Danny Bent is an author, journalist and adventurer, voted by the City of London to be one of the 50 most inspirational people in London, and one of the 100 happiest people in the UK according to the Independent on Sunday. He's cycled 9000 miles from London to India, raised $550,000 for victims of the Boston marathon bombings and founded Project Awesome in 2014 - a free workout in London.
I remember the snow biting my face, the wind pushing me off my sledge and the screams of joy that I assumed my own, bouncing off the surrounding hills dwarfing my child-sized figure. I was supposed to be at school, after all. It was my birthday. I don’t remember which one because every birthday was spent in the same manner before global warming stole the Peak District's annual snowfall.
At some point Mum and Dad moved to Essex for a new job and, as little people who knew nothing of survival, we had to follow them. We hated it. People spoke differently, our huge National Trust playground had been taken away and, worst of all, sledging on my birthday was never to happen again. We got used to the Essex life and I found new thrills in throwing bikes down muddy hills and donning tiny running shorts to explore the woods. It even snowed a couple of times and I’d be up at first light, grabbing my trail running shoes rather than a sledge, and revisiting the love I had as a child in making the first tracks in a brand new landscape.
In March this year I was lucky enough to be invited to Chamonix by a friend. The poor snow season had taken a turn for the better and powder lay deep in places. I took no time at all, packed my Salomon SnowCross shoes and caught the first flight out.
The snow was patchy at best in town but on the slopes it wrapped the mountain like a fur coat with only the wild extremities visible. Mont Blanc, the highest peak in Europe, stood over me like a white shadow, watching as my Dad had done when I was a kid.
I had no idea where I was going but set off uphill. First time skiers, hanging onto button lifts for dear life, dropped their jaws as I ran past them on the nursery inclines with a wave and a terribly anglicised ‘bonjour’. The 2000m altitude and steepening pistes soon had my lungs pushing against my ribs gasping for oxygen as lactic acid tore through my legs like glass. But a smile still peeked out behind my screwed up features. I knew what was coming…
At the top of the resort I wrapped my arms around me to keep the wind from pick pocketing my warmth and took in the surrounding mountain tops - jagged, rough but pristinely beautiful. The Peak District is always going to be my ‘most beautiful place in the world’ but I have to say the Alps ran them close that day. The magnetism of this view kept me stationary for too long and a shudder ran through my body. It was time to move.
A blue slope ran around the mountain, but even a blue slope offers you the chance to get your legs moving. I passed snowboarders edging down on their bottoms and skiers flew past me shouting in various languages ‘Bravo’, ‘Alle Alle’, ‘Hop hop’, ‘What a tosser’ (us Brits can be brutal). On a 5m wide path that negotiated a near cliff on both sides a sign blocked the way - seeing it as a challenge, I leapt over it only to read it in mid flight “Ferme, Closed, …, …. “ I had time in the air to worry but I needn’t have. The short fall ended in deep snow that exploded as I landed which in turn led to a black run I’d seen earlier.
It was the steepest slope I’ve ever run, a trip would have me sliding hundreds of feet, but my shoes held true and, hurling myself as if from a cliff, my legs rotated as fast as they could to keep me upright. Without a thought on anything else, my mind totally focussed on the present moment, I reached the bottom where the stares from onlookers and echoes suggested I’d been screaming for joy as I’d done all those years ago.
Making my way over to the lift, the only way out without wading through waist deep snow for hours on end, the lift handler looked at my bare, reddened legs and said “No skis, no lift” in that French accent that hits your eardrum like music. There was only one thing for it - I turned and started the lung busting run back up the slope.
Lying on my friend’s couch that evening after eating a raclette, consisting of a piece of cheese as big as my head, a bowl of potatoes and a basket of bread, my body sighed. Exhausted beyond measure, sleep washing over me, I just couldn’t wait to get back out there again tomorrow.
Images: Ben Arthur
Words: Helen Leigh
Having struggled with injuries all year, I battled hard just to be on the start line of the Salomon Glen Coe Skyline and was under no illusion that I was going to be anywhere near my best. I just wanted to enjoy a huge day out in a spectacular setting. It did not fill me with confidence that having drunk out of a stream on one of my final training runs I had had a bad stomach all week, and, leaving the rest to your imagination, arrived on the start line in a less than hydrated state!
The run over into Glencoe started well – feeling strong, I skipped down the Devil’s Staircase and enjoyed the fantastic scramble up Curved Ridge in beautiful sunshine. The brief hold-ups served as a nice breather and allowed a few sneaky looks at the view. I topped Stob Dearg in around 10th place and was still running well over Stob Na Doire, but climbing to Stob Coire Sgreamhach (try and pronounce that one!) I started to feel a little flat and my old hip injury began to nag. As I reached the top the views were fading fast and the clag and rain set in. It was a real slog round to Bidean Nam Bian and hard to gauge exactly where you were, given the poor visibility. The out-and-back was a nice chance to bump into folks, with lots of encouragement flying both ways.
I tried to banish the thoughts of bailing out that were creeping in as I slid back through the field, but with my hip hurting less on the downs, I was all the way back down in 47min to the last possible pull-out point at the Loch Achtriochtan car park. Lots of friendly faces greeted me and, most importantly, a loo and two cups of tea. Some friends had driven miles to support me, so after the longest break I’ve ever taken in a race, I pulled myself together and set off up the killer climb to Sgorr Nam Fiannaidh. Feeling like a tortoise could have hoofed up there faster than me, I just kept putting one foot in front of the other and arrived at the top, knowing that the hardest part was yet to come. Stubbornness is one of my stronger traits and probably the only thing that kept me going.
I had been across the Aonach Eagach ridge before, in glorious sunshine, but at that moment it was wet, moody and unforgiving. It’s one thing galloping across there on warm grippy rock, its quite another when you have legs like Bambi, and are in need of an immediate hip replacement and severely lacking in energy. I was careful, gingerly picking my way across the slippy rock, well aware of the massive drops either side and wishing I was functioning a bit more efficiently. All the way round the safety team and marshals were fantastic, looking pretty soggy themselves but being cheery and helpful to every weary runner. I was relieved to reach Am Bodach in one piece. A run, trot, shuffle got me back to the West Highland Way and my favourite checkpoint – the last one. With gravity finally on my side, I flew to the finish.It’s not often I get out of or close to the edge of my comfort zone, but conditions, circumstances and a brutally beautiful course certainly tested me in this race.
Huge thanks to my physio and coach Tim Pigott of Health and Performance Coaching. I finished as 16th placed lady and I05 overall. I’m a little less disappointed with this when I see that out of 217 starters, only 158 made it to the cut-off point, demonstrating the pure toughness of this rugged race.
Words: Claire Maxted
Cinnamon buns galore at every checkpoint, pink granite coastline routes beside blue seas, and enchantingly runnable forest paths. Surely this is the best way to see Sweden? I was back for this three-day race in Bohuslän, in the south-west, after my competitive side got away with me last year and I mistakenly plunged a leg into a deep drainage ditch, leading to stitches, a missed day and a limped final day’s walk.
This year I had unfinished business with the Icebug Xperience, but once again the odds were against me and a boring, long-term plantar fasciitis injury saw me walk/jogging the race and cheering on my running friends as they hammered sweatily past, eyes fiercely concentrated on the sharp, rocky paths. However, this slower pace gave me a chance to actually take in the truly jaw-dropping Swedish scenery, especially the second day: sun-drenched beaches; crystal-clear blue sea; sparkling pink granite rocks, and did I mention the cinnamon buns?
The atmosphere at Ramsvik holiday village was fun, friendly and food-filled. The buffet each evening was often organic, local, allergy- and special-diet-friendly, and very plentiful. After each race my injured foot benefited from us boiling in the free sauna then hurling ourselves, screaming, into the head-clearing sea. One evening there was a fascinating talk by Icebug Ambassador Markus Torgeby, who has just written a book about how he hermited himself away for four years in a self-made hut in the freezing forests of Jämtland. The following day we cheered as he tore past us. Perhaps hermitism should be on my next training plan...
Words: Sim Benson
The Lakes Sky Ultra tackles 56km of extreme running across crests and ridges, where the mountains meet the sky. Its vertical drops and rocky paths certainly aren’t for the fainthearted, but all this – combined with over 4500m of ascent and some exposed grade-III scrambling – make for a race that will live long in the memory.
I was invited to run by headline sponsors Salewa to test out its new range, including the brand-new Lite Train 14 bag and Ultra Train shoes, which gripped rock exceptionally well. That proved to be a blessing, as this course is scenic but serious, passing through some of the most dramatic Lakeland fells. Starting in Ambleside, it traverses the Helvellyn massif before dropping down into Patterdale. It’s a race of two halves, with two-thirds of the ascent packed into a technical first half. The rest is far more runnable, if you still have any legs left. It was a tough day, with plenty of miles but not enough of them in the mountains. Despite pushing me to my limits, it was an incredible experience and I’ll definitely be back. A big thanks to Charlie Sproson and his team of marshals!
Words: Jim Benson
Race to the Stones takes on the Ridgeway, Britain’s oldest long-distance path. It’s a route used since prehistoric times, passing through an ancient landscape of sweeping downland, secluded valleys and leafy woods, finishing at the World Heritage Site of Avebury. There are several race options: 100k in one day, two days or a single 50k.
Nervous but excited, I lined up at the start of my first 100k. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the organisation and atmosphere were fantastic and I was excited to finally be on my way.
The first few kilometres climb steadily towards the escarpment, fresh legs and leafy woodland giving away nothing of what’s to come. The heat really kicks in on the long, exposed ridge, magnified by the chalk trail that snaked away across the hills. The route rises and falls with the land and there’s not much distance on the flat, making for some hot, hard running. But the camaraderie is uplifting and the support is great, with well-stocked pit stops every 10k (the fresh oranges were amazing!) and a hot meal at 50k. A really enjoyable, well-organised race through 5,000 years of history – and a great first 100k.
Words: Vassos Alexander for BBC Radio 2
I’d heard many good things about running 100 miles, and the SDW100 in particular. Many terrifying things too, but I preferred to focus on the good stuff. They told me how friendly it all is, and about the breathtakingly scenery. They told me about the brilliant, knowledgeable volunteers, and how every mile, every step, is thoroughly thought through. Unforgettable, they said... They didn’t do it justice. The South Downs on a summer’s day is a glorious place to be, and during the run the views frequently gave ailing legs a lift. The logistics were brilliant – how clever to put the aid stations at the bottom of big hills so you can grab a handful of sustenance and eat as you hike upwards. Fellow runners were all fun to meet, not least Sam who once came second here but was happy to slum it with me (for fully seventy miles!) in joint 23rd. And those volunteers were beyond amazing. They stop at nothing to help, even smiling when they’re tired in the night and you’re grumpy and filthy. But what nobody told me about is the warm afterglow which stays with you for weeks. Astonishing really. So I’m tempted to suggest on Radio 2 that all our listeners should try running 100 miles. It’s optimistic. But how about you happy Trail Running brigade? If you haven’t already, you really should, you know...
Words: Ruth Jones
Runners looking for a challenge of epic proportions had their wish granted when heavy rain in the preceding 24 hours set the stage for one of the hardest editions of the notoriously tough Man vs Horse fell race’s 36-year history, on a wet Saturday in Llanwrtyd Wells.
Hundreds of hardy trail runners pitted their wits against their wily horse-riding competitors when they scaled more than 4000ft of ascent across the 22-mile off-road course in the Welsh mountains. Such was the extent of the course’s brutality, which featured endless gruelling climbs, river crossings and slippery descents down rocky hillsides, half of all the horse entries failed to finish.
The first man to cross the line was military man Ross Macdonald, who fought hard to beat all but five of his equine rivals to finish in 2:37:51. Bristol & West’s 2:24 marathoner Jarlath McKenna clocked 2:39:46 to just hold off Woodbridge’s Tom Fairbrother, whose 2:39:59 represented his tenth ‘marathon’ this year.
Cardiff University’s Emily Lagomarsino impressed when she triumphed over Bourneville Harrier’s road runner Nicola Sykes, the pair posting 3:06:23 and 3:15:23 respectively, while Taf Running & Orienteering’s Nerys Jones came third on the women's podium in 3:13:23.
Words: Jenny Davis
I remember reading a snippet in Trail Running magazine describing the Cape Wrath Ultra (CWU) as the UK’s answer to Marathon des Sables, so I had to check it out. I assumed that meant it was also around 250km and convinced five friends to sign up to do it with me in May. Of course, they’d all read that it was much further than that, at 400km with an elevation of 11,200m! Somehow those crucial facts escaped me and I only found out it was a 400km race two months after signing up. My flatmate and I decided we needed a constant reminder of the distances involved to get over our fear of them, so we installed a huge whiteboard in the living room with the distances and elevation for each day written up in capital letters.
I’ve always wanted to know what event would have me near breaking point – I finally found that in the CWU. I forgot my suntan lotion on one particularly hot (45mile) day, burning the back of my right leg particularly badly. It suddenly dawned on me: I’m surrounded by bog mud. So I kept slapping that on my leg to keep the sun off – it worked a treat. After a few hours another runner caught up with me, explaining he simply had to ask why I kept slapping on piles of mud to my left calf! I also took a nasty tumble on Day 7; I adopted the brace position as I really thought I was heading for a face smash against some rocks, then I suddenly find myself suspended over the rocks wondering what on earth had happened… my right knee got stuck in a bog! Such was the strength of the bog-hold on my knee, it held me in place and I narrowly missed the rocks. We invented a game called ‘Bog Betting’: pick a line across the bog and you have to commit to it no matter what. You either end up in it up to waist height or make it through in one piece – no deviation allowed from the route you’ve picked out in advance, no matter how hairy it ends up looking when you get up close. Sounds daft, but it gave us hours of hilarity.
The camaraderie was epic. Some incredible athletes took part, and it’s just awesome to be able to spend time in such great company. Bodies might become fatigued but people’s spirits always shine through. I particularly love that the race organisers allow those who don’t make cut-offs to continue in the race, albeit they’re no longer officially competing. That sums up to me what CWU is all about – it’s the experience and the opportunity of running in such a remote and incredible location: that shouldn’t be taken away from anybody simply because a cut-off was missed. I love that they allow people to continue on their journey. The camaraderie was like no other. The CWU in three words? Captivating. Wild. Undulating.
Take in the spectacular Clwydian Range of North Wales with the Excalibur race. The event returns for the fifth time with marathon, half marathon and now 10k options. The marathon course traverses this incredible ridge of hills, following a long, tricky route with more than 1600m ascent. The half marathon takes you through the beautiful Clwyd Forest and up gentle (but high) peaks including Moel Famau, the highest peak in the Clwydian Range, distinctive by its Jubilee Tower.
The very first Excalibur 10k covers similarly stunning scenery and steep inclines. Excalibur raises money for local children’s hospice, Claire House, which cares for children and young adults who will not live to adulthood. If that doesn’t persuade you to sign up, there’ll be steaming pots of hot stew on the finish line for every participant and a bar selling specially-brewed Excalibur Ale.
Words: Hannah James
Both marathon and half-marathon racers clustered the start line in Llanberis. Typical, wet Welsh weather did nothing to diminish spirits of the runners around me as we set off through the town and slowly headed upwards into the mountains. Once reaching the Snowdon Ranger path, we split, with the half-marathon ascending Snowdon and the marathon heading down and around. We had wonderful views over Llyn Ffynnon-y-gwas before sharp zig-zags climbed upwards quickly into the cloud. The Llanberis path on the descent gave spectacular views and allowed for a fast pace. The terrain changed a lot too, keeping it interesting. Once off the mountain we made our way up into woodland on the far side of Llyn Padarn, which added even more climbing and great singletrack before racing back down into Llanberis to the finish. Having initially been dubious about the route due to the path choice, I now happily admit I was wrong and, despite the weather, it was a challenging and very rewarding experience. The whole race was well organised with encouraging and helpful volunteers – a big plus. Next year’s race will most definitely be on the cards.
Words: Hannah James
3 Things That Got Me Through...
Standing at the start line, I needed a moment for a reality check: I was at the Buff Epic Run Aigüestortes. In the heart of the Spanish Pyrenees, my 21k race began in the small town of El Pont De Suert winding north to the finish. It would be beautiful, but tough. Here's what got me through...
1 A nice start with gently undulating paths for the first 10k led us out of El Pont De Suert, along the riverside and on, upwards into forested mountains. It provided a perfect warm-up for the steeper terrain that we encountered next. We climbed higher through the trees with the occasional glimpse out to a truly breathtaking mountain vista. Buff had picked an amazing place to host its race.
2 Temperatures were high and frequent intake of water was advised. Carrying a bladder was hot and increased weight but it allowed me to keep my hydration constant, so I could push on, saving time instead of gulping as much as I could at each of the five aid stations along the way.
3 The fun of it! It was my first overseas race and inexperience led me to be cautious. Had I known how hard I could push myself, I would have taken full advantage of that knowledge to improve my time and enjoy the freedom of the track. I’ve never run anything quite like it; the ground was soft underfoot with the odd boulder to leap over. These trails were really made for flying. The sides of the finish line were crammed with what seemed like the entire population of Barruera: it was a vibrant atmosphere. Despite only being in its second year I can see the Buff Epic Run being a welcome addition to the racing calendar for everybody – not just the pros.