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There is a really weird sensation about rolling up the start line of a race and being the only person there, I suppose this would make me the both first and last finisher in the race I was runningbut the Pike and Back (Virtual) Half Marathon had much more meaning than just a run, this was a run that filled with history, emotion and of course mud.

I left my home in Scotland at about 7am with the aim to start running around lunchtime and hopefully avoid those who might be considering running the virtual race on the course at the original designated time – it’s about a four and half hour journey and I broke this up with a swift stop at a McDonalds for a ‘nourishing’ breakfast.

I was driving the little car as it was just me travelling and as the sun beat down on the car I thought it was going to be a scorcher for the run, something I had not counted on when I had been packing my kit (I was all waterproofs and survival blankets). I arrived bang on time despite a couple of little mis-steps in my directions.

The man in the car next me glared as I pulled up next to him he tossed his cigarette out of the car and wound his window up – presumably because he believved I had arrived to lick COVID 19 all over him which couldn’t be any further from the truth.

Anyway I had a Tesco pastry and a bit of chocolate milkshake to make sure I was fully energisted and then quickly got changed into my kit. I had vague memories of Moss Bank from my childhood, although I’m not from Bolton I do know the area quite well from visits as a child and Winter Hill is a well known landmark but I couldn’t remember ever being allowd to go up it (we were not a very active family). We also used to come here when I was child to a restaurant called Smithhills – it was a dickensian themed place and for our birthdays my grandparents would take us there as a treat. This event, virtual or not was loaded with memories for me and on the day before I led the funeral to my grandmother  this was rather a poignant thing I was doing (you could read about this in a separate blog post here).

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I set up the navigation on my Suunto and started to amble around aimlessly looking for the start (this did not bode well for following the route). Eventually after a few minutes of groping around the park I came to a small opening in the bushes which looked like the kind of place that a race might begin – Suunto agreed and so, after a couple of pictures, we set off.

Now lets be fair Suunto and the breadcrumb trail is at best, ‘not bad’ so as I ambled up the hill towards what I considered to be the route I figured quickly that I had made a mistake – what gave this away was that I found myself launching my poor, knackered body off a wall and onto the street below and then around a few narrow winding streets and then some steps where I finally picked up what was probably the route. There were clues that this might be the route, the first was the winding river and the trail in the distance, the second was that my watch finally looked like it was going in the right direction and thirdly two fellow virtual half marathiners came thundering past me.

Aha I thought I have found my way.

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Now I really hadn’t done that much research about the race or route, I’d left it to the rose tinted specs to assume that this would be something I’d like to do. I’d glanced at the elevation profile which looked like there were two small hills at about the mid-point of the route and the rest of it was pretty flat. It was only as I was about 600 metres in that I realised I had rather misjudged the situation and I had rather misjudged the route. Effectively the route was made actually made up of two tough climbs on a variety of surfaces and then in reverse it was made of a couple of hanrd going downhills and one really tough as old boots uphill that really sapped every last bit of energy you had!

The first three and bit kilometres of the route were mainly tarmac, quiet roads (or they should have been given the COVID-19 trouble), the elevation felt really tough. The toughness wasn’t just the route, this was very much a combination of a long drive from Scotland and a lack of training in recent weeks, my lack of training has been in part to COVID-19 but mainly due to the stress of work and my grandmother dying and having to do all the arrangements from this and now I was feeling it.

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The road seemed never ending and I did for a moment wonder if this was a trail half marathon but then glinting in the distance I saw the outline of a gate and a route on to the rolling trails around Winter Hill and Rivington Pike. I crossed the gate and bade the cyclists a good morning as I passed by them and then continued onward and most importantly upward. At this point we had moved from the tarmac to hard packed and stoney trail. I bimbled along, stopping only to allow past me, faster moving traffic and to take pictures of the truly spectacular surroundings. In the distance I now had clear sight of the Winter Hill transmission mast and realised that I despite having been here many times before I had probably only ever seen this at a distance.

I pressed on across the rocks, the mud and the water, the route had now gone from a bit of a slog to being genuinely fun and I was finally enjoying the route – especially as the sun was shining but also lovely and cool, a perfect running day. My feet for the first time that day felt free to unleash a little bit of pace inspite of the uphill – this is why I run I thought. I found myself feeling rather jaunty depsite the situation we all find ourselves in and I could simply revel in the reason I was here – to pay a small tribute to my departed (but much unloved) granny.

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I skipped down the stony path and alongside the transmittor and marvelled at the scale of the structure that had once (and may well still) send out things like the signal for Granada Television, I felt like a young boy in the back seat of grandfathers car as a ran beside the mast, the only thing missing was the twinkling red lights that adorn it as the lights go down.

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I assumed that Rivington Pike could not be that far from the mast and in the distance I could see a small structure which I asssumed was the destination and turnaround point. I therefore joined a narrow piece of tarmac and wended my way downwards and started arching away from the small structure, that was not Rivington Pike – oh dear. In the distance I could see a flurry of people around what looked like a small fortification or castle – that was Rivington Pike and I was what looked like several miles away from it. Thankfully this was now downhill but my knees don’t much like tarmac and they were feeling the stress of the pounding they were taking and although my Lone Peak 4.0 are well built they aren’t suited for sustained running on tarmac.

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I ran down and down, and down and down and then weirdly what felt like more down and down, yet, and this was the strange thing – Rivington Pike was up – totally in opposition to my descent.

However, eventually my downward spiral stopped and I returned to hard packed trails – here it felt very busy, lots of people travelling up to the Rivington Pike and dusty hard packed trails gave the illusion that everybody had a dry and dusty cough. It was rather interesting to watch as people covered up their faces as they walked past you or as I ran past them. I mean yes I was breathing more heavily than most of the people there but then I was exerting more pressure on my poor old body. I was mostly being sensible and passing people at a distance but one couple, who were wearing face masks, moved away from me at 90 degrees and zipped up their heavy duty winter jackets to fully cover their mouth – which I felt was a little excessive given that I was never closer than about 20ft away.

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Anyway I hurled myself on to the final climb of Rivington Pike and chatted (at a safe social distance) to a local cyclist, both of us wondering why the hell we were here. I waved at him as I left him behind and continued my climb to the top which was awash with people. I stopped long enough to take a couple of pictures and then made a swift sprint down the front of the Pike knowing that an absolute shit of a hill was waiting for me.

I’ll be perfectly honest, not a lot of running was done back up the hill, my legs were absolutely cream crackered and all I wanted was to be back at the car and maybe stop at the ice cream van who was awaiting customers in the park. I was also very keen to relieve my bladder of its contents but given the throngs of people that were festooned around the route and the lack of any cover meant that I really had to tie a knot in it and hold on. It was here that I noted I had probably made a routing error on the way out and added several hundred metres to my journey as my beloved Suunto insisted that I head across the wet boggy trail. Of course this was music to my ears – get off the tarmac, get back in touch with nature and as cold mud sprayed up the back of me and my feet found themselves submerged I thought, ‘bliss’. I came across a father and son who were clearly not geared for this kind of trail and looking rather unhappy at the prospect of having to continue through this but they managed a cheery smile as I ran by them.

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Soon though I was back on the path and facing the Winter Hill mast, I waved goodbye to it as I turned away from it and pushed on as fast as I could knowing that it was mostly downhill all the way home. However, as I’ve indicated the route was hard going and even in a downhill situation if you’re undertrained and exhausted then it is ging to be hard. But with the wind on my back and surprising cheeriness in my heart I ran happily off the hill and back to road which seemed so long ago now.

When I arrived back to the gate it felt like I had really achieved something and I gently ran down the road, attemptin not to punish my old nears any more than I needed to. I was so close now and in the distance I could see the park where all of this had started. Down, down, down I went – bit like a first date that has gone too well – and as I arrived back to the point I met the earlier virtual runners I felt a tremendous sense of relief. Yes I’d been slow but I’d had good reason not to rush this one – I had time and I wanted time to be able to reflect on everything that is currently going on both personally and globally. I crossed the finish line to the sound of silence, or rather the sound of nature and actually rather enjoyed it.

I’d completed the Pike and Back Half Marathon and I was pleased to have done it.

Distance: Half Marathon
Type: Virtual (due to COVID-19)
Ascent: Bloody Hell
Date: March 2020
Location: Bolton
Terrain: Very mixed
Tough Rating: 3/5

Conclusions
I would traditionally write a full breakdown of the event but that is impossible given the nature of this one in its virtual format. What I will say is that full credit goes to the team of Time2Run Events for allowing runners to complete the event virtually – they could simply have said ‘cancelled’ but as many Race Directors have done they have looked for alternatives and we should be grateful for that.

The route was really tough, the elevation was challenging, the mixed terrain meant that shoe choice was a nightmare and if you really weren’t prepared for this then you were going to have your arse handed to you and mine was handed to me gift wrapped.

Had I not been attending my grannies funeral, and referencing the race in the eulogy I had written for the following day, then I probably wouldn’t have come down for the race I would have transferred my entry to next year, done the training and actually run much better but there was something special about this, about doing it alone, abour forcing myself to push on. I’m an ultra runner really and the half marathon distance is my least favourite race length so to come here and really enjoy myself is really quite wonderful.

There was also something joyous about finishing the ‘race’ first and last – that’ll make me laugh for the rest of my days and I feel like this is a medal I have really earned. I will looking forward to receiving the medal knowing that whenever I look at it with all the others at the top of my staircase that it will bring back a smorgasbord of feelings and that is the sign of a great thing.

The one thing I did notice was how friendly people were in comparison to the Scottish races I run, up here almost all the runners, hikers, walkers, etc have time to smile or have a laugh and a joke with you but despite smiling and saying hello to everyone I went past there was something of a lack of response. Now some of it I’ll put down to COVID-19 but I was rather surprised that the north of England, famed for its friendliness, was a little less than I’ve gotten used to in Scotland. That said, those people that did wave back or say hello or smile back at me were warm and wonderful, I was just surprised by how many people simply didn’t bother.

If you’ve never run this race before then can I urge you to look up Time2Run Events and sign up to this most wonderful of race – even if like me you have to travel down from Scotland to do it, I will certainly be considering entering again for next year.

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This week has seen a huge number of race cancellations – The Highland Fling, Fellsman various marathons and lots of smaller, local events. Thankfully the race I had entered was the Skull Trail Race and this went ahead, I mean I say thankfully but what I think I mean is something very different.

I awoke on Sunday morning to the sound of BBC Radio 4 going on about the crisis of Covid-19 and as I drank my coffee I felt like the world had rather gone mad and so with gay abandon I pulled up my running tights and headed off to the Kingdom of Fife to mingle with other potential future Covid-19 zombies.

The registration was lovely and quick, though I felt like something of a pariah as the two ladies behind me kept several metres from me despite the gentlemen behind them remaining butted up tightly. Perhaps they were just adopting a cautious and sensible approach.

In an unusual twist the guys at the Skull Trail race give you your medal before you’ve run which I found odd as I returned to the car and sat there contemplating whether to bother facing down the hills and mud. Thankfully my funk was addressed by ASK requiring the toilet and so off we ambled to the village hall, I was plonked outside with the dog while my family disappeared off to the loo.

It was here that I once more ran into the lovely and local to me Fiona, at this rate I may have to start referring to her as a friend – given I see her more than most and I find her rather delightful. We chatted about stuff while I got annoyed at the dog and the amount of time my little daughter was taking on the loo.

Thankfully they surfaced and I was able to head over to the start line where all the runners and supporters were milling about casually. There was a lovely atmosphere that permeated the race and the mood was good. Thankfully the sun was shining and it was a delightful day for a run which was lucky given our purpose there. We were soon called to the starting line and with a loud shout from the start line we were off.

The race was two laps of Balbirnie Park in Markinch and you’d think it couldn’t possibly be that hard given it’s in a park and at a mere 4 and a bit miles the distance wasn’t even that bad.

So as I pushed through the throng of runners I felt confident I’d be able to keep my friend Fiona within infection distance rather than see her bound off miles ahead of me as usual. Sadly my undertrained body was willing to remind me that the last few weeks have been incredibly testing and I stated to feel the drag of no running since mid February.

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I ran up the first couple of hills and kept a fair pace going but the ground was claggy and the hills were absolute bastards – this was a route to inflict maximum enjoyment or endurement on its competitors. Even as I weaved around the undergrowth within the first kilometre I could hear myself saying, ‘Two laps? Bloody hell!’ Still I bounded onwards and found a pace I could work to, all the time watching the clock and the distance hoping to hear the cheery sounds of supporters at the finish. I reached the first of the main climbs, a little zig zag up and then a quick return back down. I forget as I watched runners young and old bounding up the hill that some people actively run up elevation. However, as a seasoned ultra runner I know my limits and so gently jogged upwards (some might even call it walking), the Speedgoats thundered past me but I was here for a laugh and as I came to the downhill I pressed the accelerator myself with a giant squeal of ‘weeeeeeeee’.

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At every mud pit I encountered I pushed my new Altra Timp deeper into the mire and they were grateful for a small but fast flowing river crossing. I paid no mind to the runners aside me as I went sloshing through the water, nor did I apologise for spraying water everywhere – if you were at the Skull Trail Race then you were not here to keep clean and stay dry! Thankfully the combination of drymax socks and Altra always dry off really quickly and by the time I was at the next significant climb my feet were toasty once more. I dragged my feet wearing up the hill, noting that I’d have to do it all again shortly and that I had barely registered 2 miles of running and I was absolutely shagged.

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I reached the hill turning point and joked, ‘I thought this was a flat time trial’ – the truth was that this was anything but a flat time trial. I couldn’t believe how exhausted I was but I could finally hear the voices of the supporters in the distance and bumbled gently along the path towards lap 2. The problem was I had completely forgotten the bog and as I meandered towards that second lap I could see it getting closer and I could see runners being submerged in its muddy depths, this was going to be shit – literally. I flew into the muddy water with all the gusto I could manage until the water simply dragged me to a halt. I found myself wading through the gloop with everyone else until I reached the tree branch that you needed to negotiate to free yourself, I pulled one leg free, then the other and hurled myself free and there I saw the finish or as the foolish called it, lap 2.

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2 and a bit miles!!!
2 and a bit miles!!!
and I’m ruined.

Lap 2 was tough starting out and was destined not to get any easier as I desperately groped for some semblance of the runner I used to be. My legs were still shaking from the bog and I only started to feel properly stable again about a kilometre after the start of lap 2 and now I knew that my ingenuity, experience and guile would come into play. There was no sense me hammering downhills or trying to sprint uphills – I had to be smart. So I moved quickly when I could, I moved smartly when I couldn’t and I used a succession of the runners ahead of me to pace me to the finish.

I had a problem – a regular one with Altra – the insole had slipped and become desperately uncomfortable but it was too late to start fidgeting and so I pressed up, over the river, up the hills, through the mud at its squelchy underbelly and on to one final encounter with the bog.

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At this point I was running for a bit with a girl I met called Kiera who was giving it her all and heading straight for the bog. I offered her the gentlemanly ‘ladies first’ then followed her in, though taking a different line through what has probably served as a watery grave for many a hardy runner. Still I thrust myself across the log, losing my footing on only a couple of occasions and crossed the finish line before falling to floor, hailing my piss poor performance at a truly outstanding event.

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What can I say? What a great, well organised and tough as old boots running event. Never have 4 miles felt more like 40 – I’ll definitely be going back and well done for defying COVID-19! Oh and a lovely little medal, great value for money – get signed up for the series.

Thanks to everyone involved and I’ll look forward to next year.

After four months of near inactivity the Tyndrum 24 (a looped foot race near the West Highland Way) had to be looked at with a bit of common sense. Even before I arrived I knew that running 24 hours was highly unlikely and I had joked that I might sleep 4 hours for every 1 hour of running but that’s getting rather ahead of myself.

For those of you who read my previous blog post (read it here) you’ll know that my training and racing has been almost non-existent since September and even before that it had been sporadic at best. I’d gained a shedload of weight and worse – I’d grown lazy and unfit. The truth is that I’d grown so lazy and unfit that during the 2019 festive season I had very much considered not running the Tyndrum 24.

However, after a short test of the route just before new year I decided that I would put the months of R&R and overating behind me and use the T24 to open my 2020 race account and see just how fall I had fallen.

A mid winter looped race in Scotland is always going to be a challenge – weather likely to be unpredictable, underfoot conditions likely to be grim and the cold… the cold. However, I approached this in a practical kind of way and packed up every bit of kit I could and worked out how I could stop semi regularly and rest so as to not push myself too far and risk injury and avoid failing to turn up at my next event.

In the run up it was confirmed that conditions were set to be kind and as I left the house on Saturday morning I was hopeful that the light drizzle would disappear and we’d have a lovely event.

I drove the back roads through Duone and Callendar up to Tyndrum and enjoyed the snow dusted hills and the dawn rising around me. I find driving through new parts of Scotland and the many little towns one of the delights of being here. I pulled up to the Green Welly about 8.30am and after meeting the first couple of volunteers (talking about you Andrew) I started to set up camp in the car. Here I imagined that I’d come back from the route jump into a sleeping bag – have a snooze, change and get back out – all part of the plan.

I disappeared off for a few minutes to have my pre-race poo and when I came back the window of the car next to me opened and the gentleman in the seat said hello.

Now as regular readers will know I am not a very sociable chap – except in a race scenario and so David and I chewed the fat for a while, especially over our mutual appreciation of the Skye Trail Ultra. Weirdly there was something familiar about him and much as I tried I could not place him but I’m going to guess that he may well be the David I met at the start line of the Tweed Valley Ultra in 2018 – perhaps I’ll never know.

I digress.

As the clock moved on I suggested we head down to registration – which gave me the opportunity to meet up with the wonderful Linlithgow Runner, Brian.

David and I rocked up the The Way Outside site and headed into registration after a bit of a bimble around the drop bag site and a watch of the other runners milling around as they waited for the start. The site seemed well set up and there was space for runners, volunteers and supporters to move around without pissing each other off – a good move from the race organisers. With time moving on though we headed upstairs to the registration point and were processed both quickly and efficiently (weirdly it could well have been fellow instagrammer Karmac70 that gave me my number but I can’t be sure).

Anyway, ID check was done, number was handed over, car details handed over to ensure any problems could be mentioned to us during the race and then we were sent outside to grab the lap dibber. All very easy, all really well drilled.

On the way to collect the dibber (from the awesomely hairstyled Jeff/Geoff) we ran in to Brian – saved me going to look for the bugger and it was a genuine joy to see him.

Brian and I have gotten to know one another a bit over the last few months as he’s been progressing his distances for bigger challenges to come and was ready to step up again with 12 hours at Tyndrum. We did brief introductions and then headed down to the Real Food Cafe for a cup of tea and a chat in nice warm surrounds. This, for me, was a wonderfully relaxing way to start a race and as we chatted about running and races I looked back with rose tinted specs to all those races were I’ve run terribly. Ha! Still saved me thinking about the terrible running I was about to do.

Post tea Brian headed off to get ready and David and I drifted off to the car park for a final change of kit.

The next hour or so there was mostly hanging around and although friendly and conversational  you could feel that runners were keen to set off, there was a nervous energy about the place and  even I, the fat hobbit, was keen to set off.  However, I managed to fill my time with a few photos and exchanges of strange tales with some of the other runners.

Looking round the checkpoint you could see a broad assortment of runners, mountain goats, road runners, first timers, old timers and misfits (I was in the misfit camp) – it was a real mix that had been attracted and in my experience that makes a for a good time. I’m always fascinated about what brought all of these wonderful people to a looped running event? in Tyndrum? on a cold and chilly day in January? That was something I’d be exploring with the many runners I came across during my time on the course.

After a short briefing from Stacey Holloway, the Race Director, we were off and rather annoyingly I found myself near the front and so immediately set about rectifying this and slowed my pace dramatically. During these first few hours where daylight existed I was keen to soak in my surroundings and enjoy the clear, crisp weather that’s one of the key joys of having this as my main hobby – the opportunity to see bits of the world that others do not and with loops you get to revisit the experience several times over and take in different details each time.

We ambled down the course jumping across the pools of water that had settled and a couple of short water jumps that were included as part of the entry before coming to the main river crossing. Given the heavy rain recently this could have been treacherous but actually it was fine and there were multiple good crossing points.

I was actually rather enjoying myself – I even leapt across the rocks in the run up to the bridge and then broke out into some genuine running before the first major hill that I knew I’d be hiking up. The hill brought many of the runners to a plod, myself included and this was a good chance to chat to people and wave on the speedgoats who would be crossing the hundred mile mark.

I was more concerned that Brian would overtake me on the first lap and so I plodded on – very keen to get the first loop in the bag – he could then overtake on loop 2 (I wouldn’t mind that so much). The climb wasn’t horrendous but it was significant – perhaps not in these early loops but as the day wore on this would increasingly feel hard and I noted that the ground below our feet, throughout the course, pretty much, was hard, unforgiving and unrelenting – this could be a worry given that neither my back or hips have ever responded well to sustained hard trails.

The descent from the high point of the course was going to be equally challenging but both of these seemed in line with expectations – it was the middle part of the course that looked the most challenging to me. Benign undulation and a long relatively dull stretch of path was what awaited the runners – this would be the part that divided opinion either as a rest from elevation or a chore between the interesting bits.

I battered down the mine road towards the (well used, given how many runners I saw going in and out of it) mid point toilet stop and then clambered up towards the final section of the route beyond the highly amusing medics who were preparing the fire and clearly a BBQ! Then it was a relatively single track path back towards the checkpoint which was rocky, undulating, challenging and yet very enjoyable. The short bursts upwards and the fast bursts downwards made for a bit of movement in the legs – something that felt very necessary after the grind of the mine road.

The final burst back up to the checkpoint was a gentle lollop back along the river with a rather cruel loop in the checkpoint  before reaching the dibber and our dibber checker.

I rolled into the checkpoint feeling reasonable but not without concern – fitness was obviously a concern but that was feeling steady – the problem was that my groin was feeling like shit. I started on my second lap with a light burning that was going through the same highs and lows as the route but lap 2 was finished within a reasonable time and I was still moving. Hurrah! However, the pain was now fully formed and sending shooting signals down my leg and up into my back.

I started to think about my options, one lap for a medal – well that was done but mentally that would be bad – I had originally aimed for 50 miles but that was rapidly being repurposed to a 30 mile run. In my head that was still going to be a failure but a chat with the GingaNinja reminded me that having not run for months those 30 miles would represent a reasonable return.

By lap 4 those 30 miles looked so far from achievable – I was in a really poor way, this felt like a DNF in the making and not reaching the minimum ultra distance was going to be a DNF to me.

It seemed to me though that on each lap I was going to meet someone that would help me reach the minimum distance. There was a Jennifer, John, Karen, the wonderful long distance walker Paul and many more. Occasionally I’d see Brian, David, Fiona or Neil who would provide a bit of a lift to get me over another hump. There were cuddles and conversation with (I’ll say husband and wife) Andrew and Susan – each one of these people and many more provided the incentive to keep going long enough to get six loops done. I heard amazing stories from the young, the old, the speedy and the slow and each one felt like stardust that kept me going just a little bit longer.

Laps 5 and 6 were well into the darkness and there was the greatest joy as I was able to sample the night sky of Tyndrum and the beautiful twinkling of all the stars in the sky watching over us. I stood at the bottom of the main climb, alone with my headtorch off wishing that I had a decent camera with me to capture this moment – I did something similar on the single track back up towards the start need the little mini loch and felt both the joy and appreciation of freedom I enjoy to be ale to be out here. However, as I swtiched my light on during those last few hundred metres of lap 6 I knew that a decision had to be made.

And it is 100% true that I didn’t make my final decision to halt at six loops until I was almost on top of the checkpoint. I felt sad, I felt drained but this was the only decision that could be made if I wanted to build on what had been done at the Tyndrum 24.

I had very much wanted to continue as the night time running was going to be spectacular and weather conditions were such that the route was going to be good overnight but my injury woes were getting worse and I knew that at some point I would need to drive home – injured.

I hobbled into the checkpoint and saw Jeff/Geoff and his beautiful hair (he let me touch it) and exited the race with a medal and my tail between my legs – there was no pride in my finish or my distance but it was a finish.

Key points

  • Distance: 5 mile loops over 6, 12 or 24hrs
  • Profile: Bumpy
  • Date: January 2020
  • Location: Tyndrum
  • Cost: £80
  • Terrain: Hard Trail
  • Tough Rating: 2/5

Route
I’ve already described much of the route but what I haven’t said is that there is a plethora of stunning scenery to delight in and despite being near civilisation you can feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere too – it’s a clever place to put a race like this. However, I felt the hard conditions underfoot took away from the picturesque nature of the route but it is a minor thing yet something some runners might want to consider if you’re thinking about entering. I’d been out and tested the route over the festive period as I was in the area anyway but I’d gone in reverse to the way we ran at T24 and felt that the reverse was easier – but again it’s all opinion and ultimately you’re doing the same elevation whichever way you went.

Organisation
The organisation was faultless, yes there were challenges – the on route toilet became unusable for a number 2 apparently and there was the occasional headless chicken moment as someone was running round looking to fix a problem but everything was handled well. What felt like an army of (I’ll assume) volunteers and the RD looked effortless on their exertions both at the checkpoint and around the course. The checkpoint layout, the race registration and the lap counting was all super easy and that’s high praise indeed, especially when you consider that this is an inaugural event. Tyndrum 24 should go from strength to strength and I expect it to be well supported in the coming years.

Communication
Regular communication across email and social media channels was excellent, I felt it was very important that the organisers did not rely on social media as a number of races now do. The email communication means you are more likely to catch those runners who don’t use these. In the run up there was quite a lot of information being put out – I would expect that in year two this will be streamlined as the issues that cropped up (such as transfers after the deadline) will be ironed out. Great job on the communications and marketing.

Value
When you think about this the race is quite expensive but not outrageous at £80 and well within the average price of similar such events – however, I believe it is excellent value for money, especially compared to its peers.

There was clearly a good deal of organisation that went into the event, there was lots of support such as a toilet on the route, ample quality parking, a good spacious checkpoint base, accurate lap timings, what felt like a load of volunteers, kit purchase options, headtorch loans, etc). There were upcycled race t-shirts and wooden medals which were a nice touch too.

Ultimately the money spent by the runners on entering the race felt like money used on the race.

Volunteers
The team behind T24 were really exceptional, I’ve met a lot of great people manning checkpoints or standing out in the cold but these guys were right up there. I’d like to mention once again the lovely Andrew, Susan, (their poor daughter for having to listen to my flirting with her dad) and Jeff/Geoff – they all made me laugh.

The guys on the course – especially those by the little bridge must have been freezing but always had a cheery smile, the medics were unapologetically hilarious and annoyingly inspiring with their nice warm fire going and the lady in the big wooly hat – she was so brilliant – mostly just telling me to get a move on. Ultimately it was a great team that came together to give the runners the support they needed.

My thanks guys.

Loop v Loop
I’ve run a few looped events over the years – Challenge Hub 24hr, The Ranscombe Challenges, Brutal Enduro, Endure 1250 and how does the T24 compare?

Thankfully the Tyndrum 24 compares very favourably – it felt very modern and forward thinking, it was incredibly runner friendly and supportive and it felt like an event that was put on for runners by runners. Sometimes looped events can feel like an attempt to get your number of completed marathons up (not that there is anything wrong with that) but this felt like a genuinely challenging event in its own right and you needed to prepare for it whereas sometimes lap races can feel like a turn up and give it a crack – I felt with T24 you had to want to do T24 not just another looped event..

I remember running Endure 1250 and felt that was a ‘numbers’ event where I was just putting another number on my ultra total but here I felt like runners, myself included were racing whatever clock they were facing. In another year when I was a little fitter I would feel very confident of running 75 miles or more because I wanted to and I could train for that.

As looped events go this was one of the more fun ones and sits up there alongside the Ranscombe and Brutal loops as a favourite.

Medal
The medal design was very nice, and as readers will know I do love a medal, my only concern is that the thickness of the wood suggests that this might not survive much of a bash. When I compare this to say the thickness of the wood of either Ben Vorlich or the Nocturnal I feel both of these will be a little more hardy. I’d have been quite happy to pay a couple of pounds extra for a few more millimetres of wood to ensure that my memento of this event lasts for the duration of my life.

Eco
No plastic cups? Wooden medals, upcycled race shirts, local suppliers – all things I can very much get on board with and I doubt you’d hear any runners complaining about this. The race encouraged users to use public transport where possible – going so far as to have a race start time that made this possible (something that just two years ago I’d have been very happy with given I didn’t drive). Issues around sustainability in running is likely to become a bigger and bigger selling point as the years go on and it is good to see a race taking a lead on issues like this.

Conclusion
I suppose the conclusions come down to whether I would run the event again and the answer is a well considered yes.

Tyndrum 24 is a strange beast of an event given the location and time of year but it is a much needed addition to the UK ultra running calendar as winter running events in January, especially in Scotland, are nowhere to be found. There is a reason though why this is so and that reason is that Scotland can have hideous weather in January and the possibility of cancellation presumably remains high.

These things are something you will have to factor into your calculations when you consider entering – this year the event was fortunate to have the best possible conditions – but next year and the year after may not be so lucky. How would you feel running in the driving rain up and down hill in the dark for at least 16 hours? Or ploughing though the snow for the same amount of time wearing every last inch of clothing you could manage just to get to 30, 40 or 50 miles? I’ll be interested to see how the event goes on in a year like that.

Perhaps the more important question for you is, should you enter? I feel the answer to that is easy – of course you should. This was a really lovely event with a wild mix of runners from all walks of life and the fact that the organisation was top class only adds to the conclusion that this is a top quality event.

I’d go so far as to say that it is race worth travelling for and 100 miles across the maximum time allowed is very achievable even if you chose to walk speedily the entire thing you’d be grinding out distances near three figures.

I also feel it is worth noting that the race directorship team is new to this and should be given a huge amount of praise for the amount of work they poured into this – it looked like a labour of love and that hard work paid off with a smooth and delightful event.

My own race, as I’ve suggested, was a failure but not totally, 4 laps away from my 50 mile target, I ran for less than 8 hours and I was in so much pain that this throws into doubt my participation at the Falkirk Ultra. Mentally though there was a hint of success – despite my lack of fitness and groin/hip/back problems from less than 5 miles in I managed to hold on and knock out 30 failure lacklusture miles but 30 miles nonetheless.

As I write this on Sunday evening while listening to some made people on the  post football chat on BBC 5 Live I can feel the pain rolling around my groin and hip, Every time I stand up I feel it and evry time I take a step I feel it. I made the right decision to pull out. The potential to cause further long term damage was real but I know how to solve it – I need to weigh 15kg less, I need to eat less rubbish and I need to get back out there probably tomorrow, even if it is only for a slow couple of kilometres, probably involving the hill outside my house.

Thanks T24, thanks to everyone involved and who knows maybe I’ll see you next year.

Next
Next I prepare for a solid weekend of Scottish fun starting on February 1st at the Edinburrgh Winter Riun where ASK and I will attempt to bring her mile time down a little and the following day I’ll be heading to Callendar Park in Falkirk to run loops again but this time deliverately for 8 hours (both subject to my injuries calmong down a bit).

Related

img_2097This is less a review and more a thank you to the Millar Foundation for putting on a truly awesome Superhero Fun Run this weekend.

I’m sure that many of my fellow geeks, nerds and coolios will recognise the name Mark Millar from excellent comic books such as Kick Ass, Kingsman: The Secret Service and Superior as well as more instantly recognisable names such as Spider-Man.

Beyond comics though he founded the Millar Foundation with the aim of providing transformative opportunity and community in the place he grew up. What a thoroughly decent idea and well worth an internet search to articles about the projects the Foundation is involved in or click here to see the photographs from recent events

This latest event was just the kind of thing that a running and comic book obsessed father and daughter would be very attracted to. And so we went along.

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When we rolled up to Drumpellier Country Park the sun was shining wonderfully but thankfully it wasn’t too hot as being in superhero garb was a little different to my Ronhill and La Sportiva technical tops. We had traded in our usual monikers for a crack at being Supergirl and Mister Incredible (some might say that’s no change for me – I jest) and we delighted in a bit of cape swooshing as we left the car park.

As we ambled along the path we were picked out by the local press photographer for a quick snap and then directed to the registration point. All was lovely, everybody hugely welcoming and there was some delicious fruit juice, bottled water and bananas available to the runners pre-race. Awesome.

We were half an hour early so Supergirl and I sat enjoying our fruit juice and admiring the many wonderful costumes on display.

As it was ‘Batman Day’ (The Caped Crusaders 80th birthday) there were lots of dark knight detective themed characters but there was a significant amount of Captain America, Hulk, Supergirl, Wonder Women, Spider-Men and Supermen ready to race. I did catch sight of a couple of Deadpool runners and even one Gecko from PJ Masks, it was an eclectic and wonderful mix.

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Before long it was race time and after a bit of a warm up from the team at the local gym we were thrust on to the course. The race kicked off at about 11 and I had taken up my customary position at the back of the pack and had instructed Supergirl to take it steady as this was her longest race to date.

As the gaggle of superheroic runners set out we began to find our stride and it wasn’t long before we began overtaking all manner of caped competitors. The key for me, in the run, was that Supergirl maintain a sensible pace and run consistently throughout the distance. Many of the young people running were prone to bursts of speed and then being forced into walking as they had expelled all their power. No such issue confronted us and we gently ambled our way through the field and down the tarmac path with it’s wonderful views across the lake.

It was about a half a kilometre in when the tarmac turned to woodland trail and both Supergirl and Mister Incredible were much happier – both of us kicked on a little bit and started to target runners ahead of us, picking them off one by one. Occasionally a runner from behind would overtake us and we enjoyed watching the spirited displays of running from the young and old. The effort was really very inspiring and that was such a great message for my daughter to take away. There is something powerful about seeing kids, not much older than her, both succeeding and struggling but fighting for that finish and the reward of the medal.

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As for the course – the news was good – for all the runners as the path was lovely and dry with a mildly spongy feel to it which gave wonderful bounce as you ran. Had Supergirl not been with me I’d have happily done half a dozen loops here. But instead as a dynamic duo we steadily ran through the woodlands and said hello to many of the other runners and as we approached the turnaround Supergirl put on a little spurt – determined to claim her medal as quickly as possible.

The distance to the finish was quickly disappearing and we were flying. I was incredibly proud of her performance and then all of a sudden, as happens with ASK, she lost concentration for a second and was sent sprawling across the trail.

We immediately stopped running and tears fell down her little face and I took right hold of her in a big hug and said the thing I always say when she falls, ‘what do we do when we fall over?’ To which she always replies, ‘we get back up and keep going’. I dusted her down and checked that there was no serious injury or bleeding and checked she was fine to continue…

She was.

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With the tears dried we picked up the pace – Supergirl though wanted to hold my hand – she was keen not to fall again – so together we came to final turn and the sound of the finish line PA system blared music in our direction. The lovely volunteer at the final corner made note of my delightful backpack that I was sporting (I was carrying a teddy bear on my back brought home from school for the weekend to go on adventures – and my daughter wanted the bear to race).

Supergirl decided that now we were back on tarmac she no longer needed the company of Mister Incredible and hit the afterburner. With around 250 metres to go Supes started her sprint finish, both feet off the ground and arms pumping – my little superhero crossing the finish line to collect a most well earned medal.

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Great racing, great event.

  • Distance: 2.5km (2.7km GPS measurement)
  • Time: 18 minutes of moving time / 3 minutes of crying and dusting ourselves off

Conclusion
Thanks must go the Millar Foundation but also the Drumpellier Park Parkrun team who made the event happen – the volunteers of the Park Run team really worked hard to make sure everyone had a great time and it was.

The nice thing was that the whole event was free and there was a lovely sense of community and that will certainly have helped to bring people out but given how many people got dressed up I feel this was simply the kind of event that draws families out to do something fun and active, together.

I hope this runs for many years and I hope it inspires other towns to run similar events –  they don’t have to be free – they just have to be on. The fun run at the recent West Lothian Running Festival (read about it here) for example was a lovely and well organised event too and these things really do bring people together. I feel it important that our children and young people are able to participate in events like this to ensure that being active is a habit and not a chore.

And in closing I’ll simply say that I look forward to donning a bit of spandex next year for this wonderful event.

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img_1777In times of turmoil we seek summits and points of vantage to gain clarity of vision.

When I was younger I would go to the Lake District to climb a hill and breathe clean air and give myself greater clarity. Given I didn’t drive (or ride a bike) I would often find myself in places you could reach by public transport and so Ambleside was a popular choice for a young man with a busy mind.

Roll forward a decade or two and my mind remains busy but I’ve added both a driving licence and an ability to ride a bike and so when I saw the inaugural Ambleside Trail 60 on the ultra event calendar I decided that this was for me.

The race was being organised in conjunction between the long established The Climbers Shop (find out more here) in Ambleside and charity The Brathay Trust (find out more here) – both well respected pillars of the community.

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I therefore had high expectations for the event.

When looking at the Ambleside Trail 60 on paper you’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s rather easy and with a tad under 2,500metres of climb it all seemed perfectly respectable. The problem comes is that when deciding to do this I had conflated the shortness of the distance and relatively low ascent numbers to think this was going to be easy. How wrong can you be?

But anyway let me add a bit of context to proceedings – I’d had an excellent July, training had gone well and I’d come off the Ben Vorlich Ultra feeling pretty good and without injury. The truth is I’d felt so good that I’d returned to training the following day and was looking forwarding to maintaining my running mental strength by taking part in the Thieves Road Ultra. In typical fashion though disaster struck and I took a nasty tumble running up a hill and put a bloody big hole in my knee and this was supplemented by a shitty infection that I couldn’t shift. However, with August 10th approaching I knew that momentum was on my side and I’d be okay(ish) to race but it seemed my August ultra curse was set to continue and the race was cancelled due to the potential for adverse conditions.

What happened next was that race was reorganised for two weeks later, my illness got worse and on race day I spent about 8hrs on the porcelain throne. This time it was me cancelling the race and so I rolled up to the Ambleside 60 with very little training but a lot of chocolate eating done.

As I’ve said I’m a huge fan of The Lake District and Cumbria, it’s a truly spectacular place and so I was very happy to be there on a beautiful morning watching the world go by.

Strangely for an ultra it was taking place on a Sunday which meant I’d had the luxury of bimbling around the Lakes the day previously taking in the delights of Ambleside and registering with the event organisers at The Climbers Shop. Registration was both quick and easy and the lovely organisers were on hand to answer all of my ridiculous questions. I was also mightily impressed that race sponsor Rab (I assume) threw in a warm beanie which is likely to make its race debut later in the year. It was here that I bumped into Ed, a fellow competitor from Ben Vorlich and it was lovely to ‘chew the fat’ with him for a few minutes and catch up about what had happened at the race end. However, we soon parted and I found myself at a loose end but with lots of wonderful outdoor stores strewn across the town – I decide me to make hay while the sun shone. Lunch was a delicious spicy chicken baguette with a slab of honeycomb cake and this was followed by short trips to Kendal and Keswick to make the most of my stay.

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I had the luxury of having a six berth dorm room all to myself at the waterside YHA in Ambleside and I went to bed early to try and get as rested as possible. Kit was prepared, breakfast readied and I knew where I was going in the morning.

The organisers had suggested the pay & display car park in Ambleside, which given it was a few minutes from the start, made good sense. With water bottles now filled I headed to the start in Rothay Park and silently soaked up the friendly, banter atmosphere. I’ve grown rather accustomed to knowing runners at races, wherever I am, both here and abroad – so it was something of a surprise to not see any faces I knew. I wandered around a little bit before setting amongst the throng of ultra runners all keen for the start.

We were all instructed to dib our chips at the start which had been attached to us at registration. I found these mildly intrusive as they never felt very comfortable around the wrist and I fretted about them working loose and ending up in a puddle of mud somewhere on a hill. Thankfully it never did work loose but I found it uncomfortable compared to some of the alternatives that I’ve had to wear. That said the system was simple enough to use and the setup both at the start and at checkpoints was well thought out.

With an 8am start looming we were all corralled into the starting area and after a short briefing and some words of encouragement the 175(ish) runners burst forward and out of Rothay Park and into the wilderness. It’s fair to say that a number of ‘trail’ races that I’ve been part of have actually had quite significant amounts of road or tarmac involved but this experience was very different. From the near outset there was trail and nature surrounding the runners.

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As we wound our way through the first few kilometres it was clear that this was going to be s tougher day than I had originally imagined and as I looked down at my faithful Suunto I could see the elevation metres quickly stacking up. Those first few miles were easily the simplest on the route and with excellent route marking even I couldn’t go wrong. We wended our way through the variety of trails, up and down hills and along some of England’s finest scenery. For the most part I was making good time against the other runners – using my preferred tactic of ‘go as fast as you cN for as long as you can and then death march it in’. I made sure I was taking on board regular fluids and even a little food from early in proceedings as this would ensure I could still take on everything late in the event. I topped up my intake with some Active Root, which is about the only electrolyte style supplement I can stomach, and this kept me level and stopped significant dips – something to consider if you’re running well.

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I ran the first 15km pretty consistently and covered around 600 metres of climb – despite the recent rains the ground was in good condition and the route was runnable. Although I had poles with me I had decided that I would refrain from their use until I really needed them and despite the ascents I didn’t feel I needed them in the firs quarter of the event. The views were delightful and this was very much The Lake District of my youth – some places dragged up long forgotten memories and it was a very pleasant experience. It was here that I met Deborah – about 2.5 miles from the first checkpoint. We chatted for a while, as we bounded forward and this was such a pleasant experience that I barely noticed the run into the checkpoint.

Checkpoint one was brilliant with the marshalling team all dressed as chefs with big chef hats, the team were incredibly well drilled – timer, water, food, out, out, out! I was very impressed with the team and the organisation of the event on the whole, if I were to take a guess this was not their first rodeo. The quality of the food on offer was brilliant and as I left the checkpoint I felt buoyed by the energy the team have thrust upon me. In the distance I could see Deborah disappearing and continued my journey alone.

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The second section was going to be tougher with the first 600 metres climbed this meant that there was still around 1700 metres to climb and around a marathon to do it in. 2 hours down – 12 hours to go. I knew that the first significant climb was soon to be upon us and in the distance twinkling like little neon and Lycra clad stars were a succession of slow moving runners as the route moved up a gear in toughness.

It was now that the route threw challenge after challenge at us, the trail had moved from being mostly runnable to being filled with big lumpy rocks, it was wet underfoot and it changed from soaking to dry making your shoe choice irrelevant in the face of the varying conditions. I threw open my poles for the first time and began the slow journey upwards, happy in the knowledge that I had built up a reserve of time in the early stages of the race. However, as I looked ever upwards it was with a deep sense of foreboding – this was the first and easiest ascent and it was far from easy.

I decided that given I still had some strength in my legs I would do the climb in bursts and so would have a short stop and then powered up the next couple of hundred metres, stop and repeat. This technique helps me with the fatigue my legs get from the constant ball achingly monotonous striding of hiking up the hills (something I knew I would be forced into later in the day). My lack of training in the last month and the over eating was also playing a significant part now in my performance – runners were passing me as I struggled with the up hills and the beating my feet were now taking. However, I knew that on the downhill as long as the path was relatively runnable I would be able to make up some ground. Where some runners are guarded about running downhill too quickly for fear of a fall I am usually pretty surefooted and confident in my own ability. Therefore once the peak was reached I felt that I had little choice but to open up the taps a bit and go for it.

 

My descent was as quick as my ascent was slow and I found myself able to catch some of the runners that had managed to overtake me and I felt with nearly 1,000 metres of ascent done and about 20km in distance done I was feeling confident and then the ridiculous kicked in – I slipped. Bang down – on my back, on my arse, on all my weakest points. The two young runners ahead of me turned and shouted to find out if I was okay and I waved them on but I was far from alright. My back, which is troubling at the best of times, had shooting pain running through it and I had cut my hand open in several places and was bleeding. I picked my muddy form off the floor and cursed my own stupidity – I ran down to the little stream and put my buff in the water and wrapped it around my hand attempting to soak up the blood. I had been very lucky, within a few minutes the bleeding had stopped and I managed to clean up the various gashes that now covered my left hand – the realisation was dawning upon me that this route was going to give me a good kicking before it was finished.

I pushed onwards through the next few kilometres, slowing a little to account for the worsening running conditions, the rocky terrain became incredibly hard going and in my opinion it felt more like fell running than it did ultra trail running but it all added to the complexity of the challenge of finishing. I finally reached the halfway point and was greeted by the most welcoming committee of marshals, supporters and runners. Given I was so far from the lead it was no surprise to see my fellow racers in various states of distress, I grabbed a bit of grass and threw my bag to floor and motored over to the food table and stuffed my face with the delicious sausage rolls with the amazing pastry (I’m going to assume veggie but don’t want to know as they were so delicious it would disappoint me to know I’d been eating something mildly healthy). I drank as much tea as I could handle, grabbed a bit of soft chewy cake, filled my water bottles and then followed the other runners out of the checkpoint.

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It was here that I would make the relationship that would see me cross the finish line, though it did not begin well but I’ll get to that later.

From CP2 we were presented with a climb up Stake Pass, a beautiful climb and no mistake but a technical, rocky ascent that required maximum concentration all the way and its windy nature meant that you felt progress was even slower than it actually was. I used my brutish bursts of power to push myself up the pass and once more in the distance before and ahead of me I could see the swathes of runners slowly climbing to the summit. I kept telling myself that this is something I enjoy when moments of doubt would creep into my thinking but the reality was that my feet were burning from the damage that rocks underfoot where doing.

My feet are brittle at the best of times but the damp conditions coupled with the rocks were crippling me, the only plus I could find was that my Lone Peaks combined with Injinji liner and Drymax socks and my beloved Dirty Girls Gaiters were working overtime in protecting me from the worst of the route.

About halfway up local legend Keith passed me with his wonderfully consistent pace and all I could do when he went beyond me asking, ‘alright?’ I responded with, ‘had better days’ but Keith may have misinterpreted my joke for sincere annoyance and he simply shrugged his shoulder and pushed on. I thought nothing more of it really but like the cut of his pace and thought if I could keep up with him I might well be alright – but he, like many before, was soon gone.

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I retreated the comfort of the nearest rock I could find and grabbed some food from my race vest and looked longingly into the middle distance as dark and detrimental thoughts crept across my furrowed brow. ‘More than halfway’ I thought, ‘but my feet are bruised to buggery, my race vest is heavy and worse than that my back and arm was on fire from injuries both old and new’. However, the sight of runners closing in on me made me get off my backside and hurl myself up the hill and eventually I made it to the summit. I could see some of the runners who had made it past me and so I picked Keith as my target – if I could catch him before the arrival of the next checkpoint I would continue.

The route off the pass was as unrunnable as the route up with rocks jutting up from every angle and care required about just where the hell you were putting your feet. If you were less cautious you might have avoided the path  and run straight down the hill – but given I had no idea where I was or how far behind the next runner was – I did not fancy falling off Stake Pass. With all due care I made it to the bottom and leapt through the thick nasty smelling mud and crossing streams with all haste attempting to keep my feet as dry as possible. In the distance I could hear the clatter of Keith’s running poles and I realised I was catching him – having a target to aim for had made the journey much more focused and much easier and as I caught him I opened with the much cheerier line, ‘I’ve been chasing you down for ages – thanks for the incentive’ and from here a new race friendship was forged.

Keith was a bit of a running veteran and with 20 more years on the clock the than me he had well earned the right to legend status. He strode purposefully through the route, questioning the runability of some of the course but all the time remaining strong in his continuous push forward – I like Keith very much and over the next few miles we got to chatting and getting to know one another a little. But as is the rule in ultra marathons you run your own race and he reminded me of this several times as he suggested I not wait for him or that he would be waiting long for me. However, we were both moving at about the same speed ad so it turned out neither of us could shake the other one.

Something I was very glad of.

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The road to CP3 was hard and long, we had come off the hill and now it was just finding the checkpoint, hoping that we would make the cut-off and then pushing through as fast as we could up the biggest ascent on the course – Lining Crag. While we both looked and probably felt a bit shitty we both also seemed to gain a newfound mental strength from each other – I certainly did from him and when I started to leave CP3 Keith joined me for some further adventuring.

The strange thing was that despite our low speed we were starting to catch people again and in the close distance we could see runners who had long left me behind and, though I shouldn’t, I was buoyed by seeing other runners finding this a challenge or perhaps I was simply developing a second wind that might carry over the Crag.

Sadly my second wind was very short lived and as I began the ascent I felt every bone in my body scream for mercy, even with the first few hundred metres being relatively gentle this was a climb of false summits and false hope.

One of the great things about Keith was his wide and varied local knowledge, this meant that he was able to be accurate in his assessment of our situation, so when we approached the scramble up to the crag I knew that this was not the summit and that there were further smaller climbs to come. The scramble was actually surprisingly simple and the change of pace on the legs was welcome, I enjoy scrambling although I don’t do it very often as I am terrified of heights. So I finally reached the safety of solid ground that wasn’t going to try and kill me I was very grateful. We  made good time as we crossed the high ground and started to overtake people again and other runners came past us as they picked the pace up a little. On reflection it was nice to know that we were still in a race, often at these type of events you’ll find yourself alone for hours and hours and not knowing where in the race you are, here the numbers were just right to be able to have significant time alone but also know that you could still catch someone.

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We knew that the final checkpoint was at about 53km in and so it was with a little dismay that the ascent to the top of the crag had pushed us forward a mere 2km of the 12km we needed to run. Running remained hard going over the rocky paths and went as fast and securely as we could but both Keith and I were losing our footing at regular intervals and many of the runners had soggy bottoms but perhaps none got the soggy bottom in the way I did.

While crossing a boggy path I lost my footing and into the mid thigh depth mud my leg went, the trouble was that my other leg followed me in and as I fell in my whole body lurched backward in some attempt to create the muddy equivalent of a snow fairy. Keith turned to face me, barely disguising his amusement at the predicament that I found myself in. I managed to stand in the mud and could feel the vacuum attempting to suck my shoes in but I carefully extracted one leg and then the other with no significant loss.  I was caked in mud from head to toe but I had clearly picked the right kit for the event and my wonderful new Runderwear long boxer shorts and Raidlight Freetrail shorts soon dried off and despite being in 3 foot of wet, shitty mud my feet remained warm and toasty.

After picking myself up we headed along the remainder of the route down to Grasmere with little further incident, but we were aware that the final climb and descent had taken much, much longer than anticipated and I was keen to finish as I still had hours in the car driving back to Scotland.

I noticed that both Keith and I were rather quiet as we landed in Grasmere, tiredness was clearly playing a part but seeing the race organisers at the final checkpoint gave us a bit of a life and knowing that we were less than 10km from the finish was the mental nourishment we needed.

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We had been quite quick in the checkpoints up until this point but we stayed a little longer in Grasmere as Keith knew both of the guys from The Climbers Shop (I’m going to go with Mike and Gill but could be wrong). Gill had been at the registration and she clearly remembered my idiotic face from the previous day and the warmth with which I was greeted felt genuine and heartfelt and for that I was very grateful. They tried to stuff our faces with all manner of food and drink but we were so close to the finish that I actually wanted just my water filled and then off and the guys obliged.

Keith and I were very keen to see off the race before the dark became impenetrable and with all the speed we could muster we set out from Grasmere. This final section had a few light climbs on it but it was mainly tarmac that we were following and there was nothing to concern ourselves with – I seem to recall that we spent most of the time on these final few miles being rather jolly and looking forward to food, drinks, showers and in Keith’s case being reunited with his wife and the lovely Border Colllies.

I remember Keith commenting that at this point he had one speed and although I had recovered a little bit and probably could have run this final section I had no desire to leave my companion behind and in truth I’d have only managed to get about a dozen metres ahead before he would have reeled me in again. Meeting Keith made the experience of the Ambleside 60 much more pleasant than it looked like it might have been given the struggles I know he played a huge part in me finishing on Sunday.

We rolled up to Rothay Park and the dark had finally arrived, we thanked the marshalling staff at the final corner and as is my way I tried to have a cheery word/joke and thank you for the guys who were stood there waiting in the cold ensuring that we didn’t take a wrong turn at the final point. In the dim distance I could make out the large finish line inflatable and in front of it were two dibbing points so that we could get a final time. It took me an age to get my bloody dibber in but once I did we were ushered into a tent and given medals, beer and times.

Keith’s wife was there with the dogs and I joined them briefly to thank him and to thank his wife for loaning me such a wonderful gentleman for the day.

We had made it, I had made it.

Overview
Distance: 60km
Cost: £65
Location: Ambleside
Date: September 2019
Tough Rating: 3.5/5

Route
What they said about the route…

starting from Rothay Park, the Ambleside Trail 60 is a 60km loop made up of some iconic Lake District running. From the park, participants will make their way up and over Loughrigg towards Skelwith Bridge, Tarn Hows and from there onwards towards Coniston. Before reaching Coniston, the route climbs above Coniston Coppermine and toward Lad Stones. Continuing onward, the route makes its way to Little Langdale and after a short but punchy climb reaches Blea Tarn. Runners then make their way up Stake Pass and then follow the Langstrath Beck before climbing back up Lining Crag, the biggest climb on the course. Runners descend into Grasmere and slowly wind their way back toward Ambleside..

I’ve run over 50 ultra marathons and I’ve run across some of the toughest trails in the crappiest conditions and I can honestly say that the route of the Ambleside 60km was a bit of a terror. I mentioned earlier that this felt more like an ultra distance fell race than a trail race. Although the path was defined it was, in parts, brutal – despite the shortness of the distance this was a route that really threw everything at you and there was a procession of the walking wounded on the course as the Ambleside 60 took no prisoners.

This is not a route for the inexperienced and had the weather conditions been worse then this would really have given the competitors a challenge that even more might not have finished. What I will say though is that the Ambleside 60 route gave so much back in views and beauty that you really can’t complain about the temporary pain inflicted by the course.

The climbs were tough, the variety was welcome and the route marking was exceptional – just a few less rocky roads would have made this a more complete running experience. Don’t misunderstand me though this was a brilliant route and I feel fortunate to have seen parts of the Lake District that only become accessible if you are willing to put the effort in. The highlight of the route for me was the second climb up Stake Pass, which as well as being as tough old boots, had the wonderful sound of gushing water on both sides of the pass, it had majesty all around it and there was a eeriness about it as you could see nothing of modern life as far as the eye could see – wonderful.

So, perhaps a few little tweaks to make sure that this doesn’t become an ‘only suitable for the mountain goats’ and the route cold be a real winner for everyone wanting to take part.

Organisation
The organisation was 100% top notch, from registration to the near army of marshals that were posted on the course – this was some of the best organisation I have ever seen. The route marking for the most part was fantastic, the little map we received at the start was perfect as a guide and the pre and post race information was concise and informative. A huge thank you should go to all the organisers and especially the marshalling and medical staff who offered friendly faces all over the day. Races like this do not happen without the support of lots of people behind the scenes – and it was clear that the work they had put in here had really paid off.

Kit
I go mountain running most weekends and I go hill running after work and I know what kit I need to carry with me, I know how to be safe in the mountains and in adverse weather conditions and to that end I felt that the mandatory kit list was a little over complicated. I understand completely that safety comes first and that not all runners are experienced in the hills but there does need to be a balance. I did note that a number of the runners had very small amounts of kit with them and you had to wonder how where they fitting all the mandatory kit into such a small space?

Given my back issues carrying all the required kit was always going to be one of the main challenges I faced during the Ambleside 60 and I have a preference to carry specific things that help my individual race needs. For example I have my ridiculously weak feet so spare socks are a must and I’m known to take a picture or two so spare battery is also an essential. But rules are rules and it is important that we all adhere to them – they are designed to ensure your safety isn’t compromised, might just be worth looking next year about a little more flexibility between the mandatory and recommended kit.

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Goodies
Having great sponsors like Rab and Ultimate Directions mean that sometimes there are excellent goodies and this time there was a delightful Rab beanie available pre-race and post race there was some Hawkshead Brewery beer, which if you’re a beer drinker is a great reward for a job well done – obviously as a teetotaller the beer is less relevant to me but I know someone who’ll drink it for me. The medal was nice and understated, which seemed very much in keeping with the whole ethos of the event and I appreciated that. I wore my medal proudly all the way home to Scotland and as I crawled up the stairs to my bedroom upon returning home I made sure that it took its rightful place with its brother and sister medals at the top of the stairs.

Value
I’ve said it before and I’ll repeat it, the value for money aspect is very much down to personal opinion about your experience. I very much believe that the Ambleside 60 was excellent value for money at £65 and to be fair if you’d charged a little more it would still have represented good value for money. The little goodies, the excellent event staff, the support both before and after, the photography and the challenge of the event itself mean that you have to say you really did get bang for your buck. Some people might bemoan the lack of race T-shirt but the truth is I would rather have had the beanie – it’s always nice to get something useful that most races don’t think about.

Special Mentions
I owe this finish to Keith – I would not have made it without you. Thank you.

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Conclusion
Is this a great race? Not yet.

Does this have the potential to be a great race? Oh yes!

2019 as its inaugural running was a damn fine event, it gave the best views of Ambleside and its surrounds that I’ve ever had the honour of laying my eyes on. The Ambleside 60 has much to recommend it and if you’re lucky enough to have a clear day as we did then you’ll bear witness to a visual treat. The medal for this one really  is worth earning and you will feel like you have accomplished something truly spectacular when, or perhaps more appropriately, if you cross the finishing line. The organisation of the race, for me, makes this one stand out in the memory too – there was genuine care for the runners and that should be recognised, nobody got anything less than 100% from the excellent team.

However, this isn’t perfect I’ve mentioned that it felt like a long distance fell run in places and the course was incredibly hard going at times, even in good conditions. I genuinely believe more responsibility should be on the individual regarding kit choices and I’d probably prefer to see the race run on a Saturday to give runners the Sunday and a chance to rest for their weary bones before a return to grindstone of work on a Monday (I found the drive back to Scotland really tough and Monday was weird in the office). However, if nothing changed, if the race came back next year in exactly the same format would I run it again? The answer is 100% yes, there is something special about the Ambleside 60 and it deserves its soon to be well established reputation as a tough as old boots brilliant ultra marathon.

So if you’ve read this and thought, he sounds likes you had a horrible time, then you’ve misunderstood me, there was no misery for me just a real ball busting challenge – which is primarily what I look for in an ultra marathon and if it is what you look for then you’re going to have a mighty fine time.

Check out the race details here

I’d signed up to the Ben Vorlich Ultra on the back of my entry the Ochil Ultra (also organised by Wee Run Events) and to be fair had not really done much research – but I knew that it ran up a mountain I had been keen to climb and when you combine this with a bit of running then how could you possibly go wrong?

I drove down to the Cultybraggan Camp from sunny Polmont to ensure I left the start line at the earliest possible time – so it was an early kick off. Thankfully the roads were clear and I’d gotten up in time to get ready properly and have breakfast – something that often eludes me pre-race and I always pay the price for it later. Sadly my early morning coffee had not worked other things loose so that might become a problem later in the race (but I did have my tissues with me).

Preparations had been somewhat disrupted that weekend by the GingaNinja having to work late on Friday night, my daughter spending the rest of Friday evening puking her guts up and my Saturday being taken up by the purchase and installation of a treadmil in my garage.

Still it was now Sunday morning and I had arrived, registration was swift and clear –  my number, tracker and  timing band were handed over. There were decent facilities at Cultybraggan Camp  (including what looked like the option of showers). The weather was reasonable, so as a consequence the runners were milling around the starting point rather than being huddled in vehicles or hiding in the registration hut.

The race should have kicked out at 7am, with the runners being allowed to leave anytime after this point – the only stipulation being that you were finished by 10pm – there was small delay to sending us out but nothing significant and with the shout ‘Go!’ we were sent on our merry way.

I felt that the pace of the runners ahead of me was going to be significantly faster than I, and I was right. A lack of training, fitness and being overweight meant that I was going to drop back pretty quickly, however, I didn’t really consider this a problem as I knew that my participation was more about completing the event than trying to get a decent time.

The route headed out of Cultybraggan and towards Comrie along a deep dark path along the River Earn – there were lovely tree roots everywhere, there was mud and there was waist high grass, stinging nettles and thorns that on a wet day would give you some strife. I bounded along the route here thinking that if the entire route was like this then we’d be in for a really good time. This lasted for a couple of miles before arring at the delightful, chocolate box town of Comrie, at 7.30 in the morning Comrie was a sleepy village with a few dog walkers out but later in the day the GingaNinja informed me that it very much became a hotbed of English tourists visiting the area – presumably to taste what she described as he best fish and chips she had ever had.

I digress.

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The route wound its way towards Loch Earn via an old railway line, much of which, for the first half, has been transformed to what can only be described as excellent cycle paths, while the back end is a little more hard packed trail but ultimately both sections were very runnable.

I found myself making rather better time than I imagined I was going to given that my longest run since returning to running has been 19km. Although I was near the back of the pack I really did not mind – I was enjoying the moderate solitude of the event and the surrounds were truly stunning and as I hadn’t been to the Trossachs before I considered this a real opportunity.

I bimbled along the route until arriving into the first checkpoint where I was greeted by some of the lovely race volunteers – water, timing point and importantly a toilet where on offer and I was grateful for the water as my own supply was being quickly exhausted by the conditions which felt a little muggy on this side of the loch (and I do poorly once conditions warm up)!

After a lovely little chat with the checkpoint team I headed out again with a greater understanding of the task at hand. Having trundled along one side of Loch Earn it was now time to travel the opposite side and head to the finish – with just the small matter of Ben Vorlich to negotiate.

Where the first section had been the old converted railway line, this track was the road that ran alongside the loch. Even though it was festooned with signs saying this was ‘walker and cyclist friendly’ I was unconvinced and therefore happy, whenever I met a vehicular foe, to step aside into the undergrowth to allow them to pass. This slowed my progress to the climb and had I been either braver or faster I would probably have made life a little tighter for the drivers, but I’m not, so I didn’t.

There was a gentle breeze around the water which made for pleasant running but still I was hugely grateful to see the checkpoint and my drop bag full of goodies. I helped myself to two chocolate milkshakes, a curry pie and a caramel Freddo (yes I know how to live it up) and also caught up with Ed who was looking for his first ultra finish.

He asked, ‘still going up?’

To which my reply was, ‘of course’.

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It was at this point that the race leader flew into the checkpoint and I felt that actually I must be doing okay as he was only an up and down faster than I was! and so with a cheery wave to the volunteers I headed up – little knowing what was awaiting me.

How much I regretted that decision on the way up – but I wasn’t to fully appreciate that until about 20 minutes into my ascent as realisation crept across my brow. As I started my ascent I noted the succession of runners all making their way down, all looking strong, all contenders for the lead if truth be told, whereas I looked out of place and exhausted – but regardless I moved relentlessly forward.

I had also noted that some of the runners where choosing to use poles – something that I had considered but then given I came to Scotland to learn how to race up mountains without poles it seemed silly to use them here, as this was a genuine test of my training in the nearby home hills. However, as I passed the RD by the side of the path, counting us on the mountain and off it, I regretted my poles decision but, I put in all the effort I could and even when the weather started to close in I simply put on my jacket and dug in.

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The path up Ben Vorlich is clear and easy to follow but it’s rocky, technically demanding and unrelentingly steep with a number of little false summits that lull you into a false sense of completion.

I lumbered my way up and around the loose rock, bruising the underside of my feet as I leaped over sections of tricky wet rock and landing upon sharp jagged stones. As each metre was added to my Suunto ascent total I knew I was slowly nearing the top and as the final peak to the top of the Ben presented itself I pushed hard into the mist – determined to make it.

Being scared of heights made this all the more terrifying at the final moment and I bent down to hands and knees as I thundered that final 10 metres of climb to touch the trig point and grab some photographs. I probably spent 10 minutes up there admiring the view before I remembered this was a race and quickly set off. I say quickly but when you look down from Ben Vorlich you realise just how steep it is and you are forced to slow down. Here I saw Ed for what would be the final time and for the first time I realised that if I wanted to finish anything other than last I would have to move quicker.

 

Once clear of the most severe of the descent I pressed harder down the hill, throwing myself at the rocks and refusing to slow until I saw the RD once more. ‘Alright?’ he said. ‘Got what I came for,’ I replied, ‘to climb Ben Vorlich’ and with that I said goodbye and pressed downwards to the checkpoint once more. My legs were like jelly when I hit the bottom but despite this I offered two young ladies (I’ll assume related to the marshalls) a race back to the checkpoint – which while a physical mistake was a brilliant boost mentally.

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I spent a few minutes with the checkpoint guys, again – properly awesome – and then kicked on knowing that the Ben Vorlich Ultra, for me, had gone from a test of the physical to a test of mental strength. My legs were battered to pieces but I knew they would make it – the problem was going to be knowing that I would be retracing my steps back to the finish and knowing that I had finished with the superb views of mountains. However, there was still the remainder of Loch Earn to negotiate and given how my body was feeling this too was going to be testing. I walked a couple of those road kilometres to try and reduce the effect on my back, hip flexor, right calf and bowels but when I got back to the turn for home I knew I had to start running again.

Thankfully it was about here that the rain kicks in properly and I felt quite content jumping back into my beloved Montane Minimus and I adopted the faithful run/walk strategy through the next 12km or so and it wasn’t until I knew I was in the home strait that I was willing to open the taps a little more and on the old railway I began to run. I smiled as I passed through Comrie and I upped the pace a little further through the trails, refusing to slow even when the waist high grass soaked my feet – I could smell home or so I thought.

The GPS route shouted at me, ‘you’re here’ but as I looked around I can assure you I wasn’t! Frantic I looked round for a sign, it looked so familiar but I was in meltdown – I called the GingaNinja and said, ‘I’m at Cultybraggan Farm but I don’t know where…’ and as I turned round I saw the old barracks in the distance. I’ll be honest I let out a little tear and then put my foot on the accelerator – I ran to the gates and saw my daughter waiting at the far end. I dare not disappoint and so I gave it all I had as she gave some welly to the cow bells.

As I approached ASK she asked to run those final few metres with me and so as a family we all crossed the line. Awesome. Never have I been so happy to finish a race.

Damn good but brutal fun.

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Key points

  • Distance: 60km (ish)
  • Profile: Deceptive and killer
  • Date: July 2019
  • Location: Loch Earn
  • Cost: £55
  • Terrain: Very Mixed
  • Tough Rating: 2.5/5

Route
This is an odd one as I really hate tarmac and there was a decent amount of tarmac here but there was also a decent amount of trail, the views for the most part were spectacular and the route would cover most bases for all but the most dogmatic of trail runners. Therefore I have to say I really, genuinely enjoyed it.

Obviously I was there for Ben Vorlich itself and so the low road that ignored it would not have interested me as much but the going up the mountain really makes this a race to do. That said the route without the mountain climb would make for a really good and fast short distance ultra with only a few hundred metres of climb across the 50km. Ultimately the route has a little bit of something for everyone. I’d say if you’re looking to move up from marathon then the 50km is ace, if you like a bit of tough as old boots climbing then the 60km will test you and if you like something else we’ll you’ll probably enjoy it anyway.

Organisation
I was supposed to run the Ochil Ultra last year with Wee Run Events but given I was moving up to Scotland that day I had to DNS. Therefore I was very much looking forward to meeting the guys as I’d heard the Ochils was a really nice, well organised event. It’s worth taking into account this was a first running of the Ben Vorlich Ultra and as an inaugural event though you expect the team to be ironing things out a little as they find their feet but actually it all seemed pretty smooth – yes there was a minor delay in setting off but this served only to make sure that as many people as possible set off together. The checkpoints were sound and there was water at every stop – what more do you need? The route signage was really good, the marshals were all brilliant, the supplied map was okay, there was tracking and a timing chip and most importantly there was a good base camp which meant your supporters didn’t have to freeze to death. Perhaps the greatest compliment I can bestow is that the RDs looked very much liked they cared about the race and the runners.

Awards
Nicely designed vest (would love a technical version of it, even if this was a race extra) and a cute bespoke wooden medal which was really nice. All the Scottish races I’ve done so far have avoided too many frills and this was no exception the focus has instead been on a couple of really nice items rather than lots of rubbish.

Value for Money
This is always very subjective but the Ben Vorlich Ultra was well organised and well executed. The bespoke medal, cheery volunteers and live tracking, for me, ensure this is well on the right side of good value. As runners you don’t always get to see how much hard work goes on behind the scenes but these guys earned much kudos and I have no hesitation in saying you’d feel it was money well spent if you signed up for the 2020 edition of the Ben Vorlich Ultra.

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Conclusion
Interesting route, great mountain to climb and a lovely medal for completing a tough ultra at the shorter end of the distances we run. Don’t be fooled though and do not underestimate the challenge of Ben Vorlich on the high or the low route as it will give you a kicking if you fail to show respect. The organising team and the volunteers were fabulous on the day and deserve a lot of credit for making it a smooth and enjoyable experience.

I had my issues on the day such as a lack of fitness and a tummy that has been giving me some grief recently (and a rusty bullet hole post race that is so hot I dare not go near it) but that has nothing to do with my conclusions about the race I just wanted to ensure that you, dear reader, understand that despite my relative lack of action both in running and blogging I’ll never forget to add a bit of poo to a race tale.

On a more serious note there are improvements that could be made – a bit more trail running on the route in the second half would make it easier on jelly legs and perhaps an FAQ section on the website to answer questions like, ‘can you use poles?’

Both of these I feel would elevate a really good race to an unmissable race. However, take nothing away from this event it was brilliant and it’s small tweaks rather than significant change that I feel would benefit everyone. The one significant change I might consider would be a single start time – I do like the starting with everyone else and think it might make it easier logistically for the race team but then I can see the flip side that it’s not a massive distance and so you are enabling runners from further afield to attend.

Ultimately I’d give this a go, it’s an unusual ultra but all the better for defying expectations and if I can offer one recommendation and that is I’d always take the high road – it really is worth it. And if it’s any measure of how much I enjoyed it, yes I would certainly go again.

You can find out more at benvorlichultra.run

As I ambled around the Vigo Tough Love 10 I spent my time contemplating just how I might start this blog post and I could find no appropriate way to say what I was feeling and so we are starting like this.

There’s never an easy way to say goodbye and Vigo almost had me in tears (at miles 1 through to 9 and of course at the end) but that’s more about the course than the emotional end that Vigo Runners provided.

However, let me roll back 450 miles and a day or so earlier to when I was hammering down the M6 to the south with thoughts of my final days in the Kentish sunshine and another ding dong with the mud of the Vigo Tough Love 10.

The last year has left me a tad overweight, incredibly unfit, brutally broken and with nothing left in the tank – so the thought of driving a 900 mile round trip, loading up a van full of the last vestiges of our life here AND running the greatest race ever conceived seemed to be a cruelty that I did not need to put my body through. However, the Vigo Tough Love 10 has provided years of joy to me and one last opportunity to run it seemed like the ideal sign off.

We rolled up to the familiar sight of the Vigo running club on Sunday morning not in the best of moods – sleeping on a child’s picnic mat for the previous evening, having to make a pre-race trip to the local tip and then smacking my head into a car door were not ideal preparation. However, I was greeted in the warmest possible way when the race organiser called out ‘ultraboy’. Somewhat surprised by the recognition I found myself having a lovely chat and suddenly the day felt warmer as I waxed lyrical about my love of the event and my sadness about this (probably) being my final visit.

Post chat I took my place in the queue for number collection and I was surrounded by familiar faces both well known and less so but all welcome sights and I could feel myself getting, as the GingaNinja puts it, ‘totsemosh’. The efficiency of number collection was brilliant by the way, the very minor problem of the previous year had been ironed out – so well done guys.

All I could do really was to take in my beautiful surroundings and the lovely weather but most importantly was the wonderful atmosphere that seems to have grown year on year.

I love small races and small fields – yet even as this race grows it retains all the joy and friendliness that I have associated with it since I first took to the start line in 2014.

Anyways 10.30am rolled around (yes a nice time in the morning for a race!) I ambled to the back of the pack and listened to the safety briefing and sponsor gubbins and this year the bang of the cannon was finally replaced by a sound not so cannon like! But we were off and I started to gently pick my way through the field of runners.

We ran the traditional route round the rugby pitch and even here I could feel my poor old feet and lungs burning – today, I could tell, was going to be a long day. I was very grateful when we came across the first of the log leaps and there was a short queue and here I came across a runner who last year I had met as he was limping bloodied and injured about halfway in – lovely to see him back and looking strong.

The brief stop prepared me for the lovely first stretch of mud and for my part I looked lovingly over the oozy mud. Sadly Kent must have had a patch of good weather as the route was very runnable and probably the most runnable I’d ever seen it. However, let me assure thrillseekers that despite the excellent conditions there was still plenty of filthy action to get you aroused!

It still amazes me though that some runners had chosen to run in road shoes, I (relatively sensibly) had opted for the Altra King MT and I had full confidence that they would handle pretty much anything.

And so it was.

While others picked there way through the sides of the mud I simply bounded through it like a puppy. I was a literal pig in muddy poo, oh how I could have simply lain in the muddiness!

My mood was improving dramatically with every step and I delighted in dancing through the trails and chatting to the runners – mostly me talking at people, mocking my own stupidity for attempting this with so much else going on. But the V10 is the kind of race where you do chat to fellow runners and you do share your trail running stories, it’s all part of that very friendly vibe that reverberates through every level of the event.

As the miles passed by I was reminded once again how Vigo feels so open and crammed in all at the same time – one second you’re in tight woodland and then suddenly you’re in great expanses of green and for miles and miles you feel like you’re in the trail maze. Uphills become downhills and vice versa – it’s an unending smorgasbord of beauty and brutality on your legs and your wits and it will catch you out if you fail to respect it.

It’s a brilliant route and I have lots of respect for the V10m.

But it wasn’t going to be my day in terms of good running so I hiked quickly the harder hills and gave it ‘the beans’ where I could. Vigo really was going to test my mental, emotional and physical endurance today.

The good news was that as the naughty thoughts of failure flickered across my mind my favourite downhill was upon me! The downhill sits around halfway through the race and I always feel you’re entering a tunnel of trees – here you see the cautious not wanting to risk anything but as an old hand I could turn the volume up to 11 and simply go.

And go I did.

More than usual I really hurtled down the trail and found myself coming over the log at the bottom with such enthusiasm that you’d have thought there was a 4 pack of cream eggs waiting for me!

Instead, at the bottom, was another of the brilliant marshalling team. I carried on through the open field and saw the climb up to the halfway hill of horror, weirdly behind me I could here the sound of runners – running! ‘Running?’ I hear you cry, ‘up a hill?’

I’ll be honest I knew that walking up this hill would save me for later in the race and both knees and feet would thank me for not running up the tarmac climb. But I was mightily impressed that many at the back of the pack where showing a lot more grit than I was!

Once clear of the summit I returned to running and cut gently through the swathes of delicious Kentish countryside while grabbing greedily at the proffered jelly babies (nice ones too – haribo rather than bassets I reckon). The only problem was that conditions were a little too warm for me and I’d already dispensed with my undershirt but the ground, due to the glorious conditions, was much tougher than anticipated and therefore my King MT in the final 5km were a little hard going and my Lone Peaks might have been a better on the day choice.

Still I bounced merrily along the final downhill and prepared for the long, slow slog up the final hill. Most might call this heartbreak hill or some other such valentines related nonsense but I simply refer to it as, ‘friend’. The final hill reminds me of the many good times I’ve endured clambering to the top, breathless with joy, exhaustion and excitement, it’s a fine climb and one that gives this race a special place in all our hearts.

As I slowly clambered upwards I laughed and joked with the other runners and recounted my history with the race and just how happily willing I was to travel from Scotland for this event.

Near the top of the hill there was a tremendous amount of encouragement for all the runners and as ever there was a marshall to give you that final shove if the hill had gotten the better of you.

At the top I shared a slurp of water with another runner and we both set off – having a little chat and bimbling our way to the finish. Then with less than a mile to go my toes curled in under my foot and the worst cramp I’ve ever experienced – I’ll admit I let out a series of howls and expletives. I tried running but there was nothing, I stopped to try and stretch but the magnificent pain just forced itself deeper into my foot.

Bloody hell I was so near – it cannot end like this.

I stood for a few moments and started to stretch my toes out but the little buggers were like claws and refused to open. Sod this I thought as a marshall approached and asked if I needed help – thanking him I said, ‘no’ and with one final effort I pushed the afterburner button and thrust myself forward into the trees. I knew I was going to make it but the question I had to ask myself was ‘how do you want to make it?’

The answer I concluded was with a roar.

In the distance I could see the two young cadets guarding the entrance to final run in and despite their warnings of the log I hurled myself over it – all prepared for one final blast down the runway to the finish line.

But then I stopped.

There was my family and the GingaNinja said to me, ‘she wants to run with you’.

Let my assure dear reader – this was going to be the perfect end to my Vigo journey. ASK grabbed my hand and told me, ‘we’re going to win dad’.

I’ll be honest I could have come last and I would have won today – this was brilliant and in the distance I could hear the call of the PA system cry out my variety of known names but on a race day, on a day like this, I’m definitely ultraboy!

ASK and I hammered those final couple of hundred metres home, I watched as she strode across the line and behind me and all around me I could hear the cheers of the remaining runners and the gentle congratulations of my daughter. Cuddles ensured and photographs taken and a medal was placed proudly round my daughters neck.

I may have run like the old man I’ve become but this remains the greatest race in the UK, my greatest race and what happened next is proof of that…

But we’ll get to that later.

Key Points

Distance: 10miles (10km option available)
Profile: a hilly calf destroyer
Date: Valentines weekend
Location: Vigo, Kent
Cost: £20
Terrain: Muddy and damn fine fun
Tough Rating: 3/5

Route: I’ve written several times about the route and I’ve waxed lyrical about the up and down nature of running around Vigo and this lovely part of Kent. I suppose the reason I really love this route is that in February it has everything, it’s wet and it’s dry, it’s hard and soft, you’ll come out of the event covered in mud, maybe even a bit bloodied if you get lucky and you’ll not have a single minute when you’re bored. This is a route that you’ll finish and immediately want to go back to again.

Organisation: I’m sure that 2018 will one day be remembered as ‘that year’ where there was a bit of a mix up with race numbers. However, having done this a five times now I can say that the organisation has always been first class and 2019 was no different – the team from Vigo Runners and Harvel Hash Harriers really do know how to organise a race and race number collection this year was better, faster and smoother than ever.

The marshalling points are all perfectly placed for directions and support, you always receive knowledgeable people guiding you and there’s a friendliness from all those involved in the organisation that makes this truly welcoming.

Support: The rugby club at Vigo which hosts the start line and provides the facilities pre-and post-race is a great way to ensure that there’s a good level of support to send the runners on their way plus the club itself shows its ongoing community spirit by allowing a load of stinky trail runners in through its doors! The indoor facilities such as the toilets, food options and changing rooms (and ample toilet roll) make this a comfortable wait for the runners, there no standing round in the cold – it’s simply catering well to a runners pre-race needs!

As mentioned the marshalling team are all top notch and you can’t fault them and you can’t praise them enough.

Value for Money: Value for money is always a difficult thing to measure but with Vigo you are getting both an awesome experience as well a mars bar, some love hearts and a really decent medal. Thrown in some really excellent support, a couple of water stations and a route to die for and you get brilliant value in your race.

Social Media / Communication: I’ve started looking at the way races communicate with it’s runners and how it advertises them (and I admit some bias here as my previous blog posts about the event get recommended to be read in their comms sometimes). Vigo Runners get the balance snooty right between too much and too little but I’d love to see more video content, more interaction throughout the year to help further build this ‘must-do’ race. The good news is though is that they don’t do it all through Facebook – they still do email race instructions and this I feel is a positive as not everyone likes or has social media. So basically I hope they keep doing exactly what they’re doing and will continue to build up this aspect of the race advertising.

Post Race Mentions: After I crossed the finish line there was a blur – lots of congratulations (despite this being my slowest ever Vigo), there was me congratulating other runners and there was ASK disappearing from my sight as I had my tuning chip removed and crying as she couldn’t find the GingaNinja.

I was starting to head out when a runner (the name eludes me but then it’s been a mad weekend) spoke to me and we briefly got chatting about her taking on the awesome upcoming Green Man Ultra. Weirdly we also had a selfie moment which was surprisingly odd – as it felt a little too much like celebrity – especially when it was followed by the race organisers coming over and saying, ‘we’ve been calling your name for ages’. I limped over to the starting area and there was the Vigo & Harvel top brass with a trophy and a HAGGIS! To say thank you for the support I’ve shown over my years running with them.

Now firstly, I love Haggis, secondly I love this race and thirdly – thank you so very much for this. I really don’t write the blog for reward, I write it because I want people to go to races that I’ve really enjoyed. And I’ve consistently said this is my favourite race and if this is to be my final time at Vigo then I’ll both be very sad and very grateful for the opportunity of running it and writing about it.

Conclusion: My apologies for this intentionally gushy and rather emotional post about the Vigo Tough Love 10 Mile. In 2019 I loved it as much as I loved it when it was all new in 2014 – it’s an event and a race that will bring you joy and if you are local or from further afield you should make the effort to join in – you will never be disappointed by running the Vigo 10. And while I say this will be my last time, my fifth time will never feel like enough and who knows – maybe next year I’ll discreetly turn up and run a decent time. We shall see. However, if I leave a Vigo legacy it this – I hope that some of you will be inspired to sign-up because you wanted a bit of the joy I felt when my feet slurped through that mud.

Thank you to everyone involved and keep doing what you’re doing. Brilliant event.

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‘I’m not a people person, it’s fair to say I mostly don’t like people – which I guess is why I’m here and not on the South Downs Way 50 today – I wanted a race where I can be mainly unknown and anonymous’. A comment I made to one of the runners at the wonderfully fun Testway Ultra this weekend – a race I’m very glad I attended, despite the state I find myself in now.

Let’s roll back to about 5.57am the morning of the race as I jumped behind the wheel of ‘Spusum’ my little Aygo with ASKruns and the GingaNinja in tow. As we thundered out of Kent I remember saying to myself that ‘I mustn’t let the trauma of driving force my shoulders up around my ears’ but that didn’t happen, I recall saying to myself ‘lucky that my cold had cleared up for the race today’ it hadn’t and at the first gear change as I felt my hamstring a bit I remembered how destroyed the Silkin Way has left me. Let’s say that I had a few concerns about my appearance at the Testway Ultra.

However, with the Fellsman a mere three weeks away, the West Highland Way Challenge only seven weeks away and the Arran ultra only ten weeks away I felt I needed to take the risk of running a reasonable distance event that had a decent element of toughness.

Welcome to the Testway Ultra.

On paper (or rather GPX) this doesn’t look tough at all, there’s more than enough trail (although a couple of significant tarmac sections), the elevation profile suggested that although not flat there were no hideous climbs, conditions were a bit muddy but nothing that any trail marathon or ultra runner wouldn’t have seen before and so you’d go into this thinking that it was a pleasant 44 mile trot.

Ha! The Testway Ultra has a few surprises up its sleeves though to ensure that you were getting good value for money and in short, I can happily report that this was awesomely good fun.

When I arrived at the start I grabbed my number and then went and hid on the back seat of the car away from the rain, dipping out only when the toilet queue had subsided enough to squeeze out a pre race number one, but sadly not a number two (a problem that would come back to bite about 15 miles later in the race). The start was well organised, very efficient and all the runners were slowly marshalled to the start line at the top of the hill on time and in good order. Here I met the amazing runner @TonySharkey who I’ve known a bit through Twitter and I find it’s always lovely to meet the people who you look at with great admiration. He was clearly going to hammer out a time that would make me look like I wasn’t moving but we chatted for a few minutes and when the start came we wished each other well.

For the record he did hammer out a fantastic a time!

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As for me I set off at an unusually swift pace and given that my training has taken something of a nosedive of late this seemed an odd choice. However, the beautiful setting and the rolling vistas ahead of me ensured I was in good spirits as I bimbled my way through the miles. The weather was being cool but dry or as I would like to say, the weather was being kind and the route was very runnable. This was a far cry from the tarmac trails of two weeks ago, my hamstring and groin were in seventh heaven…

Well for the first miles…

I’ve come to the conclusion that I must have a self destruct button somewhere as about five miles in I felt all the angst of pain running through my back simply explode. There wasn’t an ‘ache, ache, ache, bang’ – no there was just ‘bang’. I looked around at my surroundings and pressed heavily into the area where there was pain – it was tender, it was sore and the resting on my back of my last comfortable race vest was causing shooting pains of agony. Bugger.

I looked down at my watch and saw that the number of kilometres run was a mere 8.56 – some way short of the required 70(ish)km. I slowed for a while to gather my thoughts… injury, Fellsman, West Highland Way, another DNF, pain, early into the race…

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I decided that I had to at least checkpoint 1, if nothing else rescue would require longer than it would take to hobble to a limp CP1 finish. I did however promise myself that if I arrived into the checkpoint in good time then I would push on through to CP2.

Of course, I ended up arriving into the first stop in good time and after two cups of cola I headed out quickly (basically before I convinced myself to DNF) and issuing a million thanks to the volunteers and supporters. The issue here was that the first checkpoint wasn’t 10 miles away from the start, it was about 9 miles and second checkpoint wasn’t 10 miles either this was at least a couple extra and this resulted in a problem.

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Checkpoint 1 to checkpoint 2 was where it started to heat up, temperature wise and trouble wise. The cold I’d been recovering from added fuel to my already injury laden self. I was taking on lots of fluid but I soon realised that my 600ml wasn’t going to be sufficient and began rationing myself. Thankfully I had the lovely course to encourage myself with and a lovely runner called Dave, who would be my sometime companion over the next few miles but with my back in pieces, water running low I did wonder what the hell else could go wrong! It seems that in my head somebody was listening and decided that, about 15 miles in, that I needed a loo stop but with no really discreet place to go I decided to amble ever forwards – a decision I would regret long into the night as my efforts in the Vaseline department had been left rather wanting and lets put it like this the rusty bullet hole seemed more like a fresh shooting had happened in the chaffing department.

However, all this said my spirits were surprisingly good and this was mainly because I knew that I would reach checkpoint 2 long after it was sensible to continue – sadly I didn’t. I was well within the time I had allocated to myself and as I arrived at checkpoint 2 I felt a pang of, ‘oh god I’ve still got another marathon to go’. The great thing was that the company I’d been keeping to this point had been lovely and the ace guys and gals at the checkpoint were amazing – listening to my endless list of aches of pains as I munched my way through their jelly beans and cola.

Still the weather was fine, I had survived my water shortage and it seemed rather silly to drop out now. For a little while I picked up the pace again to see if a different stride pattern might help alleviate the stress on my back (it didn’t) and I bimbled my way past another lovely volunteer (all of whom I tried to have a little joke or three with as they clapped and cheered me on). I strode purposefully up the hill where I found another lovely volunteer giving me directions down towards a river section, ‘6 miles of flat canal like running’ he promised. I’m sure he meant this as a kindness but to me the flat would be a killer and as I stomped off down the hill I began a slow and steady trudge towards the third checkpoint.

I decided that as time was on my side and I wasn’t going to be winning any prizes for my pace I’d slow down for this section and save my legs for what I suspected would be a more difficult back end.

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This turned out to be the first really good decision I had made and I strode purposefully through the route with bits of running thrown in for good measure and though there had been a few miles of running by a river and busy roads the route remained mostly reasonably interesting and there were enough passers-by offering thumbs up to feel like a nice atmosphere on what was fast becoming my sweaty evening stroll.

Soon though I drifted into the third checkpoint, the bad news was that cola was in short supply and but I had thankfully arrived before the glut of runners behind me (sorry guys it was me who finished the cola off). It was here that I met the runner who defined the remainder of my race and helped ensure that I finished my latest foray into the ultra marathon world. However, first let me mention the lovely Louise (a lady I had met at the start of the event) and we crossed paths again when she caught me up at around mile 30, we found ourselves running together for a little while and chewing the fat over the ridiculousness of our race schedules and the silly things we often find ourselves doing. However, somewhere along the line I lost Louise as I had also been chatting with Kain and Francesca (I did check the spelling of the names of both of my fellow runners!) the other two runners who I’d fallen in with.

As I said earlier at the third checkpoint I’d met the runner who would pretty much define my race and this was the very wonderful Francesca. A lady with a quick wit, a cheery and chatty personality and a desire to finish. It seemed we were both travelling at roughly the same speed and so found ourselves developing a groove through the tough final stages. Our chatter and laughter pushed us through the worst of the mud and the water and whenever things would get a bit tough we’d throw out a bit of a funny line or words of encouragement. I’ve been Francesca – new to the ultra world but keen and determined to finish, she reminded me a little bit of Elaine, that I ran the latter stages of the Green Man Ultra (read about that here) with and that race and that partnership had been a real favourite of mine. This experience wold turn out to be just as rewarding, hopefully for both of us, I can certainly say that having the support of a fellow runner and somebody to take my mind off the hideous pain my back was in gave me all the drive I needed to push on. It’s fair to say that my running improved alongside Francesca and I found myself willing to push on that little bit faster whenever we were able. It is also true that the latter stages of the race though were my favourite as I love nothing more than sloshing about in the mud and the crap, picking my way through the route and bouncing through the worst of the mud, sending it cascading up and down my legs!

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As the miles came crashing down we once again felt that the accuracy of the checkpoint locations wasn’t quite as up to scratch as the rest of the race! We rolled into the final checkpoint with Suunto reading as less than 3km to the finish but with the volunteers reporting that there were 3 miles remaining – the truth is that it was somewhere in between, but when you’re tired and sore all you want is some assurance that you need to go no further than is absolutely necessary. Once more at the checkpoint I played the roll of flirty jester, offering a nod and wink to the lovely volunteer with the wonderful beard and twinkled my smile at the lady I’d joked earlier could have taken my place in the race – there should always be time for a bit of fun with the volunteers.

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Anyway, we set off for home, the knowledge that we would make it before dark was also handy as one of us was short of a headtorch and I was concerned how we might fare if we lost the light before the end of the race. Thankfully we ran across the wooden path over the marshland in excellent time and took a few seconds as we re-entered civilisation to ensure we were going the right way. A gentleman began walking towards us, very nicely dressed I noted and gave s a hearty thumbs up and welcome, ‘300m and you’re there’ – I could have kissed him, instead I simply hugged him.

As we headed off I recounted the tale of Jimmy McKenna, the only person that ever served as running coach to me (I was a mere 7 years old) and one lesson has always stuck with me, ‘it doesn’t matter how you’ve run, always finish strong’ and so with uncharacteristic ease I slipped into full throttle mode with Francesca and we hurtled towards the finish and ensured that we crossed the line together.

What a day.

Key points

  • Distance: 44 miles
  • Profile: Deceptively challenging
  • Date: April 2018
  • Location: Coombe Gibbet
  • Cost: £50
  • Terrain: Trail (and a some tarmac)
  • Tough Rating: 2/5

Route: The route was really lovely in places with nothing unpleasant (well except for a flat six miles in the middle but I think most people would enjoy this as a respite for the undulation). The views in parts were beautiful and the trail was mixed up enough that it never felt like it was going to get dull. The excellent thing about the route was that the good parts were spread throughout the route and the less interesting parts were equally spread. Sometimes a race can have all of its excitement in a very confined space but the route of the Testway is fun and varied. It is also much tougher than the GPX file suggests and I saw many a tough race shirt on the start line (Dragons Back, Centurion and MdS finishers) so go into this expecting a fun and rewarding day at the office.

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Organisation: Organisation can be a tough one to get right, especially on a point to point when you have to ferry runners to the start early in the morning but Andover Trail Runners showed real skill in handling the event and the runners. Number collection was easy and the on the course volunteers who manned all the major road crossings were awesome. The provided GPX file was a welcome addition to the race pack and the on course markings were pretty good mostly (although it was noted that towards the end there were significantly less of them to aid direction – though signs do get removed by scallywags periodically).

Support: The team at the start, the finish and on the course was excellent, thank you to all of you. The volunteers were amazing and the support crews were in fine cheer for all the runners not just their own. The checkpoints were pretty good with a decent selection of savoury and sweet items, the only minor downside was the running our of cola, but I’m sure this will be rectified for the next running. The only other comment I would add is that it might be worthwhile considering adding water stop(s) to some of the road crossings – on a hotter day 10+ miles between checkpoints can be a long distance to go if you’ve run low on water and the road crossing guys were perfectly positioned as a spare water stop – just a thought.

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Awards: Lovely medal, some awesome photographs and a great day. What more do you need?

Value for money: £50? Bargain.

Mentions: I’m not normally one for special mentions however thanks to Tony, Dave, Louise, Rachael, Louise and especially Francesca who made the Testway Ultra a really fun event for me. Oh and thanks to Sam Arnold (and the other wonderful photographer whose name eludes me) who was taking photographs of the runners and captured me doing my, ‘staring into the middle distance’, ‘moulding of a fool’, ‘Hamlet cigars advert’ and ‘Heavy Landing’.

 

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Conclusion: I’d run this again, I’d want to train a bit better for it but the whole experience left me with a generally positive feeling, the distance wasn’t so far for it be a main spring ultra marathon but it would serve as a truly great warm up for a 75 or a 100. It wold also be a great step up for trail marathon runners who fancy a nice big meaty step up. The guys at Andover Trail Runners deserve a lot of credit for putting on an event that gave so much joy and I hope it runs for many years to come. Check out Andover Trail Runners at their website

Now the big question is will my back and other issues recover enough in time for The Fellsman and the West Highland Way Challenge? Well that remains to be seen – until next time, adios and have fun running!

Gallery: Now available at ultraboygallery.wordpress.com, my photographs (and those from the race photographers) from the event.

They bet me I couldn’t down a pint of whiskey and still be sober later – I downed the whiskey and next remember being in a police cell being offered sausage and eggs covered in my own vomit and probably my own piss. Needless to say the first thing I did upon my release was to head over to the house of the girl I fancied and ask, ‘what the bollocks happened…’

She told me I should go home and shower.

I did.

I never dated that girl.

That was one of the many anecdotes I told as I bimbled and bumbled around the Silkin Way Ultra this last weekend. It was a funny race and something I was completely unprepared for but it was all good fun in the end. But before we reach the conclusion we need the journey and this is what happened.

It was 2am when my alarm went off, I’d gotten to bed at around 11pm due to having run out of printer ink and needing to handwrite the narrative route instructions, so when I awoke I wasn’t in that great a mood. However, a shower and a thick slathering of Vaseline’s finest around my nuts offered the usual level of excellent preparation. I had to two large coffees and a bowl of Cornflakes before I left the house at 3am and took position behind the wheel of Spusm, my little Toyota Aygo. I wished us both well because a) it was 3am in the morning b) there was heavy rain and c) this was my first significant drive without anyone else in the car with me and I was about to drive 3 and a half hours to Shropshire.

Vroom! Vroom! Thankfully aside from trucks and roadworks the motorways up to Telford were pretty quiet, my only real concern was the rain and I surprised myself when I rolled into Telford Services pre-6am (and pre Burger King being open). This though offered the opportunity for the coffee I’d had earlier to perform its magic and relieve me of my inner poo turmoils and yesterday’s delicious homemade spiced Indian meatballs. With no second breakfast options I headed over to the Village Hall in Coalport and took a wander down by the river as even the race organisers hadn’t arrived.

Denzil and the guys arrived not long after me and began setting up, I did offer to help but they had everything under control and so I returned to the relative comfort of the car and looked out for the other runners coming in. I chatted with several lovely Marathon and ultra regulars – all of whom were new to me, which was one of the benefits of being so far from home at a relatively small and quite new event. I chatted with others mainly about upcoming events and my fears about the Fellsman in four weeks but more immediately – how the hell you drive home after an ultra marathon!! Anyway with all the guff and gubbins done we ambled to the start and with a lovely low key start Denzil sent us on our way.

I ambled up to the Silkin Way and started to pick out my position in the instructions – with no GPX file I’d be reliant on these and the very handy chalk markings (thanks to Jon I believe) on the route. I started out at far too fast a pace and got rather caught up chatting with future ultra star Emily who bounced around the route like the Energiser Bunny but I knew her pace was going to outstrip mine and so about 5km I said adios and watched as she thundered off into the distance. From there I was able to ease off a little as it became clear to me this wasn’t going to a trail race and it’s been a very long time since I’d even tried to run long distance on tarmac and paths like this. Within 7km I could feel my knee, groin and hamstring in my left leg and by 10km I was in pain, however, if I slowed now I knew that I’d be getting back at the top end of the eight hour time limit and I really didn’t want that – so I pressed on.

The route itself was pleasant and we passed through sections of Telford that gave a nice impression of the area and harked back to much of the towns heritage. The route and the Silkin Way had many people out walking, though it was never too busy to be congested and we passed several big lovely parks and open spaces that the locals were using. On a nice morning like this it was lovely to see. I’d only been to Shropshire once previously where I went fruit picking with some old friends (although my hopes had mainly been in the seduction of French girls rather than pulling Gooseberries all day). This trip to Shropshire was for an entirely different kind of loving – my love of running.

However, as much as I love running with only 20km done I was feeling the burning heat of pain in my groin and I was grateful a couple of miles later when I reached the second checkpoint. This wonderful stop was rather handily was in one of the organisers homes – a novel and very friendly way of doing it I thought. I grabbed some cola and a few jelly babies before heading back out.

With the second half of the event now under way I was hoping that given this was effectively an out and back I’d be able to avoid the route mistakes I’d made earlier in the race but sadly no – I was still able to get bits wrong. Thankfully the mistakes were smaller and I wasn’t clocking up large extra miles.

It was a few kilometres further in that I would meet the runners that would define my race – there was no doubt I was struggling but people like Nick, Rob and Karen provided fresh inspiration to keep going at a reasonable pace. There was back and forth with these small pockets of runners but I noticed that when I was on my own or they would go past me that I would immediately slow and give in to the voice that said, ‘you’ve ruined yourself, save it for another day’. However, the jollification and support offered by being alongside other runners outweighed the negative thoughts I was having and so I did my best to keep up.

As the miles were counted down I could feel a sense of relief washing over me and when we were given a little bit of trail respite my hamstrings, knees and groin called out in gratitude – these kilometres were my favourite of the day but there simply hadn’t been enough of them to make much of a difference to the pounding the lower half of my body had taken and so I continued to slowly amble merrily along.

We were however soon back on the pavements and being sent across the mighty Ironbridge, sadly for us this glorious structure is undergoing major renovation and restoration work and was therefore completely covered. That said I can certainly say I crossed it and enjoyed the views across the town and river. From here I started clock watching or to be more accurate GPS watching, converting kilometres to miles and trying to figure out just how far was left, the trouble was I’d gone wrong in direction enough to make this futile and turned my gaze to the river and the fact I was on the side opposite to the finish line. Bugger.

All of the runners I was with had a small wobble about halfway before the actual crossing but it was with renewed vigour that we all pressed on for the final mile. Buoyed by the sight of the final directional arrow I burst forward a little ahead of the others and bounced through the car park to the finish.

There was no fanfare, simply Denzil manning the bacon butty wagon. Perfect.

Key points

  • Distance: Ultra 50km
  • Profile: Nothing too severe
  • Date: March 2018
  • Location: Telford
  • Cost: £50
  • Terrain: Mixed (but mainly tarmac paths)
  • Tough Rating: 1/5 (very accessible ultra)

Route: The route had a number of interesting bits, lots of bridges, lots of heritage and passed along some good scenery but that was tempered by the running through some really rather dull sections. The Silkin Way markers were a really nice touch and being made up of good paths the route lends itself to being fast – if you want it to be. The trail sections for me where the best part (though I believe these were off the Silkin Way) but there weren’t enough of them, however, that’s the trail runner in me talking. Ultimately I think you’ll find that this is neither the best nor the worst route you’ll ever do but has more than enough positives to make this a worthwhile run.

Organisation: This was my first time with ‘How Hard Can it Be’ and the hugely enthusiastic team were incredibly professional and wonderfully supportive. It was a relaxed atmosphere and everything was organised perfectly – just the kind of race organisation I enjoy.

Support: Aid station 1 and 3 were the same one on the out and back with aid 2 being in one of the organisers homes which was very nice and my desire to take a seat was sorely tested. Three aid stations was enough albeit the positioning was probably just a wee bit off as you had the final ten miles with no race support (although there was nothing stopping you nipping into the local shop for a bottle of water and/or a snickers!). The aid stations themselves were suitably stocked for the shorter end of the ultra distances with jelly babies, jaffa cakes, crisps, cola and water in abundance. Nothing wrong with the support.

Awards: The medal was weighty and a lovely memento of a challenging event. I also very much liked the design for the race numbers, made a pleasant change from the black number against white background. There was also the post race photograph to look forward too (or grimace at) – as per usual I look terrible!

Value for money: The route, the medal, the experience, the support and of course the cost all come to mind when I’m looking at value – how does this stack up against its contemporaries?

It comes out pretty well – primarily because of the positive experience you’ll have running the Silkin Way and different people will take away different positives from this. For me I got to run an ultra marathon in a new part of the UK, in a friendly, small field of runners with an ace medal and that means I got excellent value for money.

Conclusion: Is this the best ultra marathon in the UK? No it’s not, but is it a really good early spring shakedown ultra that will set you up for races later in the year? Oh yes!

I’d say this race is especially good for road runners who want to dip their toes into ultra marathons but who want to avoid laps or want to avoid mud. It would be excellent if you were looking for a challenging but fast 50km. Would I do it again? If I were looking for a race at this time of year I would certainly consider running this again (although I’d prepare a bit better for the tarmac) as I enjoyed myself more than the pain in my legs suggest. The fact is that races like this draw out, in my opinion, the ultra runners I want to run with and I’ll continue to support races like this for as long as lovely race directors like Denzil (and the team) put them on. Good work guys – you can check out their races at http://www.codrc.co.uk


This is a blog post that pains me to write but because I’ve written glowingly about the Altra Lone Peak 3.0 but feel it is important to provide an update to a problem encountered with my favourite running shoes.

Let me give some context to this post, I’ve purchased three pairs of Altra Lone Peak 3.0 (from Running Warehouse, London City Runner and Northern Runner).

The pair I coveted most were the burnt orange option (Running Warehouse) as I find Altra send the muted colours to the UK which doesn’t fit my running tastes profile.

I fell in love the moment I put them on and more than a couple of hundred kilometres in and I remained in love. It was at this point that I wrote my comparison review of the three main Altra trail running shoes. I couldn’t praise the changes enough, better fit, more robust, interesting design and a polish that had been missing in the 2.5 – these were brilliant.

The other two pairs (bought from independent UK retailers) were saved for racing as I train in Inov8 and On Running shoes mostly. Therefore I went to Haria Extreme with shoes that had just 3 miles on them. Thankfully unleashed on the Martian like terrain the LP3.0 returned nothing but notes of joy as they sang across the race.

What a shoe.

The morning after the race the day before: The day after the race though as I was performing my post race kit clean up I noticed that the toe bumper had come loose – this was unexpected. A total of 85km had been done in the shoes and that didn’t seem much. However, if I’m honest I was more interested in having a nice post race holiday and so packed them away (individually wrapped as ever) and thought no more about them.

For my final races of 2016 – Mouth to Mouth and the Mince Pi – I use older shoes like my Inov8 Race Ultra 290 and Lone Peak 2.0 which have lots of life in them but aren’t in my normal day to day shoe rotation so the LP3.0 stayed packed away well into the new year.

Therefore when 2017 did come calling I still hadn’t given my LP3.0 much consideration and it wasn’t until MIUT rolled round in April that I got them out again to run in.

However, looking at the damage to the toe bumper made me concerned about how they would protect me on the steep descents, more importantly might this damage provide a hazard during the more technical sections?

Being positively minded though I assumed that I had simply had one bad pair and decided to unbox my third pair and rocked up to MIUT in them. This time I was quite aware of the possibility of problems with the shoe and therefore was keen to keep an eye on them. With MIUT though the course was so ball breaking that I soon forgot to check my shoes.

It wasn’t until 50km in with daylight creeping over the horizon that I thought about my footwear and as I was shedding my night time kit and reworking my pack that I noticed that the toe bumper had started to work loose on a fresh out of the box pair!

Not cool. Not cool at all.

It was a massive disappointment because the shoe was so incredibly brilliant as it worked up and down the trails – such a tiny thing was going to ruin my experience.

Three pairs of LP3.0 and two of them failed within 50 miles and while some might argue that you can still use them I don’t feel you can use them for some of the nastier technical trails I was running earlier this year.

What next? I contacted Altra and their care team to tell them of the failures I had experienced, noting the distance I’d run in them, the terrain and as much other information that might help them provide a response.

The care team wrote back swiftly advising that they take this kind of thing seriously and hope that feedback can inform improvements later down the line and that I should in the first instance contact the people I bought the shoes from, which seemed perfectly sensible.

I very much appreciated the response from Altra USA and the reply struck the right tone for a brand on the way up.

As suggested I contacted both Northern Runner and London City Runner who were both very helpful and both offered suggestions as to why they may have failed

  1. ill fitting shoes
  2. washed in a washing machine
  3. temperature of the races I do

Sadly none of these seemed to be the case as I was fitted by Altra people for my Lone Peaks, they’ve never been in a washing machine and neither Madeira or Lanzarote were in extreme temperatures (24-26 degrees).

Northern Runner simply replaced them after seeing the damage on a series of photographs I supplied but because I’d lost my receipt and it had been many months since I’d purchased them it was more difficult for London City Runner – although the Altra supplier did say they would see what they could do*.

I’d like to stress the point that you really can’t fault the customer service, support or help in trying to find a resolution. Altra, Northern City Runner and London City Runner should be commended for dealing with me quickly. Though, it should be noted that it wasn’t replacement footwear that was at the forefront of my thinking, I just wanted to understand if there was a known issue.

The £115 a pair question! The crux of the issue and the thing I couldn’t get an answer for was ‘is this a known problem with the LP3.0?’

Understandably nobody seemed keen to answer this but if the shoe is prone to this particular failure then I simply won’t buy them anymore as at £115 for 50km running that’s a very expensive shoe.

Now it is possible I’m the only person to have suffered the toe bumper coming away but I’m not sure my running style is so distinct as to make me the only person this has happened to.

So the question now being posed is ‘Has anyone else had this problem?’ I’m interested to hear if others have faced this issue or other problems that I’ve been lucky enough to avoid.

The next version? I live in hope that the Lone Peak 3.5 resolves this very minor but hugely inconvenient problem as I’m an Altra fan and a big advocate for giving them a go. I don’t want to start looking around for new brands – it took me long enough to find this one. And in truth despite the durability problems the Altra Lone Peak 3.0 is a buggeringly good running shoe.

So Altra, get it fixed, I’ve got trails to conquer!


*Despite good initial conversations I never got round to visiting London City Runner and returning the original shoes to solve this issue as I got caught out with bouts of illness, injury and racing! Very much my own fault and I would very highly recommend all the retailers mentioned in this post.


…and when I head up to Meriden in a couple of days time I will be crapping myself about what I’ve let myself in for at Escape from Meriden.

Previously on UltraBoyRuns: The year was going so brilliantly, I was training well, running well and dropping weight – I was on it like the proverbial ‘car bonnet’. However, failure at Barcelona albeit for technical reasons and clearly not being good enough to finish Madeira affected confidence and although there was the palette cleanser in the Marlborough Downs I’ve been pretty injured since then and hardly run at all.

Injuries while attempting escape: Neither my heel or my groin injuries have settled but I’ve discovered that the heel pain can be offset by wearing supportive shoes (Altra Olympus please step forward) and my groin seems to be at its worst when I lie down (so I’ll try not to lie down).

Perhaps my major injury concern is my back/kidneys which I haven’t been to get checked out – primarily because I asked to come off my doctors register due to their greedy narrow minded approach to healthy people and I’ve yet to source a suitable alternative – my bad.
The trouble is that whenever I’m running with a race pack for anything over about 8 or 9 miles (regardless of weight and now regardless of bag) my back/kidneys feel like they’re being punched repeatedly. It’s some of the worst pain I’ve ever been in and certainly contributed significantly to my failure at Madeira but now I’m concerned it’s going to ‘rain on my Meriden parade!’

On the run again: My first foray back into running has been the Westminster Mile and while it’s one of my absolute favourite races and favourite distances it does nothing to prepare me for Meriden. There’s no time to catch up on training now and in truth I’m not ready to return to training, I’m only doing this event because I won’t need to compete in the traditional sense. I know I can probably hike the route I’ve got planned inside the time limit and that would be a good test ahead of SW100. 

The original escape plan: Meriden is something new for me with its lack of support and ‘go anywhere’ guide to routing and originally I had planned to be powered through it by a succession of 24hr Tesco and McDonalds. As for the route I was going to lumber out of Meriden and head straight for Charing Cross train station in Central London (which just happens to be outside the 90 mile black medal radius) and pretty much a straight line if you don’t take into account my little diversion across Hampstead Heath and Primrose Hill.

Bish, bash, boom, job done. 

Then I entered for the South Wales 100 which takes place a mere 3 weeks after Meriden and I needed a Plan B.

The revision: Knowing that the GingaNinja would be visiting her mum that weekend I considered a slightly less torturous distance – 123km (74 miles).

I once again planned a pretty straight route down into sunny Wiltshire and found a good stopping point not too far from her parents and also well outside the gold medal 60 mile radius.

The only problem is that this route is not so replete with 24hr supermarkets and fast food joints on every corner. It’s fair to say the route is crammed with beautiful scenery and patisseries but the kind that are only open for about 3hrs a day. I jest a little, there are ample smaller supermarkets but I was hoping to find something open in the middle of the night section for water resupply and this is worrying me a bit. 

However, a trick I picked up on an ultra some years ago suggested that often graveyards will have a drinking water tap… what is an issue is that I’m not sure if there’s something wrong with ambling around a graveyard in the dark looking for water or not – to say my moral compass is conflicted on this should come as no surprise. Survival or creepiness, hmmmm?
Still with no training since Madeira nearly 6 weeks ago I’m figuring I’ve got bigger problems than whether I’ve got enough water.

I’m going to Escape Meriden: This is hardly the Shawshank Redemption but the positives are that I’ve got a planned route, my kit is tested and ready to go, my train is booked and I’m actually looking forward to this new type of truly unsupported running.

Am I genuinely worried? Yes a little bit – most other races I’ve run have people, aid stations and a safety net this strips all that away and gives you just one thing – yourself. But in reality I’m not trapped on Everest or in the middle of the jungle – I’m in the middle of England where the most dangerous thing I’ll come across are Tory voters.

As I tow the start line of Meriden my thoughts will be on people like Ian Brazier and Gareth Jones who last weekend completed their own awesome race efforts at GUCR and Skye Trail Ultras respectively. I’ll be contemplating how hard UltraBaby worked for her Mile medal and I’ll be drawing on 4 years of ultra running experience to get my safely to my finish line.


It would be wildly unfair of me to review the MIUT (Madeira Island Ultra Trail) as I didn’t finish, nor did I get close to finishing and I’d decided I wasn’t going to write anything about my experience until I realised that I want you to understand how amazing an experience this race is and if you want something mind bogglingly tough then you have to do this.

Pre-race
I’d been worried, very worried about all sorts of things like the elevation, the length of time, temperature, etc and upon flying into Madeira my fears proved worthy as I looked at the climb out of the capital city never mind the real mountains! To say I nearly shat myself is an understatement.


My experience
I lined up in Porto Moniz with 750(ish) other runners and when the start came I jostled my way forward a little to look out at the upcoming trail storm. What I was greeted by was the most amazing race I’ve done so far.

From the off set we were climbing, weaving our way out of the town and uphill as quickly as possible. I unfurled my poles within the first kilometre as the realisation of what I was running finally hit me.

The first 1,000 metre climb seemed to be filled with steps and I chose small speedy steps to try and put some distance between me and the cut-off. We reached the real trails within a couple of kilometres and here the runners slowed as the climbing got sharper but I pressed on in what I considered an impressive time and when I reached the top I felt amazing. I stepped briefly to one side to grab some video footage and photographs and listened to the soon to be deafening noise in the distance.


What the hell was it? The answer to that was simple, it was the first of the many small villages and this one happened to be using the acoustics of the valley they lived in to draw the runners to them.


Like all the runners before me I was exhilarated by the welcome and bounded through the town, chest puffed out and a faster than was recommended run through the the throngs of people. From here it was all uphill again and it was a long slow slog through trails I was glad I couldn’t see clearly as it was obvious that I was facing sheer drops as the altitude grew ever higher.

It was somewhere here in the darkness that I had the first of my three falls – stumbling on some rocks that slipped out from beneath my feet and I cracked down on my left hand side, not too hard but enough to shake me. I stopped briefly and checked for blood but I was okay and so proceeded to the top of the ascent before I kicked on towards the 15km marker and the first of the many potential time out zones.


Arriving into check I had 30 minutes spare but it was clear this one was going to be tight all the way round and so I flew out of check with all the speed I could muster.

There’s no doubt that my failure at MIUT was down to the first 30km which brutalised me in ways that I’ve never had before and if I had decided on the shorter 80km distance I’m convinced I would have finished but from the second checkpoint to the third was a tribute to ascending hell and all I could do was hold on and hope that I could pick up the pace later in the race – if there was to be a later in the race!

Reaching summit after summit I realised I was likely to fail in my latest venture and even though before I’d started out that this was unlikely to end up in a finish I didn’t want to go out like this – weeping pitifully.

And then I caught a break – descent.

While my uphills are a bit rubbish I’m actually pretty good on the down. I can run fast and controlled across difficult and technical terrain and even as MIUT called for sometimes (down steps). I was able to take these hard descents faster than those in front of me and therefore I was catching people up – 20 or 30 were caught in about 5 or 6km and I pressed harder and harder through the night. As checkpoints fell I could see many people retiring and this was inspiring me to keep going.

Therefore, while descent was an option I knew I had to go ‘balls out’ if I was stand any chance of making it into respectable distances. And as I drew into the next ascents I pressed myself until I saw the first chinks of light in the day – I’d made it through the night.

So, in some fresh, fast moving water I washed the sweat and the fear away, sun creamed up I pushed on through the early morning light. I was still laughing and joking and soaking up all the views I could. Maybe just maybe I stood a chance…

But perhaps I was soaking in too many views as I found myself caught by a low hanging branch in the face which took my feet out from beneath me. Ouch.

Landing hard on my already tender back I needed a few minutes sit down to clean myself up and check myself over. Blood around my ankle and also in my hair suggested I’d been cut but thankfully not badly and a bit of spit and polish I was fine to resume my endeavours.


The ascent to Encumeada was tough though and as the morning warmed up I began feeling the day kicking me in the guts. I was unable to eat anything other than lemon and orange slices accompanied by large volumes of Pepsi offering recovery in the checkpoints.

The water from my soft bottle tasted unpleasant and was making me feel sick and stomach issues forced a stop to take the bear like option for a poo in the woods and had it been discovered most would have considered this a big, rather sickly bear.

Returning to my ascent I was feeling tired but had managed to mostly retain the gains in position I’d made into the next checkpoint where warm food and tired runners were in abundance. I needed neither and simply filled my water and drank lots of Pepsi before setting out – the words of a fellow runner ringing in my ears ‘this is the hardest section’.

On paper, this statement seemed absurd as it looked much easier than that which had come before but in practice this for me was the most brutal of the sections.

Within a kilometre I sat down on the side of the trail, poles beside me, wanting to give up. A lady plonked herself behind me – presumably considering a rest stop a good idea and we chatted – I complimented her in the excellent choice of ‘loud leggings’ and we overcame the language barrier as her English was pretty good and I was grateful for the natter. We set off together, climbing the length of the gas pipe that snaked across the trail and into the hills once more. I let the young lady go on ahead, telling her she had more in her legs than me – which was true. I then continued at a slow and steady pace but as I ambled up the hills I took my worst tumble. Misjudging a small leap across some rocks, I slipped, face first into those rocks. I slumped, staring into the abyss below me – realising I really wasn’t very far from oblivion.

Minutes passed before I collected myself together, my legs like jelly from a combination of the race and my fall and the heat of the day was now taking its toll.


Despite still mostly running I knew my race was coming to an end – I simply couldn’t go fast enough and my fall had shaken my already shattered confidence.

Shortly after though I met another runner, a Scottish gentleman who gave me enough of a boost and a focus to press on a little while longer but at the top of the ascent I made the inevitable call to the GingaNinja. I knew that I would miss the cut-off, and so it proved – but only by a couple of minutes but that was enough.

I was well beaten.

I stood in the checkpoint with other deflated runners and drank from the litre bottle of Pepsi – swigging it back like it was White Lightning. I’d run my heart out for this one, I’d left nothing inside but I’d come up short.


What did I learn?
I was listening to John Kelly talk about his Barkley Marathons prep in the aftermath of this race and his words resonated deeply with me, especially when he said ‘do things that you’ll fail at, go and get lost…’ This is the journey I’m on now, learning how to succeed and also how to fail.

Importantly I learned that I need to get faster in the climbs because this is why I was timed out. I’m actually pretty fast on the flat and the downhills where I can hold my own against good runners but my ascending is pretty shocking and so I’m going to be working on this with lots of hiking and hill repeats.

I’m very keen to learn from this experience. I’m determined I am going to use it to get stronger and better at these tougher races. If I commit to do more of them, more of this type of training and if I run in locations like Madeira more regularly I will start finishing these races and hopefully run more competitive times, well improved times.

MIUT was the hardest and most brutal event I’ve ever taken part in – whereas I have no doubt that I failed Haria Extreme and UTBCN because of external, non-race related factors I have even less doubt that my failure to finish MIUT was simply because it is beyond my current experience and capabilities.

Any regrets?
Two – the first was my decision to wear the Ultimate Direction PB3.0, a brilliant race pack that simply doesn’t suit me. It’s caused me a huge amount of pain in my back at both the UTBCN and MIUT, sadly I think this will be being consigned to 30 mile ultra pile. The pain I experienced certainly influenced the outcome of this race but not enough to have stopped my time out – this would have been my end result anyway just perhaps a few miles further down the road.

The other thing I regret was family attendance. I believe taking family to these races is a distraction, you’re focused on neither them nor the race 100% and so as a consequence neither get the best from you. And that’s not fair on either them or the race. Therefore, I’m unlikely to take them to Lyon for my year ending race and while I might consider shorter distance races if they’re going to be joining me in the future I wouldn’t take them to the bigger brutes I’ve been attempting recently – I believe this will increase everyone’s enjoyment of trips away and improve my overall performance at these races.

What’s next UltraBoy?
I’ve got a busy few weeks, off to the Marlborough Downs Challenge for a confidence boosting amble around Wiltshire, followed by a double effort at the Westminster Mile before chasing down about 70 miles at Escape from Meriden. However it will be another ball buster at the South Wales 100 that is currently making my arsehole quiver!


Any conclusion? Just one, go try MIUT for yourself.

There was a huge doubt in my mind as to whether I’d turn up to the start line of the Amersham Ultra. The reason? Well on race morning, having been upended by a nervous dog a week earlier, I was still carrying the bulk of a groin strain and the arse end of a hamstring pull having refused to DNF! I really shouldn’t have rolled up to the school hall at 8.15 on Saturday 11 March but I did and I’m very pleased that I did.

Let’s do the short version for those of you desperate to know how it was… basically if you enjoy the following; oozy mud, an undulating route, a great atmosphere and beautiful countryside then the Amersham Ultra is for you. If you don’t then I wonder how you got this far 🙂

And now to the rambling version of events. The start was located inside a school hall which, as you might imagine, brought about a bevy of long repressed memories. XNRG had arranged things for a swift registration process and there was a registration desk, T-shirt collection point, a tea and cake table, Apex Sport and some information about Humanity Direct (the charity who would be benefitting from our entry fee and running).

I was joined in the hall by the usual eclectic mix of runners and of course by UltraBaby and the GingaNinja. UltraBaby sadly was a bit ill and was mildly more manic than normal, which was to the amusement of some and annoyance to others – but ho-hum! However, it’s always a delight for me to be waved off to the two ladies in my life but my beloved hound had decided to sit this one out and he remained in bed – catching up on the 5Live I suspect.

Anyway…

Clocking in at around 30 miles this is at the baby end of the ultra running world but that should not detract from it being a very worthwhile event. I know from having done the first half of Country to Capital around these parts that there can be some tricky sections and that the Amersham Ultra while advertised as ‘for everyone’ should not be underestimated.

And with that thought and a few well chosen words from the organisers ringing in my ears we set off.

The course it is fair to say is mighty, undoubtedly runnable for the most part despite the mud and varied, it’s fair to say that there is a bit of tarmac involved but actually rather than me moan about this I’ll instead say that this was the connective tissue between the trail sections – it felt like a well considered course.


Lots of the runners set out at a good pace even though we were the 9.00am (slower) group and overall there was a genuinely positive atmosphere that passed through the groups. For a change I was mostly keeping myself to myself, trying to focus on the running rather than the chit-chat and this was working wonders except for some over heating!

By about mile 3 I realised I was wearing one layer too many and by mile 5 I was over heating. I stopped, threw off my tops and discarded one to the bottom of my much loved original UD PB vest. Now in just a t-shirt I felt much livelier and set about catching the dozen or so people who had overtaken me.

Still feeling strong I did indeed catch the runners who had overtaken me a little before checkpoint 1 but I was also aware that I could feel my hamstring and if I didn’t back off I might not make it to checkpoint 2. I had decided that I would use my ’90 second checkpoint rule’ for this race and so gulped down some orange squash and buttered malt loaf before hurling myself into the void of the second section.

I’ll make a minor tangent here to mention the truly brilliant aid station and checkpoint crews. As mentioned this is a baby distance ultra but the checkpoints and the runners were treated with the utmost respect – good, well prepared food with a good range available. The crews were upbeat, focused and never missed a beat. Absolutely superb – I understand why XNRG are so highly regarded in the ultra community.

Having now slowed a little bit I could start to think about the problem that had been pestering me since near the start and that was the epic ‘gut rot’. Thankfully I was a) still capable of running and b) fully armed with poo roll and I took full advantage of a hilly wooded area to relieve some of the enormous pressure that had been building. Relieved but with more than 10 minutes lost I set off again but noting I had managed to slice open the lower part of my shins and sweat was seeping into the open wounds.

For the third time in the race I stopped, this time to clean up the slices, then off again.

With my drama quotient filled I arrived into checkpoint 2, refilled my water and ploughed on. CP2 to CP3 would be the longest of the sections but at about 14km still was reasonably short and there was more fun to be had, although I know I got lost a couple of times which didn’t help my time but it did offer me some discreet cover for a second delivery of epic ‘gut rot’. I’ll be honest I was feeling pretty ill. However, relieved, I once again pressed on despite feeling that either my guts or my hamstring injury were going to get the better of me.

Despite my troubles I couldn’t help but delight in the route – it was for the most part very special. I met several runners throughout the day indicated that this was a ‘warm-up for the SDW50’. For me, being honest and having done the SDW50 a couple of times, Amersham was more fun, more exciting and better looking.

Anyway, with checkpoint 3 reached I had about 10 miles to go. I gulped down some lovely cola and hit the afterburner hoping to get round in as respectable a time as possible. Sadly this section brought my final trip to natures toilet (and the use of my last tissue) but I was ‘cleaned out’ to use an appropriate gambling term.

Feeling better than I had for much of the race but increasing pain through my hamstring I knew I should stop at the final checkpoint but I’d loved this route so much that I was determined to see it through.

More lovely trails greeted me as I wound my way to the finish and a glorious climb into Amersham was just reward for my efforts. Here I was joined by the delightful Sharon and I delighted in her company as we inspired each other to the finish line. As we turned into the final field and back into the school we looked around a little lost and some kindly supporters waved us towards them, we were going to make it! I could now see the finish a few hundred metres away and I turned to Sharon and said ‘end of the cones we give it a bit of welly’ and we did – crossing the line to the same beautiful support we had received all the way round.

What a bloody brilliant event! and I’ll be joining XNRG again for many more of their events I reckon – check them out here.

Key points

  • Distance: 31 miles (ish)
  • Profile: Mildly undulating
  • Date: March 2017
  • Location: Amersham
  • Cost: £48
  • Terrain: Muddy trail
  • Tough Rating: 2.5/5

Route
I feel as though I’ve already discussed my love for this route, it was a wonderfully eclectic mix of challenges that with effort could be achieved by anyone. For those that might question the value of shorter distance routes I’d say that what it lacked in big distance it provided in character and challenge – one not to be underestimated but one you’ll fall in love with. Recommended, especially in the earlier part of the year when conditions underfoot make it ‘real’ trail!

Awards
There was a truly delightful medal and an awesome t-shirt that perfectly matches my new down jacket. In addition there was tea, coffee and cakes at the beginning with free photographs thrown in just for good measure (I’m told there were prizes too but I’m too old and slow to win one of those!). You really would struggle to criticise the goodies that were heaped on this race. Excellent.


Horses
So having discussed my mid race gut rot I’ll briefly mention the horses on the course. Somewhere between the start and checkpoint one a huge herd of horses ambled politely around either side of the track, others had run through and the track itself was clear. I slowed as I approached and when they got too close let them wander past me, then it happened, like clouds on a mountain – they surrounded me.

I nearly ‘shat’ myself. Inching forward more horses came to face me down, several surly looking beasts snorting as they strode past me and then I saw my escape, a decent sized gap and I walked sensibly to the edge of the horses.

Clear(ish). I turned as I exited their thrall and what I saw next was terrifying – scores and scores of horses in a stampede across where I had been standing seconds earlier.

Had I been in there I’d have been dead but thankfully (for me at least) I wasn’t. Note to self, two races, two weeks, two incidents involving horses – a pattern?

Charity
Perhaps the nicest thing about the Humanity Direct Amersham Ultra was the charitable element. Your £48 bought you much more than a race as XNRG were donating all of the entry fee to Humanity Direct who do amazing work with those that need it most in Africa.
The race organisers, I can only assume, absorb the costs of putting on this event (medals, t-shirts, food, logistics, etc) in order that this worthwhile charity benefits from such a spectacular event. It’s fitting to say that I’m in genuine awe of the guys at XNRG and can understand were the excellent reputation they have comes from.

If you want more information about Humanity Direct click here to check out their website

Organisation
Perfect, if anything went wrong then you didn’t see it – this was a very knowledgeable team delivering a great event.

Volunteers
Having volunteered a few times at different races I know a little of what it takes to support runners and it’s fair to say that the XNRG volunteers and teams know a lot more than I do. Everyone seemed so well catered for at the start, at the checkpoints and at the finish. Every single person I met under the XNRG banner was really outstanding. Top notch.

Value for money
£48? Smallish field but never lonely, beautiful and challenging route, great medal and perhaps the best organisation I’ve seen at an ultra marathon with the added bonus of the money going to Humanity Direct. This to me is a real bargain and one of the best value for money ultras around – no it’s not £1 a mile or less but there are some very significant mitigating reasons. Everyone should be adding this to their list!

Conclusion
As you’ve read I can’t praise this race enough. For myself I ran better than expected but not as well as I would have liked given my hamstring and ‘crotchal’ region proving that this was perhaps a bit too far after the previous weeks exploits (read about last weeks race here). What I liked was that at no point did I become bored by the surroundings, at no point did I really want the race to end and thankfully it wasn’t a brutaliser. Instead of brutalising it was an excellent test of your marathon pace over tough conditions and a few spare miles to give you a fright. What the Humanity Direct Amersham Ultra gave me though was a big dollop of confidence to face down the UTBCN in two weeks time (subject to injury clearing – wish me luck!)

All in all, top marks for a top event, check it out!

 

IMG_6839When I wrote my first A-Z of running I knew that I had much more to talk about and that for certain letters I probably had dozens of examples, so this is part 2 of my A-Z.

A. Age
I’m 40 later this year and in many ways this doesn’t bother me one iota, I don’t feel the need for a mid-life crisis and it will probably pass much as the previous 39 did – with little or no fan-fare.

There is something with regard to age and running, well for me there is.

In my youth I was a short distance track sprinter, 100 and 200 metres, I was explosively fast but as I entered my later teens and early 20s I drifted from running and didn’t bother much, preferring fast girls and night clubs – I suspect a recurring theme in the adolescent community. However, by my mid 20s I had started to amble back to running, 1 mile, 2 miles, etc until in 2004 I entered the Preston 10km aged 26 and thoroughly enjoyed it. Still though I ambled around this kind of distance for years and didn’t race again. I enjoyed running but never saw it as a way of expressing myself.

Perhaps it took a little maturity and, dare I suggest, age to give me enough perspective to realise that lots of the good things in my life were directly related to running and at the end of 2010 I finally started the journey that I write about now.

Falling in love with running and devoting myself to it at an older age means I’ve always been focused on it (not always the right focus but focused). I moved quickly through the discipline/distances to find the area I most enjoyed – no time wasting (5km to 100 mile ultra in 2.5 years).

Ageing and getting older has also allowed perspective on the nature of achievement and that actually the human body is amazing and that actually our limit is determined by our will. Seeing men and women much older than myself running and often beating me to a finish line is inspirational.

In truth I’d love to go back and teach younger me all the lessons I’ve taken on board over the years so that I could start at a younger age but he wouldn’t listen. The truth, in my opinion, is that age is not a barrier to good running but actually the key.

B. Body image
I wonder how many of us love our body? Probably very few of us are 100% happy but mostly we get by. I’ve always struggled with the idea that I’m fat, now rationally I am aware that I’m not fat, I’m mostly average but mentally, when I catch sight of myself and I see a fat UltraBoy staring back.

Running hasn’t honed my physique particularly and I’m not comfortable in the gym, you won’t catch me weight training but you will see me bench pressing many a mars bar. Undoubtedly I’m my own worst enemy, when I assault the biscuits or crisps or houmous I can hear myself saying ‘hey fatty, how you doin’?’ But I still eat it – I have an unhealthy relationship with food and this makes my body image problems worse. Some of you who know me in real life will have heard me use the term the ‘Compressport diet’ which is not a diet but both a joke and a way of living.

Effectively I eat less and run more in an effort to one day fit into my Compressport top and not look like a totally fat bastard.

I see lots of runners posting on social media platforms about how awesome their weight loss has been and while they should be hugely proud of this I do wonder what the original motivations were – I suppose because I know mine are ultimately down to a huge insecurity in the way I look and I suspect that no matter what weight or shape I achieve I’m always going to struggle.

C. Cycling
Cycling is back on the agenda and I’m fancying a triathlon. Sensible? probably not

D. Direction
I will run the UTMB, I will run the UTMB, I will run the UTMB – then I went and attempted the CCC and thought, this is rubbish.

I believe we need a direction in our running, something to aim for – it could be a new bigger distance, a better time, a new race, weight loss, whatever, but having a driving force makes us better runners.

For a long time the direction was missing from my running and it wasn’t for the want of looking for one. I thought that achieving the start of membership to the 100 marathon club would be an aim, but I found myself put off by those doing things like the 10 in 10, which to me has always seemed like ticking off numbers rather than running great events (though no offence to those that do these intended). Then I finally found the road I’d been looking for and I decided to start going about things the right way and (as I write this in March 2017) I’m directing my energy towards, distance, elevation and tough as fuck events as I aim for my own ultimate challenge in the coming years.

E. Endangered Races
I am bombarded daily with emails, social media and other suggestions for ‘races you might consider’. Running is a multi-billion pound operation from kit, to gym membership, to nutrition, to therapies to the races but there is a saturation point for all of it. For example we’ve recently seen Pearl Izumi pull the plug on it’s well regarded running line because (I suspect) too much competition and, if we are honest, a confused marketing and naming strategy. However, the big issue for me is the amount of races – every weekend there are dozens (if not more) of races all over the country and a limited supply of runners – I’ve turned up to some amazing races to find numbers nowhere near capacity in recent years and while this is great for it not feeling too cramped, it’s doesn’t aid the longevity of events or the atmosphere. Anecdotal evidence points to events such as the Yorkshire Marathon, which sold out very quickly in its first running, still having room for runners looking for a northern marathon.

I’d like to see the major events such as the London Marathon, GNR and other mass participation races offering support by only accepting applicants from those who have run an equivalent distance in the year prior to their application. We should be fostering a culture of running and racing that is sustainable both for participants and for the businesses that run them – something to think about UKA?

F. Facing fears
Do something that terrifies you every single day (words I try to run and live by)

G. GoPro
I know runners with GoPro and action cameras look like tits but I don’t care I find carrying my GoPro Hero4 Session a reliable and efficient way of capturing memories and helping to tell my blog stories after a race. So while it’s not an issue to carry it I shall continue to do so.

H. Holding on (at races)
White Cliffs 50: mile 14, broken foot, lost. The Wall: mile 62, crying, 20 blisters. Saltmarsh 75: mile 35, crying, glutes destroyed. St Peter’s Way: severe chest infection, crying. Mouth to Mouth: undertrained, severe GI distress. Skye Trail Ultra: unfit, undertrained, vomit, GI distress, dozens of blisters

I’d like to think I’m a reasonable fun runner but the reality is I’m actually a terrible runner but with a decent amount of tenacity. The above races are simply a snapshot of the every event occurrences that dog my racing.

The annoying thing is that it doesn’t seem to matter what I do I can’t shake this monkey and it delights in giving me a good kicking in different ways at different races.

Even this year when I’m actually training, running properly, losing weight and preparing for races in an organised fashion I’m still being short changed (as proven by the Hockley Woods dog incident – read about it here). If I believed in luck, fate or karma I’d assume I was being singled out for some special sadistic treatment but I’ve simply come to accept that I’m never going to be a Scott Jurek or Tobias Mews.

What I do know though is that I can hold on when things go wrong (if it’s important enough to me) and maybe that’s my skill.

Not much of a skill is it!?! 🙂

I. Insurance
Is it a great big con or not? I’m not sure but what I do know is that for about £10 per foreign race I can use the Activity top-up service at Sports Cover Direct and it gives the GingaNinja peace of mind for the day when I finally do fall off a mountain.

I suspect we’ve all heard stories of adventurers needing to be rescued and ending up with enormous bills from foreign medical suppliers and nobody wants to get caught in that trap. Ultimately ultra running can be dangerous, at its best it’s an extreme sport and therefore I’d rather be covered than not.

J. Job
I written before about how your job can affect your running. I mean let’s be honest who doesn’t occasionally have a stinker of a day and then let’s off steam by pounding out a few miles pretending each step is on Alex Keith’s face.

My problem in the relationship between work and running is that because the job preys on my mind long after it should and I find it either stops me wanting to run or worse sends me angry running.

I recall an issue of the comic Guardians of the Galaxy from many years ago where the phrase, ‘an angry opponent is a sloppy opponent’ was used in the dialogue and when I’m angry at work it makes my running angry, and worse it makes it sloppy, risky and often just plain stupid. Guardians of the Galaxy were right – but I bet they didn’t know they were talking about me.

I realise this a problem with the subjective nature of my job and my desire to retain some professional dignity occasionally – perhaps if I cared less about the quality of my work then I wouldn’t be so riled when it gets ridden roughshod over.

I often wonder if others share this issue and how it affects them outside of the work environment?

K. Karimmor
In my notebook there’s a list of things I despise; ‘my mother’, ‘the people who voted leave in the EU referendum’, ‘the people who voted for Donald Trump’, ‘the knobhead Donald Trump’, ‘David Cameron’ and ‘Jeremy Corbyn’. However, there is one name missing from that list and it covers a wide area and that name is ‘Karrimor’.

I’d recommend looking up Karrimor who have an incredibly sad story, a high quality British brand that was snapped up by hideous ‘businessman’ Mike Ashley. He turned Karrimor into the cornerstone brand of his Sports Direct empire. Now that name is synonymous with poorly and cheaply made outdoor and running rubbish that because of its huge high street presence lures in unsuspecting runners and erodes the market share of the independent running and outdoor retailers.

Basically if you love running then don’t shop at Sports Direct (or associated brands Sweatshop and Field & Trek) because there are so many better and reasonably priced brands that treat their staff and customers with the respect they deserve.

And if you see someone running, decked out in Karrimor gear can I offer you this advice. Run with them for a few minutes, tell them about kit that will support them, tell them of Run and Become, London City Runner, Up & Running, Decathlon, Wiggle, Likeys, Castleberg Outdoors and Ellis Brigham and then go about your business as normal. And I recommend you do this partly to save me from setting all of their Karrimor kit on fire.

L. Lone Peak 3.0
Since I started running I think I’ve worn pretty much every brand and every style of running shoe – or at lest it feels like that. However, there have been a number of stand out pieces of footwear over the years, my banana yellow Vibram FiveFingers Komodo, my first pair of Adidas Adios, my Inov8 Race Ultra 290 but perhaps most notably the Lone Peak version 3. It’s fair to say that I’ve loved all the Altra Lone Peak that I’ve owned but none had the same comfortably supportive feeling that the LP3.0 – visually they might remind me of an American muscle car but underneath they’re all class. The LP3.0 are a reminder to me that having a trusted shoe can make all the difference in running.

M. Mud
I have a loving relationship and it’s not with who you think it might be – it’s with mud and when you love trail running I believe you’ve got to love mud.

N. Negative thoughts
In both running and not running I can be both up and downbeat, it’s the nature of life but I’m lucky that I rarely hit the extremes of high and low. However, when I’m running I do suffer with negative thinking and it’s something I’ve long been working hard to combat.
Outwardly I’ll say ‘you’ve got to run your own race’, ‘I’m just here for a bimble’, ‘I’m just here for the cake’ or whatever. But I like to do well and I like to push myself to do well.
Recently at the Hockley Woods Challenge I thundered through the first 3 laps believing I was on my way to a four hour hilly, muddy trail marathon (and a bit). Then when I was upended by a dog that came out of nowhere and bowled me over I immediately knew I had done something to my groin in the landing. The problem was I was far enough enough to determine that I should complete it but not far enough to do myself some lasting damage.

The thoughts that rolled round my head for the best part of 30km were a little unkind to myself and the problem is that I’ll carry that self loathing and negativity into the Amersham Ultra if I’m not careful.

Thankfully I’ve been using these negative events to try and double down harder on the elements that have been going well and so even if I can’t see it at the time I try and analyse it shortly after to ensure that the negativity remains short lived.

It’s not ideal but I’ve found a negative mental state to be the ruin of my racing and running, much more so than any physical injury I might ever have picked up.

O. ‘Off’ time
When I started running again I wanted to be like Ron Hill with a 50 year RunStreak behind me but what I found happened was that my body simply wasn’t up to it and as I pushed myself further and further my body eventually gave up.

I’ve learnt the lesson of not resting and have now dropped back from races that I don’t need to do – I’ve dropped out of junk miles and I’ve given myself rest periods across the year to allow more time for my body to heal and to train smarter.

For me, the key elements of my ‘off time’ are that I’ve adopted a ‘no race’ policy for July/August which should stop getting DNFs through excessive chaffing and I’ll cap ultra marathons per year at about a bakers dozen. I’m also varying my daily RunCommute mileage from as little as 5km to as much as 25km and ever the occasional rest day thrown in too.

Off time also gives me greater capacity to spend time with the GingaNinja and UltraBaby and might even allow me the capacity to train for a sprint distance triathlon. Perhaps I’ve come to the conclusion that switching off leads to better switched on!

P. Planning
I’m always in planning mode, 2017 was in the planning stage by the time I’d reached April of 2016. Ultra marathons, especially the very popular ones sell out quickly and you have to be ready to catch them – MIUT was done on the day of release for example – and was sold out 5 days later (or so). I have thankfully only missed out on one of the races I was looking at doing and that was the XNRG Pilgrims Challenge, (which I have now left too late for two years in a row – lesson learned) I’ll be aiming to get there next year.

Planning is essential though for more than booking in races, it’s at the heart of training too. I have been heavily focused on hill work, building my strength with buggy running and gently increasing my distances in preparation for all the elevation I have planned. This is because between the UTBCN, MIUT and SW100 there is around 20,000 metres of climb over 360km – so planning is essential. Knowing the races I’m doing is providing an incentive to train both harder and smarter.

For smart running you should always consider smarter planning – something it has taken me a long time to learn!

Q. Quiet
Stood at the summit of a hill somewhere in rural Kent there was no silence – there was the rush of the wind and the rustle of the leaves shipping around, driving rain pounding my back and my hot deep breath was beating on my ear drums. But I was alone, so very alone – I looked forward to see signs of brightly coloured waterproof jackets but the weather had kept people indoors, warm and toasty. I scanned my surroundings some more and realised I’d found what I was looking for – a little bit of quiet. My breathing slowed, my heart rate dropped and the rain and wind became friends and I just enjoyed a few moments of quiet. I imagined this is what a car feels like in an automated car wash as the mud was hewn from my limbs by the rain, but there were no soapy suds on this hill. My quiet was broken by a sheep creeping up on me but I like to think it was there seeking much the same thing I was and so I vacated my space and gave it to the sheep.

Sometimes I run to find quiet and sometimes I find it.

R. RunCommute
I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the humble RunCommute. When I decided to start running and training for the Grim Challenge all those years ago I knew that running at weekends would never be enough and that I needed to adopt an efficient use of my time – that efficiency was running to and from work. I remember that first time strapping my OMM 25 litre classic pack to my back and running from Regent’s Park to Victoria Station, it was so tough but I felt like a Cram or Ovett.

Until I did it I hadn’t realised just how many people had abandoned or part abandoned public transport and their cars in order, presumably, to improve their fitness.

RunCommuting also brings little cool ‘mini-games’ like Kit Watch, Strava Art, Time Attack, New Route Finder, Race The Bus and a personal favourite The RunCommute PhotoChallenge.

The RunCommute hasn’t always gone to plan and has been at the ground zero of a few injuries over the years but it’s always felt that it has given much more than it’s ever taken and while I probably take it for granted I certainly won’t be found abandoning it.

S. Scotland
Jedburgh, The Fling, The Devil, The WHW, Glencoe, Skye, the Charlie Ramsay, Celtman… Scotland has a lot going for it in running terms and I’m considering a change of location and moving north of the border.

I’ve grown increasingly weary of the English and the whole EU referendum makes me disgusted to be English – I am proudly European, defiantly European even. Now my thought is that if I can’t save my own country, because the level of idiocy has pretty much reached its spunk unloading climax, then perhaps I can help the Scottish people to achieve independence and find a new home in the EU.

The benefits are many, I’d get to live in the countryside, be closer to some of the best trails around and I’d be in a country where the majority want to stay in the EU. In running terms though the race scene looks brutally beautiful and that’s a decent sized consideration for me.

I always thought I’d stay near to London but living in Kent has highlighted with tremendous clarity that the future for England is intolerance and trouble and that taking a punt on Scotland may be the opportunity that I, my family and my running have been looking for.

T. Training
Do you remember training? Training was something I used to do several years ago when I was getting ready for mr first half marathon. Training was something other people did and training was a bit of a waste of my very valuable time. I managed to run nearly 40 marathons/ultra marathons on very limited training over about a 3.5 year period.

Interestingly though I also picked up 3 DNFs, a couple of serious injuries, and any number of smaller injuries and piled on enough weight to consider myself a bit of a fatty. Yes I was doing the RunCommute but I was never committing to longer, more structured, targeted miles, essentially I was coasting and yet still turning up to events wondering why the magic just wasn’t happening.

Since the start of December 2016 I’ve very much been focused on delivering the promises I made to myself and this has required training. I’ve actually been committed to weekly averages of around 40-50 miles, speedwork/fartleks, hills, buggy running and a more co-ordinated approach. However, I remain ‘fluid’ in the way training is achieved and I’m not sure I’ll ever quite be ready for written plans or dogma but at least I’m training properly and I feel fitter than I have done in years.

U. Unirider
If you’re a runner and have a child aged between two and six (size dependent) then the Mountain Buggy Unirider is probably the best piece of kit you can own (reviewed here). My daughter and I are often looking for ways to extend our adventures and this single wheel push along ride is an ideal way for the pair of us to go running round muddy, hilly trails and fast, flat roads! There is something really quite fun about watching UltraBaby scream out in excitement as we bounce across gnarly trail, calling out, ‘faster, faster dad’.

V. Vigo Tough Love
If you want to truly fall in love with trail running then this is the race for you – it has a little bit of everything. A ten mile run through Kentish hills this offers nothing but the opportunity to truly enjoy yourself. Up, down, through mud, through water and across the finish line – it’ll never, ever be a fast course but it is an exceptional course and deserving of the high praise it gets. You can read my review of the 2017 event here.
W. Westminster Mile

I have favourite events and I have preferred distances – the Westminster Mile combines the two. The mile, to me, is one of the great unsung heroes of running. With the mile you can be ball breakingly fast and make your lungs gasp for air and you can feel the exhilaration of a race in just a few short minutes. The Westminster Mile allows for both of these things but adds in drama and atmosphere – it’s a great day out with thousands upon thousands aiming to lay claim to a fast time around the course.

Of course the best thing is that it’s a family event and UltraBaby already has one finish to her name and after a year off will return for the 2017 edition. Highly recommended wherever your age, gender, fitness level or even if you aren’t that interested in running.

Find out more here.

X. Xenophobia
I was recently on one of my longer runs and was briefly joined by another runner who was going in vaguely the same direction as me, he wanted to chat and I was fine to listen. He was telling me about how he had turned to running after a heart attack at 35 and that he had turned his life around. All very noble I thought and then he got into politics and particularly the EU referendum and perhaps it was were we were running or something about me that suggested xenophobic or mildly racist but he decided to espouse his theories about the ‘fucking scroungers from Europe’.

I kept my cool and told him that I had voted remain, and felt more European than ever because of my belief and research that his statement was simply not true at which point he called me a ‘traitor’ and decided to run off in a different direction.

As a tolerant person (to a point), despising only stupidity, a lack of curiosity and my mother this man highlighted why I dislike running in Kent, why I despair about England and why I love running in Europe.

Our friends on the continent (and north of the border) offer such a tremendous welcome to their countries and their races that this is very much now my preference for running (I’ll race in Europe three times in 2017, UTBCN, MIUT and SainteLyon and possibly in Scotland too).

I don’t want to come across people like the man who ran beside me telling a total stranger about his hate filled beliefs – xenophobia and intolerance have no part in my running community. Running should be the most inclusive of all the sports!

Y. Yearly
I think some runners will return to races year on year, perhaps because they really enjoyed it, because it gave them a personal best time or because it’s local.

I did four editions of the Kent Roadrunner because it was local to me but at the fifth and sixth time of asking I’d had enough of running round a cycling track in the heat, I simply wanted more out of my racing.

The only race I return to year on year is the Vigo Valentines Run and this is because that’s a very special race that is never the same twice and brings untold levels of joy to me.
I’m curious about the mindset of those who always have to run London Marathon, Brighton or wherever. I suppose for me there’s now so many great races that you can do a new route, meet new people, take on new challenges almost every time you choose to race.

I don’t really want to be critical of a persons choice to do the same thing over and over but I just wonder why you might limit your experiences?

With nearly 150 different races completed I feel that now and again I can go and revisit my favourites (SainteLyon this year, Skye Trail Ultra next year) but this is only because I’ve already done lots of different races. However, I still go looking for new experiences and this year (so far) all but the Vigo 10 and SainteLyon will be new races to me and I can’t wait to be surprised!

Z. Zippers (UD jacket)
I quite like the Ultimate Direction waterproof jacket but it does have a couple of very serious flaws and the most major one is the really crappy zip – it’s weak, feels like it’s going to break and offers no sense of security. When compared to the zipping mechanism of my 4 year old Montane Minimus there is no comparison – the UD comes a distant second.

So come on UD you’ve improved the Signature Series no end with the PB 3.0 – let’s see you do the same for your waterproof jacket.

Let’s talk about the run up to Haria Extreme before we get into the nuts and bolts;

  • You’ve run three times since August Bank Holiday
  • You’ve been unable to run since 29 September – (the Vegan Challenge was a reckless mistake)
  • Injury was causing enough concern that you weren’t sure you’d start Haria Extreme
  • Pre-race prep severely hampered by circumstances beyond your control
  • There was more than 3,000 metres of steep climb across 102km
  • …and unsurprisingly you retired from the race
  • however, this was not a failure – far from it

Now the question is, ‘when is retiring from a race not a failure?’ The answer, for me, lies in the thoughts I’ve put together over the last week while bimbling around Lanzarote post race. The journey to HE begins where so many things have done – in my failure at the CCC, while I was in France I came across the HE stall and said to myself that looks like the most brilliant piece of cool and I have to do it. The problem was that it was in November last year and I was already committed to running the SainteLyon. However, HE has stayed in my memory since that day and when applications opened in about April I was first on the list.

Yes please sign me up for your newly enhanced, hillier and longer route, I said with an undeserved air of confidence.

In truth my running had been going pretty well all year and I had good reason to be confident, Green Man, Skye Trail Ultra, Vanguard Way, Country to Capital, Brutal Enduro had all been completed and pretty well – but the wheels started to come off at The Ridgeway when I DNF’d over some severe chaffing and it got worse when my disagreement with the GingaNinja turned into a full blown retirement from running and by the time I was going again I then found a nasty new injury to give me a kicking. That calf injury needed severe physiotherapy, lots of rest and no running – in fact no exercise as there was a point that it was too painful to walk on. With days quickly rolling by I cold see HE slipping from my grasp – I was pretty devastated.

With two weeks before the race I took part in the SVN Vegan Day Challenge and tortured myself round the route, looking back on it with a little common sense I should have realised that this was not a good idea but I needed to test the calf problems and although they held up on the day they never felt very good and the days after the race were some of the most pain I’ve ever been in.

Tick-tock, tick-tock.

We arrive to the day before the flight (Wednesday) and I’m rushing round like a blue arsed fly trying to ensure that everything for the flight, the race and the family holiday were all complete and that it would all be super smooth when we arrived at the airport at 3.30am. Little did I realise that this would be a monumental disaster with UltraBaby, the GingaNinja and I making the flight with mere seconds to spare, it wasn’t helped that the support we received from Special Assistance for our disabled companion was pathetic and so the trip and the race were off to a stinking start.

We arrived exhausted, aching, grumpy and in my case the physical exhaustion came from lugging around the huge amount of luggage we had needed to transport to support an ultra runner, a 2 year old toddler and a disabled traveller – I could really feel my lack of base fitness from the lack of exercise in the previous few months (and this worried me). However, unpacked (roughly) we headed up to Haria to collect my race number and take a look around the event.

There was no doubt that my mood improved but my worries refused to abate, looking again at the race profile and steep climbs it involved had me very concerned. On the positive side number collection was very easy – passport was checked for ID, collected my number and got hold of a giant set of HE kit (compression shirt, compression arm sleeves, neck gaiter and head band – all very high quality). This was a very welcome bonus and for just €30 I added a lurid yellow hooded top which will brighten any cold winter UK day.

The race village didn’t have much in the way of people selling kit but there were a few bits and actually it was all very low key and rather delightful, there was also the live local Canarian musicians which I felt was something a little special for a race that was starting to feel a little ‘buzzy’. I had feared that this would be another UTMB type race but all appearances seemed to be suggesting that this had a much smaller, niche feel to it and I felt vindicated in my decision to run this over attempting TransGranCanaria earlier in the year.

With number collected, Friday was left as a family day and the holiday could finally begin and I enjoyed a day doing swimming, watching animals and generally running riot with my daughter at a number of bits and pieces we had identified and we even dipped our feet for some splashing into the pool at the villa we had hired via AirBnB.

Friday evening though was used to fine tune my kit, Oxsitis bag rather than Ultimate Direction – Ronhill top rather than La Sportiva and Lone Peak 3.0 over Olympus 2.0 – it took quite some time to make final decisions but the biggest choices were in leg wear and nutrition.

For leg wear I selected the excellent Raidlight Freetrail (longer length but very lightweight shorts in a delightfully ridiculous colourway with stupid typography on them – full review to follow). I teamed these with raidlight tights and runderwear pants to maximise my comfort in the heat (just incase there was a repeat of the R86 chaffing nightmare).

Nutrition though was a very different matter – I had chosen to bring Tailwind with me but having never used it I was somewhat worried about how I might react so in typical fashion I had both Tailwind and real food options with me (lots of chocolate). I knew that I didn’t want to pollute my main water supply so my bladder had to remain free of tailwind, instead I carried two 150ml soft bottles that I could easily store in the small waist pockets of the Freetrail shorts. This was the perfect way to take Tailwind for me.

The race
Anyway, the race itself was a 7am kick off to maximise the Canarian daylight. We were due to start out from ‘Timanfaya’ the volcanic national park with the last remaining active Lanzarote volcano. We pulled into the car park at about 6.30am and saw the runners and supporters lining the dark sand and lava gravel track. It was quite a sight next to the huge herd of camels that also lined up alongside them.

I drifted over to the toilet block which was located inside the normally bustling tourist cafe but at this time it was simply a very long queue of runners. I opted not to wait and would hope that the first checkpoint had a toilet stop as I was rather in need. I rejoined the GingaNinja and UltraBaby for the 10 or 12 minutes before the race began and we admired the camels, the sea of volcanic rock and the sunrise – it was all suitably spectacular.

At a slightly later than expected 7.15 the sound issuing us off was given and about 200 hardy souls set off at a fair old whack down into the unknown. For the first 5km we thundered along a rocky and sandy track through the national park – admiring the amazing geology as we went. I unfortunately was allowing myself to be caught up in the moment and being dragged along at a pace that really didn’t suit. However, within a couple of kilometres I settled into myself and looking round realising this would be no follow the leader – you were out there on your own.

At about 5km we turned out of the core Timanfaya National Park and entered the broader volcanic area which I had hoped would make for easier going on the feet but as the gritty sand slipped around your feet you knew this was going to be hard work.

What I hadn’t expected was the ground to be so varied, there was of course the gritty dark remains of lava and black sand but there was also huge swathes of pebbles, big rocks, slippery rocks, jagged rocks, basically lots of rocks. There was no nice easy Kent countryside trail here but thankfully the Lone Peak 3.0 were the right choice for the job and my feet felt well protected from the elements.

I started the first of the ascents after some off-roading through what looked like a well pruned back Canarian vineyard and then into the first serious descent where I allowed myself the opportunity of a bit of respite and I flew to the bottom knowing that the next ascent was several hundred rocky metres and I would need all due care to navigate this. ‘Surely not all the ascents could be like this?’ I asked myself as the track disappeared and we were left to find our own path amongst the course markings. But with every ascent there is a matching descent and here I thrust myself forward once more. This time I was lurching left and left through a vineyard – no trail specifically, just the tracks of my fellow runners. With each step I could feel the black gravel being kicked up behind me and I was grateful for my gaiters which kept the stones and sand to a minimum.

Through the vineyard I passed and by a volunteer who cheered ‘bravo’ and I offered a cheery wave with a solid ‘grassy arse’. In the distance I could see the checkpoint and so with as much energy as I could I bolted to the stopping point.

All the volunteering points were excellent although there wasn’t much English spoken and there were a lot of very competent 15 year olds manning them. I did ask if there was a toilet in my best Spanglish ‘whereas are ass los toiletos por favour’. They smiled politely and told me ’20 kilometres’. I assumed they meant checkpoint 2, it turns out they simply hadn’t understood my brilliant piece of linguistics.

The problem was I was now about 10 miles in with an urgent need for the toilet. Looking around offered no immediate solutions as there was no cover whatsoever – Haria Extreme was pretty exposed and I had no intention of exposing myself here. So onward I moved, taking things sensibly as the day began to warm up. I refuelled at the previous stop on Pepsi and refilled my Tailwind bottles and actually my energy reserves where holding our pretty well. Pushing through the next 10 or 12km was relatively easy despite my urgent need for the loo and as I crossed the car park into checkpoint 2 I grabbed more Pepsi and took the opportunity to admire the view. Although I was clearly near the back of the field I felt that this was being sensible – I knew the heat would be an issue and f I could make it into night then I’d be much more able to make up time on the people in front of me.

With these thoughts in my head I bade the checkpoint ‘adios’ and moved on – in the distance I could see a big hill but I could also see some cover. I therefore looked back about a kilometre and realised I was alone for at least a few minutes and found a discreet cave in which to deliver the problem child I had been carrying for more than 25km – I was very relieved. After quickly rearranging myself I pressed on through a slightly greener Lanzarote but then I realised I hadn’t seen a route marker for quite a while, I checked with Suunto, I was off course.

Ah.

I looked back and could clearly see that there were no route markers nearby – I therefore retraced my steps, after about ten minutes of running I saw a man a couple of hundred metres higher than me at the top of the hill. I was probably about another kilometre back away from finding the point at which the rise started and so I looked up, a near vertical climb – probably 200 metres. I dug in and I climbed. I remember that I refused to stop, I refused to look down and I refused to give up even when my breathing was heavy and hard I was determined to continue and then I reached the summit to be greeted by a volunteer who was pointing me in the right direction.

‘Wrong way!’ I exclaimed. He had clearly watched me climb the vertical and offered me a pat on the back as I ran beyond him.

The route was unrelenting and when it wasn’t punishing you with ascents and descents it was looking for cracks in your kit to place stones, sand and general pain and the road to checkpoint three was no less so.

The interesting thing about HE and in particular the road to Soo) was that you could tell where the checkpoints were long before you reached them because they were found in the towns dotted around the island – which were often isolated pockets of life. As I banged on down to sea level and on to the thick hot white sand I could see my next stop and I knew that my family were waiting for me.

I made my into the town and drifted over to UB who ran towards me with arms outstretched and a stone, presumably for nutrition. A runner sat on the side of the road looked miserable as he had clearly DNF’d but the GN told me I was looking good and that I wasn’t actually that far behind a number of runners. I stopped here for a few minutes to have a mental uplift but then it was back off and on the way to Famara.

This was a tough section for me as it represented the hottest temperatures of the day but I’d been drinking consistently and the route here although hard going through tricky roads and soft sand allowed me to pick up the pace a little. I realised as I was running along that I’d never run in sand before and it wasn’t an enjoyable experience as it finally found a way into my shoes but any problems my feet faced were offset by the bevy of topless and naked ladies who lined parts of this section of the route. I swear I tried not to stare but I’m only human and this wasn’t some British nudist colony this was wave after wave of the beautiful people. I felt somewhat self conscious, especially when a very naked lady walking towards me with her (I’ll assume) husband cried ‘bravo, bravo’. I mean seriously where do you look in that situation? Anyway I thanked them for their good wishes and pressed on.

In the distance I could see the next climb ‘Lomo Cumplido’ which in my head was reading like some form of oral sex act but was actually instead a straight up 600metre climb, this was what I had come for. I wasted no time at checkpoint 4 other than to revitalise my stock of Tailwind and drink about a pint of Pepsi. Still feeling pretty good I began to climb and in the distance I could see runners coming towards me – runners who had decided enough was enough. I wished them well, but wondered what had driven back these very fit looking men from ascending this rock? I made surprisingly good time to the top, stopping only periodically to either drink in the view or rebalance myself and calm down (I’m terrified of heights). As I reached the top I rested on my Poles and thought about how much better a runner I was this time round compared to when I attempted the CCC.

It dawned on me at the top of this monster that I was still very much in the learning phase of running big inclines, descents and bloody big mountains. It was in this moment that I realised that however far I got today I had made significant progress.

I took a moment to check my messages as I had asked the GN to supply me with a list of all the cut-off times for the checkpoints and then I nearly had a heart attack… I was less than an hour from the checkpoint cut-off. I hurried along the ridge as fast as my body would carry me, facing my fear of heights with every step. I stopped at the mini checkpoint and said hello to the people there but quickly strode on to reach the full checkpoint a further 1.5km along.

I stopped here for mere seconds before realising I needed to bag some time or the sweeper would catch me. Zoom, zoom – this was a significant downhill section and I was able to use my sure footedness to power through the loose rocks and gather some much needed time. But it was now getting darker and I didn’t want to stop to grab my head torch and so lit my way along the coast with iPhone. Not the best light for making swift progress but it sufficed and I knew the GN and UB would be waiting for me again.

I ignored the checkpoint other than saying ‘hola’ and instead asked the GN to get my head torch out, I dumped my GoPro and other equipment I no longer needed with her – kissed the family goodbye and insisted I would make the next checkpoint. What I did say about my situation though was that I had cut myself on my shin quite unpleasantly and that my injured calf was sending shooting pains through my leg and both of these combined where making running painful. The good news though was that I had made up time on the clock and I was ahead by more than 90 minutes rather than the 40 minutes I had going spare at the previous stop.

If I could hold my leg together and the next section wasn’t too tough I might make it through. BOOM, onwards – foot straight into the sea! But thankfully the LP3.0 repelled this nicely. With the wrong mental head on this could have been disasterous but not so soon after seeing my family and with the aid of some local children I found my way through the wasteland of the town and crept bent double under the bridge tunnels, more suited to rats than runners!

Then up again.

On paper this section looks easy and filled with lovely respite but in reality it’s a ballbreaker, the climb is hard, unforgiving and filled with loose rocks and undergrowth that simply rip you apart. This was the section that drained my spirit and when the sweeper caught up to me I admit I became a little dispirited – despite him being clear that I was more than 2 hours ahead of the cut off. I was now gaining on people but I was done, I had maybe 5km to think this through but I knew I had come to Haria Extreme and achieved more than I thought I would.

As we passed through the end of the clambering section here the sweeper called out to me ‘bravo’. He didn’t seem the jokey type and so took him at his word as we had made really quite good time and so when we ran into the checkpoint I asked for ‘cinqo minutos’ to go through my thoughts.  I sat down for the first time in about 12 hours with a little under 10 hours remaining and 23km to go. I rubbed my calf a little while the checkpoint staff tried to force watermelon down my throat but I knew that I’d damaged my calf enough to not want to risk it further.

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I went over to my companion of the last few kilometres and said ‘I’m retiring and it’s okay – I’m good, I’m happy’ and I was. I had turned up to Haria Extreme with the hope I would make it to the start line, once I got there I hoped I wouldn’t crap myself somewhere in the first 25km, I hoped I wouldn’t disgrace myself and I hoped I would make it beyond 50km or running. Obviously I hoped I would finish and I didn’t but that’s okay because the experience of Haria Extreme has given me a tremendous confidence boost ahead of MIUT and I know what I need to do to ensure I finish that race.

Key points

  • Distance: 102km
  • Profile: Hilly, sharp ascents and descents
  • Date: November 2016
  • Location: Lanzarote
  • Cost: £55
  • Terrain: Technical trail, rocky, hilly
  • Tough Rating: 4/5

Route
The route was amazing – I can’t praise it enough, from the start in Timanfaya through vineyards and across rocky ascents this had everything. It’s tough too but not impossible and had I been even a little bit fit then this would have been much easier than I have made it look. That’s not to say it is easy though because it really isn’t, it will fight you every single step of the way and just when you get comfortable it will throw up amazing challenges. Brilliant!

Organisation
The organisation is always going to be slightly more difficult to analyse as a foreigner but information was communicated in good time, translations were decent and GPX files and all the other pre-race material was handled very well. In Haria itself number collection was easy and there were lots of English speakers available. It felt friendly but also a little local rather than a huge international race. The other really nice thing was that there was a range of races and distances so if you fancied a marathon or a half marathon or even a 10km there was something for everyone. (And the good news) each route had been clearly and concisely thought out.

Support
Aid stations were suitable for the race but the only food was fruit (which for me was a bit useless) but there was cola, water and electrolytes at every aid station. Most aid stations had at least one English speaker but where there wasn’t one I had a real laugh with the guys trying my best Spanish!

Awards
The real reason I rolled up to the race wasn’t the medal or the route it was the experience and the experience was amazing. I suppose its lucky I didn’t roll up for the medal given that I didn’t get one

Value for money
Incredible value for money, lots of lovely freebies, lots of great experience moments – yes the aid stations were not exactly brilliantly stocked with lovely houmous, breads and Canarian potatoes but I can forgive that given the brilliance of everything else. The race cost about £60 (exchange rate is difficult to judge at the moment) and there are 10km races in the UK that cost this, believe me this is much better than any 10km you’ll run.

Conclusion
There are races and there are races – this is one of the latter. Haria Extreme is a race I would do year in and year out if it were closer to home – instead I’ll simply consider going back in a few years to ensure that I finish it. My experience, as you can probably tell, was one of absolute delight given that I didn’t think I had it in me to start never mind get to 80km. Basically, you can’t go wrong with Haria Extreme it does have everything and if you decide to seek out a lovely low key but spectacular race this will not disappoint.

Good luck and enjoy those hills.

 

‘I’m just going to do one lap – see how it holds up’. These were the words I said to Rob just before the kick off of the Vegan Day Challenge when describing my approach to testing my newly knackered calf.

But let me roll back about 13 miles and a dozen nasty hills – it’s 6.25am on a chilly Tuesday morning – I had taken the day off work to go and run a final marathon before Haria Extreme. Seemed like a very good idea, the only problem is that my left calf has been struggling for a little while now and been getting progressively worse, thankfully I’d done something about it.

  1. Intensive physiotherapy
  2. Intensive TENS machining
  3. Intensive stretching
  4. Intensive strengthening
  5. No running whatsoever

Anyway I digress, race morning I pulled out the mountain bike and set off on the 13 mile route over to the start line. I knew it was quite hilly and I knew the moist fog and leaves had made the ground a little slick but I found it really hard work getting to the start line. I eventually rolled up covered in muddy spray and a gaunt tired expression that suggested I’d be lucky to make 2.6 miles never mind 26!


Regardless I listened to the instructions and the information regarding it being the first Vegan Day Challenge, with a vegan inspired checkpoint – at which point I started dreaming of meaty burritos! Then suddenly the brave souls who had come out to play were sent out to run.

I ambled to the back and gingerly moved forward at an unremarkable pace and every time my heart insisted that I put a bit of effort in my head replied ‘You’ve paid a lot of money to run some Lanzarote trails, don’t arse it up again’ and so I would slow back down. I drifted down the first incline and powered up the inclines and my calf was holding up. I decided to add a bit of welly to proceedings and still my calf held up. However, what was clear was that several weeks of absolutely no exercise and a 13 mile hilly MTB ride was really punishing me and so as I came into the checkpoint I laboured over to the checkpoint food and ate my bodyweight in Vegan Rocky Road and Starburst. I chatted a little with the lovely chaps who regularly volunteer but my mood was pretty grim and I felt like ringing the bell to say ‘finished’ but this is why I like SVN events – you have Traviss and Rachel. Traviss advised me to get back out and I did – only moaning a little bit. I strolled up the tarmac bit to reduce the impact on all my old injuries, once back on the trail I resumed what I dare to call ‘Running’.

The next few laps of up and down at the Ranscombe Farm Reserve were thankfully uneventful with only my own lack of self-belief to battle. However, I urged Traviss to not let me stop until the marathon and both he and all the other superb volunteers made it possible for me to keep going. I knew that once I hit lap 5 of 7 I would make it and so it was simply a matter of holding on.

For my 7th and final lap I was joined by Neil, a very nice young gentleman who provided some much needed guilt to get me to the end. ‘I’m not sure I can be bothered to run the last few kilometres, I might just stroll this in’ I said. His response was that I’d made him not feel like running it either and so, despite having nothing in my legs I said, ‘well I feel bad about that, let’s go…’

And so I finally put together a bit of decent running, picking my legs up, bounding along, eventually leaving Neil a few minutes behind.

Normally I would hit the afterburner for the final few hundred metres but as I saw The SVN team in the distance I was simply grateful and rather than sprint finish I bundled myself home.

Traviss passed over another neck breaker of a medal, quite a cheery one in the midst, or perhaps that should be mist, of November gloom and a delightful vegan goody bag.

Things worth noting?
As always Ranscombe was a fun filled ride, full of up, full of down and hardly any flat. There are some lovely views at Ranscombe and no two runs are ever the same.

The lovely SVN team and volunteers are some of the best people around to bring you a great event experience. I really wasn’t up to pushing myself round the course but thanks to everyone there, be they manning the checkpoint or the treat table I managed to get beyond my pitiful ability. So thank you.

As mentioned, another stonking medal to add to my haul and it has already assumed pride of place at the front of my collection.

And finally… thanks to the other competitors – you were all marvellous, whether I chatted to you or not – I really enjoyed the experience and the Vegan Challenge brought out lots of runners I’ve never met before – which was delightful.

Epilogue
It’s not often I write a ‘what happened next’ but my 13 mile cycle home hurt like hell and felt like it took forever and day – up and downhills and into an unpleasant headwind(y) moist feeling – which attacked my already cooled down body. If you want my advice think carefully before you decide not to get the train home 🙂

And absolutely finally – my calf did hold up to the running but the cycle appears to have kicked off some relatively minor pain in a new place in my calf that I’m hoping will abate in a few days – keep your fingers crossed for me.


I was going to review the Lone Peak 3.0 but then realised that actually the more useful thing to do might be to look at my experience of running across the Altra trail range. This review and comparison will look at the Altra Superior 2.0, Olympus 2.0 and Lone Peak 3.0 in which I’ve run at least 200 miles in each across a wide variety of terrain and conditions.

My introduction to the Altra trail experience 

Superior 2.0 It was a warm day in June when I first put my Superior 2.0 on, I’d bought them as a speedier alternative to the Lone Peak 2.0 – where the LP felt plush these felt more like moccasins, something you might find Native Americans wearing in the Old Wild West! As is often the case with Altra they sent the UK the boring colour way – grey with a hint of green and there was an air of wearing old ladies Hotter shoes rather than the latest innovative low profile trail running shoes.

Anyway I was at one of my usual haunts and set off on a short 10km trail run (a trail run that I put all new shoes through) and we danced across the logs, bounded across the dry, hurtled through the damp and came unstuck in the wet mud! Uphill they were kind to my toes and grippy and downhill they felt stable enough but with a backend that needed a bit of control.

The Superior feel like fast footwear, you don’t forget you’re wearing them despite having the same upper comfort levels of other Altra shoes – perhaps it’s the more tigerish feel of putting on a pair of runners that you know are built to go a bit quicker.

Lone Peak 3.0 I opened the box and looked down and went ‘wow’. Altra has finally delivered a shoe I could simply look at and think ‘OMG’. The LP3.0 was a big departure from the second series. Yes, I’m not made keen on the blue or the black colour ways (the only ones available in the UK) but I wanted to ensure they were bought from an independent UK retailer.

I knew I’d be delighted to take them out for a spin but it turned out that the first chance I’d get to use them would be on race day at the Chislehurst Chase. Now we all know the thing about not wearing them straight out of the box for something like a race but I felt confident in them and I knew the route as it used to be an old stomping ground of mine.

Within seconds of bounding our of the starting line I realised that the Lone Peak was an improvement and a half on the previous editions but it would it replace the LP2.0 as my Altra of choice?

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Olympus 2.0 Riding high like Zeus above the mere mortal men on the trail here I came in my mighty Olympus 2.0 (or so I thought). I had bought these with the Skye Trail Ultra specifically in mind. The Olympus it turned out were not the best choice for this race but they have proved to be a prudent choice for less gnarly routes.

The Olympus were as difficult to find in the UK as the Lone Peak 3.0 and in this instance I really did want an exciting colour and so bought them from France as they had the blue and neon yellow version. The most interesting advance in the Olympus over previous versions (and the reason I was willing to give them a go) was the Vibram outsole and more aggressive approach to the lugs.

Hitting the trails you could instantly see that the new, more cultured outsole was going to be of benefit and the level of comfort from all the A-bound technology sitting between you and the trail was ridiculously sumptuous.

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So what do Altra say about each of their footwear?

Superior 2.0
Why mess with perfection? Last year’s award-winning favorite is back with the same look and feel as its predecessor, but with new color options and sidewall reinforcement. The FootShape™ toe box lets your toes relax and spread out in uphill and downhill trail conditions while the fully cushioned Zero Drop™ platform helps you maintain proper form across long distances. TrailClaw™ outsole technology features canted lugs beneath your metatarsals for ultimate gripping in gnarly terrain. A removable StoneGuard™ rock protection plate protects your feet from sharp rocks and is removable for use on less demanding terrain.

  • Sizing: Slightly Short
  • Weight: 8.7 oz./247 g.
  • Stack Height: Height: 21mm
  • Sizes 7, 8–13, 14, 15
  • Cushioning: Light
  • Ideal Uses: Trail Running, Hiking, Backpacking, Off Road Racing
  • Designed to Improve: Running Form, Toe Splay, Stability, Push-off, Comfort, Traction
  • Platform: Natural Foot Positioning: FootShape™ Toe Box with Fully Cushioned Zero Drop™ Platform
  • Midsole: EVA/A-Bound™ Blend with InnerFlex™
  • Outsole: TrailClaw™ Sticky Rubber Outsole
  • Insole: 5 mm Contour Footbed with Removable StoneGuard™ Rock Protection
  • Upper: Quick-Dry Air Mesh
  • Other Features: GaiterTrap™ Technology

Lone Peak 3.0
Named after eleven thousand feet of pure Utah peak ruggedness, the Lone Peak 3.0 is the latest version of the trail shoe that started it all for Altra. We added additional protection to the upper for increased durability and protection when the trail starts to bite back. The outsole has been re-designed and spec’d up with the all new MaxTrac™ outsole, offering more grip in all conditions. The StoneGuard™ has been sandwiched between the midsole and outsole to offer extra protection from those rocks trying hard to go after your feet. And your toes will be loving life in the luscious FootShape™ toe box up front. The legend continues with the Lone Peak 3.0.

  • Weight: 9.7 oz. /275 g
  • Cushioning: Moderate
  • Stack Height: 25mm
  • Ideal Uses: Trail Running, Hiking, Fastpacking, Trail Racing
  • Designed To Improve: Running Form, Toe Splay, Stability, Push-off, Comfort, Traction
  • Platform: Foot Positioning: FootShape™ Toe Box with Fully Cushioned Zero Drop™ Platform
  • Last: SD6
  • Midsole: EVA with A-Bound™ Top Layer
  • Outsole: Altra MaxTrac Sticky Rubber with TrailClaw™
  • Insole: 5 mm Contour Footbed
  • Upper: Quick-Dry Air Mesh
  • Other Features: Sandwiched StoneGuard™ Rock Protection, Natural Ride System, GaiterTrap™ Technology, No-slip Sock Liner Design

Olympus 2.0
You asked, and we delivered. Our popular, max-cushioned trail shoe returns with a completely revamped Vibram® Megagrip outsole and a softer, more flexible upper. The new outsole dramatically enhances traction in uphill and downhill terrain while maintaining the max-cushioned feel you love. Traction and durability improvements have also led to a reduction in weight over its predecessor for a faster ride. An impressive 36mm stack height runs evenly from front to back and features an A-Bound bottom layer to add a spring to each step and EVA™ top layer to take the bite out of the rugged terrain. And like every Altra shoe, the FootShape™ toe box keeps your feet happy, relaxed, and stable through uphill climbs and downhill descents.

  • Improved Traction
  • Less Weight
  • Sizing: True to Size
  • Weight: 11.0 oz./ 312 g.
  • Cushioning: Max
  • Stack Height: 36mm
  • Sizes: 7, 8–13, 14, 15
  • Ideal Uses: Trail Running, Hiking, Fastpacking, Trail Racing
  • Designed To Improve: Running Form, Toe Splay, Stability, Push-off, Comfort, Traction
  • Last: SD6-M
  • Midsole: Dual Layer EVA with A-Bound™ Top Layer
  • Outsole: Vibram® Megagrip
  • Insole: 5mm Contour Footbed
  • Upper: Quick-Dry Trail Mesh
  • Other Features: Natural Ride System, GaiterTrap™ Technology

 Much has been made of the foot shaped toe box and the zero drop, both intended to enable a more natural running form and having been a runner who has run extensively in zero drop shoes and Vibram Fivefingers I can tell you that the Altra way has helped me achieve a better style of running form, especially when I’m tired – I don’t breakdown nearly as quickly.

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Superior Opinion?
The Superior are a great shoe, I use them for XC and shorter distance races (10, 12 miles) I don’t run ultra marathons in them even though I probably could. The lower profile offers the greatest connection to the trail but it also offers the least protection and you can feel this. Everything has been stripped down from the tongue right through to the upper – this is not a criticism but an observation. In my opinion the Superior benefit greatly from this more stripped down approach as they really do feel quicker than their trail siblings and have a lot in common with the Inov8 Trailroc.

The fit is generous around the toes  – as you might expect – this being the Altra USP, the heel cup is a little loose (a problem some find with Altra), the trail gaiter remains a great asset and the grip is reasonable.

The upper is an improvement on previous versions of the Superior but is still not amazing, the overlays in the latest version of 2.0 seem to have addressed this a little but I expect that Altra will need to consider a bit of an overhaul once again. The upper is remarkably comfortable though (again much like the Inov8 Trailroc 235) and it does feel like a lovely pair of slippers as you run round the trails. The upper drains and gets nice and dry quickly too which for someone like me is a real bonus.

The issue I think most will have will the Superior 2.0 is the grip – in the UK were things like rain and mud exist the Superior struggle to get traction and can become a little bogged down. However, in the dry or through the moist trail they’ll confidently take on everything that you thrown at them and you’re feet will feel like they’ve enjoyed the experience.

In terms of longevity and durability you might find that these aren’t going to last like an old pair of Walsh – they are far from bombproof. This could be said of both the upper and the tread as both will ear down pretty quickly. My boss who owns a pair of Superior says that the tread has already started to peel away after only 100 miles and my pair once they reached 200 miles looked a little abused. There was also soome gentle fraying on the upper by 200 miles and given the mileage I will put in this makes the Superior seem like an expensive shoe.

However, they remain fun and lots of it.

Best for: Cross Country, shorter trail running, dry trail, faster trail running

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Peak Opinion?
The Lone Peak are the trail shoe that have saved my feet, I realise this is a big statement but its true. I started with the Lone Peak 2.0 (several pairs) and loved them to bits.I ran the Thames Path 100 in them straight out of the box, having never tried Altra before and never looked back. Lots of runners, including the excellent review ‘Ginger Runner’ suggested that the Lone Peak 2.0 felt more like a skater shoe than a pair of running shoes – he had a point. However, the upper, support and overall feel as well as the visuals of the LP2.0 were stunning. My first pair ran well in excess of 1,000 miles before they even began to consider retirement (they still run today but only on training runs).

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With the 3.0 though the Lone Peaks have undergone something of a transformation. More overlays, less heel cup (so less skater shoe feel), revised grip, Abound material for support but with all the things you previously loved. The visuals have also gone for a more Americanised look, throwing out some of the more understated ‘European’ feel of the 2.0 and 2.5.

The rewards for this effort can be felt almost immediately on the trail. The LP3.0 is lighter, faster, better fitting and better at dealing with muddy terrain than ever before. It’s the shoe you always wanted from Altra and so far none of the problems (other than its a bloody expensive shoe).

I’ve committed to several hundred miles in this shoe since I bought them (the moment they arrived in the UK) and each run has given me comfort and pleasure in a way that not even my much loved yellow LP2.0 could. It’s things like the attention to detail I love, the little clip for the gaiters on the front of the shoe and obviously the trail gaiter trap on the reverse, the removal of the ridiculous rudder continues and the graphics lifted partly from the 1.5. What’s not to like?

The shoe also now comes in a pertex and a booted version. The boot version looks like it’s going to try and take on the Hoka Tor series and the Pertex version of for those of you that are insane enough to wear them – seriously who wears waterproof shoes, once it’s gone over the top its like your feet have gone for a swim and aren’t getting out the pool!

With the right marketing and supply chain these shoes should be taking over the trail running world but Altra seem to have an issue, especially in the UK with both its communication and its stock levels (this needs to be cleared up because growth through word of mouth alone will not overhaul Hoka, Inov8 and Salomon).

Great shoe, more of the same please.

Best for: Ultra distance, long slow trail runs, hiking, mud and mayhem!

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© Gareth Jones

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© Fiona Rennie

MIghty Olympus?
The Olympus are pictured above taking on the demands of the first 30 miles of the Skye Trail Ultra and what a great pair of shoes they are. Not perhaps the best choice for the first 30 miles of Skye but my word they’ve covered themselves in glory ever since – especially during the Brutal Enduro and several very long training runs on and around the North Downs Way. Having not tested the earlier versions I had no comparison for the Olympus but the main issue seemed to have been with the 1.0 and the 1.5 was that the grip was shockingly rubbish.

So Altra gave us a Vibram outsole! In the picture below you can see the toe bumper and the depth of the lugs on the Olympus 2.0 – you’ll also see the new leg pattern from the LP3.0 (wouldn’t mind seeing a vibram version of this!) There’s a couple of different compounds too which do much the same job as say Inov8’s Tri-C but basically its got hard and soft sections to deal with the different types of terrain you’ll be facing.

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The Olympus has a big stack height (36mm) so its clearly built for the long slow journeying rather than the faster more trail intimate experience of the Superior but that’s not to say that you don’t get feedback from the route because you do – just not quite so telling on the feet as with a less supportive shoe.

The good news is that after several hundred miles both the upper and the outsole are wearing well. I have yet to find any significant durability issues and believe me I enjoy taking my running shoes through the nasty kinds of trails and I’m always on the lookout for wet mud and hills (preferably both) to give them a good test. The grip is impressive mostly (other than in the thickest mud, but very shoes deal with this well) and overall the Olympus are a kick arse pair of shoes.

As a previous wearer of Hoka I can tell you that Altra (rather than Hoka) have got the maximal shoe right (for me at least). Stable, fun, faster than you expect and they look the business rather than like clown shoes!

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Best for: Ultra distance, long slow trail runs

So which would you go for?
For me that’s really easy – I’d have all three but if I was only going to have one then I’d go for the classic Lone Peak 3.0, a tremendous shoe.

However, each of the Altra trail shoes does something quite unique and I like having them all for both training and racing.  I still believe that Altra is a niche product and not suited to everyone so I’d always advocate a try-before-you-buy if at all possible but if you are looking to dump the Hoka because they don’t feel stable enough, your feet have been bruised to buggery by the lack of cushioning on your Inov8 or you simply want a change from the black and red of Salomon then these might be the choice of shoe for you.

Remember too that while I’ve been looking at these very much from the ultra running perspective they are equally at home on the shorter trails

Where can I try Altra?
There are a number of stockists including (other stockists are probably available);

Do Altra (or their stockists or anyone) pay you or give you kit to write this?
Thankfully no.

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I didn’t really want to go to the High Weald 50km, it was a race I had been hugely looking forward to but after a blistering disagreement with the GingaNinja about running I had decided I was done with running.

However, in the days leading up to HW50 there was a change of stance as one of us backed away from the precipice and I then relented on my retirement from running (I may one day chronicle what happened but not today). The problem was I then hadn’t run for nearly a month – so I entered the Chislehurst 10km as a test of fitness and to see what damage eating all the food in universe had done.

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The bad news was that the Chislehurst Chase was not only incredibly tough on my unfit body but I also pulled my hamstring. Bugger. With less than 7 days to the HW50 race start I decided I’d rest rather run in the lead up to the race.

And so it came to pass that the day of the High Weald 50 arrived and I rolled up to the start line feeling suitably miserable. I collected my number and drifted to the start line, I really wasn’t feeling it as the race when we kicked off I drifted to the back of the runners and decided I’d stay there.

I hadn’t really know what to expect from the course other than it would be undulating but knowing Tonbridge and the surroundings a little bit I expected it to be properly hilly. However, as the miles wore on I grew a little happier, glad to be back on the trail and the HW50 offered real trail.

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With the weather overcast and a little drab it made for the ideal conditions and I was running a mildly consistent pace with a few ‘hurl myself down the hill’ moments – I could feel the fun rolling in. The miles were counting down nicely and I was through checkpoint 1 and 2 in good time but I could clearly feel my lack of training, too many pizzas and the hamstring I’d pulled a week earlier, it was about 23km in that I finally knew it was going to be a bit of a slog and that was when the sun came out.

I hadn’t prepared for sun, other than my buff visor, I could feel the heat bearing down on to my head and making the route feel increasingly difficult. Even undertrained and carrying an injury I had been running quite well but with sunstroke setting in this was going to be the Vanguard Way all over again.

Thankfully around the 35km mark I came across first time ultra runner Greg. There he was looking a lot like the honey monster with his salt and pepper beard, a jaunty approach to running and excellent conversation. Greg and I meandered through the next 10km or so moving back and forth for running ahead and he was having a lovely old time and I was able to hold onto what remained of my sanity by focusing on the conversation. However, prior to the final checkpoint I put on a burst of speed as I needed some form of sugary drink and knew that with just a few kilometres to go I put a bit of a burst together.

After some sugary drinks and pizza related banter I pulled out of the checkpoint and realised that the final section had lots of lovely cover and in these conditions I could feel my head cooling off and my desire to get the job done return.

I therefore did what I do what I can’t sleep – I jumped into the cockpit of my spaceship and pretended I had an urgent mission to complete / with the finish line my HQ and about a bazillion alien invaders between me and home.

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I managed not to lumber my way through the final kilometres, infact I was pushing and for the first time I thought about my feet and realised how lovely my Lone Peak 3.0 were. I was now back at pace and urging myself forward but whenever I would meet daylight rather than shade I retreated into myself like a vampire realising his alarm clock had woken him before sunset. As I thundered back towards the start I could see Greg’s family waiting for him and I shouted that he should just be a few minutes behind me (and he was). I powered up the final piece of undulation at the edge of the car park and towards the finish line.

In the distance I could hear a very noisy child shouting ‘dad run fast’ – little fucker I thought. UltraBaby came running towards me, my arms rose aloft to indicate it was me and I put my arms around her, picked her up and ran towards the finish line. Sadly UB had other ideas and starting howling for the GingaNinja and so I ground to a halt dropped her to the floor and directed her towards her mum. I turned and drifted over the finish line – much to the amusement of the volunteers and marshals.

Key points

  • Distance: 50km
  • Profile: Very undulating
  • Date: September 2016
  • Location: Sussex
  • Cost: £40
  • Terrain: Trail, some technical descents
  • Tough Rating: 3/5 (3.5/5 if you’re not very fit when you do it)

Route
The route was really very interesting and varied, remaining on the trail for the bulk of the race. The uphills felt like real uphills and some of the downhills were properly awesome. This was the kind of route I expected at The Ridgeway 86 and didn’t get but High Weald delivered in bucketloads, highly recommended route.

Organisation
The High Weald 50 gets a 10 out of 10 for organisation – from car parking to race instructions to finish line cake and tea, this was a well drilled and organised event. The volunteers, every single one of them were brilliant and everyone should be incredibly proud of the job they did.

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Support
Aid stations about every six miles and lots of good stuff available (I stuck with the Coke) it was a really good spread and the supporters, be they the volunteers or the runners individual supporters were brilliant.

Awards
The real reason I rolled up to the race wasn’t the medal or the route it was to ensure I claimed one of the awesome mugs that come with the High Weald 50km. This one made it just that little bit special for me and it’s joined the other non-medal trinkets I’ve won over the years. The medal itself was nice enough and the delicious cake and cup of tea at the end were much needed and as good a reward for racing as I’ve ever received. The awards were definitely a winner!

Value for money
There’s been a general rising of prices across races as it’s got more popular and in a number of cases it’s becoming harder to justify the cost. However, the chaps at Trail Running Sussex have a tremendous event at a very decent price and even if this went up a few pounds it would remain exceptionally good value.

Conclusion
It’s true I had a terrible second half to the race where I suffered with sunstroke quite badly but that wouldn’t stop me saying this was one of my favourite races – I had so much fun. I have no problem in recommending this race, especially if what you want in an event is a low key and tough autumnal challenge. It’s got much going for it beyond the great organisation, atmosphere, route and lovely mug – it’s got that great sense of achievement that should come from doing something awesome. I’d love to say I’ve got something negative to say but I haven’t the race is perfect just as it is.

Keep up the good work!

 


I was looking for an alphabetic list that could identify how the last five years of running have come to be; it’s one item per letter currently which means there’s loads of great stuff missing but I reserve the right to add additional items to my alphabet run later. 


A: Altra.
At a time where I had literally tried every running shoe going, from Nike to Hoka and back again, I finally found some solace and comfort in Altra running shoes. For a fat-footed hobbit like myself Altra have saved my feet from becoming even more of a mangled mess than they already are. The lesson is to use kit you can trust.

B: Burning Bullet Hole. I’ve suffered the burning bullet hole and other chaffing related issues on more than one occasion but thanks to a liberal use of bodyglide and a pre-race routine that I’m very happy with this has stopped being the issue it once was (Endure1250 aside). I do recall at the WNWA96 that at about 86 miles in the burning sensation was so severe that I sharpened a small amount of toilet roll and created my own personal anal plug to create a soft environment for my arse cheeks to rub against during the final 10 mile slog down the East Lancashire Road.

C: CCC. I started ultra running with the UTMB races as a goal – I was driven by a desire to go to a mountain and test myself amongst some amazing athletes. To come away from the CCC not only injured, not only with a DNF but also with a tremendous sense of disappointment haunts me a little. However, the CCC gave me one great gift and that was the desire to run races I really wanted too and therefore out of that has come the SainteLyon, the Green Man and the Skye Trail Ultra – so not all bad.

D: DNF. The ‘did not finish’ had been heard three times during my racing career, the TG100, W100 and the CCC. For the TG100 conditions, organisation and support were so terrible that a DNF was almost inevitable – of the eleven starters only three finished and you know when race master Ian Braizer pulls out that you probably made the right decision.

The W100 I’ve never really spoken or written about as this one hurts more than any of them. I was a father for the first time – mere weeks earlier, I’d been injured for almost six months in the run up to the W100 and had done almost no training in that time – mainly using races to keep my fitness up.

My physiotherapist had warned against my involvement saying that there was a chance I might never run again if I took part and when I DNF’d at the halfway point I was crying and miserable. My injuries from that period have never recovered 100% and I learnt from the experience – so much so that when I twisted my ankle at the Brutal Enduro a couple of weeks back I almost immediately stopped as an ultra distance was already secured and I saw no reason to ruin myself.

My DNF record has afforded me a clarity of perspective and a sanguine approach to races. Races will always be there and it’s better to survive than destroy yourself. I know some will look at this as a cowardly approach and that you’ve got to ‘man-up’ but I’ve run in pain more than I’ve run without and I can tell you there’s no shame in a genuine DNF.

E: Enthusiasm. I suffer with the post race blues, whether it’s gone well or badly – I’ve just got one of those personalities. So even when it’s going well there’s a bloody good chance it’s all going to fall apart any second.

F: Fartlek. Fartlek is my favourite type of training, lots of fast and slow, obscure distances, running between two trees at a pace that’ll make your lungs burst! Glorious.

G: GingaNinja. The GingaNinja has often been the person who kept me going at races, the person who took me to races and rescued me when it all went pear shaped. Without her my ultra running adventure would never have gotten started – I recall the run up to my first ultra in March 2013 and she let me decimate the house with running kit for 3 months prior with kit laid out and constant chatter about it. Obviously much has changed in the 3 years since but she has generally remained my biggest supporter and I’ll always be grateful for the time and effort she has put in to supporting my hobby.

H: Hills. For a while I couldn’t even walk up a hill without my glutes and hamstring tearing me a new arsehole. I felt that my time running hills was likely to be over. However, it turned out I was averse to tarmac not hills and now I love nothing more than banging my way up and down a trail. For me the truth of it is that there’s something especially glorious about a steep climb, enjoying the vista finished off with a speedy descent down a horrific vertical drop!

I: Injuries. I’ve had my fair share of injuries, some more serious than others, there was the foot I crucified at my first ultra, the glutes and ITB problems I had long before I knew what an ITB was, the broken finger that I never really got fixed properly, a thousand blisters, hundreds of times slicing open my body as I hurled myself into the void of trail running and of course the worst thing – the chaffing injuries – my poor bollocks. The truth is though that these were all self inflicted, I drove my body to self destruction and even though I do look after myself a little better these days I still push it beyond its limits. Injuries have been a recurring motif in my running that I simply now accept as part of the experience, yes you may think I’m blaise about injury but actually I do what I can to keep it under control and I try not to think about them too much – which works for me. 

J: Jenni. My ex-girlfriend who was a bit of a control freak! It was here that my interest in running really kicked off again. I used to go running to stave off going back to the house we shared – especially in the latter days of the relationship. At the time I didn’t really realise how under the thumb I was and it wasn’t until I looked more objectively at the relationship (while out running coincidentally) that I finally realised that this wasn’t a healthy relationship for either Jenni or I and we went our separate ways. However, despite this the running continued and so from adversity came something very positive.

K: Kit. I’m sure a kit whore, kit hoarder and kit lover. I’ve always loved a bit of retail therapy – be it a new piece of technology, hobbyist thing, clothes or craft – when I discovered running gear though I knew I had found my Nirvana. There is no doubt that (shoes included) I could fill 10 x 100 litre duffel bags easily with running kit. There are currently nearly 40 pairs of active running shoes (plus another 50 or 60 retired shoes), more than 50 race T-shirts, over 100 purchased run T-shirts, over 20 long sleeved base layers, 4 GPS watches, 30 pairs of shorts or tights, dozens of socks, 15 Buffs, 10 race vests/run specific bags, 6 pairs of gloves, 3 external battery packs, 3 waterproof with taped seams jackets, 2 action cameras… the list goes on and on and on. The good thing is that I run regularly enough to use most of it. Yes I’ve made a few strange purchases or things that aren’t quite right (Skins A200 leggings for example) but generally I’ve spent my money well, fully researching a purchase before making it. I’ve also used my purchasing as a way of supporting local business too – much of my stuff comes from companies like Castleberg Outdoors, Likeys, London City Runner, MyRaceKit and Northern Runner. However, it’s undoubted I buy too much stuff but I don’t drink, smoke or have any other expensive habits so running it is!

L: Liverpool. Much to my dismay I am, by birth, from Liverpool – I say dismay not to offend the northern city but more that I’ve always felt my heart was in the south. But in running terms I made my marathon debut in Liverpool and that set me on course to collide with a love of long distance endurance running. So while I have no affinity with the city of Liverpool and I feel lumbered with its accent I’ll always be grateful for the part it played in my running. 

M: Medals. 130 medals and counting. I do love a medal. The GingaNinja has nearly collected her 20th medal and UltraBaby collected number 6 at the Chislehurst Chase. It’s an obsession with oddly shaped bits of metal.

N: Nuts. I’ve written previously about my dislike of labels and the ‘nuts’ one is my pet hate. Now it’s true I have some leftfield ideas and sprout concepts that might test the limits of convention but when it comes to running I’d ask whether it really is ‘nuts’ or whether sitting on the sofa, eating biscuits, watching Eastenders, waiting for the inevitable heart attack’ is actually the ‘nuts’ thing to do. 

Nuts though also refers to my mental ability to stay a balanced and responsible human being. I originally took up running in response to the end of a relationship – my uncle suggested that it would give me a focus at a time when I was drifting aimlessly. To his credit, in my case, he was right. Running allowed me a little bit of structure, stopped me moping around and provided a way forward which has contributed to having a reasonably successful personal and work life. Running stopped the darker side of my personality from taking hold and sending me down the deepest, darkest rabbit hole. I would always worry that if I stopped running or it was enforced upon me by injury I’m not sure how I would replace it. I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that running has become a part of many of the good things in my life – from base fitness to exciting holiday destination choices – it really does get involved in everything.

O: Over eating. I do have something of a problem with chocolate, cake, sweeties, FOOD – I just love it and lots of it. The only reason I’m not the size of a double decker bus is the running, cycling and hiking that I do. There’s no doubt in my mind that I have a hugely unhealthy relationship with food but it also helps to power my desire to run further because I know that without the running I’d become my own worst physical nightmare.

P: Parkrun. I’ve run 16 times since it started, that’s not really a great deal and while I like Parkrun it’s never quite been important enough for me to make it a habit. Importantly though I believe that Parkrun is a great thing and when I have been I’ve loved it – especially Ashton Court and Tonbridge. The thing that it has been especially positive for is introducing UltraBaby to the running community. It’s a good mixture of people, ages and abilities – there’s a lovely level of co-operation and support that is all pervasive around a Parkrun and long may it (excuse the pun) run.

Q: Quest. Each year I set myself a series of targets – 2016 was the year of the ‘No DNF’ well I blew that with some epic bollock chaffing at the Ridgeway Challenge. However, I did complete the Skye Ultra Trail which was very much at the heart of 2016 and probably my most desired finish. But each year takes a different path – 2017 has been identified as the year I hope to crack the ‘associate’ or ‘wannabee’ member status – so about 13 marathons or ultras needed to reach my first 50. However, I turn 40 next year and I really want to find a race that matches my desires to go a further and harder – the GB Ultra 200 mile is one I’m seriously considering but there are logistical problems with that and there’s the KACR which I’ve been avoiding applying for because I’m not sure my glutes would appreciate canals anymore. So I just need to figure out what my quest is each year and how I go about achieving it. The important thing for me to remember is that it is the route I take and the adventures I have that are more important than the quest itself.

R: Racing. I’ve never run for fitness, to look dynamic or even for glory – I’ve always put my running shoes on so I would have the capacity to race. It’s true that I’ve sometimes turned up to a race injured just to see what might happen (W100, TG100) or it’s not always gone to plan (Ridgeway Challenge, CCC) but despite this some of my favourite moments running have been when I’ve raced. I’d always advocate having a target, such as a race, as I believe it offers a truly wonderful incentive and there is no feeling like crossing the finishing line to rapturous applause. I’ve been very lucky to have raced more than 130 times now and I never get tired of the starting line, I always get start line nerves and I always dream of that little piece of metal that I can hang around my neck. Give it a go.

S: SainteLyon. On the subject of racing I wanted to add in my favourite race and mention what a truly special experience this was and remains (you can read my incredibly long winded review here). The SainteLyon provided me with renewed vigour for foreign races after a rather unpleasant time in Chamonix at the CCC. While the race is a mere 72km it has everything you’d ever want and I’d urge anyone who loves ultra running to check it out. I could quite easily say that I often fall in love with the races I do but it’s an extra special bond between the SainteLyon and I.

T: Twitter. Ah Twitter you little mine field, home to good information, great communication with like minded runners and occasionally a platform for abuse and being abused.

Twitter gave me access to runners I would never normally have met, it allowed me to get to know some of them and vice versa.

It allowed me to grow an audience for my general written running rambles and it offered new avenues for my running in kit and race options.

Twitter was probably one of the greatest influences on my running outside of the activity itself and while it can be a huge waste of time, if used wisely than it can be a very fun tool to improve the overall running experience. 

U: UltraBaby. I’m writing this as UltraBaby turns 2 years old and if truth be told it’s been a manic and exciting time. I recall the first run we did on the day she returned home from hospital, the first time I unleashed the power of the Mountain Buggy Terrain!

Two weeks later we were in our first race, the Dartford Bridge Fun Run and how within 7 weeks of birth she attended her first ultra.

We’ve carried on in this tradition and covered hundreds and hundreds of miles together both on the bike and running together. Though it did take us nearly a year to get to a Parkrun together but now we enjoy nothing more than overtaking people in the buggy shouting ‘Dad go fast!’

In the two years we’ve been father and daughter she’s earned 6 medals and not all of them parent powered. Its going to be a really sad day when she decides that she no longer wants to do it, or more importantly she no longer wants to do it with me. So for the time being I’m just enjoying it. 

V: Vest. I’ve listed this as ‘V’ but covers two very different topics – the first is ‘club running’ and the second is ‘body image’. Many of you, probably most of you will have joined a running club, they’re excellent support networks and offer a real world version of Twitter but I’ve never quite been able to shake the ‘lone wolf’ thing. Now for someone who doesn’t like labels this doesn’t sit well and I have tried many times the more social and perhaps cultured approach to running but it’s just never worked out. Each year I promise myself I’ll try again but each year I don’t bother or I find an excuse not to go. Perhaps 2017 will be my year of the club vest? Or maybe the only vest I’m actually interested in is the 100 marathon club vest and that’s why I’m holding back. Hmmm.

As for body image that’s pretty easy – I stopped wearing vests because I felt fat in them and having low self esteem regarding my physical appearance has meant I tend to dress for discretion. Stupid I know but a reality and it’s not something I think I’ll ever get beyond.

W: White Cliffs 50. Somewhere on an old blog is my record of the White Cliffs 50, but somewhere inside me that ultra will always live. It was my first ultra with only a single paltry road marathon under my belt as comfort – I’d only been doing runs over 20 miles for about the three months prior to the race and yet I rocked up convinced I could do it.

And I did – on a broken foot for most of it. I pushed through genuine agony and I delivered a genuine astonishing result that didn’t look likely to happen. I earned my first utmb points, finished my first ultra and felt like I had died. But that day I knew I would always want to ultra and that desire just doesn’t fade.

X: Exhale. One of the finest things I learnt to do during my early days in running was how to breathe deeply and consistently. This simple act as a run progresses is something many of us forget how to do. I can hear my fellow runners huffing and puffing sometimes as they go past me or vice versa, I use that as a reminder to check my own breathing – in through the nose, out through the mouth, big deep breathes and then shallower breathing for a few moments and then repeat. I’ve found this wonderful for keeping me going and stopping me gasping for breathe and it does allow me to chat as much as I want during a run (possibly not a good side effect).


Y: Yes. 
Never say no. There is nothing that can’t be achieved, believe in yourself and that starts by being positive. I try wherever possible to say ‘Yes’ because it’s a way forward and sometimes you’ll fail, sometimes you’ll stumble but if you don’t try then you can never achieve. I believe it was Ian Shelley who introduced me to the phrase ‘relentless forward progress’ and I do my best to put this into practice.

So say ‘yes’ and be the best of you!

Z: Zippy. I used to be quick, really quick – maybe it was this that made me really fall in love with running. I remember being aged 9 and in the starting blocks for county at the 100 metres – I came second and was distraught. However, in those days I knew nothing about running, even less than. I do now but I had enthusiasm and that translated to pretty damn quick running across track and field. I miss being fast, I miss sub 40 minute 10km times and sub 20 minute 5km times but I wouldn’t trade in the tougher routes I now run for a faster time. For me being zippy is second to the adventure. 


I haven’t run a marathon well since my first crack at the Kent Roadrunner, since then I’ve been in a spiral downwards of injury hit crisis and increasingly slower distance.

Therefore I found myself on the start line of the Darnley Challenge with nothing more than the aim of a bimble round and an opportunity to say happy birthday to one of the race directors.

The conditions, for me, we’re not ideal – it was too warm, it was too sunny and there was going to be a fair bit of Tarmac involved (never good for the knees). I’d also not been feeling amazing over the previous few days, having caught some germs from the GingaNinja and I was still getting over the previous weekends exertions at the Vanguard Way Marathon. I wasn’t in great shape but actually I felt surprisingly okay about being there.

I caught up with Gary, who I bump into from time to time at Parkrun and I met Hannah (who had the air of being suspiciously familiar – turns out we follow one another on Twitter and more recently Instagram) and before I knew it the start was sounded and we were off.

I’d very much wanted to start at the back but had inadvertently started at the front and so I decided to get the first hill out of the way at a reasonable pace before slowing down as I got inside Jeskyns Country Park.

After dropping the pace a little I proceeded to find a steady rhythm and bounded out of the park and headed towards the very delightful Cobham. It’s funny when you live so close to these little villages that you rarely get out to them – still I was here now and took the opportunity to grab some photographs and joke with the locals about the lack of water in the pump! I passed down the high street and headed towards the mausoleum. The trail here was gravel and still hard going on my legs but I ploughed on knowing that a little further on the ground would soften and I could pick up my pace.

The surroundings of Darnley Mausoleum and Ranscombe are wild and often untamed – the reason that despite living in these parts for nearly 5 years it continues to interest me as a run and race route. I dragged myself along the tree lined path until I came to the one point I could turn the wrong way.

I peered down the hill (no runners), I peered straight ahead (no runners) and then thankfully, behind me a lady shouted ‘straight on’ and so I leapt forward now knowing roughly where I was headed. The fast downhill through Ranscombe was lovely and I allowed my legs the opportunity of space to glide down towards the trudge up the field and the halfway checkpoint.

I stayed a little too long at the CP but it was busy with runners and I was thirsty plus an SVN volunteer is always good for a laugh and a joke. Once on the move again though it was business as usual, conversation, running and making the usual dick of myself. I pressed harder here for a while and even made haste into the uphill climb out of Ranscombe. I certainly gave it more welly than I would normally bother for a training marathon.

I was back at the point I had nearly gotten lost earlier and now knew were I was headed and could switch off the GPX and simply watch the time ticking away. I almost never train with a GPS these days – I don’t enjoy watching numbers and I don’t do Strava but a new Ambit means I’ll wear it for about 3 weeks before I get bored. The Darnley Challenge was test 2 and an excellent opportunity to ensure I was doing mapping correctly before I risk the Ridgeway.

I digress… as I reached the Mausoleum on the return journey I met the brilliant Costas and we chatted a while as we ambled down beyond the trail, Cobham and through Jeskyns – he was doing all four of the weekends challenge events and with his triumph of a beard and gloriously long hair I simply marvelled at his excellent tale. We chatted about love, life and Greece, all within a few short miles and encouraged each other through the latter stages of the first lap.

With Costas though now a little way behind me and preserving his energy for the next days race I was back on the Tarmac and I could feel my ITB and knees begin to grumble. However, I shook off these moanings and made good time to the base and the turnaround point.

I stopped for more water, filled bottles and headed out for a second and final lap. The second lap was overall a little slower but there were a number of reasons for this – the first was my own fault, too much messing about taking photographs but the second was brought on by my lack of pre-race visit to the loo.

Having failed to use the facilities when they were available I had little choice at about 18 miles in but to stop, dig a small hole in the ground and fill it with what on a good day could be described as a 4 pack of melted mars bars… given I’m always prepared for this kind of thing I left my offending item and the biodegradable tissue paper suitably buried deep in the route and about 4 inches underground. Thankfully I was hidden suitably off the trail as 2 runners went past me, hopefully unnoticed – but you can never be sure (so if you did see me in a compromising position I can only apologise).

The bad news was I had lost a solid 15 minutes looking for a suitable location and delivering the payload, etc. Still I could now run again as I had been a little worried about shitting myself since about mile 14. I therefore drifted into the checkpoint and out again with no great drama – even avoiding all the delicious looking cake.

With the knowledge I was into the final 10km I took my foot off the gas and told myself I was going to coast this one in. The Challenge event had felt like decent training for the Ridgeway and I saw no point in burning myself out. The hills and heat hadn’t gotten to me – I would finish this largely pain free and my kit testing for the ridgeway had proved mostly successful.

As I came into mile 20 I could see the outline of the GingaNinja and UltraBaby driving to the finish line and so for the final push I hit the afterburner and came storming up to my daughter, arms aloft and waving wildly.

UltraBaby came running toward me, this was the reward I look for these days, but still I rang the bell and concluded my race for another mighty medal.

It had been a good day.

Look at the size of this bloody medal!

Key points

  • Distance: Marathon (8hr timed event)
  • Profile: Undulating trail/road
  • Date: August 2016
  • Location: North West Kent
  • Cost: £36
  • Terrain: Hard packed trail, road
  • Tough Rating: 2/5

Overall?
When Traviss and Rachel you know what you’ll get and that’s a fun route, lots of cake, a chocolate filled goody bag and a medal that’s too heavy to wear – the Darnley Challenge was no exception. Given that RD Traviss was celebrating his 50th birthday it’s no wonder such an effort was made with all four of the events medals and all runners will have gone home very pleased.

SVN events are truly all inclusive events and if you can do a few short miles then you can do one of these and claim a great medal and a giant piece of kudos (as well as cake). If you fancy joining them visit www.saxon-shore.com and get yourself running. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again SVN events are brilliant and I’ll be back (probably later in the year).

 

You’ve got to test yourself and even I’ll concede that, occasionally, you have to do some training. This weekend was all about preparation for the Ridgeway Challenge and so in good spirits, early on Sunday morning, I headed out to the Vanguard Way Marathon.


I was joined on my quest for my next marathon medal by the GingaNinja and UltraBaby who had come along as my support team. Although for the purpose of this story UltraBaby will be retitled as ‘Klingon Rudolph’ due to her big red nose and bashed forehead caused a day earlier by a trip in the garden.


We arrived at Lloyd Park just after 8.30am to a few runners and the start line – I collected my number and was offered the option of some jelly babies or, in a slightly unusual turn, a dip into the shared pot of Vaseline. They had clearly read about my exertions at Endure 1250.

With number in hand I dipped into the excellent change and toilet facility and lubricated heavily to avoid a repeat of recent problems. My kit choice this time out was a test of a new sock combination, new bottom team up and a new single layer top. For socks I’d matched Injinji toe liners (which I’ve used to great effect on several ultras) with Ashmei low cut merino wool socks. For bottoms I was in Runderwear with my preferred short tights the Ronhill Trail Contour tights. This would be much lighter than teaming them with S-Lab Exo shorts. For top I was using a simple round neck Ronhill running shirt – short sleeved too, to make for an exciting change.

With kit sorted I ambled around the main group of congregated