Your favourite races over time will change and a couple of years ago I looked at which events had given me the most joy but since then I’ve run another 50 races and I thought it was about time to refresh the list.
I’ve limited my list to just a single choice and the previous winner if there was one. The thing is though there are lots of great events that didn’t make the number one spot, the Green Man Ultra for example comes a very close second to the SainteLyon while MIUT, UTBCN and Haria Extreme could all easily take the top spot in their respective categories.
At the other end I hate missing out the City of London Mile and the Bewl 15 but hopefully this list provides an interesting read and a starting point for you to find your own favourite races… and you never know maybe one of these races will become your favourite sometime too.
Category: Obstacle Course
Winner: Grim Challenge
Previous: Grim Challenge
I suppose this remains my favourite OCR run because I don’t really do OCR anymore. However, having done Survival of the Fittest, the Beast in the East, Xtreme Beach and several others (though never a tough mudder) I’d say that this ‘natural’ OCR still has great character and deserves consideration for some end of year fun. Why do this race? mud glorious winter mud.
Winner: Brutal Enduro
Previous: Fowlmead Challenge
I’ve completed a number of timed challenges, many of them with SVN who provided the Fowlmead Challenge but without a shadow of a doubt my favourite timed event was the 18hrs I spent running around a truly spectacular route near Fleet to the south west of London. There was something quite magical about the tree lined, up and down, 10km lap that really tested the mettle of the runners – it helps I think that it was a relatively small field, a great atmosphere and a thoughtful organising team. I was somewhat dismayed to note that there was no 2017 edition but I live in hope that this great value event returns because I know I can do much better than I did last time. Why do this race? A truly awesome route that never gets boring no matter how many times you do it!
Category: Up to 5km
Winner: Chislehurst Chase Fun Run
Previous: Westminster Mile
I’d been trying to run the main Chislehurst Chase 10km for about 4 years when I finally found the time to rock up and hammer out a couple of laps of one of my favourite Kentish routes around Scadbury Park. The unexpected bonus was the children’s 2km fun run which was a nice, tight loop. UltraBaby in her first race to be powered exclusively by her own legs ran well for the first kilometre but then needed some minor cajoling to finish (in a respectable 30 minutes). The huge cheering crowd and the positive atmosphere filled me with joy but also my daughter who only the week before had turned 2. The medal that they placed around her neck remained there all day as she told passers-by of her running success and still she strokes her ‘Chase’ medal when she tells me, ‘my medals are here dad!). Great event! Why do this race? it’s fast, furious and family friendly
Winner: Xtreme Beach
Previous: Ashton Gate Parkrun
I do love Ashton Gate Parkrun – it’s outstandingly good fun and also the starting point for one of my favourite ultra marathons, The Green Man but when I think of the 5km race that brought me most joy then it had to be Xtreme Beach. I’d been injured for quite a long time when this came up and at the last minute I decided to attend the inaugural event near the Bradwell power station in Essex. It turned out that Xtreme Beach was a looped OCR event through the most hideous smelling crap on the planet with ball busting challenges to face on each loop. I settled for a single loop as I didn’t want to disturb my hip injuries too much and by god it was fun! I came out of the filthy waters around the power station in shades of black I wasn’t aware existed and the squelch from my trainers indicated I’d not shirked my responsibility to give it some welly. Lots of fun packed in to that event – I wonder if it’s still going? Hmmm.
Winner: Chislehurst Chase
Previous: Medway 10km
The Chislehurst Chase is a double winner from me as the 10km trail race is an easy choice as one of the best 10km races around. The two lap route around Scadbury Park is windy, hilly, muddy, fast and challenging – it demands that you give every inch of yourself as you wend your way round the course and the rewards are pure exhilarating enjoyment. When I lived near Orpington I would regularly run fast laps around the main trail here and thunder up and down the hills with my spaniel but to get a medal for doing it was a lovely added bonus. Why do this race? a tight, twisty and runnable course finished off with a blistering sprint across the track. Outstanding.
Category: 10 mile
Winner: Vigo Tough Love 10
Previous: Vigo Valentines Day
The only thing more fun than the Vigo Valentines Day 10 mile was when they made a few minor course changes and turned it into to the stomach churning, arse clenching Vigo Tough Love 10! This is the Kentish equivalent of a fell race and is both fast and furious while being a proper ball busting grind. The race failed to take place in 2016 but with the support of the Harvel Hash Harriers made a triumphant return in 2017 with a few minor course amendments and a superior sprint to the finish line. There is something magical about this race, in any incarnation, but the 2017 version for me is definitive and I’ll be back for a fourth crack next year! Why do this race? because it’s the best race around and at a mere 10 miles and a cut off of nearly 4 hours – anyone can do it… if they show a bit of tenacity.
Category: Half Marathon
Winner: Summer Breeze
Previous: Summer Breeze
The half marathon distance is the one I run the least because it’s the one I enjoy the least. However, that being said I’ve run a dozen and I’ve never found one more exhilarating than the ‘Summer Breeze’ on Wimbledon Common. It was a hot, muddy, slow run with my former colleague HitmanHarris – I was injured and he was steady – it should have been an awful afternoon but actually it was as much fun as I’d hoped for and will make an effort to return in 2018 to this bimble with the Wombles! Why do this race? you’d do this race because it is so far from what you might expect and that’s a really good thing.
Winner: Vanguard Way Marathon
Previous: Liverpool Marathon
My first marathon was in Liverpool in 2012 and while it was a fun it was a busy road marathon and pounding pavement, as I would discover, is not what I enjoy, nor does my body. Roll forward a couple years and the 2016 Vanguard Way Marathon – a race with almost universal approval, small field, beautiful trail route and a delightful medal what’s not to like? Well the VWM takes you on a tour of your own limits, you’re guaranteed to do ‘free miles’ as you get lost, the water may well run out at the checkpoints, it’s the middle of August with large swathes of the route held in a bloody sun trap and there’s a couple of arse quiveringly unpleasant hills to climb! I suppose you’re wondering why I’d say this is my favourite marathon then aren’t you? Well that’s easy, any race that tries to kill you has definitely got your respect. I suppose you can only truly appreciate being alive when you stand a chance of not being and the VWM provided that opportunity by the bucketload. Why do this race: the VWM is the UK version of Dignitas, just with a lower success rate. A tough as old boots marathon and in the August heat can be a real killer.
Category: Ultra (up to 50km)
Winner: XNRG Amersham Ultra
Because I’ve expanded on the race distances I’ve done the 50km category has made itself available for a winner. Thankfully there was a very clear choice in my mind and that was the event that took in some wonderful trails around Amersham and also gave me my first experience of the wonderful XNRG. There was a certain zip and energy that accompanied this friendly, charity fund raising event and it seemed to me that everyone was up for a bit of a bimble. Now it’s true that I was feeling rough as heck for most of the race as my guts tried to force me into a DNF but I held on to record a respectable finish and have lots of lovely chats with some truly awesome. Why do this race? because it’s for charity, because it’s run by XNRG who are amongst the best in the ultra business and because it’s an amazing route.
Category: Ultra (50km – 75km)
Previous: St Peters Way
I loved the muddy glory of the St. Peter’s Way in Essex but for me the SainteLyon is both my favourite race in this category and also my favourite ultra. It’s the middle of winter, it’s midnight and there’s 6000 other runners all stood in Saint Etienne ready to launch themselves towards Lyon. It has twinkling headtorches as far as the eye can see, it has French locals out with cow bells cheering you on and it has a truly fast finish as you bound under the illuminated archway! It’s an amazing race and an amazing experience. And if you’re running it in 2017… we’ll I’ll see you there. Why do this race? it is simply unforgettable.
Category: Ultra (75km – 100km)
Winner: South Wales 50
I had no idea that the South Wales 50 would leave such a wonderful mark in my heart and there are lots of reasons for this. The route is compelling and tough, the organisation is top notch and the medal was both excellent and hard earned – however, it’s none of these that make this my favourite race in this category. The real reason is the bond of friendship that drew together the runners – I’d never seen so many quickly formed bonds made. I met Pete and Ryan who I will forever hold in high esteem and have huge respect for (good luck at TDS and RoF guys). Importantly though these type of bonds could be seen all over as people got to know one another on a way I’d never seen before. I would highly recommend the South Wales 50 – but be prepared for a toughie. Why do this race? it’s tough, it’s intimate and it’s great fun.
Category: Ultra (over 100km)
Winner: Skye Trail Ultra
Previous: Thames Path 100
I’ve said many times before that Skye tore me apart, broke me but also gave me one of the greatest race experiences I’ll ever have. Skye showed me ‘I can’ and I made sure I did. This race is as small and as intimate as you like, it’s run by ultra runners for ultra runners and it is tremendously inclusive. But don’t get caught up in admiring too many of the spectacular views because Skye is a ball buster. Enjoy Why do this race? because it’s there and everyone should run Skye.
And the rock cried out no hiding place. And it was correct, in ultra marathons there is no hiding place – especially from yourself.
The question I’m asking myself is, have I stopped hiding and am I making forward progress? Well the last six months are the first real test of that question – so how did I fare?
The 2017 halfway point: I love running, I hate running – it’s a perfect balance and 2017 has, so far, given as much as it has taken at the halfway point.
I’m not going to dwell on two DNFs (I’ve done that enough) instead I’m considering the huge positives I can take from my first six months of the year and look forward with enormous pleasure to my second six months.
- Finishing my third Vigo 10
- Running on awesome trails in Barcelona and Madeira
- Completing the Hockley Woods Challenge, Marlborough Downs Challenge, South Wales 50, Amersham Ultra and Escape From Meriden
- Running the Westminster Mile twice, once with the family, once solo
- Managing to get a medical certificate signed
- Being told my heart is in tip top condition
- Losing 6kg in weight
- Deciding that, as a family, we need to move to Scotland and be closer to the mountains
- Failed to complete a race purchase therefore missing out on Winter Tanners
- Let down by failing Altra Lone Peak 3.0
- DNF at Madeira
- DNF at Barcelona
- Petzl head torch failure at the first time of in race usage
- Put on 3kg in weight
The good stuff has been really, really good and the bad stuff has been a bit ‘meh’ I mean it’s not like the world caved in – it’s just running.
The South Wales 50 probably serves as the ultra highlight for me because I met two wonderful runners, had an awesome time and finished in a reasonable albeit not exceptional time. But the real highlight was having UltraBaby banging out a mile in a decent time and fully understanding the concept of racing and earning her reward – I was both a proud parent and runner at that moment.
The low point was obviously going to be Barcelona and realising I was going to have to DNF on a technicality rather than for running reasons – I was pretty furious and disappointed.
However, despite my misadventures I feel like I’m making positive progress towards my endgame and I knew before I started on this segment of the journey that failures would be fairly regular.
Perhaps my regret in my racing over the last six months is that Meriden killed off any chance I had of taking part in the South Wales 100. But this did set me up for a truly outstanding experience on the 50 with Ryan and Pete. South Wales was also a really good finishing point for the end of the first half of the year as it felt like I have properly succeeded at something and it means that mentally I go into preparations for my coming races and training with a positive attitude.
It’s a bit weird really, much like the start of the year I’m effectively having two months off where I can focus on training and family without the interruption of racing.
Therefore July and August will have a series of long runs on the outskirts of London and across Kent to prepare me for racing again which begins in early September with the return of the London to Brighton race.
The time off from racing will I hope get me through the summer without a case of serious dehydration or further DNFs as I found last summer and the one before to be a dreadful time for racing.
Ultimately I have reduced the amount of racing I do and I am seeing some benefits but there’s still much improvement to make, the challenge now is to improve my results in the second half of the year and continue to have a bloody good time.
September London to Brighton will be a test of pace. Can I knuckle down enough to complete the 100km in under 14hrs? And can I navigate the course well enough to end up where I need to be. Given that I’ve clearly lost ‘half a yard’ to use a football reference and my navigation skills, although improving, are still not amazing, I will be very pleased to get through this unscathed.
October Ultra Trail Scotland: Arran was the final race in my 2017 calendar to be confirmed and I can’t wait. At only 75km this should be a fairly simple test but with a little over 5,000metres of positive elevation this is set to be as brutal as the section of MIUT that I ran and anything but simple – the difference is that this will be autumnal Scotland not a pleasant spring day in Madeira.
November The Rebellion sees me head to Wales again in November for a bit of a bimble through the hills. At 135miles this will be the longest distance I’ve tackled and I’m not intending to be quick but I’m also not planning on using the full 72hr time allocation. I signed up for this after the bitter disappointment of dropping from the SW100 to the SW50. Looking forward to this one.
December SainteLyon is my favourite race and I’ll be returning for more midnight shenanigans in Lyon. I’m sure I’ll still be a giant puddle of mess after The Rebellion but this glorious race fills me with unexplainable joy. I’m hoping to improve on my time from my first attempt but I’ll simply be pleased to returning a city and an event I really did fall in love with.
So that’s my second half of the year – four races left that cover mountains, speed, distance and love – you can’t ask for much more really.
But what about you? How has your running been so far this year? All going to plan? None of it going to plan? What’s left in the race calendar? and most importantly are you having fun?
Kit comes and goes, some kit gets used for specific race types (my original Ultimate Direction PB vest for example is used for shorter distance – up to 40 mile races) and some kit might have been used for one specific race (such as the Harvey’s Map of the Isle of Skye) and then there’s the kit that just never got used because it served no useful purpose (ahem… Skins A200 tights).
However there are some pieces that no matter what race it is will always make the start line. Below is that list and I’m willing to bet some of these always make your kit list too.
1. Suunto Ambit 3 Peak My first GPS watch was the Garmin 410 with touch bevel – it was okay but it didn’t quite do what I wanted and ultimately I found the Garmin watches and software frustrating and therefore was soon looking for a replacement so when the Suunto came along I found a watch that provided me with things like directions (my saviour) and all the information I could shake a stick at.
Now despite not needing too, because my version 2 works just fine, I bought the Ambit 3 Peak (mainly for the elevation, distance from home and notification features). It’s fair to say the watch is awesome and does all that I ask of it and more! Even if I’m not tracking the GPS data, I feel bare without it on a race day which is strange given that I almost never use it during training but be assured this is the first piece of race day kit I prepare!
2. Drymax socks I spent a lot of time with lots of different types of socks, Injinji, Ashmei, Darn Tough, Hilly, New Balance, Inov8, etc. Some of them awesome, some of them a disappointment but since discovering DryMax socks my feet haven’t suffered half as much as they used to. The claim is that they stay warm when wet and dry swiftly. I can happily confirm this to be true. The only downside is the slightly thick weave but when combined with an Injinji sock liner the Drymax sock (for me) is near perfect.
I recall losing a pair roclite 286 in the mud somewhere and my feet sliding unceremonious through the thick wet mud – after retrieving my shoes I scraped off the thickest of it and put my shoes back on, my feet didn’t suffer at all.
Hard wearing, good value and excellent quality, my ultra sock choice hasn’t been in doubt since I first put my Drymax on.
3. GoPro I probably should leave the GoPro at home but after buying it to take to the Arctic Circle last year I’ve found it invaluable for capturing my running adventures, which subsequently aid me in telling the story of my adventures. The Sessions smaller form factor also helps in my decision to run with a camera because it generally doesn’t interfere with kit and if it ever did it would get left behind.
4. Dirty Girl Gaiters I remember my first two ultras, the White Cliffs 50′ and ‘The Wall’, thr only two ultra marathons that I haven’t used Dirty Girl Gaiters on and both battered my shoes, my feet and ankles. I’ve been seeking to resolve the feet issue ever since and one of the key components was the introduction of Dirty Girl Gaiters – a very simple over the ankle brightly coloured covering.
It’s true to say they aren’t waterproof but I’ve never found them to leak even in Biblical weather, they aren’t made of the pubic hair of angels and held together by unicorn tears but they never breakdown and they are very good value for money. This gaiter keeps your feet safer, drier, clearer of crap and ultimately happier – perhaps the best £18 you’ll ever spend.
- Makeshift balaclava
- Snot rag
- Bum rag
- Cooling device (wrap ice in it)
- Hair tie
Possibly the single most useful and used item in any runners kit, hot, cold, wet and dry, the Buff knows absolutely no limits and they never fail. Owning about 20 I’ve come to love these things and use them every single day as well as during races.
6. Anker Battery Charger I have a confession, despite being thoroughly pissed off with the iPhone I am still an iPhone user – this is mainly because the GingaNinja decided she would rather stick with Apple than try a different handset.
Anyway this means that my Anker Portable Power Charger runs with me. For shorter ultras I use the smaller device because this will happily top up my airport moded iPhone and also my Suunto or GoPro should I really need it.
I have a larger version of the same device for longer running but all this means is that I’m less concerned if I get caught taking too many snaps of the trails or selfies of me gurning my way round said trail. Portable power is a definite to go in my bag at races and although I often don’t use it I’d rather be carrying it than not.
7. Runderwear As regular readers will know my boy bits and my passing of various fluids is a topic I return to time and again. This is because it’s been something of a constant irritant to me and has affected more races than I can shake a stick at. Last year I had a series of unfortunate incidents where chaffing was a big problem and it coincided with the times that I wasn’t wearing my running gruds from Runderwear.
What I missed was the soft supple cupping of the lovely fabric around my groin, the crotchal region soothed by the lack of excessive stitching and the excellent fit where your manliness holds itself in place – safely asleep away from the fury of ultra running.
I now never forget my Runderwear and my balls cry out in joy!
8. Kleenex For those who believe that this is just in case I get the urge mid race for a sly hand shandy you’d be wrong. Kleenex join almost every race, ultra or not and this is because I’ve been caught short on a couple of occasions (and it’s just plain nasty). As regular readers will know I had a very serious bowel related issue at the Mouth to Mouth Ultra Marathon in December last year (read about it here) and didn’t have any Kleenex with me. This was a major regret as I ran 5km trying to keep things together and decide which buff I would use as a makeshift toilet roll, thankfully neither buff was sacrificed but the resolution remains a secret and I’ve vowed to always remember to check my tissue status pre-race.
9. Compeed 40 miles into the Skye Trail Ultra a blister on my fourth toe exploded. Bang. Had it not been for the Compeed second skin solution my race would have been over there and then. Thankfully I stopped straight away, cleaned and dried my foot and then applied a second skin barrier across and around the affected area. Without hesitation I put my foot to the floor and knew that the compeed would hold me together and it did.
In all the races I’ve done this is the only piece of kit from my medical equipment I’ve ever had to use and it is a worthwhile expense.
10. Spare laces I’m not very superstitious but I carry s spare set of laces (from an old pair of Hoka Stinsons) because the one way I would hate to receive a DNF is because my shoes failed after a lace snap. Although I’ve never had to use them I did give a new lace to a runner once who encountered the problem and would have had to stop – she was very grateful (and showed this by thundering past me a mile or three further on).
What have I discovered? Well that’s simple, the thing I’ve discovered is that your ‘go to kit’ is very rarely what you believe it to be. Let’s be honest we tailor race vests, shoes, tops, shorts, even headlamps to the race distance and conditions and that means that the kit that always makes the start line is often the less glamorous but much more useful stuff, well I’ve certainly found this to be the case.
I wonder what always makes the start line with you?
It seems I had locked the gate after the horse had bolted when I reviewed 2016 as I then went and promptly entered the Mince Pi Run – my preview of 2017 though shouldn’t suffer any such lapses in concentration.
However, 2017 looks like being a challenging year for all sorts of reasons. ‘That’s too much mate’ said a fellow ultra runner, of my 2017 plans, as we meandered through lap 7 of the ‘Pi’. As a seasoned ultra runner he’s obviously entitled to his opinion (of which he had many) but my internal thought, which I didn’t vocalise, was ‘who is he to tell me what’s too much for me?’
I’ve always felt that my motivations and rationale for doing large swathes of ultra marathons was, while not conventional wisdom, very personal. I’m not there to test myself against the best, nor am I there to break any records, I’m not doing it for the fame or adulation and I’m not doing it for the medal. I do have a huge affection for the eventing and seeing new places and being inspired by my peers and this means that to those that believe I turn up to far too many events this is a jovial but considered two fingers to you.
But what about failure? I failed in my key aim for 2016, which was no DNF (actually I failed that aim twice) but as I’ve discussed in my review of 2016 that’s something I’ve come to terms with. What 2016 did give me though was a true understanding of what I want to do as a runner and in that new understanding comes my preview for 2017.
Races in italics have yet to be entered.
- Winter Tanners
- (Gothic Challenge)
- Vigo Valentines Run
- Amersham Ultra
- Madeira Island Ultra Trail
- Jeskyns Challenge
- (Westminster Mile)
- Escape from Meriden
- (City of London Mile)
- South Wales 100
- Brutal Enduro)
- (London to Brighton)
- (Chislehurst Chase)
- (Escape from Meriden)
Normally my year will consist of a range of distances from zero miles up to 100 miles but this time it’s a little different. Almost all the races will be ultra except for two 1 miles races and a brutally brilliant ten mile race in Kent put on by the Vigo Runners. This is because the 10km race really doesn’t do anything for me anymore and even the marathon I find a bit of a slog mentally, it’s also about availability of time, there really is only so much of it and so I’m looking to maximise it on things that will improve me as a runner, give me the greatest joy and provide experiences I will never forget.
By the end of 2015 I realised I had become a little bit trapped by the ultra running community – starting to go and do the same races over and over again, this was in part because I might know people at an event, it was easy logistically or it felt safe. Sweet Jesus fuckadoodledo – I don’t ever want to ultra run to feel safe!
And so it was after the SainteLyon in 2015, where I saw that it is perfectly possible just to disappear off to a race that none of your peers know or care about and have a great time. It’s true I’ll never get the big kudos or street cred because I avoid the key marker events that the sport is judged by GUCR, Lakeland, Centurion Races, etc. The truth is I don’t need the acclaim that comes from these events which is why I’ve learnt to plough my own furrow – hence Skye, Haria, Lyon and 2017 follows this trend. I may never be cool or popular in my (ultra) choices but that’s me all over.
So in 2017 I’m taking all that I’ve learned over that last five years and I’ve been picking races that are sure get my arse twitching. Winter Tanners, 30 miles of hilly, muddy LDWA goodness, the Amersham Ultra for a bit of a bimble with the XNRG crew but the big race for the first third of the year will be the Madeira Island Ultra Trail. There is more than 7,000 metres of sharp ascent and even sharper descent over about 115km, I will be trained properly for this, unlike Haria Extreme which I was injured for. Much like Haria I am aware that there is a chance I will fail but I feel the only way I’ll improve as a runner is to face my own fears. Post MIUT I’ll go to face the awesome sounding Escape from Meriden – 24hrs of running as far from Meriden as is possible with your final distance not being how far you have travelled but how far you are from Meriden as the crow flies – how awesome? No route, no checkpoints, no hope!
I’ll finish the first half of the year with the tough as bollocks sounding South Wales 100, a race that was described to me as ‘the Welsh version of the Lakeland 100’. Obviously there will be a couple of other races thrown into the mix to help with elevation, mud, speed, different styles of racing, different types of terrain but the next six months or so are focused on ‘The U&D’ (The Up and Down) and I’m very excited.
The second half of the year is very much subject to movement due to circumstances in my non-running life but I’d kill for shot at the revitalised London to Brighton (the running version, not the big charity event) and if the summer version is successful I’ll go back to escape Meriden again but the big one for the year will hopefully be a return to the SainteLyon, my favourite race and one I’d like to take my family to see me run.
The nice thing about finally understanding what I want from my running (and knowing what I’m aiming for) is that I can actually avoid things that won’t help me reach my goals – the best thing is no more bloody road marathons! Normally I’ll have a set of key aims that are stupidly over ambitious but my 2017 aims are different – I’m just want to enjoy myself and here are the aims;
- Stay injury free
- Have fun
- Enjoy success
- Accept failure
- Run hills
- Run mountains
- Inspire others
So that’s my 2017 (hopefully). I’m very curious as to what you’ve got planned and more importantly how you came to pick the events you are doing. Thanks for reading another years worth of my running wittering, it is much appreciated and enjoy your 2017 running.
There’s lots of really good running and fitness blogs out there, some more regularly updated than others, I’m a regular contributor to blogging not because I’m particularly interesting but because I like to keep a record of the things I’ve done and I believe at least some people get something out of my wittering.
When I started blogging (about design related things) I never imagined that I’d end up writing about my running adventures – now five years later the design blogging only happens when I feel the need to change jobs and the running blogging has morphed into a blog about my adventures in life and running. Three and a half years ago I started writing under the UltraBoyRuns moniker and I’ve never looked back, I find it therapeutic and I find it rewarding but the question I mostly get asked about it is, ‘How do you find things to write about? How do you find the time? Why would I write, surely nobody would be interested in what I’ve got to say?’
Everyone will have their own way of doing it, their own things to say – I can’t tell you how or what to do but I can tell you how I go about it. Below are they key stages I go through to bring a blog piece to life. Hopefully you’ll find something useful here.
Read lots: While I have ideas for blog posts that simply pop into my head I also draw on my environment, I read lots of blogs, newspapers, news reports, advertising, social media postings, business reports, research (and not just about health and fitness – that would be quite limiting). This quality research and inspiration time is the foundation of good blogging.
Adventure lots: You’ve got to have something to write about and the best way I believe to have something to write about is to go and do things. So in the last few months I’ve written about Haria Extreme, adventures in ice skating, Lanzarote theme parks, running in the Arctic Circle, trespassing on to the airfield at the Isle of Skye and a whole host of other stuff.
I genuinely believe that life should be filled with and fuelled by cool stuff. Life shouldn’t be a passive experience, it’s for living and your blog will benefit from a life less ordinary
Brainstorm ideas: You’ve done loads of research, you’ve had groovy adventures, you’ve sat down to write about something and it just won’t come. Jot a few ideas down in a list, on some paper, on your computer, watch some TV, listen to music, relax, let all the things you’ve seen and done roll round in your head and a title will come.
Join in social media (Twitter/Instagram/Facebook/Reddit) conversations: Social media isn’t for everyone but amongst the crap there are little gems of ideas, conversations, arguments, very real people discussing serious and silly topics that might give rise to new posts to inspire you or might give you a thought for a post you can bend to your own experience. Twitter I find especially useful for insight into how individuals look at a topic even when expressed over 140 characters. Interacting in these conversations also allows you a mouthpiece to express opinions as well as get them which in turn can have the effect of supporting the building of a readership. It’s not rocket science – you’re engaging in community and the community might want to hear what you have to say.
Photograph your adventures: Nothing offsets a great blog piece better than a quality or narrative enhancing photograph. I very rarely add professional photographs to my site but then in my role as a graphic designer I do quite a lot of photography so I like to think that some of that experience translates. However, the acquisition of an action camera (GoPro Hero 4) and the use of my iPhone 5S have meant that I’m pretty much able to capture all the run and race photographs I ever need and they simply help me improve the telling of my tales.
Note down a list of working blog titles: As part of my working process whenever a new blog topic comes to mind and I’m happy with it I note it down and then add it to my working list to be expanded on and developed later. This can be anything from being inspired by a tangent in a post I’m writing, a post from someone else that I’m reading or something I’ve seen or heard.
Pick relevant blog posts to write about and know your audience: You’ve got to write about things you want to write about but you’ve also got to have a focus. My original blog mixed graphic design, art, running and general gubbins – but that proved too scatter gun and so the audience was never quite sure what they were getting. UltraBoyRuns is all about adventure, that said though, this year I’ve used it to discuss politics, refugees and my ongoing fears about the way Britain is headed. You just have to be careful not to stray too far from your original intention otherwise what you’re saying becomes confused and you yourself will lose interest in what you’re doing
Know where you are headed and understand the value of a structure: Try and know roughly where you are headed with a post otherwise it will ramble and be less coherent. It’s okay for posts to be long just ensure they have a structure and narrative that lead to a satisfying conclusion.
Be Interesting, be passionate: One of the hardest things to do is to believe that your life is of interest to anyone else. But everyone, no matter who they are does and witnesses interesting things. When you write, when I write, I try and look at the finer detail to bring out interest. For example in a recent post I could have written ‘I had 5km of pain and then found a bush to take a poo behind’ instead I looked at the detail of being ‘bent double in agony’ ‘stabbed by the protruding thorns of the bare bush I was cowering behind’. Adding colour and texture, while remaining true means your readers can join you on your adventures, even if they are about poo.
Find your most creative time: The only time I write is when I’m on the train, I’ll occasionally do backend blog maintenance at home but mostly it’s all done on my phone in the 50 minute (plus delays) train ride I have (usually the morning commute). Blogging requires me time and RunBlogging requires quite a lot of me time given that you’ve got to do the time on your feet too. I understand we all have busy lives but you may find that by writing something like this it allows you to blow off steam. Blogging shouldn’t be a distraction from the things you feel you just do but it giving it half an hour a couple of times a week is what I call ‘me time’.
Try not to care who reads it: If you’re writing as a way of getting Salomon to notice you so they’ll send you free kit then this blog post probably won’t be of any interest to you (and it’s quite hard I believe to get the big boys to be sending you kit). I tend to think you should write honestly about real experience and (much like a race) leave nothing out. This way not only do give an honest account of who you are but you’re audience will enjoy it all the more – yes you may never be as popular as Usain Bolt but does that matter? write for yourself and an audience will find you.
But your blogs seem so quick (post race)? My blogging post race may seem quick – usually the following day or two but that’s because I do lots of the preparation work before the race began and I have dedicated time on my commute to use
The writing of a blog post normally takes me between 45 and 90 minutes or two commutes. The pictures will already be on my phone and I will have already worked out the structure of the posting before I start. I still require inspiration to start and that may be an incident in the days leading up to an event or it might be a conversation had with someone or it might even be my thoughts as I’m holding my medal for the first time.
Then it usually just flows from there.
Tell people: the bit I hate is telling people about my blog posts, I still to some degree assume nobody wants to read what I write, this years ‘hits’ suggest otherwise though and so each blog post goes out to Twitter, Instagram and Facebook (although I think I only know a dozen people of FB so I can’t remember why I bother!). If I’ve posted late at night I might tweet a reminder in the morning so that those interested might see it and I’ll add relevant hashtags but ultimately that’s all I do. I write for me and if someone else is interested then I’m deeply honoured and humbled. You might find more interesting ways of telling people about your site such as in forums and adding it to communities such as The Running Bug but you’ll decide how far and wide you want to branch it out.
Have fun: The most important thing though is to have fun in your adventures and your writing and follow your own path – these suggestions above are just that – suggestions. They work for me but I’d be interested to hear about how other people do it. Enjoy
The key points
- Do Research
- Do Adventure
- Do Brainstorm
- Be Organised
- Be Passionate
- Be interesting
- Be True
- Be Confident
- Just Enjoy
When you look back over the year can you come up with a list of say your best best or craziest moments in running/racing/eventing from 2016? I had a list of about a thousand that would make my favourite or most insane moments but I narrowed it down to this … so here are my ten most memorable running moments of 2016.
Look forward to reading yours.
- (10) Reaching the summit of Lomo Cumplido (despite my huge fear of heights) and realising that running big scary hills and scary races is what I really want to do.
- (9) Being hit by a car less than a week before the Green Man Ultra, surviving and then rocking up to the start line and finishing.
- (8) Watching the GingaNinja return to open water swim racing and loving it.
- (7) Seeing and joining UltraBaby on the Chislehurst Chase 2k and witnessing her doing the whole distance under her own steam. A very proud parenting moment.
- (6) Meeting the genuinely warm and wonderful Elaine at The Green Man Ultra and sticking together for 15 cold and tough miles.
- (5) Having a little cry as I saw the genuine joy (of achievement) erupt between the Wonky Wanderer and her mum at the finish line of Country to Capital.
- (4) Running through the deepest snowy trails in Finland and ending up to my neck in snow with only myself to rescue me.
- (3) Having completed the Skye Trail Ultra, dragging myself on my poles the 5 miles to the Isle of Skye airfield, fording a river and jumping the barriers, despite my ruined feet all so I could shout ‘Gordons Alive!’ at the top of my voice pretending I’m Brian Blessed.
- (2) Buggy running in the Arctic Circle with UltraBaby.
- (1) Dying a death towards the end of the ridge at the Skye Trail Ultra, puking out of my mouth and my arse but then picking myself up and finishing the final 50 miles!
You’re sat around with a group of people and suddenly it comes up that you run, it comes up that you run ultra marathons. You politely answer the question ‘what is an ultra marathon?’ and you answer the follow ups, ‘you run that distance?’ and ‘In one go?’ You are invariably very pleasant when you’re explaining why you do it too and then you get labelled.
My question is this, what labels have you been given and what do you think they meant?
Below are some of the ones I’ve had levelled at me over the years.
Machine: this I believe is meant to be a compliment, trust me it isn’t. This labels is intended to indicate that you are well oiled, well engineered and efficient. Machine to mean suggests something that breaks down, runs automatically, doesn’t feel, is controlled by someone else. I’m not a machine.
Crazy/Mad/Bonkers: ultrarunners are often referred to as mad or bonkers or similar. I like to think of us in a different way, what’s more mad? Being sat on the sofa eating Jaffa Cakes all weekend watching Simon Cowell waiting for the inevitable heart attack or going long distance running, staying healthy, getting fit and earning internal respect. We are so far from crazy for being ultrarunners, I’m crazy for some very different reasons.
Knobhead: I’ve been called a knobhead a few times as an ultrarunner. This label is probably more accurate than bonkers as ultra runners can be a little blinkered about their sport but I think it’s an internal thing – I don’t need an outsider to label me a knobhead because that’s just someone whose vocabulary isn’t robust enough to think up something wittier as I race past them.
Time Waster: I’ve had ultra running described as a waste of time and therefore that makes me a time waster. I was told that I’d get the same benefits from training for 10km races – this was someone that really didn’t get the concepts of adventure, scenery, passion or running. Apparently if I did shorter running I’d have more time in my life for other things. I’ll be honest lives pretty good (mostly) why would I reduce the amount of running to conform to someone else’s idea of normal
Legend: this one is meant as a positive but it really only applies to the few – you look at Roz Glover, Naomi Newton Fisher, Susie Chan, Bryan Webster, Louise Ayling or Dan Park – they are legends*. They are the people who defy every ache to deliver in regular outstanding results. The rest of us are ultrarunners and that’s pretty damn brilliant but these guys and their like have taken it that step further and all credit to them for that.
Unnatural: this is the strangest label I’ve had levelled at me and it was in relation to my mental state. It was explained to me that I’m unnatural because I have a desire to compete in ‘stupid’ distance running races. This label is the stupid thing because to my mind ultrarunners are very assured in their mind, they have to be in order to commit to the idea of running long distances in the cold, wet and mud. There is nothing unnatural about wanting to push the human body to as far as it will go – it’s an honour to use the body and mind we’ve been given and to test it. Let’s remember we have the gift of life – there’s no sense squandering it so to me – Ultrarunning or any test of human endurance (mental or physical) is the most natural thing you can do.
So I have only one label for myself
and I like it.
*Not a definitive list of legends
I’ve DNF’d twice (Thames Gateway 100 and Winter 100) and DNS’d twice (North Downs Way 100 and Race to the Stones), all were for very different reasons and all in my mind perfectly valid but at the time it really mattered to me that I hadn’t raced or worse had failed to complete the distance.
I really struggled to overcome the negative outcome of these events and it haunted me for quite some time – especially the W100 which I was angry and upset about.
Then I was chatting with a fellow runner via Twitter a few days ago and she was incredibly worried and panicked about her big 2015 challenge – so much so that I was concerned she was going to miss out on the pre-event highs as you prepare to face your road to euphoria. This got me thinking about the times I’ve stopped or failed to start, had I panicked too much, had I ruined my own experience and convinced myself I was doomed to failure? Probably.
But what was important was how I have evolved the mental attitude I have to (endurance) running.
I get nervous in the weeks coming up to a big event – sleep deprivation, over eating, starvation, my bowels do weird of wonderful stuff and I flap around like a headless chicken.
But with 2015 now well into the second half of the year I’m on a drive to my final events which include five ultra marathons – two of which are in France (my first foreign race forays) – I’ve had to spend a lot of the last few months building up my mental strength for these events. I’m very conscious I’m doing things that I’m not 100% convinced my old knackered body is ready for and basically I’ve been working to prepare for the possibility of the DNF and ensuring I don’t hit dark and gloomy places in the aftermath of such an event.
You might ask ‘isn’t that defeatist?’
The answer to that is ‘no’ and the reason is that a year ago I was in a properly bad way, the injuries I was ignoring were getting progressively worse and the events I was running were going badly. It’s taken a long time to get to a point were those injuries and problems are intermittent rather than constant and that’s why I’m much more sanguine about my race day prospects.
When I line up at the start of the CCC in a couple of weeks time I know absolutely that if on the day I can’t make to the finish I will stop. The harsh realities are that I haven’t been near a mountain in training for the CCC and so if my body refuses (it’s inclines it struggles with) then I have worked on my capacity to say ‘that’s enough’ and I won’t beat myself up about it or eat a years worth of Dominos pizza.
So does it matter if I DNF a race? Very much so, because if I DNF I’m making a choice and listening to my body.
So how have I been improving my mental run strength?
- Distraction: When I’m not running I do something else entirely different, it stops me thinking about aspects of running I can’t control.
- Avoid too much social media: social media is awesome but it can add a level of peer pressure that won’t help any anxiety you’re feeling and so I’ve been avoiding it a little bit more than I usually might – dipping in rather than giving it too much attention.
- Train consistently: staying focused on me! I don’t be try to beat anyone but myself and I feel better about what I’m doing because I’m reducing the competitive element and saving that for race day.
- Make lists: ordering myself helps me feel more relaxed about my event – they can be in my head lists but they allow me to check off aspects of an event.
- Don’t compare: I used to compare myself to my peers now I just look on at them in awe and congratulate them on their achievements because we are all uniquely gifted and we all do very different things. If I get caught up in worrying what other people are doing (either generally or on a race day) then I’m not focusing on my own efforts.
And what of the constant need to panic and ruin my own pre event experience? Has this all helped? Is my pre CCC party started?
Well my mental (and physical) training is yielding some decent results and I have faith in myself. And let’s not forget if I were going to have faith in a fictional character to get me round a mountain it wouldn’t be God it’d be Batman. Ultimately I’m enjoying running and the pre-amble and I’m ready. Well as ready as I ever get.