  Thure and I planned to run together, to practice for Ecuador, but found ourselves just behind the leaders, who were egging each other on to go faster and faster.  We settled into a nice pace, and soon we were over the ring road on the edge of the city, and climbing steadily.  Only on turning around at one point did we realise how much, as behind us was a stunning view of Dublin.

After 90minutes or so we began to overtake the walkers, which gave us a boost, and soon enough we were dropping down the road to the first check point.  A quick bite of food, fill up of the bags and shoe change for Thure and we were off.  There was yet more road on the next leg, and we were both desperate to get onto the open mountains.

After more climb on the roads we could see lights heading up the hill to the left, that was it, tarmac done.  Running on road is fine, but its relentless, there is no let up, and we were both starting to suffer with it a bit.

As we began up Black Hill we got very wet feet, and every step from here on was practically in a bog.  The wet weather we had had in the UK had been to Ireland too.  With the cold clear skies there was a thin film of ice on top, but it hadn’t been cold enough to really firm up the ground.  It was a magical scene on the dark mountain, with lights flickering ahead the navigation was relatively simple, and I was glad I didn’t need to get my head too stuck into the map, and under foot it was very uneven

We had been given some tips by past winner and record holder Eoin Keith on which route to take, and I was pretty chuffed when we nailed it, and sped into checkpoint 2 having just overtaken a couple of guys who had sped past us on the road a few hours before.  A quick bowl of tasty porridge and re filled water bottles courtesy of Andy Burton.

The porridge really worked, as we flew along the last section, nailing the tricky nav over the bleak moor as the clouds rolled in a little. and then on the last downhill run to the finish we caught and passed 2 guys, one of which was only 500m from the finish!

Thure having a wee snooze in the pub shortly after the race

We had raced for 6hrs 5minutes and finished in joint 4th place, it had been a top night out with Thure, running a great course with fantastic organisation.  At the finish hot tea/coffee/hot chocolate was ready and waiting, and a short bus journey to the pub before a bus back to Dublin. What a way to spend a night.  The criac had been great with all the other competitors we’d run with or passed, and I’d highly reccomend it as a race to do.

Saturday day was a bit of a struggle though.  I had a shower and a quick sleep before finding some great coffee at the Clement and Pekoe Tea and Coffee shop, the filter coffee did the trick to keep me awake before stumbling into the Brick Alley Cafe in Temple Bar for some great food, and importantly more great coffee.

After being pretty fueled on food I met up with 2 guys I had met while doing the Gael Force West race, and we headed out for some beers, Guinness obviously as we were a stones throw from the brewery.  Thure and Mette joined us, and we had a great evening, till tiredness really crept in, and I headed back with Anthony to his house in Monkstown where he let me sleep with his prize possessions, his bikes in his spare room!

It had been a top weekend, very easy to do as well, running is so simple, I only took a small rucksack and that was me for the weekend.

I must say a huge thank you to Gearoid Towey for letting us take part in his fantastic race.  To my friends Ant and Nail for the beers, and to Thure for a top training weekend.

Now its back to the Lakes for more training before a few small fell races, the Open 5 at Warcop and then Ecuador in a months time.

Posted by: Bruce Duncan | January 3, 2012

Christmas Travels and Long Runs

All too soon its 2012.  Where did 2011 go to?  What a year it was, so much happened, my body took a lot of punishment, but I did some amazing things with some fantastic people.

2012 will be very different for me, with no huge challenge to prepare for, more freelance event work, and more normal adventure races to get fit and ready for.  I loved all the things I did in 2011 and the Epic Tri was amazing, what a huge feat we managed to complete with the help of so many brilliant friends, but I’m glad I’m not doing it again this year!

I have had a great last few weeks, spending Christmas in Norway with all my family, New Year in the Lakes with loads of great mates, and getting lots of running in.

Heading up to Sticks Pass (Photo by Stuart Smith)

Towards the end of December I competed in the Tour de Helvellyn, a 38mile ultra run from Askham to Patterdale and then a circuit of Helvellyn and back to Askham.  It was pretty fresh, with lots of snow on the ground over the 2 passes, and very strong winds over Sticks Pass, blowing sharp snow/hail into your face making vision a real struggle at times.  I ran most of the way with Alex Pilkington (last years winner), I was just running steadily knowing I’m still a long way off peak fitness.  It was great to run and chat away with Alex until Dunmail Raise where I began to pull away from him.  With staggered starts it was a great race as you kept passing people and were able to chat to folk as you ran almost all of the way.  The last stretch from Patterdale back to Askham was really tough going, but the target of getting back before darkness was a real help to get me home.  I finished in a time of 7hrs 17mins, which would have given me victory the previous year, but with faster going conditions I was well behind the winner, Kim Collinson flew around the course in a time of 6hrs 5mins, an incredible feat, hats off to Kim who is running really rather well at the moment.

I headed to London the next day, sitting in my car for close on 5hrs was not what my legs needed.  I was really stiff and sore from the run, I’d not felt great for the last few hours, and had struggled to eat, thus depleting my reserves, and felt really weak as a consequence the next day.  I spent a few great days in London with my girlfriend, catching up with old Uni friends, and on Monday night going along to watch the One Show.

After working on the Matt Baker Rickshaw Ride in November, Matt had said that whenever I was in London we should catch up and had invited me along to watch the show being filmed.  It was great to go along and to watch live TV being made, especially as Michael Macintyre was on the show, so there were many laughs.  After the show we all grabbed a few beers and were able to chat and catch up about the rickshaw ride and life after it.  It was really good to see Matt looking so well after he had pushed himself so hard to complete his challenge, and it was impossible to not draw parallels to what I had done with Ant earlier in the year.  So far Matt has raised over £1.8M which is a fantastic amount, and it made me feel very proud that I had helped him to achieve his goal.

Christmas cake decorated by my sister

For Christmas I headed over to Sandness in Norway to spend the week with my brother and his family, plus my sister and her family, and Dad as well.  It was to be a full household, but with 5 little people around it would be an exciting week for sure.  With bed space limited, Jon had set up a bed for me in his tent in the workshop downstairs.  It was very cosy, he’d laid a bit of carpet, given me a real mattress and duvet, and kindly placed me as far away from all the children as possible, for maximum morning sleep.

Christmas is so much fun with small people, the kids are ages 6, 4 ,almost 4, 2 and 6months, so there was a lot of playing, building railway lines, lego contraction, walks in the forest looking for the Gruffalo and getting very excited about what Father Christmas might bring.

The weather wasn’t the best though, with rain almost everyday, mild temperatures and plenty of wind.  This didn’t stop us from getting out everyday though, full waterproofs being employed every time we set foot outside the door though.

On the summit of Dalsnuten with Sebastiaan, Thomas, Claire, Jon, Dad and Oliver

I had planned to get some good running in with Jon, but I had a sore throat (and tired legs from the Tour dH) so took it very easy.  I think this Christmas day was the laziest I have had for over 15years, it comprised of a 200m walk to a play park and back with the kids!

We did get one great run in though through Melsei, which is the forest only a few minutes from their house, and other than the throat I felt pretty good.  The only other real exercise I got it was cycling to the airport to get Ben and Alison’s car from them to borrow while they were in the UK.  I can’t really count the short walks we did with the kids as exercise, but they were fun to see the smiles on their faces as they conquered mini mountains.

Father Christmas saying hello to the children

All too soon I was back in the UK, but the fun carried on.  I was back in Denstone for a good friends wedding blessing.  Lousie had got married in Canada in September, but held the home fixture at Denstone College for all those who couldn’t make it.  It was a great day, the whole gang were there, all the families I used to see when I lived there, so it was a perfect for a catch up.

I headed back to the Lakes on the 30th, to arrive to more heavy rain and horrid conditions for all but the ducks.  A gathering at Tom & Astrid’s house on the friday was followed by a brilliant open canoe trip down the River Lune for Liz’ birthday.  It rained a lot, but that didn’t stop us, and Jane and Dave even felt like a swim! Oops.

Paddling down the Lune - Spot the birthday boat with the balloons!

New Years eve was spent at Ant and Sally’s, with a fun party and great fireworks it was a great way to say goodbye to 2011 and hello 2012.   It was a relatively quiet affair as we were all to be up early the next morning to head to Kirkby Stephen to run in the Nine Standards fell race, an 8 mile run from the centre of the town to the top of Nine Standards Rigg and back again.  I felt good off the start, and my plan was to run all the way to the top and see how I was getting on.  I was only a few minutes off the lead, and pushed on on the decent and slowly caught up my good friend Tom Gibbs.  I couldn’t quite get him, but we had a good tussle, and finished in 5th and 6th position.

My legs didn’t feel too bad upon waking today, so I headed along to Tom and Astrid’s again for another run, call me a glutton for punishment.  We set out for a loop over the Bigland fells, down to Cartmell, up over Hampsfell and then back to Backbarrow.  Tom and I were feeling pretty tired, and Astrid had been a bit ill over the past few weeks, so it was a steady one.  We were out for 2.5hrs and did about 23km over very wet muddy ground, but it had been good to get out, and so soon after a fast race too was pleasing to know the legs were not too shabby.

I think I’ll take it a bit easier over the next few days, with plans to get some whitewater kayaking in while the rivers are all flowing high with all the rain, it has to be good for something!

I hope 2012 will continue to be like it has started, full of lots of adventures on foot, in boat, on bike and involving many great friends in some brilliant locations.

Happy new year to you all.

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